A First Look at LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa’s
As surely as another season of Top Chef Masters premieres, Chef Ludo Lefebvre returns again with his new incarnation of LudoBites, his acclaimed pop-up restaurant, this time in Downtown LA at Gram & Papa’s.
And seemingly embracing the “crazy French chef” persona that Top Chef Masters has crafted around him, he brings his menu back to France, but with a twist. Gone are the Asian and Mexican fusion experiments of LudoBites 3.0 at Royal/T. LudoBites 4.0 is a return to similar territory as 2.0 at Breadbar, the season that made him the darling of the blogger set.
And he brings back an old classic too. The famed foie gras croque monsieur, the dish that almost singlehandedly defined him as much as his Ludo Fried Chicken. It seems Chef Ludo is in a giving mood and is bringing his favorites back in recent months to his legion of fans. Either that or Krissy, his wife and business partner, got tired of hearing the repeated pleas for its return and finally convinced him. Either way, the blogosphere rejoices!
Perhaps Chef Ludo’s recent LA Marathon training regimen has also influenced his current menu. Gone is the deep fryer (sorry kids, no LFC!) and in its place are gatrovac’d vegetables and perfectly poached eggs, salmon, and jidori chicken.
Well, and lavender lard. So there’s that.
Last night’s preview dinner was hosted by FoodDigger for a dozen lucky bloggers, with wine pairings provided by DomaineLA. We tried nine of the 13 dishes that will be on the starting menu although Chef Ludo did indicate that, after a couple of weeks once the kitchen settles in and he gets bored, the menu will change and become more experimental.
The space itself is an interesting choice. Gram & Papa’s operates at lunchtime primarily as a takeout restaurant so seating space is limited. Really just a handful of round tables at the front of the restaurant and a long space next to the open kitchen. In fact, next to Royal/T, the kitchen space is almost luxurious. Certainly it’s almost as large, if not larger, than the actual restaurant space and separated from diners only by chest high glass, giving every table an up close and personal view of the open kitchen.
After all, this is chef as rock star. Why hide behind a kitchen door? You’ll certainly hear every curse that Chef Ludo utters, even if you may not understand it.
You’ll have to pardon his French.
The dinner started with a few glasses of champagne, baguettes and “Three Fat Textures”. Those being lavender lard, clarified butter and whipped brown butter. Although not as sweet as Chef Ludo’s lavender butter at LB 2.0, the lavender lard was the pick of the bunch.
Following the bread course was a Carrot Salad, Saffron Anglaise Cream, Pearl Onions, Citrus, and Mustard Powder. Essentially carrots two ways, they were served gatrovac’d with orange water and caramelized with a blowtorch. These techniques allowed the carrots to retain some of their crunch, with the gastrovac’d carrots holding a hint of orange.
Next was what I predict will be the most talked about dish of LB 4.0. The Egg, Potato Mousseline, Lobster, and Borage Flower. Lobster sashimi topped with a perfectly poached egg, topped again with a silky potato mousse. The lobster tail plays beautifully against the potato mousse, its springiness contrasting the potato’s smoothness, with the runny egg yolk tying it all together. Like buried treasure, remember to dig right to the bottom for the lobster.
From the squeals of joy emanating from my fellow diners, the next course had to be the return of the Foie Gras Croque Monsieur with Lemon Turnip Chutney. A generous slice of foie gras terrine sandwiched between toasted slices of black squid ink dyed bread, ham and melted cheese. Cherries were out of season so no cherry amaretto this time around but in its place was a sweet and tart lemon turnip chutney. Honestly, I missed the sweet stickiness of the cherry amaretto sauce but that was really only the (yes, wait for it) cherry on top. The foie gras was and still is the star here.
Next was the vibrant Burgundy Escargot, Garlic Flan, Green Jus and Yellow Flowers. A riff on the classic escargot with garlic and parsley butter, here the garlic was in the form of a flan, the parsley a vibrant green jus, and topped with the escargot. I loved the garlic flan but, then again, I’m a fan of garlic. I think the reception was more mixed elsewhere. Eat all three components in one bite for full effect.
The first of the main courses was the Columbian River King Salmon Confit, Spring Cabbage, Orange Skin and Juniper Berries. Delicately poached with a firm, crispy skin, the salmon when paired with the juniper berry sauce was very good. The agar agar strip and the spring cabbage salad were extraneous but nonetheless a point of interest. I remarked to Chef Ludo that the juniper berry sauce could easily substitute for the missing cherry amaretto in the foie gras croque. I wonder if he’ll try my suggestion.
The next main was the Poached Jidori Chicken, Crispy Skin with Hazelnuts, Garden Vegetables and Bacon Royalé. Think of this as a deconstructed roast chicken dinner. The Jidori chicken has been rolled into a cylinder and poached, the skin fried crispy with hazelnuts and placed atop it, served with a bacon royalé (think bacon pudding) and leeks and peas, tied together with a swirl of gravy.
Cheese course was a Brie Chantilly Napoleon, Honey Comb, Balsamic and Frisée Salad. The brie had been hand whipped for two hours until almost the taste and consistency of butter, topped with a frisée salad and sandwiched between two pieces of crusty bread. On its own, it tastes almost like a butter sandwich. Add the honeycomb, however, and the flavors come alive.
We ended the meal with a Dark Chocolate Soufflé, with Black Pepper Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, and Chocolate Cream. Crack open the top of your soufflé, spoon in the very peppery black pepper ice cream, top with some chocolate cream, and try to finish the whole thing. I dare you.
After dinner, Chef Ludo came out and talked to the group about the meal. He rallied against the cult of bacon and fat in LA dining, he voiced his apathy for critics, and admitted he would probably be bored within two weeks and that the menu would become more adventurous.
He then signed menus and posed for pictures with the adoring blogger sisterhood, and Krissy and the staff began the job of transforming LudoBites back into Gram & Papa’s for their lunch service today.
Such is the life of a pop-up restaurant.
Still, how can you argue with a business model that sells out a two month season in just 18 hours?LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa’s 227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015