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The Last Night of LudoBites 4.0: It didn’t Bite, It Ruled

8 Jun
Friday, the 28th, was the last night of LudoBites 4.0. I don’t say this mildly, Ludo is without question the most interesting and exciting thing in the LA food scene. He dominates the Twitterazzi and has been written about and seen everywhere. The establishments like LA Times has made him a cover-story, my idol Ruth Reichl has given him a nod, and the food renegade The J Gold just can’t get enough, girls melt for him as a Top Chef Master contestant and all of LA loves their Ludo. We can talk about what makes him so appealing: the tattoos, the French accent, the fact that you make your reservations via Twitter but really what makes Ludo phenomenal is his imagination. The purpose of this new Mission Fruition project for me is to reach the elusive foodgasm and as we all know that is impossible without some foreplay. The key to foreplay is playing hard to get and LudoBites rules at this. His most awesome wife handles reservation via Twitter and they are booked within hours. As you probably know I am in the process of moving to SF so these last few weeks have been hitting up some famous LA spots that I have never tried. In the week of seeing Ludo I went to Animal and XIV, I am sorry waistline and wallet. A few Fridays ago was going to be a mellow eating day and then I was going to go crazy on Minty’s Gays and Dolls crawl in EaHoLA (my made up neighborhood name for Los Feliz/Silverlake). All I had was lentil soup for breakfast and was walking in to Mi Piace for a glass of wine and pizza with the Baron (yup, his family has Baron status and owns 80% of the Kosher wine market) when I got a DM on Twitter Kevin Eats saying he had an open spot at LudoBites at 6p. It was 2p then and I was well aware that it was the final Ludo night. The following day I was heading up north to SF to go apartment hunting and I knew this was an opportunity not to be missed. I responded “yes” with no hesitation and when he wrote back saying that we would be ordering the entire menu my order at this late lunch went from pizza to a side salad. I was beyond excited and moved around my whole schedule. Took a shower and rushed over to Gram and Papa’s for Ludo Bites. I was in such a fluster that I didn’t realize til Chinatown that I didn’t think of bringing a bottle of wine and of course Ludo is so cool and underground it is BYOB. I looked at the time and realized I should arrive first and think about walking across the street to get wine later. Gram and Papa’s isn’t in the best part of downtown and I was in a booty clinging skirt for the gay bars later but not appropriate for this hood. I was rattled, excited, nervous, and unsure of what this totally unplanned night held.

My table mates were already seated and there were 4 bottles of wine welcoming me. There were 5 of us, Kevin Eats, Epicuryan, Cookie Chomper, Food, Je T’Aime, and myself. They were wine armed and camera armed and I felt safe and able to relax. The first thing that was presented to us was a warm baguette. Everyone shot away and when it was my turn to snap, I said I had no interest in photographing bread and the table reminded me that this was Ludo Bread with Honey Lavender Butter and Smoked Lard. This was the last MF’n night of Ludo Bites 4.0 I better take pictures.

A few sips of wine later and the actualization that I was at the last night of LudoBites and probably wouldn’t be in LA for all of the future stints and I was happy. I let the plates be brought out and put in front of me. This was the lying there phase and it was fantastic. The food was gorgeous. And we didn’t even have to take time to think and order, we simply had it all coming to us. We got 11 appetizers, 5 main courses, and 2 desserts. Brace yourself. First up, was the Dorade Ceviche, Heirloom Tomato, Spring Onions, Lemon Honey Paste. This dish was, unfortunately, prettier than it was tasty. It probably would have worked better with more acid but dorade isn’t the tastiest of fish.

The next dish up had the texture of the most heavenly of dishes, it was cloud-like and delicious. I am not a huge fan of soft cheese, I like my cheese like I like my men. However, this cheese took brie to the next level and it is was as high as the sky. The Brie Chantilly, Honey Comb, Balsamic went together so fantastically. As mentioned, I have been dining very well lately and I have seen fresh honeycomb everywhere but it is almost always paired with blue cheese. Let me tell you, it goes so much better with this whipped brie.

Santa Barbara Prawn, Avocado, Passion Fruit, Cocktail Sauce was probably my least favorite of all of the dishes, but that was just based on my own personal food discrimination. I am neither a fan of cold shrimp or avocados. This dish started showing the Ludo creativity that I love but why did it have to be frozen avocado shavings? Every time I see my mom she always asks me, “have you finally come to your senses, do you NOW like avocado? Sadly the answer is no, but let’s just say that I loved the Corona granita that came a bit later.

