Food as Art: Ludobites 7.0

Restaurant: Ludobites 7.0 [1, 2]

Location: 227 East 9th St, Los Angeles, 90015

Date: August 31, 2011

Cuisine: Eclectic Modern

Rating: Very interesting (& tasty) array of flavors.

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Last year my friends and I very much enjoyed Ludobites 6.0 (review here), one of LA’s most notable “popup” restaurants. So some of us Foodie Club members camped out on OpenTable.com to score ourselves a large party reservation. It took five of us hammering independently on the computer to get one in the approximately 70 seconds the entire run booked up. And it was nearly a month in. But score we did.


The walls are festooned with Ludo’s amusing cock & swine logo.


This year Ludobites is back at Gram & Papas. I guess they do it here because the restaurant doesn’t itself serve dinner. The space is small and casual.


One of the big advantages is that G&Ps does NOT have a liquor license. This means that my special BYOBgrape juice” was corkage free. Good think I brought a cork screw.

Very nice Burg from my cellar. Parker 93. “I loved the sweet cassis aromas of the 2002 Echezeaux as well as its powerful, intense, syrupy personality. Medium to full-bodied and gorgeously ripe, it bastes the palate with thick black fruit flavors. In addition, this wine reveals great depth and a lengthy, fruit-packed finish. Projected maturity: 2007-2017.”


Le Menu. With eight people we ordered two of EVERY dish. Worked out just about right. There was a small issue of our sole vegetarian. Not a single dish on the menu is actually free of meat, and our request initially phased the kitchen. But they recovered quickly and offered to make veggie variants of a number of dishes which worked out excellently.


“Lavender Ginger Lemonade.” Non-alcoholic. I liked the strong ginger kick, but the lemonade was too sweet and not sour enough. I like my lemonade painfully sour and strong.


“Bouillabaise Milk Shake.” This tastes exactly like it sounds. Like a fish milkshake. Basically the same flavor profile as real Bouillabaise, but with milk. I can’t say it was my favorite dish. Probably least or second to least.


“Choucroute Tart Flambe.” This “tart” is really a pizza or flatbread. But it was fantastic. The ham/bacon on top was great, as was the cheesy creme fraiche and onion thing going on.


They also made us a vegetarian version which was very good.

Neiman Cabernet “Caldwell Vineyard” 2000. Parker doesn’t rate this, but it’s a top top notch cabernet, probably 94 points or so. The years and a lack of over oaking left it very smooth. I picked up this wine at the Redd Collection, a cool new tasting/wine dealer I met at the Food Club Ultimo Wine Dinner.


The chicken wings (below) came with surgical gloves to keep the hands clean!


“Burgundy Fried Chicken.” The real burgundy was finished, but the wings were very very tasty. Succulent and perfectly cooked with a sweet BBQ style sauce.


The remnants!


This is a custom vegetarian salad they made up.


“Squid, Black Ash, Chorizo.” The squid was nice and tender, and the orange “chorizo” sauce around the edge really tasty. I’m not sure I was super keen on the ash texture, but it was certainly a decent dish.


This spectacular Brunello (the 2006 il Cocco) is totally unavailable in America. I got it at the vineyard from the owner on my mega Italy 2011 trip. He makes 7,000 bottles of wine a year, perhaps 3,000 of Brunello, and does 100% of the work (fields and cellar) himself! Probably a 94-95 point wine.


Prawn ceviche, Aji Amarillo, Red Berries. This reminded me of a Red Medicine type dish. It had very interesting and strong flavors, with a lot of vinegar/lime.


“Salt Cod Panna Cotta, Whipped Fingerling Potato, Smoked Tapioca, Black Olive Bread.” This was an interesting dish. The cod itself was not dominant at all. It mostly seemed like a panna cotta, or even like one of those Japanese seafood egg custards like I got here at Takao (about a third of the way down). I liked the little tapioca balls too, and the bread added some nice texture, just needed a little more cod flavor.


“Oxtail Beef, Rainbow Carrots, Shallots, Green Salad.” This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. The beef was just amazing. And rest went really well too.


“Foe Gras, Corn and Coconuts.” Amazing and interesting dish. Another favorite of the evening. The foie was foie — and nothing wrong with that — but the corn coconut soup was awesome with it. Sweet like a corn soup, with the crunchy texture of popcorn, and with this coconut curry / lemongrass vibe on top. Wow!


My wife even got a vegetarian version, without the foie, which really was almost as good (good as the foie was).


“Pigs Head Compressed and Mimolette, Barbeque Gelee.” This sounds awful, but tasted just okay. Flavor wise thought it just tasted like some kind of meat sandwich with a really tangy mayo. The sweet sauce helped a bit. One of my other lessor dishes of the evening.


“Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar, Champagne Beurre Blanc.” Really tasted a lot like scrambled eggs and caviar. Which was pretty darn good. The Uni (sea urchin) was present, but subtle. I could have done with more. But the egg and caviar thing is really good together, so I enjoyed it a lot.


This is no Uni version. The egg tasted stronger and saltier without the sweetness of the Uni, but it was still a very good dish.


