y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: September 2011

Ludo Bites 2.0 to 007: Greatest Hits

Obtaining seats at Ludo Bites reminds me of trying to get U2 concert tickets, during the Joshua Tree tour. Switch music to food but the rush is similar. Both Chef Ludovic Lefebvre and Bono create art and magic that appeals to all the senses.

I've been to Ludo Bites dinners a dozen or so times. Without realizing it, I probably ate his food during the late 90's at L'Orangerie on La Cienega Boulevard. I didn't know much about him and his classical French mentors, but my palate definitely understood the caliber of the food.

Years later I saw him on TV, on Iron Chef, Top Chef Masters. Seeing his food on TV urged me to make a reservation for Ludo Bites 2.0 at Breadbar, and just 1-2 days in advance at the time!

Each bite of this pop-up dinner was a revelation, and I was utterly intrigued by the unique Pop-Up business model, which will probably be taught in business schools someday.

My surprise and delight increased when the Chef came out to chat at our table for almost half an hour. Krissy Lefebvre, lovely wife and Manager/Business Partner was sick that first night but I was back within a couple weeks and met her too. She's impossibly charismatic, smart, warm and beautiful, handling the front of the house with incredible grace.

Over the years, Chef Ludo was named Chef of the Future by Time, and this dynamic couple, referred in an article as "Pop Up Royalty" completed a whole season and tour during Ludo Bites America, reality show.

During subsequent stints of the pop-up, I was on the phone trying to get seats when OpenTable's reservation system crashed within minutes and when all seats were claimed within 30 seconds. I've shown up as a walk-in, invited by friends with reservations and whatever other ways worked.

Krissy and Ludo at Ludo Bites 007

After the tour/TV show and recently becoming parents to twin babies (both of which make me tired just thinking about it), I couldn't conceive of how they could run 007 like before. Well, they wildly exceeded my expectations and 007 ran without missing a beat.
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When I decided to write this piece, I started sorting through my hundreds of food photos, marveling that it's only been a span of 2 years. It feels longer in my mind because it's expanded my palate and imagination about food.

Rather than a time-based progression, this post is about my favorite dishes and ingredients, what really sticks in my food memories.

A. Comforting, Creamy Dishes

2.0: Breadbar, May - August, 2009 - bread lavender honey butter

I have to start with the very first bite during my first visit.

Lavender in anything often tastes to me like I'm ingesting shower gel. The lavender perfectly balances in with this honey butter by Chef Ludo. 

After one bite, we ceased using butter knives and just dipped the bread in. The wheat bread with crunchy crust paired well, although I would have eaten cardboard with this butter too.

Photo by KevinEats (click on caption to see it in original context)

2.0: Breadbar, May - August, 2009 - polenta cantal truffle

This first dish's warm, comforting, creamy texture with a bit of bite, contained earthiness from the French Cantal cheese and truffle. I remember scraping the bowl for every last grain.

I didn't get a photo of this dish because we could not keep our hands off it. So I'm referring you to KevinEats' photo, above.

007: Gram & Papas, August - September, 2011 - egg sea urchin caviar champagne beurre blanc

Egg holds a very special place in my food favorites. Cooked so moist with delicate sea urchin, caviar, champagne and butter, eggs transcend to new levels. I closed my eyes after the first bite of this dish.

B. Soup and Salad

5.0: Gram & Papas, July - September, 2010 - Goat Cheese Soup Bacon Lardo Tofu Green Apple Frisee Salad

Chef Ludo clearly loves vegetables, and it shows in the masterful way he treats them. Vegetables appear on almost every dish and they stand out as much as the other items.

Being a huge soup lover, this soup captures the essence of a salad in liquid form. Creamy, tart goat cheese, unexpected creamy tofu, sweet, tart green apples, salty lardo and bitter frisee all meld into this delicious bowl.

5.0: Gram & Papas, July - September, 2010 - Heirloom Tomato Smoothie Ice Dashi Squid Ink Vodka Gelee Seaweed

Tomatoes appear high on my favorite list. This smoothie brings out incredible tomato flavor with perfectly executed counterparts.

5.0: Gram & Papas, July - September, 2010 - Carrot Salad saffron anglaise cream pearl onions blood orange orange powder

This salad tastes even better than it looks, and it looks very appetizing. It contains several varieties of carrots raw or cooked in various ways, brought together by orange citrus, orange saffron and other savory elements.

C. Fish and Shellfish

007: Gram & Papas, August - September, 2011 - Bouillabaisse Milkshake

It's not for everybody. In fact most people on my table didn't care for this (I happily finished most of it). Like with much of this food, you need to taste before over-thinking it.

