LudoBites – 7/21/10

LudoBites 5.0 at Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

I was lucky enough to score a reservation to the opening night of this fifth incarnation of LudoBites. The husband-and-wife team of Ludo and Krissy Lefebvre continues to dramatically grow in popularity, clearly indicated by the reservation system crashing once reservations were available this time around. 3000 people tried to log on to the reservation system when it opened up at 5pm on July 7, more than it could handle.

Ludo is one of the most unique chefs around, with his pop-up restaurants giving the public just a brief taste of his ever-changing modern take on French cuisine – before it goes away again. The venue for this iteration is the same as LudoBites 4.0; perfect for me considering I live and work in downtown.

Given that this was LudoBites opening night, I expected to recognize some people, whether it be other chefs, celebrities or bloggers. My expectations were warranted, as Kevin of kevinEats and Ryan of Epicuryan sat down at a neighboring table, and Ludo superfan food writer Jonathan Gold was present as well.

We tried most of the dishes offered, starting with the naan.

Vadouvan Naan Bread, Salted Coconut Butter

The bread was a bit on the salty side, but a decent rendition of naan. The salted coconut had a good coconut flavor; but overall, this ‘bread course’ didn’t stand up to the baguette with honey lavender butter of LudoBites 4.0 – which I really enjoyed.

Grilled Squid, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Black Rice, Yuzu Red Onions, Umami Broth & Seaweed Tartar

I really liked this dish. It screamed “summer” with its fresh, perfectly cooked seafood, and light vibrant flavors primarily from the tomatoes and yuzu red onions.

Raw Wagyu Beef, Dried Miso, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Candied Watermelon, Mint


Our server, as well as Krissy Lefebvre herself, raved about this dish…and it did not disappoint. Raw slices of wagyu beef topped cold somen noodles. I love beef with noodles, so this was right down my alley. The beef was not too chewy, and provided some great flavor, complemented by some mint and watermelon. The peanut vinaigrette provided just the right amount of acidity to cut through the rich meat. However, I’m not sure I could tell that this was wagyu beef if someone hadn’t told me.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Santa Barbara Spot Prawn, Chorizo Condiment

This was probably my favorite dish of the night. A silky smooth potato mousseline sat atop a nicely poached egg, on top of some chopped pieces of spot prawn. Great combination here. The potato flavor was subtle, but the combination of the richness of the egg and the sweetness of the prawns was just perfect.

Grilled Octopus, Oregano, Grilled Hazelnut Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D’Espelette Gelee

I don’t think I’ve ever had octopus in this sort of presentation, with a large grilled tentacle on the plate. The octopus was cooked very well – moist and tender with a great, charred grill flavor. The gelee, a combination of a number of spices, was strong and really brought out some of the flavors of the octopus.

Next on to the entrees – four were offered on this night.

Hot Foie Gras, Chinese Barbecue Sauce, Miso Eggplant Terrine

A very generous chunk of foie gras was presented, perfectly seared. Chinese hoisin sauce was a prominent flavor – I never imagined foie gras with hoisin sauce – but I thought these flavors went well together. In addition, it came with an eggplant terrine, a really unique preparation. Often when I have eggplant, it’s fairly mushy, but that was not the case here – it was more of an al dente texture.

Day Boat Cod, Torched Uni, Ratatouille, Red Bell Pepper Pickles, Black Curry

I enjoyed this dish. The cod was cooked well and was really moist. The ratatouille was fantastic as well. I didn’t think the uni was really necessary though – tasty, but not adding much extra to the dish. I found the black curry to be very overpowering in this dish though, and stayed away from it.

Confit Pork Belly, Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Guiness, Emulsion

What restaurant doesn’t offer pork belly nowadays? This was an excellent rendition, with moist, succulent pieces of pork. The choucroute’s acidity provided a nice balance to the fattiness of the pork.

Steamed Duck, Lemon Verbena, Crispy Skin Puree, White Peach, Radish, Balsamic

This dish was a little underwhelming for me. The duck, while cooked well, was steamed, and I was missing some of the complex, deep flavors that come with searing the meat. The crispy skin provided some nice textural crunch, but it wasn’t quite enough for me.

Next we were on to the desserts.

Campfire Smoked S’mores, Guacamole Sorbet

The smore was a nice treat, and beautifully presented. However the guacamole (primarily just avocado) sorbet combination just didn’t work for any of us at the table.

