Atelier Crenn (San Francisco, CA)

Atelier Crenn
3127 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94123
Dining date: 12/23/11

crenn window

Atelier Crenn opened almost one year ago, last January. It was a hotly anticipated opening and seems to have met the hype, regarded as one of the top restaurant openings of the year (and awarded a Michelin star). The chef is Dominique Crenn, a Morrocan-French chef who grew up in France but has spent much of her culinary career in California. Her experience primarily spans stints in San Francisco and Los Angeles, most recently at SF’s Luce, where she garnered a Michelin star (that they’ve since retained). She left Luce early last year to focus 100% on Atelier Crenn.

interior

I’ve been following Crenn for a little while now. One of my biggest dining regrets in 2010 was missing Crenn’s one night gig at Test Kitchen (there was a conflicting dinner), but I did get to eat some of her cooking at Luce a couple weeks later.

My parents dine out a fair amount and a previous visit to Atelier Crenn was one of their top SF meals of the year (for my dad, it was #1 while my mother really enjoyed Commonwealth). So, I came in with high expectations.

Two menu options were available: a 5-course menu with some options or an extended tasting menu for $135 (currently $160). We went with the latter.

menu

The meal started off with a trio of amuse bouche-like small bites.

The Cold pear custard, foie gras pearls, pistachio
NV Domaine Julien Fouet, Cremant de Loire, Rose

pear

The first dish was a light and cool pear custard with frozen foie gras pearls. So pretty. The foie pearls warmed in the mouth and became a creamy and rich complement to the sweet pear custard. Pistachios and some toasted bread added some welcome texture. A pretty nice starter, for sure.

The Smoke arctic char skin, salmon roe

arctic char skin

The second was a fried piece of arctic char skin. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen a standalone piece of fish skin before – delicate, crispy, fishy; it was quite tasty especially with the salty salmon roe. My mother and I were debating whether we were supposed to eat the greens – I ate it, finding it overpoweringly bitter. We later learned it was meant purely for garnish. Oops!

The Crisp yuba, daikon

yuba daikon2

Lastly was a fried piece of yuba with pickled daikon. I liked the crunchy yuba but found the daikon to be overly tart.

Kir Breton
The French 74

kir breton

french74

Next we had a sort of apertif – a play on a kir breton cocktail encapsulated in a delicate shell. Biting into it yielded a burst of apple flavor – refreshing and another great way to whet the appetite. Fun!

Another cocktail was the drink pairing here, essentially a take on a French 75 but without the hard alcohol.

Oysters “Japonaise” kushi oysters, sake, mirin, tapioca
2008 Domaine Vocoret et Fils, Chablis 1er Cru, Montmains

oyster

These were good oysters, complemented by some Japanese accents and some herbal notes too. I liked biting on the chewy tapioca with the tender oysters.

“Ocean and Land” american wagyu beef, smoked sturgeon, cornichon
2010 Christian Vergier, “Saint Lager,” Brouilly

steak tartare

The beef was good; I thought the addition of the smoked sturgeon balls (frozen via liquid nitrogen) really elevated the dish, adding a smoky, slightly fishy flavor. The slivers of cornichon added some acidity, while the cracker added the bulk of the texture.

Carrot, Aloe Vera, Quinoa

carrot sorbet

More of a palate cleanser than an actual course, but I really enjoyed this one. The carrot sorbet was vibrant and quite delicious. The aloe vera gelee by itself was slightly off-putting (a flavor I’m not used to), but actually helped balance the sweetness of the sorbet when eaten together.

Foie Gras, Nuances of Winter cocoa nib tuile
2009 Domaine Sylvain-Gaudron, Vouvray Demi-Sec
Strubbe’s Grand Cru, Flanders Red Ale

foie

The flavors here were very subtle; the textures were more interesting. The foie had a very light, almost snow-ish texture while the cocoa nib tuile (something from Crenn’s childhood) provided a delicate crunch.

