Flying Pig Cafe (Los Angeles, CA)

Flying Pig Cafe
141 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Dining date: 7/28/11

Flying Pig Truck is probably one of the more popular food trucks in LA and one of the few to successfully make the leap to a physical storefront thus far (it seems to be the next step for food trucks nowadays). I’ve had a chance to try the truck once for their signature pork belly buns, and I thought they were just okay. It wasn’t enough of an impression to make a special trip out to their restaurant. However, when it opened up right where I live, I knew it was only a matter of time until I found myself here.

House special crab cakes

I thought these were pretty solid, especially at $7 for a pair. I’m not sure it was real crab, but it had good flavor while the cakes were light and crispy. I would’ve preferred them to be served a little warmer, though.

Uni Pasta 6oz of fresh uni, spaghetti

The uni pasta, on the other hand, was rather one-dimensional. I thought the uni and pasta were incongruent as there wasn’t a noticeable sauce holding everything together. The ratio of pasta:uni was too high, so I would’ve appreciated less pasta (more uni was probably too much to ask for).

Ahi LA marinated short ribs, rice, mango slaw

I thought the flavor of the grilled short ribs was pretty good, though there wasn’t a lot of it. The mango salsa was solid, adding some sweetness and acidity. However, much of the dish was the brown rice and broccolini, which I found to be fairly plain.

Oxtail marinated oxtail with FP sauce

I thought this dish fell flat. Disappointingly, the oxtail didn’t have a ton to offer – I wanted some rich, beefy flavors that weren’t present here. Similar to the short rib, I thought the vegetables and starch could’ve been incorporated better.

Flying Pig Cafe was a bit of a disappointment. Admittedly, I didn’t have very high expectations, but those weren’t met either. The crab cakes started fairly strong, but I felt the rest of the dishes were conceptually disjointed and lacking in finesse.

LudoBites 7.0 (Los Angeles, CA) (2)

LudoBites 007
Gram & Papa’s

227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 8/10/11

An invitation for another trip of LudoBites was one I couldn’t resist. While the menu was largely the same since opening night, I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to revisit some of the favorite dishes from my first experience. Also, since Ludo is continually changing up the menu, there were a couple of completely new items: Jamaican chicken and the smoked vanilla bean bacon creme brulee.

Onion Tart, Bottarga

I liked this tart a little better this time, perhaps because it came out of the kitchen a little warmer, a little crispier.

Dorade Ceviche, Cucumber Water, Purslane, Cucumber Flower

I’m still not really a fan of this dish, even with the second time around. I thought it was a little less acidic and tart than last time, but I still wanted the fish to stand out a little more.

Fried Jamaican Chicken Wings

Mmm these were tasty wings. I thought they could’ve been a little bit crispier, but the chicken had a wonderful depth of flavor…without being overwhelmingly spicy.

Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca

I liked that the flavors here were clean and distinct – the salt cod, the potato and the smokiness of the tapioca. Yet the play on textures was a welcome one too – the panna cotta combined with tapioca made for some creamy, chewy bites.

Pig’s Head Compressed with Cheddar, Barbeque Gelée

Hah. Inspired by the term “head cheese.” I get it. Though it could’ve also been inspired by a s’more. Rich, smooth meat from the head is combined with cheddar, layered with crispy crackers. A really interesting dish, and delicious.

Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc

This dish sounds really luxurious…and it is. Last time I had a hard time placing the sea urchin, but I was searching for it this time and totally got the flavor. Love it. Really comforting, with the creaminess of the egg and beurre blanc standing up to the saltiness of the caviar.

Tomato Soup, Carrots, Squid, Chorizo Oil

The tomato soup was creamy with a subtle sweetness. The carrots provided the texture, while the squid and chorizo brought a little more of a meaty flavor.

Plancha Tandoori Octopus, Yogurt, Cauliflower, Grapefruit

Just as good as last time, the octopus is just so tender. Loved the pairing of the smokiness from the grill with the citrus of the grapefruit.

Foie Gras “French Dim Sum,” Crispy Kimchi, Sake-Black Truffle Cream

I think this was the same dish as opening night, with the buzz words “French Dim Sum” instead of “ravioli.” Whatever you call it, it was delicious. I found the pasta to be perfectly cooked and filled with rich, luscious foie gras. I didn’t get too much of the kimchi, but I wasn’t complaining; I just wanted more.

