Bistronomics Lucky 13 @ Breadbar (Century City, CA)

Bistronomics: Lucky 13
Breadbar
Westfield Century City
10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Century City, CA 90067
Dining date: 10/22/11

breadbar exterior

Lucky 13 is the latest “Bistronomics” pop-up from the team of Jet Tila (Wazuzu) and Alex Ageneau (formerly of The Royce). The fourth in their “Bistronomics” series, the core concept remains the same – creating upscale food in a casual environment for a reasonable price. Sounds simple enough, right?

I attended the second iteration of Bistronomics in April (“Play With Your Food”) and found that meal to be quite good. I missed out on the third, but found myself at this fourth “Bistronomics” at Breadbar Century City. This latest incarnation had a menu largely driven by Ageneau’s French background, with 11 a la carte dishes priced between $8 and $18.

We tried everything:

Foie gras torchon apple puree, toasted brioche
Marc Bredif, Vouvray, Chenin Blanc, Loire Valley, France 2009

foie gras torchon

We started with a generous portion of the foie gras torchon (though I think this was a double-portion).  It was velvety smooth with a rich, foie gras flavor – perfect for spreading on the crusty brioche. A classic dish well-done.

Lobster bisque water chestnuts, tarragon

lobster bisque

I’m familiar with water chestnuts in Chinese cuisine and was intrigued to see them here. The bisque exuded a strong lobster flavor while the water chestnuts provided just a slight crunch for texture. A welcome dish given the cold evening.

Scallops poached in beets, leek salad, crunchy black olives

scallops

Beautiful presentation here. The scallops were prepared in a unique way (poached with beets), giving them the pinkish hue. The leeks added some earthy body, while the crunchy black olives provided a slight crunch to each bite.

Grandma’s seafood gratin scallops, mussels, creamed leeks, button mushrooms, cream sauce
Domaine des Lauriers, Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc, France 2010

seafood gratin

This was supposedly the first dish Ageneau learned to make from his grandmother. Really comforting and homey (it screams ‘rustic French!’), it had a lot of the flavors of a clam/seafood chowder. The interior was creamy and rich (yet not overly so), while toasted breadcrumbs on top added a really nice textural element.

Cod brandade cuttlefish and chorizo ragu

cod brandade

crostini

Here we had a sort of yin and yang of light fishy brandade with a rich, meaty ragu (as well as crostini for sopping it up). Very different flavors, and I’m not sure they came together as intended.

Tree in the forest confit of salsify, crispy maitake mushrooms with garlic & herbs
Joseph Drouhin, Brouilly, Gamay, Beaujolais, France 2010

tree in a forest

salsify

The exterior of the salsify was charred, bringing out some of the inherent sweetness of the root vegetable. The maitake mushrooms were delicious, while the garlic and herb sauce rounded out all of the earthy flavors on the plate.

Oxtail banh mi oxtail ragu, melted brie, grapes, pickled cauliflower, baguette

oxtail banh mi

I was really looking forward to this one. The brie and grapes added more traditional French flavors to the already French-influenced banh mi. I liked the combination, though preferred more oxtail as the brie and grapes seemed to be the star (though, I think the most traditional banh mi are not as meat-centric as more “American” sandwiches).

Braised pork belly savoy cabbage, watermelon radish, pork/sesame consomme

pork belly

The pork belly here was relatively lean (which I liked), though still tender and flavorful. Still, it was a rich cut of meat and I think the cabbage was critical in cutting through some of that.

Flat iron steak crispy pee wee potatoes, shallot/whiskey marmalade
Marc Bredif, Chinon, Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley, France 2009

flatiron

Essentially, a simple meat-and-potatoes dish. Both the potatoes and steak were perfectly executed; however I thought the shallot/whiskey marmalade really elevated the dish, adding a savory sweetness to each bite. The baby purslane was a nice touch, too.

Pear clafoutis coffee cream

pear clafoutis

The cakey clafoutis was tasty, moist and mildly sweet. The same could’ve been said of the pears. A little bit of coffee flavor added some depth.

Chocolate ganache orange supreme, gingerbread, lemon basil

choc ganache

The ganache was pudding-like in consistency with a hearty chocolate flavor. Pretty tasty, while the gingerbread crumble added some crunchy texture. I really enjoyed the lemon basil, which added bursts of aromatic, savory flavors to pair with the chocolate.