“Plancha Tandoori Octopus, Yogurt, Cauliflower, Grapefruit.” The octopus itself was very tender with a nice tandoori flavor. The cauliflower texture was really interesting. I think the yogurt could have had more punch, or more of it, but still a nice dish.


“Duck, Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets, Radish.” There are two meats in here. A sausage (which was really yummy) and a very nice rare duck breast. Both were excellent with the cherry sauce. The beet/radish thing seemed a little orthogonal, but it didn’t stop this from being terrific.


“Lamb cooked in fat Moroccan style Artichoke, Mint.” There was some serious fat on this lamb. Serious fat. But it tasted damn good with the cooked dates. That was the whole key to this dish for me, tender lamb with a sweet sauce.


The peeps, midway somewhere.


The meal took awhile and so we could have used an extra bottle of wine, but i only brought four. This dessert Riesling, the every reliable, Parker 97! “White peach preserves, luscious Persian melon, fresh red raspberry, cooling lime, green tea, iris and gentian are all projected on the nose of Donnhoff’s 2009 Oberhauser Brucke Riesling Spatlese, then take on a fleshy, silken, yet svelte form that combines infectious juiciness, invigorating salinity, uncanny buoyancy, and vibratory interactive complexity, leaving my tongue tingling and my head buzzing. The depth of savor here is such that to speak of nut oils or of shrimp or lobster shell reduction merely points in the correct, otherwise ineffable general direction. “Creamy, dreamy, transparent” were the last words I could pronounce in the presence of this natural wonder that will certainly be capable of spreading joy for at least the next quarter century. “There was a tiny bit of perfectly dry botrytis here,” notes Donnhoff, “and to get much over 90 Oechsle you usually need that.” Needless to say, its presence has in no way precluded the utmost purity of fruit, clarity, or subtly electrical energy of which Riesling is capable in this amazing site. “I-m warning you, they’re not necessarily better,” said Helmut Donnhoff with a grin when serving me his two 2009 vintage Auslesen.”


Now our whacky “cheese course” the “Pick-Up Stick Cantal Cheese, Curry White Chocolate.” The cheese almost tasted like slivered apple.


“Lavendar Tropezienne Tart, Aloe Vera, Lychee.” This wonderful pastry reminded me of a giant lavender Macaron. I love certain kinds of exotic herbaceous flavors like rosewater and lavender and I love custard.


“Chocolate Cake, Chipotle Ice Cream, Orange.” Wow! This was a 10/10 dessert (and the lavender was like a 9/10!). The chocolate slab was great, you can tell just by looking at it, but that ice cream. It tasted like bacon! Really. The combo was incredible, and a bit spicy.


“Pistachio Brown Butter Cake, Marcaspone, Red Berries.” This was the weakest of the three desserts, but it was still very good, with a nice pistachio flavor. The Marcaspone could have used a little more kick or sweetness.

Overall, maybe it was a good thing coming into Ludobites 7.0 after a couple of weeks. Things were really on point with the food. Service, which very pleasant, really isn’t up to the food standards. There is no slick Michelin 2 (or 3) star type management of the table like at a place like Melisse, but the attitude was fine and there were no problems. Water service was sluggish and we had to self pour our “grape juice” into water glass type glasses. But actually I don’t mind self pour or opening my own wines. I could have used some more water :-)

But the food was really standout. A large variety of very creative dishes, and some were fantastic, particularly the desserts. So bravo.

Click here for a review of last year’s Ludobites 6.0.

The Food Club extravaganzas.

Or all LA dining reviews.


Me, with the big macro-lens-and-flash rig.


Mirella gets her crazy on.


Swag! (not that I bought any)

Eating Colle di Val d’Elsa – Arnolfo

Restaurant: Arnolfo Ristorante

Location: Colle di Val d’Elsa, Italy

Date: June 16 & 23, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Awesome, but hard to find

ANY CHARACTER HERE

Just fifteen minutes from our villa and Siena lies the city of Colle di Val d’Elsa and its two star rated Michelin restaurant, Arnolfo. So we went twice! This is an amazing restaurant in a gorgeous location atop the old city. The rub, however, is getting there. The first time the GPS insisted we drive into a masonry wall (closed road). We gave up with that, parked, and ended up walking over a mile, including taking the elevator up to the old city. The walk back wasn’t no fun either and the staff told us that to actually drive here you have to go 6km out of your way to the next town and then come back by one particular approach — but then there is no parking in the old city.

So the next time, feeling all smart, I tried to park in the “close” (only 500m) lot below the old city. But the first entrance I tried was so narrow that I almost got stuck and had to back up my 9 seater van down 200m of alley and around a 90 degree turn — only took 30 minutes and soaked through my suit in the 88 degree humid weather. Then we had to hike up the half mile.

But it was worth it.


They have a gorgeous patio which far from “being in the middle of a city” looks out on the Tuscan hillside.


Even the non-view direction is lovely.


Grissini, first of several bread courses.


The menu on June 16 (the last of the “spring menu”).


And the new “summer” menu on June 23, as we luckily straddled the change.


Compari and soda.


