i like food

the tales and snapshots of dericious eating adventures

LA: Everything But The Kitchen Ink.

There was a time when I questioned whether my boyfriend liked boys or girls. This, of course, was before we started dating. Even after a year of blissful courtship, I occasionally wonder about his unusual habit of stalking men. Not just any men, but ones that can cook or eat. On the top of his list is Anthony Bourdain, which in my eyes is completely forgivable. Reason being that I have a bit of a crush on him myself. After all, the guy can cook, eat and write. Thankfully, he’s taunting us with his tasty adventures in our living rooms behind our glass screens. Oh but, I digress…

As luck would have it, the boy’s other man crush, Michael Voltaggio recently opened his own restaurant. Ink. in Hollywood was definitely within stalking range. Voltaggio carries an impressive resume as Chef de Cuisine at Bazaar and The Dining Room at The Langham in Pasadena, as well as the winner of Top Chef Season 6. I was curious about the hype, so I thought it’d be a fun surprise for the boyfriend and I to stalk, I mean, taste just how exquisite his food could be.

Touted as the most anticipated LA opening this year, reservations for ink. were snatched up quickly. Online reservations were booked solid for 30 days in less then a couple of hours - crazy.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a very friendly staff. Ink. was buzzing and flowing like a seasoned restaurant - surprising for the first week of opening. I started off the night with a drink of my own imagination. A Vodka “Soda” with house-made mint cucumber soda. Refreshing but not quite strong enough for my liking.

The interior has a very modern man feel to it. Comfy, functional and a little rugged.

The first dish to arrive was the Hamachi with parsnip-sesame cream, grapefruit, jalapeno. The fish was silky smooth and well proportioned with all the toppings. The bits of bread were sort or random but I still loved all the textures and colors on the plate.

I absolutely loved the Sea Bass with egg yolk, capers, romanesco and black olive oil. The skin was uniformly crispy and the fish was tender and moist. The unique array of vegetables was an added highlight. The romanseco had a texture like cauliflower - firm and snappy. The striking kaleidoscope texture resembled succulents which gave the dish a very rustic feel. I developed a bit of a crush on the darker green fronds, sea beans, which complemented the dish really well with a salty earthiness.

The next dish was my least favorite - Octopus with buttered popcorn, piquillo pepper and spinach. Luckily, the boy loved it and didn’t mind finishing it off on his own. The braised octopus had a nice meaty texture but I found that the buttered popcorn, in cream form, to be far too overwhelming in texture and flavor. 

A Voltaggio twist on a classic - Beef Tartare with horseradish, hearts of palm and sea bean chimichurri. Doesn’t it look like an upside down open-face beef patty a la mode?

To eat this, we had to smash it and we smashed it good! The “ice cream” here is a whipped horseradish frozen in liquid nitrogen. It was light, fluffy and delightfully cold. It gave the dense tartare patty a nice lift in texture and a swift kick of flavor. The beef was so densely packed down that it only intensified the rich beefy flavor. Luckily, the hearts of palms and sea beans (my new fave) helped break things up.

This was hands down my favorite dish of the night - Spaghetti with giant squid, squash, hazelnut-ink pesto and piment d’espilette. The squid “noodles” are awesomely creative and absolute perfection. The chewy texture was balanced just right with the thickness to keep it delicate. The ingenuity here is not only in the noodles but also, the sauce which is literally painted onto the bowl. By design, it helps you appreciate both elements separately before mixing it up. The nutty sauce works really well with the pepper powder sprinkled over the squid, as well as the adorable little scallop squash hidden underneath. A clever and delicious spin on a classic pasta dish. Too punny.

Without realizing it, we ordered some of the heaviest items on the menu - Iberian Pork with burnt orange and saffron-salsify. This meat was insanely marbled. My guess is about a 50/50 ratio but in a good way - nutty and rich. I could taste the effects of the strict acorn-diet of an Iberian Pig. You are what you eat -oink, oink. Unfortunately, after a few bites. I hit a wall. Perhaps, I should stick with Iberico ham which offers smaller, thinner doses of crack pork. Still worth trying if you’re into guilty pleasures, as I undoubtedly am. It’s like a pork version of o-toro sashimi, the fattiest part of the tuna belly. The salsify was delicious. I’m so happy that this is popping up on more menus - so versatile and scrumptious.

At this point in our meal, I was pretty stuffed but we still had one more dish to try. The irony being that our server insisted that we order four dishes per person and practically forced us to bump our six dishes to seven.

To help cope with a full stomach, I decided a drink would help me digest. I ordered the Tequila with serrano, lime, grapefruit and soda which I was quite content with. It packed some heat balanced by citrus and the earthy flavor of the pepper. I appreciated the giant block of ice which kept my drink ice cold and from tasting like chile verde sauce.

At last came the Veal Cheek with red curry, coconut rice and nante carrots baked in salt. Think deconstructed Panang Curry - concentrated blobs of ketchup-like curry with flurries of coconut creme and crispy rice. The veal cheeks were soft and tender but may have been slightly underseasoned. Of course, any dish following Iberian pork is going to be a touch act to follow…

We decided to end the night with the Grapefruit Curd with avocado, cilantro sorbet and charred maple-lime despite our bulging bellies. It was a tough choice since we’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about the apple pie but I was more then satisfied with my pick. It was delightfully refreshing, both in flavor and creativity. 

There is so much going on here - I love it! The snake swirl here is actually two components. Sort of a yin-and-yang of flavors: maple-lime brûlée which adds a caramelized sweetness and for balance, a swirl of sweet and tart grapefruit curd topped with citrus pulp. The small green dots of avocado added an earthy complexity while the giant cilantro orb tasted like a fresh herb smoothie with nuances of citrus and pepper.  The generous use of shortbread crumbles really gave body to the dish and rounded out the textures. I was surprised and delighted how everything worked really well together.

So, my verdict for the meal? Worth trying if you’re into innovative food. It’s clear to me that Voltaggio is a master at deconstructing classics and transforming them into something modern and fresh. I can’t wait to see where he takes the menu in six months. As for the boy and his man stalking? I can live with it, so long as he takes me with him to eat.

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ink.
8360 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90069
T: 323.651.5866
W: mvink.com

CHI: To Alinea and Beyond

This is the doorway to Alinea, the world renown three-star Michelin restaurant in the heart of Chicago characterized for it’s deconstructed interpretations of classics and avant garde cooking techniques. I’ve been dreaming of dining here for years and indulgently put it on my unofficial list of Things to Do Before I Die. Imagine my excitement - today was the day that I’d get to cross it off my list! Cue: Epic music intro.

One step inside and the mood quickly shifts from the gray brick exterior. It almost felt like I entered the twilight zone - not a soul in sight. At one point, I thought Storm Troopers might start marching down the hall to check on a security breach. As we trekked deeper into the red abyss, we quickly surfaced into the restaurant - slate gray and oddly reminiscent of a condominium. A dining room on the left, kitchen to the right and a staircase straight ahead. We were quickly guided upstairs to our table. There were no inquiries for our name or reservations. Just a brief moment of acknowledgement and “Your table is ready.” Psychic genius or a bit eerie? I’m still undecided.

The decor inside is very corporate zen, if such a thing exists - beige walls with staid artwork and spot lighting on the walls. Not a window in sight. Funny what you take notice of after sitting in the same chair for four hours.

The first arrival at our table was a centerpiece - a tile of slate adorned with live greenery and the soil to go with it. We were told that it would be part of a later course but to just enjoy gazing at it for the time being. Hmmm…but which one? After all, there were nineteen courses we needed to prepare for.

The first of many - Course 1: Steelhead Roe on a watermelon, fleur de sel and kaffir lime terrine wrapped in golden watermelon and a cucumber blossom in watermelon consomme. This dish was nicely understated and a smart way to start off the meal. The variety of soft textures was a nice warm-up to the night.

The roe had a really fresh flavor with the right hint of salt and sweetness to harmonize with the mellow flavors. The melon and cucumber were genius complements - a subtle and soft contrast. Each bite tasted like a refreshing springtime breeze.

Course 2: Smoked Hamachi Tempura layered with West Indies spices, pineapple and ginger on a vanilla bean skewer. There wasn’t a strong standout flavor in this bite. It was sweeter then I had anticipated and I enjoyed how crisp and airy the tempura shell was. 

Doesn’t the holding device resemble a decapitated egg beater?

The boy trying to get the full experience of smelling before tasting.

The next three courses come all at once - atop a piece of driftwood wrapped in seaweed. A bit dramatic, right? There’s an interesting yin and yang to the last course and this one. How does Chef Grant Achatz decide between a custom metal gadget or presenting a dish in a more organic vessel? I’d like to think it’s a bit of trial and error - the first delivery attempt of this course resulted in a small avalanche. Luckily, the servers were quick to fix this. Had they hesitated, I think I might have tried to sneak a taste of the fallen!

Course 3: Oyster Leaf. Curious enough, this tiny leaf tasted just like a raw oyster. It tastes so much like it that you expect there to be some sort of trick or technique but we were assured that it was just simply a Migonette leaf, a plant very far removed from the sea. The plant is typically used for potpourri and batik dyes - crazy!

Course 4: Taylor Bay Scallop served with Hitachino White Ale foam, old bay and charred scallions. The fluffy dome had an acute sweetness that complemented the scallop really well. I absolutely adore Hitachino Beers. Not only does it have the cutest cartoon owl on each bottle but it never fails to be both hearty and refreshing.

Underneath the foam, the scallop was generously seasoned for balance.

