Gram & Papa’s
227 E 9th St
Los Angeles, CA 90015
Dining date: 12/10/12
Last week LudoBites returned in its 10th incarnation, dubbed a sort of “Best Of” celebration bringing back many dishes from previous iterations of the pop-up. Adding to the hype, it was also announced that this would be the last LudoBites pop-up given that Ludo will be opening a permanent restaurant (with the Animal guys) in the new year. Not surprisingly, reservations were again scarce for the 3-week run, with reservation requests taken through an UrbanSpoon lottery. I’ve heard that approximately 5% of reservation requests were granted, a rate similar to LudoBites 8.0 (the last LA version).
Downtown’s Gram & Papa’s is a usual suspect in terms of LudoBites locations, and I was happy to see it used again for this one (it’s by far the most convenient for me!). The ever-changing menu on this night had a mix of classic dishes from the past and some new ones. As much as I love trying Ludo’s new creations, I was probably more excited to try some old favorites again. I could seriously think up a dream team of past dishes to craft up the perfect meal.
As with all LudoBites, Ludo can be found in the kitchen every single night. In my experience, there really hasn’t been as much chaos and yelling as their Sundance Channel show would suggest…
Hamachi, Vietnamese Salad
We started down memory lane with this dish from 6.0, a cool hamachi fish complemented by refreshing and crispy slivers of green papaya and fried lotus root. Definitely a hit.
Prawns, Avocado, Pineapple, Shrimp Oil
The seafood continued with these prawns, served with an added sweetness of pineapple and an interesting shrimp oil, providing some additional depth of flavor.
Oysters, Gray Shallots, Blanco Grapefruit, Kombu
I found the oysters to be good, but the bite was overpowered by a strong bitterness from, presumably, the grapefruit.
Celery Root Risotto, Creamy Mustard Emulsion, Red Walnuts
This was something new; small diced celery root was smothered in a mustard emulsion sauce. This one didn’t work for me (and perhaps the rest of the table as we didn’t finish either of the two orders), with the creamy sauce being overly rich and sort of monotone in flavor.
Ham Soup, Radish, Pickles
We rebounded with this nice bowl of ham (and, I think, cheese) soup, with a warm comforting porky flavor. Slivers of radish and pickles provided a slight crunch and acidity to cut trough the rich soup. Add a warm baguette and this would be a great meal.
Tandoori Octopus, Beets, Pink Onions, Yogurt, Fennel
Tender braised octopus was paired with crisp beets and a tart yogurt, in one of the seemingly simpler dishes of the evening.
Squid Pad Thai Butter, Grapes, Tofu, Lime Oil, Chili Oil
I enjoyed this 6.0 throwback, a “squid pad Thai” with squid, crispy bean sprouts, and well-balanced lime and chili oils. Thin slices of sweet grape really made a difference too.
Escargot, Fine Brick Tart, Garlic Mousse, Spinach, Parsley, Curry
The escargot was tender and chewy, and I enjoyed the textural contrast with the ‘brick tart.’ A warm garlicky curry sauce brought everything together.
Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Chorizo
This 5.0 dish is one of my favorites in LudoBites history so I was very excited to have this again. It really seems so simple – a velvety smooth mashed potato with a perfectly poached egg and just a little bit of chorizo makes a fantastic combination.
Chicken, Mushrooms, Parmesan, Pears, Brioche
Ludo always seems to cook chicken well and this was no exception. The chicken was moist, and I really liked the texture that the brioche breadcrumbs provided. Great bites, particularly with the crisp, fresh slices of pear to offset the richness.
Veal, Carrots, Udon, Caramelized Onions, White Miso
I found the chunks of veal to be a bit chewy and kind of flavorless. The udon and comforting miso were both good, but couldn’t make up for the disappointing crux of the dish.
Flat Iron Steak, Treviso, Smoked Anchovy Cream, Pepper Oil
These were yummy chunks of medium-rare steak; the pepper oil and smoked anchovy cream were difference-makers, adding a lot of flavor and depth to the meat.
Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta, Caramel, Caviar
This was another favorite of mine; I first had it at 6.0 (though it made its first appearance at 2.0). Salty caviar and sweet caramel came together with a great panna cotta at the center. The separate flavors really came together so well to make some delicious bites.
Lemon Meringue Tart
Dollops of tart lemon curd, sweet whipped cream and crumbled “pie crust” made up this deconstructed lemon meringue tart. Similar to when I had it at 8.0, I liked the ability to make each bite different, experimenting with more cream or more curd to find the right balance.
Chocolate Fondant, Mint Pesto, Habanero Gelee
A little bit of heat and a little bit of fresh herb flavor complemented this rich chocolate cake. Simple and executed well.
I have no explanation.
Guests who paid with a MasterCard were treated to a signed cookbook – a cool promotion! While I do have some bias, I’ve found this cookbook to be one of the best reads, chronicling the story of the whole LudoBites pop-up concept. I have yet to experiment with any of the recipes, but that’s only a matter of time…
Having been to LudoBites 1.0 I was happy to be able to come full-circle at this last one. Food-wise, I thought there were some highs and lows, but it was some of the more interesting things I’ve eaten in LA recently. The ‘highs’ were quite high though; I will always remember the poached egg/potato mousseline and the panna cotta with caramel and caviar. Who knows, maybe some of these favorites (or a variation) can find a recurring role at the permanent restaurant.