Spot Prawns, Rouille, Hay
2008 Morey-Coffinet, Chassagne Montrachet, 1er Cru

prawns

I expected these hay-smoked spot prawns to be sweet and sort of spongy. The flavors were there (accented by a smoky, grassy flavor), but I found the flesh to be rather creamy and mushy. Hm.

A Walk in the Forest chanterelles, maitake, pine meringue, hazelnut
2009 Domaine Gris des Bauries, Cotes du Rhone Villages

forest

From what I’ve read, this has been one of the most raved about dishes, and for good reason. A myriad of mushrooms were carefully placed with a bruleed meringue and flowers resembling a forest landscape. While the plating was fun, the flavors were on point too with the earthy ‘shrooms and hazelnuts complimented well by the pine-scented sweetness of the meringue. I appreciated the varied textures and flavors of the different mushrooms too.

Rooibos Tea, Orange Granita

Rooibos Tea, Orange Granita

A large egg-shaped stone was plopped down on the table and opened to reveal a rather light and refreshing palate cleanser, with strong citrus flavor from the granita.

Mackerel, Verbena beets, radish
2009 Dr. Deinhard Halbtrocken, Riesling, Pfaltz

mackerel

This mackerel was seared rare; the richer, oily fish was complemented by the sweetness of the beets and textures of the radish. Overall though, I didn’t find it quite as exciting as some of the other plates.

Arctic Char “Basquaise” mussels, romesco
2008 Domaine Mucyn, Crozes-Hermitage, Syrah

arctic char

I thought this fish was cooked a nice medium rare. The dish had a fun flavor profile with the romesco, as well as added depth from the mussel jus foam. Pretty interesting. The lone mussel was tasty, though I’m not sure it totally fit in with the rest of the dish.

Guinea Hen “Thailandaise” coconut, cilantro, basil, bok choy
2010 Berroia Txakolina de Bizkaia, Basque

guinea hen2

I liked the concept of this dish but thought the guinea hen was overcooked – it was on the dry side. Still, the southeast Asian flavors came through, with balanced coconut and cilantro accompaniments.

Eucalyptus

eucalyptus tree

eucalyptus

Eucalpytus trees are found throughout San Francisco but I don’t think I’ve ever eaten it. Here, a little bit of eucalyptus ice cream (on a stick!) was presented under a small eucalyptus tree. How fitting. I liked the ice cream…not really woodsy at all, it actually had a bright, clean flavor.

Next, a siphon came out to create a beverage pairing with dessert. Cinnamon, vanilla bean, and star anise were infused with quince tea right at the table. Pretty cool!

siphon

Pear, Quince, Sage
Quince tea infused with cinnamon, vanilla bean, star anise

Pear, Quince, Sage

I thought this was a standout dish, both in presentation and flavor. What looked like a lone pear in a snowy landscape was actually a creamy pear sorbet with wonderful delicate textures from an herbal sort of crumble. The sweet sorbet was nicely balanced by the Greek yogurt snow. As good as it looked!

Lastly, we had a pretty robust selection of sweets.

Mignardises

mignardises

Atelier Crenn met my high expectations. I marveled at the creativity and personal touch/story in the menu, and this was some of the best plating I’ve ever seen. The menu showed a lot of restraint; flavors were at times subtle, but rather refined and always well-balanced. Execution-wise, I thought there were a couple of misses on the spot prawn and guinea hen, but outside of that I thought the plates were spot on. Plus, the meal showed a lot of technique throughout, working with varied textures and preparations. And seriously, that dessert was one of the most memorable plates all year. Service was very warm, attentive and accommodating. Overall, I’d say this was my best complete dining experience during my San Francisco trip and would not hesitate in returning.