Course 5: Charred Razor Clam with daikon radish salad, tapioca pearls, carrot, soy and ginger. I couldn’t help but think of worms when I saw this. Luckily, the taste was rich in umami flavor and had a nice variety of textures. With it unique straw shape, razor clams seem to be gaining steady popularity in restaurants. The meaty squid like texture is a definite hit in my book.

With seafood on the brain, the tapioca was a benevolent stand-in for roe. The flavors felt very Asian to me and I really enjoyed the caramelized layers of sweet and smoky mixed with chewy and crunchy textures.

Course 6: Yuba - shrimp wrapped in fried bean curd skin with miso emulsion, black and white sesame seeds, orange taffy, chives and togarashi mayo. This is one of my favorite dishes of the night. In Chinese cuisine, yuba are tofu sheets are typically found in soup and resemble crumpled wet tissues, both visually and texturally. Understanding this helps you appreciate the radical transformation here. Playful, creative and awesome.

Imagine an Asian strudel that tastes sweet and slightly briny. A thin shellac of glaze gives a nice contrast to the earthy sesame flavor.

Course 7: English Pea at different temperatures - three to be exact. Interestingly enough, I HATE PEAS. While making reservations, they asked if I had any food allergies or dislikes and I was very tempted to say green peas. Of course, I had a good chuckle when this landed on my table.

Despite my deep hatred of these mushy suckers, I worked my way though this dish. While it didn’t win me over, I appreciated the creativity and manipulation of each iteration. This layer was like a combination of raw salad and baby food. The tendrils and crispy pea shoots tasted very similar to alfalfa sprouts while the puree was served just slightly chilled, on the border of room temperature.

The second layer revealed freeze dried peas and dehydrated pea meringue complemented with flavors of green grape, chamomile gel and olive oil jam. This was more like an afternoon snack - a pea macaron with tea, deconstructed. I liked the variety of textures with the subtle wave of fruit helped highlight the typically musty flavor profile of English Peas.

The final layer comprised of frozen pea puree and whipped Parmesano Reggiano and green apple sorbet. I found the combination of apples to be mismatched but enjoyed the airy cheese concoction on it’s own accord.

An interesting routine practiced before each course - fresh utensils for each course are placed on a small pillow. Some traditional and some unique. Remember the centerpiece from the beginning of the meal? Well, it’s about to make a little more sense for the next course.

Course 8: Farm Fresh Salad - a tomato varietal on red bell pepper and goat cheese gazpacho with croutons. The kicker? Self-serve lettuce and herbs - freshly cut from our centerpiece. Our waiter dubbed it, “Soup, salad and breadsticks - all in one.” I love multi-tasking food!

Snip, snip, snip…

So this is where my meal gets a bit weird. I can laugh about it now but take a guess what the little black thing on the right edge of my plate is in the picture above. If you guessed a spider, you are correct. I can only guess that this is bound to happen when living plants and soil are placed on a dinner table. I just didn’t think it would happen to me. And I definitely did not expect it to happen at a fine dining establishment. Luckily, the servers overheard my stifled “AHHH, it’s a spider” and removed the plate and centerpiece relatively quickly. I’m unsure if it was fear or restraint that stopped me from jumping out of my seat and screaming at the top of my lungs. I won’t lie, this left me fairly uneasy.

Instead of taking another chance, this was brought back to my table - a pre-assembled plate ready for me to eat and hopefully without any creepy crawlers. I tried my best to draw my focus back on the food. Thankfully, I love tomatoes so this was a nice palate change from the triple renditions of peas. Bleh.

I loved that each tomato was individually setup and paired, sort of like sushi. The soup and salad was a nice way of bringing it all together. Refreshing and a great for summer.

And just when I was missing the company of my pet spider, they bring out another centerpiece that looks like fruit roll-ups on chopsticks. Again, we’re asked to wait and see what this will be used for.

Course 9: Spanish Mackerel from Florida marinated in sake, citrus and juniper pinwheel of jicama, terragon and mango roll, layered with bergamot flower, sake pudding, candied yuzu, heart of celery and juniper skin. Served on the tip of on an antennae with the springy action of a bobble head.

I didn’t care much for this one. It lacked a star ingredient and/or a harmonious balance. The proportion of protein and complements could be to blame.

Course 10: Wild Mushrooms with pine cream, sumac foam with pine nuts, picked onions, fried chittlings and red wine mushroom jus. This was delicious - earthy and rich with crunchy and creamy elements for balance.

The morels and hon shimeji had a nice fluffy texture, both different and lovely. The presentation reminded me of live coral and I imagined the flavors swaying back and forth like a tide on my taste buds. The sauce really pulled this dish together.

As I was thoroughly enjoying the last few bites, I bit into something very hard and gravel-like. It was like chewing on broken glass. Concerned about what was put on my plate and into my mouth, I mentioned it to the server. He returned with something that resembled a small coral rock and explained that I had a piece of dehydrated mushroom used to flavor the tapioca powder on my plate. While I appreciated the feedback, it felt incredibly awkward for me to get this information. Yes, I just had a spider crawl out of my food but this just felt wrong on so many more levels. I can’t fathom why any restaurant would intentionally plate something that wasn’t meant to be eaten and then snub a guest. I was hoping for a better attitude from a reputable, respected and highly regarded restaurant. I think I started to feel more like a prisoner then a guest at this point. What a bummer.

Course 11: Hot Potato, Cold Potato arrived in a small wax bowl of creamy potato and truffle soup. Suspended at a 45 degree angle is a needle of black truffle, potato, chive, cube of butter and Parmesan. By removing the skewer, all the elements fall into the soup.

Next, we are instructed to enjoy the dish by “tossing it back like an oyster on a half shell,”  so down the hatch it goes. Rich and creamy like a baked potato on crack. I was surprised how the “solid” ingredients went down so easily. They almost seemed to melt in your mouth.

The contrast of temperature didn’t really dawn on me. What I liked most about this it seemed like a salute to good old American comfort food.

And next, we are surprised with super fancy plate settings! Another dramatic juxtaposition. Did I mention the red wine? Oooh-la-la.

Course 12: Agneau from the 1903 edition of the Escoffiers Cookbook, a geek culinary guide for old school foodies from the turn of the century. The stacked columns are  lamb loin from Pensylvania on a French crouton with artichoke heart, sauce choron and asparagus spears.

These little spheres, also known as Pomme de Terre Noisette, are seasoned Yukon Gold Potatoes tossed in lamb reduction jus. While only the size of peas, they were packed with loads of flavor.

Delightfully delicious and coin-sized to keep things light. The choron sauce, which is a Bearnaise sauce finished with tomato paste, made all the elements shine - just a bit sweet and salty. Yum.

The gamut of textures made this dish a highlight - crispy, tender and snappy. I’m really curious how close this is to the original recipe. The idea that someone was eating and enjoying this same dish over a hundred years ago is mind blowing when I think about how different kitchen technology and energy resources were back then.

Course 13: Black Truffle Explosion topped with romaine, truffle and a curl of Parmigiano Reggiano. Inside, the ravioli is filled with an intense black truffle broth. It’s very similar to a Xiao Long Bao where refrigerated cubes of soup stock are actually incorporated into the meat filling. We were warned to eat this with a closed mouth, that is unless you wanted to wear it. It’s sort of like biting into a cherry tomato.

The consistency of the pasta was perfect and the black truffle intensity was on point. I think what I liked most about this dish is that it was simple and fun.

Finally, it’s time to consume the next centerpiece! But what is it? The server tell us it’s a sheet of pasta made from tomato and black garlic. Of course, it’s never that simple…

On top of the glass from the top row, left to right: smoked salt, blackberry, roasted pearl onion, fermented black garlic paste, cubes of turnip, Nicoise olives and cherry. Second row: tomato seed vinaigrette, salsify with parsley and spoon with distillation gel of tobacco. Next comes the cool Transformers part. First, the server asks us to lift and put aside the glass.

Underneath are metal brackets housed on a wooden tabletop.

We are asked to interlocked the two pieces and viola!

It’s not just a trivet but a stand for the pasta flag. But wait, there’s still more…

Course 14: Beef Short Ribs braised for four hours and dressed in red wine reduction, served straight from pot to pasta. Tender and flavorful.

Yum! Can’t forget to throw in all the ingredients that we started with.

I think the hardest part is getting your hands dirty.

Luckily, moist towelettes are already on stand-by. Now all we needed to do was pick an approach oh how to eat it. I went with a sushi approach and rolled it up. My dinner companion opted for a taco method. Either way, it was delicious.

All the flavors played so well together. This was the my favorite interactive course. For the first time in this meal I felt like I was allowed to have fun! I think part of my difficulty with Alinea might be the very instructive style in which you’re told to eat. In my mind, food should be exploratory and creative. Here, they push the agenda that there is only one way to correctly enjoy each dish. With those feelings aside, this dish was really tasty. It was many flavors at once - fruity, smoky, savory, meaty and rich. Totally drool worthy.

Course 15: Octopus braised in red wine with a cube of eggplant puree, lime, chili and coriander suspended above a bowl of Vidalia onion soup and wasabi foam. The bite alone was earthy. The chewy texture of the tentacle and the musty cube had a nice contrast but didn’t really wow me.

I believe the genius is in the soup. The refreshing acid and heat just stole the show.

Once the fork is removed, you have no choice but to “shoot” the bowl of soup to keep the balance of things.

Course 16: Yuzu Snow. If you’re not familiar, yuzu is a citrus fruit in the mandarin orange family. It has the tartness of lemon and lime balanced with tangerine notes - subtly sweet and fruity. To achieve the frosty texture, the inner ice flower is soaked in liquid nitrogen and dipped. An ideal palate cleanser and very refreshing. 