Stating with a little prosecco to cool off.


In the glass.


Then comes a tray of amuses. From left to right. Green pea mouse, tomato stuffed with mozzarella, apple disc with prawn, veal croquet, and gorgonzola and fig jam sandwich. These were all good, but the last was incredible.


Like most great restaurants Arnolfo caters to every restriction. This is a variant amuse plate for vegetarians.


For example this beet and goat cheese mini.


Bread course number two, tomato bread and with lardo (sliver of pig fat).


And for those not so into the pig, the one on the right is onion.


Nor are the gluten free left out. Various potato and rice triscuits!


I’ve come to like Vernaccia, which is a D.O.C. white from San Gimignano. Very light, but with more flavor than a Pinot Grigio.


“Scampi, Goose Liver Escalope, Strawberries.”


“Sea Bass, Strawberries.” A variant for the shellfish impaired.

My notes failed me a little here, but I think it’s some kind of fish (possibly a pork belly though) in a pea soup.


Heads up, bread course three!


“Red mullets, Peas, Silver skin Onions.”


“Asparagus, Ricotta Cheese, Eggs.” Now this was an interesting dish. The white asparagus were grilled and wrapped in pancetta (bacon). The white and yellow stuff is deconstructed egg (yolk and white as powder). The ricotta is in the upper right and was delicious. The powder wasn’t as successful as the bonus egg, shown below.


This is more or less a coddled egg. I dipped the asparagus for extra umph.


This was a small production local Chianti Classico that the sommeler recommended. Good too, and like 30E. Try to find a decent wine at that price at a French 2 star!


“Guinea-Fowl, Chick-peas, I.G.P. Tuscan Ham.” Good stuff.

“Spinach soup with sea bass, tomato.”


“Perlina Aubergines, Tomato, Watermelon, Buffalo Mozzarella I.G.P.”


“Prawns, Peaches, Yellow Pepper.” Yummy. The pairing of the delicate shellfish was delicious with both the fruit and the peppers.


Arnolfo has very nice presentation, which I couldn’t photo every aspect of.


“Goose Liver, Red Onions, Spices, Cherries.” Oh wow yum. And that is some kind of cheese foam/ice cream on top. This was really good stuff.

And two extra goose liver preps for good measure. A sort of Napoleon and a little pistachio coated truffle, solid fois inside.


“Rabbit, Bloack Olives, Ratatouille.” Not your everyday Ratatouille. Notice the white asparagus too.


“Turbot with mozzerella.”


“Tortelli with chicken from Val d’Orcia, with asparagus and red pepper soup.” These are serious homemade pastas.

“Tortelli, Red Onions from Certaldo, White Beans from Sorana.”


“Mezzelune pasta, Courgettes flowers, Wedge shells.”


“Tagliolini, Rabbit, Black Olives.” In the front, out of focus, are discs of rabbit meat to go with the chunks of bunny in the pasta.


“Ravioli, Aubergines, Ewe’s Ricotta, Red Pepper.”


Gluten free pasta too!


“The 2006 Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Riserva is a pretty, juicy red laced with cherries, dried flowers, tobacco and underbrush. The tannins dry out a touch on the finish, which is the only thing that keeps the score from going higher. Still, this forward, fruit-driven Chianti should drink nicely over the next few years. Anticipated maturity: 2010-2016. “


“Cod, with onions.” And some other stuff.


“Fish soup, Crustaceans, Mollucs, Vegetables.”


“John Dory, Asparagus, Datterini Tomatoes, Capers from Pantelleria.”


“Dentex, Gazpacho, Aubergines.”


“Swordfish, Roasted Peppers, Candied Tomatoes.” You can see that each dish is quite complex.


A brunello recommended by the sommelier.


“I.G.P. Chianina Veal Steak and cheek.”


“I.G.P. Chianina Veal Tartar and vegetables.”


I didn’t used to be into tartar, but it’s really been growing on me over the last several years. Quail egg on top.


“I.G.P. Chiania Veal Steak, Potatoes.”


“Cinta Senese Suckling Pig, Porchetta, Leg, Loin, Leaf Cabbage, Beetroots.”


This town evidently produces 14% of the world’s crystal. Italian shopping hours being what they are, despite three visits, we never saw one open.


Ah the suffering involved in dining in one of the world’s great wine regions. 93 points from Parker. “Consulting oenologist Carlo Ferrini has turned out a beautiful wine at this historic estate, a property which he speaks of in effusive terms. Talenti’s sublime 2001 Brunello Pian di Conte exhibits a deep, translucent ruby color. It opens with captivating, vibrant aromatics, with notes of freshly cut roses, raspberries and licorice. Gorgeously expressive yet delicate on the palate, it offers layers of dark fruit, earthiness and sweet oak supported by a refined, classic structure, with exceptional length and fine, silky tannins on the fresh finish. It is a superb effort. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2021.”

We are assaulted by a battery of pre-desserts. Vanilla ice cream with cherry rhubarb “soup.”

“Almond Mascarpone, pistachio ice cream.”


“Ricotta Cheese, Orange, Honey.” Tart and sweet.


