LA Times Celebration of Food & Wine – 9/5/10

LA Times Celebration of Food & Wine
Paramount Pictures Studio Backlot
5555 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038

For me, the first LA Times Celebration of Food & Wine was a tale of two stories; one of the General Admission (GA) area and one of the VIP admission area. If I had gotten the GA ticket, I probably would have been completely unsatisfied. Luckily, I purchased a VIP ticket (discounted through Goldstar), and overall I had a good time.

In short, general admission allowed access to a variety of food trucks and food/drink vendors (of which, 90% you had to pay for) and various cooking demonstrations and wine/cooking panel discussions. Eight drink tickets were included to sample various wines and spirits. The VIP admission included all of that, and a separate VIP section, open at 3pm,  with unlimited food/drink tastings at more upscale restaurants and vendors. Ahead of the event, there was no indication that the VIP area was not going to be open until 3 – VIP ticket-holders were effectively a general admission participant until that time. There was very little food included in the price of admission in this area, and any free samples had extensive lines.

Clockwise from the top-left – the event covered a large area of the Paramount backlot; the VIP area was barely getting set up at the time of opening; there were a number of culinary demonstrations – here Mark Peel and Suzanne Goin discuss farm-to-table cooking; food trucks abound including Buttermilk, Border Grill and Nom Nom; discussion panels were a large part of the event – here Aarti Sequeira discusses starting a food blog.

From noon until 3pm, VIP attendees were free to browse the ‘general’ event until the VIP area opened up. This is about the time that everyone realized that the vast majority of food would cost money, even water. Considering the VIP ticket retail price of $125 (or even the $55 GA ticket), I don’t think a lot of people were happy about having to pay $5-10 at each truck/stand. One of the most popular stands throughout the afternoon was Kyochon Chicken.

They passed out samples of their delicious fried chicken and, perhaps more importantly, handed out bags – a critical item in any festival! I lost count of how many times we were asked “where’d you get those bags from?”

Another venue serving free samples was Seedthee Thai – here we have a chicken curry, to be dipped with fresh warm crepes.

This was a nice variation with just the right amount of heat in the curry to keep things interesting.  Tantalum Restaurant offered up samples of a breaded and fried calamari.

This was arguably the best of the free dishes in the GA area with a very tender piece of calamari – the crunchy breading lent the dish a nice textural component.

This exhausted much of the free food we found offered in the GA area – many people started lining up early outside of the VIP area.

Once they opened up the gates, a whole new event unfolded! Food and drink (and water!) were unlimited here, with a much larger variety of restaurants. Our first stop was Water Grill, where exec. chef David LeFevre was shucking oysters all afternoon.

I was a little surprised to see LeFevre shucking these himself all day, but he seemed to really be enjoying himself and chatting it up with everyone that visited the booth. These oysters were quite good, and gave me a fresh, refreshing slurp on a hot summer day. This was definitely a return visit!

Next up was Xino, Chris Yeo’s (notably of Straits Cafe in San Francisco) venture into the new Santa Monica Place. Here he served ha gow and shumai dumplings, as well as chili spareribs.

My favorite here was by far the shumai, which was an excellent variation – densely packed with shrimp and pork. I found the sparerib to be really bony with just a little bit of meat, though the flavors were there.

Next stop was K-Zo, serving spicy salmon over crispy rice, and a “crispy hamachi” dish.

I thought the hamachi was quite good. The fish was fresh with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. The spicy salmon was good as well, though there was a lot of crispy rice.

Public Kitchen & Bar was serving braised veal cheeks, something I was pretty excited about.

The meat was braised well and extremely tender. The salsa verde was a nice accompaniment.

The Peninsula Beverly Hills served a number of dishes including this salmon and caviar atop a scallion blini.

This was definitely one of the more “upscale” dishes served during the day, and I thought it was a good bite.

Grace served a shellfish ceviche, one of the best dishes of the day.