Marinated King Salmon, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Crème Fraiche was the absolute prettiest dish. I snapped this one endlessly and I think it was around this time that our table got reprimanded by the chef and we were caught on TwitPic where a 1,000 people caught us in the act. Sorry Chef Ludo, but this dish was like the most beautiful watercolor and you were the artist. If I had to name the biggest food crime, it would be cooked salmon. Ludo gave this to me just how I like it: raw, pickled, and with cream. Oops sorry, I forgot, I am trying to no longer be uncouth.

Veal Tartar, Oysters, Almond Oil, Seaweed, Tonnato Sauce was a heavy dish with strong ocean tastes. One of the people at the the table didn’t get any veal in her bite and was unable to identify which menu item this was. I liked the veal tartar very much but it really played back up to the strong oyster and tonnato flavors.

The next dish up bothered some people at my table because it came across as a kind of fusion sushi that you would see done at a Wokano or something of the sort. It is not that big of a stretch because it was in a cone and because the words “spicy mayo” were used on the menu. However, Ludo’s Crispy Soft Shell Crab Cone, Spicy Mayo, Mango, Corona Granite dish was anything but amateur. This is where you see the true imagination of Ludo’s food. It is childlike but oh so sophisticated. The cold component is outside the cone and it has that perfect refreshing Corona taste. The cone was made of regular and black sesame seeds and filled with a fried soft shelled crab and the topping that you may expect on your cone was mango. I loved this dish. I was one of the few at the table who was at LudoBites 4.0 for the first time but apparently those numbers kept track of how many were served. Some of the people that went to the opening of LB 4.0 got single digits. On this closing night, I got lucky number 327! C’mon guy, we can talk numbers, we all shared the same dish….what number were you?

Foie Gras, Green Cabbage, Kimchi Consomme, Pickled Turnips, Sesame Oil Alright folks, I don’t want to blow my load too early but this was the dish. I only took one picture and giggled about how ugly it looked on my camera screen. But as any serious dater or eater knows, looks are deceiving. I will say that I did read earlier that day in The J Gold’s review that he loved this dish but the word kimchi in the title just made me shrug. I took a bite and knew that this dish was perfection. This was a perfect marriage between my culture, my palate, and my gourmand-ness. I have not really written very much yet about my dining companions but the one that invited me was Kevin Eats, who is probably best known for his infamous piece entitled, “Why are there so many Asian food bloggers?” Truth be said, if you like it or not that question comes up all the time, especially when I introduce people to this small incestuous little community. It is a reasonable question and at our table of 5 I was the only non-Asian and those are similar percentages to most blogger dinners I attend. I don’t mind at all and consider myself Asian in my heart. In fact, my next comment after hearing that question posed is, “If they are not Asian, then they are probably Jewish.” Asians and Jews are very culturally similar and you can draw many parallels in Kevin’s answer to that question. In fact, I have just as many memories making Chinese dumplings with my Jewish grandmother than I do making matzoh balls with her. This brings me to why I loved this dish so much. My grandma is no longer alive and one of the dishes that she made and I loved was stuffed cabbage. I have spent numerous hours looking for the perfect recipe online but I haven’t found it yet. Another thing I love is a good wonton soup and this had the exact same taste in the broth, probably from the vinegar, cabbage, and sesame oil. So not only did I have two strong comfort foods and flavors but then Ludo took this simpler comfort food to the next level and stuffed the cabbage with foie. The next level was reached and I was in heaven. For once, a whole table filled with food bloggers agreed that this was THE dish of the night.

For an encore, I bring you another dish that is rooted in comfort but kicked up to elegant fine dining. The Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur, Cherry-Amaretto Chutney was something that I really wanted to have during my two times at LudoBites 2.0 but both times it was sold out. I now can clearly see why. It is reminiscent of a childhood sandwich, perhaps a peanut butter and jelly. The bread is not white, it is black and dyed with squid ink. Instead of peanut butter you had a delicious and unctuous piece of foie gras, creamier and better than any butter. Rather than a plain jam you had a cherry-amaretto chutney that complemented the foie better than peanut butter goes with jelly.

