Thursday, August 7, 2008

To know the best of LA, we have to venture out sometimes

My trip to The French Laundry was a culinary I embarked on 3 weeks ago, when I got an email that Thursday, July 17th.

'French Laundry, 8:00 Saturday. You in?'

By Thursday afternoon, we had booked a flight to Oakland, and reserved a car for the drive into Yountville. We arrived Saturday afternoon, about 1:00 pm and rented our car. We met up with Jan and Brian and they led the way in their rental. During the hour and a half drive, we spoke minimally of our expectations for that evening's meal. At one point, Marshal was saying he would be happy if the quality matched that of Todai.

As we arrived in Napa, Brian called and said he wanted to visit a winery before checking into his hotel. We debated whether we should hit the Eagle or the Crow, but decided we would be better off hitting Sterling. Although the wine was below par, the vineyard was gorgeous...a nice amuse-bouche, if you will, that really helped us mentally segue from the hectic LA life to the relaxed, rolling hills of vines feel of Napa. By the time we left Sterling, it was 6:00...only two hours til our reservation. We barely drive 20 feet, following Brian and Jan, when Brian stopped and hopped out.'We wanna go see a's only 15 minutes away. There's plenty of time!'OK...we're relaxed. Why not. As we exited the vineyard, Brian again stopped...this time on the side of the road. He hopped out of the car and ran over.

'Jan and I are gonna pick some wild blackberries!'

'ok Brian', Marshal says. For the next few minutes, we watched Brian and Jan pick wild blackberries from these bushes on the side of the road. I thought to myself...what the hell? I hopped out and joined them. After 15 minutes, we headed for the geyser, which was in Calistoga. Brian was right, it was 15 minutes away. Unfortunately, it had taken us an hour to get to Sterling from Napa, with the traffic and all. The geyser erupted every 40 minutes or so, with the next eruption expected in 15-20 minutes. We waited around and fed the animals. Finally, steam started rising from the hole in the ground, and for ten minutes after that, water spewed into the air. 'The sky is officially pregnant', whispered Marshal.

At that point, it was 7:00. Luckily, Brian saw another route on the map and we made it back to the hotel. He checked in and we were able to change. We got to the restaurant at 8:15...not bad, considering I had visions of us eating chicken pot pie at Marie Callendar's. To this day, I don't understand how he does it. If it were me and Marshal, we would have been waiting at the door at 6:00...not berry picking or geyser watching. But Brian has this calm about him and we knew we'd be on time.

The four of us met Jane and John. From the moment we walked in, the feeling that everything was taken care of set in. Someone politely took the wines we brought, and someone else seated us. Within mere moments, the sommalier, Christopher, came to us and informed us that our bordeaux was uncorked and decanting, and our reisling was on ice. Upon explanation of the two tasting menus, we were prompted to choose. Then, Christopher came and discussed with us how we wanted to approach the meal with the wines. Considering their wine list is 105 pages long, we quickly decided to give him a price range and gave him carte blanche to choose two additional bottles to go with the two Marshal brought, and the two John brought. Unsurprisingly, we all chose the normal tasting menu over the vegetarian one. Within the 9 course tasting menu, there were choices.

In order, we had:
-a wild salmon amuse-bouche in a cone

-oysters and pearls-oysters and osetra in a warm tapioca sabayon. Paired nicely with a Meursault Chris chose.

-choice between a summer truffle salad or a foie gras terrine for an additional $30. Never have I had such an amazing interpretation of this dish. Those of us who ordered it sat in amazing quietness, as we savored the smooth texture of the terrine.

-choice of seared sea bass or grilled Japanese giant fin squid. Both of these were unremarkable, but I believe anything that followed that terrine had no chance.

-lobster claws poached in butter. These were tender, young more than a pound, pound and a half. I thought I was tired of lobster, but this presentation was amazing.

-choice of all day long braised Berkshire pork belly or veal sweetbreads. The belly was tender and sinful; the sweetbreads crispy on the outside, and tender on the inside. Both were incredible.