 

The French Laundry (Yountville, CA)

The French Laundry
6640 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599
Dining date: 11/27/11 

FL blue door

Each year, my dad takes my grandmother and aunt out for their birthdays, usually in December. The food has always been good, with past years being at The Dining Room, Cyrus, Murray Circle, Quince and Masa’s. However, it’s never been this good. I scored a 6-person reservation on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend, which turned out to be an ideal time for everyone to go. So, my grandmother, dad, mom, aunt, cousin and I took the short drive up to the Napa Valley. This would be the first trip for my cousin.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve dined here, but everything felt very familiar. The restaurant has been one of my favorites for some time, and has a sort of sentimental value to me since first dining here seven and a half years ago (I still vividly remember parts of that meal). One thing that has definitely changed is the wine list – now via iPad!

Two 9-course tasting menus are offered daily, $270 each (inclusive of service) – the chef’s tasting menu and the tasting of vegetables. There are a number of options within the tasting menu, as well as various supplements, to tailor the meal to one’s desire. We all opted for the chef’s tasting menu, which can be found here.

clothespin napkin

FL menu

GOUGERES

gougeres

This was the first amuse bouche, and a constant among my four visits. Light and airy, they displayed a warm gruyere essence.

BLACK TRUFFLE CROQUETTE

truffle croquette

My mother claimed to be lactose intolerant so as to avoid the cheese course (she’s not). The thoughtful kitchen even substituted the gougere for this croquette. She seemed to be quite pleased with it.

SALMON CORNETS

salmon cornet

This was another staple amuse bouche – salmon tartare was complemented by a light creme fraiche and chives, while the cone added a delicate texture.

Bread service has typically been strong, featuring breads baked down the street at Bouchon Bakery. Two butters were available – an unsalted one from Andante Dairy in Petaluma, CA as well as a salted, extremely creamy butter from the Animal Farm in Orwell, Vermont (ha!).

bread butter

2007 Schramsberg, Blanc de Blancs “Cuvee French Laundry”

sparking wine

“OYSTERS AND  PEARLS” “Sabayon” of Pearl Tapioca with Island Creek Oysters and White Sturgeon Caviar

oysters & pearls

The classic; it was as good as ever. The creamy sabayon was rich and played well with the salty caviar. Loved the soft, delicate oysters too. So good.

ROYAL OSSETRA CAVIAR Dungeness Crab, Salsify and Garden Blossoms (50.00 supplement)

ossetra caviar

My aunt opted for this supplement and enjoyed it.

VELOUTÉ OF ROASTED SUNCHOKES Royal Blenheim Apricot, French Laundry Garden Kale and Marcona Almonds

sunchoke veloute

veloute

MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS AU TORCHON” Pickled Huckleberries, Candied Orange Zest, Belgian Endive and Chocolate Brioche (30.00 supplement)

foie

choc brioche

finishing salts

Instead of the sunchoke veloute, I opted for the foie gras supplement. I’m glad I did. The foie gras was rich, creamy and went well with the tart huckleberries. The chocolate brioche was wonderful too, served hot and just oozing chocolate. Three finishing salts were served alongside, which I thought was a bit of an overkill (but I liked it!).

SAUTÉED FILLET OF GULF COAST RED SNAPPER Hawaiian Hearts of Palm, Sultana Raisins, Young Ginger, Cilantro and “Sauce Japonaise”

snapper2

snapper

NANTUCKET BAY SCALLOPS Long of Naples Squash, Oyster Lettuce, Black Truffle and Pomegranate Reduction

scallops

I went for the red snapper in this choice. It was a perfectly cooked, moist and flaky fish with a slight sweetness from the raisins. Japanese accents were a nice touch too. I tried one of the scallops and they were equally well-executed, with a sweetness from the squash and pomegranate reduction.

2009 Hirsch “San Andreas Fault,” Pinot Noir

FL pinot

SWEET BUTTER-POACHED MAINE LOBSTER TAIL Bone Marrow, Roasted Romaine Lettuce, “Pommes Maxim’s” and Bordelaise Vinaigrette

lobster

lobster and bone marrow

An excellent piece of lobster tail. Cooked gently to just a rare/medium-rare temperature, leaving it very spongy – really nice texture. A bone marrow sauce (!) added a hearty depth of flavor, while some potato puree added some creamy potato to each bite. Wonderful.

