Ludo Bites: Do Not Try This at Home

By Tsz on December 25, 2009

I’ve been consumed with reading “Never Eat Alone” lately. It’s an amazing book that breaks down how to form, maintain and develop new connections—which can be applied to business and personal life. Granted, some tips provided are elementary, but Ferrazzi gives many more that are great and really hits it out of the ball park with his personal story and case studies.

Excited to apply Ferrazzi’s wisdom to my life, I decided to test out his rule of reading up on inspiring professionals before meeting them. The first opportunity happened to be Ludo Bites. Unable to visit its earlier incarnation at Breadbar, I had to live vicariously through other blog reviews so I had a good idea about the concept as well as Chef Ludo, but just to be safe, I made good use of google. Armed with my newly found information, my friends and I went made our way to Royal/T.

As we walked past the scandalously named art exhibit, “In Bed Together” to the dining area, we were greeted warmly by Krissy, Chef Ludo’s wife and right-hand (wo)man.

Without thinking, I quickly blurted out “how is service tonight?” You see, I had read in a blog that their sous chef had walked out a few days earlier. Krissy was taken aback and with good reason. After explaining that I had some insider information, she gave us the update (Everything’s a-ok now) and ushered us to our table and gave us the menu.

The menu was concise, with a handful of firsts and mains, as well as two desserts. I scanned the menu for LFC, aka duck fat fried chicken, unfortunately though, it wasn’t on that night. However, pork belly and the foie gras beignets were, so I was a happy camper.

After ordering, my friends and I walked around the space to check out the exhibit, which turned out to be less risque than its name suggested, but worthy to see the sweet cassette tape sculpture.

A light box was also ingeniously set up in one of the art rooms for bloggers to photograph their plates. Clever, but I only got to use it once because we were too hungry to refrain from eating to walk it across the room once a plate was set in front of us.

Imagine my surprise when I came back to my seat to find this beauty—LFC! My friends and I all looked at each other, not daring to make a move until Krissy explained that this was an off-the menu item and the kitchen had bestow the last one to our party. It was as if the stars aligned at that moment. We split up the dish as best we could into 8 portions and reveled in the salty, crispy goodness. The boneless dark meat was deftly fried with a magnificent crust but was too well-seasoned to be eaten by itself. However, when paired with mashed potatoes and grill baby corn (how cute is that?), it was just right—a filling amuse bouche and exciting start.

Next a barrage of plates arrived: Celery root soup, Sauteed Monterey wild squid, and the confit of pork belly. We were all a bit dismayed as we had hoped to savor each dish slowly, yet the thought of letting the other dishes cool was unthinkable. I ended up initially jumping from one dish to another, which on one hand solved the temperature problem, but did not fare too well in the flavor department, so I chose to focus on my perceived favorite dish and make my way across the others.

The first was the crispy confit pork belly with a burnt eggplant puree, plantain, and coconut Thai chili emulsion. The fatty pork was wonderfully prepared with its fat literally melting upon mastication. The coconut foam (couldn’t quite taste the chili) provided a sweet balance. The other elements unfortunately didn’t pull their weight with the plantain being dry and flavorless and the puree tasting like the insides of a communal ashtray at the local dive bar.

By the time I moved on to the celery root soup, it was already at room temperature, but even so, it was my favorite of the night. With a viscosity like gravy, the creamy soup was richly favored with black truffles and had a delicate vanilla taste. It felt like being wrapped in a warm, fluffy blanket.

As for the Monterey squid, our table was pleasantly surprised how good it was. While we were intrigued about its components—chorizo oil, kimchi puree, black olive—we didn’t want to take a big risk so we only ordered one plate, to which we regretted. It was an galvanizing match between the delicate squid, the saltiness of the crumbled olive, tart kimchee and robust oil. May I say black olive is the new salt and chorizo oil the new brown butter?

I was happy to try out the light box when the beignets came since we ordered 4, enough to be share with just one other person (it was much easier to get permission from than the entire table). It’s a weighty dish, with substantial foie gras chunks covered with crispy dough and paired with a jammy dried apricot sauce. A dish meant to be shared.

