Thursday, February 23, 2012

LudoBites 8.0 @ Lemon Moon - 02/22/2012

12200 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 442-9191

Surprise surprise, yet another restaurant closing, though it wouldn't be LudoBites if it didn't close. The opening night at 8.0 was the strongest LudoBites yet and I was looking forward to seeing how the menu had evolved over the ensuing month. Aside from the Chicken Crackling, Monkfish Liver, and Lemon Meringue, most of the dishes, even the vaunted Uni Crème Brûlée had undergone some adjustments.

Burgundy Gougères
This were much larger than the typical gougere and the resultant texture was noticeably airier but the pastries lacked the robust cheesiness that I was expecting.

Uni Crème Brûlée - Coffee
Next up was the much beloved Uni Crème Brûlée that has captivated diners this entire run. I even heard a rumor that Ludo ran out of Santa Barbara uni and had to scramble to acquire some from Japan. The dish is still wonderfully expressive, an amalgam of sugar and salinity with an additional bitter twist from the coffee.

Chicken Tandoori Crackling
Where the Burgundy Gougére is a stately amuse suited to haute cuisine, the Chicken Tandoori Crackling is a lusty morsel better suited to a gourmet gastropub. The chicken skin provides an overarching oiliness to the offaly twang of the chicken liver and the resulting combination has a flavor reminiscent of Chinese roast duck.

Sweet Shrimp - Miso Cream, Beans, Smoked Salmon
The sweet shrimp certainly lived up to its name with the miso enhancing the shellfish's natural sweetness. The mouth feel of the shrimp was softer than I liked and the starchy crunch of the beans was crucial to add some texture to the dish. The salmon proved to be the lynchpin for this dish, providing a smoky punch that tied the dish together.

Lobster Salad - Yuzu, Honey
I'd been fighting the beginnings of a cold and at this point I suspected that I was losing the ability to pick out some of the subtler details of the food. As a result the lobster salad tasted heavily of sweet yuzu, which coupled with the crunch of the lobster distilled this dish down to a lemon meringue lobster.

Black Truffle (French) Scrambled Eggs
At this point, my cold was beginning to affect my ability to smell as I could not detect the aroma of truffles that enraptured the rest of my table. Though I don't normally enjoy soft scrambled eggs, the onion was key to balancing the texture and flavor of the egg.

Celery Root Soup - Foie Gras, Mushrooms, Ash
The foie gras soup was my favorite course the last time around, but the dish has changed markedly since then. For starters the foie has changed from the star to a supporting element. This time around it was the hearty potage, a blend of bitter celery root and earthy mushroom.

Big Eye Tuna - Tahitian Vanilla, Somen, 7 Flavor Vinaigrette
This was probably the weakest course of the night. The noodle and fish were both nicely prepared but the vinaigrette was both a bit overcomplicated and too intense.

Monkfish Liver - Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds
I wasn't a huge fan of this dish the first time around but it seemed a bit more cohesive this time, perhaps my reduced sense of taste smoothed away some of the rough edges. Rather than the interplay between the liver and tangy accompaniments, it was the unique texture of the Ankimo juxtaposed against the crunchy coating that was foremost on my mind.

Steamed Foie Gras in Apple Cider - Apple Tapioca, Buckwheat
One of the things about Ludo is that he manages to be unconventional even when hes being conventional. Take the classic fruit and foie pairing here, the apple provides a funky tang that cuts through the fat of the liver, but it is the buckwheat with its crunch and toasty savor that really sets this dish apart.

Thai Snapper - Eucalyptus Oil, Potato, Leeks, Manzanilla
One of the things about a diminished sense of taste, is the greater appreciation for texture, and this might be the single most exquisite preparation of cooked snapper that I've ever had. I assume the potato and leeks would be some play on a vichyssoise, but the ingredients were fairly disparate. The savory fried potato thins are reminiscent of chips while the charred leeks add a burnt vegetal bitterness.

Scallop - Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Yogurt-Madras Curry
I've seen Ludo use the cauliflower and yogurt combination before but its always been a bit astringent and light for me. The problem here was I could barely taste the flavors though the scallop was expertly prepared as always, smooth slick and supple.

Veal - Black Olive Tapenade Crust, Orange Caramelized Endive, Clementine Beurre Blanc
The veal is designed to look like a piece of charcoal and it does indeed look pretty unappetizing. Under the oily black layer of olive tapenade the meat is cooked to a perfect medium rare. The meat is immensely flavorful and the olive is perfectly balanced with the veal's bovine sapor. The endive is perfectly charred and infused with the essence of clementine; the perfect foil for the heady flavor of the cow.

"Newport Pride Natural" Hanger Steak - Red Beets, Shallots, Goat Cheese
The last savory of the night was a rustic hanger steak, a cut that tends to be a more toothsome and flavorful cut than most. The goat cheese provides a gamy funk to the steak's clean flavors while the tangy shallots and crisp freshness of the beets counters the weight of the meat and cheese.

Creamy Saint-Nectaire - Salted Praline Butter
Visually this reminded me of the head cheese Ludo debuted at 7.0 and was every bit as spectacular. The cheese itself is a semi-soft cow's milk cheese. The flavor strikes a deft balance between soft acidity and rich earthy aroma. The thin lardo veil amps up the cheese's natural funk. Though our waiter said Ludo's goal was to make an adult version of Handi-Snacks, I thought the cheese was far to nuanced an elegant for such coarse comparisons.

Brown Butter Almond Cake - Apples, Salted Caramel, Orange Creamsicle
The first dessert was a dense sweet butter cake paired with fruit and a sticky salty caramel. Though the dish as a whole was delicious, it was the bracing flavor fresh orange zest from the creamsicle that was most exciting.

Lemon Meringue - Poppy Seed Crumble, Extra Virgin Olive Oil
This dessert was severely compromised by my condition, The bright flavor of lemon meringue and subtle flavor of the poppy seed were almost illusory. A real shame that I couldn't enjoy this course properly.

As much as I was bothered by the cold and my inability to taste or smell properly; it was an interesting to experience the slow loss of sensation and to see how much more apparent the texture became as the meal progressed. I began to appreciate the subtleties and nuances that would otherwise escaped notice. I had hopes that this would be the best LudoBites ever but my compromised sense of taste and smell made it hard to make a definitive judgement.

At the end of the night Ludo shared a well-earned glass of celebratory Cava with his crew then threw out the provocative claim "Last LudoBites in LA!"


Rodzilla said...

Sorry to hear about the cold my friend, but it still sounds like an enjoyable time.

I would be pretty disappointed by the foie taking a supporting role with the celery root. Further, I'm not sure how I feel about just raw sliced white-button mushrooms.

Still, I really need to make one of these.

Epicuryan said...

Yeah it was a bit surreal not being able to trust my own sense of taste.

You should try to make 9.0 in Hawaii. Why not take a vacation with your Ludo.