-aged sirloin, flanked by two different sauces, baby corn and morels. This is by far the best piece of meat I've ever had. It was rare, tender and extremely flavorful. We paired the bordeaux with it.

-Break time- They encourage you to go outside and relax on the patio for a bit, but we stayed in.

-Blue cheese panna cotta with a melon gelee. I can't say how amazing this dish was.

-cantaloupe sorbet with compressed melon. Sigh...

-choice of chocolate mousse cake topped with popcorn or cake topped with summer fruits. At this point, we were so full it was difficult to continue.

The tasting menu ended, and they proceeded to bring by four sweet dishes and coffee to end our meal. There was a nice creme brulee, a custard with hints of basil, shortbread cookies and candied nuts. After that, our waiter brought a tray of house made truffles. He offered six different types, and encouraged us to try them all. Throughout this meal, we were able to relax and enjoy the food. Seemingly, every thought we had was taken care of before it was even voiced. Our waiter provided us with impeccable service. Our sommalier provided us with great wines and even greater conversation. We stayed until 12:30 am, talking with Chris and with each other.

Did we think every dish was earth shattering? No. But that's the beauty of The French Laundry.

'In the end, a great meal is not about the food and the wine. A great meal is an emotional experience...a great meal is a kind of journey that returns you to sources of pleasure you may have forgotten and takes you to places you haven't been before.'

For three weeks, I've been trying to decide how I felt about our experience, how I felt about the food, how I felt about the restaurant. Then I browsed their website, and this quote from their Philosophy page said it all. Looking back, I realize how much just the thought of going to The French Laundry influenced our trip. From the initial email, to the flight two days later, to the sightseeing and berry was all a part of what The French Laundry inspired in us. Tasting the small samplings of each dish, we could almost see the thought put into the journey. With no ingredient repeated, we were subjected to memories of things past and experiences of things never encountered.

By the time Marshal and I got to the airport at 4:00 am(after a harrowing stop at a questionable Indian casino), we were emotionally spent and physically fatigued. We slept for 30 minutes in baggage claim, while waiting for TSA to open up the security checkpoint. We arrived at the gate and boarded our 6:00 am flight back to reality. The question this really the 5th best restaurant in the world? I think it is. The French Laundry gave me a memory and an emotional experience I shall never forget. Long lost feelings of home, comfort and a worry-free existence were brought back for one special night...feelings I thought gone. Since then, I've thought about The French Laundry almost every day. I've dreamt of her. It's almost like a love lost...a love I wish to have again. I've missed her dearly since I last saw her...I will see her again

The French Laundry in San Francisco

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I love cheese!

Beverly Hills Cheese Store
419 N. Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
I can't say that I've been to a lot of cheese stores. I'll buy cheese at Ralph's, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Bristol Farms. All of these places have some decent choices, with Whole Foods being the best of this bunch.
It's a completely different beast at the Beverly Hills Cheese Store. Not only do they have an incredible selection of cheese, wine, cured meats, olive oils and spreads, but their staff is incredibly knowledgeable on the different items.
When you first go in, you usually have to wait for someone to become available to help you. When you do get some assistance, you get the sole attention of that person. The salesperson then asks you what you like, and he will then give you samples of as many different things as you'd like to try. I don't know why, but I can't leave there without 5 different cheeses or meats, minimum.
The Beverly Hills Cheese Store is truly an amazing where you can sample some amazing cheeses and meats from around the globe. I learn so much every time I go there, and the service is great. The only time my salesperson takes his attention off of me is to say hello to regulars that steadily stream through the door. Pictured above is what I walked out with last, as a late afternoon snack. We couldn't come close to finishing, but it was a truly remarkable journey for our tastebuds.

Little Next Door

8142 W 3rd St

Los Angeles, CA 90048


There are so many amazing places for breakfast in LA. Some of my favorites include John O'Groats, with their amazing buttermilk biscuits; Amandine, with their freshly baked french breads and croissants; and Urrth Cafe with their amazing chocolate muffin.