Course 17: Cubes! While very cool to look at, I found this dish to be more interesting then it was good. The highlighted flavors were peaches (red-orange), basil (green) and jasmine tea (clear gel) - a play on caprese salad our server tells us.

Taste-testing each cube individually was fun. Here is balsamic vinegar (black-brown) and eucalyptus (green gel). Ironically, I craved more instruction on how to eat this dish as I was really struggling with finding at least one good combination.

The abundant white cubes were random placements of almond cake, burrata cheese and crème fraiche. I found some of the lumpy texture to be really off-putting.

Sadly, I didn’t finish every last bite of this. I just couldn’t find my footing or understand the direction of this dish. Oh well…

Course 18: Liquid Herbal Shot - lemon grass distilled into liquid  with thai basil, dragon fruit and herbs inside a glass straw sealed with an edible lime gel.

I had to count to myself before taking this on. Deep breath and chug! Surprisingly, everything, including leafs, seeds and fruit chunks go down a lot smoother then I expected. The intense flavor is incredibly fresh, like an herbal jello shot.

Dessert just wouldn’t be the same without coffee. Prepping for the final course with some French Press action.

Course 19: Chocolate - a ribbon of cilantro, red pepper and bitter orange with frozen dark chocolate mousse and banana rum custard crème brûlée. This was another dish that just didn’t work for me. I’m pretty hard to please, especially when it comes to desserts. The amount of chocolate seemed to overwhelm the plate while the savory combinations kept competing for dessert’s grossest flavor - peppery, spicy or bitter. The one saving grace was the custard but it was quickly enveloped by the melting chocolate.

A peek inside the kitchen. You can see Achatz just left of center in deep focus.

As a foodie, I’m hard-pressed to admit that my experience at Alinea was just okay. It didn’t live up to the ground-breaking innovation and taste that I was hoping for. Being regarded as one of the best restaurants in the world, I was hoping for a transcending dining experience, or at least a pleasurable one.

While there were a number of standout dishes that I thoroughly enjoyed, I think I learned more about my food expectations and personal dining style. First, that food is just as susceptible to trends and time. What is modern today, may be old fashioned tomorrow. Maybe had I visited Alinea in 2008, I would think differently. I also think that Alinea just wasn’t a good fit for me, personally. Despite my best efforts, I just never felt comfortable. Fortunately for me, Chicago has plenty other food adventures to fulfill this my appetite. It’s definitely going to take more then a spider, spills and a snub to stop me, so stay tuned!

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Alinea
1723 N Halsted St
(between Concord Pl & Willow St)
Chicago, IL 60614
T: (312) 867-0110
W: alinearestaurant.com

HI: Aloha Morimoto Waikiki!

What’s your favorite movie? What would you pick for your last meal? What’s your favorite vegetable? Chances are that it’s hard to definitively answer these questions with just one answer. At least, for me it is. However, if you ask me who my favorite Iron Chef is, I can  answer without hesitation - Morimoto. I’ve always been a fan of his traditional yet modern sensibilities - always focused on flavor. There’s a certain meditative yet playful quality you observe when watching him on television that I’ve always wanted to experience, more specifically, taste for myself. Lucky for me, I was headed to Oahu where his first west coast restaurant, Morimoto Waikiki, is located inside the über chic Edition hotel. It’s hidden away from the busy Waikiki strip on Kalakaua Ave and you might find yourself distracted by the retro stylings of the Illikai Hotel. Don’t be fooled, just around the bend as you head towards the harbor, you’ll find it tucked right past the valet desk. You are the secret ingredient today, my friend.

Vacationing has it’s moments of gluttony, especially when it comes to daytime drinking. Having had my fill of mai tais, I was in the mood for something different. It seems my day dreams were answered with the Pear Yuzu Gimlet. A zen like mixture of yuzu citrus, serrano chili, fresh lime sour and Absolut Pear Vodka topped with fresh yuzu zest. All the flavors tasted so harmonious and smooth. It was not to sweet, not to sour and not to fruity.

Another drink I tried was the Piña Haupia. It’s a sort of a deconstructed Piña Colada resembling the flotsam of a Taiwanese Boba/Pudding/Jello drink, only fresher and fruitier! In it is muddled pineapple, Skyy Infusion Pineapple Vodka, chunks of Calahua Coconut and fresh lime sour. The flavor of this was stellar and the leftover bits were fun to munch on, a lot like the booze-soaked fruit in sangria. Yum.

The Toro Tartare is one of those items you just need to order. It’s been featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate and I’ve also seen it on interviews where Morimoto walks through his creative design process on how and why he created these custom panels. The fun presentation brings out the kid in me. My curiosity commands that I play with my food. So, what exactly is in this dish? Well, one panel is laced with a quarter inch of raw tuna belly that is so finely minced that little chewing is necessary. Yup kids, you can leave your dentures at home.

The second panel is like a painter’s palette containing (left to right) seaweed paste, crème fraîche, wasabi, maui onion, avocado puree and crunchy rice crackers. It also comes with a chilled dashi soy for dipping (think sushi) and a yummy mountain peach to cleanse the palette. The little shovels that resemble putty knives are there for you to mix and match the flavors in any combination your heart desires. The one piece of advice I can offer: make sure you eat as quickly as the person you’re sharing this with. That is, if you choose to share! Personally, I love every single topping on here. If you were to swirl it up and make it into ice cream, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

For the rare (or raw) meat enthusiasts, this silky Lamb Carpaccio was heaven. Each square inch is decked with a mound of finely minced onions, scallion, shiso bud and a mild scallion-ginger dressing with just a kiss of citrus. Each bite is like playing tic-tac-toe, where you use chopsticks to break away a square plot of meat. My technique was to roll each bite up like a taquito! This is serious, melt-in-your-mouth ecstasy.

The Pork Gyoza was a pleasant surprise. Being a staple of Japanese cuisine, I was happy to see such a common dish arrive in an unusual fashion. While the dome of rice paper didn’t add much flavor, it’s playful presentation reminds me of a jellyfish and I couldn’t wait to try it!

Inside the bubble, is a layer of delicately steamed and pan fried gyoza filled with pork and scallions. The layer below it is tomato sauce and a magical bacon cream foam. Mixed together, the combination of flavors reminded me of pizza, in a really good way. Think about it - gyoza wrapper dough, pork sausage, tomato marinara sauce and bacon cheese foam. Even the rice crust is almost like a pie tin - only turned upside down. Morimoto is an evil food genius and I like it. I really, really like it. Think he’ll share his recipe for bacon foam with me?

Can you guess what’s inside these crunchy little treats?

Here’s a hint: It’s golden yellow and looks like a pine cone. Yes, Pineapple Tempura was an impulsive “we’re on vacation in Hawaii” order in many ways. First, it’s ubiquitious association with Hawaiian tourists and second, I really wanted something fried. Indulging yourself is never a bad idea when you’re on vay-cay, right? Sweet rainbow-shaped fritters wrapped in Jamon Iberico, dusted with togarashi and wasabi tzatziki. The sweet and salty works subtly but I think the batter was a barrier in getting these two flavors to really marry together.

Our final dish was the Kakuni - Ten Hour Pork Belly on Rice Congee with Braised Pork Jus. This is a work of pure genius. While congee may not be for everyone’s palette due to it’s glutinous texture, I love the pairing of such a simple Chinese staple with something so rich and mouthwatering. It’s like mashed potatoes and steak, as opposed to the similar dishes like grits or risotto where the flavor components are usually mellow and creamy.

The kakuni was dense in umami sweetness, similar to unagi sauce, without the excess oil and fattiness. The rich braised pork flavor was meaty and magical. It was so soft and tender, you could easily break off pieces with a spoon. I also really liked the crispy burdock topping which added a nice crunch to each bite.

While reading through the menu, I realized that you can have very different approaches to ordering. First, you can go the traditionalist route by sticking with sushi, rice bowls and bento boxes - all standard items you can order at any Japanese restaurant. My guess is they’ll taste good but may not necessarily feel special. Second, you can order the Western stuff - burgers, sandwiches, salads and fries. Sorry but these dishes just seem too compromised for my tastes. Third, you can order the more modern and adventurous items which I think will be the most rewarding. If I stop and think about how much improvisation and confidence you need to be an Iron Chef, I realize how hard their jobs are. I believe that is what diners come here searching for and what you order can easily make or break your dining experience at Morimoto Waikiki. I personally think Morimoto should win every battle. A la Cuisine!

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Morimoto Waikiki
(inside The Wakiki Edition)
1775 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96815
T: (808) 943-5900
W: Morimotowaikiki.com

LV: Me gusta Jaleo mucho

I was really excited to try out Jaleo by Jose Andres in Las Vegas and I couldn’t have found a more perfect excuse to try it - a send-off dinner for two of my dear friends whom I’ve both known since high school. Nothing sad or morbid. These two gals are getting married! Can someone say - Double Bachelorette Party? Yup, double. You know what that means, right? Double the…

FOOD! Hah. Here are the pretty brides-to-be. See how big they’re smiling? That’s cause we’re about to go to dinner. Okay okay, so maybe we had a few drinks before hand.

We trekked over to the City Center, through the glitzy Cosmopolitan Hotel, and found Jaleo on the third floor, front and center to the escalator. At first, we weren’t sure where we were - no signs or doorway entrance. Even the hostess stand was a little ambiguous. The only thing you could read were these giant metal gates which takes a few extra seconds to process. Still, nothing literally said “Jaleo.” Luckily, we just stuck are heads in and asked. Once we were seated, I started to appreciate the graphic use of typography as decor. It speaks to the design geek, as well as the food enthusiast in me.