The pieces of clam, scallops, shrimp and calamari had a great texture to them – overall a delicious and refreshing dish, considering it was a summer afternoon.

Ivan Kane’s Cafe Was chef Alex Reznik, vilified on this season’s Top Chef, had an outstanding booth, presenting three tastes. Having a great sense of humor, he served a pea puree soup, bacon-wrapped dates filled with Roquefort cheese, and Kennebec potato chips.

All of these were very good – the highlight for me was actually the cold soup; Reznik definitely showed he could make a delicious pea puree on his own! It had a good, mild pea flavor with a delicious chunk of pork belly inside. The chips were wonderfully crisped, and the bacon-wrapped dates were very strong as well.

La Casita Mexicana served a chicken mole and a whitefish ceviche.

These were both pretty good. My favorite was the ceviche – bright, vibrant flavors were highlighted by the lime juice.

Susan Feniger’s Street served a Burmese Melon Salad, which was a pretty unique dish.

Melons, coconuts, peanuts, and onions were tossed in a sesame ginger dressing. It was not my favorite dish, but I thought it was a nice choice of dish on a summer afternoon.

Lago served a braised beef tongue in a parsley pesto and an interesting take on a caprese salad – heirloom tomato gelato, burrata cheese, and a basil foam.

The beef tongue was a bold dish to serve, and I liked that they were trying to expand people’s tastes. The tongue and pesto worked well; though the caprese was even better. The fresh burrata was delicious, and the tomato gelato and basil foam were good as well – loved the creativity here.

Next stop was Waterloo & City, serving up a chicken liver foie gras and pate.

Unfortunately I didn’t care too much for these dishes. They were a bit rich considering the weather, and the pate had a thicker consistency than I’m accustomed to.

Eva Restaurant served a potato puree with smoked salmon and chives.

I enjoyed this dish. The puree was creamy, with a slight smokiness from the smoked salmon.

Loteria Grill served, clockwise from top left, a guava empanada, a ceviche, and a corn tart with poblano chiles.

The empanada was interesting, but my favorite was the ceviche (see a trend?) Cool and refreshing, it was perfect for summer.

Westside Tavern served a lamb french dip.

This was excellent – the slices of lamb were tender and flavorful, with a little bit of horseradish for heat, and the roll was soft and yielding.

Mar’sel offered up an heirloom tomato gazpacho and a currant tomato and farro salad.

The highlight for me here was the gazpacho with its sweet tomato flavor contrasted by a little bit of yogurt.

RockSugar was serving BBQ lacquered ribs and a green mango and papaya salad.

The ribs were boneless and very tender. The sweet BBQ sauce added some great flavor to them; the salad was a nice accompaniment, considering its refreshing acidity.

Palate Food & Wine was serving a sardine banh mi with lamb heart, pickled melon, mint and a pistachio aillade.  Interesting.

The lamb heart was quite tender, and the sardines added a little bit of saltiness and fishiness. I thought this was a pretty good dish; my only problem was that this was a huge serving!

New restaurant Salt’s Cure offered house-cured yellowtail with pickled jalapeno and creme fraiche atop a crostini.

I’m not a big smoked fish fan, but I appreciated the smoky, tender fish and the textural interplay of the crusty crostini.

Josie Restaurant served truffle chips.

These were very good. The chips were very crispy and had a great parmesan and truffle flavor to them.

District served a zucchini bread dessert.

This cake-like dessert was pretty moist, with a distinctive yet subtle zucchini flavor. Delicious!

Sam’s by the Beach served an oven roasted pheasant with sour cream and a port wine sauce, accompanied by a carrot and red bell pepper souffle.

Another strong dish here. The pheasant had good flavor, and was not gamey at all. The carrot and bell pepper souffle was equally as strong, with the characteristic flavor of the bell pepper showing through.

