Top Chef Masters Viewing Party w/ Chef Ludo Lefebvre

Husband and I became avid fans of Top Chef after we caught a few episodes of Season 2.  When we heard that there was going to be a Top Chef Masters, we were excited.  How would some of the most renowned chefs perform, especially the ones that had previously been judges?

The first season last year was my introduction to Chef Ludo Lefebvre.  I was a little padawan foodie, learning my way around the LA food scene (still am!).  I remember watching him, wondering what the hell he was saying, and getting a kick from the bickering between him and Chef Rick Moonen.  Fast forward to the last few months…  I’ve since gotten a better handle on LA food and restaurants and, no surprise,  Chef Ludo’s name has been popping up quite a bit with the exponentially increasing popularity of his pop-up restaurant, LudoBites as well as his LFC – Ludo Fried Chicken.

Finally about to get me some Ludobites!

Wine, wine and more wine

Chef Ludo returned to the 2nd season of Top Chef Masters and when the episode aired on 4/21, he threw a viewing party at Akasha in Culver City.  Husband and I were there to watch all the fun as he and the other contestants, including Moonen, fought for a spot in the next round and redeem themselves.  But more so, we were there to eat some LFC for the first time.

Akasha is in the building that many geeks would recognize as the exterior of Flynn’s Arcade from the movie, “Tron”.  Let’s just say that the interior of Akasha is about as far from an arcade as you can get. The space isn’t huge but the open contemporary floor plan makes it feel intimate yet large at the same time. I couldn’t stop staring at the extensive wine collection behind the large bar.

Sage Lemondrop

Since we got there when the party started, the place was still fairly empty.  That was fine as it allowed us to grab a table.  A waitress came by and we ordered the cocktail of the night – Sage Lemondrop.  Chef Ludo combined organic gin, organic lemonade and sage leaves to make this.  I always thought I hated gin (ugh, gin n’ tonics are nasty!) but this was delicious.  A little tangy, not too sweet…

My plate of everything

Bacon biscuits

They were still setting up the food, served buffet style.  I spied a large basket of jalapeño corn bread, salad, deviled eggs, something in a large pot and biscuits.  Hrm, a Southern theme…  I can dig it.

When everything was set up, Husband and I dug in.  I grabbed a little of everything.  The large pot ended up containing collard greens with black-eyed peas, not my favorite.  I’m not really a bean person.  There was also mac n’ cheese, a red cabbage cole slaw and mashed potatoes.  The biscuits had bacon bits in it which sold Husband on them, and me, as well.  The couple that loves bacon together…well, gets fat together.  These were soft, fluffy; I kept having to constrain myself from going back for more.

Awesome mac n' cheese

As a mac n’ cheese lover, I’m a bit picky about it.  Chef Ludo made a fantastic classic version.  Many other versions I’ve had never had enough cheese sauce for my liking but this wasn’t the case.  And the crunchy crumbs on top is a must from a texture point of view, I think.

LFC

Since they wanted to make sure everyone got some LFC, we were limited to 3 pieces.  That’s okay, because these boneless fried balls of poultry were quite large.  A nice amount of batter that didn’t come out too saturated in oil, the herbs really gave it a lot of flavor.  Even Husband was impressed.  I think I heard the words “some of the best fried chicken ever” come out of his mouth.  I agree.  And the lemon aoli sauce gave a nice tang to it.  I can understand the hype surrounding LFC.

This bird will OWN you...

By the time the viewing started, the place was packed with Ludo fans like this guy.  It was fun watching the show with other people who were just as into it as us.  While Ludo didn’t win on the show, he certainly won me and Husband over.

Now I’m really sad I wasn’t able to get a reservation for LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa’s…*sniff sniff*  Well, there will be a LudoBites 5.0, right?

The Catty Critic give LFC 5 NOMs!  More please…

For more pictures, visit my Facebook page!

