Naomi Pomeroy @ Paiche (Marina Del Rey, CA)

Naomi Pomeroy (Beast)
Paiche
13488 Maxella Ave
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Dining date: 3/26/13

paiche sign

While it seems like downtown’s Mo-Chica is still a relatively new restaurant, chef Ricardo Zarate and Stephane Bombet (Picca, Mo-Chica) are about to unleash their newest concept Paiche in Marina Del Rey. Dubbed a Peruvian izakaya, the team is bringing Zarate’s Peruvian style closer to the water. I haven’t seen a menu of the new place, though a preview (and what appears to be a few old favorites and a bunch of new creations) is here.

paiche exterior

paiche interior

In order to celebrate the grand opening (April 2), Paiche teamed up with Food GPS on a couple of one-night collaborative dinner events featuring a number of past Food & Wine Best New Chefs. The first dinner hosted Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland (2009 Best New Chef) on a 5-course, $52 affair. The second night brought in Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa and Toro in Boston (2011 Best New Chef) and Viet Pham of Forage in Salt Lake City (2011 Best New Chef) on a 6-courser for $62.

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Evan Funke @ this is not a pop-up (Los Angeles, CA)

this is not a pop-up: Evan Funke
Square One
4854 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029
Dining date: 2/6/13

square one

this is not a pop-up, housed in Hollywood’s Square One Dining space, follows a similar concept to the now-defunct Test Kitchen, housing chefs for a short period of time to cook whatever they want. It’s a concept that I really liked then, and enjoy just as much now as it keeps things new and interesting. Evan Funke, of Rustic Canyon fame (and developed one of LA’s most notable burgers) stepped into the restaurant for one night to preview his menu for upcoming Bucato.

Bucato, developed in the old Beacon restaurant in the Helms Bakery complex (with Father’s Office and Lukshon), has faced a number of delays (first rumored to open in December). While working on the opening of his Italian restaurant and “pasta laboratorio,” Funke started up a food truck serving only one thing – porchetta sandwiches. I recently tried it and, while not exactly a traditional porchetta, it was delicious.

Evan Funke's porchetta sandwich

It convinced us to try more of Funke’s food, bringing us to his pop-up menu of eight courses priced at $65.

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The Restaurant at Meadowood @ Animal (Los Angeles, CA)

Cooking with Friends: Christopher Kostow (The Restaurant at Meadowood)
Animal Restaurant
435 N Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Dining date: 1/14/13

animal exterior

New for 2013, the team behind the ever-popular Animal began a series of dinners called “Cooking with Friends” in which a guest chef would join for one night and cook a collaborative dinner, with a portion of proceeds going to the chef’s choice. I’m always intrigued by meals like this as it provides an opportunity to try something unique, particularly if it’s an out-of-town chef.

For this first dinner, the guest chef was Christopher Kostow of the Michelin three-star The Restaurant at Meadowood in St. Helena, CA. My only visit to the restaurant was at the tail end of 2009, and was actually one of the meals that inspired this blog’s creation. Given Meadowood’s accolades and reputation for serving a highly-refined, super-seasonal/local type of dining, the restaurant was packed for the one-night dinner. I was very excited for this one.

menu

The eight-course menu was priced at $135 and the beneficiary of this dinner was Cancer for College, a charity that provides college scholarships to cancer survivors.

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LudoBites 10 @ Gram & Papa’s (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites 10
Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 12/10/12

menu

Last week LudoBites returned in its 10th incarnation, dubbed a sort of “Best Of” celebration bringing back many dishes from previous iterations of the pop-up. Adding to the hype, it was also announced that this would be the last LudoBites pop-up given that Ludo will be opening a permanent restaurant (with the Animal guys) in the new year. Not surprisingly, reservations were again scarce for the 3-week run, with reservation requests taken through an UrbanSpoon lottery. I’ve heard that approximately 5% of reservation requests were granted, a rate similar to LudoBites 8.0 (the last LA version).

exterior

Downtown’s Gram & Papa’s is a usual suspect in terms of LudoBites locations, and I was happy to see it used again for this one (it’s by far the most convenient for me!). The ever-changing menu on this night had a mix of classic dishes from the past and some new ones. As much as I love trying Ludo’s new creations, I was probably more excited to try some old favorites again. I could seriously think up a dream team of past dishes to craft up the perfect meal.

