Many might know Chef Dan Moody from his time as Ludo's sous chef for many of the earlier incarnations of LudoBites. Those were all before our days in Los Angeles. We know of Moody from his personal pop-ups. Just over a year ago we caught him at his pop-up in San Diego. More recently, we managed to swing by Scoops Westside for a one-night-only dessert pop-up, that wasn't really a pop-up. And even more recently - last week, in fact - Chef Moody took over the kitchen at Culver City's relatively new Batch Restaurant for another run of popping up. Apparently Chef Moody quite likes popping up.
We hadn't yet been in to check out Batch. We can't yet speak for the restaurants food, but we did manage to tip back a few of their regularly-served cocktails along with Chef Moody's reasonably priced a la carte menu.
For starters we tried the Drunken Sow (below, left) a playful adaptation of the Manhattan made with bacon-infused bourbon, Carpano Antica, sapling and cinammon bitters. As much as I wanted to love the drink, ours seemed watery and lacking the expected flavors. On the other hand, the Blinker (below, right) - made with rye, grapefruit juice and raspberry syrup - was one of our favorite drinks of the night.
Pop-ups can be tough. Disastrous even. For a normal restaurant opening, it might take the kitchen days... weeks... even MONTHS to get things in order. Menus get adjusted. Dishes get perfected. Service finds a rythm. One major downside to the trend of the pop-up is that they don't stick around quite long enough for the training wheels to come off. With these sort of tempered expectations always in mind, we sat down with a hungry group hoping to be impressed by some of the options from the menu.
First up was the ceviche and a cold beer (below - $13) made with spicy ceviche, cilantro, beer carbonated grapes and citrus. The ceviche was indeed spicy and the grapes were carbonated and fizzy, but the 'ceviche and beer' concept didn't quite land with us.
The beef tartare (below - $13), however, won our table over completely. The notion of topping a savory course with mustard ice cream seemed a little too 'cute' for me at first. But as the yellow quenelle melted into a creamy, pungent sauce that paired perfectly with the flavorful chunks of NY strip, pickled red onion and parsley, I came to find it quite clever. Some made the case that this was the best dish of the night.
The seared albacore (below - $15) was one of the more artful presentations of the evening, served with sushi rice crème anglaise, nori and shisho leaf pesto, wasabi and pickled ginger. The Japanese-inspired dish was fairly well received, pulling off an interesting deconstruction of sushi and yet another successful application of dessert/pastry techniques implemented into savory courses.
On to more beverages from the Batch bar. We went for the Cucumber Patch (below, left) citrus vodka, fresh cucumber, St. Germaine, lemon and grapefruit juice - refreshing, but a little light on flavor and, well, alcohol. They did make a pretty solid Pisco Sour (below, right) with Pisco, lime juice, egg white.
Matching our table's enthusiasm for the beef tartare was the reaction to the foie and eggs, breakfast style (below - $12), which combined a 63°C egg, 'Foiellandaise', sauteed chantrelle mushrooms, a foie-powdered donut and coffee and mushroom ash. Forks crissed and crossed when the broken yolk mixed into the ash-colored puddle of cream and foie. Fortunately the crispy, dense golden donut was there to permit our indulgence by soaking up every last creamy drop. We thought we were shameless for ordering two of them - but the table across the way ordered three (you know who you are)! For those keeping track at home, we were now 3/3 on dessert/pastry preparations.
Our next course was quite reminscent from a dish served at Moody's San Diego pop-up. The sauteed local rock cod (below - $15) was just as memorable as the first time we had it. Paired with the fish was a unique combination of Vadouvan beets, coconut curry hollandaise and fried spinach. A relative success with almost everyone at the table, except of course the one member of our party that kept playfully pestering Chef Moody that there were too many dishes with beets on his menu. Sure enough, a few minutes later he brought her out an extra side of them for her. Hmm - did I mention that I can't stand foie gras? And truffles. Also uni. Hello?
Sweetbreads were a pleasant surprise on the menu. I feel like I don't see them on menus in Los Angeles as much as I'd like. The sweetbreads vol au vent (below - $13) wedged the delicious organ meat between golden puff pastry and blood sausage atop a puddle of rich veal jus. It was either this or the vegan tacos. I'm pretty comfortable saying we won this round.
Our final savory course for the night was the slow-roasted pork (below - $11) with baby carrots and potato gnocchi. The fluffy gnocchi and pork were each nicely cooked but the tender meat really would've benefited from a little seasoning or a more aggressive sauce. Hey! Where'd that mustard ice cream run off to?
We shared one last drink while waiting for our dessert courses to arrive. The Apple Blossom (below) is made with vodka, fresh apple, lemon juice, honey, egg white and orange flower water. While the drinks were more miss-than-hit for us, they are all reasonably priced at $10. Also available, in addition to beer and wine, Batch offers a nice selection of $6 mocktails for the designated drivers or those less-inclined to booze.
There were only two options for dessert. The "red velvet" (below, left - $8) was a sandwich of colored chocolate cake and cream cheese mousse served alongside beet ice cream. The beet ice cream was interesting but we were less fond of the cake itself. Not to worry! Chef Moody's Banana Bread Pudding a la Bourbon Pecan Pie (below, right - $8) was already a dish we'd tried and absolutely loved last year at Scoops. This time it was even better. Whether pop-up or permanent, this is a dish that should always find its way onto Chef Moody's menus.
Time will tell what, where, and for how long Chef Moody cooks next, but there were certainly enough stand-out dishes here to make us hopeful for that time to be soon and that place to be close. In the meantime, perhaps we'll have to give Batch its fair visit.