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Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

LC’s BBQ

Posted by Austios on October 20, 2011

LC’s BBQ

As many of you are aware, I recently moved to Kansas City, Missouri, not to pursue a cooking opportunity, but to take a break from cooking in order to go back to school. I am taking a music program from a small bible school in the area. It is by no means a career change, while the plan right now is to return to cooking when I finish school, but who knows what’ll happen while I’m out here.

Any way, just because I’m in school doesn’t mean I will be not cooking still, whether it be at home for myself or to bless a classmate. Same goes with my writing. I enjoy writing and while I probably won’t have as much time (or money) to go out as much as I’d like, that will invariably affect the amount of time and material to write about. But I will do my best to occasionally post when I can.

Anyway, when I first arrived in Kansas City, my friend who had driven with me out here (yes, we drove) and I were taken to a nearby BBQ spot by a friend we both know out here who lives in Liberty. We had the burnt ends (Google it) at Oklahoma Joes a couple of days prior, and our friend told us that burnt ends at LC’s is much better, so we decided to work that into going there for lunch before I had to take my friend to the airport.

It was raining a little bit as I pulled up to this hole in the wall that was on the verge of being a shack. Not literally a shack, but it just kind of gave you that feel. There was a billow of smoke emanating from the chimney of the restaurant, meaning the BBQ pit was hard at work. That was a good sign.

Walking in, the place seemed kind of divey, but not in a bad way. I suppose that gave the place character. Everybody working there is African American, and I don’t know about you, but I hear that around these parts, black people know their “Q”.

I waited for my friends before ordering. Our friend told us the rib tips were good too, so my friend decided to get the burnt ends with a side of onion rings while I got the rib tips with a side of fried okra and then we would just pick off of each other’s plate.

One by one, our food was ready and we sat down and began to dig in. Everything smelled really good.

I picked up a rib tip with my fork and proceeded to work the meat off of the bone. The meat was really tender, had a nice smoke flavor, and was good both with and without the sauce. Yes, it was a little bit of a hassle with the bones, but I mean hey, that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

I tried the fried okra and that was good too. Now, I personally like okra, but I can understand why people don’t like it. These were good because instead of whole or larger pieces, these were sliced into ½ inch pieces.

Last but not least, I eventually got to the burnt ends. Oh man, overall, these burnt ends are better than at Oklahoma Joes. The pieces were larger, the meat was more tender and overall had a better flavor. Yes, some of the pieces were a little fattier than what they had at OK Joes, but man I loved these. Both these and the rib tips were served with Texas toast and white bread. The onion rings were good too… not super thick batter or oily.

Next time I come, I will definitely get the burnt ends for myself, but I want to try their ribs and their brisket. Maybe I should bring a couple of people so I don’t look like a fatty ordering all this food for myself. That or I’ll just have to keep going back, which I actually have no problem doing.

LC’s Bar-B-Q
5800 Blue Parkway
Kansas City, MO 64121
(816) 923-4484

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DineLA at Fraiche LA

Posted by Austios on March 26, 2011

A few weeks ago I donated some blood platelets to UCLA Immunogenetics for research (FREE MONEY!!!) and is actually the 2nd time I’ve done it in the past 9 months, but unlike the first time I did it, Ben Bailly wasn’t at the helm of Fraiche in Culver City. As most of you know, he just recently took over and has since done WONDERFUL things with the menu. I even was invited by him personally to come in to try some of his new menu items. That was a great meal in itself and was definitely in contention for meal of the year.

For one who lives in the San Gabriel Valley and have done so my entire live, more or less, I rarely go out to West LA for anything, except for food or a woman, but I digress. With that said, I decided to make the most of my late morning appointment at UCLA and decide to stop by the restaurant to reward myself for the good deed. Plus, I had to replenish those blood cells 😉 It also happened to be the 2nd week of Winter 2011 DineLA. Not that I would have had any problem paying full price, but I’m just saying.

Ben kinda knew I was coming because I had tweeted him the day before, so I asked the hostess to let him know I was there. As nice of a day it was, even though the tarps were down, I decided to sit and eat outside on the patio. Ben came out and was actually a little surprised to see me, to which I said “didn’t you see my tweets?”

As most of you know, I had just visited the restaurant back in November of 2010, not even a month after he had taken over the restaurant, in which he has revamped and retooled, putting his own personal touches on, including the beloved truffle burger.

I normally do not look at the menus for DineLA, but for this, I just had a peek. A lot of sounded good, but eventually went with the arugula salad as a starter, the grilled salmon as my entrée, and the ever popular caramel budino for dessert.

The salad came out and looked great. Lightly dressed, peppery arugula with finely diced chorizo, shaved manchego cheese, marcona almonds, and dried cranberries. Everything was a nice contrast to the arugula, with some saltiness and smokiness from the chorizo, a different saltiness from the cheese as well as the almonds, and then a touch of sweetness and tartness from the dried cranberries.

My salmon entrée came out and it looked really good. Cooked to medium rare (the way I like my salmon), on top of a bed of a sauté of farro, wild rice, and arugula. The rice was cooked nicely and seasoned well, and the tangerines and tangerine sauce added some nice mild acidity that helps bring out the flavor of the salmon

Lastly for dessert, the caramel budino. You really gotta love the Italians. They do justice to the awesomeness of a custard. Take the butterscotch budino at Pizzeria Mozza. How can you NOT love that? This one though, simply presented in a white ramekin with some sea salt and vanilla mascarpone, the growing trend of combining salty and sweet was just a perfect way to end a casual lunch. I actually wouldn’t have mind ordering another one, but I had to be good.

I don’t have to go on and on about how awesome this restaurant is and how much I love Ben Bailly and his food. I really hope I can continue to go time and time again, and that he will be there for a long time.

Fraiche LA
9411 Culver Blvd,
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

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Fraiche LA: New Place, Same Ben

Posted by Austios on January 8, 2011

For about a year and a half, Chef Ben Bailly had been wowing both his loyal followers and his patrons at the wonderful Petrossian Café & Boutique in West Hollywood with signature dishes such as the Napolean tartare, truffle mac & cheese, and truffle burger. I was fortunate enough to dine at the restaurant during his tenure there and meet the man in person after having only interacted with him via Twitter prior.

In early November, I personally first heard word, from the man himself, that he was leaving Petrossian and moving on to somewhere else within LA. That night, he would not reveal where he was headed, but it was only a mere few days after did the news begin to spread that he would be taking over the kitchen at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City for Jason Travi, who was the chef/co-owner prior and is now the corporate chef for Jeffery Best, who is the proprietor of Firefly in Studio City, Mesa in Costa Mesa, and Darkroom on Melrose.

For the past couple of years, I had always wanted to go have dinner at Fraiche, but being out in West LA and for me living in Pasadena, it was a little bit of a trek and I never made it out. However, as much as I love Chef Ben, I knew I had to make an effort to go try the new menu as well as visit a friend. It actually wasn’t long until I had gotten my wish. One random day, Ben invited me into the restaurant to try the food and check things out. After a brief dialogue, I decided to go on a Monday evening, when I knew it wasn’t going to be terribly busy.

Fraiche is located in the heart of Downtown Culver City, which is actually quite a nice neighborhood relative to the surrounding areas. There also is quite a nice mix of eateries as well, including Kay & Dave’s, Libra Brazilian Steakhouse, Tender Greens, Akasha, and Ford’s Filling Station, as well as many others.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous with a warm and welcoming color scheme, a cozy bar and lounge area, and a beautiful open kitchen. The hostess told Chef Ben I had arrived and he briefly came out to greet me. He asked if I was hungry, to which I subtly concurred and he said to just have a seat and that he’d take care of me. I was seated in the back corner of the dining room, relatively near the kitchen and took in the beauty of the restaurant. And yes, I was by myself.

Ben came out again and told me I didn’t need to order and that he would just send me out various dishes. I trusted his judgment and after our essentially 7 course meal when he was at Petrossian, he had an idea of how much I could eat.

My server, Gustavo, came by and I ordered a glass of the Venica & Venica Pinot Grigio from Italy. I was first presented a “bar snack” of almonds and olives tossed in olive oil and some orange rind.

My wine arrived soon after that, and not long after that, my first course arrived. I was presented with “Vitello Tonnato”, or Veal Steak Tartare. The tartare was tossed in tonnato sauce, then topped with arugula and parmesan cheese. This was incredibly delicious and a great way to start with the meal. My wine actually paired quite well with this dish. Unintentional wine pairing, how sweet is that.

When I finished the tartare, the sommelier, Paul, stopped by and having been informed that Ben was going to just send me out random dishes, he asked if I wanted a wine pairing with my dinner. I paused for a second, but then told him maybe not every course, as I was thinking about needing to drive home afterward.

Next course to come out was the Housemade Agnolotti, stuffed with mascarpone and ricotta cheeses, served with crimini mushrooms and a truffle butter. The truffle butter permeated wonderfully and was a nice rich finish to the awesomeness of the agnolotti. Paul paired this with a Trefethen Chardonnay, from California. It was not too crisp and was slightly buttery, to compliment the truffle butter.

Next dish sent out was the Basil Risotto, served with chewy escargot, lemon oil, and tomato. The risotto was cooked very nice, and the escargot provided some added richness while the lemon oil and tomato provided subtle acidity to bring great harmony to the dish. Paul came out prior to the dish arriving, as he did with each course, going with a Sancerre from Domaine Cherrier in France. Another wonderful pairing. *Note – I was actually starting to get a little full at this point

Slightly to my amazement, the next course was yet another pasta dish, this time the lamb papardelle, with tomatoes, olives, and gruyere cheese. The lamb was nice and tender, the papardelle perfect, and dish having great balance and flavor. I, for one, love lamb, so this was a great dish, even though a third consecutive pasta dish nearly had me wishing I had worn my fat pants. Not that I have fat pants, but I could have uncouthly unbutton my belt. Not that I would have, but you know…

Not knowing how many courses Ben was planning on sending out, and starting to get really, really full, I was hoping there wasn’t much more. Ben took a short break from cooking, as it was getting into the later portion of service, to come out and check to see how I was doing. I complimented him on how everything was great, but conceded that was getting pretty full. He said he had one more dish to send out, then dessert, so at least I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.

Paul came by and brought the last wine, a Close du Prieur Pic St. Loup, from France, saying its earthiness would hold up to the truffle burger. Once he said truffle burger, I got really excited because that was the one dish I really wanted to try. I actually had tweeted about it like a week prior and I guess he remembered I had wanted to try it. Caroline was insanely jealous because she was actually a table over from me but did not receive the burger and had left long before it arrived at my table. The burger was just absolutely perfect. It had onion marmalade, boschetto, and truffle aioli. I devoured yet simultaneously enjoyed every morsel of that thing, and I polished off the fries as well, even though I was incredibly stuffed.

Finally, we arrive at dessert. I actually was hoping Paul would come out with a dessert wine, but alas, no dice. It’s ok, I probably had enough to drink anyway. What came out was the pistachio crème brulee, a dish I had at Petrossian, served with apricot sorbet and a rosemary shortbread crumble. The crème brulee was great like I remembered it, although the layer of burnt sugar was quite thick. The apricot was a nice pairing with the pistachio and the rosemary shortbread provide a hint of savoriness to the dish. It was garnished with a caramel sugar deco that was supposed to look like the wings of a dragonfly. *shrug*

Way beyond stuffed, I thanked Chef Ben for everything. I knew it would all be delicious, and I, in a way, wished I had been to Fraiche during the Travi days to have some sort of comparison, but Ben really delivered. We joked with each other during the later courses of my meal that I would probably need to sleep at the restaurant because I was so full and felt like I couldn’t move.

I cannot wait to return to try more of the food. Merci Chef!!!!

Fraiche LA
9411 Culver Blvd,
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

Fraiche in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Fraiche Culver City on Urbanspoon

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2010 Year in Review

Posted by Austios on December 31, 2010

I actually hadn’t thought about doing this, or rather, it slipped my mind. But thanks to Josie of Uncouth Gourmands, I was actually inspired to put out a sequel to my 2009 in review.

Looking back at 2010, it was again not the perfect year for a lot of things in my life, but I’m still here in this world doing what I love and having had another year filled with great food.

But let’s get right to the point, shall we?

January


I started this post with what actually might have been my best meal of 2010 if not in the top 3. As you all know, our beloved Ben Bailly has recently left his post at Petrossian Café & Boutique to take over the kitchen of Fraiche in Downtown Culver City. However, back in January of this year, Ben had only been at Petrossian for less than a year but was doing wonderful things with the menu. Ben and I had been following each other for just a few months but what I especially loved about him was his presence on twitter. He was very interactive and tweeted a lot, and he seemed like a really great guy, so I didn’t hesitate to tell him we were coming in for dinner during the first week of DineLA. I was originally supposed to come with Felicia, Andee and Anisha, but after some traffic issues, it ended up being only me and Felicia.

The entire meal was fantastic and I don’t think there was one dish that I didn’t even remotely enjoy. Everything we had that night was delicious but probably our favorite dish was Ben’s glorious truffle mac and cheese. It was just… *sigh*

Honorable Mention – Bone Marrow at Church & State and Pork Belly at Road to Seoul.

February


February was a very busy month in terms of the food I ate. I took my one and only trip of 2010 up to San Francisco and the bay area, in which I made my way in and throughout town eating what I could, and I probably didn’t even hit half of 1% of what the city has to offer. I literally was all over the place, spending my 3+ days equally between the City, Berkeley, and South Bay/San Jose. While my entire trip was filled with great food, as I usually try to whenever I travel. However, one of the many highlights, if not THE highlight of the trip was having dinner at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. For those of you who haven’t been or are familiar with Chez Panisse, they change their menu daily, as a sign of their commitment to put the freshest ingredients possible onto your plate. That evening, there seemed to a seafood theme throughout the menu, capped off by a grilled stripped bass with a black truffle sauce, celery root and sunchoke puree, chanterelle mushrooms, and braised escarole. That piece of fish might as well have been swimming when I arrived at the restaurant. You know the fish is fresh when it still tastes like the sea that it came out of. Not only was it obviously very very fresh, it was cooked PERFECTLY. Fabulous dish that could not have been executed any better.

Honorable Mention – Pork 2 ways at Gary Danko, Banana Cream Pie at Suzanne Tract’s Jar, and the Fried Chicken at Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen in Berkeley.

March


For those of you who know me, I may be Taiwanese, but I actually prefer down home American food. Burgers, pizza, chicken wings, steak, and sandwiches. So it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that March goes to none other than the Grilled Cheese and Short Rib sandwich from Joan’s on Third. I first learned about the sandwich when I received my February 2010 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, with aforementioned sandwich immediately beckoning me on the front cover. I just about near drooled on the fresh magazine when I saw this bad boy. I made a mental note of it and luckily a few weeks later, was able to convince Andee to join me for lunch.

The sandwich was just as good as it looked and it was a perfectly harmony of the tender short rib, melted cheese, arugula, and onions on buttery toasted bread. It was so good that I was even contemplating getting another one to go. I have since converted a handful of people onto that sandwich, including 2 of the Boobs4Food.

Honorable Mention – Beef Noodle Soup at Won Won Kitchen in Temple City, and Thai Slaw Dog at The Slaw Dogs in Pasadena.

April


April was a relatively slow month for eating, at least compared to January and February, with the exception of the first of two trips to Ludobites 4.0 at Grams & Papa’s in Downtown Los Angeles. Chef Ludo Lefebvre is Los Angeles’ other beloved French Chef, and along with his wife, Krissy, they have made such a booming sensation out of Ludobites, having had 2 more successful runs this year as well as launch the LudoTruck. While every dish that evening was wonderful, my favorites were probably the squid carbonara as well as the foie gras croquet monsieur, which actually was not on the menu that night but Krissy sent a couple out as a thank you for letting her switch our reservation to make room for Gordon Ramsay and his party, who actually ended up being a no show anyway.

Honorable Mention – Carne Asada burrito at El Metate in Pasadena and the Taiwanese Pork Chop banh mi (and just about everything else there) at Starry Kitchen in Downtown Los Angeles.

May


Not to sound a little redundant, but I would have to say my best meal of May 2010 was again at Ludobites 4.0. Yes, I went a 2nd time. There were some dishes that were the same, but there were a few different ones, including a soft shell crab cornet. That was really good and probably could have eaten about 5 or 6 of those on my own.

Honorable Mention – Combination burrito with carne asada at Tonny’s in Pasadena, a return visit to Road to Seoul in Koreatown, and the Honey Pork at Daisy Mint in Pasadena.

June


June was actually a pretty good month as well. As for the best meal of the month, I feel it was a tie between dinner at Grace and the Hatchi Dinner Series with Walter Manzke at Breadbar in Century City. Dinner at Grace was in fact their final night of service at their Beverly Blvd. location, as they are scheduled to reopen in the rectory building of the Virbiana Cathedral in Downtown LA sometime in 2011. Well, that is the plan but we all know how restaurant openings go. I was fortunate enough to attend this dinner courtesy of Kevin and was joined by Mike, Darin and Diana. We all indulged in the Chefs’ tasting menu with wine pairing. One of the highlights for me that evening was the roast suckling pig with potato gnocchi, chanterelle mushrooms, white asparagus, and pork jus. Pork perfection.

The Hatchi dinner with Walter Manzke was great as well and offered a great variety as the theme of the menu took us around the world. As well, all of that food that night was just magnificent, but the highlights for me was the white corn curry soup with mussels and tapioca. Great depth of flavor and balance.

Honorable Mention – Lamb Pita at Bella Pita in Westwood and the Katsu Curry with Rice at Suehiro Café in Little Tokyo.

July


The highlight of July was probably the double cut pork chop at Bistro 45 in Pasadena. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare and served with sautéed apples and a red wine reduction. I was trying to decide between this dish and another, and without hesitation, our server told me to get the pork chop. I personally love pork chops, so I’m so glad he told me to get it. Service at the restaurant was magnificent as well.

Honorable Mention – Sun-dried tomato, spinach, and artichoke pizza at Nonna’s Pizzeria in South Pasadena and the Nasi Bungkus at Simpang Asia in Culver City.

August
By far the highlight of August was when I went to Searsucker in San Diego, which is Chef Brian Malarkey’s (Top Chef Season 3) new restaurant. I am a big fan of Chef Malarkey and I love it down in San Diego, so I made sure I made time to go there for dinner. The space is massive but very beautiful and the food was great. The highlight was my main course, braised pork butt with bacon emulsion and peaches. The touch of thyme on the peaches was great and my pork was very tender and very flavorful, having been braised in a concoction containing both peach schnapps and peach brandy.

Honorable Mention – The ribs at Phil’s BBQ in San Diego

September


In what is one of the biggest landslides of a “margin of victory”, the highlight of September was my visit to Animal. Yes, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo are speaking my language just simply with the name of the restaurant. My friend and I loved everything we had, but by far our favorite, as evidenced when we got a 2nd order, was the pork belly sliders. The pork belly was perfect melt in your mouth, and I loved the slaw. I am SOOO sad I don’t have a picture of that bad boy. Well, I think my friend has a picture of it on her phone, but she hasn’t shared… yet.

Honorable Mention – Sliced Pork Belly at Daikokuya in Monterey Park and the Cowboy Ribeye at Arroyo Chophouse in Pasadena.

October


October was another relatively slow month in terms of eating, but by no means does that mean that the pork burger at Wood Spoon in Downtown LA was a result of there being nothing better to choose. The pork burger was seasoned with a lot of pepper, but not overpowering, and topped with pickled cabbage. It was very tender and juicy.

Honorable Mention – Kimchi Fries from Frysmith

November


As we begin to wind down my 2010 recap, I look back again at almost everything I’ve eaten and at the places I’ve been to and I’ve noticed, at least for a lot of places I’ve been to, it’s been the year of the pork belly. I’ve probably already mentioned pork belly at least half a dozen times in this post, and I’ve got one more going under the month of December. But I digress.

November was highlighted by a trip to Joe’s Restaurant in Venice. I was invited to my first media dinner ever and was treated to a wonderful array of 11 courses from Chef Joseph Miller and Chef de Cuisine Kris Tominga. Everything was great and Chef Joe Miller and all of the service staff did a marvelous job taking care of us that evening. One of my favorites definitely had to of been the lamb sirloin, cooked to a perfect medium rare, served with a beet risotto and lamb ragout. Aesthetically, the dish was very red, but it tasted awesome.

Honorable Mention – B.L.A.S.T. hotdog at Doghaus in Pasadena

December


Though I technically went in November, it was close enough to December that I’ll consider this (yes, I might be cheating a little) as December. I find it only befitting that as I began this post with a meal by Ben Bailly, I finish it with another meal by him, but this time at his new employer, Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City. While everything he sent out to me that night (I did NO ordering whatsoever) was AWESOME, I can’t thank him enough for sending me out the truffle burger, which is only on the lunch menu. By that time I was incredibly full, but like a true warrior, I finished that burger and enjoyed every little bit of it. Oh man… I still dream of it sometimes. (full post to come soon)

Honorable Mention – Pork Belly Sandwich at Forage in Silverlake and Lamb Shank at Mo-Chica in Downtown LA.

And thus is my 2010 year in review. I hope to continue to have more great food memories in 2011 and I leave you saying Happy New Year and cheers, love, and good food in 2011!!


image courtesy of this

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Joe’s Restaurant

Posted by Austios on November 26, 2010

For over 20 years, Chef Joe Miller has brought the people of Venice, particularly in the Abbot Kinney neighborhood, a casual yet refined take on California-French cuisine with dishes and tastes that have patrons returning time and time again. Over the years, while the neighborhood has apparently transformed into its now indie, trendy self, Joe’s has remained true to its original form.

I had the privilege of dining here not too long ago and was treated to an 11-course dinner alongside a handful of fellow food and writing enthusiasts. We were presented items from their new fall menu, and both Joe and his Chef de Cuisine, Kris Tominaga, both came out for each course to explain the dish in detail. Well, apparently Kris was a little shy and maybe came out twice during the entire meal.

One nice touch of the evening was that our menus were personalized, with a “Welcome ____” and signed by both Joe and Kris.

Glancing over the menu, it definitely did feature a lot of seasonally fall ingredients and all sounded quite enticing.

Starting our progression off was a charcuterie platter of pork, rabbit, duck, proscuitto, and chorizo with pickled vegetables and purple mustard. Between 4 people on my side of the table, I managed only a couple of small nibbles of the pork, chorizo, and proscuitto, but they were all quite good.

Our amuse bouche arrived: chestnut soup with parmesan froth and guanciale. For those of you who don’t know what guanciale is, it is an unsmoked Italian bacon made from a pig’s cheek meat. The flavor and texture of the soup was spot on and the parmesan froth lent out its natural saltiness to balance the subtle sweetness of the soup.

1st course was an Eastern fluke crudo with finger lime, radish salad, salted grape, and saletta. Some sort of 1-2 bite sashimi dish with citrus seems to be a more widely practiced opening course, especially since fresh local fish seems to be more readily available for restaurants. Also, a light fish such as this paired with citrus is just about a near perfect combination. The radish salad and salted grape provide wonderful herbaceous and sweet, respectively, contrasts.

Next came pan seared foie gras with persimmon prepared 2 ways, pistachio butter, brioche, and huckleberry vinaigrette. The piece of foie gras was seared wonderfully, and just being 1-2 bites, I attempted to get everything into one single bite. I will have to tell you, the way each element worked with each other, it just, well…. worked. I personally LOVE foie gras, so even this small 2 bite nugget was such a treat.

Next in the progression was pan roasted dayboat scallops, braised artichoke, sunchoke puree, cauliflower mushroom, and yuzu kosho butter. I personally LOVE scallops, so I was excited to see this dish. The other elements definitely brought a sense of the autumn season onto the plate, and the flavors were complimentary.

Staying in the ocean, we moved onto a grilled Fijiian escolar, with parsnip puree, local squid, crisp pork belly, fuyu persimmon, okinawan purple sweet potato, and pink peppercorn vinaigrette. Yes, quite a bit going on this plate. The fish was perfect, the parsnip puree had good flavor, however I wasn’t able to much of the other elements on the plate. Not because I don’t feel the flavors were prominent enough, but again, I was sharing the family style dishes with 3 other people.

