Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ludobites 4.0

Ludobites is a pop-up restaurant with no set location. Chef Ludo, bad boy of Iron Chef Masters with an ever-present swoon-worthy five o-clock shadow rents out diners that are only open for breakfast and lunch, enabling him to serve creative food with total freedom at a bargain price. Version 4.0 has popped up at Gram and Papa's where it will serve until May 28th.

Most of the menu rotates, but some favorites are standard. Some sample menu items are:

Scallop, Spinach, Yogurt-Curry, Spring Garlic, Violet Flowers $14
Foie Gras Black Croque Monsieur, Lemon Turnip Chutney $29
Boudin Noir Mousse, Exotic Fruit, Wasabi $12
Santa Barbara Prawn, Avocado, Cocktail Sauce $M.P.
Soft Shell Crab Cornet, Mango, Red Spicy Mayo, Corona Granite $M.P.
White Asparagus Veloute, Mozzarella Mousse, Candied Olives, Fennel, Salmon Roe $15
Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Dried Bonita, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint $26
Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Saffron Ice Cream, Hot Chocolate Ganache $13
Strawberry, Macaron, Chantilly, Verbena $12

Ludo's wife, Krissy, runs the front of the house with a dazzling smile and genuine welcome. The room is small enough that you truly feel like guests rather than customers.

Every meal should start with a baguette and honey-lavender butter, followed by Brie Chantilly, Honey Comb, Balsamic, Frisee Salad. Yes, the frisee salad is a sprig of frisee, but the brie, whipped and whipped into a fluffy cloud of heaven, then reigned back in and molded into perfect into quenelles, is an entirely new sensation and one long overdue.

The “Paris” Ham Soup, Bread, Swiss Cheese, Radish, Cornichon, and Guiness is something I will be calling out for on my deathbed. The unlikely ingredients work on a ploughman's lunch, so why not in a bowl? I'll admit I questioned the radishes at first but finally succumbed to their peppery bite. Little squares of cheese-infused bread float in the soup like Lilliputian grilled cheese sandwiches. Comfort food at its best.

The steak au poivre was a little tough compared to my usual filet, but the sauce was rich, and I could have eaten an entire bowl of the silky, marrow-laden polenta. A charred smear of eggplant was eggplant concentrated down to its very soul.

The Foie Gras Pina Colada may sound surprising at first. But foie gras and fruity flavors were made for each other. The coconut ice cream and pineapple cream were flavorful without being sweet, which was intriguing. The rum gelee knocked you on your ass just like a real shot would.

Just as I took my first bite, I overheard a woman behind me say, "I may not know food, but I know what I like to put it my mouth." I choked on my food, trying not to do a spit take. Ludo called over, concerned, "Too sweet?" (Well, he is French so maybe he said "hurry" but that wouldn't make any sense).

I walked over to the counter and told him I was actually really amazed by his ability to take flavors like pineapple and coconut and rid them of their sweetness so for the first time we only taste their pure essence. I asked him what I should order, and he suggested the dreaded squid. I know from Lindsay's previous coverage his squid can be very uhhh, "rustic".

I said, "I've seen your squid. It's scary."

He replied in that smooth French accent, "nooo, eet ees not scareeeee."

When your table is right in front of the pass and the chef tells you to eat something, you eat it, so I ordered the squid carbonara. It was a stroke of genius for people watching their carbs, replacing the pasta with curls of squid. An egg yolk quivered on the dish, waiting to be pierced and ooze down. The pancetta and sage were delicious. The texture of the squid was the same as when you accidentally bite the inside of your cheek.

Which brings up an interesting question. I probably don't want to order the squid again, but I enjoyed trying something new and innovative. Maybe like art, food doesn't always have to be popular, maybe it is valuable because it moves the culinary arts to the next step. It is the future. It is the Dada of cooking.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Animal Made me Cry

So if you ever have to go to the doctor a lot, Cedar Sinai is the place to go. They are at the epicenter of good restaurants and shopping. I went shopping for a cozy duvet cover after a rough appointment (Westin's Heavenly Rest is nice, but 200 bucks. Hotel brand is more like $350 for queen size). I closed the stores down and went home empty-handed

After such a long day I thought I needed Animal's oxtail poutine. I dropped in late without a reservation, and luckily scored a table. When I placed my order and I was told they were out of poutine I was lost. My head swam. Sensing this, the server left to give me more time. It had just been such a stressy day it was the final straw. I turned my face to the wall and wept. I felt so stupid crying in public. One of the waiters came back and coddled me, which made me feel much better.

I decided to comfort myself with marrow, pig's ear and foie gras. There is really no better consolation in the world. As I opened my mouth to order Miso-cured foie, the server said, "Oh, and we're out of the Miso-cured foie." Imagine that movie shot where they pan back while sumultaneously making the camera do a close-up with me going, "Nooooooooooooooooo!"

