Mitsuwa’s Japanese Gourmet Foods Fair – 5/29/10

Mitsuwa Marketplace
665 Paularino Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

For four days only, 5/27-5/30, Mitsuwa held its Japanese Gourmet Foods Fair across the country, offering up various specialties from Japanese vendors. The event gives Americans a taste of some of the food popular in Japan, but not widely available locally. For me, the large draw is the ramen shops. In the SoCal area, Chibakiya would be serving up bowls in Torrance, and Hakata Ippudo in Costa Mesa. I’ve been hearing things about Ippudo for a long time now (as they have a very popular branch in NYC) and I’ve been wanting to try it. This was a perfect opportunity!

We arrived at around 1pm, and the parking lot was extremely crowded. Crap. I expected lines to be long, with ramen fans coming from far and wide to sample Ippudo’s ramen, as well as the other vendor specialties.

The first stall you see walking in is of takoyaki being freshly-made. Takoyaki is a popular Japanese street food, consisting of a chunk of octopus in a flour tempura-like batter, and in this variation, topped with bonito flakes and powdered seaweed.

All day, these were being freshly made. Skilled chefs were in charge, and it’s a pretty unique display. Since all of the takoyaki are cooking at the same time, when it’s time to flip, they have to flip each one individually as soon as possible, lest they burn.

The takoyaki comes in boxes of 8. While they are freshly made, they sit in these boxes for at least a few minutes. Added with the sauce on top, these became very soggy in a hurry. Overall, it was sort of a ball of mush, but with a nice chunk of octopus inside. The flavors were somewhat muddled, I found, as well.

Some of the other vendors featured various fish cakes.

Shinkineya’s rendition of tama konnyaku.

And inari and seafood bento boxes.

However, to me, the main attraction was Ippudo.


When we got there, Ippudo’s line was relatively short, and would stay this way the rest of the day. Each time we went to get one, the bowls were ready within 10 minutes.

Ippudo was offering one ramen, their Shiromaru Motoaji, a rich tonkotsu-style ramen.

The portion was on the smaller side, and topped with your option of pork, pickled ginger, crushed garlic, and sesame seed. The broth was milky and flavorful, and not overly fatty. Really delicious.

Noodles, handmade fresh, were flour-based and thin, traditional of Hakata-style ramen. They were prepared with just the amount of chew desired.

The pieces of pork belly chashu, sliced rather thick, were wonderful. They were actually relatively lean, which I liked. The meat was very tender, and the marinade imparted a lot of flavor.

This was a great bowl of soup, and exactly the main attraction we had come for. It was clearly superior to the Hakata-style ramen we have in SoCal (Shin Sen Gumi is the most popular of this type), and me and my friend enjoyed four bowls of it.

Since we were there, we stopped by Santouka (it’s located in the same food court), to get a baseline. Granted, these are two different styles of ramen, but it would be good to compare Ippudo to something we consistently found to be good in SoCal.

We got the regular shio ramen, their most well-known.

I tend to like the yellow, egg-y, curly noodles better than the straight white noodles of typical Hakata-style.

Again, these two styles were very different. Santouka executes their version very well, with a slightly oilier broth, and nicely chewy noodles. However, I preferred Ippudo on this day.

The festival also provided something sweet: mochi.

Fresh, soft mochi was paired with a number of different flavors; we chose the sesame paste and red bean paste.

These mochi were definitely fresh – soft, gummy and chewy. The red bean paste was good, but I preferred the stronger sesame paste better. At this point in the day though, I was sufficiently full to not thoroughly enjoy them.

Overall, the festival was pretty fun. My biggest surprise was that it wasn’t more crowded. Santouka’s line was consistently longer than Ippudo’s, for some reason, and the only other station with a wait was for takoyaki. The food, as well as the variety, was definitely a success.

LudoBites – 5/26/10

LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

I was lucky enough to be able to make a return visit to this incarnation of LudoBites – Ludo had changed up the menu a bit since then, so there were a good number of new dishes to try. Of course, there were some “old favorites” I wanted to re-visit as well.

Once again, we started the meal off with the Tartine Plate.

Tartine Plate “Warm Baguette” Honey-Lavender Butter & Smoked Lard

Delicious again, I really couldn’t get enough of the honey lavender butter – superb!

Veal Tartar, Oysters, Almond Oil, Lemon, Seaweed, Tonnato Sauce

This was the first of the ‘new’ dishes this go-around – I enjoyed this dish, but I didn’t love it. The tartare resembled a ceviche, interestingly, with the veal marinating in the lemon juice. I thought the veal’s texture was a little chewy, but the flavors were good.

