Braised Lamb Shanks

Dining date: 6/5/11

I was recently inspired to braise some lamb shanks on a recent trip to my local Whole Foods. They had a spread of some pretty nice looking lamb shanks, and at $6.99/lb, I thought they were reasonably priced. I’d be able to braise a whole bunch and even bring some for lunch to work during the week.

I followed a recipe from my trusty America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook:


6 lamb shanks, 3/4 to 1 pound each, trimmed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped coarse
2 carrots, peeled chopped coarse
2 ribs celery, chopped coarse
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups dry red wine


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Pat shanks dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of the shanks, reducing the heat if the fat begins to smoke, about 10 minutes. Transfer the shanks to a large plate and set aside. Repeat with the remaining shanks.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat left in the pot and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, tomato paste, herbs and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and wine, scraping up any browned bits. Add the shanks. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Uncover and continue braising until shanks are browned and the meat is falling off the bone, 45 to 60 minutes, flipping the shanks over halfway through the cooking time.

Remove pot from oven and let shanks rest in the sauce for 15 minutes. Transfer the shanks to individual plates and portion the vegetables around each shank. Spoon off any fat from the cooking liquid, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon some of the cooking liquid over each shank before serving.

I followed this recipe pretty closely, using a Côtes du Rhône as the wine of choice.

raw shanks

browned shanks

cooked shanks

I was pretty happy with how the lamb turned out. It was really tender; truly fall-off-the-bone. I found the meat to be rather gamey though, and I’m not sure if that was a result of my cooking skills (or lack thereof) or the lamb itself. I’d definitely make this again though. It was relatively easy to make, comforting and pretty damn tasty.

2011 Grande Marque Champagne Tasting (Santa Monica, CA)

2011 Grande Marque Champagne Tasting
Presented by Wally’s Wine
Le Merigot Hotel
1740 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA
Dining date: 6/5/11

My friend Lilly has been going to this annual event ever since she turned 21 with her mother (who has an even longer streak running). She’s been raving about it for a couple of years but I never quite pulled the trigger. It sounded attractive enough, with a ton of high end champagnes (and food) available on an all-you-can-drink basis. This afternoon, a coworker of mine had to cancel last minute due to illness; I ended up taking his ticket.

Presented by Wally’s Wine, the festival’s focus is on sparkling wines, particularly champagnes. A variety is featured, including some of the biggest names in the industry (Krug, Dom Perignon, Louis Roederer Cristal to name a few). To pair with the wines, a suite of local restaurants were on board to serve up plates of their food.

At the registration area I was greeted by the first champagne – Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial. I was instantly reminded how commercial the champagne business has become; marketing can make or break a bottle. I must admit, this was a sleek looking white bottle.

One of the champagnes I had to try was Louis Roederer Cristal; I’ve never had it before. The Roederer house presented a number of wines, but I stuck to the Cristal.

Louis Roederer (Cristal)


Petrossian crostini, creme fraiche, caviar

There isn’t a more classic pairing for champagne than caviar. Enter Petrossian with their crostini topped with creme fraiche and caviar. A popular choice, and I could see why.

Charles Heidsieck and Piper Heidsieck

In addition to their non-vintage wine, a 1995 Blanc des Millenaires Brut was available.

Iron Horse

Laurent Perrier


Viceroy presented a red smoked trout roe with potato foam. I enjoyed the saltiness of the roe with the creamy, foamy potato flavors here. Really quite delicate, it went well with the wines.

Melisse Monterey abalone, fennel, abalone gelee, tomato mousse

Here was Melisse’s abalone, wonderfully complemented by fennel and some acidity from a tomato mousse.


As far as I know, Krug was serving only its non-vintage champagne. Sister company Ruinart shared the table.

Cafe Del Rey oysters

Cafe Del Rey was shucking oysters all afternoon. I found them to be just okay.

Veuve Clicquot

Veuve Clicquot served up its classic brut, as well as the 1998 Le Grande Dame.

Dom Perignon

Served here was the 2002 vintage.