A special supplement was available given it was white truffle season. I think I recently read somewhere that Keller stated his truffles were $2,600 per pound this season. Not cheap. For $150, these truffles from Alba could be shaved atop a risotto, tagliatelle or gnocchi. My dad went for the risotto.

CARNAROLI RISOTTO WITH WHITE TRUFFLES (150.00 supplement)

A plate of risotto came out accompanied by a wooden box.

risotto

white truffles

Inside the box were five incredibly aromatic white truffles of varying size; one was picked up and shaved tableside. What a sight!

shaving truffles

white truffle risotto

This dish seriously seemed like equal portions rice and truffle. Crazy. Expectantly so, it was a fantastic dish with a perfectly cooked, creamy al dente rice. The white truffle flavor was clear and upfront, elevating the plate to memorable heights.

The rest of us were served an extra dish as well.

WHITE TRUFFLE INFUSED CUSTARD

truffle custard

This was a very light custard with a subtle white truffle essence. A little bit of black truffle on top added more of the earthy flavor.

SALMON CREEK FARM PORK BELLY “Pain de Campagne,” Red Wine-Braised Cabbage, K&J Orchard Chestnut and Turnip “Mustarda”

pork belly

Rich and tender while not being overly fatty, this was a good piece of pork belly. There was a sweetness from the “mustarda” while the braised cabbage added a little body. A good dish, but it wasn’t quite as exciting as the previous few.

2007 Realm Cellars Farella Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon

cabernet

ELYSIAN FIELDS FARM “SELLE D’AGNEAU” Nantes Carrots, Cippolini Onions, Tardivo Radicchio and Black Walnut Purée

lamb

BROKEN ARROW RANCH VENISON Garnet Yams, Candy Cap Mushrooms, Pecans, Arugula and Bourbon-Maple Jus

venison

venison2

In this choice, I went with the venison. Both the tenderloin and loin cuts were served, and the meat was cooked quite well. Not too gamey at all, it was complemented by some sweet yams and peppery arugula. I tried some of the lamb too, and thought it some of the best I’ve had. Exceedingly tender and succulent, there was a ton of flavor in the meat. I found something in the radicchio to be overly acidic, though.

“NOCTURNES” Medjool Dates, Sicilian Pistachios and Burgundy Truffle “Blini”

cheese course

cheese truffles

A warm, creamy cheese was served with some blini, while Burgundy truffles were grated on tableside. This added a pretty subtle truffle essence to the grassy, funky cheese. Still, I’m really not a fan of the cheese course, this one included.

FRENCH LAUNDRY GARDEN SALAD

salad

My mother was served this salad and she loved it, particularly the tiny baby radishes (at center).

PUMPKIN SORBET Granola, Honey-Glazed Cranberries and White Truffle

pumpkin sorbet

This intermezzo was perfect for the season. I liked the pumpkin sorbet, along with the tangy cranberry sauce. The granola added some texture, though I was missing any white truffle flavor.

CARAMELIZED WHITE CHOCOLATE “NAMELAKA” Piedmont Hazelnuts, Toasted Oats and Sour Cherry Sorbet

white chocolate

“POMMES ANNA” Funnel Cake, “Pruneaux d’Agen,” Rum “Anglaise” and Salted Caramel Ice Cream

pommes anna

Between these two dessert options, I went for the first. The sweet chocolate was complemented by the sour cherry sorbet and actual pieces of cherries, while some hazelnuts added texture.

COFFEE & DOUGHTNUTS
CHOCOLATE COVERED MACADAMIA NUTS

coffee semifreddo

donut holes and macadamia

coffee and donuts

I was slightly disappointed to see the doughnuts had become just doughnut holes – they weren’t as moist or impressive as the last time I had them. The coffee semifreddo was still very good though, displaying a rich coffee flavor that went well with the doughnut holes. The chocolate covered macadamia nuts were just as good too, with their addicting crunch and wonderful chocolate-nutty flavors.