Duck, Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets, Radish

The duck was tender and moist, complemented by the tart cherries. Beets and radish added some crunchy texture.

Roasted Beef, Horseradish Cream, Green Beans, Dried Mole

This was Ludo’s take on a classic roast beef dinner. All of the flavors were here – the roast beef, horseradish and a side of green beans. However, the dried mole made things a little bit more interesting, adding another (unexpected) flavor profile. Loved the presentation too!

Epoisse Cheese Risotto, Hazelnut, Egg Yolk, Herb Salad

This was one of my favorite dishes from last time, and it still is. So good. It was rich, it was creamy, it was cheesy – I really appreciated the fresh herbs, adding bright flavors that stood up to the richness of the rice.

Peach Melba Vacherin, Lavender

The peach was tasty, smothered in a light cream. I liked the overarching lavender flavor, setting this dish apart.

Smoked Vanilla Bacon Creme Brulee, Red Berry Salad

This was a new dessert on the menu and definitely an interesting one. The creme brulee tasted, well, like smoky, porky bacon..yet in a rich custard. It was pretty weird for the first couple bites. Okay, it was really weird to me the whole time.  Accompanying  the custard was a refreshing, fruity (I think it was melon..maybe cantaloupe?) soup, instrumental in toning down the rich bacon flavor of the creme brulee.

I liked this meal slightly better than my first. While the menu was largely the same, I found many of the dishes to be a little more refined this time around. I’m not sure if I’ll get a chance to, but I’d love to return later in the pop-up’s run to see what else Ludo comes up with.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites 7.0 | LudoBites America

The Spice Table (Los Angeles, CA)

The Spice Table
114 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 7/27/11

The Spice Table opened a few months ago, one of the latest additions to the ever-growing Little Tokyo/Downtown LA restaurant scene. Although chef Bryant Ng’s background includes being opening chef at Pizzeria Mozza (as well as working with Daniel Boulud and Roland Passot), the cuisine here is half a world away. Inspired by the streets of Southeast Asia, the menu consists of small to medium-sized plates meant for sharing. The restaurant’s name is no misnomer – spice is king here.

Pate & baguette

I enjoyed the pate – smooth, porky with a deep savory spice blend. The baguette was fine as a vehicle for the spread.

Bone marrow, prawn sambal

Like butter. Rich and creamy, I thought the prawn flavor of the sambal brought a nice flavor profile creating a sort of surf & turf interplay.

Lamb belly satay

I tend to associate the belly with a fattier, more tender cut. However, this was a little chewy with some cartilage-like bits in it too. Hm. The flavors were there though; the building spice foreshadowed what was to come.

Beef tripe satay

One of the specials of the day. Really tender, squishy almost, with a nice sweet-spicy sauce. I enjoyed this quite a bit.

Grilled eggplant, chile sauce

The eggplant’s texture was rather mushy and sort of creamy. On my first bite, I could taste the chile flavor, really the main flavor component. On the second bite, the heat had me rushing to my beer.

Black pepper crab toast

Loved the large chunks of flavorful crab on top of the crusty toast. A little bit of lime was a perfect complement. The heat of the pepper was slightly uncomfortable for me at times.

Pig tails

You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever had pig tail like this. Kind of like a miniature version of oxtail. Tender and flavorful meat with a lot of gelatinous bits, the richness was countered by the cool basil and lettuce accompaniment.

Laksa (spicy noodle soup)

Luckily for me, this wasn’t as a spicy as I had feared. There was a creamy richness to the soup, featuring chunks of pork and shrimp. Homey and comfortable. I enjoyed the noodles, but wished they were longer…and perhaps with a little more chew.

Marinated ribeye

Another of the daily specials. I could get the garlic, sugar and soy marinade flavors in the steak, which was tender and cooked well. Probably not one of the more unique items on offer, though.

Milk tea softserve

The restaurant features a ‘daily flavor’ of soft serve each day, though it’s been the same flavor on both of my visits. But seriously..milk tea?! Being a huge fan, this was a must-order. I thought this was a pretty good softserve, with a strong milk tea flavor really showing though.