Black Foie Gras Croque-Monsieur, Cherry-Amaretto Chutney

Nom nom nom. I love this dish – complex yet simple at the same time. It’s basically just a croque monsieur, but with foie gras. Oh and the bread is dipped in squid ink. It’s a really nice chunk of duck liver in the sandwich, which creates a melt-in-your-mouth bite.

Crispy Soft Shell Crab Cone, Mango, Red Spicy Mayo, Corona Granite

This was another dish new to me, and had a fun presentation. Without looking closely, it kind of resembles a few scoops of coffee ice cream in a waffle cone, drizzled with fudge. In actuality, this was soft shell crab fried tempura-style. mixed with spicy mayo. and put into a sesame waffle cone. Served with a Corona granite – haha fun! I found the crab to be a little chewy here, though.

For the entrees, we shared (at least) one of each.

Squid “Carbonara,” Pancetta, Poached Egg (63 degrees), Parmesan Snow, Chive Flowers

Calamari rings were the “pasta” in this Carbonara, and were cooked perfectly. That was integral to the dish, as all-too-often the squid is chewy. Essentially, squid must be cooked very quickly or very long in order for it to be tender. In this case, it was cooked quickly and tossed in a Carbonara. The sauce was rich, yet not overpowering to the subtle squid. The egg added a nice richness, and the pork belly lended a nice salty flavor.

Monkfish, Baby Carrots, Orange-Carrot Cake Coulis, Exotic Spices

The monkfish was cooked well, but is a really dense fish. It may be  due to personal preference, but none of our party really liked the fish here – the black sea bass used in the last visit was definitely preferable.

Braised Beef Cheeks, Escargots, Red Wine Butter, Leek Salad, Roasted Eggplant

Admittedly, the picture doesn’t look too appetizing. The cheeks were braised well, however, with a rich and deep flavor. Very tender, as well.

Rack of Lamb, Goat Cheese, Artichoke, Potato Mousseline, Mint

A holdover from our previous visit, and I was glad to see it. The lamb here, again, was very tender and flavorful. A little gamey in a nice way. I’d eat a whole rack of this.

The potato mousseline that came with it was delicious.

The last entree, of which we ordered three, was the chicken.

“Pepittes” of Fried Chicken, Coconut Polenta, Grilled Baby Corn, Bok Choy, Diablo Sauce

I first tried LudoBites’s fried chicken at the LA Street Food Fest in February, when I waited three hours. I tend to regard this as one of the best “bites” in LA, so I was glad to see it on the menu here. It did not disappoint. Crispy on the outside, and very moist and tender on the inside. The seasoning with herbs is very evident, both inside the chicken and outside within the batter. Simply delicious.

For dessert were the two usual suspects:

Dark Chocolate Souffle, Vanilla Whipped Cream, Hot Chocolate Cream

I love this souffle. The dark chocolate adds some nice depth, and a little bitterness, which goes really well with the whipped cream and chocolate sauce.

Strawberry, Macaron, Lemon-Verbena Meringue

I think this dish is slightly overshadowed by the souffle because, well…everyone loves chocolate. This dish is more original, more creative. Sweet strawberries and macarons are topped with a meringue. Light and sweet, I really enjoyed this dish.

Another visit to LudoBites, and another really satisfying meal. I’m really glad he put the fried chicken on the menu, as I just love that stuff. Ludo continues to create some great dishes, and I’m already curious as to where and when his next LudoBites will pop up.

Daikokuya – 5/18/10

Daikokuya
327 E 1st St
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Syrup Desserts
611 S Spring St
Los Angeles, CA 90014

Daikokuya is my favorite ramen shop in Southern California. I’ve been so many times I’ve lost count. I first went when I was in college, and the rich, murky, pork fat-laden broth really opened my eyes. Having grown up in San Francisco, we didn’t have any of this – ramen was served in a miso or shoyu broth. While these were tasty in its own right, a pork tonkotsu broth was on a different level. Daikokuya simmers kurobuta pork bones for almost a full day as the basis for their broth – how can you miss with that? I’ve been coming back ever since, each time braving the seemingly ever-present lines.

On a random Tuesday evening, the wait outside the restaurant was in full force. After about 40 minutes, we were seated at the bar.