Moet & Chandon

Angelini Osteria filet mignon tartare, crostini

I see Angelini at a lot of food festivals and have always enjoyed what they’ve offered. No exception here, the steak was very tender, while the crostini added all of the texture needed.

Drago lobster pasta

Celestino Drago himself was serving up these filled pasta. Unfortunately, I found these to be rather rubbery without a lot of flavor.

Bazaar and Tres by Jose Andres hawaiian ono, jose’s taco, poached pear

Three dishes were served here. First, the ono. This was very good – tender and moist with a lot of flavor. I’ve had Jose’s taco a number of times now, and its combination of jamon Iberico and caviar never fails to disappoint. Lastly, the poached pear dessert had a very strong floral flavor, but it worked in this setting.


Brentwood/Capo crostini, quail egg, asparagus, black truffle

One of the best bites of the evening. Strong flavors came from the quail egg and black truffle (eggs and truffles – can’t beat it!), while the asparagus and crostini added the textural component.

Taittinger and Domaine Carneros

Taittinger and Domaine Carneros presented 5 wines, including the 2000 Comtes Blanc de Blanc and 2004 Comtes Rose.

Cezanne at Le Merigot

Host restaurant Cezanne served up turkey, duck and beef sliders. These seemed to be popular, but I found them to be just okay.

Culina day boat scallops, wild mushroom ragu, lemon thyme, extra virgin olive oil

My favorite dish. The scallop was huge and was grilled very nicely. Mushrooms added some earthiness, while a little bit of lemon thyme was a bright, vibrant accompaniment.




Armand de Brignac

These were the most expensive wines I tried tonight – the “Ace of Spades” brut and rose.

I had a lot of fun at this event. As advertised, there were a number of exclusive wines to try, and I was given the ability to sample a lot of them without having to pay a high price tag. I would say that it does get harder and harder to taste nuances in the champagnes after you’ve sampled a bunch, but it’s still a really good opportunity.

The food was solid. There were a couple of really good dishes (Culina’s scallop with mushroom ragu and Capo/Brentwood’s crostini with quail egg and truffles), but it wasn’t quite as memorable as the wines. At $150 a ticket, I’d say the event presented pretty good value, especially if you’re a wine snob.

LudoBites America (Redondo Beach, CA)

LudoBites America
Casa Pulido
228 Avenue I
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Dining date: 6/1/11


There’s not much more to say about the sensation that is LudoBites. In their latest venture, the Lefebvres have been traveling across the country, doing one-night pop-ups in various cities as part of their upcoming TV show on the Sundance Channel, LudoBites America. The show has taken them full-circle, with the final episode being filmed where it all started – in LA.

The meal really seemed to pop up out of nowhere. I had to do a double-take when I saw a post on Tuesday morning on the LA Times blog, announcing this one-night event. One of the core themes of LudoBites America is to merge Ludo’s style with the local cuisine – it’s fitting that the cuisine here would be “French Mex.”


Given the overwhelming demand, I estimated the odds of getting a reservation to be extremely remote. However, Diana managed to get one, supposedly on her 44th calling attempt. The reservation was set – joining us were Kevin, Ryan, Kristen and Sam. Needless to say, I was very excited.

This was probably the longest I’ve waited for a table past the reservation time (about 80 minutes), but the food came out at a pretty good pace once we sat down.


“Salsa-Rita” salsa tomato water, lime, cilantro, REAL reposado tequila, sugar chile rim

salsa rita

We started with Ludo’s own custom-made cocktail. True to the theme, this tasted just like a salsa but in cocktail form. A little bit of heat reminded me a bit of a Bloody Mary; many of us had tortilla chips come to mind when drinking this. A tortilla chip straw would’ve been fun, though likely not practical.

Brocamole & Chips



This dish was interesting, really just like an avocado guacamole but with broccoli. I’d have to say it was a little bit weird to start, but quickly grew on me.

Ceviche, Cucumber Water, Purslane


There was a pickled flavor to this ceviche, maybe from some type of vinegar? Celery and red onion provided a little freshness, while I thought the fish was “cooked” well.

