I think most people in L.A. have heard of LudoBites, the hottest culinary ticket in town. Held about twice a year for approximately a month at a time for dinners, reservations for the entire duration of the pop-up usually book up within the first few minutes after being made available (it even crashed OpenTable once). Obviously, I was unsuccessful in my feeble attempts for the last two pop-ups. This time, however, they decided to switch the reservation host from OpenTable to Urbanspoon, and make it a lottery system instead of a free-for-all, first-come, first-served. There is hope!
I had many people submit a reservation request for me, and luckily, Greg was selected (apparently only 5% of the entries were selected). It was a table for four on 1/26/12, so myself, Greg, Eugenia, and Linh-Nam were the foursome (it was Linh-Nam’s birthday too). Han, of course, tried to make a power move for one of the seats that night, but Greg and I had already promised the couple the other two seats. Actually, it was supposed to be Greg, Jen, Eugenia, and Linh-Nam, but Jen had a med school interview that very same day out-of-state. So I came off the bench and scored like Jeremy Lin.
Linh-Nam and Eugenia
This time, LudoBites was held at Lemon Moon, located on the corner of Olympic and Bundy. From what I’ve seen from previous locations on various blogs, I believe that this was the biggest venue that has hosted the pop-up. As a result, it was quite roomy, and not too loud (although we probably did have the worst table at the back corner of the restaurant – no biggie). I was thoroughly enjoying the (suspected) ’90s hip-hop station on Pandora that was blasting away. Another plus was that Lemon Moon is about a mile from my apartment, so no need to worry about driving far during rush hour.
When our server, who throughout the night was very friendly and knowledgeable (though he always ended each conversation or description of a dish with “rock on!” – a bit TTH, but funny), came by, I told him we wanted one of everything (duh). Unfortunately, the hairy crab dish was out already. But even without that, we ordered more than enough, and I was very full at the end of the meal. Looking at the menu, it seems like Chef Ludo incorporated more Japanese ingredients for this run, as well as increase the focus on seafood. But anyways, here’s what we had:
Brioche Seaweed Yuzu Butter ($5)
Nicely toasted brioche, and butter was tasty. Simple, but effective bread service.
Chicken Tandoori Crackling ($5)
We actually ordered two of these, since each order has two cracklings. Basically a chicken liver toast, but instead of toast, a fried chicken skin is used. Really nice touch! Couldn’t really taste the tandoori spices in the liver though.
Sweet Shrimp, Miso Cream, Beans, Smoked Salmon ($16)
The sweet shrimp was very fresh (although there was some shells and a tentacle on the plate). I thought the miso cream was a bit too salty, but the combination of everything together was nice.
Day Boat Scallop, Leek, Potato, Black Truffles ($29)
I think this was a take on the vichyssoise, which is a French soup made with pureed leeks and potatoes. So what Chef Ludo did here was deconstruct it in solid form, then fancied it up with some fresh scallops and black truffles. Playful dish.
Raw Beef, Radish, Beets, Eel ($19)
This was like a steak tartare. Our server said this was made with American wagyu – very nice. Didn’t really notice the eel, which was mixed in with the beef, but the radish and beets complemented the tartare well.
Foie Gras, Tamarin, Turnips, Daikon ($22)
Now we’re talking! All the previous dishes were nice and creative, but didn’t necessarily blow my mind. But this was downright delicious. Imagine a non-spicy tom yum, with big, fatty pieces of foie swimming in it. We were instructed to let the foie cook in the soup for two minutes, but we couldn’t resist after a minute and a half.
Me killing the soup.
Uni Creme Brulee, Coffee ($19)
They had served each dish in order of appearance on the menu, so when this was skipped, we began to worry about whether it had sold out of not. I had read so much about how delicious this dish was, and I was dead set on trying it. Luckily, it came, and eclipsed all of my expectations. The fuckin’ amazing uni-infused custard reminded me of the foie egg custard I had at Raku. The ikura and the burnt sugar provided excellent salty and sweet contrasts, and complemented the creamy smoothness of the creme brulee. My absolute favorite of the night.
Uni Creme Brulee #2
Of course, we ordered another one. And destroyed it in mere seconds.
Monkfish Liver, Cucumber, Cornichons, Mustard Seeds ($20)
Sweet shrimp, uni, and now ankimo. Like I said before, Chef Ludo is serious about his Japanese ingredients during this run. It was exciting to see what he did with such delicacies, using his modern French techniques and wacky creative mind. This was one such wacky creation, and everything worked well together.
John Dory, Squash, Spelt, Fennel & Lemon ($22)
Rather boring-looking compared to some of the dishes we previously had, but it was well-executed. Fish was cooked nicely, and the spelt was a pleasant surprise. Kind of a uncooked risotto preparation.
Duck, Orange, Olives, Carrots ($25)
I really wanted to like this dish. Duck à l’orange? Has to be good, right? Well, like all the protein that evening, the duck was cooked perfectly. But I don’t know about this olive tapenade. Didn’t really go well with the rest of the dish in my opinion. Also, I wished the skin was more crispy.
Jidori Half Chicken, Parmesan, Celery Root Soubise, Walnuts ($26)
This was probably the night’s real surprise. The brick-pressed chicken was among the most well-prepared chicken I’ve ever had. The meat was oh so juicy and tender. There was a parmesan hash-looking thing on the side (which our server had no idea what it was there for), but tasted like French onion soup once you tasted it with everything on the plate.
Goat Cheese Profiteroles, Pistachio, Crispy Leaves ($15)
Not crazy about cheese courses, as most of you know. This was just decent. Can’t really picture myself liking savory cream puffs.
Apple Tart Tatin, Salted Caramel, Orange Creamsicle ($13)
Dessert time! KevinEats had a chocolate napoleon with the orange creamsicle on opening night, and I REALLY wanted to try that after seeing it there (I’m a huge napoleon fan – the dessert that is). The tart tatin was solid, but I’m sure the napoleon was better :(
Lemon Meringue, Poppy Seed Crumble, Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($13)
This was another pleasant surprise. I wasn’t really excited about this deconstructed lemon meringue pie. Just seemed kind of boring. But it was really good, probably the best version of lemon meringue pie I’ve ever had.
I’m really glad I finally made it out to a LudoBites dinner after so long. This dinner was creative, fun, and most importantly, delicious. It kind of reminded me of my dinner at .ink, except where I thought Chef Ludo excelled at more than Chef Voltaggio was that his wacky creations were worked off more concrete concepts or particular ingredient, and therefore, most of the ideas had a more completed feel to it.
Again, as expected with such risk-taking, not everything necessarily worked. But I do think that everything was at the very least solid, and some of the dishes (uni creme brulee, foie gras soup, chicken) were just amazing. I really hope Chef Ludo continues to push the envelope for French cuisine, and for the culinary evolution in L.A. as a whole. You bet I’ll be fighting for a table again for the next LudoBites.
Chris Hei grade: A-
LudoBites 8.0 @ Lemon Moon
12200 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064