Truffle Dinner @ SAAM at The Bazaar (Los Angeles, CA)

Truffle Dinner Series
SAAM at The Bazaar
SLS Hotel
465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 2/23/13

SLS hotel

It’s been a while since I’ve been to The Bazaar, Jose Andres’ ever popular molecular gastronomy/tapas restaurant. After more than two years, a truffle tasting menu is what brought me back to the restaurant’s private dining area, the SAAM Room; the restaurant held one series in the fall and another in the month of February. $250 paid for 16 courses with black truffles and The Bazaar’s unique flair for creativity in their dishes. Considering the price tag of the special ingredient, I thought this was a relatively reasonable splurge.

My past two experiences at SAAM Room left me thinking the entertainment factor took front seat to flavor development, especially compared to Las Vegas’ é by Jose Andres (which I think has the much better overall experience). However, this meal would exceed expectations set from the past meals.

A lone white saucer awaited us at the table as we sat down. We were too curious to not take a peek inside, which yielded a glimpse (and instant aroma) of the not-to-secret ingredient of the night (we ate through almost the entire thing be the end of the night). I’d have to admit I was pretty excited at this point.

truffle

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Evan Funke @ this is not a pop-up (Los Angeles, CA)

this is not a pop-up: Evan Funke
Square One
4854 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Dining date: 2/6/13

square one

this is not a pop-up, housed in Hollywood’s Square One Dining space, follows a similar concept to the now-defunct Test Kitchen, housing chefs for a short period of time to cook whatever they want. It’s a concept that I really liked then, and enjoy just as much now as it keeps things new and interesting. Evan Funke, of Rustic Canyon fame (and developed one of LA’s most notable burgers) stepped into the restaurant for one night to preview his menu for upcoming Bucato.

Bucato, developed in the old Beacon restaurant in the Helms Bakery complex (with Father’s Office and Lukshon), has faced a number of delays (first rumored to open in December). While working on the opening of his Italian restaurant and “pasta laboratorio,” Funke started up a food truck serving only one thing – porchetta sandwiches. I recently tried it and, while not exactly a traditional porchetta, it was delicious.

Evan Funke's porchetta sandwich

It convinced us to try more of Funke’s food, bringing us to his pop-up menu of eight courses priced at $65.

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Ikemen (Los Angeles, CA)

Ikemen
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St #108
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 1/28/13

ikemen exterior

Ikemen is the latest ramen chain to open up shop in Little Tokyo (following other notables Shin-Sen-Gumi and Men Oh Tokushima). Located in Weller Court (the plaza shared with super-spicy Orochon), it kind of replaces the recently-closed Chin-Ma-Ya. Ikemen’s first location opened up in Hollywood in late 2011; I’d read mostly positive things about the shop but never made it out to Hollywood.

ikemen signno ramen no life

Ikemen isn’t your traditional ramen shop; it’s actually kind of weird (modern?). The philosophy is very clear (it’s painted on the wall) – they aim to create edgy and stylish ramen.

philosophy

The specialty is what Ikemen calls ‘dip ramen,’ essentially a tsukemen where you dip noodles into a warm broth before eating. Except, they call the soup au jus here, and an option for the Ghostbuster Dip Ramen combines this jus with heavy cream, truffle oil, roasted marshmallows. Yep. My coworker and I weren’t quite brave enough to go that route, and stuck to some of the slightly more conservative options. Continue reading

The Hart and the Hunter (Los Angeles, CA)

The Hart and the Hunter
Palihotel
7950 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 1/6/13

hart and hunter

Formerly the pop-up Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Brian Dunsmoor and Kris Tominaga opened The Hart and the Hunter last October. It’s quickly become one of the most talked-about restaurants in LA over the last few months for its hearty and flavorful food. The cuisine is an interesting mix, a blend of Dunsmoor’s southern background and Tominaga’s California flair. I first heard the buzz when I was in Japan and was eagerly awaiting a visit to the restaurant. Expectations were high.

chefs

The dining room is fairly small, with a couple of large communal tables in the center. An open kitchen provides a glimpse of the action. Continue reading

The Restaurant at Meadowood @ Animal (Los Angeles, CA)

Cooking with Friends: Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood)
Animal Restaurant
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 1/14/13

animal exterior

New for 2013, the team behind the ever-popular Animal began a series of dinners called “Cooking with Friends” in which a guest chef would join for one night and cook a collaborative dinner, with a portion of proceeds going to the chef’s choice. I’m always intrigued by meals like this as it provides an opportunity to try something unique, particularly if it’s an out-of-town chef.

For this first dinner, the guest chef was Christopher Kostow of the Michelin three-star The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, CA. My only visit to the restaurant was at the tail end of 2009, and was actually one of the meals that inspired this blog’s creation. Given Meadowood’s accolades and reputation for serving a highly-refined, super-seasonal/local type of dining, the restaurant was packed for the one-night dinner. I was very excited for this one.

menu

The eight-course menu was priced at $135 and the beneficiary of this dinner was Cancer for College, a charity that provides college scholarships to cancer survivors.

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LudoBites 10 @ Gram & Papa’s (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites 10
Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 12/10/12

menu

Last week LudoBites returned in its 10th incarnation, dubbed a sort of “Best Of” celebration bringing back many dishes from previous iterations of the pop-up. Adding to the hype, it was also announced that this would be the last LudoBites pop-up given that Ludo will be opening a permanent restaurant (with the Animal guys) in the new year. Not surprisingly, reservations were again scarce for the 3-week run, with reservation requests taken through an UrbanSpoon lottery. I’ve heard that approximately 5% of reservation requests were granted, a rate similar to LudoBites 8.0 (the last LA version).

exterior

Downtown’s Gram & Papa’s is a usual suspect in terms of LudoBites locations, and I was happy to see it used again for this one (it’s by far the most convenient for me!). The ever-changing menu on this night had a mix of classic dishes from the past and some new ones. As much as I love trying Ludo’s new creations, I was probably more excited to try some old favorites again. I could seriously think up a dream team of past dishes to craft up the perfect meal.

As with all LudoBites, Ludo can be found in the kitchen every single night. In my experience, there really hasn’t been as much chaos and yelling as their Sundance Channel show would suggest…

ludo

Hamachi, Vietnamese Salad

Hamachi, Vietnamese Salad

We started down memory lane with this dish from 6.0, a cool hamachi fish complemented by refreshing and crispy slivers of green papaya and fried lotus root. Definitely a hit.

Prawns, Avocado, Pineapple, Shrimp Oil

Prawns, Avocado, Pineapple, Shrimp Oil

The seafood continued with these prawns, served with an added sweetness of pineapple and an interesting shrimp oil, providing some additional depth of flavor.

Oysters, Gray Shallots, Blanco Grapefruit, Kombu

Oysters, Gray Shallots, Blanco Grapefruit, Kombu

I found the oysters to be good, but the bite was overpowered by a strong bitterness from, presumably, the grapefruit.

Celery Root Risotto, Creamy Mustard Emulsion, Red Walnuts

Celery Root Risotto, Creamy Mustard Emulsion, Red Walnuts

This was something new; small diced celery root was smothered in a mustard emulsion sauce. This one didn’t work for me (and perhaps the rest of the table as we didn’t finish either of the two orders), with the creamy sauce being overly rich and sort of monotone in flavor.

Ham Soup, Radish, Pickles

Ham Soup, Radish, Pickles

We rebounded with this nice bowl of ham (and, I think, cheese) soup, with a warm comforting porky flavor. Slivers of radish and pickles provided a slight crunch and acidity to cut trough the rich soup. Add a warm baguette and this would be a great meal.

Tandoori Octopus, Beets, Pink Onions, Yogurt, Fennel

Tandoori Octopus, Beets, Pink Onions, Yogurt, Fennel

Tender braised octopus was paired with crisp beets and a tart yogurt, in one of the seemingly simpler dishes of the evening.

Squid Pad Thai Butter, Grapes, Tofu, Lime Oil, Chili Oil

Squid Pad Thai Butter, Grapes, Tofu, Lime Oil, Chili Oil

I enjoyed this 6.0 throwback, a “squid pad Thai” with squid, crispy bean sprouts, and well-balanced lime and chili oils. Thin slices of sweet grape really made a difference too.

Escargot, Fine Brick Tart, Garlic Mousse, Spinach, Parsley, Curry

Escargot, Fine Brick Tart, Garlic Mousse, Spinach, Parsley, Curry

The escargot was tender and chewy, and I enjoyed the textural contrast with the ‘brick tart.’ A warm garlicky curry sauce brought everything together.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo

This 5.0 dish is one of my favorites in LudoBites history so I was very excited to have this again. It really seems so simple – a velvety smooth mashed potato with a perfectly poached egg and just a little bit of chorizo makes a fantastic combination.

Chicken, Mushrooms, Parmesan, Pears, Brioche

Chicken, Mushrooms, Parmesan, Pears, Brioche

Ludo always seems to cook chicken well and this was no exception. The chicken was moist, and I really liked the texture that the brioche breadcrumbs provided. Great bites, particularly with the crisp, fresh slices of pear to offset the richness.

Veal, Carrots, Udon, Caramelized Onions, White Miso

Veal, Carrots, Udon, Caramelized Onions, White Miso

I found the chunks of veal to be a bit chewy and kind of flavorless. The udon and comforting miso were both good, but couldn’t make up for the disappointing crux of the dish.

Flat Iron Steak, Treviso, Smoked Anchovy Cream, Pepper Oil

Flat Iron Steak, Treviso, Smoked Anchovy Cream, Pepper Oil

These were yummy chunks of medium-rare steak; the pepper oil and smoked anchovy cream were difference-makers, adding a lot of flavor and depth to the meat.

Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar

Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar

This was another favorite of mine; I first had it at 6.0 (though it made its first appearance at 2.0). Salty caviar and sweet caramel came together with a great panna cotta at the center. The separate flavors really came together so well to make some delicious bites.

Lemon Meringue Tart

Lemon Meringue Tart

Dollops of tart lemon curd, sweet whipped cream and crumbled “pie crust” made up this deconstructed lemon meringue tart. Similar to when I had it at 8.0, I liked the ability to make each bite different, experimenting with more cream or more curd to find the right balance.

Chocolate Fondant, Mint Pesto, Habanero Gelee

Chocolate Fondant, Mint Pesto, Habanero Gelee

A little bit of heat and a little bit of fresh herb flavor complemented this rich chocolate cake. Simple and executed well.

helmet

I have no explanation.

Guests who paid with a MasterCard were treated to a signed cookbook – a cool promotion! While I do have some bias, I’ve found this cookbook to be one of the best reads, chronicling the story of the whole LudoBites pop-up concept. I have yet to experiment with any of the recipes, but that’s only a matter of time…

cookbooks

Having been to LudoBites 1.0 I was happy to be able to come full-circle at this last one. Food-wise, I thought there were some highs and lows, but it was some of the more interesting things I’ve eaten in LA recently. The ‘highs’ were quite high though; I will always remember the poached egg/potato mousseline and the panna cotta with caramel and caviar. Who knows, maybe some of these favorites (or a variation) can find a recurring role at the permanent restaurant.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites 7.0 (2) | LudoBites 8.0 (2)LudoBites America | LudoBites Best of Foie Gras