Daikokuya is a typical ramen shop, with a few tables and a bar around the kitchen. While the ramen here is obviously the main draw, Daikokuya does a number of other dishes well, including their rice plates. Their gyoza is rather unique in style, and we got an order of those.

Flat noodles are wrapped around the filling and pan-fried. The shape really allows for maximum crispiness, as there’s a lot more surface area for browning. Good stuff.

The rice dishes are quite good here, but my favorite is the fried rice.

Chunks of pork belly, egg, corn and green onions are stir fried with the glutinous rice, making for a really delicious dish.

Next up, what everyone comes for – the ramen.

A big bowl full of broth, noodles, bamboo shoots, a soft-boiled egg, and slices of kurobuta pork belly are topped with green onions and sesame seeds. It’s a beautiful sight.

The broth has a deep, rather intense flavor to it. While the fat content is rather high in the soup, it doesn’t taste overly fatty. I really like the noodles too, curly with a nice chew to them. The pork belly really meshes well with everything – I used to try to avoid the fat and just eat the meat, but now I just eat the whole thing. Just a very delicious and satisfying bowl of noodles.

Feeling like a some dessert, we dropped by Syrup Desserts, which is nearby in the Arts District off-downtown. I’ve posted about Syrup Desserts before, trying out some of their waffles. This time, we would try their crepes.

Banana and Nutella – Fresh bananas, Strawberry ice cream, Nutella, toasted walnuts

It took a ridiculous amount of time for the dessert to arrive, but when it finally did, it did not disappoint. The crepe is light with a Nutella filling – hard to fail with that combination. The whipped cream was good as well, though some of the strawberries were sweet and some were tart.

Brazilia – ripe bananas, vanilla bean ice cream, mozzarella cheese, cinnamon and sugar

I’ve never actually had cheese in a sweet crepe, and this worked out pretty good. The warm, melted cheese melded with the chocolate, bananas and ice cream.

I had been craving an ice cream sundae all day, for some reason. I ended up with a sundae with vanilla bean ice cream, hot fudge, nuts, brownie bits, whipped cream and a cherry. The sundae was pretty good and hit the spot, was wasn’t anything special.


In all, we had a pleasant meal with enough calories to last a while. Daikokuya is consistently satisfying, and Syrup Desserts is a great place to get a comfortable, gourmet dessert treat.

Providence – 5/14/10

Providence
5955 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038

My friend is graduating from law school next week, and she’s been meaning to come here for a while.  We made the reservation and were on our way!

I first sampled Michael Cimarusti’s cooking when he was at Water Grill. Soon after, he would set out on his own, opening up Providence in 2005.  It became a hit instantly, garnering numerous accolades – currently, it’s one of four restaurants in LA with two Michelin stars (none have three). I’ve considered Providence the second-best restaurant in LA (behind Urasawa) and hadn’t been in a  number of months – another visit was in order.

The first thing to come out was the amuse bouche trio of a gin & tonic, margarita, and a dish made of trout, spiced cream and puffed rice.

This two “cocktails” are the same amuses that Providence has had for a little while now, and I like them. They’ll definitely remind people of the Bazaar, for it’s molecular gastronomy-like preparation.

Japanese Kanpachi – crispy rice crackers, coriander, soy crème fraîche

Providence is primarily known for seafood – and this was the first dish that really presented some fresh, flavorful seafood. The kanpachi was good, thought not a really soft, tender piece of fish. The crispy rice crackers lended some texture, but may not really have been necessary.

Bobby’s Block Island Scallops – Japanese eggplant, rhubarb, cashews, reduction of vadouvan and jurancon

What a delicious scallop this was! Nicely browned with a perfectly cooked interior. The sauce was a curry-type sauce, and had a really nice depth of flavor. Surprisingly, it did not overpower the scallop, but rather complemented it quite well.

Spaghetti Alla Chitarra – Santa Barbara sea urchin, spot prawns, English peas, green onions

Beautiful dish again here – I love pasta and seafood together, and this was no exception. the prawns were very sweet and perfectly cooked, and the spaghetti was al dente.

Wild Pacific Halibut – smoked paprika, Weiser Farms potatoes, grilled local squid

The fish here was cooked well, again. The halibut was moist and flavorful, and the squid provided some chew, but wasn’t overly chewy.

Foie Gras Ravioli – Italian black summer truffles, aromatics, parmesan

The ravioli was brought out, and black truffles were shaved on it at the table. The ravioli was good too, with a great chew to it. Flavors were great, between the rich foie gras and the earthy truffles and parmesan.

