Three days before the sixth iteration of Ludo Bites came to a close, The Astronomer and I finally scored a table due to a last minute cancellation. It was a bit of a nightmare driving from Pasadena to Sherman Oaks during rush hour, but a little traffic couldn’t stop us from experiencing Chef Ludo LeFebvre’s latest creations.
We arrived a little frazzled, but on time for our 6:30 slot. Krissy seated us immediately and presented us with the evening’s menu and a wine list. The tables were packed quite cozily in the dining room, but I didn’t mind because my neighbor to the right was the incomparable Jo of My Last Bite—I love how she brings good cheer wherever she goes. My neighbor to the left was sporting a DSLR camera and a little cell phone light, which helped to forge an instant bond between us too.
With so many enticing dishes on the menu, we decided to forgo adult beverages to save precious real estate. I was also thinking about forgoing bread, but thankfully, The Astronomer talked some sense into me. To start, we shared a warm baguette served with smoked butter and sardine-Laughing Cow cheese ($5). The bread and butter were both solid, but the highlight upon the wobbly plank was the sardine-laced Laughing Cow cheese. Fishy flavored cheese? Yes, please!
About midway through the bread course, the Vietnamese-style hamachi ($15) arrived. The presentation was reminiscent of the confit pork belly with Thai-style choucroute from Ludo Bites 5.0. However, the flavors and ingredients in this dish were much lighter.
Tucked underneath the jicama slaw were the most pristine slices of hamachi. Lightly dressed in a nuoc cham-like dressing, the plate was brimming with fresh, clean, and bright flavors. This was definitely one of my favorite dishes of the evening.
The creation that had The Astronomer smiling from ear to ear was the escargot served atop shredded Brussels sprouts with red mole, cold tofu, and cilantro. A melting scoop of corn ice cream was served on the side ($16). The seemingly random components worked deliciously together, especially the corn ice cream mixed with the spicy mole. The escargots were also very tender. It’s innovative dishes like this that bring us back to Ludo Bites pop-up after pop-up.
Another memorable dish was the marinated mackerel served with baby leeks and verdolagas leaves ($15). The tops of the fillets were finished with sugar and a blowtorch, yielding an irresistible candy coating. The sweetness played beautifully with the fish’s oily flesh. Leche de tigre, a ceviche marinade, provided a fitting acidic foil.
I absolutely adored the somen dish from 5.0, so it was a no-brainer that we order the salmon “a l’huile” somen noodles with carrots, red wine vinaigrette, and grilled salmon roe ($17). The highlights were the smoky little eggs that popped with each bite and the supple pieces of salmon. While we felt indifferent toward the beautiful but ultimately boring carrots, The Astronomer and I were fighting over every last noodle strand. More carbs, please.
When the beef tartar with celery root remoulade, red port gelee, and foie gras powder ($17) arrived, The Astronomer and I looked at each other and said, “What the eff?” followed by “How does Ludo come up with this stuff?” The platter seriously looked liked an explosion of road kill and cocaine.
Even though its appearance was shocking, the dish’s flavors were wholly complimentary. The only element that I disliked was the creamy and rich remoulade, which was too heavy for me to handle at this point in the meal. I hope that Ludo builds upon and finesses this dish for 7.0.
Our final savory course was the marinated Korean steak with crispy kimchi, radish, bone marrow, and shiso ($29). The steak was perfectly cooked, and the flavors complementing it were straight out of Koreatown. Like the remoulade in the previous course, the marrow proved to be too much for us, but we cleaned the plate otherwise. I had forgotten just how satisfying chomping on a well-cooked steak was!
To close out the evening, we ordered both desserts on the menu. The first to arrive was the creme fraiche panna cotta with caramel and caviar ($15). Ludo brought this sweet back from the 2.0 vault at the request of Krissy; it’s one of her favorite desserts. It had been over a year since I first tasted this crazy combination, and damn, it was still as awesome as I remembered. Salty, sweet, and creamy, what more does a dessert need? The Astronomer was properly smitten too!
And just when we thought that things couldn’t possibly get any tastier, Ludo blew us away with his warm carrot cake with coconut and Thai curry frosting, mango sorbet, and kaffir lime oil ($10). If my arteries didn’t mind too much, I would pour kaffir lime oil on everything that I ate.
What I love so much about Ludo’s food is that it’s like nothing else served in the city. Every time I sit down for a meal at one of his pop-ups, I am guaranteed a parade of kooky and thought provoking dishes that are almost always delectable. The day that Ludo stops bringing the crazy combinations is the day that I stop trying for a reservation. Until then, refresh, refresh, refresh!
Ludo Bites at MAX
13355 Ventura Boulevard
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423