He’s baaaack! And dare I say, even better than before. After a three-month hiatus, Chef Ludo Lefebvre has returned with the third installment of Ludo Bites, his highly-anticipated guerrilla-style pop-up restaurant. [Read about the second installment here.] This time around, Chef Ludo has teamed up with Culver City’s Royal/T—the city’s first Japanese-style cosplay café.
The thirteen-day engagement officially begins tonight, but the cool cats at Fooddigger managed to arrange an exclusive pre-grand opening tasting. I was fortunate enough to snag a seat, granting me the opportunity to sample Ludo’s bites 24-hours before the general public. It’s no secret that being first feels good. Real good.
Whereas Ludo’s former haunt was a casual neighborhood eatery, Royal/T is a multifaceted space with a café, shop, and art gallery. The art-covered walls and funky maid get-ups give Ludo Bites 3.0 a deliciously different vibe.
Currently on display at Royal/T is “In Bed Together,” an exhibition curated by Jane Glassman. The collection features 50 works by 50 different artists that have been selected by 50 art professionals. “In Bed Together” showcases an array of different art forms including paintings, drawings, mixed media, sculptures, videos, photography, and performance art.
After sipping some bubbly and chatting with my blogging brethren, we were seated in a glass-walled room toward the back of the gallery. In addition to the usual tables, chairs, and place settings, the room contained a curious-looking white tent. Understanding the heartache that food bloggers experience in dimly lit dining settings, Ludo’s wife and right arm (wo)man Krissy invested in a photography light box! Amazing times a zillion.
Due to the diminutive size of the kitchen, Chef Ludo and his sous chefs plated each course within the gallery.
The first of nine courses was a pretty little dish of barely cooked scallops, brown butter, pineapple, and a mysterious “black powder.” Now, this is the kind of food I love to eat—light, refreshing, and complexly flavored. Props to “The Glutster” for figuring out that squid ink made the “black powder” possible.
Next, we moved on to a bowl of warm bread soup accented with a Gruyère marshmallow and a beauteously poached egg. Made from Bread Bar’s rustic loaf, the soup tasted toasty and familiar. The egg and “cheese” jazzed up the bowl from top to bottom.
The third course, a foie gras beignet, nearly did me in with its unparalleled richness. Fried dough is naturally quite decadent—add to it two full ounces of Hudson Valley foie gras and you’ve got a downright lethal combination. The celery root remoulade tried its darndest to reel in the dish’s intensity but couldn’t quite manage to strike a balance.
The foie gras beignet was appropriately followed by a simple squid preparation featuring chorizo oil, kimchi puree, eggplant “paper,” and pickled red onions. I ate this one with my fingers, swiping the squid in each of the sauces and biting off a piece of “paper” to finish. The kimchi’s kick and the squid’s supple texture were my favorite components.
Drawing inspiration from his new space at Royal/T, Chef Ludo created a Japanese udon dish with veal, kombu dashi (kelp stock), enoki mushrooms, and a sesame seed miso paste. The deeply savory broth enveloped the entire dish, creating an outstanding noodle soup experience. Chef Ludo’s talents aren’t limited solely to French and modern American cuisines; this man can do Asian cooking too!
For the fish portion of our meal, we were served a delicate fillet of wild striped bass with garden vegetables and aioli. Whereas Chef Ludo’s creations are usually quite bold in the flavor department, this one was subdued. The only item that really popped on the plate were the florets of purple cauliflower.
The final savory course of the evening was a superbly tender hunk of hangar steak coupled with crunchy escargots, baby corn, bok choy, and a black olive mole. Everything on the plate tasted fantastic, but it was the parsley-crusted escargots that I was particularly fond of.
Instead of a traditional cheese course, Chef Ludo prepared a tart using Fourme d’Ambert, one of France’s oldest cheeses with pungent notes similar to blue. The flaky tart was paired with pears bathed in beet juice and a swathe of honey balsamic.
The final course of the evening was a chocolate cake floating in an ocean of frothy coconut sorbet. While I’m usually not a chocolate dessert lover, this one managed to woo me in with its refreshingly light flavors and textures. Pink peppercorns and a coffee caramel provided the finishing touches.
Thank you to FoodDigger (Brian, Marshal, and Will), Ludo, and Krissy for an amazing feast! And thank you to my fellow gastronomers for providing great company: Caroline of Caroline on Crack, Kevin of Kevin Eats, Danny of Kung Food Panda, Elina Shatkin from the LA Times, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, H.C. of LA and OC Foodventures, Javier of Teenage Glutster, Josh of Food GPS, Lindsay William-Ross from LAist, Liz of Food She Thought, Sonja of The Active Foodie, and Rachel Hirschfeld, of Les Dames d’Escoffier and Petriarch.com.