Celebrated French chef Ludovic Lefebrve returned to BREADBAR West Third on May 19 to relaunch LudoBites. Through August 22, Ludo will be behind the bar prepping “innovative twists on classic French comfort cuisine.” I managed to try LudoBites during his 2007 guest stint at BREADBAR. If anything, Version 2.0 is more satisfying, with less focus on experimentation and more emphasis on comfort.
The renegade French chef spent a year in Las Vegas, where he launched Lavo at The Palazzo and was soon drawing an incredible 700 people per night. Now Ludo is back in L.A. and generating plenty of buzz, not only with LudoBites, but also with his appearance on “Top Chef Masters,” an all-star version of Top Chef debuting June 10 that features some of the best chefs in the industry competing for charity.
Ludo is creative in multiple ways. He has his hand in every plate that leaves the kitchen, painted all of the art on BREADBAR’s walls and serves as the DJ. The Burgundy native selected a rooster logo for LudoBites because it’s the emblem of France. Based on his paintings, he also seems to like crowns.
We started with a basket of BREADBAR bread, including spicy cranberry, rustic millstone and cheese-laced Alpine.
BREADBAR co-owner Ali Chalabi invited me to join him for the opening night of LudoBites. He wanted us to order the entire menu, which was a suggestion that nobody at the table was looking to contest. On a regular basis, the menu would have cost $39 for three courses, still a good deal for Ludo’s food.
I expected Ludo to break out some culinary fireworks, but never expected him to lower the boom on fried chicken. He coated the dark meat in herbs de Provence and fried the bird in duck fat. That may have been a shortcut to poultry nirvana, but so what. He plated the chicken on “Basque vegetables,” which consisted of spice-soaked peppers, onions and potatoes. This was a surprising showstopper.
Cassoulet is typically a gut-busting dish that involves sausage and has been known to include the fat of multiple beasts, including pigs and ducks. Ludo’s version was shockingly delicate, involving a luscious fillet of cod that separated at the touch of a fork, fava beans, lemon and sage.
A dish that jumped off the menu: Ludo’s braised lamb “seven hours” with black curry, rosemary polenta, harissa and zucchini. The lamb was overcooked and somewhat gamy, but still pretty flavorful. His polenta was outstanding, gritty and reminiscent of grits. Ludo’s black curry paste was only notionally Asian, incorporating coffee, black olives, ginger and lemongrass, but the flavor was still concentrated.
Ludo’s spicy chocolate mousse was feathery and spiked with jalapeno, leading to a finish with some real kick. The bowl also hosted a concentrated orange puree blended with extra virgin olive oil and decorated with edible marigolds.
Previous attempts at chilled fruit soup have fallen short, including at Chez Panisse, but Ludo managed to pull it off. His sweet but not cloying strawberry soup featured big chunks of rhubarb and a fluffy cap of marshmallow ice cream.
During dinner, we drank a bottle of 2005 Chateau Larruau Margaux, which paired especially well with the meat dishes. Near the end of our meal, friendly Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan, who was sitting next to us, brought over two bottles of his Wine From The Desert, both from his Caduceus brand. I enjoyed his 2008 Dos Ladrones. He insisted his 2007 Sancha was still a year away from maturity, which bodes well for 2010..
At the end of the meal, Ludo said his first night of LudoBites was harder than any night at Lavo. In Vegas, he had twenty chefs at his disposal. At BREADBAR, he’s in the thick of the action for hours. He anticipates scaling back to a set menu that could change nightly, depending on what he finds at the farmers’ market. That would limit prep time and cut costs. He may think LudoBites still needs fine tuning, but he still delivered a memorable dinner that already outshines his 2007 effort.