Next course featured slow roasted jidori chicken breast and pistachio roulade, served with chestnut and foie agnolotti, Brussels sprouts, pancetta, and rutabaga puree. The chicken was nice and the pistachio added a wonderful nutty balance. The agnolotti was quite flavorful with the chestnut and a touch of foie gras. However, the brussel sprouts and rutabaga puree seemed to be lost in this dish.

As for a finale of our savory dishes, and what ended up being probably one of the favorite dishes of the evening: Sonoma lamb sirloin, served with a beet risotto and lamb ragout, with bulls blood greens. The lamb was absolutely cooked perfectly with no gaminess (several “Oh my God”s were said between I and one of my fellow diners), and the beet risotto had nice flavor and seasoned well, which was a little surprising because I was expecting the beet flavor to overpower a little. The bits of lamb swimming throughout added further subtle richness to the dish.

For dessert, we were offered 3 different dishes, all served simultaneously. The first of these was a pumpkin crème caramel, or flan, with pumpkin seed streusel, caramel, and chestnut ice cream. The custard had good flavor, but I couldn’t get over an apparent grittiness, however, the streusel and ice cream were wonderful texture and flavor contrasts.

Next dessert I tasted was a warm baked apple, with cranberry-caramel sauce, and allspice crème fraiche. While the flavors and textural contrasts were there (which I look for especially in dessert, I will be honest and say this was my least favorite of the 3. I hate to speak rather unfondly of dessert, especially being a pastry chef myself, but even those with a sweet tooth do not like everything in the dessert world.

The last of the desserts, and definitely my favorite of the 3, mascarpone cheesecake, with figs, candied pistachios, honey-cinnamon sauce, and vanilla ice cream. The cheesecake had great flavor and texture, and the other elements paired with each other quite nicely. I definitely may need to “steal” this idea for potentially future work.

While I heard my fellow diners mention that there were definitely some hits and misses throughout the progression, we all came to an accord that the meal was wonderful and that we all enjoyed it very much. I can now see why Joe’s has been around for such a long time, especially in these trying times and the way our economy has unintentionally forced other restaurants and food establishments to close their doors. Chef Joe’s loyal fans will probably never stop coming back, and I hope to soon dine here once again.

Joe’s Restaurant
1023 Abbot Kinney Ave.
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 392-5655

Joe's Restaurant in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Joe's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Searsucker: What San Diego Needs

Posted by Austios on August 13, 2010

For those of us not in the San Diego area or necessarily enveloped in the food and/or restaurant scene on a national level, we first became beknownst of Chef Brian Malarkey on Bravo TV’s Top Chef Season 3, specifically for his tongue twisting, longer than Padma’s beautiful hair, description of an elk dish in the elimination challenge that would have sent him to the 3 way finale. At the time, he was the Executive Chef at the Oceanaire Seafood Room in San Diego, CA. I had made a mental note to try the restaurant when I was in San Diego. Unfortunately in August of 2009, Malarkey vacated the helm of Oceanaire and in subsequent months, began revealing plans for another project.

The said project being Chef Malarkey’s first restaurant, Searsucker, which has been quite highly anticipated especially by San Diego locals.

A native of Oregon, Chef Malarkey grew up being exposed to his grandmother’s cooking, who coincidentally had James Beard often as a guest. That led him to enroll in the Western Culinary Institute’s Le Cordon Bleu program in Portland. After graduation, he has held various positions in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Seattle, before ultimately relocating to San Diego in 2004 as Executive Chef of the Oceaniare Seafood Room, in which in a mere 6 years, has won over 60 industry awards, including Malarkey being named San Diego’s Best Chef in 2009.

When talk about his new restaurant arose earlier this year, being from Los Angeles and not San Diego, there actually wasn’t that much I was hearing about it. I do follow him on Twitter, but there wasn’t much going on with that either. Then I believe randomly one day, I get a follow from “Searsucker” and I soon realize Chef Malarkey is attached to it and I realize that is his new restaurant.

Last week when I decided to go down to San Diego on one of my days off as a mini vacay as well as a personal retreat. Long story short, I had a relatively rough week piled on with a few things on my mind, so a little mini getaway was well needed. Plus, it had been several years since I have been to San Diego and I absolutely love it down there, so it was a natural pick. When I was deciding where to go for dinner, this place almost immediately came to mind because I had been seeing numerous tweets talking about the food and whatnot, so it was a clear sign that it was now open for business. I actually made a reservation for myself (though I probably didn’t need it) through Open Table and was set.

After spending a majority of the afternoon in Point Loma and enjoying relaxing at Cabrillo National Monument, I made the 20 minute drive, with a tiny bit of traffic, to the Gaslamp district of San Diego. The neighborhood is actually quite reminiscent of Downtown Long Beach, with a eclectic mix of restaurants, coffee shops, bars and pubs, and other miscellaneous stores and shops. The restaurant is right on the corner of 5th and Market, so it is quite hard to miss. Well, there is no signage outside, but the valet right outside is a good indicator. If you wish to skip out on the $15 valet, there are other options, such as one of the many parking lots and/or structures scattered throughout the area, or if you’re super lucky, manage to snag a spot on the street.

Being a Friday night right at the peak early dinner hour (6 PM), the streets were crawling with people. Upon entering the restaurant, I was greeted by 4 lovely young women. Well, there were 4 of them but I actually only really spoke to 2 of them. Behind them was the restaurant and the space that was inspired by Chef Malarkey’s childhood. This space actually used to be the retail store Z Gallerie, so it’s always impressive to see a restaurant be made out of a non-restaurant intended space. The bar area and lounge occupies about half if not a little more than half of the 7,000 square foot space, while the dining room and completely open kitchen occupy the other half. The transition from one side to the other is relatively seamless, as the only “divider” really is the lounge furniture. I checked in with one of the hostesses with my reservation and I was immediately led to my table, located near the far corner from the kitchen, which actually was ok because allowed me to observe the entire place and people watch. I mean, I was dining by myself, so what else is there for me to do?

Within a quick couple of minutes, my server, Laura, came by to introduce herself and let me know about any menu specials as well as take my beverage order. Looking over the menu and thinking about Malarkey’s concept for the food, his approach is a “twist on classic New-American dishes”. There was also a simplicity that exuded from the words on the menu. “Less is more” I guess you can say. I told Laura that I would just take water and look over the wine menu.

There were no wines, however, that really stuck out to me.

I had previously looked at the website (in which the menu actually was just posted a couple days prior) and 2 items in particular that stuck out to me: duck fat fries and bacon grits. The duck fat fries were an appetizer and the bacon grits were one of the a la carte sides dishes. I also read that one of their signatures was the pork butt. While waiting for Laura to return, I noticed the 2 Caucasian ladies in their 30s or 40s sitting next to me were having these little doughy bites. I looked the menu and I determined they were the cheese puffers, $2. I kindly asked if they were any good and one of them said it was “like a cheesy croissant” and she said they just sent it out and they didn’t order it. I figured for $2, why not. Laura returned and I told her I would definitely be getting the duck fat fries and the bacon grits. I told her I was thinking about the cheese puffers but wasn’t sure, to which she said they would be sending them out compliments of the chef anyway. That was easy. I then told her I was leaning towards the pork butt, but she went right ahead and said it was a very good choice. Again, her confidence in my selections made my life easier.

After a quick couple of minutes, the complimentary cheese puffers arrived. 4 pillowy sand dollar sized discs of cheesy goodness. I suppose aesthetically, when I hear “puffers”, I would imagine these to be, you know, “puffier”. Regardless, they were good and I almost ordered another.

Next, my duck fat fries arrived. Topped with crispy proscuitto “powder” and served with a side of sun-dried tomato jam, these were perfectly crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked on the inside. There actually wasn’t much presence from the duck fat, but the salty bits of proscuitto were nice. The tomato jam was good as well even though it was not really needed.

While I was still working on the fries (I told her to bring them as they came), the pork butt and bacon grits came out. Both looked and smelled absolutely wonderful.

I took my spoon and mixed up the grits. How can you go wrong with anything that has bacon in it? These were really good. Not life-changing good, but really good. I do have to say they were a little underseasoned, but luckily there were salt and pepper shakers on the table. I will have to also say that throughout my meal, as the grits continued to sit, it began to gelatinize a little. Not in an unpleasant way, but by the end, the consistency was close to what would be considered a medium polenta. I mean, yes, it’s cornmeal, it will continue to absorb any moisture even after you’re done cooking it, but I think its still something that can be fine-tuned. I’m just saying.