I didn’t get many pictures of the vintners or spirits, but there was a pretty good selection. Notably, I was able to participate in tastings of Green River Valley Sake, Casa Noble Tequilas, and Bache-Gabrielsen cognacs. I felt so enlightened to learn and taste the differences between an XO and a VSOP cognac! VeeV Acai Liqueur was making custom-made cocktails with a variety of herbs and vegetables.

To close the night, the She & Him duo of Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward performed.

I was pretty happy with the event, though this was largely attributable to the VIP area. As this was the first time for this event, it’s understandable there would be some issues. To me, the main problem was that it wasn’t explicit what exactly was included in the GA ticket versus the VIP ticket – I’m sure many people (myself included) figured there would be more food included in the $55 GA price tag; managing these expectations would be a critical element to customer satisfaction.  If the LA Times decides to bring this event back next year, I’m sure it will come back even stronger. If they don’t bring it back, there’s also the Taste of Beverly Hills…

LudoBites – 9/2/10

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

This would be my final visit to LudoBites 5.0, on its second-to-last night. Ludo likes to keep the menu constantly changing, so the menu has changed fairly significantly since my first visit on opening night. However, a lot of our favorites were still on the menu (including the wagyu beef over somen noodles and the potato mousseline). As a result, this would end up being my best LudoBites experience. Given the constant buzz and the fact that I’ve been here four times since May, I’m even surprised that I keep enjoying it more and more.

Similar to opening night, super-food writer Jonathan Gold was present – and was one of the last tables to leave. Ex-NFL star Warren Sapp dined as well; seemingly random, but I know that he is friends with the Lefebvres.

Warm Baguette, Seaweed Buckwheat Butter

The naan served earlier in 5.0 had gotten semi-mixed reviews, and here Ludo decided to bring back the baguette.  It’s a really good baguette, served warm and salted, complemented by a nice seaweed buckwheat butter.

Hot Miso Soup, Cherry Tomato, Uni Black Panini

This soup-and-sandwich pairing reminded me of a recent Hatchi meal with a “burger” and miso soup. The panini is a metamorphosis of the foie gras croque monsier – the uni is much more subtle, though I could still pick out the briny flavor in each bite. The miso soup was a strong variation; the tomatoes weren’t even necessary to make this soup good, but provided a really vibrant flavor.

King Salmon “a l’huile” Juniper Berries, Rainbow Carrot, Orange Ice, Pistachio

This was a totally new dish, and it was excellent. Slices of raw salmon were complemented well by acidity and coolness of the orange ice, and the pistachio and crunchy carrots provided some great texture.

Heirloom Tomato Salad, Mozzarella Ice Cream, Basil Crumble

Some really sweet and ripe tomatoes were presented here in an interesting version of a caprese salad. The mozzarella was in the form of an ice cream, and the basil in a crunchy crumble. I loved how Ludo brought these three ingredients together in different textural elements. All of the flavors were distinctive and excellent on their own, though the tomatoes were the star for me.

Raw Wagyu Beef, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Watermelon

This was one of my favorites from opening night – our table ended up ordering four orders of this. The beef is tender and flavorful, and the watermelon adds some brightness to this dish. The peanuts added a nice crunch to the dish as well – stir this all up and you have a fantastic bite.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo Condiment

This was another favorite from last trip…and another that we ordered four dishes of. The mousseline was so smooth and went really well with the rich, runny egg yolk. The flowers here added some flavor as well, giving this dish a floral essence.

Sauteed Chanterelles, Peach, Black Garlic, Breadcrumbes & Parsley

This was another new dish for us. The chanterelles were quite tender, and the peaches added a nice sweetness and brightness to the dish.

Grilled Octopus, Oregano, Burnt Red Bell Pepper Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D’Espellette Gelee

The octopus was perfectly cooked, yielding very tender tentacles. The pineapple aioli added just the right amount of sweetness and acid, while the chili gelee added just a touch of heat.