Caramel Souffle, Blanco Grapefruit, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream

The last iteration of LudoBites featured a very popular dark chocolate souffle. This time around it was caramel – and I think it’s even better. The amount of caramel flavor was just right, and I really enjoyed the Fleur De Sel ice cream, effectively making this a ‘salted caramel’ souffle. Yum.

In all, we were all very satisfied with the meal. It was very solid from start to finish. Do I think it was better than LudoBites 4.0? Hard for me to say; they were both very, very good. I’ll probably have to make a return trip soon in order to make a judgment like that. Service was pretty good this time around..and as usual, Krissy and Ludo are very gracious hosts.

Daniel Boulud Brasserie – 7/4/10

Daniel Boulud Brasserie
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89136


We came to Daniel Boulud’s sole Las Vegas restaurant on what would be its last night of service. The Daniel Boulud name just did not attract enough people to the restaurant – evidenced by the restaurant being only half full on its final night during July 4th weekend.

We ordered variations of the “Taste of Wynn” fixed menu, as well as a supplemental burger.

DB’s Onion Soup – cheese, beef shank, guinness

I really enjoyed this soup. Good onion flavor, with a hearty, deep beef flavor imparted by the beef shank. The mixture of the cheeses was delicious as well.

Duck Terrine – foie gras, pistachio, country toast

The terrine was nice, with chunks of duck and foie gras mingled throughout. The pistachio added some crunchy texture, which went well in the terrine.

Scottish Salmon – asparagus, english peas, sauce bearnaise

The salmon was cooked perfectly. However, I thought the rich bearnaise sauce was a little overpowering for the delicate salmon.

Steak Frites – 8 oz. sirloin, watercress, french fries

The steak was great. Tender, flavorful and cooked well. The fries were also delicious, as they came out hot and crispy.  The watercress provided a nice counterpoint, adding a light peppery flavor.

Original BY DB Burger – 9 oz. sirloin burger stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras, and black truffle, on a parmesan bun with french fries

Considering we had been to Burger Bar earlier in the day for lunch, we wanted to try this as a sort of comparison. Boulud was one of the pioneers of the high-end burger trend, so I really wanted to give this a try.

You can see the burger is just completely stuffed with beef, foie gras and short ribs. Very rich and decadent, you can pick out the beefy flavors of the sirloin and short rib, as well as the foie gras, but I felt the truffles were a bit muted. However, this was still a very good burger, but probably too rich for one person to enjoy.

Chocolate Hazelnut Fondant – nougatine crunch, coffee ice cream

I really enjoyed this dessert, however full I was after that burger. The coffee ice cream was delicious, to start, with a deep coffee flavor. The chocolate cake was fairly dense and richly chocolate – chocolate and coffee are a great pairing.

Meyer Lemon Tart – candied lemon rind, thai basil ice cream

This was a really pretty dessert. The tart was quite sour, indicative of the meyer lemon,  but the sweet lemon rind provided a nice sweetness. The thai basil ice cream was really delicious, and I thought it went pretty well with the strong lemon flavor of the tart.

In all, the meal was very solid. Nothing exceptionally creative, per se, but comfortable food executed well. I don’t think it deserves to close (there are a ton of restaurants that are worse), but people just weren’t coming. Rumor has it that Boulud is looking for other places in Vegas to have a restaurant. Considering the strip’s heavy emphasis on name-brand chefs, it’s probably only a matter of time.

Burger Bar – 7/4/10

Burger Bar
Mandalay Bay
3930 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119

When I first tried Burger Bar, it was instantly one of my favorite burger places. Created by Hubert Keller of Top Chef Masters and Fleur de Lys fame, Burger Bar offers a number of “signature” burgers, as well as completely customizable burgers. Their most notable burger is probably the Rossini – a kobe beef patty topped with foie gras and shaved black truffles. However, my favorite has been the lighter surf & turf, topped with lobster.

Surf & Turf Burger – black angus, grilled half lobster, grilled green asparagus on a plain bun

I really like how Burger Bar uses a nice, thick patty on their burgers, allowing for a nice medium rare to be cooked.

The burger was cooked perfectly with a nicely seared crust and pink throughout. However, the burger wasn’t quite as juicy as I would expect. The lobster also was a little bit drier than I remembered, but the combination still works well.

Other burgers we had were customized:

Angus beef patty topped with portabello mushroom, grilled onions and guacamole and an onion bun

Vegetarian burger topped with mozzarella and eggplant.

In addition, we ordered some sweet potato fries.

