LudoBites 5.0 at Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
I was lucky enough to score a reservation to the opening night of this fifth incarnation of LudoBites. The husband-and-wife team of Ludo and Krissy Lefebvre continues to dramatically grow in popularity, clearly indicated by the reservation system crashing once reservations were available this time around. 3000 people tried to log on to the reservation system when it opened up at 5pm on July 7, more than it could handle.
Ludo is one of the most unique chefs around, with his pop-up restaurants giving the public just a brief taste of his ever-changing modern take on French cuisine – before it goes away again. The venue for this iteration is the same as LudoBites 4.0; perfect for me considering I live and work in downtown.
Given that this was LudoBites opening night, I expected to recognize some people, whether it be other chefs, celebrities or bloggers. My expectations were warranted, as Kevin of kevinEats and Ryan of Epicuryan sat down at a neighboring table, and Ludo superfan food writer Jonathan Gold was present as well.
We tried most of the dishes offered, starting with the naan.
Vadouvan Naan Bread, Salted Coconut Butter
The bread was a bit on the salty side, but a decent rendition of naan. The salted coconut had a good coconut flavor; but overall, this ‘bread course’ didn’t stand up to the baguette with honey lavender butter of LudoBites 4.0 – which I really enjoyed.
Grilled Squid, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Black Rice, Yuzu Red Onions, Umami Broth & Seaweed Tartar
I really liked this dish. It screamed “summer” with its fresh, perfectly cooked seafood, and light vibrant flavors primarily from the tomatoes and yuzu red onions.
Raw Wagyu Beef, Dried Miso, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Candied Watermelon, Mint
Our server, as well as Krissy Lefebvre herself, raved about this dish…and it did not disappoint. Raw slices of wagyu beef topped cold somen noodles. I love beef with noodles, so this was right down my alley. The beef was not too chewy, and provided some great flavor, complemented by some mint and watermelon. The peanut vinaigrette provided just the right amount of acidity to cut through the rich meat. However, I’m not sure I could tell that this was wagyu beef if someone hadn’t told me.
Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Santa Barbara Spot Prawn, Chorizo Condiment
This was probably my favorite dish of the night. A silky smooth potato mousseline sat atop a nicely poached egg, on top of some chopped pieces of spot prawn. Great combination here. The potato flavor was subtle, but the combination of the richness of the egg and the sweetness of the prawns was just perfect.
Grilled Octopus, Oregano, Grilled Hazelnut Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D’Espelette Gelee
I don’t think I’ve ever had octopus in this sort of presentation, with a large grilled tentacle on the plate. The octopus was cooked very well – moist and tender with a great, charred grill flavor. The gelee, a combination of a number of spices, was strong and really brought out some of the flavors of the octopus.
Next on to the entrees – four were offered on this night.
Hot Foie Gras, Chinese Barbecue Sauce, Miso Eggplant Terrine
A very generous chunk of foie gras was presented, perfectly seared. Chinese hoisin sauce was a prominent flavor – I never imagined foie gras with hoisin sauce – but I thought these flavors went well together. In addition, it came with an eggplant terrine, a really unique preparation. Often when I have eggplant, it’s fairly mushy, but that was not the case here – it was more of an al dente texture.
Day Boat Cod, Torched Uni, Ratatouille, Red Bell Pepper Pickles, Black Curry
I enjoyed this dish. The cod was cooked well and was really moist. The ratatouille was fantastic as well. I didn’t think the uni was really necessary though – tasty, but not adding much extra to the dish. I found the black curry to be very overpowering in this dish though, and stayed away from it.
Confit Pork Belly, Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Guiness, Emulsion
What restaurant doesn’t offer pork belly nowadays? This was an excellent rendition, with moist, succulent pieces of pork. The choucroute’s acidity provided a nice balance to the fattiness of the pork.
Steamed Duck, Lemon Verbena, Crispy Skin Puree, White Peach, Radish, Balsamic
This dish was a little underwhelming for me. The duck, while cooked well, was steamed, and I was missing some of the complex, deep flavors that come with searing the meat. The crispy skin provided some nice textural crunch, but it wasn’t quite enough for me.
Next we were on to the desserts.
Campfire Smoked S’mores, Guacamole Sorbet
The smore was a nice treat, and beautifully presented. However the guacamole (primarily just avocado) sorbet combination just didn’t work for any of us at the table.
Caramel Souffle, Blanco Grapefruit, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream
The last iteration of LudoBites featured a very popular dark chocolate souffle. This time around it was caramel – and I think it’s even better. The amount of caramel flavor was just right, and I really enjoyed the Fleur De Sel ice cream, effectively making this a ‘salted caramel’ souffle. Yum.
In all, we were all very satisfied with the meal. It was very solid from start to finish. Do I think it was better than LudoBites 4.0? Hard for me to say; they were both very, very good. I’ll probably have to make a return trip soon in order to make a judgment like that. Service was pretty good this time around..and as usual, Krissy and Ludo are very gracious hosts.