Moreton Fig – 11/8/10

Moreton Fig
Ronald Tutor Campus Center at USC
3607 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, CA 90089

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When I first heard that Bradley Ogden’s restaurant group, Lark Creek, would be opening up a restaurant on the USC campus, I did a double-take. It seemed a little random that Lark Creek, based in the SF Bay Area, would make its first foray into Los Angeles within a college campus. Alas, it was true, and I eagerly awaited its opening.

Nevermind that this opening reinforces the reputation that USC students are rich, spoiled kids (it’s not true!), I was glad to see a legitimate fine dining option come to USC. When I was in undergrad a few years back, campus dining was limited to a variety of fast-food options and only one sit-down restaurant (Upstairs Commons). When we wanted a “nice” meal, we often found ourselves going to the nearest CPK in downtown…which got very tiring. Since then, the entire USC Campus Center has been remodeled and the dining options have been upgraded big time. In my mind, Moreton Fig is the highlight.

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Tonight was the first night of dinner service, though the restaurant has been open a little while for lunch. We started with an assortment of breads.

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Monterey calamari with squid ink linguine, jalapeno pesto, extra virgin olive oil

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We started very strong with this dish. The pasta had a good al dente texture, but the squid was the star. Tender and flavorful, these were exceptional. A little bit of heat heightened the dish as well.

Yankee Pier New England clam chowder with dill drop biscuits

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This chowder was rich, but not overly thick – a nice consistency. I really enjoyed the flavor and the chewy bites of clams dispersed throughout.

BBQ chicken tamale, cilantro cream sauce

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This was an interesting interpretation of a tamale. A corn “pancake” was topped with barbecue chicken and a sort of guacamole. The barbecue sauce was not overly rich or overwhelming, though I would have appreciated a little more corn flavor out of the tamale/pancake.

Ahi tuna “crudo” with black olive, fennel pollen, orange powder, chili

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This dish didn’t really work for me. I thought the black olives overpowered the thin slices of tuna..and everything else really.

Seared Pacific sturgeon, beluga lentils, cippolini onions, salsa verde

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The sturgeon had an almost spongy texture and was very moist. Good flavor. The beluga lentils (get it?) were a welcome touch, adding some body and more depth of flavor.

Roasted steelhead salmon, sauteed rapini, shallots, meyer lemon

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I thought the salmon was a little undercooked for my tastes, but it was very moist. The rapini was a good accompaniment. Flavors were definitely there.

Pan roasted duck breast, onion soubise, cavalo nero, Medjool dates, verjus

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I really liked the presentation of this half-duck with its crispy skin on top. I thought the duck was a little undercooked for me though, yielding meat that was a little chewy. However, it was still a tasty dish – it just took a little more chewing.

Lark Creek classic Yankee Pot Roast with young turnips, red chard and grated horseradish

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Next was this pot roast. Very tender and with good flavor, though not unlike a typical pot roast.

We ordered a couple of sides to eat with our entrees.

Big duck fat fries

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These fat fries remind me of the fries my grandmother used to make. These were confited in duck fat then flash fried. They were fluffy and tender on the inside, but I thought they could’ve been a tad bit crispier on the outside. Still very good.

Roasted brussel sprouts

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Simple brussel sprouts roasted and brushed with butter. Tasty.

Lark Creek butterscotch pudding, creme chantilly, pecan wedding cookie

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Onto dessert! The butterscotch pudding was really nice – not overly sweet nor rich, with a good butterscotch flavor. I liked the chantilly creme, as it added a pleasant lightness and sweetness.

Valrhona chocolate cake, pistachio gelato, pistachio dust

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This chocolate cake was very much like a chocolate muffin. I wanted this to be a little more moist, and not so crumbly. The pistachio ice cream was good though.

My impression of Moreton Fig is of a restaurant that serves upscale food within a comfort zone. Perhaps not as dynamic or imaginative as other Lark Creek/Bradley Ogden restaurants, but I understand that it also needs to serve a college student clientele. The food is solid and well thought-out, and definitely fits a niche among the dining options on campus. This has to be some of the best food ever offered at USC, and I expect Moreton Fig to soon attract diners from around the city.

Scarpetta Beverly Hills – 10/25/10

Scarpetta Beverly Hills
Montage Beverly Hills
225 North Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

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Scarpetta is one of the more notable restaurant openings in LA this year, largely because it’s associated with celebrity chef Scott Conant (both as a restaurateur and on TV: Chopped and 24 Hour Restaurant Battle). Scarpetta is Conant’s interpretation of rustic Italian fare with locations already in New York, Miami, Toronto and (soon-to-be) Las Vegas.