Kaffir lime custard, lychee

While the first dessert was very sweet, this was quite tart. The strong lime flavor was actually sort of refreshing (I could have used some during some of the spicy entrees), light and creamy.

I didn’t dislike anything, but I didn’t love anything either. The Spice Table’s food was solid and full of flavor, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated it due to the fact that I can be kind of lame when it comes to spicy food. I will say that the meal was a little more expensive than I thought it was worth. North of $70 per person with just one beer each, it wasn’t cheap. Still, I don’t come across this type of cuisine too often (especially in a more upscale atmosphere), so I’m glad I was able to try it.

LudoBites 7.0 (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites 007
Gram & Papa’s

227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 8/3/11

exterior

With a new show on the Sundance Channel, LudoBites continues to get more and more popular (along with its share of haters too, it seems). This is the seventh LudoBites (not including the one-night Ludo Bites America dinner), and a return to Gram & Papas, where I had some of my favorite meals of 2010 (home of LudoBites 4.0 and 5.0). Because of the continual buzz surrounding LudoBites and the limited nature of a pop-up, expectations run sky high and reservations tend to be scarce. As in, reservation-system-always-crashes type of scarce.

OpenTable promised a smooth reservation process this time around, though I’m not sure how many people believed it. While I can’t say it went without a hitch (pages still took minutes to load/did not load), the system worked much better than expected and reservations were all filled within a minute. One minute to fully book 16 tables a night for 22 nights. Crazy.

With a little bit of luck (maybe because it was my birthday), I was able to secure a reservation.

<menu

Love the open kitchen at Gram & Papa’s.

kitchen

Onion Tart, Bottarga

onion tart

This was a pretty large portion to start the meal with. It was a crispy tart, covered with sweet onions and an interesting salinity from the bottarga.

Dorade Ceviche, Cucumber Water, Cornichons, Borrage Flower

<ceviche

I thought the acidity was slightly overpowering here as the fish flavor was pretty mild. I liked the crunch of the cornichons though, as well as the mild complementary heat of the jalapeno.

Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca, Black Olive Bread

panna cotta

I really enjoyed this dish. There was a mild fish flavor in the smooth panna cotta and potato, and I loved the chewy texture of the tapioca. Loved. An overarching smoky flavor really complemented each bite as well. I thought this was a great example of some unusual, complex flavors mixed really well here.

Pig’s Head Compressed with Cheddar, Barbeque Gelée

pig head

Mmm pig’s head. This really looked like a s’more coming out, with the meat and cheddar teaming up to look like melted chocolate and marshmallow. I thought the meat was tender and tasty, while a little bit of crunchy texture came from the cracker. The barbecue gelee (inspired by recent travels to Raleigh?) really kicked it up a notch, adding some extra depth of flavor, as well as some heat.

Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc, Bagel Chips

egg urchin

The slow-cooked egg was really delicious here, heightened by some caviar. Those were the main flavors I got, as I felt the sea urchin was somewhat overshadowed here. Still, combining perfectly cooked egg with caviar made a combination sure to please.

Tomato Soup, Carrots, Squid

tomato soup

I liked the richness and body of this soup, though somehow its flavor reminded everyone of Chef Boyardee (i.e. flavors of childhood?). I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a bad thing, but it was pretty interesting nonetheless. I enjoyed the tender squid and crisp carrots as well.

Plancha Tandoori Octopus, Yogurt, Cauliflower, Grapefruit

octopus

Excellent dish. I’ve had some excellent octopus preparations at LudoBites in the past, and this was no exception. Tender and really smoky, I found the tart acidity of the yogurt and grapefruit to work really well with it.

Foie Gras Ravioli, Crispy Kimchi, Sake-Black Truffle Cream

foie ravioli

Ah, a foie gras dish – possibly the most anticipated ingredient in Ludo’s repertoire. I really liked the melt-in-mouth texture of the tasty foie gras, though found the pasta to be just a touch mealy. However, all of the flavors were spot on, especially with the earthiness of the cream sauce and crispy kimchi.

Duck, Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets, Radish

duck

I thought the duck was cooked well and was nicely complemented by a slightly tart and acidic cherry sauce. Fresh, crispy beets and radish added some texture as well.