This was another good meal. “Bistronomics” delivered upon its promise – the food was inventive and creative…interesting. Most importantly, I thought flavors were on point for the most part, with my favorites being the foie gras torchon, seafood gratin and flat iron steak.

Various reports have suggested that Tila and Ageneau will open something more permanent in LA. It seems that they are still playing around with the type of food at these pop-ups, but the core concept “Bistronomics” will surely be at the center.

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

Walter Manzke @ Biergarten (Los Angeles, CA)

Walter Manzke
Biergarten LA
206 N Western Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Dining date: 4/10/11


The pop-up restaurant is becoming the biggest restaurant trend in LA since the food truck. While I’d like to say they’re starting to get annoying, they’re still capturing my interest like none other. There’s something about the temporary, almost urgent nature of these meals – especially when it’s a chef I’m a fan of. For one day only. Ahhh you’ve got me.

In this case, we’re talking about Walter Manzke, perhaps the most notable chef in LA that’s not cooking in a restaurant (or imminently about to open one). My favorite meal at Test Kitchen (the ultimate rotating pop-up) was prepared by Manzke, so this was a must. Presented by BlackboardEats and Food GPS, the meal was inspired by a beefsteak (not the tomato) – a sort of gluttonous banquet originating in New York focused primarily on beef, particularly the tenderloin.

Bottomless pitchers of pale ale and IPA were served including Stone IPA, Port Wipeout IPA, and Lost Abbey Devotion Ale.

Celery, radish, carrots and olives

Jumbo shrimp cocktail

Waiting for us at the table was course one: assorted vegetables and dip, as well as a shrimp cocktail. There wasn’t much to the vegetables and dip – simple and fresh tasting. The shrimp were plump and tasty, with just a little bit of spice from the cocktail sauce.

Grilled lamb sirloin

Lamb kidneys wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon

Burgers on toast with Bermuda onions

The second course was a trio of small meat preparations. All three of these were very good. The lamb sirloin was incredibly tender, with just a little bit of gamey flavor that reminded me it was lamb. A minty chimichurri-like sauce topped the meat. Second were lamb kidneys. Extremely tender, these were paired with smoky bacon and topped with ciabatta (I think) crostini. Lastly were the burgers…more like a meatball on toast. Excellent as well, meaty with a nice sweetness from the onions, and the toast provided a welcome crunch to the bites.

Grilled rib-eye cap and flatiron steaks and butter gravy

Fried potatoes

This third course was about 90% of the food of the night. The meat came out in impressive fashion on long wooden boards filled with nicely charred, perfectly cooked steaks. I thought the flatiron steak was good – tender, juicy and flavorful. However, the rib-eye cap was a world apart. Even more fatty, tender and flavorful, this was a decadent cut. Delicious! The meat kept on coming; I think we had 3.5 platter servings of this. Awesome.

The fries were some of the best I’ve had in recent memory. Perfectly crisp with a fluffy interior and served hot. Perfectly salted too. Can’t beat it.

Caramelized apple and bourbon bread pudding

I wouldn’t have called this a bread pudding, more like an apple crumble. It was a solid one at that. Warm cinnamon-spiced apples and raisins were served with a crunchy, crumbly crust and vanilla ice cream.

This meal was easily one of the stronger pop-ups I’ve been to in a while and at $50 all-inclusive, it was an absolute steal. The food wasn’t necessarily the most imaginative or unique, but it wasn’t trying to be. It was comfortable and executed well; delicious and plentiful, with that third course being exactly what I was looking for. The beer was good too, with a number of solid options being poured throughout the night. With meals like these, I continue to wonder when Manzke will finally open up his own restaurant.

Wolvesmouth – 1/15/11

Wolvesmouth Underground Dining
Wolvesden – Various Locations

In my opinion, one of the most exciting dining trends in 2010 was the pop-up restaurant (think LudoBites and Test Kitchen). In a similar vein but yet, entirely different, is “underground dining” – the most notable of these in LA is Wolvesmouth. Wolvesmouth (aka Craig Thornton) is the chef behind this unique dining experience. He creates 10-15 course market-driven meals, constantly changing for each dinner party. The food is imaginative, thoughtful and artistic. Oh, and I’ve heard it’s delicious too.