“Selection of Tuscan Sheep’s-milk and Goat’s-milk Cheeses.”


And some nice condiments.


I can’t even remember what this one was.


“Zuccotto, Star Anis, Coffee, Fennel Ice Cream.”


“Grand Dessert Assortment.” Because one isn’t enough. Chocolate cake, Passionfruit sauce. Coffee something. Strawberry flan. A bit of the above Zuccotto, and something else.


“Zuccotto, Pinenuts, Alkermes, Chocolate Sorbet, Fleur del Sel.” The central thing was basically a meringue.


“Fruit and custard mille fueile.”


“Apricots, Almonds, Lavender Ice Cream.”


Worth a bit of zoom.


And this too.


We also had a birthday (mine more or less), so there was this bonus cake!

And just a few petite fours. Lemon jelly in the center. A little fruit tart on the right.

More, on the second night. Berry tart. Ricotta vanilla dome. Pistachio burger. Blackberry mouse. Almond marzipan.


Our second meal here was slightly better than the first for some reason, but both were top notch. Service was spectacular all around. Highly recommended as a very updated medium modernist take on Tuscan cuisine. The quality of local ingredients was impeccable, and they know how to modernize playfully without letting the techniques get out of control.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Eating Monteriggioni – Il Pozzo

Restaurant: Il Pozzo

Location: Monteriggioni, Italy

Date: June 13 & 22, 2011

Cuisine: Tuscan

Rating: Classic Tuscan

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This local resteraunt in the cute little walled town of Monteriggioni pretty much typifies Tuscan cooking at its traditional best. We initially went here on the basis of our villa owner’s recommendation. He has good taste, and we came back a second time. This is probably the best of all my reports to get a sense of the classic Tuscan courses.


The restaurant is located in the main square of this qaint medeval village.


The name seems to mean well, shaft, or pit. There is an old well in the square right outside the restaurant, so that’s probably it.


The menu.


The interior is cute and traditional.


And they also have this lovely side patio.


The usual bread.


We started with a white from San Gimignano, Vernaccia, an old school but very pleasant DOC white.


Beetle juice anyone? Compari and soda.


Incredibly common, Tuscan ham with local melon.


Classic, caprese.


Smoked salmon served with a bit of salad and butter.


Local “pici” pasta with basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil.


Spaghetti pomodoro.


Pappardelle al Cinghiale, boar ragu. This was a scrumptious rendition of this wonderful dish, with perhaps a little cinnamon or nutmeg in the ragu.


Pasta with butter and cheese for the under 10 set.


Polenta with porcini mushrooms and cheese fondue — a rare out of focus photo.


A fantastic meat risotto. Basically a Bolognese sauce with rice. Really good.


The basic salad, but very well done.


Zucchini and walnut salad.


Fried fresh zucchini blossoms. Unlike in the states, these had no ricotta inside (which does frankly improve them), but they were still really good.


A good local Chianti Classico Riserva. It’s hard to really go wrong with some of these riservas at the local prices.


Grilled fillet of Tuscan cow. Rare (always)!


Guinea fowl braised and served in a sauce with slices of fresh truffle. No hating this.


Pork Senese, in a sweetish Vin Santo and fennel sauce. I liked this sauce which complemented the pork perfectly.


A total Tuscan classic, Salsicce con Fagioli — franks and beans. Tuscan sausage with stewed fava beans (a favorite of Hannibal Lector, but he uses the other other white meat).


Grilled lamb chops. Tuscans do love their Griglia (grilled meats).


Plenty of aperitifs available to wash down those slices of animal flesh.


The dessert menu.


Vanilla Gelato with hardened chocolate shell.


Creme Caramel. One of my personal favorites.


Tiramisu.


Cheese cake, Tuscan style.

You can really see the rhythm of a Tuscan meal here. The only things missing are the bruschetta and the minestrone, but those are shown in lots of other reports like Trattoria Pepei. First with have the antipasta, in this case cured meats, fish, etc. Then the pastas, then salads and vegetables accompanying grilled meats, followed by the cake-like desserts.

Click here to see more Eating Italy posts.

Memorial Day Pig

One of my friends always throws a “hog wild” Memorial Day BBQ.


The beginnings of the spread.


Pulled pork! This stuff was mouth watering good.


Baked beans cooked in molasses.


BBQ. This was a little sweet for my taste, even the hot.


BBQ turkey.


All this needed some wine from my cellar.

The shafer had enough age to be really nice, although I had cork problems. Parker gave it 90, “The Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap District has jumped in quality as John Shafer‘s son, Doug Shafer, abandoned sterile filters in favor of no fining and only a polishing, coarse filtration at bottling. That, plus less acidification, giving the wines a higher PH, has resulted in a more revealing and beautiful expression of the gorgeous fruit obtained from the Stag’s Leap District vineyards. The 1992 Cabernet Sauvignon Stag’s Leap includes 7% Cabernet Franc and 4% Merlot. It offers a wonderfully pure cassis nose, a velvety texture, plenty of ripeness, and some structure and tannin in the medium to full-bodied finish. It should drink well for 10-15 years. This winery continues to build on their fine reputation, pushing the quality to higher and higher levels. Shafer’s 50-acre estate vineyard, located in the heart of the Stag’s Leap District, is supplemented by an additional 70 acres in Carneros. The winery continues to be innovative, offering a very good Sangiovese called Firebreak that has a small percentage (usually less than 20%) of Cabernet Sauvignon included in the blend for color and bulk.”