Little Next Door is quite a drive from West LA, but I've never had a problem driving out there on a Sunday morning. Going there always reminds me of my time people watching in Paris cafes. I really miss those days, so it's great to come here and have a taste of France. The majority of the waitstaff is French. From speaking with the manager, I learned that many of the ingredients are shipped from France, including the flour used to make their pastries. They serve packaged butter, but they also make their own. The croissants are the best I've had in LA, and the latte is up there, as well.

Pictured above, we have eggs benedict with Spanish ham served with a side salad. Interesting to have salad for breakfast, but it works surprisingly well with the rich hollandaise. We also have house made granola, with house made yogurt. The fruit isn't house made, but fresh. The granola and fruit in the yogurt is truly an amazing sensation to the mouth.

Little Next Door is a great place to come. They always bring little treats to my son, and make us feel welcome. Service can be suspect at times, but overall, they are great. The menu offers different preparations of eggs, sandwiches...including merguez, which is a sausage brought to France from North Africa, and eaten 'in the bad part of' Paris, according to the manager Roman. They also have quiche and a host of other items, and are open for dinner.

Lucky City

These are some of the dishes I had for dinner last night at Lucky City in Monterey Park. It's located at 415 W Garvey Ave, between Garfield and Atlantic. Above is a shrimp chow mein. The noodles are pan fried in oil, so one side is super crispy. It's flipped onto the plate, and topped with a shrimp and chinese broccoli in sauce mixture.

Above we have geoduck clam prepared two ways. The belly is deep friend, and the neck is thinly sliced and sauteed in oil with garlic, soy and other spices. This native of the Northwest tastes so amazing, with the differing textures. By far the best dish of the night.

Above here is a winter melon soup prepared using the melon as a serving bowl. The soup, made with chicken, dried shiitake mushrooms, dried scallops, among other things, is garnished with a little crabmeat. Quite tasty, but more impressive visually.

The three dishes above are calamari, fried and topped with fried chiles; lobster in garlic and green onion sauce; and cod over veggies. All three were prepared perfectly. The calamari was crispy and light. The lobster was sweet and tender. The fish was light and flaky.
For this meal, we had about 9 dishes. Not pictured dishes were a chicken, some pork spareribs, fried tofu and chinese vegetables. My parents and older brother live in Monterey Park, so we've been to a lot of restaurants out there. Lucky City has been in our regular rotation for the past 6 months or so. I have to mention, like many restaurants, they have an issue with consistency. My favorite dish, the geoduck, was horrible the last time we were here. But last night, I couldn't get enough of it. I've been thinking about that dish for 26 hours now.
The menu here is similar to most of the other Chinese seafood restaurants in Monterey Park. To generate business, they have specials, such at buy 1 lb of lobster, and you get one free. I believe the geoduck special is five dollars a pound, but I forget. For geoduck, that's an amazing price, since wholesale of sashimi grade geoduck can run $12 a lb. The food is fresh, and when they're on their game, among the top 10 Chinese seafood restaurants in Monterey Park.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cantaloop now open in Culver City!

3835 Main Street
Culver City, CA 90232

What's the best frozen yogurt in LA? It's kinda tough, since there are so many different new names popping up. I can't even keep up, to be truthful. When Pinkberry started up, I tried it out and really enjoyed the texture and flavors. It was so different than anything that was around, and it was healthy. I moved on to BareNaked at the Century City Mall, then on to a host of other places. Though mostly good, I found myself not liking the product as much anymore from many of these places. Seemed like the quality was going down.

That's why I was so excited to hear that Cantaloop was opening up in Culver City. I first had their yogurt a couple of years ago at their Hollywood location, and was really enamored with their fruit flavored yogurts such at the pomegranate flavored one. Unfortunately, Hollywood is a trek from West LA, so I rarely went back.
I stopped by the new location on Friday, July11th, for their free yogurt giveaway. The lines were long, but the servers were friendly and attentive. You could tell they were quite new to the experience, but they were friendly and courteous, and that goes a long way for me. After I ordered my yogurts, I spoke with the owners and they gave me a little tour. They showed how they used all fresh powders, and explained how the flavors and smooth texture could only be derived by using fresh ingredients. They mixed a batch of the pomegranate-blueberry yogurt for me and walked me through what they did.
I was really impressed with the entire operation. Sure, they're new and they will have some kinks, but the entire package was great. The store was simply decorated, but bright and fun. The service really fit into the Culver City family vibe. The yogurt was creamy and really flavorful and delicious. The prices were not super cheap, but not ridiculous like some places. They offer free wi-fi, as well, so you can surf the net on the Loop while having a little dessert.

Until I find a better place, I would say that Cantaloop is the best frozen yogurt in LA. I'm sure people have different preferences, but at the least, this should tell you that they have quality yogurt that is fresh, and service that leaves a lasting impression. If you don't believe me, believe Hillary. She loved it so much, she tried eating it with her foot.

Monday, July 14, 2008

LA Winefest 2008

The 3rd annual LA Winefest was held this past weekend at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood. The two day event, starting on July 12th, was an intriguing collection of booths featuring vineyards, wineries, olive oil makers and a host of other vendors.

I went on Sunday the 13th and luckily was able to procure a ticket at the front. Entrance was $45, and it included all the free pours you could handle. We went along and tasted a wine from almost every stand. Quite honestly, it was nice tasting the different varietals in the beginning. But after a dozen or so, they all started tasting the same. Some interesting highlights included an '01 tempranillo from Spain, grown on vines that were 125 years old; and a champagne made from Pinot Grigio.
The vendors were friendly, the sun was out, and the wine was flowing. Compared to some of the events I've been to recently, this one stood out. The Long Beach Sushi and Sake festival, held a few months ago, was embarrassing. Their were more taco trucks than sushi stands(there were two taco trucks). This event, however, lived up to its name...and then some.

Monday, May 26, 2008


11266 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604

Truthfully, I've been having a bit of difficulty writing new entries into this blog. I started this thing because I have such a passion for eating and such a great love for this city. I mean, some people eat to live, others live to eat. For me, it's more of a drug. Finding that next incredible meal brings me that rush that's not unlike doubling down on a $500 blackjack hand and hitting the perfect card. The rush is what it's about for me.

I guess I've been in a rut...I've actually been to a bunch of restaurants recently, but I have not been inspired to pen my thoughts. I have realized that the experience is much more important than I previously gave it credit for. To make a meal amazing and touching, great food is a must. But I'm learning that the company, the experience and a myriad of other factors make a meal memorable or forgettable.

My experience at Yuta was definitely a great experience. I went with a group of friends the other night and right away, I could sense a special night. From the moment I entered, I felt a familiar sense of family. Chef Yuta and another gentleman were the only ones working that evening. It was a slow night, as we were the only ones in the small restaurant. This really played to our advantage, as we had the complete attention of the staff.

Throughout the evening, we paired different wines and different sakes with different dishes. Pictured above we have spicy tuna on toasted rice sheets, topped with avacado. It was a bit strange, but the dish definitely inspired a lot of conversation. Below, we have beef sushi. The Kobe-like meat was sliced and heated with a blow torch. The hot flame quickly softened and caramalized the fat in the well marbled meat. Chef Yuta described the beef as better then Kobe, and I could not disagree...which is why I ordered two more orders for each person.

We not only had sushi, but we had a variety of izakaya dishes. He served an incredibly moist and flavorful beef tongue, an amazing squid ink pasta, and pictured below, a spinach pasta with seafood, to name but a few.

Overall, the impeccable palate of the chef came through with each cooked dish and with each sushi creation. Throughout the meal, the chef participated in conversation with us. He explained how fresh the fish was; how he polished his own brown rice for the sushi; how he only used the best imported Japanese soy sauce, etc.
On the menu, it clearly states that soy and wasabe can be requested, but otherwise the fish would come with Chef Yuta's specific preparation. I've read up on this establishment and have not seen too many positive reviews. I think this has a great deal to do with it. We are used to using soy and wasabe with our nigiri and sashimi. Chef Yuta takes the sushi experience to another level...a level that may be too complicated for most. For a new and exciting experience, I think this is the place for sushi.

