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.

Father’s Office – 5/8/10

Father’s Office
3229 Helms Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Father’s Office is one of the best (in my opinion – the best) gastropubs in Los Angeles. In my opinion, they also have the best burger in the city. Granted, I haven’t tried a number of the chief competitors (Umami Burger , Rustic Canyon, 8 oz., Foundry come to mind), but this burger has so far been my #1 – taking into account the Counter, Lazy Ox, 25 Degrees, Pie ‘n Burger, Back Abbey, and Golden State. This was the first stop in a mini tour of burgers/gastropubs with Golden State.

Father’s Office is an extremely popular spot, with those seeking chef Sang Yoon’s gourmet fare for reasonable prices, top-notch beers,  or just a place open late with food and drink. Yoon, who comes from a fine dining background, is one of the first in the trend of fine dining restaurateurs opening up burger joints.  While the menu consists of a number of great dishes, the biggest draw is the burger.

Office Burger – dry-aged strip steak, blue cheese, arugula and bacon-onion compote on French bread

The patty was a nicely cooked medium-rare – so juicy that the bottom of the bun was getting a bit soggy. I don’t think the French bread bun is anything special, and would maybe prefer a brioche-type, or something softer. The caramelized onions add a nice sweetness to counteract the arugula’s bite, and really go well with the beefy meat. A very rich burger – it’s definitely the best I’ve had in LA.

The sweet potato fries are also a big draw and are delicious. Nicely crisp, with a soft, moist interior.

TO paid with my burger, I had one of my favorite beers – Pliny the Elder. Father’s Office is one of only a handful of bars in the city to offer Pliny.

Father Office rarely disappoints. The biggest drawback, however, is that it gets so damn crowded all the time. Given the quality of the food, the impressive selection of beers and wines, and the relaxed atmosphere – it’s no wonder why it’s so popular.

The Golden State – 5/8/10

The Golden State
426 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90036

After visiting Father’s Office, the second stop in our burger/gastropub mini-tour was The Golden State.  Similar to Father’s Office, The Golden State’s claim to fame is their beer selection, their burgers, and, uniquely, their beer floats (made with Scoops ice cream). I had to give their burger a try, to compare to FO’s.

The Burger – Harris Ranch beef, Fiscalini Farms cheddar, glazed applewood smoked bacon, arugula, housemade aioli and ketchup

The burger was not as pink as FO’s, but it was medium rare. The meat also wasn’t quite as beefy, and not as moist. However, make no mistake – this was a good burger. The patty was nicely thick, and the bacon was fantastic. I love arugula on a burger, and this was not an exception. The cheese was fairly mild and somewhat hidden. The bun also was rather un-extraordinary, being a fairly standard burger bun. This was a lighter burger – not as much as FO’s. Depending on what you want, this could be a good thing. We got sweet potato fries along with the burger, which I thought were way too charred…burnt..on the outside.

To drink with the burger, we got a Deschutes Jubel 2010. The deep, malty flavor was mildly sweet, and was actually relatively light. I tend not to prefer dark beers, but this wasn’t a bad one.

Also, we had a Stone Cali-Belgique. This Stone IPA, made with Belgian yeast, was pretty good. However, I think I like Stone’s Ruination better.

I’d come back to Golden State. The burger was good, not exceptional, but the beer list is quite good. I still need to come back to try one of their beer floats.

The Dining Room at the Langham – 4/30/10

The Dining Room at the Langham
1401 South Oak Knoll Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106

I had been to the Langham a little over a year ago, when Craig Strong was the chef. I had a good meal at the time, but I’ve been really looking forward to going back to try Michael Voltaggio’s cuisine. Voltaggio, as you might know, won last season’s Top Chef, beating out his brother. Voltaggio helped open the Bazaar, Jose Andres’ highly-acclaimed eatery in LA.  Blending modern, molecular gastronomy with classic French technique, Voltaggio creates some really creative, beautiful dishes – thus, why I’ve been wanting to go for so long.

The restaurant is located in a very, very large hotel in Pasadena – formerly a Ritz Carlton. The menu offers two options – a 4 course a la carte menu, or a 7 course tasting menu. Naturally, we went with the tasting menu. Click for a larger version.


First up was an amuse bouche of a gougere and a tomato jelly.


The gougere was good, however very similar to the others I’ve had at Cut or French Laundry.

First course:
Langoustine
White asparagus, tiny eggs, fried calamari

Perfectly cooked langoustine. Mmm…that’s all that was really necessary, but the poached eggs and yolk added a very nice richness to the dish.