Chilled Red Tomato Soup, Carrot, Smoked Fish

tomato soup

This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. It was balanced really well between the sweet tomatoes, crunchy carrots and tender, smoky fish. At first I thought there was bacon in this, but it was really just the fish, which had a really prominent smoky flavor. Best play on a gazpacho I’ve ever had.

Monterey Squid, Chorizo, Banana, Honey Clementine


The squid was not as prominent in this dish; rather I found the clementines and pine nuts to be the strongest flavors. Still, the squid was nice and tender, and I thought the mild sweetness from the banana and honey was a welcome addition.

Among the drinks we had was a mezcal with a worm in it (on purpose, of course). I didn’t try it, though.

worm mezcal

Crispy Octopus, Smokey Chipotle, Piquillo Pepper Polenta


I found the octopus to be pretty tender, though I was missing whatever the crispy texture was. The gentle heat was balanced well by the creaminess and subtle sweetness of the piquillo polenta.

Brandade Tacos, Dandelion, Creamy Extra Virgin Olive Oil

brandade tacos

Delicious. Here Ludo integrated a French brandade with a taco. The filling was a creamy salt cod mixture with potato, which I found to be very satisfying in taco form. The crispy taco shell was a key component too, as well as the peppery arugula.

Foie Gras Quesadilla, Crispy Cabbage, Juniper Berry Oil

foie gras quesadilla

Another hit, this was one of the more anticipated menu items for me. Ludo seems to have a particular mastery over both foie gras and chicken, so I’m always excited for any dishes that feature these ingredients. I thought this was executed rather well, resulting in a tasty quesadilla with a rich, buttery foie gras filling. I also liked the cabbage, which added a little more texture and was a welcome accompaniment to the rich foie gras.

Roasted-Poached Beef in Lard, Squid Ink Risotto, Lemon Confit, Dried Mole


Diners raved about this dish while we waited in the dining room, and I could see why. The meat was really tender (pretty sure it was a tenderloin), with the bulk of the flavor coming from a crispy dried mole, accented by the citrus notes of a lemon confit. Cooked perfectly.

Guacamole Sorbet, Catalan Cream, Fruit Salsa, Tequila

guacamole sorbet

I’ve had Ludo’s guacamole sorbet before (LudoBites 5.0) and to be honest, still not a fan. I just can’t get over avocado in ice cream form, but the fruits were good, especially with a hint of tequila flavor. Very subtle, but I could taste it.

Ancho Chili Pepper Chocolate Brownie, Caramel Leche, Red Beets & Rhubarb

chili pepper brownie

The brownie had an extra dimension here, with the mild heat from the chili pepper mixing things up. The whipped cream and caramel both worked well with the brownie, with just a little more sweetness coming from the beet/rhubarb mixture.

As the LudoBites fan base continues to grow, it’s clearly getting harder and harder to be able to experience these meals; as such, I feel exceedingly lucky to have been able to enjoy it. Ludo continues to work with familiar ingredients in new ways, continually experimenting and testing flavor profiles. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but most of the time it does. Tonight I especially enjoyed the tomato soup, brandade taco (genius!) and foie gras quesadilla. It was just a quick glimpse into another LudoBites, but I already look forward to LudoBites 7.0 coming in August.

Our gracious hosts.


Ad Hoc Fried Chicken @ Bouchon (Beverly Hills, CA)

Bouchon Beverly Hills
238 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 5/30/11

bouchon exterior

Thomas Keller’s fried chicken is one of the most memorable dishes I’ve ever eaten. I had carefully planned a trip to Ad Hoc and came in with very high expectations. The crispy crust and juicy, flavorful bird did not disappoint at all.

Served just once every two weeks at Ad Hoc in Yountville, it’s not something I can enjoy with any regularity. It is possible to make it in the convenience of one’s own home, but the whole process takes a while and is pretty labor intensive. While the results are delicious, I don’t think I’m making it again anytime soon.

Given all this, I was super excited to hear that Bouchon Beverly Hills would be serving this very chicken on Memorial Day. Served family-style, the chicken came with a few sides (biscuits & gravy, collard greens, and macaroni & cheese). This was their first time serving it here, but given its popularity, I have a feeling it won’t be the last.

bouchon sign

French Onion Soup

french onion

The soup was very rich, almost syrupy at times. The flavors were deep and beefy with a nice sweetness from the onions. I would’ve preferred this to be a little lighter though, for a starter.