Mr. Baguette

8702 Valley Blvd
Rosemead, CA 91770

I'd heard so many good things about Vietnamese sandwiches that I had to try. I found myself hungry one day while driving around, and as I looked up, I saw Mr. Baguette. Why I was driving around Rosemead I cannot explain. But that's an entirely different issue, I suppose.
As I walked in, I passed by tablefuls of old men, smoking cigarettes and having coffee. It made me feel like I was in a cafe in Vietnam. If only I'd ever been to Vietnam, I could confirm that feeling.
Upon entering the bright and clean room, I noticed a display case of a bunch of different French and Asian pastries. Not a bad sight for someone so hungry, but I was focused. As I walked up, I asked the cashier what was good.
"Do you like Banhg Mi?" she asked.
"Excuse me?" I responded. "Uh, my wife..."
"Do you like Banh Mi?" She repeated.
"Not sure, but how are your sandwiches?"
"That is our sandwich, sir".
She was looking annoyed. So I just ordered a combo sandwich and a coffee. The sandwich, as it turns out, was a foot long baguette filled with goodies. The baguette with super crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. By itself, it would have been amazing. The filling in my combo sandwich, according to the menu, was pickled carrots, picked daikon, jalapeno slices, cilantro, pate, ham, and...head cheese? That didn't sound all that attractive, but like I said before, I'll eat anything. And besides, after the cashier asked if I wanted to Banhg Her, I wasn't about to ask any more questions.
Actually, I'm just playing stupid. If you're not sure what head cheese is, it's a terrine of meat made from the head of a calf or pig. The noggin is boiled until tender. The collagen from the bone and the meat are extracted and finished in a mould. Then, it's sliced, giving you head cheese.
Back to the sandwich...the combination of the flavorful pate and headcheese, mixed with the vinagery carrots and daikon, tied well with the slight spice from the fresh jalapeno slices and made my eyes pop out. It's almost difficult to explain, but every bite was amazing. It was so good, I got up and ordered another one to go. At $2.55 a piece, it was a no brainer.
So now, I'm a huge fan of Banh Mi. Since then, I've been to other places, like Mr. Lee's and Saigon Sandwich, but this place is still the best. I've heard of another place called Banh Mi Cho Cu. Until I try that place, though, Mr. Baguette is my place.


1751 Ensley Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90024
When I was a child growing up in Calexico, my tastes were a bit on the unrefined side. I guess I wasn't so bad mom and grandma would cook everyday, and my family would share a late lunch together. My mom would cook anything from black bean clams to lengua guisada. I had the best of both worlds, with my mom cooking Chinese delicacies one day and Mexican food the next. We seriously had Mexican neighbors asking my mom to cook up some frijoles or tamales for them.
Some days, my mom or grandma would be too tired to cook. So at least twice a month, we hit the golden arches. Actually, there was this one point when I was in sixth grade, we frequented the Establishment everyday for a month. That was during the steak sandwich special time, where they would give you a free steak knife for every steak sandwich you bought. I'm not sure if it was my mom's cheapness coming out or what, but she collected those knives like jewelry. They lasted well into high school, so maybe she was onto something. With all this said, I have to say growing up, that was the best sandwich I'd ever had. The tender steak on that funky bread just did something for me. Since then, there have been a few comebacks of that sandwich, but it's never been the same. Also since then, I've had a few more sandwiches. My tastes have matured, to say the least.
So many sandwiches in LA. I know it's not like New York, where there's a deli on every corner. But there is some serious quality here. Bay Cities, Factor's, Langers, Phillipe's...really good stuff. For some reason, though, I always crave Clementine's rare roast beef sandwich. I almost feel bad that my favorite sandwich isn't from a deli, with their stacked meats and huge portions. But this sandwich is spot on. The chewy, crusty bread with tender and thinly sliced rare roast beef topped with baby arugula, whole grain mustard and horseradish mayo is such an amazing experience. On the side are thinly sliced pickles that are slightly sweet and sour, a perfect accoutrement to the sandwich.
In addition to the sandwich, they have an entire menu of salads, sandwiches and baked goods. That's another thing...I don't feel like I have to order a sandwich when I come here. I have many options, and that makes me feel good. They also have great soups, mac and cheese and other dishes that can be taken home and heated. The vibe is really mellow, and the crowd ranges from moms with newborns to businessmen in suits.
Even though I still have a soft spot in my heart for that McSteak sandwich, I know that memory must remain a memory. I've moved on...and Clementine's rare roast beef sandwich has nudged it aside in my heart. Please note, though, that there is no free steaknife with the rare roast beef sandwich.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Santouka Ramen

