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.

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.