The Ham Soup, Bread, Swiss Cheese, Radish, Cornichon, Guinness was reminiscent of something I had at LudoBites 2.0. In that older Ludo pop-up I had a cornichon, cantaloupe, and chorizo soup that I wasn’t that sure about. If there is one thing that I am sure about it is that I love cornichons. In fact, during a trip to the South of France I took a glass jar of cornichons back with me in my luggage. For the love of pickles, I risked all of my belongings ruined and plagued with the smell of pickle juice. I was happy that ingredient stayed. I went from one spoonful to many more saying “give me a second” as I was trying to gather and announce all of the tastes in my mouth. Not only was it a treasure hunt for tastes it was also a treasure hunt when someone discovered that there was bread with cheese on the bottom of the soup. It was another adventure and an all around fun dish.

One of my oldest friends in LA is Filipina and I remember her telling me long ago that as a kid she loved blood sausage but she never knew what it was. She simply called it chocolate and her parents gave it to her whenever she asked for chocolate. This seemed like the oddest confusion to me but after tasting the Boudin Noir Terrine, Apple Puree, Wasabi I have a much better understanding for the confusion. It is chocolaty and nutty, the apple and wasabi were nice and made this scary black square more appealing and gentle. I had a few bites but due to its rich characteristics I probably couldn’t eat more than that. Also, unlike my friend, I didn’t grow up with the dish and I know very well exactly what it is.

Alright, now we are on to main courses. The Squid “Carbonara”, Pancetta, Poached Egg (63°), Parmesan Snow, Chive Flowers was another dish that I heard about a lot on Twitter and the blogosphere. It sounded fantastic. However, I am a girl that loves her pasta so as fun of a a surprise ingredient the squid was I really wanted something nice and starchy to curb the heaviness of the parmesan.

Another thing I read prior to going to dinner that night was an article on how to eat your way to a tan. The next dish Monkfish, Baby Carrots, Carrot-Orange Coulis, Exotic Spices must have improved my coloring with all of those carrots and oranges. The flavors were all very sweet and took away from that beautiful piece of monkfish.

The next two dishes Braised Beef Cheeks, Escargot Red Wine Butter, Leek Salad, Roasted Eggplant and Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Dried Bonito, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint I didn’t pay as much attention to. Ludo was at the table then and I was getting all of the requisite shots. I heard that Ludo 5.0 would be in July and probably still be in downtown because he loves it there. I also remember saying that I wanted an entire artichoke to myself and so I selfishly grabbed that and was less interested in the meat on the plate, after all, I had a hot piece of  (*refrain*) with a French accent talking to me. I also remember eating that cube item stupidly by itself. It was a reduction of the beef au jus and black currant. It was super salty and probably paired nicely with the meat but, well, I am an idiot.

It’s all about Ludo’s Fried Chicken and damn it’s good. I first had it at the LA Street Food Fest where I was volunteering. A friend was waiting in line for hours to get a couple of those golf ball size pieces of chicken and kindly gave me one. That day was infamous for long lines and a ton of people and I can tell you that chicken has never tasted so good. After a long full dinner where I was totally satisfied and reached a mission fruition on the 5th appetizer, I can tell you that his chicken is just as good. The meat is dark and tender and the the fried batter is sprinkled with rosemary and thyme so it tastes as good as t smells. On this night, it wasn’t just the chicken the dish it was Fried Chicken, Coconut Polenta, Grilled Baby Corn, Diablo Sauce. The coconut polenta and the grilled corn gave it a nice summer tropical vibe and the diablo sauce was a nice accompaniment but I like my “LFC” as is and without sauce. Look for the Ludo Fried Chicken Truck hitting the streets of LA this summer!

There were two desserts on the menu this night. Organic Strawberry, Vanilla Whipped Cream & Lemon Verbena-Meringue and Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Vanilla Whipped Cream, Hot Chocolate Cream. While Ludo is not typically known for his desserts I thought both were quite nice. The strawberry dessert had the surprise element of poprocks and reminded me of the stereotypical girl dessert and the chocolate souffle was decedent and the boy version. While I am sure that I probably shouldn’t admit this or say it in this post about a Michelin starred chef but I thought the two dessert were as cute as McDonald’s when they ask if you want a girl or a boy toy with your Happy Meal. Yes, I occasionally want a Happy Meal with boot-shaped chicken nuggets and sweet n sour sauce (you see that Mickey D’s fried chicken needs sauce, Ludo’s does not). Anyway, I totally mean this as a compliment, the whole meal was a sophisticated culinary wonderland that brought in key elements from my childhood and my comfort spots.

