Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sack It To Me!

Los Angeles foodies have been eagerly awaiting the opening of ink, the new restaurant by uber-talented, bad-ass Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio. While ink should finally open next month, Voltaggio surprised everyone recently by opening a gourmet sandwich counter called ink.sack a few doors down from his soon-to-debut fine dining restaurant on Melrose. I’ve been to ink.sack a couple times since it opened less than two weeks ago and I am already a huge fan. The sandwiches are inexpensive but small, so you need to order at least two (I could easily polish off three) to make a meal. This is a great feature because even if you go there alone, you’re able to try different things without making a pig of yourself.

The seven sandwiches on the menu are what you would expect from Voltaggio; they’re inventive, complex and fun. I’ve tried all of them (I have a duty to my blog readers, right?) and I liked all of them, although some more than others. My favorites are the Maple-Pepper Turkey Melt, a sweet and savory sandwich which includes Camembert, Mustarda (candied fruit in a mustard flavored syrup) and arugula, and The Jose Andres aka “The Spanish Godfather,” which is named after the awesome chef of The Bazaar and includes Serrano, Chorizo, Lomo and Manchego. These sandwiches are must-haves. I also loved the messy but yummy, sushi-inspired Spicy Tuna with Miso-Cured Albacore and Sriacha Mayo, as well as Voltaggio’s take on a Vietnamese Bahn Mi, which was made with pork cheeks, chicharrones (fried pork rinds) and pickled vegetables. Ink.sack’s version of a classic Ruben is made with corned beef tongue, so when you taste it, it tastes you back (sorry; I couldn’t resist). The “Ruben” is also made with Appenzeller cheese, kraut and Russian dressing and I thought it was very good. My least favorites were the Cold Fried Chicken with house-made ranch cheese and the C.L.T., which is Voltaggio’s version of a B.L.T., made with chicken liver mousse, curried fried chicken skin, lettuce and tomato.

Whether you eat in (there is very limited seating) or take-out, sandwiches are given to you in a black paper bag with your name written on it. Make sure to order the salt, pepper and vinegar potato chips to go with your sandwich. Also worth getting is the refreshing “Street Fruit” (pineapple, jicama, mango and melon mixed with chile and lemon juice) or the watermelon with sriacha and lime. They also have Mexican chocolate chip cookies and a good selection of gourmet sodas.

Ink.sack is located at 8360 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles (in West Hollywood).

Sack Lunch

Chicken Liver Mousse and Curried Chicken Skin Sandwich

Beef Tongue "Ruben" Sandwich

Cold Fried Chicken Sandwich

Spicy Tuna Sandwich: messy but good

House-made Salt, Pepper & Vinegar Potato Chips

ink sack on Urbanspoon


Filed under West Hollywood

Waffle Wars!

Liege waffles have hit LA. A popular street food in Liege, the third largest city in Belgium, these waffles are flatter, denser and sweeter than their sister, the Belgian waffle. They are crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and are made with chunks of pearl sugar, which caramelize on the outside of the waffle when baked. Not one, but two cafes have opened in LA in the past two years which specialize in Liege waffles.

Shaky Alibi on Beverly Boulevard in the Fairfax/Mid-City area is a polished, European-looking cafe with a ladies-who-lunch feel to it. The menu is limited to coffee, tea and chocolate drinks, Liege waffles, yogurt parfaits and ice cream. You can order your Liege waffles plain with powdered sugar, with an imported Belgian spread such as dark chocolate or speculoos (a Belgian speciality made with ground cookies) or with bananas, pecans and strawberries. Their menu also offers “Savory Waffles” with choice of Swiss, Cheddar or Fontina cheese and mesquite smoked turkey or Black Forest ham. This is something that sounded really appealing to me, but when I ordered one, it was not what I was expecting. I thought these “Savory Waffles” would be waffles baked with pieces of meat and cheese inside. Instead, they turned out to simply be a sandwich served on a split waffle; a good sandwich, but a sandwich nonetheless.

Syrup Desserts has a hip, urban vibe. It’s open until midnight every night and is on Spring Street in a funky party of Downtown. They have shelves of classic board games like Trivial Pursuit and The Game of Life for you to play while drinking their cappuccinos and consuming their waffles! Although I go there for Liege waffles, Syrup Desserts also serves buttermilk waffles and Belgian waffles, as well as crepes and a variety of pastries. Their menu offers an extensive list of waffle concoctions including a Caramel Apple Waffle which is served with dulce de leche ice cream, fresh sliced apples, cinnamon, caramel and vanilla sauce. If you’re looking for something savory, they have several varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches including Asian Pear & Gouda and Blackberries, Muenster & Walnuts.

Which of these two joints is better? Both have great waffles, but I’m a bigger fan of Syrup Desserts. For one thing, I found the service to be disappointing at Shaky Alibi. When we were there last, there was only one poor guy taking all the orders, running the register, making the waffles and bussing the tables; needless to say, the wait was extremely long and it wasn’t even that crowded. Also, I slightly prefer the waffles at Syrup Desserts. I like that I could get a Liege waffle with chocolate chips actually baked inside the waffle at Syrup Desserts whereas Shaky Alibi only puts things on top of their waffles. The service was much better at Syrup Desserts, although it should be noted that due to its Downtown location, parking can be a bitch.

Shaky Alibi is located at 7401 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles. Syrup Desserts is located at 611 South Spring St. in Downtown Los Angeles.

Shaky Alibi's Liege Waffle

Shaky Alibi's Turkey & Cheese Waffle

Shakys Alibi's Cute Storefront

Syrup Dessert's Liege Waffle

Syrup Dessert's Grilled Cheese

Syrup Desserts is a two story urban cafe.