I didn’t waste any time digging into my braised pork butt. Served with grilled peaches and a bacon emulsion, I was ready to devour the plate. The pork easily pulled apart with slight effort from my fork and I kid you not, upon taking that first bite, my first reaction was “wow”. It was incredibly flavorful, tender and moist. I enjoyed every bite of it. The grilled peaches were a great accompaniment and I loved the touch of fresh thyme on top. Laura later told me the braising liquid contains both peach schnapps and peach brandy, further accenting the summer flavor. The bacon emulsion was great as well, but in all honesty, was not really needed. Laura even admitted the emulsion was not necessarily needed. I hope that comment didn’t just cost her her job.

At this point, I was incredibly full, but earlier that week, I had responded to one of the restaurant’s tweets (which apparently are tweeted by Chef Malarkey himself) that I would try their cinnamon sugar donuts, commenting that we have a similar dessert at the restaurant I work at, so I was determined to stick to my word and order the donuts. I ordered a cappuccino to go along side that.

The cappuccino came first, and was nicely presented alongside a small cast iron pot with cubes of sugar and sugar packets. I thought that was a nice little touch. I’m no coffee expert but the cappuccino was good. There was A LOT of foam though

The donuts finally arrived and while I was probably expecting something along the size that our restaurant serves (a little smaller than a tennis ball), these were actually donut holes. Served alongside a small ramekin of malted chocolate cream, the donuts nice crunchy, bit size pieces of sugary goodness. Because of their shear tinyness, it’s nearly impossible for the middle to be soft and pillowy as you would normally imagine from “normal” sized donuts, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right? The malted chocolate cream appeared to be partially whipped so it had a thicker consistency than what we have at our restaurant, but I was actually really good.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner. Throughout the night, Chef Malarkey took the time to personally go to different tables to check and see how everything was. He also was fulfilling requests for those who wanted to speak with him and/or take a photograph. I actually took advantage of that and got a chance to speak with him briefly and introduce myself. He’s genuinely a really nice guy and doesn’t have any air of arrogance or anything. Not that he has ever gotten that rap, but I’ve met a couple of chefs who I thought were really cool but when I met them, seemed a little arrogant. But then again maybe I just caught them on a bad day. Chef Malarkey left me saying “Tell everybody in LA to come check us out!” really enthusiastically. I love that.

While I am not a San Diego native nor have I frequently any of the surrounding businesses, I can definitely see why some of the buzz surrounding this place claims that this is the type of eatery that the Gaslamp district needs.

I definitely cannot wait until my next trip to San Diego, because yes, I will definitely be making reservations here again.

Thank you Chef Malarkey!

Searsucker
611 5th Ave.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 233-7327

Searsucker in San Diego on Fooddigger

Searsucker on Urbanspoon

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Hatchi Dinner Series: Chef Walter Manzke

Posted by Austios on July 21, 2010

Last time I went to a Hatchi Dinner Series dinner at Breadbar in Century City, (now former) Chef de Cuisine of the Dining Room at The Langham in Pasadena and yet to be Top Chef 6 winner Michael Voltaggio wowed us with an array of textures and flavors while delving into his expansive knowledge of molecular gastronomy. I was thoroughly impressed that evening and I will admit, that is when I started having a chef/man crush on him.

I was also supposed to go to Marcel Vigneron’s Hatchi dinner in December of ’09, but I ended up having to work with Chef Ludo at Ludobites 3.0 at Royal/T in Culver City, so I was forced to give my spot to a friend.

Then back in January, I was introduced to Walter Manzke, who at the time was the executive chef at Church & State Bistro in Downtown LA, when I had lunch there with Nicola, Andee, and A.K courtesy of a 30% off lunch coupon from Blackboard Eats. I was quite impressed with the food overall and having a brief chance to meet and chat with Chef Manzke, he quickly became a chef I look up to and began to follow.

Finally a couple months ago when it was announced that Chef Manzke would be the guest chef in the Hatchi Dinner Series for the month of June, there was a scramble to secure a reservation within the 4 hour time frame. I actually will admit that I did not find out about the dinner until it was already too late, but fortunately for me, my eating partner of sorts, Felicia, threw out a blast and asked if anybody wanted to jump in on her party of 6, which I was quick to snare up a spot.

The anticipation leading up to the evening was definitely buzzing. It turns out there were going to be A LOT of folks from twitterverse there that evening. After a few minutes of minor confusion and waiting, we finally were situated on the outskirts of the outdoor patio, RIGHT next to the hostess stand. I might as well have been sitting next to the escalator.

We were presented with menus and asked for water. Upon looking at the menu, the theme of the Chef Manzke’s menu was “Around the World in 8 Dishes”. I believe the Hatchi guest chefs usually have a theme with their menu. Michael Voltaggio’s theme was “An Experience of Textures & Flavors”. Usually the menu is posted up several days prior to the evening, however, I normally avoid looking at the menu prior to going in because I feel that takes away from any anticipation for the food I have. It’s one of my few rules I have when it comes to these kind of things.

At the great deal that is $8 per dish, with the exception of Ivan and Laura who shared, we all decided to get all 8 dishes. The only potential problem with that, as we learned first hand at the Voltaggio dinner, is that they might try to bring out all 8 dishes at once. We made sure to tell our server to space out the dishes, which she said of course she would. Maybe in these 11 months, they learned their lesson.

We actually started with the Breadbar Epi with foie gras butter. Yes, foie gras butter. The butter was well balanced with the honey geleé while the flecks of gold leaf provided for aesthetic luxury.

After a few minutes, we were presented with what we thought was the first dish, but it actually turned to be an amuse bouche. A grilled shrimp skewer with ceviche “sauce”. Presented playfully as a shot, the shrimp was cooked just right and the sauce added a subtle acidity.

For the first course, we were brought a dish that was inspired by Mexico. Yellowtail Ceviche with jalapeno and tomatillo sorbet. The yellowtail was really fresh and had it’s subtle richness. I did not get too much jalapeno, but the tomatillo sorbet as well as the avocado puree were both great contrasts to the fish. The bits of citrus added a pleasantly visual contrast as well as a touch of acidity.

Next we visited Thailand courtesy of a white corn curry soup, with mussels and coconut tapioca. This dish was very balanced and full of flavor. The corn definitely was able to stand up to the subtle curry while the texture was silky smooth. There were more than just a mere 3 or 4 mussels, which were cooked perfectly. Finally, the coconut tapioca provided a gentle textural contrast as well as impart a hint of coconut, rounding out the authentic flavor that the country is known for.

Moving along to Spain, we were brought a Santa Barbara Spot prawn, with garlic and sherry. A single prawn cut in half, was cooked just perfectly and the tapenade on top added a bright brininess to the dish. I personally love any kind of shrimp (or shellfish for that matter), so it was definitely nice to see Chef Manzke’s interpretation of a classic tapas dish utilizing this ingredient.

Returning to Southeast Asia, this time Vietnam, the next dish was a modern variation of a rather classic dish of the country: the banh mi. Pig’s Feet slider to be exact. Well, I take that back. I mean, sliders are not necessarily “modern”. But I digress. I will admit the crust on the trotter was maybe a little too thick, but the flavor was definitely there. The pickled vegetables were the only element that actually lead the mind back to a classic banh mi sandwich, but it definitely did help. The two accompanying sauces were good, but were not necessarily needed in my opinion.

Our next stop, Italy, brought forth a pasta dish: English pea ravioli with a soft egg and parmesan. While I appreciate the use of the ingredients (including a perfectly slow cooked egg) and the good execution of the dish, it just didn’t really do it for me. Luckily I was not the only one at our table with these sentiments.

Continuing on to France, the next dish was a dish reminiscent of his days at Church & State, a flatbread pizza. More specifically, a “tarte flambé”, with caramelized onions, bacon, and gruyere cheese. Um…. Did someone say “bacon”? Why yes, yes I did. I am also a lover of all forms of pizza, so this dish really was quite comforting to me. There was a wonderful balance of tastes with the sweetness of the caramelized onions, the saltiness of the bacon, and the subtle tanginess from the gruyere cheese. The outer edges of the crust did seem to be a little overdone, but that fortunately did not hinder the dish.

Making one more stop in Southeast Asia, we next visited the Philippines via a leche flan with pandan and coconut ice cream. The flan was delicious and silky, yet seemed kind of dense. We conceded that given the presentation, having a denser flan would help prevent breakage when transferring the sliced from pan to plate. The pandan was subtle and the coconut ice cream brought a nice balance and coolness to the dish.

Our final destination took us to Japan. For our 2nd dessert, as well as the final dish of the evening, was chocolate fondant with bing cherries, black sesame ice cream and green tea. The chocolate fondant itself was not necessarily my favorite, but the bing cherries brought nice slight tartness while the black sesame ice cream brought a pleasant level of nuttiness to the dish. The green tea, which actually was slightly reminiscent of a smoothie, was quite nice in serving almost like an aperitif.

Service was much better than our other Hatchi experience. Our server made sure to space out the dishes. Whoever had brought out our dishes were able to explain what we were having, which is a good managerial move. Just because some of them are getting paid only to bring out food and clear dirty dishes and not necessarily take orders doesn’t mean they shouldn’t know what they’re bringing out.

While there were lots of hits mixed with a few misses, overall I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. I think Chef Manzke definitely knows what he’s doing and has no problem delivering on the ever-increasing buzz surrounding his food and his cooking. While he is a chef that doesn’t necessarily delve into contemporary practices such as the use of liquid nitrogen, he definitely has done quite a good job in keeping up with what the people enjoy as well as mainstream food trends. I am highly anticipating the opening of his own restaurant, whenever and wherever that may be.

Bravo, Chef, bravo.

Hatchi Dinner Series
@ Bread Bar, Century City
Guest Chef, June 2010: Walter Manzke
10250 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067

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Grace: Revisted

Posted by Austios on June 30, 2010

On June 19, 2010, I had the privilege to have been invited by Kevin of Kevin Eats, joining Mike of Right Way To Eat, Darin of Darin Dines and Darin’s friend, Diana, for Grace Restaurant’s final night of service, before they permanently shutter their Beverly Blvd. location for a larger space in downtown. It has been reported that the space will be renovated and be reborn as “R26”, John Sedlar’s (Rivera Restaurant) apparent current project.

I have had dinner here once before, coming for DineLA in October of 2009. While that dinner was not a mind-expansion worthy experience, I was still quite very impressed with the caliber of Chef Neal Fraser’s cuisine and bold yet held back approach to the dishes. One of my favorite dishes that night was a heirloom tomato terrine with an herb salad, burrata cheese, and a passion fruit vinaigrette. Very crisp and refreshing flavors.

This meal, in my mind, was going to be a treat to myself for having just recently gotten a new job as well as taking advantage of having a Saturday night off, which most of you should have an idea is quite rare for someone who works in a restaurant. When I arrived at the restaurant, Kevin and Mike were standing outside as we were still waiting for Darin and Diana. Upon their arrival, we went inside to our table ready and awaiting us.

After some brief deliberation, in honor of their last night of service, we all decided to go big and get the 7-course Chef’s tasting menu for $100. At $60 per, Kevin and I split one wine pairing while Darin and Diana split another. As surprising as this sounds, I have to admit this is the first time I have ever ordered the Chef’s tasting menu ANYWHERE. I know… I’m a horrible foodie, shame on me.

I will have to agree with Kevin from his post that a lack of an amuse bouche is quite intriguing, as it’s almost guaranteed that if you are having a tasting menu or multi-course menu anywher, there is going to be an amuse bouche. Even when I catered a 7 course tasting menu last Autumn as part of my time as a private caterer, I had provided an amuse bouche and intermezzo, essentially making it into a 9 course meal. But I digress.

The first course started us off with sashimi of Japanese hamachi, or yellowtail for those of you who don’t know Japanese or sushi terminology. With fennel, radish, California olive oil, and sea beans, this was a rather nice and clean start to the meal. The fresh fennel and radish provided a bright contrast to the subtle fattiness of the fish, which was ever so slightly accentuated by the fruity olive oil. It was paired with a NV (non-vintage) brut rosé from Roederer Estates in Anderson Valley, CA. It matched the fruitiness of the olive oil.

Second course was Sautéed Day Boat Scallops, with English pea risotto, morel mushrooms, asparagus, and basil nage. The scallop was cooked perfectly, however, I don’t know what made the English pea risotto a risotto because I did not see, taste, or find any Arborio rice. The vegetables added a nice earthy balance to the dish. I do have to agree with Kevin in that the lobster sitting underneath the scallop was a little unnecessary and overcooked. This was paired with a 2006 Chardonnay “Acero”, from Marimar Estate Family in the California Russian River Valley. The moment the scallops hit the table, I could see why they brought out a Chardonnay.

Next course: Olive oil poached halibut with brandade, horseradish cream, and sherry gelée. The halibut was nice, but like Kevin, I actually enjoyed the brandade a little bit more. The horseradish cream provided a smooth and cool yet subtly spicy tang as the gelée offered a slightly sweet and sour note. Paired with a 2007 Gewürztraminer “Estival,” from Viñedo de los Vientos in Atlantida, Uruguay, I actually was not terribly impressed with how it went with the food. Not to say I could do better because I have the utmost respect for sommeliers and their finely tuned palettes, but it just didn’t work for me.

4th Course was a Sautéed Channel Island White Sea Bass with white beans, artichokes barigoule, and pistou. The fish was done just right and it’s light flakiness with it’s slightly salty and crispy skin was a nice balance with the creamy white beans and earthiness of the artichokes as well as taking a bit of herbiness from the pistou. This was paired with a 2007 Alvarinho from Aveleda in Monção, Portugal.

Our 5th course progressively moved onto land creatures, however this dish was a little off than something more straight forward. A slow cooked egg with spring onions, pork belly, chanterelle mushrooms, and white asparagus. It is naturally hard to imagine an egg as the focus of a dish when it is roommates with something as incredibly delectable as pork belly, but the piece of pork belly was rather small, intentionally, so that it would not overtake the egg as the “star” of the dish. The vegetables on the plate rounded out the subdued earthiness of the dish. This was paired with a 2008 Zweigelt from Umathum in Burgenland, Austria. I wasn’t a big fan of this pairing either. Again, it just didn’t do it for me.

For our last savory course, what is better than some sort of pork product? Well, perhaps some sort of beef dish, but once again, I digress. For this “entrée”, we were presented with an oven roasted suckling pig, served with potato gnocchi, chanterelle mushrooms, white asparagus and pork jus. The pork was well cooked with crispy skin, having great flavor and was seasoned well. The gnocchi were pretty standard and at least to me, seemed to be a little dense. I haven’t really had enough gnocchi to consider myself an “expert”, so perhaps that is just how they are supposed to be. I was however disappointed to see chanterelles and white asparagus make a curtain call appearance on consecutive dishes, no less within the same menu. I thought it was a “tasting menu faux paus” to use the same ingredients in more than one dish. When I used to do private catering, I rarely used the same ingredients in my dishes. I wanted to provide my clients with different flavors and textures, so using the same ingredient in different dishes would only hinder that goal. Regardless, this was still a solid dish. This was paired with a 2007 Zinfandel “Dry Farmed,” from Rancho Arroyo Grande in San Luis Obispo, California. This pairing worked quite well for me, as the pork helped bring out the stone fruit notes of the wine.

For dessert, which was a little bit of a surprise, actually was a selection of desserts, as opposed to all of us getting the same dessert. We were presented with a 2001 Semillon “The Straw Man,” from Sine Qua Non Mr. K in the Central Coast of California, which threw me off because the fruity notes of the wine made me to believe we were going to receive a fruit themed dessert. Instead, we had received the following:

Buttermilk Toasted Coconut Doughnuts – I have had a few of the doughnuts here at Grace before and they are quite good, so it is no surprise to see doughnuts as part of this selection of desserts. The doughnut itself was pretty standard with a rich, sticky glaze, but the toasted coconut brought the dish to a whole new level. The mascarpone ice cream was good, but I felt was unneeded in this dish

Salt & Pepper Caramel Doughnuts – These are the particular doughnuts I’ve had before. The combination of salty and sweet is just wonderful. If you have never had these doughnuts before, you can still experience Grace’s “Doughnut Shoppe” on Wednesdays down the street at BLD. Served with mascarpone ice cream, it again seemed unnecessary.

Sticky Toffee Pudding – I have previously had this dessert as well and it was just as good as the first time. The flavor reminded me of the toffee cake we have where I work, but this was more subtle and more simple. The toffee brought out a different level of richness to the cake, and the bruléed bananas and hazelnut gelato were perfect accompaniments.

Honey Pain Perdu – with lavender ice cream, meyer lemon curd and pistachios. The honey was quite subtle, as was the ice cream, while agreeing with Kevin, the lemon curd did seem to be prominent flavor of the dish. The pistachios provided a nice textural contrast to the fluffy pain perdu.

Chocolate Soufflé Cake Affogato – with vanilla malt ice cream, toasted almonds, espresso syrup. The cake was delicate yet rich and was wonderfully accented by the espresso syrup, which the ice cream brought forth a balancing creamy aspect. I again agree with Kevin and did not get much of the almonds. Actually, looking at the photo, it looks like they forgot the almonds completely.

When the night was complete, we were quite satisfied and overall very pleased with our meal. While there were some lowlights throughout the progression, there were definitely enough standouts to take center stage. While I am a bit saddened to see Grace close its doors on this location, I am very much anticipating it’s revival in its historic new space in Downtown LA.

Grace Restaurant
7360 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 934-4400

Grace Restaurant in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

Grace on Urbanspoon

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Ludobites 4.0: Grams & Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag

Posted by Austios on April 16, 2010

Naturally, when we all heard the announcement of Ludobites 4.0, then the location, then when the reservation system came open, the Ludo faithful (myself included) couldn’t help but involuntarily jump up and down for joy. Call me biased, but ever since working for him at Ludobites 3.0, I have been following as closely as I can and literally within 5 minutes of the reservation system going up, I had secured 2 for myself. Good thing I wasted no time, as Krissy had proudly posted on Twitter a couple days later that they had sold out the near 2 months worth of reservations in a record 18 hours.

The first of my reservations was for this past Tuesday, April 13. I intentionally did not book a reservation for the first couple of days because even though Ludo is no newbie to opening a restaurant and running a kitchen, with essentially half of his staff being new on top of being in a space they are not 100% familiar with, I wanted to give all of them a few days to acclimate themselves and get into a rhythm. Actually, the few days leading up to this reservation posed to be quite interesting. Last Friday, I received an email from Krissy asking if we could move our reservation from 7 PM up to 6:30, saying that she had a VIP wanting to come in at 9 PM. 5 minutes later, I get another email from her saying that now that VIP wanted to come in earlier at 6, asking if we could move back to 8:30. After confirming with my party about the change, I gave Krissy the green light to move us back to 8:30.

I suppose now that its after the fact, the VIP that she was frantically trying to accommodate was none other than Gordon Ramsay, to which I just laughed. She told me she’d make it up to me for being so understanding.

Upon pulling up to Grams & Papas in a relatively quiet and unsuspecting intersection of Downtown LA, my friend and I managed to find a parking spot right out front. I took that as a sign that tonight was going to be a good night.

The space itself is indeed quite small. The kitchen alone took up maybe a third of the space out front. Looking up at the far wall, it appears Grams & Papas is a sandwich shop of some sort. Their chalkboard menu looked enticing enough to want to try the place once Ludo leaves. Plus, any place willing to let Ludo come in and utilize the space after hours is my new friend. I looked around and tried to see Gordon Ramsay, but didn’t notice him anywhere. After a few minutes, Krissy came up to say hi, saying, “Gordon Ramsay was a no show, but we’ve got Graham Elliot (Bowles) back there”. In case you have no idea who that is, he, like Ludo, was on Top Chef Masters Season 1 and is one (again, along with Ludo, this time the same episode no less) of the 6 returning chefs for Season 2. He is the Chef/Owner of Graham Elliot Restaurant in Chicago.

As we were waiting, I saw Matthew of Mattatouille dressed in a Ludobites shirt and pinstripe apron, surprised to see him working as a server. I know he’s a big foodie and blogger like most the rest of us are, but I didn’t know he was going to be serving for Ludo. We briefly chatted before I let him resume his duties. It was also nice to see veteran Ludobites server, Daria, working the floor.

The party that was at our projected table were taking their sweet time and we actually were not sat closer to 9 PM. No biggie though. As we were sitting down, Chef Bowles and his party were leaving and he happened to be standing right next to us amidst the commotion, so I took the opportunity to meet him and chat him up. It was actually then when Virginia asked him for a photo, in which Ludo got in on as well (photo to come). He was in town on some business and the brief few minutes chatting with him I was able to realize he’s just an all-around awesome guy. He’s now one of my favorite chefs and it will be hard to root for both him and Ludo when they compete next week on TCM (well, I’m still rooting for Ludo but let’s just say I’ll also being rooting that Bowles is the other chef to advance)

With a New York minute, Daria came by (to which I was glad she was our server) to give us our menus and take our beverage order. We unfortunately made the mistake of not bringing any of our own wine or whatever, a mistake I will not make again when I return on May 14. Looking over the menu, as Ludo has done every other time, there was a completely different set of dishes. The only returning dish was the brought back by popular demand foie gras croque-monsieur. Actually I take that back, it just so happened THAT particular night, it was NOT on the menu. But more on that later.

We started off with several of the tartine plates, which was simply a warm salted baguette with a beautiful lavender honey butter. The butter was magnificent and the lavender further permeated once spread on the warm bread.

Between the 6 of us, we decided to pair up and get our own appetizers and entrees, however, Allen and Virginia talked Jacqueline and myself into sharing all 4 entrees. Between Jacqueline and myself, we decided to order the burgundy escargot, pork cheek terrine, and the brie chantilly.

The brie chantilly was really good. The brie was so smooth and creamy. Of course, that’s what happens when you whip it for 2 hours. The honey comb and balsamic added just the right amount of sweet and acidic, respectively, balance to the dish. I probably could have had a whole bowl of the brie.

The burgundy escargot was really great as well. The escargot was crispy on the outside but pleasantly chewy on the inside. The garlic flan was nice, though Jacqueline and Angie thought it was too rich. I didn’t think so. The green jus seemed to be spinach and rounded out the dish. The presentation was just as stunning.

The pork cheek terrine, I have to grudgingly admit, was probably the least impressive dish of the night. I mean, normally any part of the swine is enough to send my mouth into gastronomical bliss, but overall, this didn’t wow me like all of the other dishes. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good, and the smoked mayo, apples, and German butter ball potatoes were cool, but yeah….

Actually, in fact, all of us had ordered the pork cheek terrine, but Daria soon returned to unfortunately report that there was only one order left, so I took it upon myself to order the ham soup for me and Jacqueline. We were both very happy I did. The soup was slightly reminiscent of the bread soup from 3.0, but this was more complex and more sophisticated. With croutons, swiss cheese, radishes, cornichons, and a guiness caviar, there was a lot going on in a spoonful of this dish, but none of it got lost amongst the other ingredients. This was one of my favorites of the night.

Next was a real treat and honestly, made me feel like I was a VIP. I just so happened to look at the menu earlier that day and noticed that there was NO foie gras croque-monsieur on the menu! Playfully, I immediately tweeted my utter dismay, but when Laura and I first arrived that night, I think as sign of appreciation for changing our reservation time because of Gordon Ramsay, when Krissy came to say hi, she said “I saved a couple croque-monsieurs for you” to which I literally jumped up and down in joy for. When it was brought out, I was so ecstatic that I yelled across the room to Ludo, “Merci Chef!”. As we all know, the foie gras croque was brought back by popular demand, and I cherished EVERY bite of this. I think Virginia got a picture of that and I’ll post it once she does.

Moving onto the entrees, first to come was the monkfish. Simply presented with Jardiniere de Legumes and vadouvan, the monkfish was cooked perfectly and was simple in flavors but was still really solid. I personally love monkfish and was not disappointed in this.

Next was the steak “au poivre”, which was grilled hangar steak with bone marrow polenta, shallots, white asparagus, and a black pepper coulis. The steak was a perfect medium rare and the polenta was so rich with the most ever subtle touch of marrow flavor. I have to tell you, Ludo makes THE BEST polentas I’ve ever had (Cantal cheese polenta at 3.0 that he paired with his LFC)

Our third entrée was a squid “carbonara”. Sauteed squid with pancetta, poached egg, parmesan “snow”, and sage. The squid was really great, the pancetta added that much needed saltiness in a carbonara. We collectively were disappointed when I broke into a yolk and we were all expecting a runny yolk to run over the dish, but alas, the yolk had coagulated to what’s similar to a medium boiled egg. Despite that, this was another top dish of the evening.

It was at this point when Krissy came to us with 2 bowls of what apparently was a misfire of the white asparagus veloute. Basically, we were becoming the beneficiaries of a mistake by the kitchen. A couple people at thought this was a little rich, but I thought it was just right. With mozzarella, shaved fennel, candied olives, and salmon roe, I think it was a well balanced dish and the pop of the roe added a nice salty balance.

The 4th and final entrée of the night was the rack of lamb with fresh goat cheese, smoked eel, artichokes, potato mousseline, and mint. The lamb wasn’t gamey and cooked perfectly, however, nothing else on the plate wasn’t much of a huge wow factor, but again, a very solid dish. I could probably have an entire plate of those lamb chops though.

Finally, for dessert, as a table we ordered one each of the dark chocolate soufflé and the caramel religieuse. I don’t even want to attempt to pronounce that last one. The religieuse came out first and was basically a large ball of pate a choux with an “a tete” (“with head” in French). Breaking into it, there was a burnt caramel cream. So essentially, this was a glorified cream puff, just 100 times better than what you would find at a place like Beard Papas. With salted butter topping and caramel sauce on the side, this was really good. Some may not like that burnt caramel taste, but I loved it.

And last but not least, the dark chocolate soufflé. I couldn’t tell if they were making these to order or if they had the batter premade and only baked them to order. I mean, when I was at Scott’s Seafood Costa Mesa, our soufflé batter had so much flour in it that a large batch would last about 3 days and we just were simply baking them to order. Regardless, this was a good soufflé. It was served with vanilla black pepper ice cream and chocolate cream. The ice cream was different but good. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like soufflé and this was the perfect way to end the evening.

When all was said and done, we actually ended up being the 2nd to last table in the restaurant. Of course it was about 11:00 and we took the opportunity to chat up Ludo, as I invited him to sit down with us. We chatted about this and that and our conversation, thanks mainly to Angie, consisted of some dicey topics. I hope Ludo doesn’t think all my friends are weirdos. Just kidding, I love you guys. Ludo proudly showed us his latest tattoo, the “raging coq” that we all have now come to associate with Ludobites. Krissy apparently has one as well on her back.

We ended the evening taking group shots with Ludo, Krissy, and Daria.

Once again, Chef Ludo has not fallen short of wowing us with his simple yet creative and at times, whimsical dishes. And yes, you can probably say I’m a little biased because I’ve worked for the guy, which I’ll admit is maybe partially true, but having gotten to know him a little bit and his style of food, he just loves to cook and puts out really good food. That right there wants me to go back time and time again, regardless of who’s behind the stove.

Actually, in fact, I am going back for part deux next month 😉

Ludobites @ Grams & Papa’s
227 E. 9th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 624-7272

Ludo Bites 4.0 at Gram and Papa's in Los Angeles
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Joan’s on Third: Love At First Bite

Posted by Austios on March 18, 2010

Do you believe in “love at first sight”? I personally don’t, and I can’t think of anybody I know who does. But I’m sure there are people (maybe you) that do believe in it, maybe not for themselves, but of its existence. As a God-fearing human being, I just simply don’t believe it for anybody. But I digress.

I am, however, the type of person, that when it comes to lots of foods, just the mere mention or sight (i.e. a photograph), I get an instant craving. Well, mainly at the mention of a food. At the sight of a photograph, especially if I read up on it and find out that the restaurant that produces such dish is local, I begin to covet. Yes, my religion forbids me to covet, but what’s the harm in coveting food? And I’m not talking about gluttony. There’s a fine line between loving to eat and gluttony. I fortunately fall into the former category.

Such is the above case with this bad boy:

That, my friends, is the grilled cheese and short rib sandwich from Joan’s on Third in Los Angeles. I subscribe to Bon Appetit and once I saw this cover and what page it was on, I immediately flipped to said page (as well as almost drool on my fresh magazine). Bon Appetit had this section which is basically a reader recipe request, in which they send in a request for the recipe of something they had and loved at a restaurant they went to and BA will respond by posting it in the magazine. So yes, this means I do have the recipe of this sandwich and technically can make it at home.

Once I realized this was from Joan’s on Third, I immediately made note of it to come in one day and have this sandwich.

Just the other day I had decided I was going to go in this week for lunch for the sandwich as well as go down the street to Kiss My Bundt for dessert. Long story short, I was able to get Andrea from LA Easy Meals to join me and decided to meet her for lunch today, of all days, St. Patrick’s Day.

After parking in the surrounding residential neighborhood *cough* 2 hours 8AM-6PM *cough*, and walking up, there was quite a bit of outdoor seating. Walking in, to my pleasant surprise, this place is more than just a restaurant. It’s also a food boutique with a bakery counter, small gourmet foods market, as well as a charcuterie and cheese counter. They also had an assortment of confections, chocolates, and candy for the Easter season. I arrived before Andrea did and walked around the for sale items while I waited. This area reminds me of Nicole Gourmet Foods in South Pasadena.

I really liked the minimalist decor this place had. The tables on the inside were marble top, the floor was bathroom-esque tile, but beyond that, pretty simple. The place, while not insanely crowded, was still hustling and bustling during the mid-week lunch hour. When Andrea arrived, we went up to the sandwich/deli counter. They actually had a moderately sized poster of the Bon Appetit cover hanging from the ceiling. I though that was cool. When I got to the front, the guy asked me what I wanted

“I want that” pointing to the poster. The guy just smiled and put it in. I also ordered a side of the bocconcini(?), which was basically little balls of fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, chiffonade basil tossed in olive oil. I personally love fresh mozzarella so it was a no brainer. Andrea apparently ordered a sampler of salads. Well, not like leafy salads, but I one was like some curried chickpea salad? *shrug*

She also got an order of roasted vegetables.

My bocconcini was simple but good. Same profile as a caprese, but this is just a simple way of doing it.

However, I finally took a bite of my sandwich and immediately was transported to degustational bliss. Yes, I probably just made up that word. Wait no, I’ve used “degustational” before. As Krista, the owner of Kiss My Bundt just down the street told me via twitter, the bread was perfectly crispy and not too greasy, and the entire sandwich just worked so well. The caramelized onions are actually pickled, which simply vinegar and sugar are added to the caramelized onions in the pot until all of the vinegar is absorbed. The short rib was moist and tender and there was just the perfect amount of melty cheese. I will have to say the arugula got lost amongst the other ingredients, but it’s cool that its there.

Within just a couple of bites, I had already determined this was probably one of the top 3 sandwiches I’ve ever had. Actually could arguably be THE best sandwich I’ve ever had. The Godmother from Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica is definitely up there. And then there’s the bbq pulled pork sandwich from The Oinkster in Eagle Rock. Yes, definitely top 3.

Though unlike other grilled cheese sandwiches, this one was still REALLY REALLY good at room temperature. Natassia of Let Me Eat Cake, who apparently is a manager here at Joan’s on Third, had come by to chat it up and talk. We hadn’t met in person so it was cool to finally meet. But again, allowing my sandwich to get “cold” after our chatting, the sandwich was stilll AMAZING. And also, as Krista and I had agreed when we went in to her shop that the bread was still crispy after sitting for so long and did not get soggy from the short rib or the cheese. THAT, my friends, is a result of good toasting.

Damn, just writing this up makes me want another one of those sandwiches. I seriously was *THIS* close to going back and taking another sandwich to go after our visit to Kiss My Bundt. It is seriously to die for!

I am VERY happy to know that the sandwich was as good as it looked.

Joan’s on Third
8350 W. 3rd St.
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Joan's on Third in Los Angeles
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