I really had to mentally prepare myself for Jaleo which features a strict traditional menu of Spanish small plates, unlike Bazaar which offers a modern gastronomy menu and classic tapas. At Bazaar, I’ve found the traditional menu to be a bit heavy handed with the salt. Besides who comes to Vegas for a traditional meal? Certainly, not me. I want to be swept away in the magic and glamor. Luckily, I was still in for a great meal…

Vegas wouldn’t be as sinful without a good drink. We wanted to toast our bachelorettes Spanish style, so we ordered a Poncha de Cava for the table. Literally, a bowl of sweet and sparkling punch. Though it arrived in a bottle, our server quickly poured it into a fish bowl with lime, mint and blueberries.

Light, refreshing and a great compliment to our meal. It felt somewhere between a white wine and champagne.

Ordering dinner was an interesting enterprise - nine girls and a large menu of small plates. How should we order? Well, we each picked two dishes we wanted to try. Interestingly enough, there were only a few double orders. Sharing though would be an even more challenging task.

First dish to arrive was the Manzana con Hinojo y Manchego - Sliced apple and fennel salad with Manchego cheese, walnuts and sherry dressing. This tasted as expected. Paper-thin apples dressed with a mixture of elements - acidic, slightly bitter and salty. What made it different was the use of green apples which were slightly tart but refreshingly crunchy.

Mejillones Vapor - Steamed mussels with bay leaf and white wine. Another dish with very little surprise. Simple and tender. I do wish there was a bit more “au jus” to dip in.

The Pollo Croquetas are simply traditional chicken fritters but it’s vessel was a shoe-in for a good chuckle. Fried just right with microscopic breading, the inside was filled with shredded chicken and a soft and creamy filling like mashed potatoes.

This was one of my picks - Rape a la Donostiarra. A full plate of carpaccio-sliced Monkfish with garlic, sherry and parsley oil. Cooked just til the edges curl, this was absolutely divine. I really enjoy the dense texture of monkfish but this was so different - tender and satin-like. Seasoned perfectly, the parsley oil gave this dish a really bright and fresh bite which kept me going for more.

This Jamon Ibérico de Bellota Fermin arrived like an adult version of fruit roll-ups - on paper, waiting to be peeled and devoured. Make no mistake, this is no ordinary ham. This charcuterie is cured from the legendary, acorn-fed black footed Ibèrico pigs of Spain. Balanced with nuances of salt, the silky jamon releases earthy and nutty flavors upon consumption and is highly addicting.

The Spanish version of Pigs in a Blanket - Chistorra Palta. Slightly spicy chorizo wrapped in crispy potato. Dare I say, like mini tacos! I thought the shell was a little bit bland but the chorizo compensated for this.

There was some confusion about the paella portions. We ordered anticipating a large pan that could feed our entire table, as we had read about in reviews and write-ups on Jaleo. However, this was a single plate of Arroz Bogavante - Lobster Paella.

A visit to the back of the restaurant revealed the root of our confusion - a large fire pit with two huge pans under attentive watch.

More then a dozen lobsters on a pan. I wonder how many one pan can feed? I think it was just as well that we only got a single portion to share. The lobster was difficult to share but the rice was flavorful and pillow-y but not in an over-cooked way. It had a  hint of seafood and a rich hint of tomato.

I have no idea what kind of paella was in this pan but the fresh herbs make it look delish. Makes me wish I had brought my spoon with me and not just my camera.

This may be my least favorite dish of the night. Ironically, it was one of our double orders. Gambas al Ajillo - described as a “very, very famous tapa” of shrimp sauteed with garlic. It wasn’t bad but I found it to be bland and uninspiring. Luckily, we still had a steady stream of food arriving at our table.

Next was, hands down, my favorite dish - the Secreto Iberico. So @&#$! good it’s a secret. Magical slices of medium rare pork served with toasted rustic bread smeared with sweet tomato paste. The pork had just a hint of smoke and was incredibly marbled and tender. It practically melted in my mouth. The zingy salsa verde, a concentrated puree of fresh herbs, leverages just the right amount of salt to compliment the pork. To this day, I still have cravings for this.

I selfishly ordered a Salmon Cone, knowing how difficult it would be to share. I just couldn’t resist. Typically, cones embody the worst of my lactose nightmares but this was one savory alternative I could definitely wrap my tongue around. The crispy shell was the perfect foil for creamy salmon tartar and briny orange salmon roe “cherries” on top.

I also picked the Ensalada Bogavante, a Maine Lobster Salad with frisee and citrus. The dressing on here was the perfect compliment to the ingredients. This dish was light and satisfying and I actually found the coarse texture and slightly bitter bite of the frisee to be a nice contrast to the lobster and grapefruit.

This was another dish I didn’t care for. Visually, it looks a lot like carrots which I’m not too found of. It’s actually a Salmon Vinaigrette - raw salmon dressed with anchovy-lemon oil and pine nuts. This dish didn’t work for me on two levels - flavor and texture.

Oh yummy, cheese! How I love/hate you. The Selection Quesos included five varieties - Manchego, Idiazabal, Garrotxa, La Serena, La Peral Blue Cheese.

Lots of fun to share! I can’t remember what each cheese tasted like but I still have automated drooling sensations when I think of the bread and tomato paste. The tomato tasted like a super concentrated form of ketchup.

The Vieras Romesco was absolutely divine. Seared scallops with a rich Romesco sauce. I only wish there was more to go around. What a gorgeous crust and the sauce was packed with so much flavor. I didn’t realize that Romesco actually originates from Spain and is typically made up of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and peppers. So good.

The Fricando de Carilleras was nice and hearty. Braised veal cheeks and morels with olive oil potato puree. Savory and comfy. This is a solid meat and potatoes dish if you’re looking for something with more weight.

This lovely salad is by far the best plate of brussels sprouts that I’ve ever had - Ensalada de Bruselas y Jamon. Virtually unrecognizable, the sprouts takes on the consistency of loose leafy greens, instead of the it’s typical guise as a dense vegetable grenade. This salad is served warm with apricots, apple and serrano ham and dressed with just the right does of flavor. I’d happily order this dish on my next visit.

The Bocadillo Combo resembles a breadstick bauguette. It’s Flauta bread brushed with fresh tomato, extra virgin olive oil and layered with Seranno Ham and Manchego Cheese. It’s like a Spanish Banh Mi - crunchy bread, cured meat, salty cheese juxtaposed with sweet and earthy tomato paste.

This is gluttony on a plate - Pork, foie gras and truffle Canelones with bechamel sauce. Baked like an enchilada, this dish tasted as decadent and over-the-top as it sounds.

I wish the filling could retain more of it’s natural texture. The foie gras was barely detectable and the heavy sauce masked the texture and potential flavor this dish could have delivered. Bummer. On to desserts…

Luckily for us, the perimeter outside of the main dining room is lined with large communal picnic tables - perfect for large groups.

Ironically, I found the sign identifying the restaurant on my way towards the restroom down the hallway in the back!

Funny enough, I also found a Scarpetta, Comme Ca, Blue Ribbon and this funny looking guy around the bed too. Talk about food paradise!

The main dining room is completely open. No windows here.

Tucked in the far corner is the “secret” dining room that seats only eight guests a night. Reservations are taken strictly by e-mail. The bar flanks the room on the far left.

I really enjoyed the unusual flavor combination of the Helado de Oliva  - Olive Oil Ice Cream with grapefruit sorbet and fresh fruit. Sometime grapefruit can be really tart but the ice cream was a great balance to that.

On the flip side, I can fully appreciate a slightly savory dessert. The Pastel Avellanas is even better then it looks. Chocolate hazelnut cake with praline ice cream and salted caramel sauce. Imagine a box of See’s Candies Nut and Chews Variety got fashioned into a plated dessert. It’s seasoned with the perfect dose of salt to keep it interesting.

They say, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” but not this time. Jaleo is an experience that is meant to be shared. The more plates the merrier. Congrats to the beautiful brides, Denise and Viv. May you live (and eat) happily ever after. Cheers.

——-


Jaleo
3708 Las Vegas Blvd S
(inside the Cosmopolitan, 3rd floor)
Las Vegas, NV 89109
T: (877) 551-7776
W: jaleo.com

LA: I choose you Picca!

If you ever had the luck of trying the pop-up restaurant du jour of 2010, you may recognize this building where Test Kitchen once resided. It was literally a pop-up of pop-ups. In it’s four month life span, the kitchen saw some amazing chefs including Ricardo Zarate, the chef and owner of Picca Peruvian Cantina who manged to transform the formerly dreary facade into something fun and warm. Zarate’s first restaurant, Mo-Chica, is housed inside a small food court, a seemingly odd location considering the quality cuisine it delivers. Honest food speaks for itself and I’m convinced that this new stand alone restaurant will prove to be just as winning.

I’m digging the bright face lift on the exterior. Have you ever had a more exuberant welcoming by a cow? Inside, the design elements continue to pop out with a zillion textures -  mirrors, wood, tile, glass panels, chalk boards…scrawled with drawings, menu specials and literal graphics about Peruvian food culture.

The open kitchen serves as a beacon of bustling activity. Up front, the sushi bar alludes to the Japanese influence in Peru, as well as the menu here. Along the walls, glass partitions allow you to watch the hibachi-like grill and peer into the hot cooking station in the back. Foodie friendly, I like it!

I was in the mood for a girly drink and the Martin Ricky was bang on. The cocktail menu by Julian Cox centers around Pisco, a traditional Peruvian grape brandy. It’s very neutral in flavor, much like vodka. My cocktail was pretty in pink. Made with lime juice, grapefruit juice, simple syrup, peychaud bitters, pisco, soda and strawberry air. It was divinely light and refreshing. Not too much sugar or fruit to over power the flavor of booze.