Marcho Farms Veal Tenderloim – sweet peas, bacon, almond, morel mushrooms

The veal here, cooked sous vide, was extremely tender. A butter knife could’ve easily sliced through it. The almonds and morels were good with it too, but the bacon was missing.

Yuzu Curd, Meringue – blackberry sorbet, jasmine

This dessert was okay. The yuzu curd was, thankfully, not too sour. However, nothing really shined on this plate.

To finish, we got a plate of mignardises of vanilla macarons, caramels and passion fruit gelee.

These were all pretty good, with the macaron being my favorite.

In all, we had a very solid meal, definitely solidifying its status in my top 2 restaurants in LA. The seafood was all cooked very well on this day, and the flavors and execution were definitely there. I look forward to my next time at Providence.

LudoBites – 5/11/10

LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

What’s the most sought-after reservation in Los Angeles right now? It’s likely a table at LudoBites, Ludovic Lefebvre’s pop-up restaurant now happening in downtown LA. The buzz around Ludo is immense, from his most recent feature in Time Magazine (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1986775,00.html), to his recent appearance on Top Chef Masters, to his continued popularity with Jonathan Gold (who was a fellow diner on this night), and to his extreme devotion among food bloggers. Reservations to his 1.5 month stint at Gram and Papa’s were fully booked on the day of the announcement. Luckily, I was able to get two of them. The first, begins below.

Menu is shown below. Click for larger version.

We decided to sample a number of dishes from the menu, in order to try as much as possible.

Tartine Plate “Warm Baguette” Honey-Lavender Butter & Smoked Lard

The baguette was freshly baked and still hot. It had a generous sprinkling of sea salt, which I really liked. The smoked lard was good stuff – like extra-strong bacon fat. But even better was the honey-lavender butter – exceptional. Reminiscent of Bi-Rite Creamery’s Honey-Lavender ice cream, it had a great flavor that really went well with the bread, especially with the sea salt.

Brie Chantilly, Honey Comb, Frisee Salad, Balsamic

This dish was quite good as well, with a very rich and creamy brie cream. The balsamic and honey comb were excellent accoutrements, balancing well with the cheesy cream.

Seabream Ceviche, Heirloom Tomato, Jalapenos, Meyer Lemon Paste, Cilantro Flower

This was a good ceviche, with the jalapeno and cilantro adding a lot of flavor. The presentation was beautiful as well. Not exceptional or wildly original, but a very solid ceviche.

Black Foie Gras Croque-Monsieur, Cherry-Amaretto Chutney

Very interesting dish. The bread is dipped in squid ink and toasted. A generous portion of foie gras and some pancetta (I think? some kind of ham) is mixed in between. The richness of the liver is cut by the sweetness of the chutney. Brilliant. A really exceptional dish.

Boudin Noir Mousse, Apple, Wasabi

This was an interesting dish. The texture was one very much of liver, with a grainy element to it. I thought the apple and wasabi worked well with the mousse, but by personal preference, this was not my favorite dish.

Throughout the appetizers, we had been sipping on a Spanish Gordello, of which I forgot to take a picture of. As an intermezzo, we had an Alesmith X, which had a nice fruity taste, cleansing the palate nicely.

And with that, we were on to the entrees, paired with a merlot.

Black Sea Bass, Fresh Sansho Pepper, Fresh Peas, Lettuce, Spring Onions, Yuzu

The bass here was cooked very well. Nicely flaky and moist.  Another really nicely presented plate with the colors and the flower.

Bavette, Escargots Red Butter, Shallots Jam, Roasted Eggplant, Carrot Slaw

This dish was probably the most disappointing of the night – largely because the beef was tough. Like..surprisingly chewy and tough. Otherwise, I had no complaints, but that pretty much ruined the dish.

Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Dried Bonito, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint

Mmm the lamb was really juicy and tender. There aren’t that many things better than a juicy piece of tender lamb flesh. The lamb was a little gamey, which I enjoyed. I just wish there were a couple more pieces. The potatoes were delicious.

Next were the desserts, of which there were two options – chocolate or strawberry. To pair with dessert, we had Allagash Oddysey.

This strong dark ale was really nice with the desserts, especially the chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Souffle, Vanilla Whipped Cream, Hot Chocolate Cream

Hot damn! This was a fantastic chocolate souffle. Better than Bottega Louie’s. There I said it. The best I’ve had in LA.  Very warm and fresh with a nice chocolate flavor, the chocolate cream only added depth of chocolate flavor. The whipped cream, very light and mildly sweet, went well.