But they had a second foie on the menu, so I decided to be a big girl and accept a minor change. I ordered the marrow and their trippy Foie Gras, Biscuit with Maple-cured Gravy. It was a dish that could go terribly wrong, but if they had the balls to serve it, I had the balls to try it.

Not only was the foie cooked to perfection, but the maple added that touch of sweetness that foie needs without being cloying. There was a spicy-hot sausage in the rich gravy that added a little spark. Then as the final coup de gras, the biscuit was the fluffiest, most heavenly biscuit I have ever tried. And I am a seeker of the perfect angel biscuit.

It was so good that when the sever asked if I would like another iced tea, I said, "Yes, and another foie gras please." It was worth it for the look in her eyes for the second before she regained her composure. I figured, what the hell, why not live like it's my last week because you just never know.

Normally marrow is almost liquified with a thin fatty skin on it. Their marrow was like custard through and through. The use of Chimichurri instad of the standard parsley was a stroke of genius.

The crab's legs were fresh and doused with melted butter that had been spiked with chili. A harbinger of the fire to come.

Pig's ear with chili and lime was topped with a fried egg. I was curious to see if the ear would be chewy like in Paris, or gelatinous like in Monterey Park. It was neither. It was more like shredded beef jerky, with a fatty carnitas-style fry. It was extremely fiery and I would prefer it as a bar snack with a cold beer.

I learned my lesson. Always make a reservation at Animal. Don't slip in as they are closing or they will run out of dishes. (And although Heavenly Rest is all-white and rarely on sale, Hotel Brand changes styles every season and can be bought on clearance for 100 bucks at Macy's).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Liver Worst: Not Exactly Dinner Conversation

I have recovered repressed memories in therapy of gagging on powdery, mealy shoesoles of liver. There are rubber eraser bits that coat your mouth and won't ever come off, ever, no matter how hard you try! Excuse me, I have to speed-dial my shrink.

We ate a lot of liver growing up, because it was inexpensive, it was one thing my parents could agree upon, and because of Eschbach's Meat Market. Eschbachs was a fantastic old-fashioned German market in Gardena that allowed me to grow up with a wonderland of sausages. But Eschbach's sold calves liver at 10 months old, which to my farmer mom was the perfect liver.

Luckily there were five of us kids, so we had a complex under-the-table trade going on. Roddie and Greg ate all the liver, Russell ate the broccoli and cauliflower, and Glen and I ate the remaining vegetables and fish.

When The Grill at Hollywood and Highland invited us to try their Liver Lover's Extravaganza, I agreed under one condition -- that my mother accompany me. Let's just say we had a score to settle.

The Grill on the Alley opened in Beverly Hills in 1984 and has since expanded to four locations in California as well as in three other states. The Grill at Hollywood and Highland is the fourth "The Grill", opened in 2001. In spite of being located in a giant outdoor mall in the heart of touristy Hollywood, the warm tones and rich leathers make an elegant white tablecloth steakhouse. I can't help but imagine what a nice place this would be for a business dinner.

The evening started off innocuously enough with some lovely doots -- crab cakes chock full of crabmeat, adorable little caprese skewers with tomatoes that exploded on the tongue, fresh ahi and avocado chips and thinly sliced salmon (OK, gravlaax). There was a mix-your-own martini bar with a choice of straight up vodka ("The CEO"), grapefruit, or blood orange martinis. Some bartenders would argue that the fruit drinks were actually cocktails, not "martinis". Nonetheless, the blood orange martini-slash-cocktail was delicious, so cold, freshly swirled with ice.

We were seated near some fun bloggers. Eddie asked me what the tape recorder was for.

"Because my mom says some really funny things and I want to catch them on tape."

He addressed my mom, "What do you say that's funny?"

She shrugged in an exaggerated way, 'I don't understand it! I don't think I'm funny at all!"

"Now, see, that was funny."

The starter was a light salad of endive, radicchio and romaine with bleu cheese and pecans. The bleu cheese was mellow and delicious, unlike the overwhelming bleu cheeses that used to be ubiquitous.

The calves liver was farmed in Pennsylvania and served at 6 to 7 months old (my mom shakes her head at me and holds up 10 fingers, disagreeing with the chef). According to the chef, "We have been serving liver at The Grill since, well, since we opened, and we actually do it quite well. Its actually one of our signature dishes. We sold anywhere between 20 and 25 livers a day, you get six to seven orders out of a liver." He went on to expound on the protein, B vitamins and other benefits of eating liver.