Sounds strange on paper but The Avocado Project was tasty - 5 Island white rum blended with fresh avocado, ascrobic acid, fresh lime juice, agave nectar and finished with salt. This savory drink maintained a nice boozy flavor with a smooth creamy texture. Similiar to a piña colada minus the ice or maybe how you’d imagine a vegan margarita to taste. Not that there’s such a thing as a meat margarita but you never know…

As we sat, I had time to admire the high ceilings which let in a lot of warm sunlight and added a lot of dimension and life to the dining area. I would describe the interior as modern rustic. An oxymoron, I know. Even here, the line art seems to resemble both primitive cave drawings and modern street art.

Our first dish to arrive was the Choritos - steamed mussels with crispy cubes of pancetta, fresh herbs and aji amarillo butter. Served with toasted bread, these were the essential edible sponges needed to soak up every last drop of the delicious golden sauce.

Typically, the most simple of dishes require exact execution to hit the mark. Here, the mussels were cooked perfectly and the ratio of seafood to meat to carb was just right. Great balance.

What comes before ceviche? Uh, Sushi?! At least, in this Peruvian restaurant it is. Not complaining. I think Zarate’s rice-free interpretation is quite admirable. How do you change up such a revered and adored element of traditional Japanese cuisine? This is how. For starters, each order comes with two pieces and is situated atop a well-formed block of mashed yellow potato.

The sushi chefs are hard at work, meticulously constructing their bite size confections of meat and potatoes. The “meat” options are very traditional - spicy tuna and unagi to name a few. All with the exception of one very exotic item - chicken! Okay, so I mean that only in the context of sushi. Unusual, right?

Our first hybrid sushi selection was the Albacore, served with garlic chip and ceviche sauce. The fish was tender and juicy. Marinated generously. Typically, I find Albacore to be stringy and bland but this had a nice mellow flavor.

Our second pick was the Smoked Salmon, served with hijiki (a brown sea vegetable), shallots and aji amarillo yogurt. One bite and this just dissolved upon impact. You could taste how fresh the fish was, despite it being cut up in little cubes and it was smokey, in a really good way. I almost felt like the salmon was too creamy for the potato but it was delicious nonetheless!

What’s next? Ceviche and Tiraditos. While I’m familiar with ceviche, tiraditos was new to my vocabulary. Ceviche is typically cubes of raw fish marinated in citrus juices. Tiraditos, on the other hand, are more akin to a carpaccio or izakaya sashimi plate where raw fish is thinly sliced, plated and then drizzled with dressing.

A beautiful mistake - Tiradito de Atun. Seared tuna with soy ceviche dressing and sweet potato paste. This item was accidentally ordered (instead of the sea bass) and came back compliments of the kitchen. We welcomed this generous gesture with hungry eyes of course. The fish was velvety and seared ever so gently. The sweet potato was reminiscent of miso and had a mild sweetness that complimented the tuna well.

The dish we intended to order came next - Seabass Tiradito. Thinly sliced sea bass with soy sauce, lemon dressing and a sweet potato puree. The sharp kick of citrus contrasted nicely with the savory umami of the soy in a tongue tingling way. Zesty.

I’ve never had a raw preparation of sea bass but based on this dish, I’d do it again and again and again. Delicate and buttery. It has the texture of yellowtail belly but with a slightly firmer bite. Loves it!


Back to cooked food. This one was fresh off the grill - Black Cod with miso anticucho with crispy sweet potato chip. I can’t help but but think of yakitori but seriously, this is beyond comparison. This flavor packed fish was charred to utter perfection. The blackened edges manage to envelope the buttery fish with just the right amount of ruggedness that only constant tending and turning could yield. Yum.

Say hi to my new best friend manning the grill. Haha. Think he’ll share that rib-eye with me? Drooool.


Our next dish was Peruvian paella, Arroz con Erizo, which was made with mixed seafood and bathed in a sea urchin sauce. Briny and beautiful, this dish is not for land lovers. The flavor sings much louder then any Spanish paella that I’ve tried and is laced in every single kernel along with some heat to keep you alert and wanting more.

My favorite dish of the night was the Seco de Pato. This dark beauty boasts duck leg confit with a black beer sauce on cilantro rice. Duck, beer and cilantro made this is a no brainer for me. I’d sign up for anything with crispy skin and fall off the bone meat. What’s surprising is the rice in this dish is equally as good as the duck. No, I’m not drunk on black beer. This dish was rich, earthy and comforting. Makes me secretly wish for a Peruvian fairy godmother that could make this for me at home. Yum.

As the end of our meal approached, so did daylight. The room quickly transformed after our main course into a dark cantina.


For dessert, we picked out a perennial favorite of mine - churros. The twist was a passion fruit custard filling. Can you say - double yum? They look a little stubby but it was the perfect size for dipping.

Dessert came with three dipping sauces: milk chocolate, an orange-liqueur marmalade and carob. Yick on the last one. While I found these fancy churros to be quite enchanting alone, it was still fun to play and taste. I like the idea of layering flavors and you bet that I tried every single flavor combination.

This is the man behind the magic - Ricardo Zarate. He was recently named Food & Wine's Best New Chef. He seems to be one hardworking guy. I remember seeing him almost every single time I dined at Test Kitchen, working on the line, plating or cutting Iberico Ham alongside other chefs.

Despite my devotion to tradition, I still love venturing beyond the standard Lomo Saltado and Pollo a la Brasa. I choose Picca because it manages to offer interesting flavors that seem familiar yet brand new, all at the same time.

——-

Picca
9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Neighborhood: West Los Angeles
T: (310) 277-0133
W: PiccaPeru.com

NY: Mo’ Mo’ Momofuku

Of all the places I could pick to eat in New York, there was only one on my absolutely-must-try-non-negotiable list - Momofuku. Little did I know that David Chang had hatched so many spin-offs since his first restaurant opened in 2004 - Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Mà Pêche, Momofuku Ko and Milk Bar. While I would have loved to try all of them, I knew that this just wasn’t possible on a five day trip, both financially and logistically. I had a pretty major decision on my hands and it wasn’t going to be easy for me to choose just one.

So luckily, the boy decided for me. If it’s possible for someone to be more food obsessed then me, he definitely takes the prize and after some intensive online research (or so I’m told), we trekked over to Momofuku Ssam Bar with much excitement.

Inside, the restaurant was fully lined and furnished in lacquered wood panels. It was strangely modern and cozy. The left side is flanked by a bar running the length of the restaurant and on the right, small groups of bench seating. At the edge is an open kitchen where all the food action is. Little did I know that the infamous Crack Pie lay just down the hall, behind the kitchen at Milk Bar. Sweet!

My first taste, or rather sip, was the Seven Spice Sour made with Honjozo Sake, Lime, Yuzu & Togarashi. Love, love, loved it. So much in fact, I had two. This velvet-like cocktail was succinctly tart with just the right hint of sweet and spicy. Of course, I should probably divulge that I’ve had many love affairs with yuzu and togarashi, past and present, but I still think that you’ll think this drink is amaaaaaazing. Seriously.

After reading through the menu, I’m already convinced that David Chang is a mind reader. Here, he fuses together yet another pair of my favorite things - Braised Oxtail Dumplings served with turnip, satsuma, shia kombu in a light broth.

This dish manages to be rich and delicate, all at the same time. The paper thin wrapper had a bouncy bite and housed tender oxtail that was lovingly balanced by the right dose of seaweed. The onions and citrus added a sharp edge for balance while the broth was a comforting blanket to bring the dish together.

Next up was the highly anticipated Steamed Buns with two generous slices of Pork Belly, hoisin sauce, cucumbers and scallions. Thank goodness each order comes with two because there was no way I was sharing! What a beautiful take on the classic Chinese Pork Bun - fatty, fresh and sweet. After taking a bite, I can easily understand what the obsession is about. This is simple comfort food wearing it’s Sunday best.

Oh bartender, another Seven Spice Sour please!

Out of curiosity, we also ordered the Crispy Pork Belly which was also served on a steamed bun with avocado, basil and smoked mayo. While this might sound and look very similar in concept to the Steamed Bun, it couldn’t have been more different. This was a lot more like a BLT on crack. The flavor and texture felt a lot more American. I thought this was good but not great.

To cap off the night, I picked out my riff on dessert - the Beef Cheek Pie smothered in an oyster sabayon and topped with cauliflower and red watercress. Meat pie a la mode, anyone?

Inside, the final slice reveals luscious cubes of melt-in-your-mouth beef cheek which tasted even more delightful when glazed in the egg-tastic sauce. The oysters used in the sabayon added a nice complexity without any off-putting fishy flavor.

I realized what I love most about Momofuku Sssam Bar is how perceptibly fatty all these dishes can sound on paper but how light they taste when balanced with the right flavors. Looking back on my visit and ordering pattern, I realized that my body must have been suffering meat withdrawals with all the seafood restaurants we were trying like Marea, La Bernadin and Sushi Yasuda. Luckily, Momofuku revived not only my caveman sensibilties but also, my belief that Asian-fusion is still an evolving cuisine with many layers that I want mo’ and mo’ of!

——-

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
(between 12th St & 13th St)
New York, NY 10003
T: (212) 254-3500
W: momofuku.com/ssam

DTLA: LQ @ SK Pop-Up!