Why underground? Well, it’s not a restaurant; it’s more like an organized dinner party. It’s invite-only (get on the mailing here). You don’t know where the location is until the night before. You don’t know what the menu is until you get there. You don’t even know who you’re dining with until you get there (well, I did know one person – Christina of food, je t’aime also came). For legal reasons, there is no set price to the menu. It’s cash donation-based, so you pay what you think is fair.

dining table

Tonight’s dinner was set in a downtown loft. One of the things that immediately struck me was the intimacy of this meal. The dining table was just a few feet away from the kitchen which, by the way, was completely open. This led me to my next observation – this whole dinner would be created in a modest kitchen with four burners and one oven. A ton of organization and planning was necessary to put together these ten courses at a consistent pace.

alcohol

The affair is strictly BYOB (no corkage). Thinking that the alcohol would be wine heavy (it was heavily weighted toward reds), we opted to bring a selection of craft beers. Not knowing what the menu would be, I selected an array of beers: The Bruery Orchard White (Orange County), Ballast Point Sculpin IPA (San Diego), La Chouffe (Belgium), Stone Double Bastard Ale (San Diego), and Rogue Chocolate Stout (Oregon).

squash, cotija, crema, nopales, white onion

soup

We started with this soup. The squash was very sweet on its own, and I thought the tangy crema and sauteed white onions did a good job of tempering this.

Dungeness crab, meyer lemon, malt vinegar sabayon, old bay profiterole, mustard mizuna

crab

One thing that Chef Thornton had talked about, when serving this dish, was how you always wish there was more crab in your crab dish. He responded by giving a generous portion of Dungeness crab here, complemented with an “old bay” profiterole stuffed with a malt vinegar sabayon. Some meyer lemon added nice citrus notes to accompany the chunks of sweet crab. The malt vinegar was a good accompaniment to the crab as well, and I thought the profiterole was a fun “vessel” for it.

John Dory, swiss chard, sweet and sour shallot

john dory

John Dory is a firmer fish, one that I usually don’t find as moist as other lighter white fish. This was an example here – I thought the fish was cooked well, but just wasn’t as moist as I would have liked. The sweet and sour shallot was really nice, and thought it matched well with the fish.

snails, wild mushrooms, black walnut, crouton, pine

snail mushrooms

This dish had a bunch of components that could be found in a forest (perhaps by a wolf?). Three kinds of mushrooms (black trumpet, chanterelle, and hedgehog) were plated with snails, toast, walnuts and maple syrup. I’ve never had snails in such a “natural” state (it’s often slathered with garlic and butter), and they were actually quite mild in flavor on their own. The mushrooms added to the earthiness of the dish, but I thought the maple syrup really brought this together for the sweet/savory combination.

squid, 38-day aged steak tartare, creamed kimchi, Asian pear

squid kimchi

Excellent dish here. The squid was perfectly cooked, leaving it very tender. The creamed kimchi (kimchi cooked in some pureed kimchi and heavy cream) was a revelation – the creaminess tempered the spicy kimchi a little, so as not to overwhelm the mildly-flavored squid. The Asian pear was crucial in adding some fresh fruit flavors. I probably didn’t even need the steak tartare (it was seared rare then chopped up) for this dish to be successful.

thornton1

verjus, yuzu ice

verjus yuzu

This next dish was a bit of a palate cleanser. I thought the yuzu and unripened grape juice was a good pairing, and I appreciated its lightness.

thornton2

veal tongue dumpling, trotter and bacon relish, black vinegar, cabbage

dumpling

This was probably my favorite dish of the night. When we talked about this dish, it sounded like an incredible amount of time and preparation for one dish (especially when it’s one person).  The pork trotter was soaked for four days in order to remove impurities. The veal tongue was braised a day ahead. The dumpling dough was made fresh – the dumplings were filled, steamed, then slightly boiled until done. The result? A delightfully chewy pasta and a rich, meaty filling. The relish lent an extra dimension of pork flavor, while the raw cabbage did a good job of cutting some of the richness. An excellent dish; I just wish there was more!

roasted chicken home style, glazed carrot

chicken

Chef Thornton explained this dish as a fairly simple one that the home cook could make. This was a roast chicken (seasoned with salt in a hot oven) that was cut up in small chunks. The drippings were turned into a pan sauce, and then the chicken was tossed in this sauce and served. What separated this dish from other roast chickens was that he removed the skin immediately after roasting and tossed it back in the oven to crisp up. It resulted in a very nice crispy skin. The chicken was a little bit on the salty side for me, but was still quite good. Both the white and dark meat were moist, and the sauce really added that extra layer of flavor.

