Yes I admit it, I’ve never been to a Ludobites before this time. Never ever! It was always tough to get up to LA on a weeknight for a 6pm reservation, but before that can even happen, there is that thing we have to do — make a reservation!
I’ve had so many friends tell me that it is close to impossible to get a reservation, Mere mortals have sat in front of their computers and frantically clicking as soon as OpenTable lists the next Ludobites about to happen. I was lucky that my dear friend Holly (Savored) asked if I wanted to come with and I did everything I could to schedule, reschedule so I could make it. Even so, it took Mahesh and I two and a half hours battling rush hour traffic to get to Sherman Oaks and when we finally sat down, all I wanted was a glass of wine.
It was just as well that Holly had already ordered some Riesling and there was part of an appetizer still on a plate, so I immediately dug into it.
We had to get two orders of warm baguette with baratte smoked butter and sardine-Laughing Cow cheese ($5) because I couldn’t get enough of the sardine cheese and used the crusty baguette to literally wipe out the ramekin it came in. Of course I was starving and drinking on an empty stomach, but the second time around was just as good as the first.
It was just as well that Holly instructed the server we were ready for the rest of the menu brought out, and when she said that, she meant, the ENTIRE menu. I knew it had been done with two people at a previous Ludobites so the four of us should have absolutely NO problem whatsoever eating the whole menu — or so I thought!
Hamachi, Vietnamese style ($15) — a salad with slices of raw halibut, matchsticks of predominantly green papaya and a bunch of refreshing fresh herbs created a complete taste bud explosion! The crunchiness of the papaya together with the herbs tossed in a fish sauce-based dressing was exactly the thing to start with. The tantalizing and uplifting flavors livened up my palate for what will be a night of feasting.
Barely cooked squid noodles with pad Thai, prawn and black radish ($16) was another nice starter, but the hamachi had a far stronger taste — and a more memorable one at that — so if I had a choice between the two, I would definitely pick the hamachi over the squid noodles, hands down. Both had a slightly tart dressing, one Vietnamese inspired, the other, Thai, so essentially, the flavors were somewhat similar.
Marinated mackerel with leche del tigre, baby leeks and Verdolagas leaves ($15) was pure perfection. The skin of the mackerel was crispy while the flesh was nice and moist. Verdolagas, a creeping weed, is also an herb and resembles watercress. I actually thought it was watercress when I first put it into my mouth but then checked the menu and saw “verdolagas”. Grilled whole green onions added a slight bite to the other components when eaten together with the fish and weed. The textural composition in this dish is what sets Chef Ludo apart from the others.
|scallop with celery root remoulade|
Salmon a l’huile somen noodles, carrots, red wine vinaigrette and grilled salmon roe is a very light and subtle dish. The carrots are so thinly sliced that they are translucent ribbons and the torched salmon roe adds a nice smokey salty dimension. I really enjoyed it as a shared dish, but if I had to eat it on my own, I think I would’ve been a little bored.
Scallop with celery remoulade, red port, walnuts and dried fruit ($24) — what an innovative and interesting plate. When I saw the walnuts and dried fruits on the menu, I immediately grimaced at the thought of them together, but it was so minimal and the crunchiness of the walnuts and the tarty sweetness of the fruit created a whole eating experience which the scallops on their own could never achieve. The scallops were absolutely perfect in execution, so tender on the inside with that brown seared crispness on the outside. I wanted more of these but we still had many more dishes to come.
|Oriental mussels veloute|
Black sausage “paramentier”, apples, mustard ($18) was not something I thought I’d enjoy considering I’ve had black sausage/boudin before and never enjoyed the grainy, dry, livery texture. The black sausage here was a surprising hit with all of us. This creamy concoction was the richest and most heavenly mouthful you will ever experience. The reaction at the table ranged from “wow, this is amazing” to “Chef Ludo is a genious”. We couldn’t stop eating it. The apples and mustard added a sweet finish while the vinegary mustard helped cut down the richness of the black sausage. Absolute poetry!
Oriental mussels veloute, heirloom tomato, small fries ($18), was a bit confusing to me. First of all, the mussels veloute didn’t have the umami flavor I was expecting when I spooned it into my gullet. I was also a little confused about the tart heirloom tomato in the veloute which didn’t add anything for me. The small fries were absolutely delicious though! They were as thin as fried onions and so good that we all fought over it.
|chicken sous vide|
Poached roasted pickled foie gras, acacia honey, autumn fruits, rose flowers ($34) was the absolute favorite. If you’re a fan of foie gras, there is no real need to describe the sensation one gets from eating this little piece of luxury. The melt-in-your-mouth orgasmic appeal speaks for itself. It even got Holly jumping up and down in her seat like a little girl!
While I loved everything on the menu which came before, what arrived after did not wow me as much as I hoped. John Dory, potato, herbs, brocollini flowers, green jalapenos nage ($26) while cooked perfectly was underseasoned and seemed really bland to me. The green jalapenos nage was lovely on its own, but when eaten with the fish seemed to lose its subtle personality.
Half chicken, poached egg, chanterelles, chorizo ($24) sounded divine because I love poached eggs, however, the chicken, cooked sous vide, though tender and moist was again, underseasoned. Even the chorizo couldn’t help bring out the blandness of the chicken. I took a couple of tastes and continued onto the next and final entree.
Marinated Korean steak, crispy kimchi, bone marrow, shiso ($29) was probably my least favorite of the lot. Perhaps it was the marinade used on the Korean steak, perhaps it was the severe chewiness of the steak. Whatever the reason, after feeling like a cow chewing on grass for longer than I would’ve liked, I spat out the meat and wasn’t about to eat more. The kimchi, bone marrow and shiso were excellent accompaniments, but the Korean marinade was rather overpowering and not the usual Korean seasonings I’m accustomed to. This is something I would not order again.
Needless to say we were pretty full by now, but there were still two desserts to plough through.Warm carrot cake, coconut, Thai curry, mango sorbet, kaffir lime oil ($10) was strangely unappealing to the eyes but I loved the moist and soft warm carrot cake. The side accoutrements of Thai curry cream and kaffir lime oil were terribly unpleasant on my tastebuds. The oil reminded me of Asian medicinal rubbing oil and although it had the wonderous aromas of the kaffir lime, its taste was just the opposite.
|caviar panna cotta|
Creme fraiche panna cotta, caramel, caviar ($15) is one of the most innovative desserts I’ve had in a while. I’m not a fan of caramel so I didn’t feel it added anything to the panna cotta, but I would’ve been happy with just the panna cotta and caviar on their own. The light panna cotta was quite exquisite when eaten with the salty caviar. I love sweet and salty desserts!
Thus our meal came to an end and even with a few misses, I am impressed with the creativity of Chef Ludo’s dishes and how he is not afraid to combine exotic flavors onto one plate. I guess there is a reason why Ludobites reservations are so hard to come by because everyone wants a chance to taste what this master has to showcase time and time again.
I’m hoping the next Ludobites will not be so far away that I’ll have to travel yet another two and half hours to get to. But even so, I think I would suck it up just to catch a taste of what’s on offer next.
***Photography by Mahesh***