And thus it began with LudoBites 007 opening night in downtown LA, once again at Gram & Papas. I’m a latecomer in terms of being introduced to the cuisine of Ludo Lefebvre having only had my first LudoBites meal at 6.0.
This is only my third LudoBites experience (I was lucky enough to be at LudoBites 2011 for the taping of the final episode of LudoBites America), one I had not expected to be able to experience mainly because I am leaving for Hong Kong in four days and will miss more than half of what this pop-up’s run will entail. Therefore, I felt deeply honored that I was invited to join in last minute by Holly Wong of The Endless Supper, as we battled through rush hour traffic to get from Orange County to LA in time for our allotted time slot.
Of course the minute we arrive we settled into our seats, quickly ordered the entire menu and sat back in anticipation of what the night has to offer.
Our first item Onion Tart ($10) is more a flatbread with the most perfectly caramelized onions and bottarga, a Mediterranean cured fish roe, adding just the right amount of saltiness to the sweetness of the onions.
Dorade Ceviche ($12) is reminiscent of something I had at Ludobites 2011 at Casa Pulido. I remember I didn’t care for this dish that night but was pleasantly surprised that this one had much better flavor. The only thing I can think of is perhaps the addition of cornichons as Borrage flower and cucumber water were present in the earlier version.
Next came my least favorite dish of the evening — Tomato Soup ($12). It was bordering on pedestrian and had it not been the squid adding some much needed flavor, it could’ve been — dare I say it — from a can? Will I get chastised for this comment? *gasp* I hope not!
Salt Cod Panna Cotta ($12) was already on my mind even before we arrived. I was reading the menu from my phone on the drive up and this imminently stood out.
The whipped fingerling potatoes mixed with the salt cod created a subtlety second to none. It was light yet sophisticated with smoked tapioca balls for a textural component, but what completely blew me away were the crispy black olive bread crumbs. This is a take on brandade like nothing I’ve ever tasted before — absolutely superb!
Pig’s Head Compressed ($14) is one of those things which sounds intriguing and when you taste it, makes you wonder why anyone would be afraid to try it in the first place. This beautifully moist concoction made from, well, a pig’s head, is sandwiched between two cheddar crisps with barbarcue gelee and pickled chanterelles as acoutrements.
The tartness from the mushrooms helped cut the richness of the filling, not that it was a problem as we easily polished off two orders of these. Texturally, this was an impeccable dish.
Egg, Sea Urchin, Caviar ($18) was Chef Ludo’s take on chawanmushi, a Japanese steamed egg custard.
I’m not a fan of cooked uni because of its hardened texture after heat has been applied. But here, the uni has been pureed and there was no hint of it on the tongue. And to put uni together with caviar is the ultimate show of decadence because each mouthful ends up being an umami explosion.
When Plancha Tandoori Octopus ($18) hit the table, we remembered eating its Mexican counterpart at Casa Pulido. Even though we loved the one before, we all felt this Indian-inspired version was infinitely better. The charred octopus with thinly shaved cauliflower, bits of sweet grapefruit and a yogurt sauce (raita sans cucumbers) was a marriage made in heaven!
The piece de resistance of the night was definitely Foie Gras Ravioli ($28). Five foie-filled raviolis are topped with bits of almost crisp kimchi and drizzled with a sake-black truffle cream. Now, you might say but of course, it’s foie gras, but it wasn’t exactly the foie which made this dish out-of-this-world. It was the kimchi bits with its salty, spicy caramelized flavor combo which brought it to a whole new level. Simply sublime!
As if you needed to ask, of course we ordered another round of the ravioli while waiting for our Duck ($22) to arrive. A spicy duck saucisse (sausage) accompanied a piece of tender duck loin on the plate along with beets and radish discs. The beets and radish added the sweet-tart component I love with duck making this a well-polished entree.
And if you thought you knew what Sunday roast beef dinner tasted like, think again. Roasted Beef ($25) here will completely blow you away. Thinly sliced, still very pink beef is surrounded by horseradish cream, green beans and dried mollet (Frenchified spelling of molé perhaps?). I was tickled to find the dried molé used at Casa Pulido on the roasted-poached beef dish here sharing this plate.
Finally, the last savory dish of the night, Époisses Cheese Risotto ($18) with the rice flawlessly al dente and the raw egg yolk adding a creamy emulsion to the mix. Hazelnuts gave it a crunch while the herbaceous greens refreshed.
While I must admit, I’m still a newbie at this LudoBites thing having only been to three, I’ll have to say this was definitely my favorite. Even one of the desserts managed to make me warm and fuzzy inside.
Peach Melba Vacherin ($10) is just typical of what I expect from Chef Ludo. It is mischievous and playful but comforting at the same time. There is meringue, poached peach, a cream sauce and underneath it all, POP ROCKS! Yes, remember those? I felt them tingling in my mouth going off like fireworks one after another. This was indeed a sweet dish which brought a smile to my face.
Our last course was the second dessert, Crustless Lemon Tart ($10) which would’ve been great but limoncello which is made by soaking lemon peel in alcohol left a bitter after taste in the cream. I’m not sure if it was from the alcohol or the lemon peel’s pith but either way it was unpleasant. The massive amount of crushed thyme and lavender was also a bit of an overkill although we all loved the “lemon tart” on its own, so we ate around the plate mostly avoiding the acrid center.
Still, after devouring 13 courses and reprising four (totaling 17 plates), I can’t complain seeing I loved everything albeit two of the offerings. I am elated to be a part of this evening and always happy to share a great meal with a bunch of fellow foodies. And to those of you with reservations waiting to go — be prepared to eat to your hearts’ content!
at Gram & Papas
227 East 9th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015