french toast ice cream

french toast ice cream

This was pretty much as advertised. It was a french toast ice cream done very well. It was appropriately sweet with a hit of cinnamon spice; it totally tasted like french toast. Just as important was that it was served at an ideal temperature. It was a few degrees above frozen (almost slightly melted) so that the flavors were very apparent at that temperature. I really liked this one. We drank this with the Rogue Chocolate Stout…this would be perfect for a beer float.

chocolate panna cotta, chestnut purée, coffee shortbread, pear ice, coffee meringue, warm pear

chocolate pear

There were a number of components here. The flavors that stood out to me were the chocolate and pear, as well as some coffee with the shortbread. When I first tried the chocolate panna cotta and pear ice, I thought to myself, “Hmm…that’s interesting.” As I ate more and more of it, the flavors really started to meld well together. The chocolate flavor was kind of mild, so that it didn’t overwhelm the pear. The coffee shortbread was fantastic; it had a rich coffee flavor that went well with both the chocolate and pear.

We were given these puffed rice crispy treats to take home. I think we were the first group to get something to-go.

treats

These had a nice crunch, yet were still chewy – I enjoyed them the next day with a cup of green tea.

At the end of the meal, Chef Thornton talked about some of his inspiration behind the dishes and to answer any questions.

thornton3

This was one of my more memorable dining experiences in recent memory. The food was fun, inventive and, most importantly, tasted good.  I loved being able to watch all of the action in the kitchen; I’m still amazed at how Chef Thornton and his three assistants were able to put all of the dishes together so efficiently.

Listening to Chef Thornton talk about the dishes (how and why he did everything in that way) was fascinating to me. Everything was so meticulous and deliberate, you would think he’s been planning and refining this menu for months…which isn’t the case at all. His cooking finds a medium somewhere between what he wants to cook and what he thinks the diner wants to eat. Without any of the restrictions that having a restaurant brings with it, Chef Thornton is able to let his creativity run wild and keep the menu fresh and exciting.

Test Kitchen: Closing Night – 12/13/10

Test Kitchen: Closing Night
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Over the past four months, there’s no restaurant I’ve been to more than Test Kitchen (well, outside my weekday lunch rotation). Since its debut in August with Red Medicine, the restaurant has been a wild success featuring a diverse array of continuously changing chefs and menus. It remains even more popular than when it first opened, and I feel like its “pop-up” concept could be sustained for a while longer. However, all good things must come to an end – tonight was Test Kitchen’s last dinner service.

Originally, the finale was a $500 a plate charity (Gettlove and Share our Strength) benefit where 5 courses were prepared by 5 of the biggest names that have cooked in the kitchen. As much as I loved to go, it was way too expensive for me. However, just within the last week, the price was lowered to $150 and the chef/course count upped to 8. Yes! That was more than enough to get me here.

The restaurant was completely packed with a full dining room and bar area, bloggers (I dined with Kevin of kevinEats and Ryan of Epicuryan) and, of course, many chefs (including many past Test Kitchen chefs). It was great to see everyone come out to support the restaurant and the two charities. By no means an exhaustive list, just who I saw throughout the night: Dan Moody (LudoBites, upcoming San Diego project), Sherry Yard (Spago), Marcel Vigneron, Eric Greenspan (The Foundry on Melrose), Adam Horton (Saddle Peak Lodge), Ben Bailly (Fraiche), Nguyen and Thi Tran (Starry Kitchen), Chris “CJ” Jacobsen (The Yard), Haru Kishi (Chaya Brasserie), Alex Reznik, Amanda Baumgarten (Water Grill), Kevin Meehan (Cafe Pinot), and Gary Menes.

menu

Ricardo Zarate: Lobster Tartare, Cucumber Mango Ceviche Sauce, Caviar, Sweet Potato Chip

lobster

We started with this lobster tartare. I enjoyed the small pieces of lobster paired with the sweetness of the mango, and I thought the crisp cucumber was integral in balancing out the dish. The caviar added a briny, salty dimension while the sweet potato chip added the textural component.

Alain Giraud: Oxtail Consomme, Mushroom Royale, Truffles

soup

This was one of the strongest dishes of the night for me. The chicken and black truffle quenelle was simply delicious with a tasty chicken flavor heightened by black truffles. The consomme screamed umami with a deep, hearty flavor that was just really soul-satisfying.