Ok...Stella's got her groove back on. I'm not so dissapointed anymore. Time to explore the inner pangs of my gastrointestinal self. I'm still smarting a little, but I do feel better. What better way to raise my comfort level than to have some comfort food? What's comfortable to me? Well, what's comfortable to you? Do you grab a bowl of chicken noodle soup when you need that feeling of security and home? Do you order a plate of roast turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes, like Thanksgiving with mom? Me? I want a bowl of noodles. The steaming bowl of liquids with the familiar Asian flavors and hot, flavorful noodles, overcoming my soul...overtaking any anxiety I might feel.
Unfortunately, not every noodle place is ideal for a feeling of home. I'm not saying that Santouka's vibe shouts out home, considering it's in the Mitsuwa Market Place. But their ramen is amazing. The pork bone based broth is swimming with feelings of comfort and home. Quite honestly, before coming here, I was quite uneducated about ramen and what it could be, or should be. I'd been to a number of places that were good, but this ramen took it to another level. I want to give props to the Rameniac. I would have never imagined that ramen could ever be much better than the instant noodles I make at home. I would love to go on and on about this ramen, but only the Rameniac can truly do justice. He also has a number of other places he speaks highly of...I'll definitely have to try.
Santouka does not do to go orders, so go there ready to eat. They have different variations of ramen, from soy sauce to salt ramen...everything is delicious.

John O'Groat's

My trip to FO Helms really dampened my spirits. That was my supposed to be a great kickoff to my little journey. The grand opening of the new location of an LA institution. A great introduction to a great novel. I took a bite of that lucious apple, only to realize it was wax.

Early, but I felt it was time to regroup. I decided to go to O'Groat's...a place I'd been consistently going to ever since I moved into the neighborhood. O'Groat's has been serving the West LA area for years. Since that first day I walked in, Paul has been greeting me, and everyone else, with the same genuineness that has endeared me to the place. From celebrities to families, everyone gets treated the same.

O'Groat's, to those who have not been, serves a menu primarily catered to breakfast, and they do lunch as well. After eight years, I've only been for breakfast, at least twice a month. They have the typical breakfast fare, like bacon and eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, etc. They also have specialty dishes like the Huevo's O'Groat's, which is a tortilla made out of buttermilk biscuit dough, topped with a medley of sauteed veggies, which is topped with a couple of over easy eggs(or any other way you prefer), which are topped with cheese and salsa. They also have a variety of pancakes, whether with different ingredients incorporated into the batter, or with amazing toppings, like the lemon curd.

With breakfast, I try to keep it simple. I generally order over easy eggs with homefries, bacon and biscuits. The bacon is thick cut, and probably the best bacon I've ever had. The biscuits are freshly baked buttermilk biscuits, that are heavenly, especially with the two different types of fruit spread they provide. Over the years, I've had the crabcake eggs benedict, the Huevo's O'Groat's, the steel cut Irish oatmeal, different pancakes and the corned beef hash. They also have amazing smoothies and a great yogurt parfait.

I love breakfast places, and will always try other places, but O'Groat's really is consistently good. With the friendly, neighborhood vibe, it's a total winner. This comes close to the perfect breakfast option for me, with it's varied menu and family atmosphere. The prices are a bit high, but quality costs money. And sometimes, it's just worth spending the extra money for a nice breakfast experience.

Lines tend to be long, especially on a weekend. One of the things I learned from Paul's mom, Mrs. Jacoby is, call ahead of time and put your name on the list. That way, you won't have to wait nearly as long, and you can enjoy your Saturday or Sunday breakfast that much more.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Father's Office Culver City

Off into the LA dining world I go. I've been to so many places...guess that happens after 18 years here. I'm starting new, though. I want to begin this little journey with a pretty clean slate. I'd like to go to each place like it's my first time, whether it actually is, or not. In this case, though, I will refer to the original location on Montana.

The new FO on Helms was pretty gorgeous. We got there at 6:00 pm Wednesday, right at the opening. We had to sit outside on the patio, as the lengthy bar area was quickly filled. The menu was the same as FO Montana, the huge and delicious variety of beers was there. It was everything the FO Montana was, and was not. The food was the same; the crappy setup of ordering all food and drinks at the bar and taking your drinks back to your table was the same. Having some lame 'waiter' in a tight, black FO tshirt he shouldn't be wearing because of his gut deliver your food to your table was the same. What wasn't the same was what was strange. I disliked the FO Montana because I thought it was too small and crowded. The vibe was funky, too, because everyone was trying to ace each other out of the next available table. Tables were packed so close, I could eat off the next table's plates.

When I heard that a new FO was opening, I was excited. It would be much larger, and newer, and better. Well, FO Helms is larger and newer. Better? Not really. Worse, actually. I found myself missing the intimacy of the crowded FO Montana. The vibe at the gastropub in Montana was young, hip and almost unpretentious, I thought. The FO Helms was not so young, still hip, and definitely pretentious.

Thing is, the food is the same. However, it tasted better in the old location, because expectations were low. In the new location, I expected better. The food, I realized, was nowhere near as good as I had thought. The gorgeous new space essentially exposed the food as not very good. There were some highlights, of course. The FO Burger is still one of the best burgers in LA, and the sweet potato fries were really crispy and delicious. But, quite frankly, everything else was not very good at all. We had the lamb skewers that were too salty. We had a steak salad that left my tastebuds confused. And that steak frittes pictured up top? Looks good, huh? Well, it was really wasn't. My jaw is still sore two days later from chewing on that piece of shoe leather.

So I'm left pondering what went wrong. Is the new location too commercialized? Or did it just expose all of the weaknesses of the original FO? All I know is, I won't be going back to FO Helms. If I ever get the inclination to have that gorgeous burger with a great beer, I'll just go to FO Montana. That's FO sho'.

Father's Office on Fooddigger

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ludo Bites

To move forward, we must explore the past. As I delve into my memories of great food, certain memories stand out. I can remember a meal from Chinese New Year, at my uncle's restaurant from when I was 13. I remember every dish, in exact order, and the textures and flavors. That meal included a whole braised shark's fin per person. The texture of the gelatinous strands of shark's fin in the slightly thickened braising liquid was heavenly. Every bite was a culinary adventure, as different aspects of the dish came crashing memories of when I was eight, in Canton, China are flooding my thoughts. An uncle, from my dad's home village, came to visit us at our hotel. With him, he carried a trap full of crabs, freshly caught. They were blue in color, but every other aspect of them reminded me of dungeness crabs. There were at least 30 crabs in that trap, with each crab at least three pounds. We drove around in this beat up van, looking for a restaurant that would cook the crabs for us. On the third try, we found a taker. They steamed up the bunch, and served us. That night, I ate five crabs, brains and all. The meat was sweet and tender, and I left not a strand of meat per my grandma's teachings of never wasting. On that same trip, we also ate Shanghai River crabs, famously known for their eggs. To this day, I crave those river crabs. The succulent, rich roe provided flavors that danced in my mouth. I can't explain the flavors, but yet, I long for it. These memories flood my thoughts, memories from long ago.

