Saturday, November 13, 2010

LudoBites 6.0

When I heard that LudoBites 6.0 was taking place in my hometown, Sherman Oaks, I had to nab a reservation. In typical LudoBites fashion, I got a reservation through a combination of patience, persistence, luck, and utter frenzy.

The restaurant, MAX, combines elements of comfort dining and fine dining. With dim lighting and a tastefully small bar area, the setting for this version's LudoBites made for an intimate meal. The only downside, however, was that the kitchen was isolated to a separate back room making it difficult to observe any of Chef Ludo's exciting kitchen. Nevertheless, the night's menu made for an exciting, but sometimes disappointing, night.

With news of this version being the first to offer cocktails, I had to try all three.

The Whiskey Pumpkin Ginger cocktail was a seasonal adaptation of what would be your typical Manhattan. The pumpkin flavor was subtle under the intense character of the ginger, but came together well.

The Yuzu Tequila Martini was a sweet, margarita-like rendition of a martini that went down like candy.

The most interesting cocktail was the Mexican Mojito, which came with a powerful punch of jalapeño and cilantro. I love both, so needless to say, the Mexican Mojito was my favorite. I loved it so much that I forgot to take a picture of the numerous rounds we got of this drink. There was also a full bar, but I wouldn't waste the opportunity to get a standard.

Unlike its 5.0 counterpart, LudoBites 6.0 was packed with serious hits, but an unfortunate number of misses.

The Fresh Baguette came with a beautiful crunch, a delicious smoked butter, and an amazing sardine-laughing cow cheese spread. I shamelessly ate the cheese spread by itself even though there was no more bread.

Of the next five courses, only one component of one dish was memorable.

The Hamachi, Vietnamese Style was overly dressed and took away from what could have been a much simpler crudo.

The Escargots, Brussel Sprouts, Red Mole, Corn Ice Cream, and Marinated Tofu was confused by competing flavors. Though the escargots were the main protein on the dish, their usual enjoyable flavor and texture did not come through in the midst of the bland tofu, heavy mole, displaced brussel sprouts, and unnecessarily cold preparation of the corn.

The Marinated Mackerel, Leche del Tigre, Baby Leeks, and Verdolagas Leaves was delicious, but nothing particularly special.

The Hot Bedouin Noir Pudding, "Parmentier", Apples, and Mustard Tapioca sounded interesting, but was monotone in texture and lacking in complimentary flavors.

The Salmon "a l'huile", Somen Noodles, Carrots, Red Wine Vinaigrette, and Grilled Salmon Roe would have fared better without the somen noodles and carrots. Like the hamachi, this dish seemed to complicate what could have been a great crudo. The outstanding part of this dish was the grilled roe.

A crudo of the salmon "a l'huile" with a drizzle of the red wine vinaigrette and topped with a few pieces of the grilled roe might have fared better.

The other two disappointing dishes night were the John Dory, Potato, Herbs, Broccolini Flowers, and Green Jalapeño Nage and the Marinated Korean Steak, Crispy Kimchi, Bone Marrow, and Shiso.

The John Dory tough and surprisingly bland. The steak was an unfortunate last course.

The meat was cooked beautifully, but none of the Korean flavors of the marinade or the alleged kimchi came through.

Enough with the bad news, and on with the great news.

The Scallops, Celery Root Remoulade, Red Port Walnuts, and Dried Fruits were a refreshing change of pace. My scallop was perfectly seared, and the creamy remoulade was light enough to support the flavor of the scallops, yet present enough to bring together the crunchy walnuts and to tame the concentrated dried fruits. Each component was well thought out and the proper bite called for a flavorful result.

The Oriental Mussels Velouté, Heirloom Tomato, and Small Fries was like a bowl of Seattle's famous chowder and fries from Ivar's, except twenty times better. The mussels were non-existent to the eye, but blended perfectly with the velouté and tomato.

The mountain of shoestring fries were lightly fried and not too heavy. Eaten together, the fries and velouté made for a hearty, comforting dish that left me wanting a vat-full of both.

After 5.0's work with foie, I was excited to see what 6.0 had in store.

This version's Poached-Roasted Foie Gras, Acacia Honey, Autumn Fruits, and Rose Flowers was lighter in that it was accented with refreshingly sweet notes, but still boasted a well-prepared foie. The honey was not overpowering, and balanced well with the bright fruits and light flowers. Visually and flavorfully striking, this dish brought new life to what I thought could be done with foie.

The best dish of the night, however, was the Half Chicken, Poached Egg, Chanterelles, and Chorizo. The juicy chicken could have held up as its own, amazing dish, but was supported by a perfectly creamy poached egg, intensely flavorful chanterelles, and a light hint of chorizo.

Together, the dish was extremely satisfying, but not too heavy. I'm also a sucker for chanterelles, so the fact that this dish had chanterelles won me over almost immediately.

Dessert at 6.0 was sweet, savory, and smart.

The Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, and Caviar was divine. I savored each bite as the salted caviar brought life to the crème fraiche and the caramel brought the perfect amount of sweetness. The textures were smooth, varied only by the crystalized salt and the caviar's shape.

The Warm Carrot Cake, Coconut, Thai Curry, Mango Sorbet, and Kaffir Lime Oil was, as the server suggested, a roundtrip journey from sweet to savory. The Thai flavors were apparent through the curry, coconut, carrot, and lime oil, sweetened by a perfect mango sorbet and grounded by a fluffy cake base. These dishes were the perfect way to end the night, reminding everyone at the table that we all scrambled to get reservations for a great reason.

Reservation times and service, as expected, were on point. The servers did a great job explaining each dish and worked efficiently to create a seamless evening.

The best part about LudoBites in general, though, is that you never know what you're going to get. You might run into some disappointments, but on other nights, you might have one of the most exciting dinners of your life. The night I went to LudoBites 5.0 was more memorable, and I have no doubt that the night I caught LudoBites 6.0 was a bit off. Set your expectations high, but be ready to accept that some nights are better than others. I still love Chef Ludo's work and I'm excited to see what he has in store.

LudoBites 6.0 @ MAX
13355 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423

GET: The Menu. You never know.


  1. I might go again on 12/3. Will let you know how it goes. I hope the chicken is still on the menu...

  2. Oh man, please order two of the chicken if it's on the menu. None of this nonsense with the double order of the hamachi.

  3. oh man your recap of the veloute was SO spot-on! couldn't have summed up the experience better!


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