LudoBites 6.0 – 11/11/10

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

I was excited to make a return trip to LudoBites after luckily snatching up a cancellation on OpenTable. Ludo changes up the menu pretty frequently, so it was exciting to be able to try some of the new dishes as well as some of the favorites from opening night (the chicken being one!).

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

I always really enjoy the baguette at LudoBites, and it was wonderful again here.

Hamachi, Vietnamese Style

This was one of my favorite dishes from before; tender slices of hamachi are paired with crispy lotus root, fried shallots and a little bit of acidity.

Escargots, Brussel Sprouts, Red Mole, Corn Ice Cream, Marinated Tofu

This was a new dish for me; actually, I think it debuted on this night. The escargot was very tender and covered with a nice, richly flavored mole. The sweet corn ice cream was phenomenal. However, I don’t think all of the components really melded too well together, though I enjoyed each on its own.

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

The mackerel was even better than I had remembered it last time. The ponzu marinade added some depth of flavor and a little acidity. The skin was topped with sugar and bruleed. Loved the interplay of the moist fish and crispy skin.

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

This dish was similar to one served in the latter days of LudoBites 5.0. The shaved carrots and turnips added a nice textural component to the tender salmon. I don’t think the somen noodles added too much though.

Scallop, Celery Root Remoulade, Red Port, Walnuts, Dried Fruits

The scallops were beautifully seared with a nice crust; the interior was moist and tender. The walnuts and celery root added the textural component. Very nice.

Hot Boudin Noir Pudding “Parmentier,” Apples, Mustard Tapioca

I really liked the presentation of this dish. The boudin noir pudding was topped with apples, duck fat mashed potatoes, and purple potato chips. I love meat and potatoes, so the boudin noir combined with mashed potatoes was great, with the apples and chips adding some sweetness and texture, respectively. The mustard “boba” added a little bit of heat to the dish as well.

Oriental Mussels Veloute, Heirloom Tomato, Small Fries

This dish has evolved a bit since opening night – for the better. The veloute had pureed mussels in it, adding a rich mussel flavor. We tried both mixing the fries in the soup as well as keeping them separate. I preferred to keep them separate so that I could get the crispiness of the fries in each bite.

Poached-Roasted Foie Gras, Acacia Honey, Autumn Fruits, Rose Flowers

Another nice presentation. The rich foie gras was complemented well with the sweetness of the mangoes and honey. The foie gras was cooked perfectly.

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

The fish was cooked well, and I enjoyed the greens and the crisped potatoes for texture. The herbaceous broth was very strong and fairly bitter – taking small sips was key.

Half Chicken, Poached Egg, Chanterelles, Chorizo

This was one of my favorite dishes from before, and it still is. The chicken, cooked sous vide and then crisped, is so moist and tender. The chorizo is not very apparent, but I don’t think that bothered anyone. Complementing the chicken were tender and earthy chanterelles and a runny poached egg. Wonderful!

Marinated Korean Steak, Crispy Kimchi, Bone Marrow, Shiso

I missed the Nebraska ribeye served earlier, but this steak was definitely more dynamic and flavorful. The crispy kimchi was tasty, and added some heat and texture. The bone marrow added some extra richness to the dish, though I didn’t think it was necessary for the dish to be successful.

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

I’m not really a fan of carrot cake, but this version is a little different from a ‘typical’ carrot cake. Served warm and moist, the cake had a good carrot flavor. The kaffir lime oil, mango sorbet, and thai curry cream was really interesting, bringing strong east Asian flavors together.

Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar

This was a new dessert for me. I’ve never had caviar in a dessert before, so this was a very new experience. The panna cotta had a nice vanilla flavor, and was smooth and rich. The richness of the panna cotta and caramel were complemented by the briny and salty caviar. Really interesting, and definitely a memorable dessert.

I enjoyed this meal a little bit more than my previous 6.0 meal – the “new dish” highlights for me this time were the boudin noir and panna cotta. Those aren’t alone in the dishes I’ll remember LudoBites 6.0 for – the hamachi, mackerel, and chicken are just some of the others.