Roasted Beef, Horseradish Cream, Green Beans, Dried Mole

roast beef

The beef was cooked perfectly here, leaving it really tender and juicy. A classic condiment, horseradish, was present in a creamy form – loved the flavor combination. The flavors of a typical roast beef dinner were definitely present, though a little bit more refined here.

Epoisse Cheese Risotto, Hazelnut, Egg Yolk, Herb Salad

risotto

Wow. Excellent. The risotto was a nice al dente, while the cheese and egg yolk aided in putting together a really rich creaminess. I thought the depth of flavor was exceptional too (with a hint of hazelnut coming through) – delicious.

Peach Melba Vacherin, Lavender

peach lavender

Our first dessert course featured this sweet piece of peach. It had a fresh vibrant flavor, accompanied by a sort of light whipped cream. I thought the lavender essence really elevated the dish as well – loved that part!

Crustless Lemon Tart

<lemon tart

This dessert was just as advertised…it had the flavors of a lemon tart, without any crust at all. I thought there was a good lemon flavor here and I really liked the herbal flavor of the thyme with it. I preferred a little more texture, though (I was craving the crust, or some sort of crumble).

I found LudoBites 007 to be a success. In fact, I liked it quite a bit better than 6.0. As LudoBites gets more and more popular (i.e. reservations get harder and harder to get), I tend to wonder if increasing expectations will be met (especially by first-time diners). I think they will. Ludo’s creativity is always present in his dishes, and I thought the flavor combinations really worked well for the most part. It will only get better as Ludo refines his dishes from opening night. Instantly, I can think of a number of “slam dunk” dishes I’m sure to remember months (if not years) from now, including the risotto, octopus, and panna cotta.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites America

Chaya Downtown (Los Angeles, CA)

Chaya Downtown
525 S Flower St
Los Angeles, CA 90071
Dining date: 6/16/11


Given that I work downtown, I’m no stranger to this place. Chaya Downtown is one of my favorite happy hours in the area, largely for its well-priced food and the outdoor patio. In the summer, they have a ‘Japanese Beer Garden’ theme, featuring yakitori grilled on the patio, as well as a number of other Japanese-inspired dishes. I hadn’t yet had a chance to try it out; so when I was invited to come give it a spin, I couldn’t resist.

Sake Flight Rock Sake (Junmai Ginjo), Gekkeikan Haiku (Junmai), Gekkeikan Horin (Junmai Daiginjo)

Sake Sangria


Soju Cape Cod


We started with a couple of drinks. The sangria was pretty refreshing, especially on the outdoor patio. The fruit was evident, as well as a little bit of acid from the citrus. I don’t know my sakes well at all, but I found all three of these to be very drinkable.

Fried Oyster with Cilantro Aioli


This was the first dish to come out – the oysters were juicy and plump, while the batter was perfectly light. Really nice.

Grilled White Corn with Feta Cheese


Not really something I expected to find at this beer garden, nonetheless it was a tasty ear of corn with a tangy mayo-like sauce.

Spicy Tuna Shishito Pepper Tempura


The peppers were pretty mild (thank goodness!), fried in a light tempura batter. I thought it was a pretty fun vessel for the tuna, while the pepper added an interesting sweet/spicy to the dish.

Albacore Tuna Poki


The albacore was pretty tender, while the slight acidity (ponzu?) of the sauce really helped. Nothing really special, but done well.

Sea Scallop Miso Gratin


Even though this dish seemed to continue to cook at the table, the scallops were cooked pretty well. The miso provided a rich and creamy sauce – I would’ve liked just a little bit more acidity or citrus to cut through the richness though.

Coffee BBQ Pork


The pork had a nice, sweet glaze on the outside, but I found them to be rather lukewarm on the inside. Unfortunate. My guess is that the restaurant didn’t fully reheat what they had prepared ahead of time, ruining an otherwise tasty dish.

Soy Braised Short Rib Sukiyaki Style


The short rib was really tender. Even as short ribs go, it was surprisingly tender. The flavorful broth was a nice accompaniment

Yakitori – Shiitaki Mushroom, Chicken Breast, Beef Tongue, Beef Short Rib, Shrimp, Bacon Wrapped Dates


All of these were solid variations. I’d be lying if I said this was akin to some of my favorite yakitori spots in the city, but they were pretty good, especially for the price and in Downtown. My favorite was probably the beef tongue – tender, meaty, tasty.

