Ludo is a Burgundy native and selected a rooster logo for LudoBites because it’s the emblem of France.
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. 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.
TO START, we split a plate of Gougeres with Mornay sauce ($4), filled with molten cheese.
Ludo’s take on eggs Benedict involved a perfectly poached egg, mustardy mayonnaise and a slice of Breadbar’s black olive bread ($5).
Twin toasted baguette slabs hosted rich chicken liver mousse ($6) torpedos and crispy bacon slivers. It’s a good thing we split this starter four ways.
Ludo punched me in the palate with his explosively flavored miso soup, which contained big squares of melt-in-your-mouth foie gras, crispy radish, red onion, tender enoki mushrooms and briny nori.
Ludo’s “pot au feu” was the night’s only disappointment, a cold stew of shredded beef, yellow carrots, crunchy bean sprouts and cilantro, all dominated by off-putting gelatin.
Ludo’s summery salad was much more successful, featuring rare tuna cubes and sweet watermelon, raw julienned beets and bursting balsamic-infused tapioca pearls.
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 jalapeño, 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.
We finished with fromage du jour, a cheese board hosting twin columns of soft petit Basque paired with whipped honey-like date puree and runny Epoisses paired with waxy honeycomb.
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.
June 13, 2009 at 9:42 AM
Hi, would love the recipe for your explosively flavored Miso Soup? I’m a senior who had major surgery and feel that miso soup helped me get and stay well. Could I possibly have your recipe and what is briny nori? Would so appreciate it if you could email your wonderful recipe and expain the ingredients and where to get them. Thank you so much. Rhoberta
May 25, 2009 at 6:24 PM
oops i meant no more prix fixe the concept is small plates now =P after stuffing ourselves silly and after 2 bottles of corkage, each person in our party walked away with paying about $37.50 after tax and tip. thats less than even the prix fixe!
May 25, 2009 at 8:36 PM
Thanks for the LudoBites update. Sounds like it’s still well worth going even though they tweaked the concept.
May 25, 2009 at 6:23 PM
no more prix fixe and concept is prix fixe now but the food was amazing. we werent too sad when they said they accidentally made us two orders of that duck fat fried chicken and let us have both orders 🙂 a new addition that was the tables instant favvorite was the polenta with braised oxtail. wow. and corkage was a mere $5. i will definitely return!
May 13, 2009 at 10:03 AM
wow, that’s quite a long tenure. I hope Ludo can stay there, it’d bring a great spot to that rather barren area. Is there corkage?
May 12, 2009 at 11:11 PM
This is so exciting! Thanks for the info.
May 13, 2009 at 12:17 AM
You’re welcome. I’m looking forward to seeing how LudoBites has evolved in the past year and a half. Do you plan to go?