Foie Gras Terrine
Strawberry-yuzu, arugula cake, Minus 8 vinegar

This was a very interesting dish. A foie gras terrine, mousse-like in texture, was covered by a layer of strawberry, served with fresh strawberries, arugula, and arugula cake. The interplay of the sweetness with the rich liver was very nice. The arugula cake was somewhat sweet as well, but rather mild in flavor.

Halibut Cheeks
Red curry, coconut rice, baby leeks

This dish was really delicious. The fish was very moist, tender and flavorful. It wasn’t quite as dense as the typical halibut filet, which I enjoyed. The puffed rice added some crunchiness.

Veal Sweetbreads Tempura
Kale, buttermilk, mustard, potato puree

Sweetbreads fried tempura style – not something I’ve had before. I enjoyed this dish as well, with the tender sweetbreads lightly fried. It was almost scallop-like in texture.

Four Story Hills Farm Suckling Pig
Banana polenta, morels, ramps, red onion

The polenta here was way too sweet. The pork belly was cooked quite well though, and nicely fatty. The skin was crispy – just the way it should be.

Japanese Kuroge Beef
Fried bearnaise, young turnips, bordelaise

The beef here was clearly a high-quality wagyu, with lots of melt-in-your-mouth fat marbling. I really enjoyed this piece of meat, but the accompanying red wine gelee did not do much for me.

Chocolate Caramel Ganache
Chocolate sorbet, salty hazelnut praline, cocoa tuille

This dish was a bit of a disappointment. First, the sorbet was kind of melted (see in picture) when it came out. I figure it might have been waiting just a little while for the other dessert. The caramel was rather jelly-like – this dish was not memorable.

Baba Au Rhum
Textures of coconut and pineapple, compressed papaya

This dish was a little bit better. The cake was dipped in liquor, topped with sorbet, and served with papaya and pineapple jelly.

Finally, the mignardises. Dark chocolate lollipops with pop rocks, mini macarons, and a passion fruit jellies. These were all pretty good.

In all, the meal at the Langham was good, but disappointing. Admittedly, I had very high expectations coming into this meal, and thus why the meal fell a little flat. I was optimistic that this would be one of the top 5 restaurant meals in LA – but I can’t say that it was. I really enjoyed the halibut cheek, but outside of that, none of the dishes were outstanding. However, none of the dishes were terrible either.

Melisse – 4/22/10

Melisse
1104 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90401

I’ve been meaning to try Melisse for a long while now. I’ve heard a lot of mixed reviews from friends over the years, and that’s probably part of what’s been holding me back (that, and not having anyone interested in going). However, the restaurant continues to receive very positive reviews all-around. With my friend down to go, it was time to finally try it.

Last year, Melisse celebrated its 10th anniversary. To celebrate, they offered a 10-course “signature dishes” menu in July 2009. Luckily and oddly, they are still offering that menu (click for larger size). What better way to try the restaurant than with 10 of their signature courses?

Amuse #1 – red grape two ways: goat cheese with pistachio and reconstituted grape with cheese and oil

These were both interesting starters. I liked the goat cheese and pistachio better, with a nice texture (crunch from pistachio) and sweetness from the grape.

Amuse #2 – Hokkaido scallop with radish and scallions


Hmm didn’t like this dish. The scallop was sliced very thin, and topped with the scallions, radish and salted. It tasted…soapy for some reason. And kinda fishy. Just not good.

Egg Caviar – lemon creme fraiche, American Ossetra caviar

This was a great dish. The egg was poached slowly, so there was a warm gooey center inside, which really went well with the caviar. Warm and comfortable.

Duo of Hamachi & Tuna – celery, meyer lemon, black truffles

The duo resembles a piece of sushi, which was a nice touch, and chopped tuna taking the place of rice. The celery adds a nice fresh crunch, and the lemon went well with the fish. I couldn’t taste the hamachi and tuna individually in each bite, however. The black truffle flavor was rather mild. Overall, I enjoyed this dish.

White and Purple Asparagus – white asparagus veloute, crispy purple asparagus roulade, truffle mousse

This was a really nice soup. There was a good asparagus flavor, and it really went well with the truffle mousse mixed in. Brilliant.

Seared Foie Gras – carrot cake, pineapple compote, vanilla-balsamic reduction

The foie gras was seared perfectly, with a nice crust and soft, tender interior. The carrot cake did not add much to the dish, and fell apart reather easily. I liked the pineapple compote and orange rind, as the sweetness and acidity cut through the fattiness of the liver.