The 2001 Beaucastel is wonderful as always, 96 points. “Beaucastel has been on a terrific qualitative roll over the last four vintages, and the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape (which Francois Perrin feels is similar to the 1990, although I don’t see that as of yet) is a 15,000-case blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, and the balance split among the other permitted varietals of the appellation. This inky/ruby/purple-colored cuvee offers a classic Beaucastel bouquet of new saddle leather, cigar smoke, roasted herbs, black truffles, underbrush, and blackberry as well as cherry fruit. It is a superb, earthy expression of this Mourvedre-dominated cuvee. Full-bodied and powerful, it will undoubtedly close down over the next several years, not to re-emerge for 7-8 years. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2025.”

And the Brunello also 96, although it needed a few more years. “The 2004 Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Vigna Paganelli emerges from the glass with masses of scorched earth, leather, tar, licorice, menthol and dark fruit. The Riserva shows a touch more inner sweetness, richness and depth in its fruit than the regular bottling, plus a bit more French oak as well. For now, the Riserva is quite reticent and requires air, but with time its awesome richness and power come through in spades. This dark, brooding and authoritative Riserva from Il Poggione is simply gorgeous. Readers who don’t want to pay the premium for the Riserva in 2004 need not worry; I tasted the 2004 regular bottling (twice!) while preparing this article and it is every bit as promising as my review last year suggested. In 2004 the Paganelli vineyard was harvested on the 13th of October, quite late for this estate. Anticipated maturity: 2019-2039.”


Salmon for those who aren’t into pig!


And spicey hot links!


Then the desserts start to come.


Fruit tart, pie, cupcakes for the kiddies.


This yummy red velvet cake with a cream cheese frosting.


And ice cream from Sweet Rose Creamery. Mint, salted carmel, vanilla, caffe luxxe coffee, strawberry etc.

Ford’s Filling Station

Restaurant: Ford’s Filling Station

Location:  9531 Culver Blvd, Culver City. 310-202-1470

Date: April 28, 2011

Cuisine: Gastropub

Rating: Always great for lunch.

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It was a gorgeous day (again) in LA, so I headed out to find another good lunch spot with outside dining. We ended up in Culver City with its rather large selection of good lunch spots and specifically at Ford’s Filling Station, which is run by Benjamin Ford, son of Han Solo. The place has been around awhile but before this he had another place in Beverly Hills which was very good — but I can’t remember the name.


Notice the “pig country” sign. They offer on the menu a 8 person minimum whole pig dinner with a whole roast pig!


Outside, there are two different patios. In general, Culver city has a lot of outside dining which is nice. For some mysterious reason LA restaurants often lack al fresco. This makes no sense given our weather.


The menu.


“Bacon wrapped dates, stuffed with cheese.” Um yum! I love this dish, and I’ve had it at many places (like recently at Upstairs 2). These were as good as any, showing off the sweet and salty.


“Shrimp Curry, jasmine rice, marash pepper and applewood smoked bacon.” Also a really great dish. Very similar to the one I had at Gladstones. The bacon made it even better.


Sliced serrano peppers in has you want to spice it up.

Pulled Pork Panini, melted gouda and spicy pepper relish.” The beans were awesome too, with a nice smoky porcine flavor.


A close up of the sandwich itself. I had expected something like a North Carolina pulled pork sandwich. That’s kinda tangy. This was more the succulent roast pork with cheese. Yum.


The dessert menu.


“Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich, chocolate chip cookie and mint chocolate-chip ice cream.” The ice cream was great, very similar to the mint ice cream I had at Sweet Rose Creamery, tasting as it did of fresh mint leaves. The fudge was good too. The cookie needed more butter, it was a little dry. Not bad, and the overall dessert was still very good, but with a really awesome cookie, it could have been… really awesome.


Inside, the stripped down old-school culver city building provides a nice deconstructed interior. I’ve never been here at night but I bet it’s a good watering hole.

Another good Culver City place is Fraiche, here for review.

Taking back Little Saigon

Restaurant: Little Saigon

Location: 6218 Wilson Blvd, Falls Church, VA 22044-3210 (703) 536-2633

Date: April 22, 2011

Cuisine: Vietnamese

ANY CHARACTER HERE

One of my favorite places back “home” (Washington D.C.) is Little Saigon, a local hole in the wall Vietnamese place with absolutely stellar food. I reviewed it once before, but I’m back again for more.

This is just a page of the 6 page menu, for the whole thing look at the older review.

A nice sparkling wine goes well with Vietnamese.

My dad also brought this old cab. But it was corked, and probably not the worlds best wine to begin with :-).

Table condiments.

This is marinated raw beef, soaked in fish sauce, with onions, chilies, and basil. Not a typical American flavor, but amazing nonetheless.

These are an interestingly different take on these classic soft Vietnamese rolls. Besides some of the usual veggies (lettuce, mint, bean sprouts, vermicelli, shrimp, etc) they also have a bit of spicy pork sausage.

With the crucial dipping sauce. These are really tasty.

This is a four person portion of the rice noodle pork soup with some kind of dumpling. There’s also cilantro, scallions, peanuts and who knows what else. But it’s certainly delicious with one of those complex flavor and texture profiles that is typical of good Vietnamese.

The individual bowl (approximately a quarter of the first bigger bowl).

Chicken wings sauteed in butter and garlic. Basically Vietnamese fried chicken. Sweeter and crunchier than the American equivalent and way strong on the garlic. Very good for sure.

Crispy orange duck. This must be Chinese inspired, but it’s amazing, totally amazing. The duck is perfect, and the sweet/bitter tang of real orange peels (not to mention the schechuan peppers) delectable.

Mixed seafood (all the S’s – shrimp, scallops, squid) in lemongrass sauce. Nice tasty subtle flavor to the sauce. This is a fairly exotic taste, but really good.

Little Saigon never disappoints. And this whole meal was like $80 for four!

Here Piggy – Botin Madrid

Restaurant: Botin

Location: Madrid Spain

Date: July 1, 2010

Cuisine: Classic Spanish

 

At the end of our month in Spain we wanted to hit up a totally traditional Spanish place for our final dinner. This place in Madrid claims to be the “oldest restaurant in the world.” True or not, it does serve a narrow but good menu of traditional Spanish fare. And this means pig — lots of pig!

The storefront in the heart of old Madrid.

The speciality of the house is roast baby piglet. They told me they go through 50-60 complete pigs a night! You can see them lined up in their terrines waiting for the ovens.

Oink oink!

Their fiery doom.

“The 2007 Les Terrasses is the same blend as the Camins cuvee but entirely sourced from old vines. It spent 12 months in 20% new French oak. Aromas of mineral, Asian spices, espresso, black cherry, and black raspberry lead to a medium to full-bodied, concentrated, smooth-textured wine. Savory, moderately structured, and approachable, it may evolve for 1-2 years but can be enjoyed now and over the next 6-8 years.” Parker gives it a 92.


The building sure looks old.

This traditional Gazpacho was very good — and included the tray of “additives” (cucumber, tomato, crouton). Even I — a consummate raw tomato hater — loved it.

Pimientos Rojos with Boquerones in Vinegar. I love this dish. Anchovies have a bad rap here in the states, but these fresh Spanish ones are amazing. I love the vinegary tang, and the contrast with the marinated peppers. Yum!

Here is the pig in the foreground — with potatoes — the Spanish love meat and potatoes. In the background is roasted lamb shoulder.

The lamb plated. Smokey, rich and tender. The piggy was someone else’s, after looking at the little pigs I just couldn’t bring myself to chow down on one. I didn’t see the lamb.  Bah!

Perfect flan for dessert. Rich custardy goodness and sweet dark carmel.

The funky old school Spanish decor.

the register certainly looks antique.

The cellar.

By the entrance, where they keep the olives they put on the table, is this sad little photo of babe.

Food as Art: Ping Pong

Restaurant: Ping Pong

Location: 900 7th Street NW. District of Columbia 20001. 202-506-3740

Date: Dec 01, 2010

Cuisine: Chinese Dim Sum


I’ve been going to Dim Sum for thirty-odd years, and it’s long been one of my favorite cuisines. Basically, this follows from the “law of appetizers,” which reads: “appetizers are always better than the main course.” Dim Sum is all “appetizers.” Ping Pong represents a modernization of the traditional Dim Sum concept. There are no carts, everything is made fresh to order, and there are modern variants on traditional favorites. Most of this is good, and they did a great job. The only downside is that it’s about twice as expensive as a hole-in-the-wall traditional place. However, particularly if you have a vegetarian in the party (traditional Dim Sim is nigh on impossible to appreciate as a vegetarian), it can be worth it.

The menu and our order. I like this “check your order” type menu, like an old school sushi menu.

Jasmine tea, the way they do it in China. The ball expands.

Into a pretty flower. Ping Pong has a very extensive drink menu, alchoholic and non.

Sauces are essential at Dim Sum. These are two kind of chilies. They had good soy, vinegar, etc. The odd missing one, which we asked for, but they didn’t have, was Chinese mustard. I love Chinese mustard.

Baked pork puff. This is a standard, and they did a great job of it. The pastry was buttery, and the pork sweet.

Here is an example of a welcome “modernization.” A vegetable puff. Same dough, but inside was honey-roasted vegetables. These did a pretty good approximation.

Vegetarian spring rolls, with a very nice sweet and sour sauce.

Spare ribs. Ultra soft (and fatty), with a very nice sweet flavor.

Asian leaf and three mushroom salad.

Crispy hoisin duck rolls. Tasty. Who could tell what was inside, but it had a nice meatiness to it. Like a duck taquito.

The tower of steamers begin to arrive. I personally love the steamed dumplings best of all. In China I had a 64 course Tang Dynasty style Dim Sum meal that was one of the best meals of my life.

Classic lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice. An excellent example of the species. The rice is mixed with pork, chicken etc.

Crabmeat and prawn, what’s not to like. Also very hot! They are steamed after all.

Classic Pork Shu Mai. I made the mistake of getting greedy on these and could barely taste them as I seared off my tongue. What I did taste seemed good.

This is a bunch of seafood and vegetable cooked on a griddle. A sort of Chinese seafood sausage. They call it a seafood cake. My father and I ordered these at random from an entirely non-English speaking greasy griddle at a rooftop restaurant in Shaimen China. These were better.

“Crab, shrimp, and scallop, carrot pastry.” These were great too, with the shell almost like a fresh ravioli.

Jumbo shrimp and coriander dumplings. Light and succulent. The coriander mixed it up a little.

Spicy pork dumplings. I loved these, and they have a significant kick. Basically ground pork spiced with Schezuan peppers. In Western China we would get these at hotel breakfasts.

Classic “Har Gau,” or shrimp in a light translucent pastry. Yum, but I missed the mustard.

Vegetable and beans in black bean sauce over coconut rice. Kinda light a high end weight watchers dinner.

Another example of a modernized lightened classic. Vegetable steamed bun, with sauteed vegetables and fresh baby corn. Really good. Almost as good as the pork version.

Spinach and mushroom pan fried dumpling, in crispy wheat flour pastry. Almost like meat.

Spicy Basil, rice noodles and chili. Interesting flavors.

My favorite of the meal, “black prawn, garlic and shrimp, black squid ink pastry.” There was a succulent sweetness that complimented the shrimp brilliantly.

The decor too is modernized as compared to your traditional place.

I was impressed with Ping Pong. On average the dishes were fresher than you get in the typical cart driven place, and the introduction of new flavors was very subtly but nicely done. I particularly appreciated having really well done vegetarian versions of classics. Bravo!

Thanksgiving – Pork Insanity

On our third night of ThanksGavin craziness, after Wednesday, and the incomparable thursday, we move into our traditional Friday evening at my cousin Abbe’s. This year Abbe settled on roast pork sandwiches — a meal with deep South Philadelphia roots.

We begin with the pork roasts going into the over, basted in white wine. They came pre spiced from Fiorella’s on Christian Street in the Philly Italian market. They only do pork (specializing in sausage) and have been in biz since the 19th century.

Broccoli Rabe sauteed in garlic.

Roasted long-hots. Serious peppers.

Parker 93 points, “The 2008 Vico made from 100% Mencia with 30% whole clusters and aged for 9 months in seasoned French oak. Opaque purple-colored, it offers up a slightly reticent bouquet of damp earth, mineral, incense, black cherry, and black raspberry. Dense and loaded on the palate, the flavors are already complex and mouth-filling. Impeccably balanced and with a 45-second finish, it has the stuffing to blossom for another 2-3 years but can be approached now. It is a great value.”

A very nice super tuscan.

The 2001 Beaucastel, RP 96! “Beaucastel has been on a terrific qualitative roll over the last four vintages, and the 2001 Chateauneuf du Pape (which Francois Perrin feels is similar to the 1990, although I don’t see that as of yet) is a 15,000-case blend of 30% Grenache, 30% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, and the balance split among the other permitted varietals of the appellation. This inky/ruby/purple-colored cuvee offers a classic Beaucastel bouquet of new saddle leather, cigar smoke, roasted herbs, black truffles, underbrush, and blackberry as well as cherry fruit. It is a superb, earthy expression of this Mourvedre-dominated cuvee. Full-bodied and powerful, it will undoubtedly close down over the next several years, not to re-emerge for 7-8 years. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2025.”

The Merlot was great too, tasting more like a Pomerol than a Cal Merlot.

Chef/Host Abbe chops grilled artichokes (from Claudio’s in the Philly Italian Market).

Our token white, “2009 Dönnhoff Niederhauser Hermannshöhle Riesling Spatlese Even the “off-vintages”, if there are any, for Donnhoff’s most renowned wines get high scores, and are of the finest quality and greatest longevity. Niederhauser Hermannshohle is one of two famous single vineyards which Dönnhoff farms, and the 2009 delivers a wallop, serving up a subtle olfactory treat of blood orange, pear, stone fruit, and talcum powder. In the mouth, incredible concentration comes to fore, as vivid flavors of orange pulp, blueberry, and wild cherry balance racy acidity, luscious mineral notes and a creamy, almost decadent, mouthfeel! A succulent, loaded offering that promises to delight for several years to come…that is, if you can possibly resist drinking it now!”

The heart stopping cheese selection. Camembert, Epposises, quince paste.

More options.

The bread.

And Thursday night’s Tapenade.

The wine keeps on rolling. A 2005 by Raul Perez, spectacular. And the Hall, “The dense purple-colored 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Diamond Mountain reveals abundant aromas of cassis interwoven with hints of bay leaf, licorice, and underbrush. Moderately high tannins give pause, but the sweetness of the fruit as well as the level of glycerin and concentration bode well assuming the tannins fall away at a reasonable pace.”

Some folk don’t like the other white meat, so panko crusted pan fried flounder was on the menu for them.

The pork roasts emerge!

Cousin Matt invested in a meat slicer just for the occasion.

The pork was intended to be assembled into sandwiches. Here is salad, artichokes, and provolone fresh from Philly’s Italian market.

Chef Abbe presides over the fish, the broccoli rabe, the “juice” and rolls.

A fish sandwich.

My pork sandwich, with the spicy peppers, cheese, artichoke, broccoli rabe, etc. Pork is soaked in the juice (gravy) ala French dip style.

Mom levers her special “Apple Drapple” Cake out of the pan.

Lo and behold, a second pecan pie!

The Apple Drapple, dressed for my son’s second birthday.

 

ThanksGavin Calendar:

Wednesday night dinner

Thursday night Thanksgiving Feast

Friday night pork roast (this post)

Saturday Deli Brunch

Thanksgiving – The Prequel

Restaurant: Umbria

Location: 7131 Germantown Ave. Philadelphia. 215-242-6470

Date: Nov 24, 2010

Cuisine: Modern American

 

Our traditional family feast, which we could dub the Thanksgavin, begins with the Wednesday night forefeast (to borrow a term from the Greek orthodox). In 2010 it was at an American place in Germantown outside of Philadelphia, called Umbria. Curiously the name might lead one to believe it was an Italian restaurant, but no.  regardless, it was very good. There were 14 of us.

Yesterday I blogged a bit about our PAST THANKSGIVINGS, and tomorrow I will cover the main event itself.

We really don’t mess around with the wines at these dinners. For the white lovers we had a brand new “2009 J.J. Prum Riesling Wehlener Sonnenuhr SpatleseFrom the sultry bouquet which exudes saline minerality, bounded by a medley of baked pear, raspberry, and lime skins…to the sweet, succulent attack of white fig, lemon and lime skins, and orange cream…to the mid-palate laden with pepper and dark blueberry and candied Meyer lemon flavors…I think that you can get the picture. Namely, this rich, vibrant wine is one of the most complex I have had the pleasure of tasting in 2010! Lithe minerality is present on the back palate and rich lemon ice notes reverberate on the 75+…yes, more than 75 second…finish. Pure ecstasy in a bottle? Quite possibly so!”

Next up. Parker gives the Nuits-St.-Georges 93 points, “An assortment of candied cherries explode from the glass of the 2002 Nuits-St.-Georges Les Perrieres. This seductive wine’s character is drenched in black cherry syrup, rocks, and earth. Medium-bodied, it has outstanding depth, concentration, and a long, expressive finish that reveals copious quantities of ripe tannin. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2018.”

Then the 91 point “2004 Brunello di Montalcino is a fresh, vibrant offering bursting with dark cherries, violets, underbrush, minerals and sweet toasted oak on a medium-bodied frame. The wine reveals terrific balance in an energetic, focused style, with firm yet ripe tannins. The finish is long, clean and refreshing. This is a gorgeous effort from Loacker. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2019.”

And then the 94 point, “2005 Shardana is an awesome Carignano endowed with exuberant dark fruit, smoke, licorice, sage, rosemary and tar. This is a fairly big, masculine wine with great intensity, depth and roundness. It needs another year or two in bottle for the tannins to settle down. The Shardana is formidable, though, and a terrific choice for hearty cuisines. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2021.”

The menu tonight.

The room, or at least half of it.

Bread.

“Roasted butternut squash ravioli, sage hazelnut and wild mushrooms.” A fall take on an italian classic.

“Mixed green salad, asagio cheese, balsamic vinaigrette.”

“grilled fennel sausage, sweet and spicy fig sauce.” Wow! Wow! The sausage itself was amazing, and the sauce was basically what you would get at a thai or vietnamese place for fried spring rolls. Wow! The combo was amazing, with the sweet tangy goodness against the rich meaty sausage.

Escargot special.

Special “crab and wild mushroom soup.”

“Filet of salmon, cedar roasted, maple glaze.”

“lump crabmeat, fresh herbs, extra dry vermouth.” This emphasized the crab, without a lot of added fat or butter. It worked.

“Pork loin chop, apple bourbon grilling sauce.”

Grilled swordfish special.

Beef short rib special. The meat was seriously falling from the bone here, with a wonderful smoky flavor.

Hmmm.  Not sure. But it was a white meat or fish :-) This might have been the swordfish, and the above the chicken.  Hard to remember.

For the deserts, it was time to bring out the big guns — sweet wise — the motor oil vicous PX. Pure sugar in a bottle. Yum!

Carmel almond sundae. Wow!  This was amazing too.  The nuts toasted into a praline like whatever, and the homemade carmel with a bit of sea salt.

Pound cake with fruit.

Classic “creme carmel.” Good, and I love flan, but not as divine as the sundae.

ThanksGavin Calendar:

Wednesday night dinner

Thursday night Thanksgiving Feast

Friday night pork roast

Saturday Deli Brunch