In the recent past, I most remember my experience at Breadbar in Hollywood. Breadbar, you ask? I still wonder what the hell we were thinking. But then I remember how we were sitting around, wondering where to go for our Thursday night dinner. We discovered that Ludovic Lefevre, formerly of Bastide, was doing a guest stint at Breadbar. After picking up a few bottles of wine, we headed over and sat outside on the patio. On the menu that night was a cornucopia of tapas-like dishes that Chef Ludo created based on the fresh ingredients he was able to find that morning. We decided on Proscuitto Di Parma with marscapone and honey, a salumi sopressata, foie gras tart with maple syrup, chicken liver mousse tartine with green apple gelee, sauteed scallop and spinach in curry-yogurt soup, rice veloute, beef tenderloin with herb sabayon and aligot puree and a cherry tomato aigre-doux with rigatoncini pasta and poached lobster in tamarind butter. A couple of cheese plates were squeezed in between. We finished with a couple orders of the Red Fire Chocolate Mousse soup and a couple of belle-helene pear milkshakes.

Every dish that came out inspired conversation regarding the combinations of flavors that Chef Ludo put together. For instance, the rice veloute contained grilled mushrooms with garlic soubise, egg mollet and Christmas tree oil. The flavors were initially strange, but then as we thought about it and talked about it and ate more of it, we realized just how inspiring it was.

Eventually, the plates stopped coming out. We were stuffed, but that dissapointment that we were done still lingers in my mind. We went on to discuss why a chef of Ludo's caliber would be cooking in a bakery. We asked that he come out so that we could thank him and chat. When he finally came out, he looked ragged and his apron was dirty. We thanked him and asked him why he was here, and for such a short stint. He went on and on about wanting to be able to cook more affordable meals without sacrificing quality. He wanted more people to be able to eat fine cuisine without having to spend an arm and a leg. It felt like he yearned to connect more with the average joe. He came up with the idea of creating the 'Ludo Bites' menu as a way to keep prices lower, and he chose Breadbar because a friend of his owned it. Considering he was used to commanding close to a score of sous chefs, I thought it was admirable that Chef Ludo went back to his roots and crammed himself into a tiny kitchen and prepared every dish personally.

The food, the company, the wine and the chef made this a memory that I will remember forever. the end, that's all we really have. Like that first kiss, or the first time you held her hand, or that look when she smiled, that moment is over quickly. It's the memory that stays forever. It's been months since Chef Ludo finished his stint, and the hints of red jalapeno in those chocolate mousse canales still linger. Merci, Monsieur Lefevre.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Hunt begins

LA eating is an interesting beast in itself. Do we compare to other great cities in the culinary sense? New York has it's romantic vibe stemming from Sinatra to the immigrants coming through Ellis Island. They have their Little Italy, which apparently is second only to Italy herself, with the famous pizzas and pastas. Chicago's got Oprah. If she says that particular McDonald's on South Halsted Street serves the best nuggets, then that McDonald's on South Halsted Street serves the best nuggets. Plus, they have the Chicago style deep dish pizza as a notch on their belt. Philadelphia has the cheesesteak. Boston has lobsters. Seattle's got coffee. What does LA have? Well, that's what I want to find out.

I believe Los Angeles is a dining mecca. I'm not just talking about high pub places like Lucques, Providence, Urasawa or Bastide. I'm also talking about lesser known places, like Yuta in Studio City. Or Al Gelato on Robertson. Or even that taco truck I'm chasing down before it drives away. My goal is to attack LA food in a primal way. I'm going hunting and gathering like my ancestors. I'm on a hunt. My wallet is my spear, and my atm card is my North Star. I want to find the perfect meal for every different ethnic niche. I will bring down that wooly mammoth. Moby Dick is mine. Even Shamu isn't safe. I'll eat anything, anywhere, anytime.