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.

Masa’s – 12/29/10

Masa’s
648 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

I posted a little while ago about The House, where my cousins and I took my grandmother for her birthday. My father also organizes a birthday dinner for her (and my aunt), typically at a little bit more of a “special occasion” restaurant. Prior year examples have included The Dining Room, Cyrus, Murray Circle and Quince.

Masa’s has been in San Francisco for over 25 years; as a pioneer in the early fine dining scene, it helped launch the careers of numerous notable chefs. Past chefs have included Julian Serrano for 14 years (Picasso, Julian Serrano in Las Vegas), Ron Siegel (The Dining Room), and Richard Reddington (Redd, Yountville). Gregory Short, a French Laundry alumnus, currently mans the stoves, maintaining the restaurant’s one Michelin-starred rated food.

Masa’s is the only restaurant in the city that requires jackets for men, a dress code I tend to greatly dislike. I understand that they’re trying to set the atmosphere, but the food better be damn good.  The main dining room is pretty nice – fresh pink roses are the centerpiece for each table.

Crispy Escargot and Parmesan Gougeres


We started with this amuse bouche from the kitchen. The escargot had a crispy texture and tender meat, but there wasn’t a whole lot of flavor.  The gougeres, however, had a great cheesy flavor contained in the light, airy dough.

Tuna Tartare lime segments, hearts of palm

We actually had a second amuse here. I thought the lime wasn’t really ripe, and it overwhelmed the dish with its tartness. I couldn’t taste the tuna at all.

Dungeness Crab “Cannelloni” celeriac, tomato fondue, shellfish bisque, parmigiano-reggiano

This was kind of an interesting dish. The ‘cannelloni’ wrapper was actually celery root, cooked to an al dente texture. The crab was sweet and tender, though I thought the parmesan wasn’t necessary.

Sauteed Filet of Pink Snapper fennel ‘cuit sous vide,’ golden chanterelle mushrooms, navel orange emulsion

This snapper was first cooked sous vide then seared to a crisp.  It was moist with good flavor, though the chanterrelles were a little bit strong for the dish. I thought the fennel was a good accompaniment though.

Seared Ahi Tuna hard-poached quail egg, kizami wasabi, black lava salt, tamari pudding, aji amarillo

This wasn’t a visually stunning piece of ahi – it almost looks too cooked. I didn’t order this and did not try it.

We supplemented our meal with a couple orders of this special winter dish.

White Truffle Risotto carnaroli rice, white truffles from Alba

I haven’t had a white truffle risotto since The French Laundry’s amazing version.  This one paled in comparison. The cheese and onions were rather strong in the risotto, which was overly creamy to me. In addition, the white truffles weren’t very apparent in the rich risotto – a big disappointment.

Sauteed Breast of Paine Farms Squab “croquette de saucisse de pigeon,” melted leeks, celery root puree, perigord truffles, confit leg, squab sauce

The squab was very tender, moist and quite delicious. If cooked well, it’s really hard to go wrong with squab.

Roasted Ribeye of Colorado Lamb ras el hanout spiced potato gnocchi, king trumpet mushrooms, roasted sweet turnips, lamb sauce

The lamb was tender, flavorful and perfectly cooked. The sauce was very rich and tasty, and I thought the mushrooms and gnocchi both worked well here.

Pan Roasted Ribeye of American Wagyu Beef green leek and potato confit, vegetables “a la grecque,” aged sherry vinegar

The beef here was surprisingly not too tender. It was fairly unremarkable and I don’t think it was cooked too well. The gray area (which tends to be dry and flavorless) took up too much of the meat and was clearly concentrated on one side (the right of the picture). An inexcusable preparation for such a high quality piece of meat.

Concord Grape Terrine tahitian vanilla panna cotta, grape gelee, golden raisin verjus, peanut butter powder, peanut shortbread

The grape terrine topped a vanilla panna cotta. It was very smooth, and I liked the vanilla-grape combination.

Chocolate-Caramel-Walnut Tart fleur de sel, chocolate-orange sauce, chocolate-walnut crumble, earl grey ice cream

Here we had a chewiness from the caramel, some crunch from walnuts, and decadent, rich chocolate flavor – all in a tart. Hard to go wrong with that. I really enjoyed the earl grey ice cream as well.

Masa’s was fairly disappointing. There were a few very good dishes (lamb, squab) and some pretty good (snapper, crab), but a number of disappointments as well (wagyu and risotto). It was especially disappointing that the risotto wasn’t good because it had so much potential…and were the most expensive things we ordered. I was a little shocked to find the execution of the menu to be so poor – given its Michelin starred status, I thought this would be a strength. I don’t know if this was an off-night, but I likely won’t be back to find out.

Bouchon – 9/26/10

Bouchon Bistro
235 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

As the first meal post-American Wine & Food Festival, my family and I wanted something reliably good. Enter Bouchon. Thomas Keller’s LA outpost serves some well-executed, comfortable French bistro fare. The brunch menu shares some of the popular dinner dishes, such as the steak frites, trout, and roast chicken, as well as some brunch-only items. Given our party of nine was mixed between Bouchon veterans and Bouchon newbies, the varied offerings would fit well.

Quiche du Jour leek and Roquefort cheese quiche, with mixed greens

The quiche is so smooth, almost custard-like. The flavors of the leek and Roquefort shine through, and the blue cheese is not at all overpowering.

Plat de Cotes de Boeuf Hache braised short rib hash with piquillo peppers, caramelized onion & a hen egg served sunny side up

This was a brunch-only dish, and it was a good one. The short ribs were tender and delicious. Roasted potatoes are combined with this dish to create a really hearty, almost stew-like dish. The caramelized onions and piquillo peppers added a little bit of sweetness, while the egg with its runny yolk (I love runny yolks!) engulfed the dish with its richness. This one sat pretty heavy in the stomach, but it was pretty easy going down.

Steak Frites pan-seared prime flatiron, caramelized shallots, maître d’hôtel butter & French fries

The classic bistro dish. The flatiron was extremely tender and had some pretty good flavor. The fries are consistently some of the best in the city, and you get a heaping pile here. Can’t go wrong ordering this dish.

Truite aux Amandes pan-roasted trout with haricots verts, almonds & beurre noisette

Stepping away from the “comfort” of the steak, we have a whole trout. It’s interesting that the head was kept on, as I don’t see that very often outside of Asian restaurants. The fish was moist and cooked well, while the almonds and green beans rounded out the dish and lended some texture.

Poulet Rôti roasted chicken with sweet corn, currants, pickled red onions, lardons & chicken jus

Bouchon makes one hell of a roasted chicken. Exceedingly moist, the chicken has a lot of flavor as well. Combined with the chicken jus and a little bit of bacon flavor, and you’ve got an excellent dish. I recommend some fries for dipping into the chicken jus!

Bouchon offers their full dessert menu during brunch. I had mentioned that the profiteroles was my favorite dessert here, so we got a few orders to share.

Profiteroles vanilla ice cream & chocolate sauce

The pastry is light and the vanilla ice cream is excellent. However, what separates these profiteroles apart is the Valrhona chocolate sauce.

Rich, not overly sweet, and with a deep chocolate flavor, I love the vanilla-chocolate interplay. A simple dessert done very well.

I always have a solid meal here, and Bouchon’s brunch menu did not disappoint. Combining some of the favorite menu items from dinner with some brunch items, the menu is appealing and approachable. Given the soaring windows and ample natural light, it’s a great place to spend a weekend morning or afternoon.