One of the things that first turned me on to Scarpetta was seeing Conant demonstrate his version of spaghetti on No Reservations, specifically the “Techniques” episode. It was so simple…fresh pasta, tomatoes, basil, olive oil…yet looked so good. Nevermind that it was $24 for a small plate, I knew I’d have to try it someday. That someday was today, the day Scarpetta Beverly Hills opened up. I joined fellow bloggers Kevin of kevinEats and Tsz of Gastrophoria.

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The dining room is pretty sleek and modern, and actually relatively bright (makes for good food pictures). Shortly after sitting down, bread service began.

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A variety of breads were served, including a crunchy foccaccia, and a delicious and hearty stromboli. These were served with an eggplant caponata, marscapone butter, and a citrus-infused olive oil. These were all quite good – the stromboli, filled with melted cheese and salami, was perfect on its own. For the others, I appreciated the simple citrus-infused olive oil most.

Shortly after bread service, we were offered a place at the kitchen counter – in full view of the kitchen. Yes! We weren’t gonna pass up a seat right in the middle of the action!

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We put ourselves in Chef Conant’s hands, letting him choose a tasting menu for us consisting of some of the dishes he was famous for, as well as a few dishes he thought we should try.

Olives Ascolana

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These were fried olives stuffed with beef, veal and pork. Kind of like a meatball – it was juicy and meaty…delish! I appreciated the light crispiness of the exterior as well.

Duo of Crudo – Raw Yellowtail and Tuna “Susci” yellowtail with olio de zenzero & pickled red onion, tuna rolled around marinated vegetables & preserved truffles

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I enjoyed both of these preparations. The tuna was definitely the more interesting, with crisp vegetables inside, and some nice black truffles on top. However, I may have enjoyed the simplicity of the yellowtail even more, with its clean, fresh flavors – it had just enough oil, sea salt and red onion. Both were fantastic bites.

Puree of Pumpkin Soup farro, almonds, spiced croutons, pumpkin oil, black truffles

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Perfect for fall, this soup had a nice creamy pumpkin flavor, and wasn’t overly sweet. Rich and hearty, I enjoyed the earthiness of the farro and the black truffles. The almonds added some nice texture to the soup as well.

Autumn Vegetable Salad black trumpet mushrooms, hazelnuts & foie gras emulsion

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Keeping up with the seasonal produce, Chef Conant next presented us with this salad. Acorn squash, butternut squash, carrots and mixed greens were topped with a foie gras emulsion. Interesting. The flavors of foie gras were there, though this was a light dish with crisp greens and creamy squash. The black trumpet mushrooms, cooked down in a foie gras ragu, really added a lot of flavor.

Roasted Sea Scallop caramelized sunchokes & porcini mushrooms, topped with shaved white truffles

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I really appreciated the progression of dishes, as we were building flavors and entering into richer plates. Here we had a scallop which was really nicely cooked- very tender and moist. The sunchokes really gave a meatiness to this dish, which I quite enjoyed. And hello! White truffles – they’re in season! I love the flavor of white truffles – they instantly make any dish decadent. This was no exception; the earthiness of the truffles, combined with the porcini mushrooms and scallop, gave a surf & turf feel to this dish.

Creamy Polenta fricasse of truffled mushrooms, shaved white truffles

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The white truffle onslaught continued. Here they topped a really nice, creamy polenta. I tasted a mild sweetness from the corn polenta, which went well with the rich and savory mushroom fricasse. Top this with the distinctive flavor of white truffles, and you’ve really got something here!

Spaghetti tomato & basil

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This is probably Scarpetta’s most famous dish. It’s beautiful! I love the colors and the piled presentation. And how did it taste? Wonderful. It was really good. The fresh pasta was al dente with a nice chew to them, and the sauce was rich (lots of butter and oil!), though not overly sweet nor acidic. The fresh basil rounded everything out. This pasta dish lives up to the hype.

Chestnut and Short Rib Agnolotti

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Only two pieces here, but they were rich and dense. I enjoyed the crispy chestnuts and the al dente pasta. The short rib filling was expectedly flavorful – and the beef jus brought even more flavor into these few bites.

Chef Conant plating our next course.

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Roasted Duck Breast heirloom parsnips, raisin mostarda, lentils

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Beautiful. The duck was tender and cooked perfectly. The raisins brought a complementary sweetness, while the mostarda added just a little bit of heat. Loved the interplay of these flavors.

Aged Sirloin of Beef roasted baby potatoes, porcini mushrooms, barolo reduction, shaved white truffles

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More white truffles?! Oh man. No one’s complaining here. The steak was tender and flavorful, while shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano added a nice saltiness and nuttiness. The white truffles actually complemented the beefy flavors really well, and were a nice touch. Excellent.

Cheese savory biscotti

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Next we had the cheese course. Now, I’m never a big fan of the cheese course. However I did like the Parmigianno Reggiano (far right) with the balsamic vinegar, as well as the creamy Le Tour (second from right) paired with the sweet pineapple chutney. I enjoyed the savory biscotti for their crunchiness and mild herbal flavor.

Next, finally, we were ready for dessert.

Rum Pineapple Cake & Vanilla Flan

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First, this was a really nice flan. Macerated berries accompanied the vanilla custard, which I thought brought a nice fresh, fruity flavor to go along. The other dessert had layers of cake and custard – I thought the cake itself was a bit dry. I enjoyed the sweetness of the pineapple and the mild rum flavor, though.

Amaretto Flan spiced roasted pumpkin & marsala zabaglione gelato

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Loved this dessert! The flan, very smooth, had just a nice almond liqueur flavor. The marsala zabaglione added to this richness, but with a nice sweetness that paired well. The spiced roasted pumpkin bits added some nice texture to this plate.

This was an impressive meal. None of the dishes disappointed (especially the spaghetti, of which I had really high expectations). From start to finish, I thought the courses were very strong and well-executed. I’ll be honest, this meal ended up costing much more than I had anticipated walking in ($500 all-in, about a third  from alcohol – you’ll have to see Kevin’s post for that), but we did end up having a much more elaborate menu full of seasonal white and black truffles, while experiencing much of what the restaurant has to offer. Plus it’s not every day that you can have Chef Conant himself serving you each dish, something I really enjoyed experiencing. I expect Scarpetta, which looked to have a full house on its first night, to continue to draw people in to experience some really good food.

LudoBites 6.0 – 10/21/10

LudoBites 6.0 at Max
13355 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

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I don’t think Los Angeles’ dining scene has ever seen anything quite like this.  Now in its sixth incarnation, LudoBites continues to grow in interest not just in LA, but nationwide. No restaurant in LA has garnered quite as much acclaim or hate in 2010. Acclaim – because LudoBites has consistently received rave reviews for its delicious, innovative, and constantly-changing cuisine. Hate – because the restaurant “pops-up” for a limited time, and demand far outstrips supply, leaving many frustrated without a chance to try it.

This was never more evident than when reservations opened up for this iteration, and OpenTable’s custom-made system (designed to handle the massive crowd) still crashed. Thousands of users, including myself, were faced with the words “restaurant currently unavailable” time after time after time. Somehow..I got lucky, and obtained a reservation after 40 minutes of constant clicking (thank goodness!). After days of anticipation, I found myself at opening night of LudoBites 6.0 at Max in Sherman Oaks.

Dining with me this night were friends Kristen and Heather, as well as Kevin of kevinEats. For the first time, LudoBites has an alcohol license, so a wine list (created by Domaine547) and a cocktail were featured. On this night, a Mexican Mojito was offered:

Ludo’s recommended cocktail: Mexican Mojito

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This was a tequila-based cocktail, and it seemed to have a margarita-ish flavor to it. This mojito had the perfect amount of sugar; I find a lot of mojitos to be made too sweet.

Warm Baguette, Baratte Smoked Butter, Sardine-Laughing Cow Cheese

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Ludo makes an excellent baguette, and it’s always served hot out of the oven. To compliment this, two spreads were served. One butter had a predominant smoky flavor, and one was fishy…I actually enjoyed combining these two as I found it to have a really delicious sort of smoked fish flavor.

Hamachi, Vietnamese Style

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Next was one of the strongest dishes of the night. Beautifully plated, I loved the colors. Nice slivers of fish were complemented by textures of fried shallots and fried lotus root, with just a slight acidity to the dish. Wonderful.

Kumamoto Oysters, Kimchi Consomme Gelee, Camembert Mousse, Apple

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This was a pretty interesting dish. The oysters were below the lettuce, in a gelee made of a kimchi consomee. Without being overpowering, this kimchi added a little bit of heat and acidity to the dish. I loved Ludo’s use of flowers in the presentation.