Fried Chicken

fried chicken

fried chicken close

The fried chicken arrived just as it does at Ad Hoc, in a stainless steel serving platter covered with fried herbs. A beautiful sight. The dark golden crust is the same as I remembered, light yet very crispy. The meat was flavorful, though I remember it being a little more moist. Not that it was dry at all, but previous experiences have yielded a surprisingly juicy bird. Still, excellent fried chicken – some of the best I’ve had in the city.

Macaroni & Cheese

mac cheese

The macaroni pasta was still slightly al dente, which I enjoyed, while the cheese sauce was good. I thought this singular side was kind of small to share family style for six people, though.

Braised Collard Greens

collared greens

As expected, the collard greens were cooked to the point that there was no resistance. I think there was some bacon or ham in here too, adding some saltiness and subtle pork flavor. Again, also rather small to share with six people.

N.Y. Cheddar Biscuits & Gravy

biscuits gravy

The biscuit was a little more dense than I would’ve liked, but the flavor was there. Especially with the rich and meaty gravy, these were a hit.

We passed on dessert at Bouchon, instead opting to drop by a local ice cream shop for some ice cream as they were closing.

Beer Floats brown bread ice cream, vanilla bean ice cream, almond mocha ice cream


beer float

I had some Young’s Double Chocolate Stout on hand, which would pair nicely as a beer float – here with three different ice cream flavors (vanilla bean, almond mocha, brown bread). All three of these worked pretty well, with the classic vanilla bean combo being my favorite.

Service-wise, there was a large disconnect on this night between what we ordered and what actually came out of the kitchen. I’ve been here a number of times without a hitch, so I think that was just a fluke. I’ve been a fan of Bouchon since it opened, and the fried chicken just gives another reason to come back. In fact, I think it definitely proves worthy of a return trip alone. Of course, that’s only if they bring it back as a recurring special, but my hunch is that we haven’t seen the last of Ad Hoc’s fried chicken here.

Related posts:
Fried Chicken at Ad Hoc
Making Ad Hoc Fried Chicken at Home

Sotto (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 5/25/11

My first trip to Sotto was rather disappointing and I wasn’t sure I was going to return anytime soon. Lo and behold, less than two months later, I’ve already been four times now. I credit Matt (mattatouille) for convincing me to return to try some more items.

The restaurant is probably best known for taking over the Test Kitchen space, as well as having an authentic hand-built oven from Naples pumping out some of the most authentic Neapolitan pizzas in town.

Housemade bread lardo pestato

It’s hard for me to eat pure fat on top of bread (I sparingly even use butter), so this isn’t something I’d typically order. However, it was definitely tasty. The cured pork fat was warm and spread all over, leaving some rich, flavorful bites with the crusty bread.

Pittule pugliese vincotto, ricotta

I didn’t really know what this was until trying it; it’s basically fried dough. The ricotta was a very nice condiment, as was the vincotto, a sort of fruity syrup made from reduced grape juice.

Fried calamaretti lemon, red onion, colatura

I really enjoyed this on a previous visit and did so again. The squid was cooked perfectly with a really light batter. A little bit of lemon juice was all that was needed to add some acidity and brighten things up. I liked that it was kept very simple and executed well, rather than mixing flavors with say, a marinara.

Tomato-braised octopus ai ferri chickpeas, preserved lemon, chard, bottarga

Tender though slightly chewy, the octopus really went well with the citrus of the preserved lemon. I liked the chickpeas as well, adding some creaminess and body to the dish.

Grilled pork meatballs lemon leaves, snap peas, pecorino, bitter greens

I had these on my first visit as well. Hard to go wrong with a meatball, I liked the smoky flavor imbued by the grilling, though it wasn’t a particularly memorable meatball.

