After an hour long bus ride on the Metro Rapid 720 during rush hour armed with only an iced Grande Starbucks Americano and the newest issue of Vanity Fair, I finally arrived at 6th and Main in Downtown L.A. The stiff as granite suspension on the Metro Rapid didn't make the ride particularly pleasant. I think at one point I actually felt my brains rattling inside my skull. However, LudoBites was calling to me and I would've made the trek downtown even if I was severely jet-lagged and running on 3 hours sleep...oh wait, I was.
Luckily, the trip was more than worth it. I felt so fortunate to have been invited to the FoodDigger event and to have been one of the first to taste some of Ludo Lefebvre's newest dishes for LudoBites 4.0. On top of that, Domaine LA was there to make some of the best wine pairings I've ever had.
LudoBites latest reincarnation is housed at Gram and Papa's in Downtown L.A. I wish I had taken a picture of the restaurant from the outside but the area it was in had seemed a little scary to me. Once I was inside the perfectly cozy restaurant, I was hesitant to leave the safe haven of amiable food bloggers and bubbly champagne for the slightly shady-looking street outside. Ludo himself said that while there is plenty of parking on the street, "wear a bullet-proof vest when you come here." I'm sure he was just kidding...
Like LudoBites 3.0 at Royal T, Krissy had set up a light box for us camera-toting bloggers. I had never used one before, and I was very curious to try it. In the end, I'm not sure if I liked it as much as I thought I would. I was initially going to post both the pictures I took in the light box and the ones at the table yet somehow, in the end, the dimly lit table pictures still didn't stack up to the clean, bright, if not slightly sterile, pictures in the light box.
The lovely Tsz, also taking advantage of the light box. We sat across from each other at the table and our food-related conversations and mutual oohs and aahs as each course arrived made dinner even more enjoyable. I am entirely convinced that eating is always better when eating with someone who also enjoys eating. Last night, I was surrounded by people who all enjoy and appreciate food as much as I do. It was amazing.
Before we started eating, Matt of FoodDigger kept warning us to "keep an open mind." Although this was my first time at LudoBites, I knew Ludo was creative and that he wasn't scared of making innovative flavor profiles. I was more than ready. Bring it on.
@ Gram and Papa's
Tartine Plate "Three Fat Textures"
NV Domaine Clavelin, Cremant du Jura, "Brut-Comté," France
By the time we sat down, I was starving and a little warm from the champagne we were welcomed with. A large piece of fleur de sel baguette wrapped in parchment paper was set down in front of me, and I had to try to not pick the whole thing up and tear right into it. I am a lady, thank you. Instead, I broke a little piece of the crusty, yet chewy, baguette and carefully spread some of the lavender-infused lard on it. I was not prepared for how absolutely amazing that lard was. Lavender reminds me of soap, so this should've been like soapy lard. Instead, my tongue encountered the lusciously smooth texture of lard with a pleasant and exciting floral scent. The whipped brown butter and the Chablis(?) clarified butter that rounded out the "Three Fat Textures" were also very good. However, the lard was amazing. I almost wanted to rub it all over my body like lavender-scented body butter...don't tell.
Carrot Salad, Saffron Anglaise Cream, Pearl Onions, Citrus, Mustard Powder
2009 Donkey & Goat, Rosé of Grenache Gris, California
This was perhaps the only dish of the night that was light and clean-tasting. The saffron anglaise cream was actually not very rich. The whole thing was very citrusy, with the carrot shavings cryovac-ed in orange juice and orange blossom water. The torched pieces of carrots were first cooked in carrot juice. The pearl onions were pickles and added a very much needed punch. The citrus pieces, also cryovac-ed could be eaten whole--with the pith and zest--but were a little bitter. Overall, it was very interesting interpretation ordinarily boring carrot salad. The rosé that was paired with this dish was also very nice.
Egg, Potato Mousseline, Lobster, Borage Flower
2009 Bedrock Rine Company, Compagni Portis Vineyard, "Heirloom White," California
Although it may been simple in appearance, this was without a doubt my favorite--and many other people's favorite--of the night. It was sublime. Simply amazing. The potato mousseline was at the perfect temperature to only slightly warm through the raw fresh lobster slices without cooking it. Break open the soft-boiled egg, mix it all together and the dish becomes even richer. Take a little bit of everything on your spoon and take a bite. Close your eyes and mmmm. Foodgasm.