LudoBites – 9/2/10

LudoBites 5.0 at Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015

This would be my final visit to LudoBites 5.0, on its second-to-last night. Ludo likes to keep the menu constantly changing, so the menu has changed fairly significantly since my first visit on opening night. However, a lot of our favorites were still on the menu (including the wagyu beef over somen noodles and the potato mousseline). As a result, this would end up being my best LudoBites experience. Given the constant buzz and the fact that I’ve been here four times since May, I’m even surprised that I keep enjoying it more and more.

Similar to opening night, super-food writer Jonathan Gold was present – and was one of the last tables to leave. Ex-NFL star Warren Sapp dined as well; seemingly random, but I know that he is friends with the Lefebvres.

Warm Baguette, Seaweed Buckwheat Butter

The naan served earlier in 5.0 had gotten semi-mixed reviews, and here Ludo decided to bring back the baguette.  It’s a really good baguette, served warm and salted, complemented by a nice seaweed buckwheat butter.

Hot Miso Soup, Cherry Tomato, Uni Black Panini

This soup-and-sandwich pairing reminded me of a recent Hatchi meal with a “burger” and miso soup. The panini is a metamorphosis of the foie gras croque monsier – the uni is much more subtle, though I could still pick out the briny flavor in each bite. The miso soup was a strong variation; the tomatoes weren’t even necessary to make this soup good, but provided a really vibrant flavor.

King Salmon “a l’huile” Juniper Berries, Rainbow Carrot, Orange Ice, Pistachio

This was a totally new dish, and it was excellent. Slices of raw salmon were complemented well by acidity and coolness of the orange ice, and the pistachio and crunchy carrots provided some great texture.

Heirloom Tomato Salad, Mozzarella Ice Cream, Basil Crumble

Some really sweet and ripe tomatoes were presented here in an interesting version of a caprese salad. The mozzarella was in the form of an ice cream, and the basil in a crunchy crumble. I loved how Ludo brought these three ingredients together in different textural elements. All of the flavors were distinctive and excellent on their own, though the tomatoes were the star for me.

Raw Wagyu Beef, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Watermelon

This was one of my favorites from opening night – our table ended up ordering four orders of this. The beef is tender and flavorful, and the watermelon adds some brightness to this dish. The peanuts added a nice crunch to the dish as well – stir this all up and you have a fantastic bite.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo Condiment

This was another favorite from last trip…and another that we ordered four dishes of. The mousseline was so smooth and went really well with the rich, runny egg yolk. The flowers here added some flavor as well, giving this dish a floral essence.

Sauteed Chanterelles, Peach, Black Garlic, Breadcrumbes & Parsley

This was another new dish for us. The chanterelles were quite tender, and the peaches added a nice sweetness and brightness to the dish.

Grilled Octopus, Oregano, Burnt Red Bell Pepper Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D’Espellette Gelee

The octopus was perfectly cooked, yielding very tender tentacles. The pineapple aioli added just the right amount of sweetness and acid, while the chili gelee added just a touch of heat.

Santa Barbara Prawn, Cinnamon Beurre Blanc, Beignet, Shrimp Powdered Sugar

The shrimp were nicely cooked and the cinnamon beurre blanc – sounds kind of weird, I know – does really work. The beignet, however, wasn’t as light as others I’ve had, and didn’t add too much to the dish.

Hot Foie Gras Dynamite, Raw Tuna, Lychee, Crackers

Love the colors on this dish. The foie gras was covered with Ludo’s “Dynamite” sauce. The heat was tempered by the lychee, as well as the cool tuna. I could’ve used a bigger piece of the foie gras though, as it didn’t stand out as much amongst the other ingredients.

John Dory, Saffron Risotto, Chanterelles Mousse Emulsion

John Dory is a firmer white fish, and here it was cooked perfectly. The saffron risotto was excellent as well, providing a sort of “seafood risotto.” The chanterelle foam adds a nice flavor to this as well. I loved this dish.

