Ludovic “Ludo” Lefebvre has become a rock star in L.A.’s food community. His twin tenures at BREADBAR Los Angeles generated nearly unprecedented adulation from local food bloggers, with many adherents returning for multiple meals during his summer stint. When he and wife Krissy announced the December dates for their pop-up at Royal/T in Culver City, they booked every table within days. It was the food equivalent to a Bruce Springsteen tour, minus the Big Man and the drummer from Conan O’Brien. The official start date was December 2, but FoodDigger’s founders were kind (and savvy) enough to host a blowout preview the night before Ludo opened the curtain. In true Ludo fashion, he made wholesale changes to the LudoBites menu since August, and even though he was still becoming acclimated to a kitchen so small he didn’t even have room to plate, the nine-course meal was memorable.
In case you’re unfamiliar with FoodDigger, it’s a restaurant website that uses an algorithm to determine FlavorMatches – palate compatibility – for “diggers.” Think eHarmony, but for stomachs instead of hearts. To generate interest with local tastemakers, three of FoodDigger’s founders – Marshal, Brian and Will – host elaborate TastEvents. For their LudoBites preview, they invited 13 food bloggers, including Kevin (Kevin Eats), H.C. (L.A. and O.C. Food Adventures), Fiona (Gourmet Pigs), Sonja (Active Foodie), Javier (The Glutster), Danny (Kung Food Panda), Liz (Food, She Thought), Cathy (Gastronomy), Caroline (Caroline on Crack). Lindsay (LAist), Elina (LA Times) and Rachel Hirschfeld, a Le Cordon Bleu Paris graduate and member of Les Dames d’Escoffier.
Royal/T is a Japanese concept in Culver City’s gallery district that combines pop art, food, tea and maid service. The massive space features exposed wood beams and glass enclosures that spotlight different art, which is all for sale. LudoBites 3.0 coincides with a 50-artist multi-media exhibit curated by Jane Glassman, titled “In Bed Together.”
For our meal, we dined at a pair of communal tables inside a glass box. The “room” was lit by a black chandelier ringed by miniature lamps. On the wall, Ludo projected “L’invention de la Cuisine,” a documentary starring famed French chef Michel Bras. During the course of our three-hour meal, we repeatedly watched Bras fabricate, cook and plate a monkfish. Krissy Lefebvre informed me that this was a one-night-only showing, since Glassman prefers to project more risque images.
The Royal/T “maids” work as servers and are used to having people take their photos. The maid on the left said, “It’s like Disneyland.” To their right, you’ll find one of Ludo’s paintings, which also appeared at BREADBAR Los Angeles.
Before the meal, Ludo made a short speech, explaining that he was still adjusting to Royal/T. “It’s like driving a new car,” he said, “but we’ll figure it out. It’s my job.” He said that Royal/T is a good fit for his concept, since it’s Japanese and his cooking blends French technique with Asian ingredients.
Krissy Lefebvre added a comical (but useful) element to the dining room: a light box, which will be available every night at LudoBites for food photography. Bloggers have been a big key to the success of LudoBites, and they take their photography seriously, so Krissy accommodated them.
Ludo made a bread soup using rustic BREADBAR country loaf. Punctuating the gritty tan liquid was a single pepper-dusted egg, cooked to soft-boiled perfection at 65 Degrees Celsius. The cool Gruyere marshmallow was one of the only elements of the night that I didn’t enjoy, with an intense cheese flavor that conflicted with the comforting soup.
If there’s an ingredient that’s capable of capturing a food blogger’s soul, it’s undoubtedly foie gras, the fattened liver of a goose or duck – in this case duck. During LudoBites 2.0, Ludo created an internet shockwave with his foie gras cupcake, and this go around, his foie gras beignet has the potential to be the breakout dish. The crispy dough orb was filled with a two-ounce chunk of duck liver, which became molten in the deep fryer. Any smaller and the foie would have liquefied. This was a mighty rich dish that no amount of julienned celery root could have tamed.
Our second course was probably the most inventive (and spiciest) of the night. A single supple squid was plated with spicy streaks of yellow kimchee puree and flame-red chorizo oil, plus pickled red onions and micro-thin sheets of eggplant paper that absolutely tasted of aubergine.
An earthy bowl of kombu dashi – kelp and mushroom flavored broth – was loaded with thin-shaved mushrooms, springy udon, scallions and shredded veal that had the consistency of short rib. The edge of the bowl hosted sesame seed miso paste, which added nice nuttiness to the broth.
A tender stump of hanger steak was marinated in a secret mixture that featured apple juice. The sweet marinade contributed to a winning sear and outer caramelization. The plate also sported crunchy escargot, baby corn in its husk, bok choy and a modified version of Glutster mom’s mole, made with five kinds of chilies, cinnamon and black olives.
For his cheese course, Ludo naturally strayed from tradition, delivering a Fourme d’ Ambert Tourte, with buttery pastry sandwiching a funky French blue cheese. He paired the powerful but flavorful fromage with a sweet “red pear” marinated in beet juice and a streak of honey-balsamic.
Ludo’s chocolate “cake” was basically a finger of fudge draped in caramel coffee sauce, partially submerged in coconut sorbet “soup” and sprinkled with pink peppercorns that added some nice heat to the finish.
LudoBites 3.0 was already very good, and Ludo is just getting started. It will be interesting to see what happens once he has a larger menu at his disposal and 110 people to cook for each night, instead of just 16. Two things are for sure. He’s bound to improve upon his new dishes, just like he did in LudoBites’ prior incarnations. The menu is also going to be very different by the time he closes LB3 on December 22.
If you want to learn more about Ludo and his food, read his Food GPS PROFILE.
Note: Royal/T is not accepting reservations for LudoBites, so don’t bother calling. Instead, refer to the official LudoBites reservation system…not that it matters. They’re all sold out. Sorry for the 1200-word gastro tease.