MIGNARDISES

chocolates

My grandmother wasn’t feeling well, so we took these home. I can’t remember which flavors I tried, but I liked the ones I had.

We also took home a bag of shortbread cookies, dusted with sugar. Delicious too!

shortbread bag

Even after four visits now, The French Laundry continues to be an exciting and delicious meal. The restaurant isn’t quite as avant garde as it used to be, and there aren’t any molecular gastronomy tricks at play; instead, the focus is clearly on excellent ingredients and perfect execution. To that end, The French Laundry excels.  There were a number of standout plates (oysters & pearls, snapper, lobster, risotto, lamb) with few lows, mostly on a relative basis. Service was, as usual, excellent though not without flaws including some miscommunication and imperfect timing on wines. Overall though, this was probably my best meal of 2011 so far. For what it’s worth, five in our party have been to Noma (sadly, everyone but me) and they all preferred this meal.

I thought it worth noting that my grandmother started to feel very sick soon after the pork belly course (and for a couple days afterward). I’m not sure if it was related to any of the food or alcohol, but it will probably prove just as memorable as the rest of the meal.

Le Saint Amour (Culver City, CA)

Le Saint Amour
9725 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Dining date: 10/4/11

I’ve been hearing a lot of positive things about Le Saint Amour, a French bistro in Culver City. What really got this restaurant on my radar was that Walter Manzke (whom I am a huge fan of) was brought on as a consulting chef late last year. Granted, the involvement of a “consulting chef” varies widely (couldn’t any restaurant on “Kitchen Nightmares” boast Gordon Ramsay as a consulting chef?), but my interest was piqued. A BlackboardEats 30% off deal was exactly the tipping point I needed to come in.

The menu is classic French – think charcuterie, escargot and moules/steak frites. Our party of four decided on four appetizers and five entrees.

Chef Bruno’s Charcuterie Plate assortment of housemade pâtés and terrines

charcuterie

I don’t appreciate charcuterie as much as I’d like…I’d almost always prefer a cooked slab of meat. However, of all of the meats on this plate (most of which I don’t recall), I enjoyed the duck prosciutto the most (bottom left).

Escargots de Bourgogne Burgundy snails, garlic, parsley, puff pastry

escargot

A great example of the classic dish here. Strong garlic, parsley and butter flavors complemented the tender and chewy snails. The puff pastry was done well too, flaky and served hot.

Steak Tartare hand cut hanger steak, mesclun salad

steak tartare

I liked the presentation of the tartare, particularly the uniformity of the chop and the colors. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste as good as it looked; there was something in here that was overly acidic and tart, overshadowing the beefy flavor. I did like the textures in the tartare, but that wasn’t enough to save it.

Crispy Veal Sweetbread braised mustard greens, roasted grapes, mustard, bacon

veal sweetbreads

Probably the best of the appetizers we ordered. The breading was light and crispy, while the sweetbreads was moist. I thought the mustard greens added some body, while the roasted grapes contributed welcome sweet and fruity accents to the dish.

Chef Bruno’s Housemade Sausages (Lyonnaise, Toulouse, boudin noir) summer shelling beans, tomatoes, kale

sausage

Advertised as three different sausages and explained as such when it came to our table, we were surprised to find that we actually got only two variations – one boudin noir and two of the Toulouse. Only once we inquired were we told that they were out of the third sausage. I thought this was a bit dishonest of the restaurant, feeling as thought they tried to slip one past us.

merguez

We were supplemented by some merguez sausage, which may have been the best of the bunch. I’m just glad we didn’t get extra boudin noir. It was undercooked, leaving a chewy and difficult-to-eat casing, as well as a pudding-like sausage that bled out of the casing when cut (pun intended!).

Steak Frites prime beef flat iron steak, beurre MaȊtre d’Hotel, french fries

steak

Adding to our entree drama, we were informed their fryer broke – french fries were no longer available. Sounded like this had been a frequent occurence lately, given one person at our table had the same thing happen less than a week prior. I think the fries are an integral part of steak frites or moules frites, so I wasn’t too enthused to hear the options were a salad or sauteed vegetables. After some back-and-forth, we got a substitute side of kale with bacon, shallots and lemon.

The steak was tougher than I expected but had good flavor and was cooked well. Expectanctly, the butter added a welcome richness and some herbal depth of flavor. The kale was quite good too, with the lemon and bacon being key flavor profiles.

Roasted Jidori Chicken ratatouille Provençale, chicken jus

roasted chicken

I was expecting a portion of a traditional whole-roasted chicken, but this variation was a half-chicken pounded thin and pan-roasted. This allowed for a very crispy skin while the meat was delicious. The ratatouille provided some bright flavors that I thought paired pretty well with the chicken.

Moules Frites mussels, saffron, white wine, tomato, basil, french fries

moules

Potatoes au Gratin

potatoes

Our substituted side for the mussels was potatoes au gratin. I found the mussels to be tiny, but the broth was excellent. It really benefited from the saffron, which added a subtle aromatic characteristic to the broth. The potatoes were solid, but I was really missing some crispy fries to dip into the broth.

Boeuf Bourguignon red wine braised beef cheek, bacon, butter noodles

beef cheeks

Tender chunks of beef cheek were smothered in the rich braising liquid. Very flavorful and very good. The butter noodles (finally, an appropriate starch) were good as well, sopping up the rest of the sauce.

We ordered quite a bit of food, so we opted to split just one dessert.

Profiteroles au Chocolat vanilla ice cream, hot chocolate sauce

profiteroles

Pretty good profiteroles here. Kept simple, I thought the ice cream and chocolate sauce were both solid, while the choux pastry was light. Always love the hot-cold and vanilla-chocolate tandems.

Overall, my experience at Le Saint Amour was disappointing. Maybe my expectations were too high, but quite frankly, I’m glad we didn’t pay full price. There were clearly some highlights to the meal, offset by some lows too (boudin noir, steak tartare). Plus, the sausage and french fry issues really detracted a lot from the food. I’ve been told I need to try their brunch out, but I’m not in a hurry to do that.

L’Epicerie (Culver City, CA)

L’Epicerie
9900 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
Dining date: 6/21/11

L’Epicerie opened in December, a French restaurant/marketplace in Culver City from Thierry Perez (Fraiche). There’s a little bit of everything on offer in the marketplace, from wine & cheese, to oils and vinegars, charcuterie, and pre-made meals. On the restaurant side, the food is rustic French.

Just three months ago, a chef change brought in Sébastien Archambault to redesign the menu. Archambault was previously cooking at RH at the Andaz where he garnered pretty strong reviews. I never made it out there, but an invitation to L’Epicerie would be the perfect opportunity to try some of his cuisine.

Egg Cocotte creamy mushrooms

Yummy. The mushrooms were tender and tasty, while the runny egg added a nice richness and creaminess to pair with the crusty, buttered bread.

Beef Tongue sauce diable

The tongue was really tender, with that distinctive ‘tongue’ flavor. A little bit of heat in the sauce made things a little more interesting, but the beef itself was delicious.

Chicken Wings Confit

Nothing too special about these wings, but they were good.

Braised Beef Cheek risotto arborio, red wine sauce, arugula, parmesan cheese

I had to order this given the description. Braised beef cheeks over risotto? Sold. The beef was extremely tender, rich and flavorful. I liked the risotto as well, though I found the parmesan to be a little strong. Still, very comfortable flavors that mixed well.

Niman Ranch Pork Chop green peas, heirloom potatoes, garlic confit

The pork was tender and moist, though not overly so. It was cooked a nice medium, but just wasn’t quite as memorable as our other entrees.

Perigord Cassoulet garlic sausage, pork belly, duck confit, white beans

I liked the crispy duck, as well as the rich creaminess of the white beans. The pork belly was deliciously tender as well. A really savory, hearty dish.

Crêpe Suzette citrus caramel, vanilla ice cream, Grand Marnier sauce

Finally, we split one dessert. I was glad this was rather light (given all the food prior), with a bright citrus flavor from orange rind and the Grand Marnier.

This meal exceeded expectations. The marketplace is rather unassuming, but the food coming out of the kitchen was actually very good. For the most part, the menu stays within a comfort zone of French classics and does them well. I found it to be very comforting and sort of homey, and quite tasty. 

Note: This was a sponsored meal.

LudoBites America (Redondo Beach, CA)

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

exterior

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.”

interior

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.

<menu

“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

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

ceviche

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

squid

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

octopus

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

<beef

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.

ludokrissy

Maison Akira (Pasadena, CA)

Maison Akira
713 East Green Street
Pasadena, CA
Dining date: 2/3/11

My last dineLA meal of this past season was here at Maison Akira. Maison Akira has been somewhere I’ve been interested in trying, but not enough to actually plan a trip there. One of my high school friends recently moved to Pasadena, so it was a perfect opportunity to come try some of Chef Akira Hirose’s Japanese-French cuisine.

The dineLA menu was a 3-course meal, but I put up the pictures of everyone else’s food for the heck of it.

Amuse Bouche – tofu cake, uni, pesto sauce


This sounded pretty interesting, but I thought it fell flat. The flavors were rather muted in the cake, with mushroom and seaweed the most prominent. The uni was just okay, and the pesto didn’t really have the vibrant, fresh flavor I was looking for.

Côté Seared House Smoked Scottish Salmon with Japanese Eggplant Caviar

Sautéed Hokkaido Scallops with Shimeji Mushrooms in a Yuzu Kosho Jus

These were some tiny scallops, for sure. I thought the sear was good, resulting in a nice scallop. I didn’t get a lot from the yuzu kosho, though, so this dish was sort of one-dimensional for me.

Sautéed New Zealand Wild Tai Snapper in a Black Mussel and Seaweed Chardonnay Sauce

Angus Beef Château Steak in a Cabernet & Béarnaise Sauce with Gratin of Potato & Oyster Mushroom Sympatic

Maple Leaf Duck Breast Rôti, Sauce à L’Orange With Daikon Pot au Feu and Shiitake Mushroom

Snake River Farm ‘Kobe’ New York Steak in a Marchand du Vin Sauce with Potato Mousseline

The steak was very good; tender and flavorful with a really nice pan sauce. Disappointingly, the mashed potatoes were surprisingly bland and clumpy, and the vegetables didn’t add too much either. The plating reminded me of a frozen dinner, with the meat in the bottom, and scoops of potatoes and vegetables at each corner.

Vanilla Yuzu Cream Brûlée


This was a good creme brulee, exemplifying the French and Japanese influences of Hirose’s cooking. The yuzu lent a subtle tart flavor; I find yuzu to sometimes be overpoweringly sour, but I thought the custard and bruleed sugar tempered it well.

Crêpes with Baked Banana and Caramel Ice Cream

Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse Cake and Maccha Ice Cream

The cake was pretty good – moist and chocolatey. I didn’t get any hazelnut flavor in the cake, just from the nuts on top – I would have preferred them to be incorporated a little better. The green tea ice cream was pretty good.

I found Maison Akira to be disappointing. It wasn’t a question of execution; frankly, I found many of the dishes to be rather boring. I could see how his type of Asian fusion cuisine was more exciting in the 90’s, but it seems like it hasn’t really changed with the times. The dineLA menu didn’t include some of the dishes the restaurant is most famous for (like the miso Chilean sea bass and Grand Marnier souffle); however, these dishes did not exactly inspire me to return and try those out.