Strawberry, Macaron, Lemon-Verbena Meringue

This dessert was much lighter than the chocolate, and topped with the same whipped cream that I enjoyed. The strawberries were nice and sweet, and the macarons provided a chewy texture. I think pop rocks were added on top of the dish, adding an unexpected dimension to the dish! Interestingly, it was my second dessert with pop rocks in the past couple weeks, starting with the Dining Room at the Langham.

We were all very pleased with our meal, even considering we were coming in with high expectations. There were a number of highlights, including the baguette with honey-lavender butter, the foie gras croque-monsieur, sea bass and souffle. The only dish that really was a disappointment was the beef. Ludo even made his rounds, greeting the tables, and we were able to chat with him for a moment. In all, it was a satisfying meal and I look forward to coming back.

Cornish Hen – 5/9/10

Roasted chicken is such a simple dish, and is something that can also be very satisfying. A roasted whole chicken is a great way to economically serve a number of people. At it’s most basic, all one needs is a chicken and some seasonings. While very simple, a lot can go wrong in the dish. The breast meat is often overcooked, or the dark meat undercooked, as they both cook at different speeds. In addition, it can be difficult to get a nicely browned, crisp skin on the bird. The heat needs to be just right – if the heat is too high, the skin will burn before the meat is done; if it is too low, the meat will cook before you get any browning.

In this case, I chose to prepare a cornish hen. As these are somewhat like “small chickens,” if I screwed it up, I wouldn’t be stuck with a whole chicken to eat. In addition, it was easy to buy two of them, so that I could work out any kinks in the first preparation to improve on the second try.

I brined both of my hens in a brine of salt, peppercorns, sugar, bay leaves, fresh parsley, fresh rosemary, and fresh thyme. This would be a very flavorful brine, I hoped.

Upon brining overnight, I rinsed and air-dried the hens in the refrigerator.

When I was ready to cook, I stuffed the cavity of the bird with garlic, thyme, rosemary, parsley and butter. I then trussed the chicken, seasoned it all over, and topped it with a layer of butter and chopped thyme.

Unfortunately, the skin broke at the top, effectively ending my quest for a crisp skin right there. I cooked my bird at 425 degrees, expecting it to take about half an hour. Using my instant read thermometer, the bird didn’t reach my desired doneness (160 degrees) until a whole hour in the oven.

I definitely did not get the browning I wanted. Next time, I would have to use a hotter oven. Upon carving the hen, it was noticeably very juicy. I’d like to think the brine was a big reason why – as both birds were subject to this, I had a hard time knowing how much of the juiciness was attributable to the brine. I then made a jus out of the pan drippings, mixing in chicken stock, a bunch of fresh herbs, and butter.

I also roasted some potatoes, finishing them in the drippings from the hen.

I was fairly pleased with this hen. Using a thermometer ensured that the hen was cooked to the desired doneness. I didn’t get the browning I wanted, but the meat was pretty juicy and flavorful. The breast was not dry, though it wasn’t overly moist, either.

For my next hen, I was sure to try to make sure it was as dry as possible before cooking – one of the keys to a crispy skin. I was also going to use a much hotter oven, in order to get some better browning. Again, I stuffed with hen with garlic and fresh herbs and trussed it. Butter, salt and pepper was all I put on the chicken.

This time I used an oven of 475 degrees. The bird reached 160 degrees in about 40 minutes.

The browning was much better this time around, and the skin was kinda crispy. Just kinda. I realize, with such a small bird, it’s kinda hard to get my ideal browning all around.

Again, this hen was extremely juicy upon cutting into it, with juices running all over the cutting board.

I made the jus similar to the last time, but this time I elected to serve the jus separate, as a dipping sauce. The flavors of the meat would be much more apparent by itself.

To go along, I made some potatoes separate. These didn’t turn out too well. I parboiled them too long, and overcrowded my pan when I was trying to crisp them up.

I drizzled a little white truffle oil on them to add some extra depth of flavor.

The meat was cooked very similar to the last bird. The dark meat was wonderfully juicy, and the breast meat..while not dry, wasn’t overly moist. The jus helped a lot though. I was quite surprised with both jus, as I often am not very successful at making pan sauces.  In all, I was pretty satisfied with my cornish hens – they turned out better than I expected. I might be ready to move on to a whole chicken next.