4.09.2010

Aaahhhhh, the French: Ludobites 4.0.

I've been wanting to use that title for some time now. Here's why.


Ludobites 4.0 is here and everyone is all aflutter. And guess what? I’ve got the inside dish for you. But first, a splash of back story…

As many of you know, prior to the Ludobites concept, Chef Ludo Lefebvre earned his chops as executive chef at L’Orangerie and Bastide. But in the Fall of 2007, he tossed aside the concept of the brick and mortar establishment with reckless abandon and introduced LA to a 4-month special, guerilla style, dining event, thusly called Ludobites. It was such the to do that Jonathan Gold said procuring a seat was “harder than getting into UCLA film school.” Then there was Ludobites at Breadbar in 2009 followed by Ludobites at Royal T, which sold out a day after being announced. He popped up with a fried chicken truck at the LA Street Food Fair a few months back, and most recently fried up some chicken with Eric Greenspan at The Foundry in a most spontaneous way. Bing. Bang. Bop.

Now, here we are with Ludobites 4.0 at downtown’s Gram & Papa’s: a 2-month stint sold out entirely a mere 18 hours after being announced.

And I am such a charmed girl. Wednesday night I was among the lucky dozen bloggers to be invited to a special 9 course tasting menu/preview dinner of said stint sponsored by Fooddigger. The real deal opened just last night. Jealous much?

This was an interesting evening. A lot of us bloggers recognize one another by our written word but remain faceless for the most part. However, Wednesday night 12 of us were revealed to one another. Our personalities had to stand for themselves – which can be scary when you are accustomed to saying whatever you want under the shield of your moniker. 

The table. 

  The lightbox Krissy supplied for us to shoot the food - which perhaps I should have taken advantage of.

Everyone had a camera (even the LA Times was there with theirs) and no one was afraid to use them. In fact, it was food paparazzi. It was quite freeing, actually. Often, us bloggers feel as though we must wear a hair-shirt for using our cameras in restaurants, pressure exerted by both our dining companions and the restaurant staff. Here, however, cameras were very much welcomed. In fact, that was the whole point.

After a few glasses of champagne, provided by Jill of Domaine LA (who did all of the pairings which were extraordinary), we were seated in front of our place settings inscribed with only our first names and blog titles. I love it.

Our first course was the Tartine Plate of 3 Fat textures. We were each given a small baguette to accompany the textures which included whipped lard with lavendar, clarified butter with Chablis and emulsified brown butter. This was paired with a beautiful Cremant. I loved all three of my fat textures. It seemed the gang was mostly geeking out about the lavendar lard but my vote was with the clarified butter with Chablis. So far, I’m really excited.


Then I turn around to gawk into the open kitchen, right behind my back, and I see a sea of vibrant strips of orange. Carrots. Beautiful carrots. This brings us to the Carrot Salad, Saffron Anglaise Cream, Pearl Onions, Citrus, and Mustard Powder. This was paired PERFECTLY with a California Rosé. Oh my word. The carrots were prepared two ways, gastrovac’d and marinated with orange blossom water, and somewhat carmelized with a blowtorch. There was saffron cream. There was a little heaven. This was exceptionally fresh and inspired. It was also aesthetically jumping off of the plate into my eyes. Honestly, I was starting to freak out a little bit at this point. I was perfectly happy at the moment I was in, but COULD NOT WAIT for the next moment. The next dish. I felt like a little kid at the amusement park. I was having so much fun on the Rebel Yell, but couldn’t wait to ride the Grizzly Bear.


Course number three was the Egg, Potato Mousseline, Lobster, Borage Flower. I will try to keep it together here. I will try to be succinct. This was lobster sashimi lining the bottom of the dish, topped with a perfectly poached egg, topped with a delicate and creamy potato mousse, topped with 4 perfect borage flowers. Now, I know I have a penchant for drama, but this may be one of the most spectacular and perfect things that has ever graced my palate. After my second bite my chest felt tight and I thought a tear might well up in my eye. I’m quite serious. Everyone at the table was silent for the 38 seconds we spent scarfing it down. My fellow blogger, Tze, literally licked hers clean (see picture). This was paired with an heirloom white from California.

Literally, licked clean.

I couldn’t imagine what could possibly follow that, and then, I looked down and there it was… the famed Foie Gras Croque-Monsieur, Lemon Turnip Chutney. The gasps across the table could be heard across downtown. Delicately placed between two slices of bread, dyed with squid ink, was a heaping portion of exquisite foie gras, ham and cheese. It was served along side a dollop of chutney comprised of lemon, turnip and seaweed. Its acidity and tartness provided a pleasant kick to cleanse the coating of the Croque and prepare you for your next bite. This was actually paired with a sparkling cider, which normally I would poo poo in a New York minute. But nothing was escaping the realm of possibility for me on this night. And guess what? It worked beautifully!