Nested inside the heart of Downtown LA, my second visit to Starry Kitchen wasn’t for tofu balls. Rather, I was here to try a pop-up shop featuring Laurent Quenioux, formerly of Bistro LQ. Dubbed Fooding Around in LA or LQ @ SK, I anxiously awaited the $45 Five-Course Prix Fixe Menu. My first bite of LQ’s fine cuisine was over five years ago at a four table restaurant in residential area of South Pasadena - Bistro K. I was really impressed at how delicious, creative and incredibly inexpensive my meal was that I always wanted to go back. If only I hadn’t moved to another country…

One of the perks of Bistro K was that it was BYOB and luckily, the same rules applied tonight. Blonde beers were the recommended pairing and a quick stop at the market yielded a six pack of Leffe, a Belgian Beer - light for its category with just a hint of bitterness for flavor and enough weight to get your appetite going. We also brought a bottle of Firestone Riesling. You know, just in case. Well, we ended up drinking that too!

We arrived hungry for the second seating of the night at 8:30. The first one was at 6:30. Luckily, there was Bread by Bread Lounge to tie us over.

The amuse bouche  - Sea Snail in Soy Butter with sweetbread on shiso leaf. I wonder if this was an ode to Sally who sold sea shells on the sea shore. Ha! Despite my natural hesitation to eat these slimy creatures, the snail was nice and snappy and the peppery sweetbread contrasted nicely with the buttery slug.

I was too frightened to eat the tip of the snail which was a muddy color and had a liver like consistency. I pinched it off and left it on my plate. Of course, the boy had no problem eating it for me. Don’t tell him but I secretly think it may have been it’s bladder or digestive system. Ick. I tried looking up what part of the snail it was when I got home, hoping to understanding the difference in flavor and texture but got nothing.

The first course was Hamachi with Summer Vegetables (fresh corn and peas) served with lemon miso curd, black sesame soil, yuzu kosho, herbs and seaweed. I really appreciated the subtle fusion of Asian ingredients that LQ incorporated. The curd was lovely, almost like an Asian mustard. I could have done without the vegetables but the black sesame added a unique complexity when I started mixing it into my food.

This next dish wasn’t much of a looker but it tasted good - Carlsbad Oysters and Mussels in a light tempura batter with a kimchi sabayon, chinese celery and cauliflower. I enjoyed the crispy protective layer for two reasons. First, for added texture. Second, it was a great flavor sponge. The rich sauce was deliciously subtle with the right balance of spicy, pickle and creaminess.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover cause this isn’t your average burrito! Rich, decadent and utterly fantastic. Inside is a glutton’s dream…and guess what? It’s not even a burrito.

I don’t think my picture does it justice. And no, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Wrapped inside is the mother lode - Mu Shu Foie Gras. A big giant brick of seared foie gras embraced by a sweet hoisin glaze and slaw-like vegetables. This fusion of a French delicacy with a classic Chinese dish was deliriously delicious. Maybe, the reason why none of LQ’s restaurants stay open is because artists usually don’t make the best accountants.  That said, it won’t stop me from coming back for more!

Despite the glorious gluttony of the foie gras, the final savory course was definitely the highlight of the menu - Squab and Veal Feet with Ginger Cone Boudin Noir served with mashed potatoes and apple. At first, what I was most impressed with the variety of meat textures on one plate - gamey squab, tender veal and bolognese textured sausage. It’s incredible that all the flavors harmoniously retained a balance together on one plate. What flawless teamwork - nothing overwhelmed another component and each bite seemed to enhance the flavor of the next bite.

The most curious item on this dish looks like an ice cream cone. Inside, the dark hued meat is a blood-sausage made with pork, pig blood and other parts. While the musty, earthy and gritty taste isn’t for everyone, the flavor is like nothing else. It almost felt like I had robbed a smurf village of it’s Thanksgiving feast! I had to take mini bites of everything to properly pace myself and I loved every second of it.

The last course was dessert - a Rhubarb Hazelnut Soil, Curacao Cube and Sour Cream Sorbet. Can’t say I’m a big fan of rhubarb. I think it’s just too tart to stand without pie crust and I found the texture to be sort of off-putting, stringy and half-digested. Apart from that, I thought the other components were on point. Bummer.

Before leaving, we were lucky enough to personally thank LQ for such a yummy meal. Things haven’t changed much. Chef Laurent Quenioux is still serving up great food for a great price. Next time I’m in Pasadena, I’ll also have to check out Vertical Wine Bistro to see what he’s done with the menu there or maybe I’ll just “pop” in again for another dinner seating at Starry Kitchen. Luckily, he’ll be serving it up all summer long.

——-

LQ@SK - Fooding around LA
350 S Grand Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90071
T: (213) 617-3474
W: bistrolq.com/LQ/SK/Foodings/

NY: Eleven Madison Park

There’s something beautifully magical about catching a weekday lunch at Eleven Madison Park while on vacay. First off, you know everyone else is working. Evil, I know. Second, no crowds. No time restrictions. There’s absolutely no need to keep track of time. How much more could you enjoy a meal if you weren’t on the clock? Also, you’re allowed to feel a bit wiser for saving money. While there are those that believe that food is merely a necessity to survive, there are those of us that believe that food is an experience - seeing, eating, tasting, smelling, touching and discussing. How many other activities do you get to engage all your senses at once? 

It was a tough sell with the Shake Shack outside but how could I resist this big open sunlit space and the pretty orchids the color of half and half bars inside? It didn’t take long for me to forget about the chilly east coast weather outside the doors.

Um, Wine list? Yes, please.

Love at first bite. After being seated, we were greeted by gorgeous gougères - divine cheese profiteroles with just a hint of sea salt. Think of it as a a cream puff’s savory cousin minus the creamy filling.

So, imagine a BINGO card full of proteins, vegetables and fruits. That’s exactly what the menu looks like. Awesomely simplistic. I never imagined how radically different it would feel - not being able to pick food based on a description and relying on the imagination of your taste buds. The air of mystery created an unusual pulse of excitement, like I was five year-old anticipating a surprise. For lunch, we had the option of selecting three or four courses. It took no more then a blink of an eye to make this decision. Being the gluttons that we are, we picked four which meant that we could try eight of the sixteen items on the menu, collectively. Sweet!

Here’s what arrived first, compliments of the kitchen, Halibut Dashi Tea with red seaweed and thyme and a whisper thin cracker with nori black sesame. Considering the obvious soup characteristics, I loved that this was poured out of a kettle and into a tea cup. Sipping it crossed my wires distinguishing the boundaries of soup and tea which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The broth had such a perfect balance of sea and land. The fresh herb “tea bag” and the cracker brought out the nuances of halibut beautifully. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything so deceptively simple and delicate.

Next came an amuse-bouche - Smoked Sturgeon Sabayon with chive oil in an eggshell. Super light and creamy and highlighted by subtle strokes of cream, smoke and acid.

I’ve always believed that runny egg yolk was nature’s very own gravy - think Eggs Benedict. Here, it’s been converted into a feather weight bisque. Yum.

The service was impeccable and I was in the mood for a white wine. My first pick, an Albarino - De Ferriero, Val de Salnes, Rias Baizas, Galicia, Spain 2009. Great balance with hints of fruit. This managed to keep my palate nice and fresh for the main courses to come…

My favorite bread course was the House-Made Butter Roll served with Cow’s Milk Butter, Goat’s Milk Butter and Fleur de Sel. Each disk of butter was imprinted with the Eleven Madison logo - loves it! The roll was magical. Imagine if a croissant made love to a dinner roll. This would be it’s love child. I tried my very best not to get carried away. After all, none of the food we ordered had actually arrived yet!

Finally, the first course: Hamachi with Meyer lemon, shaved fennel and a mild horseradish sauce. The greens here were fresh and crunchy  with a nice contrast to the melt-in-your mouth texture of the fish. The bitterness of the fennel played well off the mellow Japanese Amberjack.

Horseradish sounds unusual but I guess it could easily be the American equivalent to wasabi, right? It left just enough heat on your tongue to highlight the natural sweetness. The mild flavor was reminiscent of a honey mustard dressing.

Without even taking a bite, I knew I would love this dish. Just listen to the name: Foie Gras Creme Brulee with fresh apples, apples poached in port and sauternes, maple brown sugar and sap orbs. It’s like little fairies crept into my head and made this dish out of my daydreams. I’m a sucker for all things maple flavored - blame my brief Canadian residence but combining caramel-like depth to decadent foie gras and adding a candy shell? Pure genius! The playful combination of fatty and sweet here is so well embraced by the earthy rich flavors of brown sugar and apples.

Blame temporary amnesia but seriously, how could I forget that I absolutely HATE cooked carrots? OMG, not sure how that slipped my mind but I was quite blown away by the Heirloom Carrots with cumin, dates, bread crumbs and wheat berry barley. I wondered how a vegetable I’ve written off as baby food be so rich and lovely? This was roasted just enough to draw out some moisture and the sweet and spicy cumin flavors added so much depth. Drool. The additional texture of the barley was great, akin to a tender couscous and the bread crumbs added another dimension by adding grit and just subtly reminding me of the crunchy stuff atop a casserole of baked yams or mac n cheese. How can you not love all the color bouncing off these plates?

So, if a Caterpillar Roll didn’t have rice, seaweed or eel, this is what it might be like - Avocado Roulade with prawns, lime yogurt, prawn salt and roe. The craftsmanship alone was quite impressive. How did  they manage to handle ribbons of super soft avocado and get them to roll up so perfectly symmetrical?

Each bite represented nothing but pillow-like softness, blanketing my tongue with chewable creaminess, if there is such a thing! The al dente cubes of prawn matched the buttery texture of avocado so well. I couldn’t help but think of spring-time butterflies on the tip of my tongue. Maybe the flower garnish were inducing some sort of hallucination beaause it’s no secret that food is my drug of choice!