As with all LudoBites, Ludo can be found in the kitchen every single night. In my experience, there really hasn’t been as much chaos and yelling as their Sundance Channel show would suggest…

ludo

Hamachi, Vietnamese Salad

Hamachi, Vietnamese Salad

We started down memory lane with this dish from 6.0, a cool hamachi fish complemented by refreshing and crispy slivers of green papaya and fried lotus root. Definitely a hit.

Prawns, Avocado, Pineapple, Shrimp Oil

Prawns, Avocado, Pineapple, Shrimp Oil

The seafood continued with these prawns, served with an added sweetness of pineapple and an interesting shrimp oil, providing some additional depth of flavor.

Oysters, Gray Shallots, Blanco Grapefruit, Kombu

Oysters, Gray Shallots, Blanco Grapefruit, Kombu

I found the oysters to be good, but the bite was overpowered by a strong bitterness from, presumably, the grapefruit.

Celery Root Risotto, Creamy Mustard Emulsion, Red Walnuts

Celery Root Risotto, Creamy Mustard Emulsion, Red Walnuts

This was something new; small diced celery root was smothered in a mustard emulsion sauce. This one didn’t work for me (and perhaps the rest of the table as we didn’t finish either of the two orders), with the creamy sauce being overly rich and sort of monotone in flavor.

Ham Soup, Radish, Pickles

Ham Soup, Radish, Pickles

We rebounded with this nice bowl of ham (and, I think, cheese) soup, with a warm comforting porky flavor. Slivers of radish and pickles provided a slight crunch and acidity to cut trough the rich soup. Add a warm baguette and this would be a great meal.

Tandoori Octopus, Beets, Pink Onions, Yogurt, Fennel

Tandoori Octopus, Beets, Pink Onions, Yogurt, Fennel

Tender braised octopus was paired with crisp beets and a tart yogurt, in one of the seemingly simpler dishes of the evening.

Squid Pad Thai Butter, Grapes, Tofu, Lime Oil, Chili Oil

Squid Pad Thai Butter, Grapes, Tofu, Lime Oil, Chili Oil

I enjoyed this 6.0 throwback, a “squid pad Thai” with squid, crispy bean sprouts, and well-balanced lime and chili oils. Thin slices of sweet grape really made a difference too.

Escargot, Fine Brick Tart, Garlic Mousse, Spinach, Parsley, Curry

Escargot, Fine Brick Tart, Garlic Mousse, Spinach, Parsley, Curry

The escargot was tender and chewy, and I enjoyed the textural contrast with the ‘brick tart.’ A warm garlicky curry sauce brought everything together.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo

This 5.0 dish is one of my favorites in LudoBites history so I was very excited to have this again. It really seems so simple – a velvety smooth mashed potato with a perfectly poached egg and just a little bit of chorizo makes a fantastic combination.

Chicken, Mushrooms, Parmesan, Pears, Brioche

Chicken, Mushrooms, Parmesan, Pears, Brioche

Ludo always seems to cook chicken well and this was no exception. The chicken was moist, and I really liked the texture that the brioche breadcrumbs provided. Great bites, particularly with the crisp, fresh slices of pear to offset the richness.

Veal, Carrots, Udon, Caramelized Onions, White Miso

Veal, Carrots, Udon, Caramelized Onions, White Miso

I found the chunks of veal to be a bit chewy and kind of flavorless. The udon and comforting miso were both good, but couldn’t make up for the disappointing crux of the dish.