Walter Manzke: Scallops, Hazelnuts, Cauliflower

scallop

Manzke orchestrated what was probably my favorite meal here, and this dish did not disappoint. The scallop, perfectly cooked, was topped with small bits of hazelnuts. This was an interesting textural interplay as I probably would have preferred the “crunch” from something thinner…like a chip. Regardless, I thought the nuttiness paired well with the scallop, and the green apple added just a little bit of tartness, which I thought was important.

Michael Voltaggio: “EcoPez” Turbot, Earth, Ash, & Sea

turbot

Leave it up to Michael Voltaggio to create the dish that took the longest to explain. He created an ash by cooking down leeks and mushrooms, then pureeing them and drying them out. This created a strong mushroom flavor to accompany the fish. An interesting way to impart the earthy flavor, I thought it really worked. A mushroom chip added some crispiness to each bite.

Steve Samson & Zach Pollack: Toasted Wheat Strascinati, Lamb Ragu, Braised Greens, Pecorino

pasta

Toasted semolina was the base of the pasta dough here. The pasta was rather thick, making the bites overly doughy for me. However, the rich lamb ragu was wonderfully flavorful.

Neal Fraser: Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Squash, Chestnuts, Bacon, Violet Mustard

pork tenderloin

This pork tenderloin was unbelievably tender. Unbelievable. I’m not sure how Fraser did it, but the meat was moist and flavorful as well..really uncharacteristic of a pork tenderloin. It was seriously closer to beef than pork. The pureed squash and chestnuts added sweetness (and a holiday tone!), which was tempered by the brussels sprouts and some bitter greens.

Amy Pressman: Pear Pandowdy with Gingerbread Ice Cream, Pear Bourbon Hard Sauce

pear pandowdy

I loved the presentation here with the gingerbread man topping the pandowdy. Similar to a bread pudding, this was actually the most filling course of the night. The pandowdy was very moist with a flavor best described as “spiced pear.” I probably would have preferred a lighter dish to finish off the meal, but I still enjoyed this.

Jonathan Grahm of Compartes Chocolatier: Special flavors created for Test Kitchen

<choc1choc2

Lastly we were presented with a duo of chocolates from Compartes Chocolatier to take home. We had a rosemary truffle and a raspberry ganache – my favorite was the rosemary truffle for its subtle herbaceous flavor. I thought the rosemary-chocolate combination was unique and pretty delicious.

Alain Giraud came out to chat with us a few times and was the first to sign our menus. Given the restaurant (and kitchen) was packed, having all of the chefs sign the menu was quite a task, but Kevin was able to make the rounds and get it done for us!

alain

volt

manzke

kitchen

What’s next for the Test Kitchen space? Samson and Pollack will be opening an Italian restaurant named Sotto on the Test Kitchen floor, while Zarate will open a Peruvian restaurant called Picca on the second floor. Lastly, mixologist Joel Black will be debuting a bar on the top floor. While Test Kitchen no longer exists, it’s good to see that the space will be filled by some of the people that were integral to Test Kitchen’s run.

It’s bittersweet to see Test Kitchen’s doors close. I’m not sure what’s next – rumors of everything including a TV show have been mentioned. Regardless of what happens, it’s proved that Los Angeles is a dining scene open to trying new things, and that the pop-up restaurant continues to thrive in LA.

Previous Test Kitchen posts:
Jordan Kahn (Red Medicine)
Walter Manzke
Adam Horton (Saddle Peak Lodge)
Marcel Vigneron
Ricardo Zarate
Alain Giraud
Haru Kishi (Chaya Brasserie)

LudoBites 6.0 – 12/5/10

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

This past Sunday was the final night of LudoBites 6.0. I was happy to have a chance for a return visit, coming full circle from my first meal opening night.  It was clear that this was a night to remember, as a professional photographer and camera crew were wandering about the restaurant. The Lefebvres even left a disposable camera on each table so that each party could document their own viewpoint of the night.

The mood in the dining room on this night was pretty different from the opening – one of triumph and celebration. While this was a relatively short pop-up, it was evident that a lot of work and preparation went into each meal, and I could feel the sense of relief and accomplishment by the end of the night.

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


The baguette was excellent as always, and we had the same duo of cheese/butter spreads as the first night.

Hamachi, Vietnamese Style


This dish has been served since night one, and it’s sure to be one of the most memorable dishes of 6.0. We had the textural components of the fried lotus root and shallots up front. Combined with the tender, flavorful fish and a little bit of acidity and this was a fantastic dish!