LudoBites
Pops up at various locations

The Grilled Cheese Truck

I love cheese.  One of the best ways to enjoy it is via a grilled cheese sandwich (GCS).  As a kid, I used to come home from school and eat a GCS or two as my “snack”.  It was also one of the first dishes I learned to make – margarine, 2 pieces of wheat bread and a Kraft Single.  As an adult, though, I’ve moved on to more “gourmet” versions and higher quality ingredients…like -REAL- cheese…hahaha.

I’ve been chasing the Grilled Cheese Truck around LA ever since I heard about it months ago.  My first two attempts to partake in the ooey gooey yumminess were thwarted by crazy long lines.  But when I read on Twitter that they would be at South Bay Mini in Torrance for some promotional event a couple of months ago, I told Husband that we were going and dammit, I was going to get me a GCS, even if I had to run people over (preferably in a shiny new Mini)!

Line at Grilled Cheese Truck

When we got there, there was already a line.  Fortunately, it wasn’t anywhere as bad as the last two we encountered.  Sure, we still had to wait about 40 minutes before getting to the order window but I was on a mission. Even the threat of getting towed didn’t deter me; I just sent Husband to move the car instead….  Such a good spouse!

Specialty Sandwiches

The Grilled Cheese Truck offers up several pre-made combinations and a list of ingredients for a build-your-own sandwich.  Bacon, cheddar, gruyere, basil, and tomatoes are just some of the choices you have.  There’s also a “sweet” section for a dessert-y grilled sandwich – banana, nutella and marshmallow!

Pictures speak louder than words

Now, another way I enjoy eating cheese is in mac n’ cheese form.  Imagine my delight when I saw the Cheesy Mac Melt.  OMG…mac n’ cheese in a GCS?  Sure, it sounds like carb overload but what a brilliant idea!  Two of my favoritest cheesy things in one…

I opted to add in the BBQ pork and caramelized onions.  Husband went with the original Cheesy Mac Melt.  I also got an order of the Harvest Melt.  Hey, I didn’t know when I would get to visit the Grilled Cheese Truck again!

Cheesy Mac Melt with bbq pork and caramelized onions

Wear your stretchy pants when you eat Grilled Cheese Truck’s food because they don’t make skimpy sandwiches.  My Cheesy Mac Melt was heavy, rich, delicious Southern comfort in between two slices of crispy, butter-toasted bread.  I devoured this beast but it conquered my hunger so the Harvest Melt waited a few hours before consumption.  After sitting around in a foil bag, the sandwich was still good but the bread had lost its toastiness.  This was a great vegetarian option, full of fall flavors.  I’m not sure which I enjoyed more, which is surprising because I do like my proteins…

Chipmunk??!?! Is that Grilled Cheese speak for chipotle?

The Grilled Cheese Truck also serves up tater tots as a side and for 50 cents extra, you can get a dipping sauce.  We got an order each and opted for the chipotle and nacho cheese sauces.  Turns out, a single order of tots would have sufficed for the two of us.  Not the best tots I’ve had, these were a bit on the greasy side and were a little soggy.  The chipotle dip packed a bit of a kick but paired with oil-heavy tots and a heavy cheese sandwich, it was too rich for my stomach.   The nacho cheese dip was actually better and lighter.

Last weekend, the Grilled Cheese Truck was back at South Bay Mini so Husband and I stopped on our way to the Del Amo Mall to indulge in some GCS goodness.  This time, I tried their double-cream brie and pear with turkey while Husband went for the Cheesy Mac Melt again, but opted to add in bacon.  Last time, we both felt that the original needed some sort of meaty product to offset all the starch.

I keep forgetting that I’m not a big turkey fan.  I want to love turkey but at some point, my tastebuds and stomach go “DONE!”.  The brie and pear were a great combo, with the brie not being overly strong but still having that bite to it.  But at some point, the turkey did me in and I stopped enjoying the sandwich.  I think next time, sans turkey.  Or maybe I’ll try the Cheesy Mac Melt with bacon because it looked awfully good…and Husband didn’t give me a bite even though I kept giving him the “look”.  He was too busy eating to notice, I guess…

Price wise, Grilled Cheese Truck isn’t the cheapest; our 2nd time eating their food cost us $18. A bit high for a “food truck”, but the sandwiches are fancier with better restaurant-quality ingredients so I don’t be-grudge the hit on my wallet as much.