Santa Barbara Prawn, Cinnamon Beurre Blanc, Beignet, Shrimp Powdered Sugar

The shrimp were nicely cooked and the cinnamon beurre blanc – sounds kind of weird, I know – does really work. The beignet, however, wasn’t as light as others I’ve had, and didn’t add too much to the dish.

Hot Foie Gras Dynamite, Raw Tuna, Lychee, Crackers

Love the colors on this dish. The foie gras was covered with Ludo’s “Dynamite” sauce. The heat was tempered by the lychee, as well as the cool tuna. I could’ve used a bigger piece of the foie gras though, as it didn’t stand out as much amongst the other ingredients.

John Dory, Saffron Risotto, Chanterelles Mousse Emulsion

John Dory is a firmer white fish, and here it was cooked perfectly. The saffron risotto was excellent as well, providing a sort of “seafood risotto.” The chanterelle foam adds a nice flavor to this as well. I loved this dish.

Confit Pork Belly, Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Mustard Ice Cream

This dish was similar to one we had on opening night. The pork belly was very tender and flavorful, and the Thai coleslaw added a refreshing contrast to the richness of the pork, with its slight acidity. The mustard ice cream added a little heat – not something I’d eat on a cone, but I thought it worked well in this application!

Roasted Sonoma Saddle of Lamb, Goat Cheese, Candied Black Olive, Artichoke Salad, Mint Pesto

The lamb was cooked well here, though it was a bit chewy – really not as tender as I expected. The goat cheese, with a marshmallow consistency, was not overwhelming but provided a good depth of flavor. I thought the artichoke salad was oversalted.

Marinated Steak (“Korean Style”), Pickled Vegetables, Grilled Baby Corn, Crispy Bacon

I think skirt steak was used here, and it was marinated and grilled “Korean style.” It was a really flavorful piece of meat, and the acidity from the pickled vegetables complemented the steak well.

Cheese Plate Saint-Nectaire (Cow) with Pear Kimchi Chutney; Epoisse (Cow) with Whole Grain Mustard, Honeycomb; Roncal (Sheep) with Apricots-Lavender Jam

As an intermezzo, we had the cheese plate. I’m not a big cheese person, and was saving room for dessert, so I passed on this. The rest of our party seemed to enjoy it though.

Chocolate Cake, Spicy Olive Oil

Onto the dessert! This was a new dish for me. The chocolate cake was not entirely special, but the spicy olive oil here really kicked things up.

“Sundae” Pistachio Ice Cream, Bing Cherries, Hot Chocolate Sauce, Salted Pistachio

Layers of pistachio ice cream, hot chocolate sauce, and bing cherries topped with whipped cream – how can you go wrong? You can’t. This dish seemed relatively simple for Ludo’s standards, and was excellent. I’m not really sure what it was, but the flavors were incredible together, and the salted pistachio bits on top added a very nice crunch to each bite.

Caramel Souffle, Grapefruit Gelee, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream

We had been looking forward to this all night. Ludo makes a terrific souffle. It was so light and airy, with a good caramel flavor. It was served piping hot, and when combined with the cold, salty ice cream, became a really delicious combination.

Service was excellent, something that I don’t always see at “pop-up” restaurants. In all, this was probably my favorite LudoBites experience of all of the five times I’ve been able to experience it. Ludo is able to wield creative and interesting flavor combinations together that, most importantly, work. I’m a little sad to see LudoBites 5.0 come to an end, but I’m already looking forward to 6.0 later this year.

Test Kitchen: Walter Manzke – 8/25/10

Test Kitchen: Walter Manzke
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

I knew Test Kitchen’s devilish business plan would keep me coming back for more! As a recap, the kitchen opens its doors to various chefs and restaurateurs to allow them to try new dishes and menu concepts…and for us to sample these new creations. I first went to the Test Kitchen on Sunday to try Red Medicine‘s take on modern Vietnamese fare, and here I found myself again; this time, to sample Walter Manzke’s cooking. One of the two most notable “homeless” LA chefs (I would count Voltaggio as the other, Ludo doesn’t want a home), I first tried Manzke’s cuisine at Church & State and enjoyed it. I jumped at the opportunity to sample more of what he has to offer, outside of the French bistro fare Church & State patrons were accustomed to.