Four courses in and I was feeling like standing on a grassy mountain top, swirling around with arms out, singing about the hills being alive.

Next up, we had the beautiful and colorful Burgundy Escargots, Garlic Flan, Green Jus, Yellow Flowers. Perhaps it was its placement in the lineup, but this was too much for me, which is unusual for me to ever say. It was too rich, way too rich. There were 4 escargots, but I could only eat 2. The 2 I ate were a little over cooked in my humble opinion. Upon further thought, this dish would be ideal as an amuse-bouche: just one perfect little bite of decadence that can be as rich as it wants to be. It was paired with a Spanish Benaza Godello, which I found to be the only pairing that didn’t quite work. I think a Sancerre or a white Bordeaux would have been more appropriate.


The next dish, Columbian River King Salmon Confit, Spring Cabbage, Orange Skin & Juniper Berries, left me a little lost. I should say that I’m not a huge fan of cooked salmon in the first place. This however was beautifully cooked at 85 degrees, and the skin (I always love the skin) was cooked to crispy perfection. While I enjoyed the bites of salmon with the juniper berry sauce, the cabbage and the agar held no intrigue or appeal for me.


The two somewhat lukewarm reactions prior were more than made up for in Ludo’s next, and final, savory course: Poached Jidori Chicken, Crispy Skin with Hazelnuts, Garden Vegetables, Bacon Royalé. My lord, I only wish I wasn’t getting so insanely full. I think I was already commenting to Will, from Fooddigger, about needing a wheelbarrow to cart me away at the end of the affair. I find it so interesting that chicken is usually the dish no one would dare order in a fine restaurant, yet Ludo thrives on it and constantly recreates our definition of it. 

 
This was like a Dadaist chicken dinner. The chicken had been rolled and poached, topped with its own skin and hazelnuts, and was moist and delicate. The bacon royalé was a tiny, savory bacon custard. All of this came with a portion of fresh, pickled leeks and English peas. Flavors, textures and colors danced together beautifully on both the plate and in my mouth.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have not mentioned the pairings for the last couple of courses. While I will say that they were all dynamic and well thought out, at this point in the evening I was so overwhelmed with flavors and stimuli, I guess I stopped being able to even understand the wine if I was to understand the food. I hope that makes sense.

And here we move on to the first dessert course, Brie Chantilly Napoleon, Honey Comb, Balsamic, Frisée Salad. I’m not much of a dessert person but this mother blew me away. This could perhaps be because it was more of a savory dessert. Brie, removed of its rind, then whipped for over 2 ½ hours by hand. Wow. Put that buttery cheese bite in your mouth with a little honeycomb and a teardrop of balsamic. You see what I mean? Ambrosia. The calm in the eye of the storm, wife of Ludo, and her own powerhouse, Krissy, added that this is her favoritest thing her sweet husband makes for her. Lucky lady.


Lastly, Ludo, as though he wasn’t French enough that night, provided us with our own personal mountain of chocolate. This was the Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Black Pepper Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Chocolate Cream. The soufflé was warm, light, chocolatey, and ginormous. I enjoyed the surprising kick and depth the pepper ice cream added to the bites of the soufflé. This pairing I do recall as it was divine: a 2003 Pietre-Geraud Banyuls, Cuvée Méditerranée from France. I strongly suggest you all run to Domaine LA and ask Jill about this, post haste.


And so. Ludo has morphed yet again. Gone are the fusions. Now we have his classic twist on French cuisine. This menu is beguiling, arresting, elegant, artistic and absolutely delicious. But don’t get attached to anything you’ve read here or any version of the menu you’ve seen. After our meal, Ludo chatted with us and explained that it was very likely that two weeks into Ludobites 4.0 he would get restless and have that compulsion to push the envelope yet again and change everything up. 


I believe it was Dashiell Hammett who once said something like, The moment it is discovered that you have a style, you are doomed." It would seem our Ludo is far from that fate.

I would like to thank Ludo, Krissy, Fooddigger, Jill at Domaine LA and my fellow bloggers for a rare and special evening, and perhaps one of the best meals I have ever had.

Here is our menu from Wednesday, complete with pairings.

Ludo Bites 4.0 at Gram and Papa's in Los Angeles
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