y4pcT1JaIwGptQJPO6l_mZmgv34 tiffin unboxed: Ludo Bites 2.0 to 007: Greatest Hits

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.

4 Responses to “Ludo Bites 2.0 to 007: Greatest Hits”:

  1. Wow, Wasima. Thanks for the trip through memory lane!! So happy you have been a part of them all. Krissy & Ludo

  2. Krissy, Thank you for your comments. These meals are among my most favorite food memories.

  3. Eddie Lin says:

    Gorgeous and delicious retrospect. You're part of Los Angeles culinary history!!

  4. Thank you, Eddie. Only a retrospective was appropriate for this volume of irresistible plates.

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