716 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
By now, just about every restaurant enthusiast in town has heard of Trois Mec, the new restaurant from Ludo Lefebvre of LudoBites fame, and Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo of Animal and Son of a Gun (hence the name “Trois Mec,” which roughly translates to “three guys” – albeit incorrectly spelled, but intentional). However, of those enthusiasts, only a few have been fortunate enough to score reservations via the ticketing system on the restaurant’s website, which releases openings every other Friday at 8am. The restaurant, which opened earlier this year in April, is a small space that seats fewer than 30 diners, so getting in isn’t necessarily easier than getting in than to the pop-ups that were notorious for crashing OpenTable.
For the past few years, Chef Ludo has kept busy with his series of LudoBites pop-ups, held about a couple of times a year at various restaurants around town, each iteration lasting around a month or two. It might seem strange for a chef of his caliber and background (he is probably the most classically-trained AND experienced chef currently in LA) to sustain this long-term, but during these last few years, Chef Ludo seemed happy and content as the equivalent of a swinger, going around kitchen to kitchen and holding the pop-ups without the worries of managing overhead costs, rent, and other everyday concerns that go with owning a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
All of that changed last year, however, when news broke of the trio of chefs taking over the former space of Raffallo’s Pizza (where I actually ate a bunch of times as a kid who grew up in the neighborhood), where the signage still remains today – that, along with the translucent windows that mask the restaurant’s interior from the outside, gives the diners a sense of secrecy and exclusivity that was prevalent during the LudoBites days. And Trois Mec is indeed the spiritual successor to the pop-ups in more ways than one: the menu, the ingredients, the techniques, and just the restaurant itself, are all evident as the vision of Chef Ludo. But the restaurant is also the girl that caused the chef to finally settle down and start a family.
I woke up Friday morning three weeks ago, roughly 15 minutes before the bi-weekly 8am ticket sales. I did some email purging and Twitter browsing, the latter where I saw an announcement of solo seats being available – an ideal situation. Up until then, I had only seen availability for parties of two or four, and since you’re buying the tickets upfront (therefore basically pre-paying for the dinner), I didn’t want to potentially have to scramble to find accompanying diners who might bail on me last-minute. So I didn’t hesitate here, immediately buying the ticket for one, and got ready for work, with a big grin on my face.
Fast-forward to July 31, and I was as nervous and anxious as a person who was going on their first first date in years. However, the impending first impression I was about to make on my date couldn’t have been any worse. I left the office an hour before my reservation at 6:30pm, thinking I gave myself plenty of time to spare, as it was only from Century City to Melrose/Highland, and Google Maps estimated the drive at 35 minutes with traffic. Those liars – I ended up arriving at the restaurant at 6:50, 80 minutes for a 6.5-mile drive. Embarrassed, I entered the restaurant with my head down, ready to be ridiculed by everyone, from the chefs in the open kitchen to my fellow diners who were already done with their first course.
Instead, I was warmly greeted by a wave of “bonsoir!” by all the chefs, a la the “irrashaimase!” one receives upon entering a authentic sushi restaurant. I was immediately guided to my seat at the counter (great view of the chefs at work, and all the kitchen gadgetry in action throughout the night), where a flurry of amuses followed. I decided to alleviate my stress from sitting in LA traffic for almost 1.5 hours with a wine pairing, which proved to be 6 generous pours for $49, and added the cheese course supplement, which was actually a truffle grilled cheese sandwich served with a “campfire” ice cream AND an extra wine pairing for $9. And this is when the magic began…
Snack #1: Elderflower & mugwort beer
Snack #2: Buckwheat popcorn w/ rice wine vinegar
Snack #3: Steamed & grilled brioche bun w/ chive butter
Snack #4: Sweet potato chip w/ creme fraiche & salmon roe
Snack #5: Tempura baby corn w/ mole verde
The five snacks (technically four snacks and an aperitif) arrived in rapid succession of one another. The aperitif, which was an elderberry and mugwort beer that belied its appearance, was a nice way to whet the appetite. The four snacks that followed were all finger food that were fun to eat, and importantly, delicious. That buckwheat popcorn, while somewhat difficult for me to eat without looking primitive, is essentially the most amazing version of salt and vinegar chips ever. The bun was a miniaturized version of the garlic rolls you’d find at somewhere like Wood Ranch, but elevated. The sweet potato chip was a deceivingly complex bite. And who knew baby corn could exist outside of salad bars and Chinese vegetable medleys?
Avocado, sushi rice, salt cod cream, lime, cilantro
Then came the first course, kind of a play on a California roll. You have your sushi rice (which was a bit more “wet” in consistency, but was true to the concept), you have your avocado, and in place of the crab meat, there is a brandade cream that had just the right amount of savory flavor. Add a hit of acidity with the lime juice, some garnishes in cilantro and jalapeno, and slight amount of crunch with the walnut, and this dish proved to embody the identity of what is to be expected at Trois Mec: the playful flare and flavor profile combinations that were evident in the dishes from LudoBites, but taken to another level with a sense of refinement and restraint that shows some growing up.