I dined with my friend Lilly (who has recently started a craft beer blog, LA Beer Hopping), and also spotted fellow bloggers Kevin of kevinEats, Holly of The Michelin Project and Ryan of Epicuryan. Also, Jason Bernstein of the Golden State also happened to be dining, who I am a big fan of.

Manzke is cooking for four nights only (8/25-8/28) with a menu of 5 dishes, which seem to have a lot of Asian inspiration. In addition, there were a few tapas options as well, and we tried two of them – the calamari and the bread & butter.

Bread & Butter Vermont butter, sea salt, foie gras butter with lavender honey

The bread was freshly baked; crisp on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside. The foie gras butter was much more interesting than the fresh Vermont butter, with a rather subtle foie gras flavor. The sea salt worked to bring out some of the flavor of the lavender honey as well.

Local Calamari grilled and fried, backyard arugula, black aioli

I really enjoyed this dish and the interplay of crunchy calamari with bites of the tender, grilled calamari. Both preparations were cooked just right; I preferred the grilled calamari with the aioli featuring…squid ink. How fitting!

Hamachi avocado, green apple, yuzu, jalapeno

This was the first course of the regular menu. Small pieces of hamachi were placed on top of equally small pieces of avocado. Both of these had a really melt-in-mouth texture, and the acidity from the green apple and yuzu really brightened up the dish without overpowering the subtle hamachi flavor.

Thai Curry-Carrot Soup Maine lobster, coconut tapioca

The Thai curry and the carrots were both distinctive in this dish – though, they did not clash with each other. Small chunks of lobster were cooked beautifully; the sweetness from the lobster and tapioca helped to temper some of the mild heat of the curry.

Loup de Mer Sungold tomatoes, mole verde sauce

Loup de mer, also commonly called branzino, is probably one of my favorite fishes with its light, flaky and moist flesh. This piece was a little bit firmer, but was still moist and delicate. The skin was crisped nicely, adding some texture. The tomatoes were outstanding – perfectly ripe, juicy and sweet. The mole verde was very mild in flavor, but the fish didn’t need much. This dish really reminded me of summer and light, vibrant flavors.

Beef Tenderloin chanterelle mushrooms, Katsuo Bushi broth

This last savory dish was another good one. The tenderloin was cooked a nice medium-rare and was quite tender, served with a nice poached egg. On its own, it may not have been anything spectacular, but I loved the Katsuo Bushi broth. Like a much richer dashi broth made from bonito flakes, it has a really deep, salty flavor. I never know how to describe what umami tastes like, but this had it..and a lot of it!

There was also a little bit of yuzu kosho to go with the meat – made of yuzu and chili peppers, the Japanese condiment gave just the right amount of heat and bitterness to take the dish even further.

Strawberry “Creme Brulee”

This was Manzke’s take on the classic dessert. Strawberries were topped with a strawberry sorbet, a light cream and caramelized sugar. The result was a much lighter interpretation, but still containing the flavors of a traditional creme brulee. I thought this was a pretty nice way to end the meal, and not leave you with something too heavy.

I was very pleased with the meal. The service and pace of the meal were both much better than my prior visit. I don’t think there were any significant missteps, and Manzke really shined in displaying some new flavors, particularly Asian. I think this is a worthwhile meal to take part in during Manzke’s short stay; but be warned, it may leave you wanting more of his food…with nowhere to get it!

Test Kitchen: Red Medicine – 8/22/10

Test Kitchen: Red Medicine
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

This past Sunday was the last night in Red Medicine’s run at Test Kitchen, LA’s new “pop-up” restaurant. Drawing upon the success of the now-nationwide famous LudoBites’ pop-up concept, the restaurant is well…a test kitchen. There’s no permanent chef; rather, the space is rented out for short periods of time by chefs (typically of upcoming restaurants) who will showcase dishes of a new concept. And somehow, we’ve all nurtured the desire to be their guinea pigs.

The format is unique and could be wildly successful. As long as the restaurant can continually schedule chefs people want to see, the restaurant will be ever-changing, fresh, and most importantly, will  keep people coming back for more. The debut chef for the restaurant is Jordan Kahn, who will helm the upcoming modern Vietnamese restaurant Red Medicine.

12 dishes were served family style, in “no particular order.” We had an early reservation, and really felt rushed – all 12 courses came out in one hour.

radishes, coco-butter, lime, dried soy

Crunchy and crisp, these were a good starter. I enjoyed the clean flavors.

cured amberjack, lime leaf, french melon, nuoc cham, bird chili, mint

The melon was sliced into pieces, and topped with the fish. Slightly spicy from the chili, though sweet from the cantaloupe, the flavors worked pretty well.

green papaya, crispy taro, rau ram, fried shallots, peanuts

I can’t say I’m an expert in papaya salads, but this was a pretty good rendition for me. Cool and refreshing, with a nice ‘crunch’ in every bite from the papaya, peanuts, and taro. I could eat this all summer.

tomatoes marinated in an infusion of their vines, silky tofu, crunchy tofu, herbs

This dish was one of the most interesting of the night for me…kind of an Asian caprese salad. The tomatoes were ripe, juicy and sweet, and the tofu had a very cheesy consistency and texture. The herbs added some more complexity of flavor to the dish.

brussels sprouts, caramelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers

This was probably my favorite savory dish of the night. The brussels sprouts were addicting – crispy and light, with a mild sweetness from the caramelization. I’d love to buy a bag of these and eat them like potato chips!

saigon tartine- pork belly, pate, coriander, carrot pickle, green chili

These were essentially mini banh-mi. I got a nice crunch from the pickled veggies; initially, I was thinking there should’ve been more meat. However, I think a traditional banh-mi is supposed to be less meat-heavy, and this was more along those lines. I wouldn’t say there was any ‘modern’ spin to this dish, other than it being miniaturized.

caramelized chicken dumplings, lemongrass, scallion, bibb lettuce

These dumplings, more like meatballs, were a bit dense and dry for me. I think white meat was used; I would have preferred a dark meat to lend more fat and juiciness.

baby carrots, fermented black bean, star anise, coconut, tarragon

As the dishes come out in “no particular order,” I don’t think dish order was a big focus. However, as I felt like we were gearing up into the “entrees,” I would’ve preferred this dish earlier in the meal. I like black bean sauce, however I’m not too sure it worked with me on this one. Black beans have a sweetness to them, and so do the carrots; and it just didn’t meld too well for me.

bay scallops, pomelo, young ginger, tamarind syrup, puffed tapioca, charred friseé

The tamarind syrup was all overpowering in this dish. The small bay scallops didn’t hold up very well to the strong sauce. I appreciated the texture from the puffed tapioca, but it didn’t add any flavor notes. I loved the charred frisee however, reminiscent of the brussels sprouts.

beef bavette, bacon X.O., chinese eggplant, chinese celery, lime, palm sugar, sesame

As long as you cook it medium-rare to medium, I find it’s hard to mess up a flank steak. This was no exception with tender chunks of meat and good flavor. I appreciated the eggplant as well. It was mushy, and I like it that way.

peaches, crème de cassis, raspberry, condensed milk, tonic water sorbet, violet

I thought the peaches were delicious in this dish, alone. Outside of the creme, I don’t think the ingredients added too much to the dish. But I loved the sweet, ripe peaches.

coconut bavarois, coffee ice cream, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory

Jordan Kahn made his name as a pastry chef, and it really showed in this dish. The peanut croquant was really reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but crispy. The chicory has a coffee-like flavor; combined with the coconut, peanut and touch of thai basil – the flavors and textures were really good.