Foie Gras Croque-Monsieur, Lemon Turnip Chutney
2008 Fremont, Cidre Brut Par Nature, "Greniers," France
Just the name foie gras croque-monsieur is enough to induce incontrollable drooling. This was one of the dishes that was simple a reincarnation of an already existing LudoBites creation. I was told that in it's previous life, it had a black cherry sauce to accompany it instead of the chutney. I took my first bite and as the crunchy squid ink bread broke into the creamy foie gras and salty procuitto inside, I could not help but let out an irrepressible sigh of contentment. I guess the sigh was a little louder and the look of contentment a little more noticeable than I had intended it to be because I opened my eyes to the seasoned croque-monsieur veterans of the table looking on knowingly with a smile on their faces. They knew what I had just experienced. The cider worked to enhance the unctuousness of the liver in a very very good way and was one of my favorite pairings of the night.
Burgundy Escargots, Garlic Flan, Green Jus, Yellow Flowers
2008 Benaza Godello, Spain
This was the only dish of the night that I really did not enjoy very much. Before the dish arrived, I saw Ludo taking a taste of the green jus and contemplating it for the longest time with the oddest expression. I noticed Krissy was also looking at him and we both watched with bated breath--not knowing if he liked it. I still don't know. Perhaps the foie gras croque-monsieur was so good it was impossible to follow it. Perhaps this course came too late in the meal. All I know is, it was a way too rich and creamy for me at that point. While I did receive a piece of escargot that was tender and perfectly chewy, the rest of them seemed a little tough and overcooked. The entire dish was just very "one-note." All I could taste was garlic creaminess. Unfortunately, I think I would take a traditional escargot bourguignon over this.
Columbian River King Salmon Confit, Spring Cabbage, Orange Skin & Juniper Berries
2007 Palaacios Mencia, "Petalos," Spain
The wild salmon was poached in olive oil at 58 degrees before having its skin seared to a perfect crisp. Through this method, the resulting fish meat had an almost creamy, oily texture. It was perfectly cooked. The red cabbage and red wine purée spooned on the side of the dish provided not only a beautiful visual contrast, but also the perfect slightly sour accompaniment to the sweet cabbage and salmon meat. On the other hand, the lemon agar agar did absolutely nothing for me. Its texture was a little odd.
Poached Jidori Chicken, Crispy Skin with Hazelnuts, Garden Vegetables, Bacon Royale
2008 Benaza Godello, Spain
The poached chicken was perfectly cooked, the crispy skin on top absolutely amazing. I loved the shelled peas. I love fresh peas. The bacon royal was, again, way too rich for me at this point in the meal. I was already feeling extremely full from all the food and wine so I don't think I was able to fully appreciate the dish. I think if I had been half as full as I was, I would've enjoyed it a lot more.
Brie Chantilly Napoleon, Honey Comb, Balsamic, Frisée Salad
2006 Jo Pithon "Les 4 Villages," Coteaux du Layon, France
This is THE BEST cheese course I have EVER had. It was absolutely amazing. Words cannot describe how much I enjoyed this. The crisp creamy tower of crostini, salty brie (whipped by hand for 2 hours) and peppery frisée salad was amazing enough on its own. Add a little bit of the sweet thick balsamic vinegar and floral honey comb...cheese HEAVEN. And I'm not done. My dining companions then indicated that I should drink some of the wine with it. I had been so absorbed in trying to make the dish last as long as possible, I had forgotten about the wine. The sweet dessert wine paired with this cheese course added another unbelievable facet to this already fabulous dish. I didn't think it could get any better. It did.
Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Black Pepper Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Chocolate Cream
2003 Pietri-Geraud Banyuls, "Cuvée Méditerranée," France
The soufflé was beautiful. I got a picture of it seconds after it came out of the open piping hot so it was still standing tall. Look at that proud soufflé, rising above the crown of the ramekin. Once the peppery ice cream and chocolate cream was mixed into it, it definitely had something to be proud of. The milk chocolate ice cream provided such an intense spice and warm heat to the soufflée. It was mind-blowing. But it was also, again, incredibly rich. I only took a few bites and was already fully content.
Ludo was obviously still getting used to the kitchen and his assistants. Even in a new environment, he was still able to create dishes that blew my mind in terms of flavor and textures. I now understand the fascination and obesession with Ludo and LudoBites. It's not that the dishes he creates are perfected and pleasing to the palate--it is that they're new and inventive and that they challenge the way we think about food. In his own words, "It's my house. I do what I want."
The most amazing thing was that, in his opinion, the dishes he served us were "conservative." When asked what he would cook for himself, he said that he would make dishes that were more "provocative." Man, I wish I could see what "provocative" cooking would entail.
I just want to say thank you to FoodDigger again for putting on such an amazing event. I'm so glad I got to be a part of it. It's always lovely to meet follow foodies!
And because it was so much fun with fantastic food, free-flowing wine, and amazing company, I forgive you, FoodDigger, for misspelling my name ;) I had to use the magic of Photoshop. And I forgive you, Ludo, for chucking that pansy at my head. I know that it was probably mistake and aimed for someone else...I think...
LudoBites, je t'aime:)