Tuesday, December 7, 2010

LudoBites - 12/06/2010

13355 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 784-2915

It seems inconceivable that I nearly missed out on LudoBites 6.0, but getting reservations has gotten more difficult with each iteration. I was prepared to sell my soul for a seat to the final evening, fortunately it didn't come to that as a friend had space for me at his table.

Mexican Mojito
6.0 is the first LudoBites that featured cocktails so it was only natural to try all three that were on offer this evening. This libation showed off a superb sweet-sour balance but more than that offered a vegetal tinge of fresh chili and the woody smoke of tequila, easily one of the best mojitos I've had in a while.

Yuzu Tequila Martini
A nice refreshing cocktail, the delicacy of the yuzu stood out clearly against the flavor of tequila.

Whisky Pumpkin Ginger
Conceptually perfect for the season, the drink lacked focus showing a vague spice and muddled flavor of whiskey.

Warm Baguette - Baratte Smoked Butter, Sardine-Laughing Cow Cheese
Ludo's bread course always impresses, this time it was the cheese infused with sardine that stood out. It would be easy to liken the cheese to salmon cream cheese, but that would downplay the complexity of the spread here.

Hamachi - Vietnamese Style
I don't know if the Vietnamese actually have Hamachi, but if they do one could only hope it would be as good as this. Reminiscent of the Thai-style Pork Belly from 5.0, this blends distinctly Asian aromatics and flavors with fresh yellowtail. If anything the fish is a footnote to the crisp delectable vegetables and heady fish sauce.

Escargot - Brussel Sprouts, Red Mole, Corn Ice Cream
I was really enamored of Ludo's boldness with this course, a daring preparation of escargot that doesn't fall back on the typical accompaniment of garlic butter. Oddly, the flavor reminded me of a cream filled donut, albeit with a disconcerting savoriness to it.

2007 Beck-Hartweg Riesling Grand Cru Frankstein, Alsace, France
A bit more expressive than the typical Alsatian, the wine exhibits a balanced mix of acid and sweetness. Stone fruit and citrus on the noes is backed up with a subtle spice on the palate.

Boudin Noir "Parmentier" - Apples, Mustard Tapioca
Ludo's previous Boudin Noir courses have been too monolithic, reminiscent of a savory chocolate cake. Styled after a shepherd's pie, this version was much more nuanced. The savoriness is balanced by the gravitas of the purple potato and sour tinge of the mustard pearls. I could get used to blood sausage like this.

White Rice Veloute - Marscarpone, Poached Egg, Spinach, Fresh Black Truffle, Parmesan Bubbles
Imagine the most exquisite congee in existence and you might have an inkling of what this dish is about. The creamy rice base is enhanced by the silky texture of molten egg and flavored with delicately cooked spinach and the the rich earthy aroma of the fresh truffle.

Marinated Mackerel - Leche Del Tigre, Baby Leeks, Verdougas Leaves
Creme brulee and mackerel, opposite ends on the savory sweet spectrum, only a mind as twisted and brilliant and Ludo's would think of combining the two. The skin of the fish is covered in sugar than blow torched and the resulting honey like sweetness is the perfect foil for the concentrated fishiness of the mackerel. The leche del tigre (ceviche marinade) adds a vibrant acidity to temper the savory-sweet juggernaut of the mackerel.

2008 Mas de Gourgonnier Rouge Les Baux de Provence, France
For our red, we chose a wine from Ludo's home. The red combines the richness of a heavier wine like Bordeaux with the terroir elements of Provence.

Salmon "a l'huile" - Somen Noodles, Carrots, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Grilled Salmon Roe
Raw marinated salmon has been a fixture of the last couple LudoBites but I've always thought the course needed more weight but this might be the best iteration yet. The key is the salmon roe; grilling gives the eggs a light char enhancing the flavor and increasing the viscosity. The added weight is critical in balancing the lighter mouth feel of the salmon and carrots.

Beef Tartare - Celery Root Remoulade, Red Port, Foie Gras Powder
The raw beef at 5.0 was arguably the strongest course of the iteration. In contrast to the strips of raw Wagyu, this tartare was lost amidst the bitterness of the celery root, giving the dish a milky washed out feel.

Roasted Pickled Foie Gras - Honey, Autumn Fruits, Rose Flowers
It wouldn't be a LudoBites dinner without some form of foie gras. Indeed this was one of his more conventional preparations, the delectably unctuous liver had a slight tang that was almost lost under the honey and rose. Some of my companions felt the fruit was overly sweet but I felt the fresh fruit had enough acidity to balance the sugar.

Cod - Smoked Potato, Pickled Bell Pepper, Pil-Pil Sauce, Amaranth
Incredible what Ludo can do with such a humble fish, the cod itself is faultless, succulent, tender, and flavorful. The simple beauty of the fish is complimented by the redolent herbaceousness of roasted red pepper.

Braised Veal Ravioli - Umami Broth, Dried Tuna, Radish & Gingerbread Mayo
They weren't kidding when they advertised the stock as "umami broth" the veal ravioli is infused and invigorated by the heady broth. The over-the-top broth was balanced by an unbridled bitterness from the crisp radish slices, an incredible meeting of two bold flavors.

Marinated Korean Steak - Crispy Kimchi, Radish, Bone Marrow, Shiso
Ludo's steak is always a treat and this was no different, the kimchi and pickled radish were reminiscent of Korean BBQ, perfect with the kalbi-like flavor of the beef.

Créme Fraiche Panna Cotta - Caramel, Caviar
A creation from his time at Bastide, the panna cotta has become one of Ludo's signatures and is his best dessert according to a leading authority (his wife). The core of this dessert is a the creamy smooth panna cotta canvas that highlights the interplay between the caramel and caviar.

Cantal Cheese Mikado - White Chocolate, Candied Black Olive
Apparently fromage has gone from verboten to kosher at LudoBites. The firm cheese exudes a tangy buttery flavor reminiscent of cheddar, mild enough to go with the sweet black olive.

Warm Carrot Cake - Coconut, Thai Curry, Mango Sorbet, Kaffir Lime Oil
The final dessert certainly lived up to its billing. Classic coconut milk curry, tangy fruit and citrus all with a piping hot moist cake.

ne never knows what to expect with each new iteration of LudoBites. 6.0 seemed more refined than most, many of the weaker courses from previous versions were much more impressive this time around, but at the same time there were fewer standouts. Considering how often Ludo re-imagines his cuisine, I have no doubt this is simply a matter of personal taste. Still after nine visits, LudoBites still has the ability to captivate and excite, it is my loss that I wasn't able to make it out here sooner.

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