Venturing just past the mid-point of our meal, this beauty arrived - Lightly Seared Cod with fennel, shellfish, bergamot orange and lemon. This literally looked like it just washed in from the sea. Not only was the presentation absolutely gorgeous but it mirrored the fresh and light flavors highlighted by citrus so well. My tongue experienced a euphoria like it was floating on clouds. Swoon…

I was quickly grounded when our next dish arrived. It was breathtaking to look at and equally to taste - Butter Poached Lobster with edamame, daikon and dehydrated citrus. I find it’s easy to envelope food in purees and sauces to create flavor where none existed or to mask something you want to hide but not the case here. The lobster here was so honest and delicious. Just a kiss of butter and firmer elements for textural contrast.

My second glass of wine: Assyrtico - Gaia, Thalasitis, Sntorini, Cyclades, Greece 2009. The green stem of the glass echoed leafy herbal notes. Typically, I’m not a fan of earthy flavors as my palate tends to distinguish stem-iness as dirt, more so then “organic freshness” but this had a crispness that went so well with the rest of my meal.

Did I really order this? Chicken with black truffle, cabbage and carrot puree. I would never order chicken at a Michelin star restaurant. The boy picked this. Hah! He was convinced that this would be the determining factor - whether there was a chicken worthy of love and if it warranted a special spot in our stomachs during a Michelin star meal. I find some irony that this dish visually emulates the appearance of a hot dog. Hilarious, right? Not the most flattering description but it was tasty. Crispy skin and succulent. The black truffle added just enough interest without overpowering the natural poultry flavor . The carrot puree was magical of course. I suspect some cross-dish influence here and I like it!

It’s difficult for me to pick just one but this was one of my favorite dishes - Sous Vide Veal Tenderloin with candied sweetbreads, smoky bread crusted bone marrow and marscapone veal au jus, salsify, parsnips, spring onion. How can you not swoon at crusted bone marrow coins? I only wish I could have thought of it first. Um, candied sweetbreads? I think this dish already had me at Veal Tenderloin which was unsuprisingly meaty and moist.

I absolutely adored the extra steps taken to elevate the supporting roles of this dish - adding a crunchy texture to mushy bone marrow, carmelizing savory sweet breads or enriching au jus with marscapone. This was so darn good and inventive. I can’t think of a better dish to punctuate our delightful menu selections.

To round off our meal of all savory courses, the kitchen sent out a palate cleanser Variations of Jasmine and Orange - Jasmine sorbet, orange shortbread, orange granita and milk foam. I really didn’t want to cleanse my palate (ever) but I couldn’t resist more food. This was refreshing and light.

The clean citrus flavor was more fruity then sweet which I really enjoyed. Underneath the orange fluff were tangerine cubes and cilantro to add more dimension. The bowl felt like a playground of elements. Don’t you just love food that let’s you explore?

This is my ideal dessert ratio: one bite of something sugary to one cup of Intelligensia Coffee. Why? Cause I’m sweet enough. Hah! Blame my palate but I’d take a strip of bacon over a slice of chocolate cake any day! 

Three hours from the start of the meal, the final compliments of the kitchen were sent out - Tangerine pate de fui and Peanut Brittle Tuille. While we may have left slightly depressed, our bellies and appetites were definitely happy.

Eleven Madison Park is quite possibly the BEST MEAL I’ve ever had - the food, service and ambiance were beyond my wildest dreams and expectations. I can only hope that my tongue and tummy can experience something as magical as this again. Thanks for setting the bar so high.

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Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave (at 24th St)
New York, NY 10010
T: (212) 889-0905
W: elevenmadisonpark.com

LA: Eat out of the box at Chego

Stopped into Chego in Culver City for a quick bite to eat. Quirky, modern and a bit outside the box. The irony here is that a lot of the food is served inside a box, literally. The rice bowl concept packs a hefty flavor punch and takes Roy Choi’s fusion cuisine to a whole other level. It’s the stuff a modern-day fatty dreams of.

Absolutely zero frills dining - Enter, wait in line, order, pay, grab your number and then drag your ass to a room  in the back to pick up your own drinks.

In addition to using Kogi menu boards as decor, the assortment of Mexican sodas and Korean juices seem to pay homage to the fusion roots of the original Korean-fusion taco trucks.

In an all-communal dining room, your seating options are - picnic bench, standing at a table or a luxurious chair that faces the wall. Interesting, right?

Ordering this was a no brainer as I find it hard to resist anything resembling Chili Cheese Fries. Here the Ooey Gooey Fries are generously slathered with sour cream sambal (Indonesian chili sauce) and topped with cotija, chillies, cilantro and pickled garlic. Underneath, you’ll find a radioactive melt down of Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese that creates the yummiest cheese goop that is stringy and crusty at the same time. Oh, it gets better. The fries have a crunchy golden shell and a soft inside. All together, it tastes so bad, it’s good.

Here, the 3PM Meatballs are hidden under a mound of shaved green onions and sesame.

Buried beneath, you’ll find soft and hearty meatballs and a polenta patty. Unfortunately, I thought this was a little bit flat in flavor in comparison to the fries.

See how happy J is?

She’s a beauty! Tiny’s Prime Rib Rice Plate is chili-rubbed and served with a fried egg, water spinach, creamed horseradish, roasted garlic serrano paste and shallots.

There is some irony to eating prime rib out of a recycled cardboard box with a real steak knife. This reminds me of so many things - a Chipotle rice bowl gone loco moco with all the toppings on a bowl of Cambodian Soup Noodles. I actually admire the restraint here. The prime rib shines and makes the steak lover in me appreciate the fatty sibling much more.

Chubby Pork Belly, Chubby Pork Belly, Chubby Pork Belly. Is it politically correct to say that? Have you ever met a Pork Belly that wasn’t chubby? Eh. The meat here is kochujang-lacquered kurobuta with fried egg, pickled watermelon radishes, water spinach and topped with cilantro, cotija and peanuts. The tar-like sauce here is a pungent mixture of red chili and glutinous rice powder, mixed with fermented soy beans and salt. Powerful stuff. I love that this dish wasn’t sweet! My secret confession: I absolutely HATED the Kogi Short Rib Burrito in all it’s saccharine fury. I would consider the pork here to be it’s dark and evil step brother. Spicy and tempered with earthy greens, every bite in this bowl was an exploration of flavor pairings. The meat was more akin to rib meat and had a nice firmness to it. The radishes were awesome too - crunchy, juicy and mildly tickled with watermelon. Very complementary.

I think I’m slowly converting into a Roy Choi fan. It’s not something I want to admit but there’s something winning about fun food that expresses creativity and isn’t scared to make a bold statement. Wallet-friendly and flavorful. It’s hard to argue with that, right? In a world where comfort is dressed up with bacon and batter (no disrespect), I find Chego to be refreshingly vivid and imaginative. Now, if only they could open one up on the eastside so I could hit the place up for lunch. A girl can dream…

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Chego
3300 Overland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034
T: (310) 287-0337
W: eatchego.com

NY: Maaarea, Maaarea. I just tried a place called Marea!

My first stop for lunch on my NY eating tour was Marea, an Italian Seafood Restaurant that sits kitty corner to Time Warner Center and overlooks Central Park. Despite it being winter, I found the room refreshingly calm and reminiscent of a warm ocean breeze. Even the table setting and dishes reminded me of seashells washed in from the tide.

You must be wondering, why did I pick Marea out of all the dining options New York has to offer? Well, I feel it’s necessary to tell you that I was first seduced by a dirty little episode of No Reservations - the one regarding food porn. Yes, you heard me correctly. It’s a questionable past time of mine but I just can’t help myself. Please prepare to have your eyes drool because you’re about a click away from unadulterated photos of hot uni toast under a bare opaque sheet of lardo covering it’s roe. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So before the real food arrived, we were greeted with an yummy assortment of bread to pick from. My favorite was the focaccia. It was nice and moist without being greasy. Hope you’re ready for what’s next…

Here it is!!! Though not technically on the lunch menu, we ordered the Ricci by request - sea urchin, lardo and sea salt served on a crostini. Words that come to mind: buttery, sweet, fresh and crunchy. Pure magic! So, what is lardo exactly? Well, it’s not lard. It’s actually a type of Italian charcuterie where the back fat on a pig is seasoned with herbs and served in paper thin slices. Here, it’s layered over the sea urchin roe and heated just enough for the sheet to reach an almost melted state between solid and liquid. The marvel of this dish is that it encapsulates a hyperbole of flavors: salty and sweet, soft and crunchy, gentle and bold. I could probably gush about this dish all day but it’s making me hungry, so on we go.

Imagine that after the uni toast, we still had a whole meal ahead of us. How could another dish possibly follow up that entrance? Well, the food only got better. For the first course, we selected the Astice and a Tasting of Three Crudo, similar to sashimi or ceviche. Both dishes had additional charges but were totally worth it. The first dish was a “salad.” Um, not too much green here, just Nova Scotia lobster, burrata and eggplant al funghetto. Burrata is easily my favorite soft cheese and on the verge of being virally main stream. It’s like the bacon of cheese - it just makes everything better. On this dish, it was served at just the perfect temp where it kept it’s creamy consistency but remained firm enough to fork. Accompanied with basil seeds and pesto oil, I think this might be the best salad ever. Did I forget to mention the lobster on here?

Up next was our Tasting of Three Crudo. Being the fat kid that I am, I couldn’t resist. Why just try one when I could try three? So predictable, I know. My first pick was the Vongole - geoduck clam (pronounced gooey duck) with fresh chilies, lemon, hearts of palm. I regularly order this at sushi places. It was love at first bite. I’ve always been enchanted by the firm yet snappy crunch. Here, it’s sliced thin enough to match the texture of the heart of palm. All the natural flavors here are brought out by the bright acidity and extra virgin oil. I thought the presentation looked like a pearl within a oyster. Beautiful.

