LudoBites 8.0 @ Lemon Moon (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites 8.0
Lemon Moon
12200 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
Dining date: 1/18/12


With every successive LudoBites, it seems to get more popular. The story is very familiar now: chef with fine dining background starts casual pop-up restaurant; pop-up becomes incredibly successful, garnering critical acclaim nationwide and spawning TV show; demand for reservations is so extreme that reservation servers crash. The latter part is one of the big changes in 8.0, the switch from the mad dash online reservation system to a lottery system. Reservations were still hard to come by, and I heard that approximately 5% of reservation requests were granted. Goodness. Ludo is a rock star.

I didn’t get a reservation, but there’s a six seat bar that’s filled on a first-come, first-served basis. This was my route in, and I found it to be fairly easy. My coworker and I made elaborate plans to leave work early to get out to Lemon Moon as soon as possible. We arrived shortly after 5, and were the only ones outside until about 5:40. So much for all of the preparation. The bar did fill up shortly after 6pm though, but there were openings throughout the night, both at the bar and tables due to cancelled reservations.


As with other LudoBites, the menu is a la carte and meant for sharing. Alcohol is available at this iteration, with a pretty robust selection of wines (procured by DomaineLA).  A hard cider and even a few craft brews round out the list. My coworker was kind enough to bring a bottle of wine to share.


Brioche with Truffle Butter

Brioche with Truffle Butter

We started with this freshly baked piece of bread. Hard to go wrong with fresh bread – add some truffle butter and you’ve got a clear hit. Warm, flaky and buttery, the earthy truffle essence really came through making for some delicious bites.

Chicken Tandoori Crackling

Chicken Tandoori Crackling

A creamy quenelle of chicken liver topped a piece of really crispy chicken skin. Loved the textures and the double-hit of chicken flavor was excellent. The sea salt topping was integral too, really bringing out the flavor.

Crab Meat, Shrimp, Avocado Guacamole, Pomelos

Crab Meat, Shrimp, Avocado Guacamole, Pomelos

Crab Meat, Shrimp, Avocado Guacamole, Pomelos2

Japanese hairy crab was used in this dish, the cherished breed of crab that Ludo said cost $40 per pound. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had it, but I’ve been planning to go to Urasawa at some point in the winter season to get some. I was super excited for this dish; I found the crab itself to be good (except for the crab shell in it), but I didn’t think the accompanying broth had a lot of flavor. Individually, I liked the spread of avocado and pomelo, but I’m not sure I understood the mixture of all of the ingredients.

Uni Creme Brulee

Uni Creme Brulee

This was another very intriguing item on the menu, and it was a good one. The custard definitely had the uni flavor coming through, and I thought the bruleed sugar added a nice sweetness that complemented the custard well, particularly with the salty bursts of flavor from the salmon eggs.

Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black Truffle

Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black Truffle

Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black Truffle2

I thought this was another hit. Raw scallops were accompanied by a potato and leek puree, and what our server said was hay. Interesting. I thought the flavors were spot on and I really liked the slivers of black truffle with it. A lot of earthy flavors with the fresh sea scallops.

Raw Beef, Radish, Beets, Eel

Raw Beef, Radish, Beets, Eel

American wagyu was diced up with radishes, a radish snow and mayo (wasabi?). Pieces of eel were scattered throughout the beef; I thought this was a nice touch, and the radish and spicy mayo both worked well too. Buttered and toasted pieces of bread came with it.

Foie Gras, Tamarind, Turnips, Daikon

Foie Gras, Tamarind, Turnips, Daikon

We were told to let the foie gras sit in the broth for a few minutes to finish cooking, and I’m glad we did. Perfectly cooked foie gras. Goodness. So good. It was swimming in a very aromatic broth, which also had a floral dimension to it.

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds

Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds2

Perhaps one of the best dishes of the night, the liver (the third liver dish of the night) was excellent; it was rich, flavorful and melt-in-mouth texturally. Cucumber added a balancing vegetable flavor, while the cornichons added texture and acidity. Quite nice.

Steamed Black Seabass, Fennel, Lettuce, Bernaise Vinaigrette

Steamed Black Seabass, Fennel, Lettuce, Bernaise Vinaigrette

Steamed Black Seabass, Fennel, Lettuce, Bernaise Vinaigrette2

I thought the seabass was undercooked for my liking, and I also ran into some scales and a bone. Outside of that, I did like this dish – I’m a sucker for seabass and I thought the fennel provided a nice subtle licorice accent. A lemon sauce was a good pairing too.

Jidori Chicken, Parmesan Soubise, Broccoli, Walnuts, Eggs

Jidori Chicken, Parmesan Soubise, Broccoli, Walnuts, Eggs

I believe these chickens were roasted on a rotisserie. I thought the dark meat was moist and flavorful, but found the breast to be disappointingly dry. Subtle parmesan flavors were a welcome accompaniment, as were the broccoli and what I think were creamy scrambled eggs.

Duck, Orange, Olives, Carrots

Duck, Orange, Olives, Carrots

This was a very nice piece of duck, perfectly cooked with a moist flesh and crisp skin. Fresh citrus in the form of orange and mandarin orange helped to brighten the dish and add a lighter kick to each bite. A modern take on the classic duck l’orange I suppose.

