A few weeks ago, I was sadly lamenting the fact that I failed in securing a reservation for what Jonathan Gold considers one of LA’s 99 essential restaurants for 2010. Other people’s clicking-fu was stronger than mine… But thanks to a stroke of luck, I won Rock My Palate‘s giveaway and found myself at LudoBites 6.0 last week Wednesday. Accompanying me was Husband and Kat of Kat’s 9 Lives and one of her friends.
This iteration of LudoBites is at Max’s in Sherman Oaks…like, the Valley, shaw! And, like, traffic getting into the Valley is, like, totally lame. </Valley Girl speak> Thanks to Husband’s iPhone TomTom app, I found myself driving scary side roads and we managed to arrive right on time. And for those worrying about parking, there is valet ($3.50).
One of the big differences between this LudoBites and previous versions is cocktail offerings (Ludo COQtails). While diners can still bring in their own wine like before for a small corkage fee, Chef Ludo put together a couple of different mixed drinks for his diners. And, of course, like the menu, the drinks are subject to change with his mood.
Currently, a whiskey pumpkin ginger cocktail is gracing the lips of diners but when I was there, it was a Mexican Mojito and a Yuzu Tequila Martini (still on the menu when I checked just now). I tried the mojito first and enjoyed the slight spicy kick to it. But the yuzu martini won me over with the cool sweetness…and I am NOT a fan of tequila. It also won Husband over since he ended up downing 4 of them. Perhaps LudoBites 7.0 should be a pop-up bar featuring COQtails and complementary small bites?
Kat ended up being the devil on my shoulder and convinced me to order the entire menu to share, a first for me. Fortunately, we had two other people to help us on some of the dishes… (^oo^) Like LudoBites 5.0, this menu was heavily Asian influenced.
We started off with the baguette with smoked butter and sardine Laughing Cow cheese. The smoked butter was delish but the sardine cheese was positively gobblicious. With all the bread gone, we were using our knives to scrape the remnants of the ramekin clean.
Next up was the Hamachi, Vietnamese style, which ended up being one of the favorites of the table. This dish had slices of fresh Hamachi sashimi topped with a salad of shredded jicama, cabbage and fish sauce. The fried lotus root was a nice touch for a textural contrast.
Third was the sea urchin with black rice. I liked this dish but didn’t fall in love with it. I think it’s the black rice. I can’t figure out if I like it or not. The texture is great for offsetting the super soft uni but the flavor of black rice has me waffling between “I like it” and “Meh”.
I ended up head over heels for the squid “pad thai”. The squid was sliced into long strips to simulate noodles. Mixed with bean sprouts, pieces of prawn, black radish, and dressed with a peanut vinaigrette, my mind kept coming back to this dish after the meal. It was refreshing, delicious and…perfect. While not the star of the menu, there was something about this plate that found a special place in my stomach next to the potato mousseline from 5.0.
The mackerel dish was something that was straight out of my childhood…kkong chi gui, I think my mom called it. Except this was 1,000,000 times better than what my mom served. Not that my mom’s wasn’t good, but her version didn’t have the super crispy skin that Chef Ludo’s had. Man, I hope she doesn’t read this. =/
The mussels velouté was rich, warm and the perfect dipping sauce for the generous side of hot shoe-string fries that came with it. Everyone at the table chowed down including my picky and not-so-fond-of-seafood Husband.
Scallops, one of my most favorite foods, was cooked to perfection in this next dish. I enjoyed the the red port and it didn’t overpower the scallops.
The salmon somen noodles was surprising. I wasn’t expecting the strong smoked flavor; I loved the salty bite the roe gave to each bite. The carrots, beautifully shaved into ribbons added a good crunch to balance the softness of the other ingredients.
The John Dory was good but it didn’t stand out to to me. It was a very mellow dish, I think, compared to the previous dishes. The flavor of the fish was very light and delicate.
The Korean steak was cooked to a medium rare, just the way I like it but I found the meat a little chewy. I’m not sure where the crispy kimchi was but I did find a piece of kimchi that was great with the beef.
The chicken with poached egg, chanterelles and chorizo foam was delicious. The highlight of this dish, for me, was the crispy skin on the bird. I would have eaten more if I wasn’t starting to strain the capacity of my stomach.
This foie gras was…WOW. First off, visually, this was beautiful with the colors. The foie gras was poached and then roasted, making the exterior wonderfully crispy. The sweetness of the fruits and honey complimented the savory and the mild rose water was a nice addition. I only wish the foie gras had been sliced a little thinner as the ratio of soft vs. crispy was off for me.
Chocolate soup! Husband was all about this dish; he is the bigger chocolate fan between the two of us. While I like chocolate, I rarely order it for dessert as I can only handle a little bit at a time. But the different flavors in this dish, the peanut butter ice cream, the slightly spicy whipped cream and the marshmallow helped me continuously spoon bite after bite into my mouth despite my stomach going “No more! NO MORE!”
The carrot cake dessert was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. This dish really showcased just how creative Chef Ludo can be. I mean, Thai coconut curry frosting?!?! Seriously? I’m starting to drool again just thinking about this dessert. If only all dinners could end on as fabulous a bite as this…
So there you have it, an entire menu at LudoBites consumed. Was it worth it? Hell yeah! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat…wallet be damned.
For those who want to attend LudoBites 6.0 but don’t have reservations, don’t fret. There are a few seats saved for walk-ins and the 6:15-ish reservation slot always seems to get a last minute cancellation. For up-to-date news on seat availability, follow Krissy Lefebvre’s Twitter.
Limited engagement at Max’s
Oct 21-Nov 11, Nov 30 – Dec 5
13355 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA