In LA, expectations are to be trampled upon, boundaries are to be transgressed. Things are constantly hybridized into something new.
That’s just how it is in this city… Because things are more fun that way.
Take Royal/T as an example – a maid cafe, a Japanese thing that’s usually frowned upon (it’s a fetish-y thing in an otherwise sexually oppressed country: go figure), brought to the states, and it’s instantly… Acceptable. No, scratch that, it’s hip. No essence of creepiness nor geekiness can be detected here, in fact, the clients are all grown ups, the artsy types, and the cool kids. You know, people you don’t really see at an actual maid cafe.
And then there’s Ludo Lefevbre‘s Tuna Sashimi, Rice Ice Cream, Soy Gelee, Smoked Ginger Oil. Which is really, an upside down and cool-ified, hip kid’s spicy tuna bowl. Like I said, things tend to get jumbled up for fun here in LA.
Well, actually, Royal/T is in Culver City. Which is really LA from an OC inhabitant’s point of view. Fun things happen here all the time, like the In Bed Together exhibition and the LudoBites pop up restaurants. Guerilla chef Ludo collaborated with Royal/T curator Jane Glassman in an well-constructed onslaught of visual stimulation: 50 different artists, of different styles and mediums, all in one location. There is lots of oggling to do here.
And by oggling, I’m not just talking about the artwork. The servers/maids are all very cute in their goth lolita-esque french maid uniforms, and of course, the chef is fracking hot. Actually, Krissy, Ludo’s beloved Mrs. who runs the front of the house, is really hot too, but I forgot to take a picture with her. You have been warned.
The food- oh the food! I actually liked the winter menu a lot more (see the summer menu here). Maybe I like winter ingredients more? So, expecting a lighter dinner, we chose the 2008 Infinity White Blend as the bottle of the night. It’s a viognier-grenache blanc blend: very crisp and citrus-y, and overall, a great wine for the night’s menu.
Actually it did magic with some of the menu items… like the tuna sashimi.
I felt like Jack Skellington when he first walked into Christmasland. What’s this? What’s this? There’s something very wrong! Because by instinct you would think that fish and ice cream do not work together (a notion reinforced by Iron Chef episodes as well). But whoa, classy zuke style (flavored) tuna slices, soy sauce jellies, caramelized/burnt ginger, and the tart vinegary ice cream – these are all flavors that are common in the LA dining scene.
Don and I actually enjoyed everything at LudoBites this time. I mean, even an unassuming salad made us giddy. The caramelized endive salad, caramelized citrus, gingerbread is a great survey of winter California bounty. Sweet, sweet grapefruit supremes, with their bitter components magically lifted – it went uber well with our wine.
Egg “Meurette”, red cabbage, Lardo toast. Runny, slow poached egg (“onsen tamago” style, the Japanese in me would say) in a pool of savory-tart red cabbage goop (which should sound unglamorous… should). You break it open and then try to scoop it on to your lardo-slathered bread bit. Very French-y (the whole scoop-it-up-with-bread part), and frickin’ delish. I wish had more toast though.
Don didn’t know what lardo was, and when I explained to him that it was cured fat, he scrunched his nose in disgust. But then he read the runny egg part, gave in and rendered me the ordering rights, AND then claimed it his favorite dish of the night.
DUCK FAT DONUTFoie Gras Beignet, Saffron-Dried Apricot.
We’re not big foie gras fans (Don’s first encounter was the Foie Gras cup cake from the last LudoBites), but this was good. The small portion makes it tolerable for non-believers, but the apricot REALLY gives it life.
And then… *the* Cod arrived. Cod Teriyaki, Mashed Potatoe, Pickled Garlic, Lemon-Miso. It is epic. Get it. End of story. Okay no I lied. I’m not done talking about it.
Why am I so obsessed about a teriyaki (insert snooty Japanese accent here)? Because teriyaki is a home-y no-glam dish. And then Ludo made it glammy. It is the equivalent of taking a pair of ugly sweats, tailoring it, then embezzling it into some Juicy Couture style rhinestone-shenanigan sweats AND MAKING IT WORK. Forget the lardo toasts, this was THE favorite dish of the night.