Escargot, Brussel Sprouts, Red Mole, Corn Ice Cream

I had this dish during my last visit, and I actually enjoyed it more this time around. The escargot was perfectly cooked, yielding a really tender piece of meat. Loved the sweet corn ice cream in tandem with the rich mole too.

Boudin Noir ‘Parmentier’, Apples, Mustard Tapioca


This was another standout dish, inspired by the flavors of a Shepherd’s Pie. The duck fat mashed potatoes and blood sausage “pudding” combined rich, deep flavors. I especially liked the purple potato chips to add just a bit of crunch to each bite, as well as the mellow heat from the tapioca.

White Rice Veloute, Mascarpone, Poached Egg, Spinach, Fresh Black Truffle, Parmesan Bubbles


This was a brand new dish for me. The veloute itself reminded me of a Chinese congee in a way, which I thought was really interesting. However, I found that the spinach gave a slightly overwhelming “vegetable” flavor. The parmesan bubbles and shaved black truffles made for an interesting presentation, but I didn’t get those flavors if I got too much spinach.

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

This is another of the most memorable dishes of 6.0, served since opening night. The mackerel, enhanced by the marinade, was very flavorful and had a pretty meaty texture. The bruleed skin added a subtle sweetness and a great crispy texture to the fish.

Salmon ‘a l’huile’, Somen Noodles, Carrots, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Grilled Salmon Roe


I appreciated this dish for the salmon and crispy shaved carrots; however I found the grilled salmon roe to be the most interesting component. The roe imparted a nice smoky, charred flavor to the dish, which I thought really added an interesting (and welcome!) complexity. I didn’t really need the somen noodles though.

Beef Tartar, Celery Root Remoulade, Red Port, Foie Gras Powder


This was another brand new dish for me – it looked nothing like what I was expecting.  Unfortunately, I thought the beef and foie gras “snow” were both overwhelmed by the milky, creamy remoulade.

Roasted Pickled Foie Gras, Honey, Autumn Fruits, Rose Flowers


Loved the perfect preparation of the foie gras here. Really tender and very rich. I appreciated the sweetness of the fruits, but found the rose petals to be overwhelmingly floral.

Cod, Smoked Potato, Pickled Bell Pepper, Pil-Pil Sauce, Amaranth


We rebounded with one of my favorite dishes of the night. The cod was very moist and flavorful, and there was a nice sweetness from the bell pepper. A little bit of heat from the sauce rounded out the flavors, and I liked the potato crisps, which added some welcome texture.

Braised Veal Ravioli, Umami Broth, Dried Tuna, Radish & Gingerbread Mayo


This was probably my favorite dish of the night. I really liked the ravioli for its rich and meaty filling which was balanced by the cool and crisp radishes (can you guess which one is the watermelon radish?). The aptly-named “umami broth” was just that..full of in-your-face flavor. I loved it! I thought it worked really well with the pasta; though, it was so delicious I could’ve eaten a bowl of this with the somen noodles and been content.

Marinated Korean Steak, Crispy Kimchi, Radish, Bone Marrow, Shiso


The steak was very flavorful, and I really appreciated the charred exterior. The kimchi added a little bit of heat and crispy texture – perfect for the steak. I don’t think the bone marrow was necessary, but I wasn’t complaining.

Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar


Great dessert. We had two orders of this during my last trip, and we ordered two of them again here. The light, yet creamy, panna cotta melded so well with the sweet caramel and briny caviar. I don’t know who else uses caviar in their desserts…but maybe more chefs should!

Cantal Cheese Mikado, White Chocolate, Candied Black Olive

I’m never really a cheese fan, so this wasn’t necessarily down my alley. I did enjoy the sweetness of the white chocolate in tandem with the firm, nutty cheese.

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


A staple on the menu since night one, the carrot cake came out steaming hot. Combining all the elements really gives the flavors of a thai curry – albeit, in a dessert setting.

So ends another LudoBites. I’m always amazed at Ludo’s innovation in creating really interesting dishes using both familiar and new ingredients. Some of the most memorable dishes that I had from this run are the hamachi, marinated mackerel, veal ravioli, Nebraska ribeye, the chicken and the panna cotta. I likely will never have any of those dishes again, so I’m happy I was able to get a chance to try them.

I look forward to seeing where and what Ludo cooks up next…and I’m already worried about how I’m going to get a reservation!

Past LudoBites 6.0 visits:
10/21/10
11/11/10