Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s pop-up restaurant experience known as Ludo Bites ends its run at BreadBar tonight. If it weren’t for some prior obligations, we would have been in LA this weekend for one last meal. (We actually had reservations this weekend but had to cancel when I was reminded of a prior engagement.) We only went to Ludo Bites once, but the meal was so good that we became instant Ludo fans and can’t wait to see where he sets up shop again.
Ludo’s food may be rooted in French tradition, but everything on the menu is playful and inventive. Of course, this means you might not like every dish, but you still come away respecting what Ludo was trying to accomplish.
We started with a Porcini Veloute that featured porcini ice cream, egg, crispy sage, tobacco powder. My wife wanted this one because she loves mushrooms, while I’m just starting to get over my disdain for them. The combination of the veloute, ice cream and egg made for luscious and rich starter, but I still found it a little too mushroomy for me. My wife loved it and probably would have finished it, but she couldn’t get past the flavor of the tobacco powder.
Next up was the Foie Gras Black Croque Monsieur, a play on a traditional croque monsieur that uses squid ink bread and adds a piece of foie gras to the mix. I’ll let the picture speak for itself. :)
The Creamy Polenta and Oxtail might be one of my favorite dishes of the year. It’s such a simple dish and doesn’t look like much when it’s brought to the table, but after the first bite, we were hooked. The polenta, with Cantal cheese and bits of black truffle, was great on its own, but it’s the oxtail that brings the dish home. This isn’t the most appetizing picture, but it still makes me yearn for the dish.
Another one of the evening’s highlights was the Pork Belly with Frisee and Mustard Ice Cream. That’s right…mustard ice cream. Basically, the savory mustard ice cream was just a frozen dressing for the frisee, so while waiting for that to melt a bit, we worked on a perfect piece of glazed pork belly.
If you saw Fried Chicken in Duck Fat on menu, you would order it right? I knew you would. It was accompanied by some perfect roasted fingerling potatoes, tapenade and are really good red pepper ketchup.
At this point, both of us were pretty full, but dessert was on the horizon, so we buckled down. Our first dessert was the Chocolate Cupcake, but this was no ordinary cupcake, featuring candied bacon-almonds, maple syrup, and a foie gras chantilly frosting. If foie gras frosting sounds intimidating, it is. We ate around it for the most part because it was way too rich and savory for our taste. The rest of the cupcake was really good.
Our second dessert was the Vanilla Panna Cotta, another challenging but ultimately successful dish. It was served on a pool of caramel and topped with caviar, which may seem odd, but when its briny saltiness was combined with the caramel and the panna cotta, it works perfectly.
The last dessert, Strawberry Cream Pop Rocks, intrigued me when Ludo first mentioned it on Twitter (follow him @ChefLudo). It was simple concoction of with strawberries, whipped cream and that old childhood favorite, Pop Rocks. We were so full that we weren’t going to order it, but Ludo’s wife Krissy brought some out for us, since I had expressed so much interest in it already. It was the perfect way to close our meal.
Most of you probably know Ludo as the intense, cocky, foul-mouthed French chef on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters who lost to the show’s eventual winner Rick Bayless. But in person, Ludo is a really cool guy who loves cooking. We had a nice discussion about food and blogging, and I found out that Ludo loves Korean food when I told him about the Korean BBQ tacos I was making the next day. (It’s my next post…I swear).
Both Ludo and Krissy take the time to greet all of their guests and make sure they’re enjoying themselves, and overall, Ludo Bites was just a fun place to eat. Ludo told me that he worked in fine dining most of his career and after the Ludo Bites experience, he never wants to work in a fine dining environment again. I think this suits his personality, his food, and the City of Los Angeles, just fine, and I can’t wait to see where Ludo pops up next.