“I hope you like it,” I say to my roommate Philippe as we walk toward the refrigerated section of Whole Foods to pick out a bottle of white wine.
He turns back to me, cocking a questioning eyebrow.
“He does… unexpected things.” I explain. “Did you read the concept on his website?”
He nods. “I did my research.”
“Cool.” I respond, seemingly satisfied, but not really satisfied at all.
I’m taking my roommate, a journalist for the French paper 20 Minutes, to Ludo Bites for a story he is writing on Chef Ludo Lefebvre, and I’m nervous that the food will be a bit too adventurous for him – a guy who doesn’t particularly care for seafood and isn’t always familiar with the ingredients I use in my relative simple cooking. I consider myself at least somewhat open-minded and well versed with regards to gastronomy, but it still took me two visits to fully appreciate Ludo’s vision.
We find a suitable (ie. less than $15) bottle of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, ignoring Jonathan Gold’s admonishment that it “isn’t going to cut it with the hanger steak with charcoal oil,” and are soon on our way again, dodging slow-moving vehicles on West 3rd Street in the direction of Bread Bar.
As we walk into the now familiar space of the candlelit bakery, I feel even more protective of Ludo and LudoBites. I want Philippe to have the same experience I had there the last time. I want him to feel excited about food items he never knew he liked, and I want him to be pleasantly surprised by the often jarring combination of unique flavors and textures.
“You have to try the honey lavender butter,” I enthuse once we are seated at our communal table in the middle of the restaurant. “And the bread is fantastic – it’s from the bakery – freshly made!”
I watch intently as Philippe smears the lush butter over a warm slice of the whole wheat bread and then sinks his teeth into the tender flesh. A smile spreads across his face, and I exhale the breath I’ve been holding.
Our first dish of the evening (not counting the three slices of bread we both inhale as a conduit to eat more of the butter) is the green beans salad with peach, coconut, apple, lemongrass, and a hefty dollop of horseradish on the side ($9).
“I like the coconut in this,” Philippe comments as he deftly maneuvers one of the thinly sliced pieces onto his fork.
Relief sets in as I register his approval of our first official “bite” of the evening. The beans are tender yet still maintain a pleasant crispness that is mirrored with the other components of the dish. It is a Ludo version of a Farmer’s Market salad – the quality and freshness of the ingredients make it sing and the bite from the horseradish accompaniment takes it to the next level.
We both take eager turns finding the tender shreds of oxtail beneath the oozing cantal cheese-laced polenta that is a universal favorite among bloggers and reviewers. The black truffle oil is a playful touch – a luxurious after note that contrasts against the grittiness of the polenta, an item that is historically considered peasant food.
After much debate, Philippe and I decide to take a light intermission with one of the seafood dishes.
“I want to try it.” He insists as we place our order for the grilled Santa Barbara prawns with thyme and yuzu lime chantilly ($24) that both Krissy, Ludo’s wife, and our server recommend.
“And if I don’t like, you can always eat it!” Philippe adds with a wink.
For a guy I’ve only lived with for three months, he knows me almost too well. I would have been more than happy to devour every single one of the barely-cooked prawns that are killed just prior to their short term on what I imagine must be a searing hot grill. Unfortunately, once Philippe masters the technique of peeling the shrimp free from their crab-esque shells, he loves them.
“I guess I like shrimp.” He says with a happy shrug.
Prepared in this manner, I can’t imagine how anyone could not like them.
Krissy, the ever present hostess, comes by to check on us, and I take the opportunity to inquire about the foie gras terrine black croque monsieur with cherry reduction ($20). I’ve had a mixed reaction to foie gras in the past – I didn’t care for it as an addition to a soup, but loved it on a maple tart with a lemon paste. I’m not sure what to think of it in a sandwich. Especially one made with squid ink-infused bread.
She smiles at my clearly conflicted face. “I’m bringing you one.”
I’m still nervous when the croque monsieur arrives, but the look on Philippe’s face when he takes his first bite assures me I have nothing to be concerned about (aside from wanting more).
“It’s like Christmas in my mouth,” He announces, his eyes glazed over with ecstasy.
Soon, it’s like Christmas in my mouth. (And on my hands courtesy of the snail-like grease trail the decadent sandwich leaves behind.) This is one of my favorite Ludo dishes to-date – regardless of the number of calories it will require me to work off at Bar Method this week.
We finish our savory courses with the duck breast served with crispy skin puree, carrot cake coulis, grapefruit segments, and orange blossom water ($24). We are both unsure about the bitter bite of the grapefruit at first taste, but after trying the duck with and without it, come to the conclusion that it balances the sweetness of the crispy skin puree and carrot cake coulis incredibly well. The dish is a classic example of the thoughtfulness that Ludo puts into each plate. The elements aren’t random – everything is working together in a specific, seemingly predestined way.
“I’m getting fuuuull.” Philippe announces as we devour the last pieces of pink duck from our shared plate.
I nod, but still can’t get my mind off the now famous chocolate cupcake with foie gras chantilly, candied bacon, and maple sauce ($12). What if he doesn’t want to get dessert? I worry.
Krissy comes by again to check in on us, and Philippe immediately puts my greatest fear (leaving the restaurant without dessert) to rest.
“We want the foie gras cupcake, but I’m so full. Can you wait like 5-10 minutes before bringing it?” He asks with his charming French accent.
His wish is granted (how could anyone resist a man with an accent?), and we have a brief interlude to chat with our Ludo virgin neighbors before the cupcake is placed before us.
The cupcake looks deceptively normal -- pretty enough for any bakery case around town. Yet, just like everything in Ludo’s kitchen, the innocent piece of cake has been turned on its head. While the foie gras is subtle, the candied almonds leave no doubt that they have been playing in the mud with bacon. It’s jarring at first, especially with the sour tang of the balsamic maple sauce, but ultimately comes together. The cupcake itself is equally impressive – moist, made with high-quality chocolate, and possibly most importantly, not overly sweet.
“The best yet.” I tell Krissy as Philippe and I head, somewhat sadly, for the exit with our leftover lavender butter in tow.
It’s not an exaggeration. The meal/experience was impeccable from start to finish – especially since I got to see my own reaction to the dishes mirrored in my, apparently not so picky, roommate’s sparkling eyes.
“It’s like Christmas in my mouth,” He said.
I couldn't agree more.
LudoBites at Breadbar
8718 W 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Reservations can be made here.