In all, there were some hits and some misses but overall, my impression of the food was positive. Where I probably disagreed most was with the portions and the insanely quick pace to the meal. I’ve never had 12 courses in the span of one hour; I felt like I was just trying to keep up for most of the meal, so that they could fill the table for a 7:30 reservation (we sat down at 6). Most of the dishes pictured were for a party of 5 – thus, dishes were good for one or a few bites. At the end of the meal, I felt like I was still waiting for the entree to come. However, I can’t fault that $40 is a pretty good price to try 12 different dishes, but we weren’t allowed to order additional dishes of anything once the meal had run its course.

Animal – 8/21/10

435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048

I’ve been wanting to try Animal for a while, and finally got the chance. Founded by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Two Dude Catering (Food Network) fame, Animal has been a consistently popular restaurant since it opened in 2008. Every time I’ve tried to make a weekend reservation (I admit – usually with short notice), I get a response such as “the earliest table we have available is 10:30.” Or 11:30. What! I didn’t even realize people were seated that late (the restaurant is actually open til 2am on Fridays and Saturdays). They offer the full menu for first-come, first-served walk-ins at the bar, and this is what we opted for.

Obviously, this place is not for vegetarians, as the menu is meat-centric, offering various meats and cuts that are rarely found all in one place, including oxtail, rabbit, sweetbreads and octopus.

boudin, rooster aioli, gherkin

This boudin was made of chicken liver and rice, then fried in bite-sized balls. It was actually pretty light, and nicely crispy – a good way to start the meal.

pig ear, chili, lime, fried egg

Here, pig ears are sliced thin and fried. Combined with lime and chili peppers, it’s topped with a fried egg. Honestly, the fried egg really makes this dish for me. The spiciness of the peppers was slightly mellowed out by the runny egg yolk, which really brought everything together. However, I could’ve used two egg yolks here.

barbecue pork belly sandwiches, slaw

First off, the pork belly was melt-in-mouth tender. It probably helped that it was a rather fatty piece of pork. The meat was succulent, with the barbecue sauce adding a slight sweetness and smokiness that was not overpowering. Too often I see BBQ pork sandwiches that are dredged in a thick BBQ sauce, and this was not the case. The coleslaw added just the right amount of acidity and lightness to this dish. Bravo!

poutine, oxtail gravy, cheddar

I remembered seeing a picture and description of this dish when I first heard about Animal and was like…this is a total must-order. I love oxtail. Here we have braised oxtail and its gravy (presumably the braising liquid), on top of french fries and a mild cheddar cheese.  I think the fries were fried extra crispy, in order to add more texture, and combat sogginess from the gravy. Really delicious – definitely a fan.

foie gras loco moco, quail egg, spam, hamburger

Here’s a play on the Hawaiian staple dish of loco moco which, at its base, usually has rice topped with a burger patty, spam, fried egg, and gravy. Animal steps it up a notch with a lobe of foie gras. Completely decadent and rich! I first tried pieces of each of the components separately and found them good on their own. Combined, it made for something quite tasty (though, it can be hard to taste the foie gras with all those components, since it’s a pretty thin slice). This was probably my favorite dish of the night.

bacon chocolate crunch bar, s&p anglaise

Of course, a restaurant named ‘Animal’ would have a dessert with bacon in it. I’ve heard a lot about this dish, and it’s the must-try dessert on the menu. Layers of rich chocolate and hazelnuts is topped with bacon bits. I like salty things with chocolate, and the bacon lended this saltiness and the “crunch” in this bar. While good, I wouldn’t particularly say it was ‘great,’ however I was pretty full by this point.

peach and raspberry pie, whipped cream

Animal serves a daily pie topped with freshly whipped cream. Today’s pie was peach and raspberry. The peaches were nice and sweet, and the raspberries were tart (a little too tart for me). The pie crust was quite nice though, and the whipped cream was a nice accompaniment. I began to actually eat the cream with the bacon chocolate crunch bar, which made for a pretty good combination.

In all, Animal met my (high) expectations. The food is a little different, with innovative takes on comfort food and some new dishes altogether.  The food is very rich, and you’re likely to leave full and sleepy. At least, I did. I would come back, especially for the pork belly sandwiches and loco moco, as well as to try some of the rest of the dishes on the menu.

Another restaurant from Shook & Dotolo is in the works on Third Street in West Hollywood, which will be a different concept from Animal. It will be exciting to see what these guys come up with.

LudoBites Truck – 8/14/10

LudoBites Truck aka LudoTruck
Locations around the city

I don’t typically review the food trucks I visit, but the LudoBites truck is a little different from the typical food truck. Based on the now-famous fried chicken served at previous LudoBites engagements, the truck serves a few varieties of fried chicken, as well as a number of sides that compliment the chicken. Not yet ready for regular day-to-day service, it “pops-up” at various locations and events around the city with relatively minimal advertising – a way to limit the masses from overwhelming the truck (see: first LA Street Food Fest). Given the buzz currently surrounding everything LudoBites-related, it’s understandable that they are easing its way into normal service.

I was taking a gardening class at Cube LA’s downtown offshoot (Yes – I do have a small home garden), knowing that the truck would be paying a visit at noon – coincidentally, the class’ end time. I’ve had the chicken twice before, at the aforementioned LA Street Food Fest, as well as at LudoBites 4.0, and I was eagerly anticipating a third taste. Given that I was already on the scene as the truck arrived, our party was first in line to order!

The truck’s menu features chicken prepared three ways, with a number of sauces, sides and desserts.

Provencal Pepite “Chicken Ball” with Herbs de Provence, Crunch Buttermilk Strips, Honey-Garlic Glazed Wings and Coleslaw

The chicken strip and wing are relatively new, with the ‘chicken ball’ being the staple. These were all quite good – the chicken strip was moist and tender, though the breading was a little thick. The wing was also moist with just the right sweetness, and the ‘chicken ball’ was as tasty as ever, though smaller than in previous incarnations. Served piping hot, the juices literally run all over once you bite into it.

Of the four sauces, I was able to try the honey whole grain mustard, piquillo, and Ludo’s hickory smoked BBQ (from left to right).

I’m familiar with the piquillo sauce from prior visits; while good, my favorite was probably the hickory smoked BBQ sauce. Smoky, tangy and sweet – it really complemented the chicken, especially the fried variations.

“Perfect” Three-Day Fries

I’m not sure why these are three-day fries, but they were relatively simple for Ludo’s standards. And that’s definitely not a bad thing; the fries exhibited a very nice crispiness while keeping a fluffy and moist interior…and hey, who doesn’t love fries with their fried chicken?

Honey Lavender Biscuit

Ludo’s honey lavender butter served at LudoBites 4.0 was one of the best butters I’ve ever had. Using this butter to create a moist, yet flaky biscuit – voila! A really great biscuit, and it was great to see Ludo’s take on this southern classic.

To wash this all down, the truck offers soda, water and two agua frescas. Pictured below is the strawberry-watermelon.

I really liked this. More watermelon than strawberry, it provided a very refreshing cleanser on this summer day.

The only other truck present was the Coolhaus truck, which offers some really good (and unique) ice cream sandwiches.

I really enjoy their ice cream sandwiches, and is there a better way to cap off a meal on a warm summer day in LA? Well, yes. I opted for another helping of the “chicken balls.” I couldn’t help it.

I was really happy to be able to enjoy this chicken once again; in fact, I had been looking forward to it for most of the week. It did not disappoint one bit, and I can’t wait for the LudoTruck to begin regular service!