I was pretty happy with this meal. Over the many visits I’ve had, I’ve found the  happy hour service and food to be pretty consistent. One thing to note is that many of the ‘normal’ happy hour items are also really good, including the oysters (seasonal special, $1 a piece) and the fish & chips. The fish & chips is one of the best I’ve had in LA. Seriously.

Note: This was a sponsored meal.

Kokekokko (Los Angeles, CA)

Kokekokko
203 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 5/6/11


On my last visit to Kokekokko, a friend and I dropped in (both first-timers) for some yakitori (grilled meat, particularly chicken, on skewers), what this restaurant is known for. It turned out to be one of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve had in recent memory. In a bad way. They told us they had run out of some of the items we ordered, but those items were served to customers later. We inquired about other items we’d seen served (off-menu); the server consulted with the head chef/owner, and told us they didn’t have those either. In short, there was a clear preferential treatment for certain customers (ie. regulars).

Daniel of effing dericious happens to be a regular customer and extended an invite; this was as good a time as any to make a return and experience the “VIP” version of Kokekokko.

To complement the yakitori, each diner has Japanese mustard (left) and grated ginger/green onion. Some dried, ground chilies are available as well.

Chicken Gyoza


I don’t stumble upon chicken gyoza that often and these looked delicious. Perfectly browned and crisped on one side, the chicken filling was pretty good. I think the more traditional pork filling has more flavor though, but it probably doesn’t get too much better than this with chicken gyoza.

Breast


Our first skewer was the most “boring” of the night – chicken breast topped with wasabi and ginger. Supposedly, this can be served medium rare/rare to regulars, but mine was medium well. I’d say it tasted about as expected.

Gizzard


Getting a little more “exotic,” here was gizzard. Served hot, these made for some deliciously chewy bites. As a kid, I enjoyed eating these chicken gizzards and hearts (not as much the liver) whenever they came as part of a whole chicken.

Soboro Gohan


Here was a rice bowl topped with seaweed, ground chicken and a quail egg. Not really much to it here, but it was done well. There was a little bit of sweet-savory going on here, and the rice was very good. Quite filling, though. It came with a satisfying bowl of chicken broth.

Chicken Meatball


Surprisingly juicy for a chicken meatball, I thought this was quite good.

Special Heart


One of my favorites of the evening. Supposedly there are two variations of “special” heart, one covered in sauce. This was not, and I didn’t think it needed anything else. Tender with just a slight chew and really flavorful, this was awesome.

Special Mushroom


Ground chicken was stuffed into a mushroom cap. I thought this was rather ordinary, though the quail egg and greens were a nice touch.

Soft Bone


I’m not really sure what part of the chicken this was but I think it was part of the thigh (or nearby). It was a bit chewy for me, but I appreciated the textural change of pace and the flavor was on point.

Neck


There’s really not much meat on the neck, so I’m not sure how many skewers of this he can serve a night. It really resembled a more tender thigh meat, and for some reason had more of a smoky flavor than the others.

Skin


Skin! This was totally a must-try and it did not disappoint. Delightfully crisp on the outside, yet a little bit gelatinous on the inside, this was a lovely play on textures.

Tailbone


This was another fairly chewy one; sweet and smoky. I’m not really even sure where the meat on the tailbone is.

Shin


I have no idea what part of the chicken this is. I do know that it was very crunchy and chewy, and slightly spicy.

Chicken Ramen

I don’t have chicken broth-based ramen too often, but I love when I do. There’s something about the cleaner, lighter flavor of the broth. It was on full display here – a hearty chicken broth was full of thin noodles, bamboo shoots, scallions, seaweed, duck breast and a delectable egg. Very nice.

Curry Chicken


Now this was a treat. Daniel had been here many times but never seen this before. Rich and satisfying, the curry had a deep flavor that really tasted delicious with the rice. It also had shreds of braised chicken – really nice.

This visit to Kokekokko was much better than my last. It’s not for everyone; the strength of the restaurant lies in many of the off-menu items and less common cuts of the chicken. Still, for someone that appreciates yakitori, I don’t think it gets too much better in this city. Just make sure to come with a regular.