“Two squid carbonaras?” She repeats in slight shock.
My five dining companions for LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa’s all look over at me with semi-appalled expressions.
“Uhh… well…” I stammer, my face burning with shame. “The server said one of each entrée would mean one bite a piece…”
They nod, seemingly unconcerned that this could lead to a feeding frenzy – a battle of forks – a stare down over the last piece of Chef Ludo Lefebvre’s steak au poivre with roasted eggplant puree and polenta bone marrow ($27).
“Okay… so we want one of everything and then three of the brie chantilly napoleon ($7), and two of the the white asparagus velouté ($14), scallop ($14) and foie gras ($29)…” I say to confirm.
Again, nods all around.
I knead my lips together in a thin line and cast my eyes toward the napkin wadded up in my lap. I want to explain. I want to tell them why I am having a hard time wrapping my head around “one bite each.” I want to tell them everything – the whole sordid history.
Instead, I sit quietly, too afraid to pay service to the words swimming in my head. The words, “I don’t like to share food.”
The confession would be too much for my dining companions to handle. Food bloggers are supposed to love rotating dishes around the table like we are playing a game of musical plates. It’s expected that forks will fly free and that everyone will be happy to offer up a taste – or more – of that delicate pan-seared halibut or steaming bowl of linguine.
For me, however, the practice of doling out samples of my dinner is a challenge that can be traced back to my childhood when my parents taught my brothers and me to keep our forks to ourselves. They didn’t want us spreading germs to one another – a sensible lesson for children – and adults for that matter. I still remember how shocked I was when I first saw the boy and girl who lived next door drinking from the same can of soda. It repulsed me.
I’ve recently become more open to sharing plates and swapping bites at a restaurant, yet even now I still don’t love doing so when there are multiple mouths involved. It’s one thing to share a baby beet salad, lamb sausage pizza or side of macaroni and cheese, but when a nice meal out starts to turn into a buffet featuring every dish on the menu, I find it to be overwhelming and confusing to my palate.
But I can’t possibly explain all this to the hopeful faces situated around me at LudoBites this evening. They would think I was greedy at best, absolutely raving mad at worst. And maybe they’d be a little bit right in that assessment. So I keep my lips clamped shut, and as the communal plates start flooding our communal table, I start to realize that maybe my dining companions are on to something...
While I could easily demolish the elegant white asparagus velouté with mozzarella, mousse, fennel, candied olive and salmon roe ($14) by myself, and would push babies out of the way for a one-on-one session with the supple flesh of the monkfish with crisp market vegetables and curry ($24), as the night goes on, ordering the entire menu seems to be the best and most prescient way to experience LudoBites.
Were it not for the insistent nods from my dining companions, I wouldn’t give a second thought to the ham soup with bread, Swiss cheese, radish, cornichon and Guiness ($12) – essentially a warm Cubano-esque sandwich in liquid form that is rumored to inspire some of Ludo’s diners to lick the bowl clean. I certainly wouldn’t take it upon myself to order the sultry Burgundy escargots with garlic flan, green jus, and violet flowers ($12) that ultimately proves to be one of my favorite “bites” of the evening. (I even sneak a second snail when no one is looking.) And I could never take down an entire warm baguette with a ½ cup of honey-lavendar butter (two plates for $8) without the assistance of five other mouths.
Or, more accurately, I shouldn’t do that. (Even if I do feel slightly inclined to slather the entire pot of honey-lavendar butter over the entire salty baguette and eat it like a sandwich.)
By ordering Ludo’s entire menu on this particular Friday night – even the seared foie gras “pina colada” ($29) and pork cheek terrine with German butter ball potato, smoked mayo and apples ($12) that are not items I’d typically gravitate toward, my dining companions and I have a unique opportunity to grow as diners. If I’d come to the pop-up restaurant by myself, I might have simply requested the scallop with almond puree, pickled grapes, capers, curry oil and cauliflower ice cream ($14) to start, and the rack of lamb with fresh goat cheese, smoked eel, artichokes, potato mousseline and mint to finish ($26). It would have been an incredibly satisfying meal, but I wouldn’t have learned anything about myself. And, more importantly, I wouldn’t be paying tribute to the whole spirit behind LudoBites – to experience food in a completely new and different way than ever before.
I know I like Ludo’s scallops that are always seared with a proficient hand and dressed to impress with his signature yin and yang-type accompaniments. Of course I’m going to love the sweet punch of grapes and cauliflower ice cream contrasted with the savory curry oil and salty bite of capers. I similarly know I am a fool for a rosy chop of knife-ready lamb, and butter that’s been whipped with potatoes (see potato mousseline). But what of the red snapper ceviche tossed with tomatoes, red peppers, orange segments, red onions, meyer lemon and jalepenos ($14)? Or the squid “carbonara” with poached egg, parmesan snow, sage, and addicting chunks of caramelized pancetta ($18)?
I don’t know what I think – or what to expect -- until I take “a bite.”
At the end of the evening, I do know, however, that the dark chocolate soufflé with vanilla black pepper ice cream and chocolate cream ($13) is the perfect way to see how far I’ve come since the days when I used to gawk at my Coke-sharing next door neighbors. I’ve been eyeing the opulent dessert since reading about it on Gastronomy Blog and if it were up to me, I’d order one just for myself and then go eat it in the corner where no one can judge me.
Ultimately, playing hot potato with the oversized soufflé is not all that bad. Especially since my very generous dining companions let me have the first and last “bite.” And cheer me on when I elect to use my finger to scrape the ramekin clean.
Gram & Papas
227 East 9th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015