The Sgombro is Pacific jack mackerel cut with sushi precision, butternut squash caponata and pine nuts. I’ve never had mackerel like this before - fat and buttery like toro. Served like a bruschetta, the vegetables were reminiscent of an olive tapenade, salty and nutty but in restrained ratio as to not overwhelm the fish.

My final crudo resembled white streamers tossed in a vibrant confetti of carrots, roe and basil adding a sunny contrast in color and texture. The Sepia is described as a cuttlefish tagliatelle, soffrito crudo (mix of onions, carrots and celery) and bottarga di muggine (cured fish roe). The flavor starts off with a refreshing brightness from the lemon zest and end on a surprising earthy note and spicy finish.

As the main course begins, the food porn saga continues. This dish was pure heaven. The Fusilli  is made of durum wheat pasta, red wine braised octopus and bone marrow. Twisty braids of pasta that seem to mimic slender tentacles and cooked so perfectly. My typical experience with fusilli involves a crunchy core or overcooked mush. The magic here comes in the form of cubed bone marrow which adds a spot on richness. Barely detectable to the naked eye and cloaked in a scrumptious red sauce, the effect of randomly receiving a bite of marrow is hard to describe. It’s sort of like waking up thinking it’s a Monday morning and realizing it’s actually Christmas Morning. Mmmm yes, that good.

I had great difficulty making a decision for my main dish. A complementary component actually won me over. The combination of two words, oxtail and croquette, had a seductive effect on me and I happily ordered the Capesante  - roasted sea scallops, braised red cabbage, rutabaga and pickled mustard. The presentation reminded me of something that just gracefully drifted on shore. The scallops had a wonderful sear that created a lovely crispy capsule of protection around the satin center. The juicy yet firm vegetables selected for this dish had a subtle sweetness to curb the sour pickling.

Inside the croquette, I found a nice napping spot between the breading and oxtail. The braised red cabbage was a great counterpoint between bites to stave off any lingering film of gluttony.

Since I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I very much prefer it in small doses and to cap off this wonderful lunch, we received these complimentary petite fours - pistachio olive oil cake, meyer lemon gelée and chocolate ganache truffle. Yum.

I was a little sad to leave Marea as I’ve always felt a special kinship with the sea. Growing up, I always wished I could turn into a mermaid!!! Things may have turned out for the better as I may have been rejected by sea-ciety for cannibalism.

Oh but seriously, Marea seems to masterfully capture the strength and serenity of the ocean so well, on a plate and in your mouth. The sophistication is so well-crafted that you almost forget you’re eating Italian, where typically the beauty lays in it’s simplicity. Marea exceeded my expectations in so many ways. All the dishes manage to keep a fine-tuned balance between gluttony and grace that I respectfully surrender my heart to.

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Marea
240 Central Park S
New York, NY 10019
T: (212) 582-5100
W: marea-nyc.com

DTLA: The Spice Table in Little Tokyo

Just tried The Spice Table, a new Singaporean Vietnamese restaurant in DTLA’s Little Tokyo. It’s located across from the Japanese American National Museum, next to Weiland Brewery.

Food spying at the bar. I spy Fried Cauliflower. Looks and sounds good.

Grilled Otah. Not what I expected. I thought I was literally getting a grilled fish wrapped in banana leaf. Spicy and strange with bits of fish. Think spicy fish tamale. Similar to Tom Yum but without that awesome sweet and sour note to offset the bitterness of the lemongrass.

Lamb Belly Skewers. Juicy and meaty. Charred to perfection. The peanut sauce here was so good, I thought it was something else more complex or exotic. Perfect complement to the lamb. This dish is the one solid reason for me to return.

Seafood Laksa. Chewy noodles. Tasted like coconut gravy with a hint of curry. Please ease up on coconut milk. Bummer, this dish has potential but didn’t quite hit the mark.

A laksa bite with udon sized rice noodles with shrimp and sambal.

Fuzzy Squash. That’s Engrish for winter melon. Think XO stir fry with slices of Chinese sausage that add heft. Tasty. Would have been great with some rice.

Holy Birdcage. The decor theme creates a nice airy feeling inside the rigid brick walls.

Kaffir lime with lychee dessert. Creamy madness. Custard my ass. Seriously, I think 99.9% of this was cream. Lacked an opposing texture and the flavor was just barely there. Bummer since I heart lime and lychee.

Overall, I thought the food was overpriced (for what it is) and unfortunately, left my tummy rumbling - not from the spice but from all the cream! Decent portions. We ate at the bar and service was friendly. I would definitely return for skewers but I’ll save my cash for sushi next time I hit Little Tokyo. Bummer as I’ve been aching to find great Singaporean food in this town, especially laksa. Reservations are recommended. On my weeknight visit, the line was about 20 deep when we finished our meal. I even got to see a hobbit! Lots of inflated foodie hype, in my opinion. I think this spot is worth a revisit once the restaurant gets more experience and refines it’s flavors.

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The Spice Table
114 S Central Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90012
T: (213) 620-1840
W: thespicetable.com

LA: Lukshon - The Father of “Father’s Office” Second Child

I was really curious and anxious to try Lukshon, a modern Southeast Asian eatery by Father’s Office Creator and Chef Sang Yoon. I headed over just after opening week with mixed expectations. Having tried the original Father’s Office in Santa Monica a million moons ago and recently checking out the Helm’s Bakery branch, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I felt a huge rift in the two locations. The new location oozes with mass appeal and the service seemed too sharp. This may sound strange but I found the laid back chaos of the original quite charming. What happened to the effortless California cool? I guess that went out the door along with the yummy sweet potato fries that were served literally “a la carte.” * heavy sigh*

The new spot it sleek and chic. A large outdoor fire pit greets you with a healthy sized patio complete with awning. The interior is tiled with large white slabs, a high communal table that draws the eye to the kitchen and planks a long bar. Opposite is a row of banquettes replete with lacquered wood panels and a glass divider. The menu design echoes a simpler then the decor aesthetic but is straight forward and easy to understand.

Our first taste was the Deer Island Scallops served with water chestnut cucumber relish and prawn salt. The scallops were fresh and delicate but I found the flavors to be too light-handed and inconsistent. I appreciated the teeny tiny cubed relish that added a nice crunch. I picked up each bite a if I were eating mini tacos but I couldn’t help but wish for a little more salt to draw out the natural sweetness of the fresh scallops.

I really enjoyed the flavors of the Duck Popiah with cilantro stems, pickled jicama and house-made chile sauce but I wanted more duck! Quack, quack. The wrapper here was akin to a crepe, about twice as thick as a wonton wrapper. All the flavors married well together but given the size of the dish, I really wanted to see more of the star component.

My favorite dish was the Baby Monterey Squid stuffed with Chiang Mai Pork Sausage, candlenut (a relative of the kukui nut), mint and rau ram (Vietnamese Coriander). The squid here is presented two ways. First, as a casing for the flavorful pork sausage - spicy, sweet and a little bit fishy. Second, as a crispy garnish in the form of crisp fried tentacles. So much imagination on this plate! To add even more complexity, I found the Asian pesto sauce to be delightfully bright, fresh and rich with nuances of cilantro, mint and white pepper. I actually found myself mopping up the sauce with the fried blossoms.

One tried and true comfort dish in all Asian cultures is the Chicken Dumpling Soup. It’s listed under noodles but you won’t find any here. This version has exactly three dumplings accompanied with superior broth, pea sprouts and 63º egg. While deceitfully plain, I found this dish to be quite unsettling with the mix of odd flavors. The sweet meat filling and excessive white pepper in the broth combined with the vegetables and egg made for a very awkward blind date in a very small bowl.

A side dish that I really enjoyed was the X.O. Rice, jasmine rice tossed with house-made X.O. sauce, long beans and egg. Just spicy enough to warm up your taste buds, I found the added richness of the dried scallops and the heft of the green beans to be quite winning. However, please be warned that this could be my skewed palate speaking since my typical fried rice ritual involves slathering my bowl with a copious amount of hot sauce and inhaling after a thorough mix for optimal flavor ratios. Still, for a side I think this dish was quite superb and could easily work as a meal in itself for one.

Ending our meal on a great note, we were awarded with dessert that wasn’t just complimentary but also dericious! Mango Panna Cotta with coconut tapioca and black sesame rice cracker. Kiwi Jasmine Soup with poached pineapple and Beijing Tart Yogurt. My only wish was that I could have ordered another. Apparently, they don’t allow that. House rules. Seriously. The mixture of tropical and tart fruit flavors was a spot on representation of an Asian dessert - mildly sweet with fruit and just a small hint of cream. I liked the opposing layers of textures  - chewy tapioca vs crunchy crackers and the juxtaposition of tart flavors in the form of solid yogurt vs liquid soup. It also makes me wonder why mango and coconut aren’t paired together more frequently. Yum.

Overall, I found Lukshon to be a unique offering for the Culver City area. As a San Gabriel Valley native, it leaves me to wonder whether the food is authentically presented for the local hipster set to embrace or if it was actually designed for their palates in an effort to introduce them to exotic Southeast offerings. I will likely come back for the modern iterations and recommend those familiar with Asian Cuisine to stay clear of anything that seems traditional on the menu. Hats off to the father of Father’s Office for taking bold risks. Can’t wait to see how this new concept evolves over time.

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Lukshon
3239 Helms Ave
Culver City, CA 90232
T: (310) 202-6808
W: lukshon.com