Raw beef, grilled yogurt, fermented black walnut, caramelized eggplant
Next up was the second course, which one of the servers proudly proclaimed as his favorite – and it definitely was an awesome dish. I couldn’t exactly wrap my mind around what this dish was a play on, but it brought memories of eating kashkeh bademjan, the Persian eggplant dip. The shaved beef carpaccio was great, but it’s amazing how the eggplant and the grilled yogurt (which was actually smoked in their wood-fire grill – creative usage) were the stars. So here we have two courses so far, neither of which the protein was the star – just a piece of the puzzle, and the veggies not an accessory or a garnish to the dish. Both were very composed dishes that were the sum of its parts.
Potato pulp, brown butter, bonito, onion soubise, salers
I thought that this third course, although the most simple in preparation in presentation, was by far the most bold and ambitious one. Why? It’s a potato dish! Where else would they have the confidence to serve this as a main course? It’s like the anti-mashed potatoes: the potatoes, maintaining a solid-enough consistency to have some bite, were squeezed out of a potato ricer onto a pool of brown butter and onion soubise, to which generous amounts of a very flavorful French salers cheese and bonito bits and flakes were applied on top – ended up more like a potatoes de terre gratinees. I knew that this was going to be a good dish, but for this dish to be as is and surpass the first two wonderful courses was an astonishing feat.
Smoked & grilled albacore, tomato dashi, wakame seaweed, shallots
I kind of felt bad for this dish, because it had some tough acts to follow. As the unofficial, main protein course of the meal, it was the most straightforward and simple of them all, and this was something I expected from the fourth course of the dinners at Trois Mec. And that isn’t putting this dish down – the albacore tuna was perfectly cooked, with a nice sear and a raw middle, the tomato dashi was surprisingly developed, and the raw green tomato and the confit cherry tomato were nice compliments. And that mouse melon (looks like a thimble-sized watermelon, tastes like a gherkins) on the bottom left – so cute! Overall, this dish kind of had a chazuke effect to it.
Truffle grilled cheese sandwich, buttermilk sauce, campfire ice cream ($9 supplement)
Of course, I insta-accepted the option of adding the supplemental course. Technically acting as the cheese course, this (along with the fromage dishes served at ink.) was the most fun and creative way to approach the traditional course. What you had here was a truffle grilled cheese sandwich, not lacking any butter, served with a “campfire” ice cream (again, creative use of their wood-fire grill). Just an inspired way of combining sweet and savory flavors. And the buttermilk sauce was great to dip the sandwich in. DO NOT pass up the opportunity to add this dish, no matter how full you think you might be. Did I mention that it comes with its own wine pairing as well?
Mille-feuille, vanilla cream, berries
After all these creative dishes, executed with fine dining techniques and equipment, served with Asian-inspired flavors, we end the meal with a traditionally-prepared Napoleon? Well, why mess with something as delicious as a well-executed Napoleon dessert, with its flaky puff pastry and its vanilla custard cream? Forget about needing the cronut in LA – you’ll never forget a classic. It was served with slices of strawberry, a blueberry sauce, and a sugar-glazed, vanilla-infused raspberry. I’m so glad that I was able to try this before they possibly took it off for the next dessert in the rotation. The mignardises were a mini chocolate chip-olive cookie and a chocolate ganache topped with habanero salt, a sweet ending to a sweet meal.
1500+ words later, and I can safely come to the conclusion of this dinner at Trois Mec being my favorite meal of 2013 so far. In addition to all that’s been written about the food, every other aspect of the restaurant clicked as well. The decor and ambiance, while minimal, had the comforting and intimate effect of dining in someone’s kitchen. I especially love that open kitchen, and the close view from my counter seat – echoes my love of sitting at the counter at sushi restaurants. Short, funny story: a random French guy walked in expecting to order pizza, and one of the servers had to tell him that it wasn’t a pizza place. He then proceed to correct the grammar of the restaurant name.
Service was great as well – very casual, but everyone was extremely informative and courteous, and some courses were served by the chefs/cooks themselves. In no way did I get the impression that I was “lucky to be there” or “I didn’t know any better,” which were the sentiments shared by some of the Yelp reviews critical of the restaurant (god, Yelpers are dumb). I’m not especially knowledgeable about wines (thanks guys for describing them in detail), but each pairing proved to be effective, whether to balance the accompanying dish, or to accentuate it. And again, $49 for 6 generous pours, plus the extra pairing for the grilled cheese. I just might make it a habit of camping in front of my laptop every other Friday at 8am.