Thursday, May 20, 2010

LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa's

The hottest event in town isn't tickets to the Lakers Western Conference Finals or tickets to see the hot experimental indie band Broken Bells concert at the Music Box (which BTW was actually was a pretty sick concert last night), it's a dinner reservation at LudoBites. Reservations were booked up instantly as soon as news broke that the reservation systems were opened. Thankfully my normally-procrastinating self was on the ball this one time so we were able to snag reservations for two months to the date. LudoBites is the pop-up restaurant of acclaimed French chef Ludo Lefebvre. After training under renown chefs Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard in France, he made excellent marks at L'Orangerie and Bastide in Los Angeles, garnering awards and accolades. Since then, Ludo has been popping up all around town, never really staying in one place. His first two LudoBites popup events which usually runs from 1-2 months, was at Breadbar, it then moved to Royal/T Cafe and the latest location is at Gram & Papa's in Downtown LA. He also served up his popular fried chicken via truck at the LA Street Food Festival. Shortly after, he also did fried-chicken-cookoff at Foundry with its chef Eric Greenspan for one night only and another fried chicken night at Akasha. You may also know Ludo from his appearance as a cheftestant on Top Chef Masters Season 1 and 2. He was that intense and slightly obnoxious French chef on the show.

Ludobites was conceptualized around the time when Ludo was looking to open his own restaurant but hadn't found the right place. He decided to rent the space at Breadbar instead because he still wanted to continue cooking in the kitchen but did not want to commit to a lease, location and equipment. Despite running high end, expensive French restaurants in the past, Ludobites is a fresh departure. It's about fresh ingredients, refined dishes prepared with classic French technique but at accessible prices.

I remembered when I made the reservation in March, May seemed so far away. But before we knew it, I got a reminder email from the event. Gram & Papa's is a casual lunch spot located in Downtown, thankfully away from the Staples Center so there was lots of free parking on the street. They didn't have to do much to convert Gram & Papa's into a Ludo-centric spot apart from just hanging up some LuboBites posters on the wall and displaying his pictures and books. The restaurant was lively and bustling and had sort of a New York feel to it, definitely less formal than Ludo's past restaurants.

He seems to like the open kitchen layout at his pop-up locations. We like it too. It's fun to see the kitchen at work.

The LudoBites menu is mainly small plates and served family style for the whole table to sample. Because of Ludo's extensive French cooking experience, this menu leans towards French cuisine. It should be noted that he also cooks international fare such as his Asian inspired menu at LudoBites v3.0 at Royal/T Cafe. The menu is appetizer-heavy with about 12 choices, 4 mains courses and two dessert options. The menu changes regularly so some of your favorite dishes may disappear the next time you are there.

The best part of LudoBites is that it's BYOB. Heck yeah! Unfortunately I was too busy at work to hit the wineshop so we had to make do with a bottle of Pinot Grigio that I had in my office, which I was saving for one of those days.

I liked the wine glasses, the logo was a wine bottle holding a wine glass. I wanted to snag it but refrained.

Tartine plate "Warm Baguette" with honey lavender butter and smoked lard
The bread was fresh, hot with a dash of salt sprinkled on top. Unfortunately, I didn't care for the spreads. The honey lavender had a strong scent and was too flowery. I felt like I was eating perfume or potpourri. I usually love me some lard spread but this was too smokey. Typically, I'd have a BIG issue with paying for bread at a restaurant but you get unlimited refills so I guess it's not too bad for $4. Bread is so key at LudoBites because there are always amazing sauces that you'd like to soak the bread in.

Scallop, spinach, yogurt-curry, spring garlic, violet flower
This was such an elegant dish. The scallops were cooked perfectly cooked, which some kitchens can tend to mess up on. I loved the curry broth which had a bold flavor. The edible flower also added a nice color to the dish. There was a lot of bread-dipping action going on at the table.

Marinated king salmon, German butterball potato, red wine vinaigrette, Creme Fraiche
The salmon was cooked perfectly. It was poached and seasoned with cracked black pepper which sounds so simple but was perfectly executed. The colors were vibrant and you just couldn't help but be in a good mood after eating this.

Seabream ceviche, heirloom tomato, Jalapenos, Myer Lemon paste, cilantro flower
The fish was fresh and its mild flavor worked well with the spicy jalapeno which added a kick to the dish. The Myer lemon contributed a tartness which was a bit too sour for my taste.

Black foie gras croque monsieur, cherry amaretto chutney
This is LudoBite's signature dish (apart from his fried chicken). Given my cheese aversion, I was nervous about ordering this. The waitress had to check with Ludo with regards to what type of cheese was in the croque monsieur. It was Lamb Chopper Sheeps milk. Is it mild? She had to check back with Ludo. Yes, mild it was. I was worried that Ludo was going to spit in my food. I could just imagine him saying something like "I cook ze food, you eat ze way I prepare it". Everything about this dish was perfection. The bread was infused with squid ink. It was buttery and crumbled in your mouth. Yes, the cheese was mild, thank goodness. It seemed to me that its main purpose was to hold everything together. The foie gras was a nice generous portion. It was thick, rich and melted a bit under the warm bread. I thought the cherry chutney would be too sweet but it was just right. It was imperative to the dish as it cut the fatty foie flavor. This was the priciest starter at $29 but was worth every penny.

Squid "carbonara", pancetta, poached egg (63 degrees), Parmesan snow, chive flowers
We had to get two orders of this because we knew it would be a winner.

This was taken after we broke the egg. The runny egg yolk bound the rest of the dish together. Squid was used in lieu of pasta. I thought this was a smart variation as the squid actually do look a bit like thick rolled pasta but this was low carb, so even better! The carbonara was so flavorful and I liked the nuttiness of the Parmesan. This was a rich dish so I was glad that they used squid instead of starch.

Monkfish, fresh sansho pepper, fresh peas, lettuce, Vadouvan, Yuzu
This was my least favorite dish because the fish was dry, a bit rubbery and rather bland. Thank goodness for the vadouvan which added a bit of saltiness to the fish. Unfortunately there wasn't enough vadouvan to save this dish. The yuzu was also really tart and I thought didn't add anything to the dish.

Flat-iron steak, escargot red butter, shallots jam, roasted eggplant, carrot slaw
The steak was cooked perfectly with that red medium rare center. I also loved the generous topping of tender snails that were cooked in a thick salty sauce. The puree of eggplant had a nice smokey flavor. The only item I didn't care for was the carrot slaw which had a pungent wasabi taste. Overall, I thought this was a good, complete dish. The escargot really made this a unique steak plate.

Strawberry, macaron, lemon-verbena meringue
I thought would be too sweet and envisioned a big sour meringue on top. Instead, the top was fluffy whipped cream which was surprisingly rather light. The macaron had a nice chewy texture and in the center of the dessert were pop rocks.

Dark chocolate souffle, vanilla whipped cream and hot chocolate cream
Perfectly baked souffle which came out fresh and warm from the oven. The already decadent dessert was topped with luxurious hot chocolate cream. This was gone in a matter of seconds.

The service was excellent. There seemed to be a good energy at the restaurant and the staff seem to enjoy working at the event. Everyone was eager and excited about the venture. The food was delicious and the presentation of the plates were beautiful. They looked like plates you would receive at an expensive fine dining French restaurants. LudoBites is really all about a fun, casual ambiance, and a refined menu at decent prices. Our bill came up to $65 per person including tax and tip, not bad for a full meal. You gotta love BYOB. I'm glad that we were able to get reservations, and here's hoping that Ludo will be popping up more often.

Hits: scallops, foie croque, squid carbonara, salmon, desserts, BYOB, parking
Misses: monkfish, pay for bread
Rating: ***1/2

Ludobites @ Gram & Pappa's
227 E. 9th St.,
Los Angeles, CA 90015
(213) 624-7272


Diana said...

I looooove Ludo's scallops. He always sears them perfectly.

Our bill actually came out to $65 each when we went too! Funny!

stuffycheaks said...

Diana- Yes the scallops were perfect. Looks like you just made scallops at home! Hope they turned out as well :)

Jill said...

If you're ever near Domaine LA (btwn La Brea and Highland on Melrose) come get a glass for yourself, on the house!



stuffycheaks said...

Hi Jill, I work right by Domaine LA! Would definitely love to pop by for a drink :)