All in all, this was the most fantastic dinner. I loved the food and it is sad how much of fine dining doesn’t have that imagination that LudoBites possesses. I am excited about all of his projects and remember to follow him and his awesome wife on Twitter to discover everything that will be unfolding this summer. As I said, in the beginning, they are a huge part of what is making the LA food scene so exciting! Yes, I will soon be living in San Francisco but I am sure that whenever I come to visit I will make LudoBites and the LFC truck a top destination. Here are other reports on this meal from my dining companions that will keep you updated on all the new exciting LA food trends from Ludo to beyond:

Kevin Eats

food, je t’aime

Epicuryan

Cookie Chomper

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Taste of the Nation LA 2010: Tasty & Fruitful

7 Jun

I am not sure about what I believe in but, without doubt, I know that I believe in synchronicity. I wrote in my UG and LA Goodbye post that you could see us, Josie and Carina, the OG UG girls at Taste of the Nation LA. However, then I had no idea how significant this event would be. For the last week, I have been up in Nor Cal apartment hunting and trying to get my new life in order. What I have really wanted to do more than anything is write on this site about all of the fantastic LA food that I have had in the last few weeks. I have been busy but on Friday night I finally completed and then accidentally deleted an entire post I wrote about the last night LudoBites 4.0. I was livid but had no time to fix it or rewrite it because I had to be in bed by 10:30P and out the door of my family’s house in Santa Cruz by 5:30A to make it to my TOTNLA volunteer duties back in LA. I was tired and after a very caffeinated Venti Chai and 44oz Diet Coke (which oddly enough was cheaper than the 24oz at the gas station) I was wide awake but with the need to pee every 20 minutes. I made it to the beautiful Media Park in Culver City just in time for my shift. I grabbed my volunteer shirt, went to the station, saw Josie and within minutes we were back to our old antics. We “worked” and, of course, began the day with the most healthy offering at the event…red velvet cupcakes from Sprinkles.

If you really want to know how bad I am, I went directly from those to a St. Germain Cocktail. It was my drink of the day and what I kept drinking even on into the after party.  Champagne, St. Germain, club soda, and a lemon peel was exactly what I needed on a sunny day after driving for 6.5 hours.

After some sugar, a drink, and the realization that I was no longer in a car with the need to pee, I was finally ready to delve into the food portion of the day. Just like last year, the food was beautiful, abundant and definitely did not disappoint. Some of the first dishes I had were actually my favorites and I don’t know if it was just me but I noticed a big crispy rice trend in many of the dishes and frozen adult slushies, both of which I loved immensely. The first dishes I tried were from a Culver City restaurant called K-Zo it was spicy tuna over crispy rice and then a spicy albacore roll. There was also a marinated albacore sashimi with radish and carrots that I loved. It was fresh, fatty, and oh so delicious!

Patina had a beautiful hamachi dish but I think it was a tie between K-Zo and XIV for the better sashimi.

Another common dish was meat and a starch or as Mattatouille said on Twitter, “Nice to see so many familiar faces at @TOTNLA. Food was good though too many beef/mashed potato the like dishes on a hot day.” Several  restaurants did it several different ways. Hatfields had short ribs over mashed potatoes with crispy rice, caramelized onions, and sea salt sprinkled on top. XIV had beef cheek with liquid corn on the cob. Tavern had a really nice piece of meat on a crostini with cheese on top. Lastly, there was the BLT Steak short rib tortelli that was another winner, it was delicate and well seasoned with fresh corn and mushrooms. Tavern was probably the most tender and delicious piece of meat, XIV had the most interesting side, and Hatfield’s was just a nice and solid dish. In fact it was really funny at the Hatfield’s tent because there was a huge line and the chef was thoughtful plating each dish an ingredient at a time. As soon as the meat was atop the mashed potatoes a guy in front of me in line was being polite and told me to take a plate. I said, “Thank you, but I don’t think he is done plating.” After we waited for the last three additions to be added, I happily took my plate first and this man in line with me looked very defeated. Thankfully this well put together dish cheered him up.

As previously mentioned, the other trend that I loved and supported were adult style slushies. They were refreshing on this hot day and alcohol is always a fantastic accompaniment to food. I had The Bazaar nitrogen Caipirinha and the cucumber adult slushie aka “Brain Freeze” from Marcel at Bar210

In attendance were some famous Top Chef Alum from Marcel to Michael Voltaggio. Michael did a live cooking demo for the event and I was unbelievably impressed by his dedication. He could have easily shown us an amazing and decedent dish to prepare but instead he really promoted the cause and did something much more meaningful. He made a healthy and delicious meal for 8 using $10 worth of ingredients. Also I never noticed it before but Marcel looks an awful lot like Ryan from The Office, although he is not this Michael’s crush. This Michael, Michael Voltaggio has another crush and that is ending childhood hunger. He was so impressed by TOTNLA and Strength that he got their famous apple logo tattooed on his calf, that my friends is dedication.

If you want to know about dedication, then I am the wrong person to ask as much as I was volunteering I was more interested in food. Josie and I had “Talent” on our name tags that wasn’t because we were the talent but rather we worked that station. It was our job to make sure the talent made it to  the stage and that the stage area was clean. The very funny Sklar brothers were the hosts and we offered to walk with one of them to hoard food for his wife and child who arrived late. While we were walking the tents, I ended up only getting food for myself. Side Note: the brothers had a funny bit about the TV show Hoarders and how they couldn’t delete any episodes of the show from their DVRs because they had so many memories of watching each of the episodes. Anyway here were some more of my favorites and even some Mission Fruition worthy dishes.

This one bite dish from Church & State totally allowed me to reach the elusive foodgasm. It was eggplant on the softest most delicate chickpea pancake. As soon as I took my first bite I reacted by saying “Baba Ghanoosh, that is good!” Another dish that I loved was no surprise, because I loved it last year as well. The miso ginger black cod in butter lettuce from Nobu West Hollywood is quite simply one of the greatest dishes ever. It is always perfect on hot days and Nobu has been doing this dish for years and way better than everyone else.

Another perfect dish that I loved was the Burmese melon salad from Susan Feniger’s Street. There were nuts, sesame seeds, fresh melon, and delicious coconut shavings that made this dish perfection. I love fruit and this dish brought me to fruition at first bite. Another sweet and seductive dish was the vanilla bean panna cotta from Mozza that came with fresh berries and a brittle. It was the creamiest panna cotta I have ever had and I loved that this dessert was not too sweet.

By far the most filling thing I ate was the hot dog from Fig. I had the one with pork belly and Fritos but I preferred the taco dog that Josie had with just about every taco topping smothering it. When we realized that we needed a picture of the two of us we each had a hot dog and I also had the lamb burger from Ford’s Filling Station (where I ended up last night at the unofficial after after party) in my hands. It was synchronicitic and something about yesterday just felt like old UG times.

The last Taste of the Nation LA event was an entirely different experience, for me, from the event this year. Both events had beautiful weather, delicious food, and both times I was overwhelmed by familiar faces and new tastes in my mouth. Last year, Uncouth Gourmands was just starting to make a name for itself and everything was exciting and new. I met new people, famous chefs, and reached multiple mission fruitions in my mouth. This year I arrived and it was more about closure. Yes, the food was fantastic and it was a good cause. But I really wanted to see old and new friends and say goodbye before I make my move. I rushed for that aspect of the event rather than just the food. I really feel that in going yesterday it made me more ready and able to move on. I have had a ton of amazing LA restaurants experiences, many of the restaurants were featured at this event, in the last few weeks to share with you and perhaps I needed this closure to start the ball rolling on this new site, more blogging, and my new life. I have already proved that I will drive down from NorCal in the wee AM morning hours and trust me a move to SF will not stop me from attending Taste of the Nation LA 2011…this is THE food event of the year! Just to tie it all together and prove that life really is synchronistic as I was downloading photos of the event on iPhoto I hit the Last 12 Months folder and this picture of Josie and I was taken exactly one year ago yesterday. We are still girls eating hot dogs but we are eating our own dogs and heading in two different directions.