4 NOMs for Grilled Cheese Truck!

The Grilled Cheese Truck
http://twitter.com/grlldcheesetruk
Grilled Cheese Truck (food truck) on Urbanspoon

Townhouse – a trip into Sherman Oaks

The Husband and I ventured up to Sherman Oaks to have dinner and watch “The Wolfman” at the Arclight there with my wedding planner friend, Kristeen, and her husband. The movie wasn’t so great but dinner was! We decided to gnosh at Townhouse Kitchen & Bar at the Galleria.

Deviled Eggs

Calamari

Since it was a Friday night, the place was packed so we had about a 1/2 hr wait. When we were seated, we started off with some cocktails and appetizers.

I had the strawberry basil martini as well as the berry mojito, both specialty cocktails. Sweet alcoholic goodness.  Kristeen tried the fire & ice martini which had jalapeno in it…spicy!

The four of us split devilled eggs ($5.99) and calamari ($9.99).

The eggs were good but nothing exciting or out of the ordinary…just your standard devilled eggs.  The yolk was creamy and the touch of Sriracha sauce gave it some heat which I enjoyed.

The calamari was nicely done – light crunchy batter, not overly oily and not overcooked. It was served with the standard cocktail sauce and a lemon caper habañero aoli sauce – spicy but a bit heavy.  Combined with the fried coating, it was too much for me so I could only do little dabs.

For our main course, the boys ended up ordering the lobster macaroni n’ cheese ($18.99) while the girls went with one of the specials – seafood risotto ($20something).  I loved these dishes.

Lobster mac n' cheese

Seafood risotto

The risotto was great – creamy, rich and just slightly “al dente”.  The lobster wasn’t overcooked but it was a little hard to get out of the shell.  The scallops were wonderful – buttery and had a nice sear on them.

As for the lobster macaroni n’ cheese…om nom nom nom. A simple but excellent classic-style mac n’ cheese with only lobster to “gourmet” it up.  I appreciated the use of shell pasta which was drowned in cheesy goodness.  This was one of the better versions I’ve had so far in this town.

We split the trio dessert sampler – chocolate bites, blondie sundae, fresh berries. I think I enjoyed the fresh berries the best with the whipped cream and chocolate shavings. The chocolate bites dessert was a rich delight while the blondie, a mix of yellow and chocolate cakes, was a good compromise for couples where one is not an avid chocolate fiend.

We had an excellent server who was friendly, un-intrusive and attentive.  Cost-wise, Townhouse is fair for the food quantity and quality.

I think the only issue I had with the place was the lack of noise dampening. The place was full that night and it was pretty hard to hear each other over the din.

Townhouse gets 4 NOMs!  And now I’m craving mac n’ cheese…

Townhouse
Sherman Oaks Galleria
15301 Ventura Blvd
Sherman Oaks, CA 91403
(818) 453-9900

Townhouse on Urbanspoon

Urban Solace – comfort food for the stomach

Recently, I had to take a work trip down to my old stomping grounds of San Diego.  While I was there, I decided that a stop at one of my favorite restaurants was necessary; it had been too long since I had been to Urban Solace.  I called up my friend, “Chef” Eddie, and off we went for dinner.  Located in the North Park area, Urban Solace opened its doors a few years ago.  Since then, it has earned much acclaim for Chef Matt Gordon’s wonderful upscale twist on comfort food.  Even though it was a weeknight, the restaurant was packed and there was about a 20 minute wait.  For those who are faced with some extra time before being seated, a large bar area located near the door is a great place to hang out and have a pre-meal cocktail or have some wine or beer (bottled and tap) from the extensive list.

Cheddar biscuits with orange honey butter

One thing that I always tell people they MUST order when eating at Urban Solace is the warm cheese biscuits with orange honey butter.  Naturally, Eddie and I ordered some as an appetizer.  Soft, fluffy, cheesy, these are the epitome of what cheddar biscuits should be.   Paired with sweet citrus butteriness, it’s an interesting flavor contrast.

Spinach salad

I was craving veggies so I decided to get the spinach salad: baby spinach, goat cheese, warm sherry vinegrette, bacon, dates, hazelnuts.  An excellent large salad, this was just what I wanted.  Healthy greens, meaty bacon for protein, hazelnuts for crunch, dates for a little sweetness…very well balanced.  Maybe not the healthiest salad, but I did get my veggies!

Duckaroni

I also was craving mac n’ cheese and heard nothing but great things about the version Urban Solace serves.  The duckaroni is a mac n’ cheese made with blue cheese, duck confit, roasted garlic, arugula, and scallions.  You can order it as a side or as a main dish; I opted for the side since I had the salad.  This was fantastic.  There was a lot of cheese sauce which is a big thing for me as my main complaint for a mac n’ cheese is that it’s not cheesy enough.  I loved the crumb topping.  The blue cheese flavor was surprisingly mild.  The duck was a great addition and the flavor just meshed well.  I’m used to either some sort of shellfish, chicken or bacon/ham being in a mac n’ cheese but duck was a new one for me and I have to say, it was good.

Chicken and Dumplings

Eddie went with the chicken and dumplings and let me steal a couple of bites.  This was excellent and very rich in chicken flavor.  The dumplings weren’t overly dense and soaked in the sauce making for yummy bite after bite.  He polished off his plate for the most part.

We didn’t have room for dessert because all this food stuffed us silly; we even had biscuits leftover!

All the times I have been here, the food has been spot on, both in flavor and execution.  Consistency in deliciousness is just one of the reasons why Urban Solace finds itself on the list of San Diego’s best restaurants.

The service is always friendly and excellent.  As for the prices, I think they are not very expensive for the quality of dining experience you get.

The Catty Critic gives Urban Solace 5 NOMs.  Now if only they would open up here in LA next door to my house…

Urban Solace
3823 30th Street
San Diego, CA 92104
(619) 295-6464
http://urbansolace.net/
Urban Solace on Urbanspoon

Mastro’s, a Valentine’s Day treat

Last month, Husband had a “boys’ night out” and splurged on a dinner with friends at Mastro’s, a fine-dining steakhouse in Beverly Hills. He came back raving about the filet mignon he had as well as the mac n’ cheese and the warm butter cake dessert. My husband doesn’t really care for dessert unless it’s chocolate and even then, he’s not a “must have dessert” kind of guy. So him going on and on about a non-chocolate dessert really had me wondering just how good it was…and giving him the pouty sad-kitty look for eating something yummy without me. I don’t begrudge him a night out with the guys but if he eats at a good restaurant I haven’t tried before, he HAS to take me there. It’s in our marriage vows. So for Valentine’s day, I got a fancy steak dinner!

When we arrived, we were seated in the upstairs dining room. A piano sat next to the stairway and a long bar stood against against a wall. Thick curtains covered the opposite wall of windows, making the room a dimly lit, posh space. Waiters in white jackets wandered around servicing their tables. Since our reservation was fairly early in the evening, the restaurant was mostly empty.

Our waitress quickly arrived to take drink orders and was very friendly and laid-back. She even joked around with us thru the night. It caught me a little off guard how casual they were with their customers given the type of establishment we were at. I actually liked this approach as it made the place less intimidating and “hoighty-toighty” and lightened the mood of the dark room…very different ambiance compared to BOA Las Vegas.

I ordered a cucumber melon mojito while Husband went for a Margarita. While I didn’t get any cucumber melon flavoring, the mojito was sweet, just the way I like it. It was also strong as I quickly started feeling the effects (well, I am a lightweight as well). Luckily, we had a basket of bread to soak up the alcohol. Rustic white rolls, crispy cheese crostinis and pretzel rolls which were very good – fluffy inside, nice baked crust and just the right amount of salt.