Chocolate Napoleon, Orange Creamsickle

Chocolate Napoleon, Orange Creamsickle

I liked the idea of this version of a classic Napoleon. Where I expected this to be very rich and fudgy, it was actually a lighter, smooth chocolate with layers of thin, flaky chocolate pastry in between. Pretty well-executed and wonderful texturally. The orange creamsickle ice cream was a fun touch and gave the dish another dimension.

Lemon Meringue Tart

Lemon Meringue Tart2

Lemon Meringue Tart

Lastly, we had a sort of deconstructed lemon meringue tart. Dollops of a sweet lemon curd were interspersed with a whipped meringue, with bits of crumble on the bottom. Simple and pretty delicious, and I appreciated a light, sweet end to the meal.

Best LudoBites ever? Hm. Personally, I’m partial to LudoBites 4.0 and 5.0. I did like this meal better than 6.0 and 7.0 though. Conceptually I found the menu to be very exciting, but a few flaws in execution held this meal back a bit. It was only day two, so I’m sure it will be ironed out in short time. I look forward to seeing how the menu evolves throughout this 8.0 run.

This was probably the most expensive LudoBites I’ve been to, but I think that’s largely reflective of a lot of the higher-end ingredients (Japanese hairy crab, monkfish liver, truffles, American wagyu, sea urchin, foie gras), more than what I remember at previous LudoBites. Plus, I’m sure any economist would say the price of a meal here is far below equilibrium. I think it’s worth it.

Previous LudoBites posts:
LudoBites 4.0 (2) | LudoBites 5.0 (2) | LudoBites 6.0 (2) (3) | LudoBites 7.0 (2)LudoBites America

Drago (Santa Monica, CA)

Drago Ristorante
2628 Wilshire Blvd
Santa Monica, CA 90403
Dining date: 11/30/11

Downtown’s Drago Centro serves some of my favorite Italian food in the city.  I’ve been there a number of times, but never to sister restaurant Drago in Santa Monica (one of chef-owner Celestino Drago’s first restaurants). The upscale Italian menu is fairly similar at both locations, but the downtown restaurant is just much more convenient for me. However, I was invited to come dine at Drago; it would be the perfect opportunity to finally venture out to the westside outpost.



Opened in 1991, Drago has been a notable Italian restaurant in this city since opening. Celestino Drago doesn’t cook much these days, so the kitchen is in the hands of chef di cucina Evan Gotanda. He created a special tasting menu for us to sample our way through the menu.

We found some starches awaiting us at the table when we arrived.

Breadsticks and bread





We were first served this amuse bouche, crispy rice balls (towers?) stuffed with cheese and ground beef. It was as good as it sounded, with a warm, cheesy filling and a wonderful crispy texture.

Ricotta e pere ricotta, pear, red wine, arugula, hazelnut salt


I believe the ricotta here was house-made, a creamy and sweet cheese that, with the sweet pears, paired well with the peppery arugula and red wine sauce. Bits of hazelnut provided a welcome crunch.

Agnolotti di zucca butternut squash, ricotta, butter glaze


I was eagerly awaiting some pasta dishes and this one didn’t disappoint. The squash provided a creamy, sweet filling while the exterior pasta still had a nice chew to it. A rich butter sauce with a subtle truffle essence completed the dish. Delicious and I wanted more!

Risotto alla barbabietola beet risotto, shaved candy beets, puffed risotto

beet risotto

Next up was this vibrantly-colored risotto. Sometimes I enjoy beets and sometimes I hate them; it was definitely the former this time. It lended a sweet dimension to the risotto, the rice of which was perfectly cooked. The addition of crispy puffed rice added some nice texture too.

Cecaluccoli al fagiano cecaluccoli, roasted pheasant, morel mushrooms


There was a pasta substitution here from one of Drago’s signature items – pappardelle with pheasant and morels. Instead, we were served a hand rolled cecaluccoli which had a delectable, addicting chew. The rest of the pasta was as good as I remembered from Drago Centro – a deep, rich sauce and chunks of tender pheasant.

Trota salmonata Arctic char, carrot, rapini, oregano, balsamic

arctic char

Next was this Arctic char, seared to a superb crispy skin. The flesh was moist, and I liked the addition of the earthy rapini. However, I found the rapini to be surprisingly bitter and the dish overall to be a touch salty.

Costata di manzo New York steak, soft polenta, bacon, brussels sprouts, red wine


Here we also had the addition of braised short rib, completing a duo of beef. Both were cooked well, and the short rib was expectantly tender. A little bit of smoky bacon flavor came through on the brussels sprouts, while the polenta was light and creamy. Not quite as unique as the other dishes, but it was tasty.

To complete the meal, we had two desserts.

Brioche al mirtillo orange espuma, orange dust, cranberry granola


This dish had a breakfast feel to it – a warm brioche, orange (espuma), and granola. I thought the idea was fun and found the individual flavors to be pretty spot on. I really liked the texture of the granola too.

Crostata al cioccolato dates, brown sugar gelato, walnuts


Lastly was this dessert; it was a solid chocolate tart with a creamy date puree. I enjoyed the brown sugar gelato, while some walnuts added a bit of crunch to each bite.

My meal at Drago was as strong as expected. I thought the highlights were in the pasta/risotto area, which were some of the strongest I’ve had in recent memory in LA. Compared to other Italian restaurants I’ve tried in Santa Monica (Valentino, La Botte), I think I preferred Drago particularly for this reason. Thank you to Diana and Cathy for making this happen!

Note: This was a sponsored meal.