Ironically, the most anticipated dish from the night was also the biggest disappointment. We all read such wonderful reviews of the braised veal udon, with its broth being a labor of love. Yet, upon tasting, the broth was overly salty, as if someone accidentally knocked over a bottle of soy sauce in a pot of French onion soup. It overwhelm the otherwise lovely shredded veal, the noodles and the mushrooms. On top of that, the sesame miso had a funky, musky aftertaste.

Fortunately, the subsequent cod dish made up for it. The luscious, flaky cod fillet was lacquered with a thick Terkiyaki sauce—like a souped up unagi. The mashed potato puree at the base was a smooth buttery heaven.

We ended the night with the beef tenderloin, nicely grilled with lard chips (I could eat those with the celery root soup any day) and roasted veggies. The pungent accompanying mustard sauce masked the beef’s flavor, so I ended up eating my portion sans sauce.

Just as our meal was winding down, Chef Ludo stopped by our table and kindly asked us if we had enjoyed the meal. This, I thought, was my moment to shine. Had it all planned out too: I’d suavely compliment the kitchen and sprinkle in some facts I’ve recently learned that would do Ferrazzi proud.

Truth was, it was a disaster—the kind that is mortifying at the moment, but kinda hilarious once enough time as passed. Just like Krissy, Chef Ludo was taken aback from my statements, but had enough sense of humor to indulge my endless string of questions such as, what was the weirdest thing he has cooked (entire pig’s head), what he eats when at home (frozen pizza) and recommendations for bakeries in Paris (Laduree). Thanks for being a good sport!

Sorry Mr. Ferrazzi, I see I still have a long ways to go. Live and learn right?


Gastrobus Serves Up Sustainable, Organic Cuisine… in a Truck

By Tsz on December 11, 2009

I’m a woman of strict principles… food principles that is. They include:

1. Eat 3 square meals a day.
2. Include vegetables alongside each meal (even if it’s only in the garnish).
3. Avoid salads at all costs. Thanks to my upbringing by germophobic parents, uncooked vegetables just don’t seem right by me.
4. Always drink water with food instead of soda to prevent muddling of flavors.

And my newest one, to never chase after food trucks.

You won’t find me obsessively following the latest truck du jour’s Twitter page, tracking it down like an unsavory paparazzi or driving to the opposite ends of LA at inconvenient times just to taste their offerings.

I guess I’m an old-fashioned girl regarding food trucks as I would much rather have them chase after me. After all, what’s the point of having a restaurant on wheels if I still have to go to it? Besides, nothing makes for a better anecdote then having a serendipitous run-in with a food truck and hitting it off fabulously.

Well, that was exactly what happened to me last week. My good friend was showing me around the Los Feliz Farmers Market when I first laid eyes on Gastrobus. Although it was hanging out in the back corner, it beckoned me with its striking yellow paint job.

Having struck my curiosity, my friend and I walked cautiously past the mushroom booth and around the coffee stand to check out the handwritten menu that stood next to the yellow bus, I mean, truck.

The Gastrobus’ menu is short and focused, with a handful of a la carte items that you can piece together into a full meal or have individually as a small snack. My friend and I already had breakfast, but after reading the phrase, “apple & almond pancakes with toffee syrup,” we were sold.

With a fist-full of dollar bills in our hands, we ordered their apple and blueberry pancakes. As we waited for our food, we struck up a conversation with our server, who is the wife to the chef, Antonio Medina. Together, the husband and wife duo are the owners.

The idea for it arose from their frustration of having differing work schedules—with one being an educator and the other a chef, the only time they saw each other was when they’re sleeping—not exactly quality time. So they jumped off the entrepreneurial diving board and became the proud parents of the Gastrobus. At the beginning of each week, they stock up from the farmers market and create a menu that best utilize the fresh, organic produce, meats and dairy.

And it shows, as the apple pancake was amazing. A fluffy pancake cloaked thin slices of crisp apple and crushed almonds, which was then drizzled with a complex toffee syrup and a small mirepoix of candied apple.

The blueberry pancake was of a lighter fare, with plump blueberries encased in a wheat pancake and topped with a lemon-scented yogurt. My only wish was that the topping was sweeter.
Perhaps seeing how my friend and I were in sheer bliss, Antonio sent over a few samples for us to try. My friend and I were only too happy to oblige him.