For our shared appetizer, Husband and I agreed on the vanilla-battered shrimp, mainly because everything else consisted of seafood he didn’t eat. There were quite a few things that sounded appealing, from raw oysters to an ahi tuna stack to crab claws. There was also an option to build a “seafood tower” by combining several choices off the menu. Ah well, vanilla battered shrimp sounded interesting. When the dish arrived, 3 very large shrimps sat on the plate; these were more like baby lobster-sized. The batter was light and nicely fried, not saturated with oil. The subtle sweetness of vanilla in the breading complimented the shrimp.

Both of us ordered the petite filet (8oz) as our main course, medium-well for him and medium/medium-rare for me. Marinated in a 15-ingredient rub and cooked w/ butter, this was perhaps the best steak I have eaten in my life. Mine was cooked perfectly – a nice seared outside with a warm pink middle. This was a tender, juicy, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth fine piece of beef. A simple, elegant steak…the way it should be! Husband and I played the guessing game as to what went into the rub based on what we could taste. Garlic, onion, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper were confirmed by our waitress but beyond that… Someone with a more refined and trained palette can crack a guess.

To supplement our steaks, Husband ordered the mac n’ cheese, the creamed corn and the lobster mashed potatoes.

I was keen to try the mac n’ cheese since all the boys were going on and on about it. Mastro’s version is very classic – elbow macaroni with a 5-cheese sauce topped with a layer of more cheese. It’s baked and served in a skillet and comes out hot and bubbling. Fontina, Gorgonzola and Gruyere were just some of the cheeses that went into the mix. The Gorgonzola was what I tasted the most, though. While I like this strong cheese in moderate amounts, it was a little overpowering for the dish. It is a great mac n’ cheese but I can’t claim it’s my absolute favorite like some of Husband’s friends do.

The creamed corn was A-MAIZE-ING. Okay, bad bad… I have never had creamed corn before but this was a fantastic way to be introduced to it. I actually had cravings for it the next day and day after. Good thing we had leftovers, which were packed neatly and nicely and put in a bag for us. Husband, who doesn’t care for the stuff, liked Mastro’s creamed corn and even helped himself to the leftovers the next day. Apparently, if I want him to like something, I should have Mastro’s make it.

Husband was contemplating ordering the twin lobster tails for us since he really wanted lobster. However, when our waitress listed off lobster mashed potatoes as a “special” side, he ordered that instead. I was pleasantly surprised with how much lobster meat from both the tail and claws was included in this side dish. And it was cooked perfectly as well. No rubberiness! As for the potatoes, creamy smoothness. The cooks in the kitchen really know how to technically execute their dishes. When Husband suggested to the waiter that the lobster mashed potatoes be added to the menu as a regular item, she said that it basically was but they just didn’t list it to make it sound “special”. Hahaha…

At this point, I was pretty full but I really wanted to try this warm butter cake that the guys were all abuzz about so we ordered it. And the Chocolate Pudding Cake because Husband wanted to try it… The butter cake is really a dessert that is meant to be shared between 4 or more people; it’s large and it’s REALLY good. Served with a side of freshly made whipped cream, this was a warm, smooth, rich dessert. It was strangely light and fluffy yet dense at the same time. Turns out, they use cream cheese as a secret ingredient to give the butter cake its texture. We finished about two-thirds of it and I was sad to see the rest go to waste. Such a shame to not finish such a great dessert. I tried though, I really did… The Chocolate Pudding Cake was also a superb choice. Flavored with espresso, the bitterness cut back on the sweetness of the chocolate making it rich without hurting the palette. Visually though, it was not the most appealing looking dessert once the Husband started digging in.

On our way out, our waitress gave us a small box with two chocolate hearts in it, a Valentine’s gift for the customers from the restaurant.

Mastro’s is a great steakhouse with fabulous service and even better food. A dinner here, though, will put a nice fat dent in your wallet. But it’s well worth it, I think.

5 NOMs for Mastro’s, my new favorite steakhouse!

Mastro's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon