Trois Mec

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Trois Mec
716 N Highland Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
www.troismec.com

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

Snack #1: Elderflower & mugwort beer

Snack #2

Snack #2: Buckwheat popcorn w/ rice wine vinegar

Snack #3

Snack #3: Steamed & grilled brioche bun w/ chive butter

Snack #4

Snack #4: Sweet potato chip w/ creme fraiche & salmon roe

Snack #5

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

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

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

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

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.

Supplement: Truffle grilled cheese sandwich, campfire ice cream

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

Mille-feuille, vanilla cream, berries

Mignardises

Mignardises

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.

Cuisine City/Neighborhood Price Grade
French Hollywood $$$$ A

Trois Mec on Urbanspoon

Tacolandia (2013)

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Tacolandia @ Hollywood Palladium Parking Lot
6/23/13 – 12-5pm
6215 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
http://microapp.laweekly.com/tacolandia/

I am currently 5 lbs. heavier and having trouble breathing while lying on the floor, and yet I regret nothing I’ve done (or eaten) today at LA Weekly’s 1st annual Tacolandia, a food festival focusing on tacos held at the Hollywood Palladium parking lot, and curated by Bill Esparza, Mr. Street Gourmet LA himself. 3 hours in and 30 things tried later, I can safely say that Tacolandia was a roaring success. For ONLY $20 (or even less if tickets were bought from Gilt City), a taco lover can grub on offerings by ~30 restaurants/food trucks. The Offalo was more than generous to offer me his extra ticket (because the event had sold out quick – buy tickets EARLY next year!) – thanks so much Peter! Below are some photos of the food I tried earlier today (except Mexicali, and the 3-4 stands I missed out on):

Bistro LQ: Rabbit Green Mole Taco

Bistro LQ: Rabbit Liver Taco

Bistro LQ – Rabbit Green Mole Taco, Rabbit Liver Taco

Chef Laurent actually had multiple variations of tacos available during the festival (including “FG” for those who knew the secret password), but these 2 rabbit-based tacos were very good. The rabbit in green mole was very traditional in execution and flavor, with the pulled rabbit meat being ever-so-tender. The rabbit liver, on the other hand, was very interesting, not unlike chicken liver.

Bizarra Capital

Bizarra Capital

I totally forgot what this was, but it was solid – as expected from Chef Ricardo (formerly of Guisados).

CaCao Mexicatessen: Beef Cheek Taco w/ Cipollini Onion, Radish, Chives

CaCao Mexicatessen – Beef Cheek Taco

I actually told them that I was disappointed in not having duck or suckling pig carnitas, or uni, but the beef cheek didn’t disappoint.

Chichen Itza: Lechon (Suckling Pig) Taco

Chichen Itza – Lechon Taco

Straightforward, but delicious. One of the first things I ate today, and still held up as one of the best in the end. I got a super-fatty piece of the suckling pig, which was deliciously paired with the nice piece of chicharron.

Coni'Seafood: Smoked Marlin Taco

Coni’Seafood – Smoked Marlin Taco

The swordfish was smoky and juicy, the latter which was a pleasant surprise. One of my favorites today.

Flor Del Rio: Birria Taco

Flor Del Rio – Birria Taco

Solid execution of the birria, which was a pleasure to see here (since I haven’t had it in a while).

George's at the Cove: Cured Snapper, Achiote, Cilantro, Pineapple Salsa, Cabbage, CA Avocado

George’s at the Cove (San Diego) – Cured Snapper Taco

The real surprise of the day. George’s is a fine-dining restaurant in San Diego with its share of accolades, and this proved to be a smart and sophisticated dish, great for the hot and humid weather. Snapper was nicely cured (with achiote), and I liked the little touch with the piece of fried skin.

Guerrilla Tacos: Grass-Fed Beef Tongue Taco

Guerrilla Tacos – Beef Tongue Taco

Glad I got to try Guerrilla at the festival, since I will never make it to Handsome Coffee during a regular weekday. The grass-fed beef tongue was really well-cooked here.

Le Guerrerense: (top) Uni Tostada, (bottom) Smoked Yellowtail Pate Tostada

La Guerrerense Again

La Guerrerense (Baja California) – Uni & Smoked Yellowtail Pate Tostadas, Smoked Yellowtail Pate & Pismo Clam Tostadas

Here it was, my most-anticipated stop of the day, arguably the most-acclaimed participant at the festival, and it lived up to all my expectations…and more. On a day filled with great performances like this year’s NBA Finals, Le Guerrerense just LeBron’d the competition. Smoked yellowtail pate? Tell me that’s not genius. And those salsas? Amazing!

Tacos Leo: Al Pastor Taco

Leo’s Taco Truck – Tacos Al Pastor

The trompo was out in broad daylight, ready to shut all the detractors up – it really does make a difference.

Loterial Grill: Taco Dulce

Loteria Grill – Taco Dulce

Missed out on their savory offering earlier in the day, and instead tried this dessert taco – basically a churro taco with mango and pineapple. It was okay.

Mariscos Jalisco: Shrimp Taco Dorado

Mariscos Jalisco – Shrimp Taco Dorado

Quite possibly the most beloved taco truck at the festival, and it also lived up to the hype. The lines here were among the longest of the day, and the shrimp tacos dorados were indeed worth the wait.

Mo-Chica/Picca/Paiche: Pork Belly Chicharron Taco

Mo-Chica/Picca/Paiche – Pork Belly Chicharron Taco

Kind of surprising to see the Peruvian empire doing tacos, but they turned out to be both true to the traditional taco form, as well as exhibit the signature Peruvian flavors that Chef Ricardo is known for.

Rocio's Mole de los Dioses: (top) Chicken Mole Taco, (bottom) Carnitas Taco

Rocio’s Mole de los Dioses – Chicken Mole & Carnitas Tacos

The mole of the Gods that most in LA pray to, serving tacos that were very straightforward. They were pretty good, but I don’t think that the offering truly showed off what the restaurant can do.

SoHo Taco: Lobster Taco

SoHo Taco (OC) – Lobster Taco

Probably had the longest line throughout the festival – has to be the lobster. Props to SoHo for being one of 2 stands to freshly press their tortillas (Taqueria Los Anaya being the other), and more props for them being blue corn. And the lobster? Pretty good too ;)

Sol Mexican Cucina: Goat Cheese Tostada

Sol Mexican Cucina (OC) – Goat Cheese Tostada

One of the participants I wasn’t familiar with coming into today, Sol served a goat cheese tostada that was rather refreshing, but a bit too sweet for me.

Spirit House: Chashu Taco

Spirit House – Chashu Taco

The Asian representative of the festival, the chashu taco was actually much more traditional-looking and tasting than I expected.

Tacos Arabes de Puebla

Tacos Arabes de Puebla – Taco Arabe

Taco arabe, which means “Arab-style taco,” was described to me as being similar to al pastor, which makes sense since Middle Eastern cuisine uses the spit as well. Instead of a corn tortilla, what you have here was a flour tortilla that was almost pita-like. Nice touch of presenting different types of herbs to pick yourself for the tacos.

Tacos Kokopelli: Kraken Taco

Tacos Kokopelli (Baja California) – Kraken Taco

We got to see the pulpo (octopus) in action on the grill while waiting in line for La Guerrerense, and man, did it look delicious a la plancha. Tasted as good as it looked, too. A variation of this is available at Petty Cash Taqueria (where they consulted on the menu), and I look forward to trying this there as well.

Tacos Punta Cabras: Bay Scallop Taco w/ Uni

Tacos Punta Cabras – Bay Scallop & Uni Taco

I am very familiar with the tacos from TPC, and this offering would be fitting as one of their daily specials. As good as expected.

Taqueria Los Anaya: "Turbo-Charged" Chicken Taco

Taqueria Los Anaya – “Turbo-Charged” Chicken Taco

Taqueria Los Anaya, for the day, was doing business as “Dos Bros”- in accordance to promoting Dreamworks’ movie “Turbo” (very…interesting of a collaboration between a big studio and a local taco truck). Anyways, the chicken taco was fine, but nothing to be “turbo-charged” about. But I did appreciate the freshly-pressed tortillas.

I obviously thought everything was good for the day, but if I had to choose, these would be my favorites (I reserve the right to change my mind at any time, and it just might happen, as I might have a different answer the next time I reflect on this):

Chris Hei’s All-Tacolandia 1st Team:

Chichen Itza
Coni’Seafood
George’s at the Cove
La Guerrerense
Mariscos Jalisco
SoHo Taco

Big thanks again to Bill, LA Weekly, and especially to all the participating restaurants/trucks today!

Crispy Pork Gang & Grill

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Crispy Pork Gang isn’t a very well-known place in Thai Town. It gets overshadowed by the popular Ruen Pair next door. And there are at least a couple of dozen restaurants in the area that are more popular. However, I was attracted to what they were specializing in: crispy pork. Think about it – fried pork belly. Can’t get any better than that, right?

So I went after slurping a bowl of boat noodles from Sapp, around 11am on a Saturday. I was the only table. I ordered the crispy pork w/ morning glory, which was featured fairly recently as part of LA Weekly’s 100 Favorite Dishes column. The crispy pork is interesting – it’s only crispy initially, then the tiny porcine cubes kind of dissolve into dried, chewy pork belly. Not exactly a revelation, as I prefer my pork belly soft, melty fat pieces, but still a very enjoyable plate.

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The pad gra pow, with the same crispy pork stir-fried with basil, garlic, Thai chili, and thousand year-old eggs, was actually a little better than the version w/ morning glory. I think the sauce for the pad gra pow was just better – the version w/ morning glory had a hot bean sauce of sorts. Overall, Crispy Pork Gang & Grill differentiates itself with some interesting dishes involving crispy pork, but doesn’t necessarily separates itself from the pack in Thai Town.

However, there is one amazing selling point for Crispy Pork: it’s open 24/7. That’s right. I didn’t stutter. Ruen Pair, GTFO with your 4am closings. If you’re hungry for some drunken grub after Harvard & Stone or just want to get a 4th meal in at 5am, this is your spot.

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Chris Hei grade: B

Crispy Pork Gang & Grill
5253 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 465-9796

Crispy Pork Gang and Grill on Urbanspoon

Sapp Coffee Shop

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Most Asian cuisines have a soup noodle dish to call their own. The Japanese have the ramen, the Vietnamese have the pho, and we Chinese have the beef noodle soup. Less known (from what I know, at least outside of LA) is the Thais’ boat noodles. Upon first glance, the boat noodles look similar to the beef noodle soup with its dark, beef-based broth. But this cheap bowl of noodles is so much more. There are sweet and savory flavors, as well as some acidity and even some funkiness from…blood. I have to say, it’s so much more sophisticated than anyone gives it credit for.

Luckily, we live in LA, where not only the dish is appreciated and embraced, there are multiple restaurants that specialize in boat noodles alone. Most people nowadays gravitate towards the version at Pa-Ord, which I haven’t tried yet. But my favorite version is the one served at Sapp Coffee Shop. It’s not a coffee shop, for those of you wondering. It is one of those places that specialize in boat noodles, and man, do they do it well. Not that people don’t know about Sapp (it is a mainstay on Go[l]d’s 99 list), but I never see the place truly crowded.

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In Sapp’s version: beef slices, balls, liver, tendon, tripe, chicharrones, and thin rice noodles in a very dark broth laced with bloody goodness. From what I’ve heard/read, this version is funkier and not as sweet as Pa-Ord’s version. And that sounds fine by me. Just different flavor profiles playing off each other well – all for the entry fee of $5.50. So if you’re in Thai Town and want to see what the fuss is with Thai boat noodles, go to Sapp Coffee Shop. And let me know if their coffee’s any good.

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By the way, I also order the jade noodles to-go. This was highly recommended by fans of Sapp as an alternative to the boat noodles, even as a preferred choice for some. While I did indeed enjoy the noodles, they won’t dissuade me from ordering anything other than the boat noodles while I’m there. But for to-go, definitely.

Chris Hei grade: B+

Sapp Coffee Shop
5183 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 665-1035

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