The first was a grown-up parfait made of persimmons, grapes, walnut and yogurt. The stars here were the fruits, both unbelievably full of flavor. The yogurt, while delicious, seemed to hinder the dish with its strong tartness however. We ended up moving it to the side to uncover the rest of the fruit cache.

The other sample was the potato galette with peanut sauce—a mashed potato griddle cake topped with a luscious sweet and spicy peanut sauce. The sprinkling of green onions added a burst of freshness and contrast as well as satisfying my principle of having vegetables with my meal. It was the highlight of the meal and definitely a dish I would gorge myself on if I had enough funds.

It was such a delightful meal that maybe I’ll just “happened” to be at the Los Feliz Farmers Market next weekend…


Best Fish Taco of Ensenada: It’s True!

By Tsz on December 4, 2009

Recently, I started reading up on investing. It seemed to be the right time as it’s never too early to start thinking about the future–besides, I wanted to make some money on the side for my upcoming France trip. I checked out a variety of books, from the conservative books to the get-rich-quick scheme books. One thing they all have in common though is they stressed diversifying your portfolio. It’s never prudent to have all your eggs in one basket–in case something goes wrong.

This applies to the food world as well, which is probably why most restaurants offer a myriad of choices to satisfy each patron. Not so at Best Fish Taco of Ensenada, where they serve a grand total of 2 items (not including drinks): fish tacos for $1.50 each and shrimp tacos for $2.00 each.

My friends and I made the trek from the new location of Umami Burger because I had read about BFToE from Food GPS (my little black book & bible) a while back. I wanted to see what the fuss was about, so I ordered their namesake.

Like a well-oiled machine, the operation at BFToE is simple and efficient. After I placed my order with the cashier, two motherly ladies began their synchronized dance. One brought out a big metal bowl of battered fish and carefully placed individual strips in hot oil. While the fish is frying, the other cook grilled tortillas in a nearby griddle, taking care to give each side enough time to crispin and brown to perfection.

In just a short while, the first cook fished out the finished strips and let the pieces drain while the tortilla cook passed along the ready tortillas. In goes the fish and the piping hot taco is then transferred into my hands, all within a few minutes.

Next comes the fun part. Just three steps over, there is the fixings bar where you can mix and match salsas, gauc, shredded cabbage, and creama to create your desired taco. My winning formula is to pile on the cabbage, then add just a tiny bit of the Pineapple Kiss (Hot hot hot salsa enhanced by pineapples).

Newcomers, not to worry–there are little note cards with snappy descriptions. Or, try the hands-on approach and try a little of each topping beforehand.

It’s hard to describe the finished product without being cliche but the experience of biting into the taco is like a big, happening party in my mouth. There’s the hot, fresh-tasting fish in its delicate seasoned coating, the cooling cabbage, the spicy and sweet salsa and the charred corn tortilla–it doesn’t get any better than this.

Although I was getting full (no kidding since I had a burger just right before), I was curious and wanted to try their shrimp taco to round out my experience.

It was a happy coincidence the owner of BFToE started working the cashier station just then. A gregarious and friendly guy, he told us about his family’s horchata recipe while refilling my friend’s empty cup as my friend commented on the unexpected roasted taste. The reason why his version differs from the normally mild milky brew is that he uses Morro seeds instead of rice, which is common in his hometown.

When it was my turn, I gushed about how much I loved the fish taco and is ready to order another one, to which he generously made me one on the house(!). The shrimp taco employs plump, briny shrimps and are fried in the similar manner as the fish. Personally, I prefer the more delicate, clean taste of the fish taco, but the shrimp is equally stellar and some of my friends prefer it over the fish.

From the looks of the steady stream of customers coming in at odd hours, maybe there’s something about riding on one winner. Why dilute your profits when you have a sure thing? Too bad it’s a drive for me to BFToE, if I live in Los Feliz, I would go there everyday. Hmm, so maybe it’s a good thing that I live a ways away.


Bottega Louie: Heaven on 7th and Grand

By Tsz on November 28, 2009

I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

Food heaven that is. My first time walking in Bottega Louie got some getting used to. Walking into its cavernous center, you’re enveloped by white space and a flurry of activity.

On the right, there is the gleaming silver kitchen, inhabited by silent cooks producing plates of technicolor entrees and sides—they’re so close that you can reach out and pick off a roasted tomato garnish. That is, if the clear glass partition wasn’t in the way.

