I joined two friends at Breadbar to participate in Chef Ludovic “Ludo” Lefebvre‘s “eclectic culinary adventure,” available Wednesday to Friday nights from September 12 to December 21. It was a good opportunity to sample reasonably priced dishes from Ludovic, a native of France who previously cooked at prestigious Los Angeles restaurants L’Orangerie and Bastide, where he built a reputation for creativity. For LUDOBITES, he tapped into his extensive network of local farmers and partnered with Norbert Wabnig of The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. The menu is different each night, depending on the ingredients Ludo procures. When we sat at a six-seat communal table, our excited neighbor recommended a flurry of dishes and gave us some advice: “Think experimental. Forget what you know about food.”
Every day from 7 AM – 7 PM, Breadbar operates as one of L.A.’s top bread bakeries, a concept imported from France by famed Parisian baker Eric Kayser. Behind the counter where Ludo was cooking, these shelves held baskets of fresh bread. The back counter contained a vintage Berkel meat slicer with its signature cherry red hue.
The Breadbar BREADBASKET & BEURRE ECHIRE (normally $5, free because we had to wait so long) included slices of fig, olive, alpine cheese, ciabatta, brioche-like pain de mie, raisin, and sesame. Echiré is a justifiably famous butter, imported from France, deep yellow and rich.
OPEN YOUR APPETITE ($7)
We started with “Prosciutto di Parma, mascarpone, honey” ($2 supplement). The rosy-hued Italian ham was fittingly cut with the Berkel, the Rolls Royce of meat slicers. The prosciutto was served with dishes of creamy white cheese and honeycomb on a commemorative LUDOBITES wood plank from The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. The starter was simple but terrific, especially when combined with Breadbar’s excellent bread.
The Heirloom tomato salad was topped with a blimp-shaped mass of feta mousse, oregano, shaved onion and pitted Nicoise olives. It’s long past tomato season, but these red, green and purple tomatoes made from hand-me-down plants tasted of-the-moment.
Fillets of silky smoked salmon were topped with tiny edible flowers and Petrossian trout roe, which provided salty little bursts. It quickly became clear that dipping the smoked salmon in the “tangerine gazpacho” was a waste, so I picked up the dish and began drinking the cold yellow soup, which was phenomenal, with sweet tangerine pulp.
TWO BITES ($11)
We had mixed success with the “Foie gras tart, maple syrup and lemon.” The foie gras terrine and oyster mushrooms were phenomenal, but the pastry base was difficult to cut, even with a knife. The overpowering spread had a mild sweetness from the maple syrup that couldn’t match the explosive lemon tartness.
“Celery roots veloute, whole grain mustard, Parmesan marshmallow” was my least favorite dish. A veloute is similar to Bechamel sauce, a thickened stock. The “soup” was too rich for my taste, especially when piled with fluffy Parmesan, but my friends lapped it up. I could have used more Dijon spice to cut through the richness of the cream.
The most successful “two bites” combined “Sautéed scallop, curried yogurt, spinach.” The bay scallops were the most perfectly cooked I’ve ever tasted. Since they’re small, the bivalves are normally overcooked until they match the texture of pencil erasers. Not under Ludo’s watch. The Indian style curry was equally excellent, as was the spinach.
BITES FOR MORE THAN ONE ($15) (To share or main course)
Our first main course combined “cherry tomato aigre-doux, rigatoni pasta, poached lobster in tamarind butter” ($3 supplement). The meaty lobster claw was excellent, and the melted mozzarella was a nice touch, but the tomato sauce was overwhelmingly sour. It must have been the shredded tamarind. If we spoke French, we would have known what to expect. Aigre-doux is the French term for sweet and sour, but Ludo took both aspects to the extreme.
Our second main course incorporated “red fish, broccoli, soy sauce caramel, fennel, blood orange.” I’d never seen red fish, aka red drum, on a menu outside of New Orleans. This version featured a caramelized fillet of luscious, pull-apart sheets. The fennel and blood orange “slaw” was another intensely flavored Ludo creation that overwhelmed my palate. The gritty broccoli puree cradled soy sauce caramel, both of which I enjoyed.
We bypassed Ludo’s caviar topped panna cotta in favor of a more conventional dessert, the “milk-shake “belle-Helene” pear (Auguste Escoffier).” In 1870, famous French chef Auguste Escoffier apparently created a pear dessert to honor Jacques Offenbach’s opera “La belle Hélène,” topping pears with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. In a nod to Escoffier, Ludo used chocolate ice cream instead of vanilla and blended pear pulp with the chocolate in a milkshake. The dessert was then topped with a small pool of whipped cream and squiggles of chocolate sauce. It was a fairly simple but delicious shake.
Not every dish worked, but Ludo’s highs were very high and each course was a conversation piece that got us thinking about the interplay of flavors. After the meal, I asked Ludo if he plans to continue LUDOBITES in the New Year. He said no. Instead, he plans to travel to Hong Kong and Shanghai in January. I asked whether he wants to open a restaurant in Los Angeles. He said yes, but said the costs are too high at the moment.
During the meal, we were discussing how some people prioritize possessions over food, which is clearly insane. Matt said, “Things depreciate.” He rubbed his stomach and said, “This is an investment.” After experiencing LUDOBITES for three hours, it was clear that we had made a worthwhile investment.