These were simple, good. Often I find sweet potato fries are cut a little thicker than french fries, but these were the same size – which was good. Crispy on the outside with a moist, fluffy interior.

I was satisfied with my burger, but I feel the execution has slipped a notch, somewhat reminiscent of the mediocrity of the San Francisco Burger Bar location.

Bartolotta – 7/3/10

Bartolotta
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109

I first sampled Paul Bartolotta’s cuisine at the American Wine & Food Festival a couple of years back, and was really impressed by some of the seafood he prepared. Specializing in Italian preparations of seafood, Bartolotta offers a ton of different fish and shellfish, line-caught wild and shipped almost every day. Most of the fish are available served whole family-style.

It seems everything that the Wynn does is very elegant and grand, and this two-level restaurant is no exception. As you walk down the stairs, the main dining room is in view, as well as cabanas encircling the restaurant’s private pond.

We sat at one of those cabanas, which may have proved to be a mistake, since it was blistering hot outside.

We did not try any of their whole fish preparations, opting to sample more of their dishes a la carte.

risotto ai frutti di mare risotto with clams, scallops, shrimp, lobster, calamari

I love a seafood risotto, so this dish was a must. The risotto was creamy and al dente – just the way it should be. The seafood was plump and juicy, also cooked pretty well. A pretty good rendition of the dish in my opinion.

sauté di vongole sautéed tiny clams with tomato sauce, garlic, white wine, parsley

This dish had a surprising amount of clams, as we had been told the appetizers were somewhat small. The clams were perfectly cooked, and the tomato-based sauce was light and flavorful.

Grilled saberfish

Bartolotta offers a number of fish, “simply grilled” as an appetizer. Here we have saberfish, nicely grilled and juicy. The restaurant consistently served some very fresh and well-cooked fish.

insalata di campo arugula, raddichio, frisee, Belgian endive, red wine vinaigrette


The only dish we ordered with vegetables – the salad provided a lighter alternative, but wasn’t anything special.

spaghetti all’ astice spaghetti with rock lobster, spicy tomato sauce, white wine

Pasta with seafood is something else I really enjoy – spaghetti with rock lobster? Why not? This dish was delicious. The pasta was cooked perfectly with a slightly spicy, light tomato sauce. The lobster was probably cooked a little more than I preferred, however, as they weren’t as plump and juicy as I’d expect. They were still good though. The crushed cherry tomatoes added a bright, fresh flavor to the pasta.

penne con scorfano e melanzane penne with Mediterranean scorpion fish, eggplant, tomato, basil

Compared to the spaghetti, this dish was a bit of a letdown. The penne was not cooked quite as well (a little overcooked), and the eggplant and firm scorpion fish did not provide the same exciting, vibrant flavors.

pollo alla Riviera Ligure Ligurian style roast chicken, artichokes, asparagus, porcini, taggiasca olives, lemon herb sauce

Bartolotta is a primarily seafood restaurant – make no mistake. But, they do prepare a very nice roasted chicken. The skin, all around, was superbly crisp. The meat was moist and flavorful, and the accompanying greens and herb sauce were a nice complement.

Pescato Del Giorno Con Carciofi E Origano Oven baked imported Mediterranean fish, artichokes, oregano

The fish in this case was a Mediterranean snapper. I love light, white fish, and I loved this dish. The fillet was really moist with a light and delicate flavor. The tomatoes and artichokes provided extra flavor, but were mild enough to not overpower this fish.

torta Ligure al limone, gelato al rosmarino, balsamico dolce Ligurian lemon cake, rosemary gelato, sweet balsamic syrup

A moist and tart lemon cake was topped with a rosemary gelato. I thought the cake was nice, but the rosemary gelato did not stand up too well to it. A bite of every component was largely flavors of the lemon and balsamic.

In all, I was pretty happy with the meal at Bartolotta. It’s a beautiful looking restaurant, and the food stood up to it. Seafood is done very well here, and in a variety of preparations. Some of the highlights were the risotto and lobster pasta,  as well as the chicken and snapper. Next time, I will have to try one of the whole fish.

Bandera – 6/26/10

Bandera
3201 E Coast Hwy
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Bandera is part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group, known for restaurants such as Houston’s and Gulfstream, and having a no-corkage-fee policy. I had been here before, but was summoned back to celebrate a friend’s new job. The restaurant always seems to have a lot people waiting outside – the comfortable American food is one of the main draws.

To start with, we had the skillet cornbread, one of their well-known appetizers.

Skillet Cornbread with jalapenos

The cornbread is nice and moist on the inside, with a crispy crust on top. The jalapenos give it an extra dimension of flavor. Unfortunately, this is a very filling dish – small portions are best.

Bandera-Style Roasted Chicken with green rice

This chicken is cooked on the rotisserie, and had a nicely browned skin. However, it wasn’t crispy at all, which was a disappointment. The meat was not quite as moist as I expected, but had some good flavor.

Sliced Leg of Lamb with Red Chile Sauce and Escabéche

I preferred this meat to be cooked a little bit less. The leg is cooked to a medium-well, though it wasn’t dry or tough. The lamb was mildly gamey, and the chile sauce added a little heat.

Barbecue Beef Back Ribs served with mashed potatoes and coleslaw

One of Bandera’s most notable dishes is the beef ribs, and for good reason. These ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, with a rich barbecue glaze that works well with the meat. Deliciously succulent.

Aged Prime Rib Slow Roasted on the Bone served with mashed potatoes

We also ordered the prime rib, which came with a side of au jus. This is one of the best au jus I’ve had in recent memory; we even asked for some to go. The prime rib was tasty and cooked a nice medium-rare, though I often find it’s hard to distinguish a good prime rib from a great one. The au jus here, though, really elevated it.

House Made Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches made with creme de cocoa

When I first came into the restaurant, I saw this dessert being served and immediately thought to myself “I must have this!” And it did not disappoint. It’s a rather simple dish of homemade Oreo ice cream sandwiches, in a chocolate sauce with a subtle espresso flavor. Being a huge fan of both ice cream sandwiches and cookies and cream ice cream, this was a great match. One of the best desserts I’ve had in a while.

We had a pretty solid meal at Bandera, with a few clear highlights (the beef ribs, prime rib au jus, and ice cream sandwich come to mind). The service was really exceptional from start-to-finish, only making the experience better. I’ve been craving that ice cream sandwich ever since, so I’ll be back soon…at least for dessert.


Mako Sushi – 6/25/10

Mako Sushi
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St. Ste 307
Los Angeles, CA 90012

One of my friends is a regular at Mako, and he recommended giving their omakase a try. Located in the same Weller Court plaza as the infamous Orochon, its third-floor location doesn’t get a whole lot of foot traffic. Thus, I am calling this a hidden gem. We went with the $70 omakase, the higher of the two levels ($45 and $70) offered.

The first dish to come out was a cucumber and seaweed “salad” topped with sesame.

With its light, fresh flavors, this was a good start to the meal. Next up was an avocado filled with salmon eggs.

This avocado was very nicely ripe, and the salmon egg provided a nice saltiness to pair with the richness of the avocado. Next, a very interesting dish with sticky yam, okra, tuna, quail egg, seaweed and wasabi.

This dish was stirred up, and created a little bit of a gooey pasta-like dish with the yam. Quite good. Next came our first cooked fish – Hokkaido sea scallops with green beans, and matsutake and enoki mushrooms.

This came out with a dipping sauce.

I enjoyed this dish, though my last scallop was rather overcooked. This may have been my fault – I probably should have taken it off the sizzling plate sooner. Continuing with the cooked dishes was a tempura oyster and cod served with katsu sauce and a tartar sauce.

Both the cod and oyster were nicely cooked and pretty moist – especially the oyster. Up next was a sashimi course – Spanish mackerel, halibut, red snapper, toro, yellowtail stomach and salmon.

I was looking forward to our first raw fish preparation. Overall, all of the fish was very solid. The toro did not have as much of a melt-in-your-mouth feel as some others I’ve had, but the flavors were there.

Following was a Spanish mackerel, served cold in a Japanese marinade.

I always find difficult in eating a whole bone-in fish with chopsticks. However, I managed, and was able to eat the succulent meat of the fish, heightened with flavors of mirin and soy. Next up, raw oysters.

These were really delicious. The oysters had a clean, fresh taste to them, which was complemented by the soy and scallions. Next came the only sushi course, made up of tuna, yellowtail, salmon, uni and smelt egg.

Each of these were pretty good – the highlight for me was the uni. Bad uni can be very apparent. Luckily, this was not the case – this uni had a fresh, slightly sweet flavor.

Lastly, we had a bowl of miso soup with mushrooms to finish off the meal.

I was pretty pleased with this meal. Although it did not have as much sushi/sashimi preparations as I tend to be accustomed to, the variety of dishes was pretty great, and presented a pretty good value. The fish used in each course was very fresh, and there really were no missteps throughout our meal.