Our only quip is that we wanted a big bowl of new-crop rice to further enjoy this masterpiece, although I thought that the mashed potato pairing was interesting – but the asian in me won. I wanted rice. More on that later.
Crispy Confit Pork Belly, Burnt Eggplant Puree and Plantains. A very strong dish, but, unfortunately, it came after the cod. Plus, we didn’t get the eggplants due to my allergy. Still very yummy though, and I think this would pair awesomely with a big can of dry Kirin beer. Just sayin’.
Desserts! First the Fourme d’ Ambert Tourte, Red Pear, Honey-Balsamic. Visually enticing. Flavor wise? If you’re not a blue cheese aficionado, avoid. It’s very strong, and there’s not enough pear to mollify the fungus impact. However, when eaten with the pear, it is very complex and enjoyable. The crust is very flaky and buttery, and the sauce is a nice touch.
The Guacamole, Exotic Fruit, Ginger Ice Cream, on the other hand, was magic! Being Vietnamese as well, I knew of the humble avocado’s dessert capabilities, but I never dare tried unless it was in milkshake form (and even then, only little bits at a time). But Ludo has his way and can coax even the grumpiest, temperamental ingredients into an unforgettable diva. Such is the ice cream. Get it!
We finished with a small pot of Royal/T blended teas – I had the Yuzu sencha. Ask them to bring the hot water and tea leaves separately, because sencha becomes bitter when you steep it at high temperatures! (Sorry! I work at a tea company – can’t help being anal about things details like this!) When made carefully, their teas shine. Don had some tropical Ceylon blend, and that was yummy too.
I would tell you to go, but unfortunately LudoBites is sold out. It’s different everytime, so I suggest that you mosey along to the LudoBites website and join the mailing list. Don’t worry, there’ll be another pop up soon. Or maybe a permanent one. One can only wish!
LudoBites get In Bed Together
8910 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 559 6300
You didn’t think that I’d let you get away with just a restaurant review, did you?
After that dinner, all I could think about was the cod. And I was determined to eat it with a bowl of rice.
So the first thing I do after I get back from LudoBites: open my trusty HOW TO CUT FISH book. It was a birthday present from my Mom. It’s got step-to-step photo guidances on how to cut various types of fish, starting from easy to hard. Guess where the cod was? You guessed it, towards the end of the book. Followed by a section on how to cut cuttlefish. Dammit.
Plus, cod fish is ginormous. And really ugly. According to the trusty book, a good cod fish is 1) very slimy to the touch, 2) has a clear pinto/mottled pattern on the body and 3) has a fat belly. THIS FISH HAS TO BE UGLY TO TASTE GOOD. Well, at least looks aren’t everything.
Reading on… The key point in properly butchering cod (is butchering even the correct term? Or is it mongering?) is being extra careful. Cod flesh is very soft, and because it’s slimy, it slips out of grasp easily. So sometimes you have to use your hands and rip parts off. After reading that bit, I thought, eff that, and just drove to my trusty H-mart and had the fish counter guy clean the sucker for me.
The Korean market is a fabulous place to get fresh fish. Look at the cod versus the tongs! Those are standard barbecue tongs. Can we say ginormous? AND $5.99 a pound!
They also have some really ugly specimens like this monkfish. The head is used for stewing, the liver is eaten like foie gras.
AND, the Korean market is cheap! If I’m getting sashimi grade fish, I’d go to Marukai, but if it’s cooking grade fish, H-mart is fine and dandy.
I followed some teriyaki recipe I found on Cookpad.com, but it ended in utter fail. Either my oven needs to be calibrated, or I need a real fish grilling machine. Or maybe a blowtorch. The cod was cooked perfectly and flakey, but it was tasteless. It was SO tasteless, we ended up pouring some Tiger Sauce over it and still didn’t finish it! Fail. However, the rice and miso soup I made on the side was quite delicious.
And you know what this whole fiasco reminded me of? Yes, the L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Sous Vide Fail of 2009.
Professional Chefs 2 – Homecook Ila 0.
Oh well, you live, you learn. Some day… Some day! *raises fist in air*