Confit Pork Belly, Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Mustard Ice Cream

This dish was similar to one we had on opening night. The pork belly was very tender and flavorful, and the Thai coleslaw added a refreshing contrast to the richness of the pork, with its slight acidity. The mustard ice cream added a little heat – not something I’d eat on a cone, but I thought it worked well in this application!

Roasted Sonoma Saddle of Lamb, Goat Cheese, Candied Black Olive, Artichoke Salad, Mint Pesto

The lamb was cooked well here, though it was a bit chewy – really not as tender as I expected. The goat cheese, with a marshmallow consistency, was not overwhelming but provided a good depth of flavor. I thought the artichoke salad was oversalted.

Marinated Steak (“Korean Style”), Pickled Vegetables, Grilled Baby Corn, Crispy Bacon

I think skirt steak was used here, and it was marinated and grilled “Korean style.” It was a really flavorful piece of meat, and the acidity from the pickled vegetables complemented the steak well.

Cheese Plate Saint-Nectaire (Cow) with Pear Kimchi Chutney; Epoisse (Cow) with Whole Grain Mustard, Honeycomb; Roncal (Sheep) with Apricots-Lavender Jam

As an intermezzo, we had the cheese plate. I’m not a big cheese person, and was saving room for dessert, so I passed on this. The rest of our party seemed to enjoy it though.

Chocolate Cake, Spicy Olive Oil

Onto the dessert! This was a new dish for me. The chocolate cake was not entirely special, but the spicy olive oil here really kicked things up.

“Sundae” Pistachio Ice Cream, Bing Cherries, Hot Chocolate Sauce, Salted Pistachio

Layers of pistachio ice cream, hot chocolate sauce, and bing cherries topped with whipped cream – how can you go wrong? You can’t. This dish seemed relatively simple for Ludo’s standards, and was excellent. I’m not really sure what it was, but the flavors were incredible together, and the salted pistachio bits on top added a very nice crunch to each bite.

Caramel Souffle, Grapefruit Gelee, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream

We had been looking forward to this all night. Ludo makes a terrific souffle. It was so light and airy, with a good caramel flavor. It was served piping hot, and when combined with the cold, salty ice cream, became a really delicious combination.

Service was excellent, something that I don’t always see at “pop-up” restaurants. In all, this was probably my favorite LudoBites experience of all of the five times I’ve been able to experience it. Ludo is able to wield creative and interesting flavor combinations together that, most importantly, work. I’m a little sad to see LudoBites 5.0 come to an end, but I’m already looking forward to 6.0 later this year.

Test Kitchen: Walter Manzke – 8/25/10

Test Kitchen: Walter Manzke
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

I knew Test Kitchen’s devilish business plan would keep me coming back for more! As a recap, the kitchen opens its doors to various chefs and restaurateurs to allow them to try new dishes and menu concepts…and for us to sample these new creations. I first went to the Test Kitchen on Sunday to try Red Medicine‘s take on modern Vietnamese fare, and here I found myself again; this time, to sample Walter Manzke’s cooking. One of the two most notable “homeless” LA chefs (I would count Voltaggio as the other, Ludo doesn’t want a home), I first tried Manzke’s cuisine at Church & State and enjoyed it. I jumped at the opportunity to sample more of what he has to offer, outside of the French bistro fare Church & State patrons were accustomed to.

I dined with my friend Lilly (who has recently started a craft beer blog, LA Beer Hopping), and also spotted fellow bloggers Kevin of kevinEats, Holly of The Michelin Project and Ryan of Epicuryan. Also, Jason Bernstein of the Golden State also happened to be dining, who I am a big fan of.

Manzke is cooking for four nights only (8/25-8/28) with a menu of 5 dishes, which seem to have a lot of Asian inspiration. In addition, there were a few tapas options as well, and we tried two of them – the calamari and the bread & butter.

Bread & Butter Vermont butter, sea salt, foie gras butter with lavender honey

The bread was freshly baked; crisp on the outside and warm and fluffy on the inside. The foie gras butter was much more interesting than the fresh Vermont butter, with a rather subtle foie gras flavor. The sea salt worked to bring out some of the flavor of the lavender honey as well.

Local Calamari grilled and fried, backyard arugula, black aioli

I really enjoyed this dish and the interplay of crunchy calamari with bites of the tender, grilled calamari. Both preparations were cooked just right; I preferred the grilled calamari with the aioli featuring…squid ink. How fitting!

Hamachi avocado, green apple, yuzu, jalapeno

This was the first course of the regular menu. Small pieces of hamachi were placed on top of equally small pieces of avocado. Both of these had a really melt-in-mouth texture, and the acidity from the green apple and yuzu really brightened up the dish without overpowering the subtle hamachi flavor.

Thai Curry-Carrot Soup Maine lobster, coconut tapioca

The Thai curry and the carrots were both distinctive in this dish – though, they did not clash with each other. Small chunks of lobster were cooked beautifully; the sweetness from the lobster and tapioca helped to temper some of the mild heat of the curry.

Loup de Mer Sungold tomatoes, mole verde sauce

Loup de mer, also commonly called branzino, is probably one of my favorite fishes with its light, flaky and moist flesh. This piece was a little bit firmer, but was still moist and delicate. The skin was crisped nicely, adding some texture. The tomatoes were outstanding – perfectly ripe, juicy and sweet. The mole verde was very mild in flavor, but the fish didn’t need much. This dish really reminded me of summer and light, vibrant flavors.

Beef Tenderloin chanterelle mushrooms, Katsuo Bushi broth

This last savory dish was another good one. The tenderloin was cooked a nice medium-rare and was quite tender, served with a nice poached egg. On its own, it may not have been anything spectacular, but I loved the Katsuo Bushi broth. Like a much richer dashi broth made from bonito flakes, it has a really deep, salty flavor. I never know how to describe what umami tastes like, but this had it..and a lot of it!

There was also a little bit of yuzu kosho to go with the meat – made of yuzu and chili peppers, the Japanese condiment gave just the right amount of heat and bitterness to take the dish even further.

Strawberry “Creme Brulee”

This was Manzke’s take on the classic dessert. Strawberries were topped with a strawberry sorbet, a light cream and caramelized sugar. The result was a much lighter interpretation, but still containing the flavors of a traditional creme brulee. I thought this was a pretty nice way to end the meal, and not leave you with something too heavy.

I was very pleased with the meal. The service and pace of the meal were both much better than my prior visit. I don’t think there were any significant missteps, and Manzke really shined in displaying some new flavors, particularly Asian. I think this is a worthwhile meal to take part in during Manzke’s short stay; but be warned, it may leave you wanting more of his food…with nowhere to get it!

Test Kitchen: Red Medicine – 8/22/10

Test Kitchen: Red Medicine
9575 West Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035

This past Sunday was the last night in Red Medicine’s run at Test Kitchen, LA’s new “pop-up” restaurant. Drawing upon the success of the now-nationwide famous LudoBites’ pop-up concept, the restaurant is well…a test kitchen. There’s no permanent chef; rather, the space is rented out for short periods of time by chefs (typically of upcoming restaurants) who will showcase dishes of a new concept. And somehow, we’ve all nurtured the desire to be their guinea pigs.

The format is unique and could be wildly successful. As long as the restaurant can continually schedule chefs people want to see, the restaurant will be ever-changing, fresh, and most importantly, will  keep people coming back for more. The debut chef for the restaurant is Jordan Kahn, who will helm the upcoming modern Vietnamese restaurant Red Medicine.