Marinated Mackerel, Leche Del Tiger, Baby Leeks, Verdolagas Leaves

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This mackerel, marinated in ponzu, had a nice firm flesh and a crispy skin. Sugar was added to the skin and torched to get that nice crusty effect. The vegetables added the necessary balance to this meaty fish. Nice presentation too!

Black Trumpet Mushroom Cappuccino, Creamy Butternut Squash

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This soup primarily had the sweet, rich flavors of the butternut squash, with a nice mushroom flavor on the back end. Warm and comforting.

Barely Cooked Squid Noodles, Pad Thai, Prawn, Tofu

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This was another of the favorites dishes of the night. The squid was so tender, it was kind of incredible. The flavors of a pad thai were present as well, with a little heat and a bit of a coconut milk flavor. The bean sprouts were a great textural element as well to round out this excellent dish.

Mussels Veloute, Green Peppercorns, Pineapple, Fennel, Potato Paille

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We were told that this was Ludo’s deconstructed version of moules frites. Interesting. The mussels were made into a rich and hearty soup with chunks of mussel meat and pineapple. I found the pineapple a bit odd if this was a moules frites inspiration; however I appreciated the sweetness it lended to the soup. The very thin shoestring fries were good with the soup (and for dipping!) and were extra crispy.

Poached Foie Gras, Green Lentils, Miso Broth, Turnips & Radish

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Hmm…poached foie gras. Not something you see very often. Loved it! The smooth and creamy liver really stood out in this preparation, melting in your mouth. The turnips and radish were the primary textural elements, while the lentils added some nice body to the dish.

Scallop, Celery Root Remoulade, Red Port, Walnuts, Passion Fruit

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Nicely seared, these scallops were cooked perfectly. The walnuts added some nice crispiness, though I was missing some of the passion fruit, which I think would’ve added some nice citrus to the dish.

John Dory, Potato, Herbs, Broccolini Flowers, Green Jalapenos Nage

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Loved the colors here again. The fish was firm and, I thought, a bit overcooked. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was due to all of us taking pictures and letting the fish sit in the broth a while. The broth was delicious, with an herbaceous flavor and touch of heat from the jalapenos. The potato crisps were good as well.

Half Chicken, Chorizo, Poached Egg, Chanterelles, Saffron Onions Soubise

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Ludo clearly knows his way around a chicken. His fried chicken is now served around the city in a truck, and here we have a “roasted” half chicken, which was actually prepared sous-vide. I imagined this was finished in the oven though, as it had a really crisp skin. The sous-vide preparation of the meat gave it a very moist, tender and succulent consistency. The flavor was spot on as well. I always love a poached egg, and the chanterelles were a nice accompaniment. Really, really good dish.

Nebraska Ribeye, Japanese Whiskey, Smoked Shisito Peppers, Amaranth

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This was a pretty simple dish for Ludo’s standards…and it was excellent. The steak was of an American wagyu breed, probably my favorite breed if I’m eating a whole steak (pure Japanese wagyu is too fatty).  The sear on the steak was perfect, and it was cooked to a tender and juicy medium rare. The shisito pepper (or my one bite of one) kicked my ass. Everyone else at the table seemed to have no problem with them though.

Next up were the two desserts on the menu this night.

Warm Carrot Cake, Coconut, Thai Curry, Mango Sorbet, Kaffir Lime Oil

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The carrot cake was served hot out of the oven, with a very moist and soft interior. It had a nice carrot flavor to it, and when eaten with all of the components, really resembled a Thai curry dish. In a good, sweet dessert way.

Pear, Hot Chocolate, Matcha Green Tea Broth, Mint

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This pear was poached until it had a fork-tender consistency. The “hot chocolate,” with a light mousse-like consistency, as well as the matcha green tea, made for a really interesting mix of flavors. I love green tea, and I thought the chocolate and the green tea melded well with the pear. This was a pretty light dessert, which my stomach appreciated after all of the previous courses.

This was another really good showing from Ludo and the team. As LudoBites receives more and more attention, dining expectations continue to rise. Ludo mentioned that he was conscious of this fact, and had to raise his own standards up. The food continues to be innovative and interesting; you’ll definitely come across ingredients and preparations you’ve never seen before. And, most importantly, it tastes good too. Cheers to another LudoBites!