On the left, neatly dressed bartenders mixes up old fashion drinks for an equally well-dressed crowd. And behind, oh my, tidy rows of baked goods and deli items patiently wait for you to give them a new home.

To the front, a stately gold and marble table sits with a single light and a giant book of records, where a calm gatekeeper, I mean, hostess, politely asks for your last name. For the rest of your stay, that is exactly how they will address you. A bit old fashioned, but welcome nevertheless.

I’ve dine at Bottega Louie five times since it opened, and to this day, it still gets some getting used to the grand scale of the restaurant. Other pleasant surprises are their extensive menu, the prices (you’re definitely getting your money’s worth), and their service.

Now, the service is no where near perfect. In fact, there’s almost always a little mishap during my visits—a dish goes missing, or the waiter seems to have disappeared—these are normal for a relatively new restaurant. What is impressive is how they fix the problems promptly and earnestly.

Also, a man in gray (Eric) usually comes around sometime during your meal and ask for your opinion and cater to your whims, which is a bonus. Once, my friend exclaimed how delicious BL’s homemade apple sauce (the accompaniment to the pork chops—must get) was and in a few minutes, he came back to produced 2 gravy pitchers full of the cinnamon goodness for her as a dessert.

Although the decor and the service are both stellar, the true star is the food. Their cuisine is simple and filling, featuring fresh ingredients—you can really taste the difference. Here is my list of must-get dishes:

1. Portabello Fries: Giant strips of the mushroom are lightly battered and fried with a light covering of parsley and grated parmesan. Unbelievable when dipped in their basil aoili.

2. Pork Chops: You get not one, not two, but three juicy and expertly charred chops. The accompanying apple sauce tastes just sweet enough and with the added zing of Christmas cheer (it makes for an awesome dessert).

3. Trenne: Triangular tubes of pasta are pan fried on one side and served with a rich beef stew and saute kale. I’ve never seen this served anywhere else.

4. Peas with prosuitto: Sweet, tender fresh peas that tastes nothing like the frozen starchy stuff served anywhere else, flavored with shallots and good pork.

5. Eggs Benedict: Textbook good. The spinach cuts through the richness of the heavy sauce nicely.

6. Butterscotch Budino: Silky smooth butterscotch pudding, topped with a layer of caramel, a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly whipped cream. You won’t want to share this.

7. Fruit tart and white chocolate baguette: If you still have room, get a tart or any baked goods from their bakery. I usually take them home, mmm.

Writing about Bottega Louie is enough to make my mouth water—how fortunate am I to work just mere blocks away?


Bagna Cauda Mashed Potatoes

By Tsz on November 26, 2009

As my family’s self-designated mashed potato enthusiast, I’ve been tinkering with countless recipes over the years. Garlic, crumbled bacon, herbs, cream cheese—I’ve tried them all.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated with Bagna Cauda (translated as “hot bath”). An Italian (Piedmontese to be specific) staple, it’s a warm dip made with garlic, anchovies and olive oil and is eaten with bread and assorted vegetables. As I was preparing a fresh batch one evening, I thought to myself, “what if I put this in mashed potatoes?”

The rest, as they say, was history.

Bagna Cauda Mashed Potatoes
Serves 8

1 can chicken broth
9 Russet potatoes, peeled and quartered (about 3 1/2 pounds)
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 fillets of anchovy (packed in oil), minced
2 tablespoons anchovy oil from can (olive is fine as well)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon 21 Seasonings Salute mix from Trader Joe’s (optional)
1/4 cup sliced green onion

Bring chicken broth, a can of water (use the can from the chicken broth to measure), and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large saucepan. Add potatoes and cook, covered, over medium heat until fork tender, about 30 minutes. When done, remove potatoes from the heat. Drain and mash the potatoes.

Meanwhile, Heat oil in a small saucepan over low heat; add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add anchovies and sugar; cook until they dissolve into the garlic, about 2 minutes.

Add milk and heavy cream in garlic mixture and let simmer for 2 minutes. Then add salt and pepper to taste and spice if so desired. Pour the hot cream mixture over the mashed potatoes and mix well. Sprinkle green onions over and enjoy!