Lobster Bolognese – fresh cappelini, truffle froth

This was my favorite dish of the night. Fresh pasta, wrapped in a lobster bolognese, and topped with a truffle foam. Delicious. The pasta may have been a TEENY bit overcooked (I prefer it a bit more al dente) but the flavors were spectacular, memorable.

John Dory Filet – chinese broccoli, kohlrabi, pinebut-cornichon jus

John Dory has a firm flesh, which was nice with the crunchy broccoli and kohlrabi. The fish was cooked pretty well, but just was not too memorable.

Cote de Boeuf – potato and braised short rib galette, fava beans, porcini mushrooms, herb jus

Like the fish, this dish wasn’t too memorable either. The rib-eye was very tender and had a decent flavor. The galette, with layers of potato and short rib, wasn’t as successful as expected. It was a little dry, perhaps overcooked. The same was true with the piece of short rib.

Le Fromage Truffee – black truffle, poached pears, balsamic gelee

I don’t really like the cheese course and tend to avoid it whenever possible. However, I had it here. The cheese was very mild, and I did not get a truffle flavor from it. It came with a warm toasted brioche.

Chocolate and Caramel Fondant  – hazelnut crumble, chocolate sorbet

This was a pretty good dish. The chocolate sorbet was nice and rich, and the fondant (with layers of rich mousse) was excellent. I enjoyed the hazelnut crumble as well, as it added some great texture to the dessert.

Strawberries and Creme – strawberries, creme fraiche, brown sugar

An interesting rendition of ‘strawberries and creme’ here, with creme fraiche instead..and sugar to sweeten. The strawberries were ripe and sweet, and the combination worked.

Mignardises – assorted cookies

These were just okay. The chocolate peanut butter cookies were actually pretty good with a nice crispiness, but the caneles weren’t anything special.

Melisse lived up to its expectations in my opinion. Outside of the scallop amuse, the execution and imagination were present in each course. While some of the dishes weren’t really memorable, I attribute a lot of it to personal taste. On the other hand, the Egg Caviar, White and Purple Asparagus, Lobster Bolognese, and Chocolate and Caramel Fondant were clear hits. Definitely a very solid showing – I think Melisse is one of the top five restaurants in Los Angeles.

Mo Chica – 4/20/10

Mo Chica
3655 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90007

Mo Chica is one of those restaurants that I wonder ‘if I had not heard anything about this place and walked in, how surprised would I be at this food?’ Located in kind of a grungy marketplace food court just east of USC, it’s not exactly a place you’d just stumble into. However, there’s been a lot of buzz around this place ever since it opened, and for good reason. Mo Chica offers a pretty great ceviche, as well as homey, comfortable Latin dishes such as lomo saltado, arroz con pollo, and a braised lamb shank – for very reasonable prices.

Ceviche of the day – sea bass

I like the large chunks of fish – they lend a nice  meaty chew. Definitely a very fresh fish, and not overcooked at all. The popped corn gave a really nice crunchy texture to go along with the fish.

Arroz con Mariscos

I’m a big fan of dishes where the meat/fish is cooked along with rice in a flavorful sauce. Paella and jambalaya are classic examples. Here we have a paella-like dish with shrimp, clams, mussels and squid. The shrimp and squid were cooked well, but the clams and mussels were a bit overcooked. The tomato-heavy sauce was a bit one-note, I thought.

Arroz con Pollo – organic chicken breast, salsa Madre, sauteed rice with cilantro sauce

A pan fried chicken breast + drumette served over rice. Often times when I have this dish, the chicken is cooked with the rice, which I like better. However, the rice (here in a cilantro sauce) had lots of good flavor. The chicken was flavorful too, but not too moist. I don’t really think it was overcooked, just not that impressive.

Seco de Cordero – lamb shank. cilantro beer stew, Peruvian canary beans, salsa criolla

The lamb here was cooked pretty well, falling off the bone. It had a nice chew to it, but was somewhat gamey…just a little too much for my liking. However, still a very solid dish with a very flavorful stew/sauce.

Oxtail risotto

The dish of the day was an oxtail risotto. The oxtail was very good, braised in a rich sauce until fork-tender. Really good flavor. The barley risotto was pretty cheesy, and had a nice al dente texture. Good mix of flavors and textures – my favorite dish of the night.

Mo Chica is a solid bet. Not all of the dishes were complete hits, but none were bad, either. For $11-13 per entree, it’s hard to beat. The ceviches are a must, and ordering a few entrees to split will likely leave you satisfied.