The liver was served either old-school style with bacon and onions, or with a Bordelaise sauce. When the plates arrived, we were all surprised by the hearty portions. It was more like pork loin, both in appearance and texture. The creamy, yet beefy meat had none of the powdery pencil eraser graininess or leatheriness of the liver we grew up with. If not for that unmistakable taste of organ, it might be hard to identify blindfolded.

Unfortunately, even covered in Bordelaise, it still tasted like liver, so I just "fake ate" it, cutting it up and pushing it around my plate. Accompaniments included a giant stalk of broccoli (is my mom actually snickering at me behind her napkin?). Other sides were brought out for us to test -- mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and my favorite, braised whole mushrooms.

My mom however, stuck stubbornly and faithfully with the liver and bacon.

"And how would you like that cooked, ma'am?"


The desserts, which we all shared, were mind-blowing. The brownie pie coated in both chocolate and caramel sauce and studded with candied peanuts was tough competition alongside a traditional strawberry shortcake.

The shortcake was properly laquered with a sweet coating outside and a crumbly inside. The strawberries were intensely sweet. But they were no match for the Key Lime Pie, rich, creamy, and puckering with lime zest.

This is definitely a meal for grown-ups. If you are mature and can handle your meat, this is the special for you. Apparently I'm still an 8-year old.

Random soundbites from the tape:

Eddie: Can't you think of any other word to describe it than liver-y?

Me: No. No, I can't. Thats why my blogs are so photo heavy.

My Mom: (gesturing to Eddie): If he had come to Easter dinner, he would have eaten my cabbage rolls

Me: Mom, I ate the cabbage rolls

Mom: You don't eat cabbage.

Me: Roddie doesn't eat cabbage.

Mom (eyes me suspiciously)

Me: Mom, I don't eat liver. Roddie doesn't eat vegetables. Eamonn doesn't eat celery. Glen doesn't eat mushrooms.

Mom: Well, I knew somebody didn't eat something.

Blogger: I heard that you die if you eat a polar bear liver

Another blogger: You'd probably die if you tried to eat a polar bear liver.

Me: So, what did your daughter's placenta taste like? Do we really taste like pork?

Eddie: Actually, it's more like beef

Me: Because I have to have a hysterectomy, and you could have my uterus if you want it.

Eddie: I would treat your uterus with the utmost respect.

Me: I eat so much fat, it's probably like foie gras. And I'm diabetic, so I bet it's sweet too.

Eddie: Now you're just teasing me.

Me, calling over a plate-laden server, "Come here, you photo, op, you!"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fancy Meeting You Here

Where else can you find this fantastic combo of plastic food and charming misspelling but in beautiful downtown LA? At 3am.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I LOVE Menchies!

I have to thank Jennifer for introducing me to Menchies. I resisted at first, thinking it would be another sour Pinkberry ripoff. But now I'm an addict. Menchies has a wall of frozen yogurt disensers, kind of like those French Quarter Daquiri houses.

Every flavor has easily identifiable labels to let you know if the flavor is kosher, nonfat, sugar-free, if it has a criminal record, and whether or not it is still a virgin.

It's do-it-yourself and they have an unlimited supply of taster cups. You can fill up on testers alone.

The flavors are delicious, ranging from the rich and creamy to the Pinkberry sour and from the familar standards to the exotic.

There is a wealth of toppings to choose from, including fresh fruit and a surprisingly sugar-free chocolate syrup. You would never know.

When you are all done, they charge you by weight. It's a fun, interactive experience to share with a friend, giggling and asking, "Oh my God, Did you taste the Dulce de Leche?"

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Rising Stars: Julian Cox

if you are a regular reader, my love for Rivera should come as no surprise to you. In addition to the delectable food, Rivera boasts some of the best cocktails in town. Mixologist Julian Cox was turned off by artificially-colored syrupy cocktails and found inspiration in the use of fresh ingredients by Comme Ca and Milk and Honey.

Cox worked his way up at Comme Ca and honed his craft at Sona. In January 2009 he worked with John Sedlar Rivera who was opening up his Pan-Latin hotspot downtown. Rivera was already making his own tequila and tequila infusions, and Julian added his special cocktails to the party. He became known for his signature drink, Blood Sugar Sex Magic. In addition to Rivera, Cox is currently opening Las Perlas with downtown maven Cedd Moses.

At Rising Stars I watched Julian carefully craft his specialty cocktail. I did a double-take when I saw that his garnish was a piece of beef jerky. I looked at him, and he said, "Barbacoa." The Barbacoa is an unusual mixture of lime, ginger syrup, chipotle puree, red bell pepper and tequila.

My only response? "You're a madman."

Receiving his award from John Sedlar Rivera:

I caught up with Julian on another night at Rivera:

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rising Stars: Adam Fleischman's Umami Burger

Star chefs umami burger 1995 (Small) (2)

I wandered around the back of Umami checking out the burgers. When I met the Adam Fleischman, I noticed him shaking a special seasoning on the burgers (I also noticed he bore more than a slight resemblancs to Jon Favreau). Hoping to start up a conversation on the general concept of umami, I said, "So it's like soy sauce..."

He cut me off, saying "Oh, it's definitely not soy sauce." I saw the wheels turning. I realized he thought I was guessing the recipe and he was deciding whether or not to tell me what was in his magic sprinkles (it was Tamari, by the way, not soy sauce. The recipe was in the booklet). I knew I had to change tactics. This was not someone who wanted to while away the afternoon chatting about flavor profiles. This was a serious businessman.


So I asked, "Are you planning on marketing it?"

He came alive, "We have a whole line planned - spice mixes, sauces, and [he paused to think] what else?" He seemed to have better things to do than give me the pitch at the moment, so I gave him my card and continued on my way.

Fleischman definitely is a businessman. Fleischman started out in Journalism, which led to wine journalism, which led to some very prestigious jobs in the wine field where he honed his palate. He subsequently founded Bottlerock and Vonoteque. He opened the first Umami Burger on La Brea and is poised to take over the world.


Later in the evening, the longest line was snaking around to Umami. When I finally got myself a burger, I told the other cook, "Wow. I had no idea. I'm impressed."

He said, "yeah, it's not all hype." Embarassed that he had read my mind, I wandered off to enjoy the fantastically meaty burger with a giant Parmesan crisp. True love.


Adam Fleischman receiving his award for Best Restaurant Concept from Will Blunt, Managing Editor of and Antoinette Bruno, CEO and Editor-in-Chief.


So, yeah, the basic recipe is in the program. Do I dare leak it? I'll just give you a taste.

Umami Seasonings:
2 salted anchovies, cleaned
Worcestershire sauce
Truffle salt

Now if you're really good, maybe I'll tell you about the ketchup.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Rising Stars: Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook


I was fresh from Michael Voltaggio's table, and his sous vide Wagyu short rib was so good it was blowing my mind. I finished the plate as I approached Animal's station, and I had an incredulous look on my face. Vinny Dotolo said, "I know. Amazing, isn't it?"

I said, "Yeah. Do you think you can beat that?"

He good-naturedly replied, "Well, it's not a contest."

Just then his assistant handed a guest a ballot and said, "Make sure to vote for us."

I hid my smile and walked away with their Poutine with oxtail, gravy and cheddar, unaware that the hinges were about to be blown off the door. Holy mother of God, going from the Wagyu straight to the oxtail may have been the best two bites I have ever had. In my life.

That poutine dish is going on my list of possible last meals. I have been lucky enough to eat so much amazing food I will have a hard time picking my last meal. They may have to kill me over and over again. It's on the menu right now at Animal, so I have got to get down there soon.

For anyone who doesn't know, poutine is like the national dish of Quebec, if it were a nation (and don't you dare tell them they aren't). Cheese curds and gravy on fries - the quintessential drunk dish. It's one of those things that can be made really, really badly and often is. It is an eye-rolling joke to the rest of Canada, but I will go to the mat for poutine now that Animal has elevated it to heavenly status.

The gravy was so rich -- first they made a veal stock, then used that to make a Bordelaise, then used that to make a foie sauce. All that hard work definitely showed. The meat, which braised for hours and hours, was flavorful and falling apart. The minor change to a quality cheddar cheese made all the difference. And it almost seemed like they magically worked out a formula so that every single fry had the perfect bite of cheese and meat instead of falling all over the place in a big mess. Let's give these boys a "Hell, yeah!"

Ryan Duval of the Cordon Bleu program, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook

Really, you have to love these guys. They are like the garage band of the culinary scene. How about this quote from Food and Wine when they were awarded in the category of Best New Chefs of 2009:

On the L.A. food scene:
Vinny: “People out here eat like kids: hamburgers, hot dogs, doughnuts. You can tell: So much fast food started out here.”

The two chefs met in culinary school in Florida, where they started their culinary career moving as a unit from one restaurant to another, then to Vail, and finally Los Angeles. After a short stint at the doomed Chadwick, they got an odd job painting Ben Ford's house, which eventually led to a job cooking for Ben's father, Harrison Ford (yes, that's why Ben Ford is such a babe). Then on to catering, The Food Network and finally Animal, where we can only hope we can keep them.

I first saw Vinny Dotolo at a panel called "Carnivore" where he proved himself to be knowledgeable and erudite.

Jon rocks the mic


Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook with Will Blunt, Managing Editor of and Antoinette Bruno, CEO and Editor-in-Chief.


Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook with Rory Hermann