12 dishes were served family style, in “no particular order.” We had an early reservation, and really felt rushed – all 12 courses came out in one hour.

radishes, coco-butter, lime, dried soy

Crunchy and crisp, these were a good starter. I enjoyed the clean flavors.

cured amberjack, lime leaf, french melon, nuoc cham, bird chili, mint

The melon was sliced into pieces, and topped with the fish. Slightly spicy from the chili, though sweet from the cantaloupe, the flavors worked pretty well.

green papaya, crispy taro, rau ram, fried shallots, peanuts

I can’t say I’m an expert in papaya salads, but this was a pretty good rendition for me. Cool and refreshing, with a nice ‘crunch’ in every bite from the papaya, peanuts, and taro. I could eat this all summer.

tomatoes marinated in an infusion of their vines, silky tofu, crunchy tofu, herbs

This dish was one of the most interesting of the night for me…kind of an Asian caprese salad. The tomatoes were ripe, juicy and sweet, and the tofu had a very cheesy consistency and texture. The herbs added some more complexity of flavor to the dish.

brussels sprouts, caramelized shallots, fish sauce, prawn crackers

This was probably my favorite savory dish of the night. The brussels sprouts were addicting – crispy and light, with a mild sweetness from the caramelization. I’d love to buy a bag of these and eat them like potato chips!

saigon tartine- pork belly, pate, coriander, carrot pickle, green chili

These were essentially mini banh-mi. I got a nice crunch from the pickled veggies; initially, I was thinking there should’ve been more meat. However, I think a traditional banh-mi is supposed to be less meat-heavy, and this was more along those lines. I wouldn’t say there was any ‘modern’ spin to this dish, other than it being miniaturized.

caramelized chicken dumplings, lemongrass, scallion, bibb lettuce

These dumplings, more like meatballs, were a bit dense and dry for me. I think white meat was used; I would have preferred a dark meat to lend more fat and juiciness.

baby carrots, fermented black bean, star anise, coconut, tarragon

As the dishes come out in “no particular order,” I don’t think dish order was a big focus. However, as I felt like we were gearing up into the “entrees,” I would’ve preferred this dish earlier in the meal. I like black bean sauce, however I’m not too sure it worked with me on this one. Black beans have a sweetness to them, and so do the carrots; and it just didn’t meld too well for me.

bay scallops, pomelo, young ginger, tamarind syrup, puffed tapioca, charred friseé

The tamarind syrup was all overpowering in this dish. The small bay scallops didn’t hold up very well to the strong sauce. I appreciated the texture from the puffed tapioca, but it didn’t add any flavor notes. I loved the charred frisee however, reminiscent of the brussels sprouts.

beef bavette, bacon X.O., chinese eggplant, chinese celery, lime, palm sugar, sesame

As long as you cook it medium-rare to medium, I find it’s hard to mess up a flank steak. This was no exception with tender chunks of meat and good flavor. I appreciated the eggplant as well. It was mushy, and I like it that way.

peaches, crème de cassis, raspberry, condensed milk, tonic water sorbet, violet

I thought the peaches were delicious in this dish, alone. Outside of the creme, I don’t think the ingredients added too much to the dish. But I loved the sweet, ripe peaches.

coconut bavarois, coffee ice cream, thai basil, peanut croquant, chicory

Jordan Kahn made his name as a pastry chef, and it really showed in this dish. The peanut croquant was really reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, but crispy. The chicory has a coffee-like flavor; combined with the coconut, peanut and touch of thai basil – the flavors and textures were really good.

In all, there were some hits and some misses but overall, my impression of the food was positive. Where I probably disagreed most was with the portions and the insanely quick pace to the meal. I’ve never had 12 courses in the span of one hour; I felt like I was just trying to keep up for most of the meal, so that they could fill the table for a 7:30 reservation (we sat down at 6). Most of the dishes pictured were for a party of 5 – thus, dishes were good for one or a few bites. At the end of the meal, I felt like I was still waiting for the entree to come. However, I can’t fault that $40 is a pretty good price to try 12 different dishes, but we weren’t allowed to order additional dishes of anything once the meal had run its course.