Devil’s Gulch fennel-crusted pork chop roasted baby carrots, fava beans

One of the stars of the show. The chop is truly encrusted by a lot of fennel – when I first had this I thought it was slightly overpowering. But with just a few bites more, I took that back. The pork is really juicy and flavorful, so it stands up well to the anise flavor of the fennel. I think this was a little more tender the last time I had it, though this chop wasn’t tough at all.

Toasted grain capunti ragu bianco, hedgehog mushrooms, rapini greens

True to its name, this pasta exhibited a strong grainy flavor. I don’t really love whole wheat pasta, but I appreciated the nutty and earthy flavors of the pasta, along with the mushrooms.

Squid ink fusilli lunghi pistachios, bottarga, mint

I didn’t like this pasta at all when I first had it, and I’m still not sold on it. The pasta kind of looks like black licorice twists thanks to the squid ink. For me, the mix of the pistachios and mint just didn’t meld well with the squid ink pasta.

Next up, we tried two pizzas (a “must” here). Below, Zach Pollack preparing our guanciale pizza.

Guanciale house-cured pork cheek, ricotta, scallions, fennel pollen

I would’ve liked the guanciale to have been crispier (it was rather limp), but otherwise I found this to be a really solid pizza. The pork cheek, combined with scallions and fennel pollen, was delicious. A little bit of ricotta was a nice touch, as well. Typical of all of their pizzas, the dough was crispy and nicely charred, with a slightly chewy texture.

Boscaiola hen of the woods, wild ramps, capretto Sardo

This was a favorite from a previous visit. If you don’t like mushrooms, you won’t like this one. The hen of the woods mushrooms are flavorful and vibrant, and really make this pizza.

Bittersweet chocolate crostata hazelnuts, salted rosemary caramel

This looked like a rather simple chocolate tart at first. But, I must say the salted rosemary caramel was addicting. There was something about the savory rosemary with sweet chocolate that really worked well. Delicious.

I’ve really warmed up to Sotto since my first trip on opening night. While I didn’t love everything, my favorite menu items are the pork chop, calamaretti and the pizzas. It’s probably safe to say I’ll be back soon.

Spruce (San Francisco, CA)

3640 Sacramento St
San Francisco, CA 94118
Dining date: 5/23/11

Spruce opened in 2007 to high praise and a lot of attention, being one of the hardest reservations for a while. Almost 4 years later, the buzz has certainly calmed. However it remains a a very popular spot, even garnering a Michelin star in the 2011 guide.

Their most famous dish is likely the “Spruce Burger” which is listed in many publications as one of the top burgers (or dishes, period) in San Francisco. I happened to be working in San Francisco’s Laurel Heights on this day, so it was a perfect opportunity to come by and try this burger.

The burger, at its simplest, includes a bun, patty, choice of cheese, pickles, lettuce, tomato and side of fries. A variety of add-ons are available including bacon, a fried egg, mushrooms, caramelized onions and even foie gras.

We started with an amuse bouche from the kitchen.

Carrot Soup with Almond and Date Foam

Looking like a cappuccino, the carrot soup was comforting, and not overly sweet nor overly carrot-y. I appreciated the subtle nuttiness and sweetness from the almonds and dates, respectively.

Spruce Burger french fries

Now, what we came for! I first noticed the bun. It was relatively thinner and denser than what’s normally seen, with a well-toasted texture…I think it was pretty much like an English Muffin. The meat (Niman Ranch chuck) was cooked a nice medium rare and oozed fat and juices when squeezed. The meat was tasty and the bun did a good job of soaking up the juices. I opted to add on bacon and caramelized onions; I’d have to say both of these were very good and added a lot of flavor. It all came together really nicely; easily one of the better burgers I’ve had in some time. At $16, it’s not the cheapest of burgers, but the quality is apparent. It’s a relatively simple burger, but the execution is key. I think each of the components were tasty on their own, but really came together to pack a load of flavor.

The fries (which came with the burger) were quite good as well, with a delightful crunch on the outside and fluffy potato on the inside.

There’s a whole rest of the menu that I haven’t tried yet, but if this burger is any indication, I expect it to be well-executed, carefully crafted and probably pretty tasty. The burger alone, though, is enough reason for a return visit.