Syrup Desserts has board games!

Shaky Alibi on Urbanspoon
Syrup Desserts on Urbanspoon


Filed under Downtown, Fairfax, Mid-City

Pop-Up Perfection

Temporary “pop-up” restaurants have been popping up all over Los Angeles for the past couple of years. But the ultimate pop-up is LudoBites, the creation of iconoclastic bad boy chef Ludo Lefebvre and his wife Krissy. Now in its seventh incarnation, LudoBites, which chef Ludo describes as a “touring restaurant” or a “travelling circus,” is the hottest ticket in town. LudoBites 7.0 is open only for dinner and only from August 3 to September 10, when the downtown sandwich shop Gram & Papa’s is transformed into one of the most sought after dining experiences in LA. When reservations became available online on Bastille Day for its 6 week run, the restaurant became completely booked in less than 60 seconds.

The food at LudoBites is exciting and across-the-board excellent. The menu consists of complex, modern and often playful takes on French cuisine (Ludo was previously the executive Chef of L’Orangerie and Bastide), but with some regional American influences, which are no doubt the result of Ludo’s experiences traveling the country while taping his new Sundance Channel reality show Ludo Bites America. For an appetizer, I recommend the tasty Onion Tart with Bottarga (dried tuna roe). In terms of entrees, I loved the Epoisse Cheese Risotto with Hazelnut, Egg Yolk and Herb Salad pictured above (you break the yolk and mix it into the risotto); so delicious! The Duck with Cherry, Spicy Saucisse, Beets and Radish is probably the most beautifully plated dish I have ever been served; the brightly colored disks of beets and radishes with drops of oil on top reminded me of little colored umbrellas much like the opening scene of one of my favorite films, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. But if there was one dish that stood out for me among the others, it was the Foie Gras “French Dim Sum” with Crispy Kimchi and Sake-Black Truffle Cream. It was amazing! My favorite dessert was the Smoked Vanilla Bacon Creme Brulee, which was served with a cup of Melon Soup.

If you don’t have a reservation, you could ask to be placed on the waiting list in case there is a cancellation or you can try your luck as a walk-in. Regardless, make sure to sign up on their website for updates on future incarnations of the restaurant. LudoBites is currently located at 227 East 9th Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Onion Tart with Botarga

Duck dish: the most beautiful plate ever!

Foie Gras "French Dim Sum"

Smoke Vanilla Bacon Creme Brulee and Melon Soup

Peach Melba Vacherin with Lavender

LudoBites 7.0

LudoBites @ Gram & Papa's on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Downtown

Burger Battle!

In case you haven’t heard, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a hugely successful national chain which started in Washington DC, has come to conquer LA. In the world of fast food hamburgers and fries, Five Guys occupies the same space in the market that In-N-Out Burger has locally dominated for many decades; super-fresh, never frozen ingredients, fries made from potatoes cut in the restaurant and fried in trans fat-free oil, and burgers which are all cooked to order. As we all know, In-N-Out is a Southern California institution. It’s the object of many late-night cravings, the home of an awesome “secret menu” and hidden biblical verse references, as well as the place most frequently visited by LA vegetarians when they’re ready to start eating meat again for the first time. Is Five Guys better than In-N-Out? No, it’s not. But it is better than most other fast food burger restaurants.

The burgers at Five Guys, like In-N-Out, are really good. Five Guys even has several more choices for toppings than In-N-Out, including bacon, jalapenos and sauteed mushrooms. Five Guys also gives you free peanuts to munch on while you’re waiting for your food to be cooked. While I like both burgers a lot, I slightly prefer the burger at In-N-Out mainly because In-N-Out has much better buns. I love the fries at In-N-Out, but Five Guys also has great fries, and you can order Five Guys’ fries with cajun seasoning generously sprinkled on top! Unfortunately, I found the service at Five Guys to be less than stellar. They are not staffed with the uber-efficient yet exceedingly friendly, clean-cut kids that one always encounters when going to In-N-Out. The last time I was at Five Guys, after waiting about 20 minutes after ordering, I was given our burgers and unapologetically informed that they ran out of fries and we would have to wait another 20 minutes while they prepared a new batch. This would never happen at In-N-Out! Also, Five Guys in notably more expensive. So while Five Guys is definitely worth trying, I think In-N-Out has nothing to worry about.

Five Guys currently has locations in Culver City (at the Westfield Culver City Mall), Valencia, Carson (at the Southbay Pavillion) and Thousand Oaks; more locations are opening soon including Northridge, Mid-City and Downtown. In-N-Out is all over Southern California. UPDATE 12/10/11: Five Guys now also has locations open in Cerritos, El Segundo, Northridge, Whittier and Downtown. UPDATE 5/25/13: Five Guys now has additional locations in Long Beach, West Covina, Lakewood, Westwood, West Hollywood and Studio City.

Five Guys Burger

Five Guys Fries

Lots of bragging on the walls at Five Guys

In-N-Out: Still the Champion

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon
Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Carson, Avalon Blvd) on Urbanspoon
Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Cerritos Promenade) on Urbanspoon
Five Guys Burgers and Fries (USC W27th) on Urbanspoon
Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Valencia Town Center) on Urbanspoon
Five Guys Burgers and Fries (El Segundo) on Urbanspoon
Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Whittier) on Urbanspoon
In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon
In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon
In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon
In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon
In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon


Filed under Carson, Cerritos, Culver City, Downtown, El Segundo, Lakewood, Long Beach, Mid-City, Northridge, Studio City, Thousand Oaks, Valencia, West Covina, West Hollywood, Westwood