I can't tell if it's clam juice or crab or something else bringing that briny flavor but I like what it does to the creaminess.

I love milkshakes, seafood and bouillabaisse (seafood soup). Why not marry the flavors and textures? I prefer salty to sweet and on a hot day, would not mind this cooling shake with colorful roe garnish and cute straws.

3.0: Royal/T, December, 2009 - tuna sushi rice ice cream soy sauce gelee smoked ginger oilThis deconstructed sushi dish comes together in one's mouth as the perfect bite. Bright, fresh tuna against sushi rice ice cream offered a silky texture amongst the crispy onion, greens and smoked ginger and soy flavors.

When the diners at my table were deciding on dessert, I asked for another of this dish in lieu of dessert. It was that good.

007: Gram & Papas, August - September, 2011 - dorade ceviche cucumber water purslane

I believe this refreshing ceviche appeared on the Casa Pulido Ludo Bites menu (from Ludo Bites America, final episode).

The cucumbers, jalapeno, cilantro and purslane play beautifully against the fairly strong flavor of the the dorade.

4.0: Gram & Papas, April - May, 2010 - Dorade ceviche heirloom tomato spring onions lemon honey paste

Another dorade ceviche may sound redundant, but this is an example of how the same base ingredient can be presented so differently.

The jalapeno, cilantro and onions with fish reminded me a little bit of Indian flavors. The cilantro flower garnish added such beauty to the plate.

6.0 Max Restaurant, October - December 5, 2010 - Marinated Mackerel, Leche Del Tigre, Baby Leeks, Verdolagas Leaves 

It took a few bites to fully appreciate the complexity of flavors going on here - the strong, briny taste of the fish along with sugar dusted and bruleed, crispy skin. The sauce, purslane (verdologas in Spanish)and leeks helped balance the dish. It was tastiest with a bite of all components together.

4.0: Gram & Papas, April - May, 2010 - Scallop almond puree pickled grapes capers curry oil cauliflower ice cream

Visually this is a gorgeous dish, but again it brilliantly brought together unusual and disparate elements into a very original couple of bites. When was the last time you saw pickled grapes and cauliflower ice cream? It all worked so well together.

5.0: Gram & Papas, July - September, 2010 - Wild Striped Bass Cauliflower Black Garlic Yellow Panna Cotta

The wild bass stood out as the star of this dish. Visually the white and black looked great. Both the black garlic and panna cotta (containing the imprint of the Solo cup) tasted great with the fish. I've started incorporating the finely shaved cauliflower slivers into my cooking after finding it in various of these dishes.

4.0: Gram & Papas, April - May, 2010 - crispy soft shell crab cone spicy mayo mango corona granite

If I picked a favorite seafood dish, this one wins. Any seafood lover would welcome a savory sesame cone filled with a whole cooked and chopped softshell crab. The spicy sauce, soy and mango flavorings with an egg on top were icing on the cake.

The Corona granita makes you feel like you're on a warm, summer beach.

That's me ready to devour the cone. I did not want to share it. It's a dish I hope will return, possibly in a reworked and new way.

D. Meat Dishes

2.0: Breadbar, May - August, 2009 - Marinated Fried Chicken in Duck Fat Brown Butter Potato Salad

The fried chicken balls are practically an L.A. institution. I've had them at Ludo Bites and various other places around town, thoroughly enjoying them.

For me, I love chicken cooked on the bone and nothing matches that first taste of 
the juicy bone-in chicken fried in duck fat and rolled in herbs. Juicy with crispy, herbed skin. 

Potato salad with brown butter (it didn't taste as heavy as it sounds)? More, please!

2.0: Breadbar, May - August, 2009 - Lacquered Pork Belly Mustard Ice Cream Vadouvan 

I remember just admiring the look of this dish before taking a bite. It can be too dry or too soft or too fatty. This was rich yet crunchy and slightly sweet. Perhaps that's why the mustard and frisee share the plate, helping cut the richness. 

007: Gram & Papas, August - September, 2011 - raw beef flambe Japanese Whiskey rainbow carrots shallots

A very inventive tartar, this dish brings together all elements in a perfect bite. The tartar contained bulls blood micro greens. 

Other accompaniments of toasted crumbs and jellied jus as well as very spicy mustard seeds added unexpected counterpoints.

6.0 Max Restaurant, October - December 5, 2010 - Marinated Korean Steak, Crispy Kimchi, Radish, Bone Marrow, Shiso 

I've written about this dish before. The strong Asian flavors in this plate from the steak seasoning to the crispy kimchi, radish and shiso leaves add an interesting touch, but the marrow coins, outside the bone, really won me over.

The challenge is to eat it before the marrow congealed, which occurred quickly since it was exposed to the air.

2.0: Breadbar, May - August, 2009 - grilled beef tenderloin black sesame miso smoked eggplant

Another gorgeous plate of medium-rare beef with a seared crust. The smoky elements of eggplant and black sesame and the miso cream topped with radishes provided unexpected flavors.

F. Foie Gras and Mousses

Chef Ludo loves his foie, which is responsibly sourced. Despite protestors, he's served some form of it at almost every night (if not ever single one). It's this area where his creativity and passion really shines.

2.0: Breadbar, May - August, 2009 - chicken liver green apple gelee brioche

One almost could mistake this chicken liver mousse for chocolate ice cream if not for the salt and pepper on top and brioche underneath. The tart green apple cut the richness and gaminess, as did the preserves.

5.0: Gram & Papas, July - September, 2010 - Cheese Cupcake Foie Gras-Chicken Liver and Chantilly Tangerine Cornichon

At Breadbar, my table shared Chef Ludo's foie gras chantilly chocolate cupcake, and it challenged me more than many of the dishes. The rich chocolate with rich foie sort of overloaded things when eaten together.

This progression of a cheesy cupcake, which felt and tasted more like corn bread, topped with a creamy chicken liver mouse, with punches of cornichon and tangerine sauce really worked in some inexplicable way.

007: Gram & Papas, August - September, 2011 - foie gras French Dim Sum crispy kimchi sake-black truffle cream

It's hard to resist a dish called French Dim Sum. These raviolis contained fairly large amounts of foie. I loved the return of the crispy kimchi and truffle cream sauce. All perfect flavors and textures.

4.0: Gram & Papas, April - May, 2010 - Seared Foie Gras Pina Colada

If someone told me I'd love this dish, I might not have believed them. I had a hard time reconciling these flavors in my head. However, in my mouth, it tasted perfect.

The foie seared to perfection, my favorite way to eat it, pineapple ice cream and coconut cream. All in one bite. Unforgettable.

3.0: Royal/T, December, 2009 - foie gras beignet saffron dried apricots
This dish, on the other hand, is a no brainer. A couple of ounces of Hudson Valley foie gras packed into a beignet and served on top of a saffron apricot sauce.

It's a like opening a gift (to yourself).

2.0: Breadbar, May - August, 2009 - foie gras croque monsieur sourdough wheat bread 

Another famous dish, this one's an all time favorite. Toasted, buttered and tangy sourdough dyed with squid ink wrapped around foie gras, sheep's milk cheese and ham. With each bite, all the different components complement each other.

The cherry-amaretto jam was the fruity, sweet component often served with foie.

Due to the absence of blogger coverage I wondered for a long time what went on for Ludo Bites 1.0, and after a lot of digging online, I found this fantastic Food Marathon post that answers that question, as well as explaining this magical croque monsieur recipe.

G. Sweet Endings

4.0: Gram & Papas, April - May, 2010 - Macarons organic strawberry chantilly

The desserts run a wide spectrum in terms of creativity. I'd almost always rather have another savory dish vs. dessert so I haven't tried a lot of them. This one really appealed to me with its classic and modern style - reminiscent of a strawberry shortcake.

Pillowy, broken macarons were plated with sweet strawberries and light Chantilly cream. And then pow - some Pop Rocks. One of my favorite childhood candies and still one of my favorites!

One of my dessert regrets, which everybody raved about, was 6.0's creme fraiche panna cotta with caramel and caviar, a dish he originally conceived while at Bastide. I love salty-sweet desserts, but remember being too full at Max (6.0) to have this dessert. 

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My first meeting with Chef Ludo at 2.0

I've read Chef Ludo describe his own style as "French with an international flavour". It definitely contains elements of his experiences and passions.

For me, it's the dualities of the experience that heightens the experience of each dish:

  • challenging yet inviting
  • exciting yet comforting
  • contrasting yet balanced flavors
  • inventive and soulful

I look forward to the next Ludo Bites culinary adventure.

Update: You can read about Ludo Bites 8.0 at this post.

The Daily Dose - Join the Revolution!

Time flies. It's been a long time waiting for the The Daily Dose to open, and suddenly I realized today marks one month after its official soft opening on August 1st this year.

Faith sandwich - detail

Self proclaimed Rebel Leader, Sarkis Vartanian first mentioned his cafe concept to me close to two years ago when we first met (and became friends). During my recent visit it was clear that he realized his vision and even improved upon it. It's an admirable feat.

Sarkis Vartanian - Rebel Leader

 I was and still am intrigued with his passion, creativity and warmth, all clearly evident in the ambiance at this cafe.

What is The Daily Dose rebelling against? Processed food. Expensive food. Harming the environment through food choices. Shipping food globally. This food is fresh, artisanal, seasonal, organic, responsible and local. Did I mention it's mouth watering too?

They serve Intelligentsia coffee, expertly prepared. The first capuccino did not meet his standards, so he made a second cup before I even took a sip.

I love a place that serves chilled water from a glass bottle.

The daily menu when I visited indicated a quiche of the day, bread with butter and  house made apricot and rose preserves, a meaty sandwich called The Butcher and an unusual sheep's milk, greens and watermelon sandwich called The Gardener.

Daily Dose - daily menu

Sides of the day were Mesopotamian green beans braised in tomato sauce and Roasted heirloom potatoes, both of which I got a taste. I recall seeing cupcakes and other pastries in the cases too. Perhaps a pie.

Faith - sequel t the Believer (discussed below)

I was not too hungry since it was late afternoon, sort of between lunch and dinner, and asked for a coffee and a small slice of quiche or something similar.

Sarkis worked his magic in the kitchen and brought me this vegetable sandwich with soulful flavors, both complex and layered. I tasted a lot of my favorite things such as tomatoes, eggplant, avocados, squash.

Yet, it also contained bulls blood micro greens, house made almond pesto and the most luscious, creamy fresh buffalo mozzarella which effortlessly replaces the need for any meat.

The bread is from Bread Lounge. I don't buy bread or eat bread much and when I do, it needs to count. This light, nutty bread couldn't be more complementary to the luxurious ingredients.

He served quinoa as a side dish, topped with the braised green beans and having a brief spicy kick. The dishes were liberally drizzled with olive oil.

I thought I wasn't hungry but found myself wiping my plate clean!

Also while there, I met a few regular customers who were all very engaging and just the kind of people I love to meet.

Sarkis brought out this second round of mascerated peaches topped with fresh cream and herbs. They bursted with sweet and tart summery flavor.

The setting, architecture and design of the place match the elegance of the food. It was entertaining watching all the angles and greenery in different types of light.

The cafe is tucked away within a curved brick-lined path, next to the Nabisco Lofts on Industrial Street, that leads to the gorgeous French doors and crescent shaped wood and metal tables.

In April of this year, Sarkis (and former Chef Christian Page) previewed their menu at Artisanal L.A.  I tasted almost all of their sandwich offerings, blown away by the taste of the food and the grace under pressure with which the team prepared, served, chatted with visitors and even worked with the inspectors without missing a beat.

Juicy turkey meatball sandwich

This sandwich was so juicy, I could not believe it was turkey. All flavors melded perfectly.

They also served a pulled pork sandwich with a very light, vinegary rather than over-creamy slaw.

Believer sandwich
The Believer contained grilled eggplant, squash, tomatoes, fresh burrata cheese and pistachio pesto, all rolled into a chewy ciabatta bread.

One bite of this perfect for Spring sandwich and I was a Believer...that you won't miss the meat!

Also in April, they had a pre-opening reception celebrating the location and the cafe's locavore food and drink.

Yes, that IS Chef Craig Thornton, aka Wolvesmouth, inside the door. As always, talking with him and hearing his thoughts on anything and everything was supremely entertaining. Especially since he was not busy cooking and in a more relaxed setting.

The food was outstanding too, needless to say.

Their ubiquitous monkey icon stands for the working man, an apt mascot for this pure and affordable food.

Sarkis' fundamental approach to introducing his food to locals and through word of mouth have definitely attracted a following and recent press coverage.

Reclaimed wood counters and cabinets

After hanging out for a couple of hours, enjoying meeting new people and eating this extremely satisfying food, I didn't want to leave.

The place captures the spirit of a European cafe as well as the feeling that you are a guest in one's home.

Two things came to mind when hanging out there. It reminded me of my daily hangout of years past, Big and Tall, a great cafe/bookstore/florist on the 7000 block of Beverly Boulevard. When I lived and worked in this area, this cafe full of writers and artists was my home away from home.

I knew most employees, regulars and even found my apartment (from back then) through the cafe, which now is a restaurant. No substitute has ever emerged for me, but Daily Dose may be a contender.

My parents owned a restaurant during much of my childhood and my father used to know, warmly greet and chat with all his customers, much like Sarkis does. It takes me back to a very unique place in my formative years' memories.

Finally I left my empty cup, looking forward to my next visit.

The Daily Dose makes me wish I lived in Downtown.

And gives me a reason to go there more often.

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