Flat Iron Steak, Treviso, Smoked Anchovy Cream, Pepper Oil

Flat Iron Steak, Treviso, Smoked Anchovy Cream, Pepper Oil

These were yummy chunks of medium-rare steak; the pepper oil and smoked anchovy cream were difference-makers, adding a lot of flavor and depth to the meat.

Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar

Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar

This was another favorite of mine; I first had it at 6.0 (though it made its first appearance at 2.0). Salty caviar and sweet caramel came together with a great panna cotta at the center. The separate flavors really came together so well to make some delicious bites.

Lemon Meringue Tart

Lemon Meringue Tart

Dollops of tart lemon curd, sweet whipped cream and crumbled “pie crust” made up this deconstructed lemon meringue tart. Similar to when I had it at 8.0, I liked the ability to make each bite different, experimenting with more cream or more curd to find the right balance.

Chocolate Fondant, Mint Pesto, Habanero Gelee

Chocolate Fondant, Mint Pesto, Habanero Gelee

A little bit of heat and a little bit of fresh herb flavor complemented this rich chocolate cake. Simple and executed well.

helmet

I have no explanation.

Guests who paid with a MasterCard were treated to a signed cookbook – a cool promotion! While I do have some bias, I’ve found this cookbook to be one of the best reads, chronicling the story of the whole LudoBites pop-up concept. I have yet to experiment with any of the recipes, but that’s only a matter of time…

cookbooks

Having been to LudoBites 1.0 I was happy to be able to come full-circle at this last one. Food-wise, I thought there were some highs and lows, but it was some of the more interesting things I’ve eaten in LA recently. The ‘highs’ were quite high though; I will always remember the poached egg/potato mousseline and the panna cotta with caramel and caviar. Who knows, maybe some of these favorites (or a variation) can find a recurring role at the permanent restaurant.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites 7.0 (2) | LudoBites 8.0 (2)LudoBites America | LudoBites Best of Foie Gras

Test Kitchen: Rocco DiSpirito (Los Angeles, CA)

Return of Test Kitchen: Rocco DiSpirito
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Dining date: 10/1/12

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It’s been almost two years since Test Kitchen ended its run, something that I thought was one of the most interesting things to happen to the LA dining scene in recent years. Quite frankly, I’ve kinda missed it. A rotating cast of notable chefs spent a few days each in the kitchen, cooking whatever they wanted. The ever-changing menu continually kept things fresh and no two meals were alike. It revolutionized the pop-up restaurant in a way, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been fully duplicated since. However, the Test Kitchen legacy has lived on through its derivative restaurants such as Sotto, Picca, Playa and Short Order.

After years of rumors that Test Kitchen would eventually return, it finally seems to have come to fruition with another stint from 10/16-11/11 at upcoming Bestia restaurant in downtown LA. While I will be out of the country during its entire run, I was able to attend the launch and baton-passing from the former space (now Sotto) to the new space. For this occasion Test Kitchen hosted Rocco DiSpirito to cook his version of comfortable (and healthy) Italian fare. Joining DiSpirito in the kitchen were alumni from NYC’s Union Pacific, a restaurant DiSpirito opened in 1997, including Josh Dechellis, Neal Fraser (Grace), and Quinn Hatfield (Hatfield’s).

DiSpirito was promoting and cooking out of his latest cookbook Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes from the Real Mamas of Italy–All Under 350 Calories, the title of which is a mouthful, pun intended. He was on hand to chat and sign cookbooks for everyone.

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Crudo of Tuna, Meatballs, Kale Chips, Grilled Pane Carasau with Rosemary & Super Olive Oil

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We started with a quartet of antipasti. Tuna was bathed in a cool citrusy bath, while meatballs were smothered in a rich marinara. Thin bread chips and kale-parmiggiano chips (which I’m guessing were baked, not fried) provided the texture; I found the latter to be rather chewy…pretty much like undercooked kale. “Super olive oil,” a blend of olive oil and white wine, was a lighter and less fruity substitution for real olive oil, kind of defeating the purpose.

Lasagna Bolognese

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The main flavor profiles in the lasagna were the sweet tomato sauce and strong basil. With a little bit of shaved mushrooms and meat, I found it to be a hearty dish without being too rich…I’m guessing exactly what Rocco was going for.

Black Cod Puttanesca, Contorni of Polenta, Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

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Next up was a silky smooth piece of black cod; I’m accustomed to the denser, richer fillets so I think this may have been a different breed. I liked it! Earthy olives and capers grounded out the flavors, while the sweetness of tomatoes brightened everything up. The polenta wasn’t particularly memorable, but the Brussels sprouts were better, getting a lot of flavor from the charred bits at the edges.

Cheesecake, Panna Cotta, Instant Strawberry Italian Ice

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Lastly, we were served a disappointing trio of desserts. The strawberry Italian ice was creamy, fruity and refreshing. However, the cheesecake (middle) was gritty, chalky and lacking in the flavor department. Lastly, the panna cotta was a little denser than I would’ve liked, and the subtle caramel flavor couldn’t hold up to the tart dessert.

Pine Nut Cookies

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To take home, we received a batch of pine nut cookies. These weren’t very good either, but I guess they were only 49 calories..

I thought the black cod was excellent, but I found the rest of the meal to be rather ordinary or mediocre. However, given DiSpirito was going the ‘healthy’ route I thought he actually did a pretty decent job for the most part. If the calorie count was correct, this was one of the few sub-1200 calorie meals I haven’t been able to finish (it was a lot of food!). Having said that, Test Kitchen is all about trying out new things and I’m excited for its return…just sad that I will miss its entire run.

Previous Test Kitchen posts:
Test Kitchen Dinners (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7)
Closing Night – 12/13/10
Reunion – 9/19/11

Le Comptoir (Los Angeles, CA)

Le Comptoir
Tiara Cafe
127 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 3/29/12

tiara cafe

Le Comptoir has been sort of a longer-term pop-up, occupying the Tiara Cafe space in downtown’s fashion district for a number of months now. For three days a week (Thurs-Sat), Gary Menes cooks his version of seasonal farm-to-table food. What I found pretty unique (and very intriguing) about this dinner was that essentially all seating is at the kitchen counter – diners get an upfront look into each and every dish being prepared.

counter

A la carte is not offered at Le Comptoir; rather, each diner is served a vegetarian five course tasting menu ($52). That’s right, vegetarian. Meats are available through a number of supplements (if all are taken, the cost of the meal rises to $106), but the focal point of the meal is definitely on the produce. A four-wine pairing is also available for $24.

We decided to order one “base” menu and one with all of the supplements in order to try everything.

croquette fromage, pesto aioli

croquette fromage

First we were served this amuse; it was a hollow croquette with a dense, cheesy crust. The pesto provided some brightness and acidity…as well as the bulk of the flavor.

The housemade bread was served early and often, and had a subtle sourdough flavor with a delightful crispy crust.

le comptoir bread

okinawan sweet potato velouté, farinette, yogurt, green garlic, herbs
mas bruguiere les muriers 2009; coteaux du languedoc; roussanne, marsanne

soup before pour

pouring soup

roasted french foie gras, dried cherry compote, saba (supplement)
mas bruguiere les muriers 2009; coteaux du languedoc; roussanne, marsanne

foie

These were the first course options. The veloute was a hearty soup with a creaminess and subtle tart flavor from the yogurt. I thought it had good earthy flavor, while the crispy bread added texture.

The supplement featured a silky and creamy seared foie gras, complemented by a bittersweet cherry flavor. The execution was on point, but I thought there could’ve been some more exciting accompaniments to the liver.

kitchen

sunny side-up egg, young lettuce, herbs, jus vert
mas neuf paradox 2010; cote du rhone blanc; grenache blanc, roussanne

egg

composed egg

“asperge vert” et oeuf sur la plat, reggiano, beurre noisette, citron (supplement)
mas neuf paradox 2010; cote du rhone blanc; grenache blanc, roussanne

egg asparagus

Second courses. This first one was a little interactive, where you add the compound butter, lettuce and herbs. Finally, the jus is poured over the top. The egg was cooked perfectly, showing off a rich and creamy (and huge!) egg yolk that went very well with the lettuce and herbs; a green vegetable juice was a difference-maker adding a bright, bitter flavor in each bite.

The supplemental dish featured some delicious sweet and smoky thick-stalk asparagus. A little bit of citrus was a nice accompaniment, as were the rich egg and crunchy croutons.

“veggie plate” beets, pickled onion petals, turnips, radish, kohlrabi, pears, rutabaga, grapes, scallions, fava beans, celtuce
domaine du fresche, alain boré; anjou rouge loire valley 2010; cabernet franc

veggie plate

house made fettucini, black winter truffles (supplement)
domaine du fresche, alain boré; anjou rouge loire valley 2010; cabernet franc

plating fettucine

fettucine black truffles

Third courses. The first was very simple, highlighting a bunch of fresh produce. Some were roasted, some were blanched, and each showcased their own clean flavors. I enjoyed tasting each one separately…my favorite had to have been the delectably sweet fava beans.

The supplement was hands down the most anticipated dish of the evening for me. The unmistakable truffle essense easily came through in a strong way, but the house made fettucine was lacking the desired al dente texture. It was soft. Tragic. A very light cream sauce kept it simple, letting the truffle flavor come through.

“flavors of tangerine beef broccoli”, pea tendrils, broccoli, black forbidden rice, caramelized onion jus, tangerine
luc lapeyre san bres 2010; minervois, coteaux de languedoc; grenache, syrah, mourvédre

tangerine beef

“poitrine de porc”, slow braised heritage pork belly, stone ground grits, apples, greens, white wine braised leeks (supplement)
luc lapeyre san bres 2010; minervois, coteaux de languedoc; grenache, syrah, mourvédre

pork

Fourth courses. This first was a vegetarian take on ‘tangerine beef.’ I enjoyed the broccolini and pea tendrils, particularly with the orange citrus. The black rice was made to resemble beef; texturally I think it did, but there was no mistaking that this was an earthy grain and not cattle flesh.

The pork belly was expectantly tender and fatty, accompanied by some underseasoned grits, sweet apples, and an olive-based sauce. It’s hard to go wrong with braised pork belly and it was delicious here, but I’m not sure the rest of the plate did much to elevate it.

chocolate, blood orange, vanilla tuile, sour cream, pistachio, graham cracker, mint

dessert

There was only one option for the last course, dessert. The cake was very moist, while a myriad of flavors including sweet strawberry, tart blood orange and a deep chocolate flavor heightened the dish. A whipped creme fraiche was a nice topping too, completing a light yet satisfying dessert.

Coffee is available at the end of the meal from Handsome Coffee Roasters. Menes prepares the coffee with some of the most painstaking detail I’ve seen outside of an actual coffee bar. He even uses water sourced directly from Handsome itself. As expected, it yields a great cup.

coffee making

handsome coffee

I thought Le Comptoir was a good meal, though not without its flaws. While a lot of restaurants try to showcase seasonal and farm-to-table produce, I found the quality to be much more apparent in this meal than others. Though, maybe that was because the vegetable-centric nature of the meal forced one to. Indeed, I found the strictly vegetarian plates to be more interesting and more successful than the supplemental ones containing meat. Given this and the fact that the supplements doubled the price of the meal, I think many of them weren’t worth the splurge. It was unfortunate that the execution of the fettucine with truffles wasn’t spot on – it had to be in order to be successful.

My main concern with vegetable-centric meals (which I know is shared with others) is the fact that meals tend to be lighter and sometimes less filling. However, I think Menes composed his plates in a way that was individually interesting and for the most part, well-rounded. While one may not leave full, I think most stomachs would at least leave content. If not, Mexicali Taco is nearby and open late.