The first time I went was in August of 2009, six weeks after donating my kidney. I knew of Ludo Lefebvre because one of my friends used to live next door to Ludo and his wife Krissy, and knowing how very much I love to eat, Philip was constantly raving about Ludo's food and urging me to go try it. At that particular time (2000) Ludo was cooking at L'Orangerie which was not in my budget, so when I read Jonathan Gold's review of this temporary pop-up restaurant, located practically around the corner, I was determined to go.
I had been having a really hard time eating post surgery and I was really tired, but my friend Dave wanted to take me to dinner and Ludobites was where I wanted to go. After weeks of feeling ill and exhausted I was ready for an adventure and he was happy to come and get me and take my mumu clad ass out at 5:30p.m. like I was his early bird special loving grandma. When we arrived the restaurant was empty and when we said that we didn't have reservations we were welcomed and seated at a communal table.
The only other person I saw was a woman dining alone and taking pictures of her food. As the restaurant filled up more and more people were also taking pictures of their food. I've always wanted to do that, but I get so excited when food comes to the table that I dive right in and destroy any possible food photo op.
After devouring wheat bread with honey lavender butter, which was so good I could have eaten it without the bread, we started with the fried chicken - oh the famous fried chicken. Dave liked that chicken so much that after we finished everything we'd ordered, he ordered some more chicken. I was partial to the chorizo, canteloupe, cornichon soup and the bowl of oxtail polenta. I think my favorite thing though was the chocolate cupcake with the foie gras chantilly, candied bacon, almond and maple. I'm more of a cookie girl and don't really get all the cupcake excitement, but this was a revelation of deep chocolate flavor topped with decadence.
As Dave said, "Dayum!"
I ate everything and felt transcendentally happy - blissed out. It was the first time in almost 2 months that I didn't feel bad after eating. It was 7:00 p.m. on a Monday night and the place was slammed.
Other amazing meals were had at 4.0 - the famous black croque monsieur and Paris soup, 5.0 - raw wagyu beef, dried miso, somen noodle, peanut vinaigrette, candied watermelon and mint (OMG), 6.0 - poached egg, potato mousseline with chorizo condiment and pork belly confit with mustard ice cream, 7.0 squid noodles, pad thai prawn and poached roasted foie gras, acacia honey, autumn fruits and dried rose flowers - all amazing sense memories that stay with me even today.
The most recent incarnation, Ludobites 8.0, was at Lemon Moon in West L.A. and again I did not get a reservation. However, they were accommodating walk ins at the bar so my friend Adi and I got there at 5:45 and I stood with my nose pressed up against the glass watching the staff eat their family dinner prior to service. When the door opened I asked if we could eat at the bar and Krissy said, "of course" with a welcoming smile.
Getting a reservation is challenging and I have been lucky to snag a few, but in my experience Krissy really makes an effort to have a walk in table, or a communal table, so where there's a will (and a willingness to eat very early or very late) there's a way - do not be deterred by all the drama you hear about reservations.
I think that the best way to eat at Ludobites is to go with 3 other people and order every single thing on the menu. You get a bit more than a bite each and by the end of the meal you will be so happily sated. I have gone in with 5 or 6 people and shared one of everything and we were all full. This particular night it was just me and Adi and there's no way we could eat everything on the menu so we each picked things that we wanted to try.
And this time, unlike my previous visits, I stayed pretty sober and I remembered to take pictures!
Adi wanted the Gougeres which were lovely, but he'd stopped eating gluten with excellent results and he'd also stopped eating dairy which had alleviated all of his stomach issues. Adi has gone to Ludobites with me almost every time and it is a testament to how good the food is that he continues to go when he clearly doesn't have the digestive system for rich food. I could eat fried butter and keep going all the way to dessert.
So we started with the lovely Gougeres, light, airy puffs of golden pastry with a hint of cheese. I saved a bit of mine to wipe up the bottom of my soup bowl - I knew I would have soup. I always have the soup. Doesn't matter what kind of soup it is - it's always spectacular (my all time favorite is the Paris soup, a deconstructed grilled ham and cheese sandwich in a bowl of savory broth - YUM).
Our next choice was the Tandoori Chicken Cracklings, chicken liver mousse on crisped pieces of chicken skin. I picked this up and ate it with my hands, loving the sensation of dragging my teeth through the creaminess and into the satisfying snap and saltiness of the lovely, delicate crisps. When I think about it "crackling" is a more accurate term because I LOVE crispy chicken skin, it is food crack!
Next up was the lobster salad, yuzu and honey - cool brightness on my tongue followed by sweetness and tartness - I LOVED this.
I loved everything we ate that night, but my favorite dish was the Uni Creme Brulee. It was like the perfect day at the beach when the sun feels like a hug and ocean breezes cool you down and carry the distant sound of music and the scent of salt on your skin across the sand. Yeah, this is what that day tastes like and the soundtrack is Good Day Sunshine.
I did get the soup - celery soup, foie gras, mushrooms and ash - the broth was made with cream, perfumed with mushrooms, and heated very hot at which point delectable pieces of raw foie were added and I was instructed not to touch it for two minutes so that they could poach to the perfect doneness. Unfortunately, my broth was not heated hot enough and although I waited the foie did not cook to perfection and I had to send it back because as much as I love foie I cannot eat it raw. As we were sitting at the bar I got to see, up close and personal, the screaming in heavily accented English made famous on the Sundance channel - the man is a perfectionist and it pisses him off royally when someone on the line doesn't execute - happily the second time was the charm, it was a much better experience and I did get to use that bit of Gougere I'd saved.
About this time Adi started to feel not so great. Could have been the cream in the broth that started his downhill slide, or it could have been the lovely Gougeres, but he was really uncomfortable and requested some raw celery. It's helped in the past when he runs into digestive emergencies, but I was very nervous because you don't really order off the menu at Ludobites. You don't ask for substitutions and you don't ask for stuff on the side. He slid off his seat, and hunching, he went outside to take a walk and seek some relief and I kept my head down and hoped we would be able to stay for desert.
While he was out a plate of beautifully trimmed celery spears arrived,
as well as my Poached Cod, Eucalyptus, potato, leeks, fresh peaches, yellow wine powder, dry sherry and dijon mustard broth.
Thankfully Adi was able to eat his perfectly cooked veal, black olive tapenade, orange caramelized endive with clementine beurre blanc,
and he was also up for dessert - brown butter almond cake, apples, salted caramel and creamsicle ice cream - the perfect end to another fabulous meal.
There are so many things I love about eating Ludo's food - the haiku like descriptions on the menu , the atmosphere of anticipation when I sit down, like standing in line for a roller coaster, and the fact that it's all so flavorful, delicious and sometimes just beautifully weird, but in a good way like Cirque de Soleil for your tastebuds. Sharing a Ludobites meal with friends makes magical memories, much like going on an amazing trip. Or as my friend Lorena noted as we walked out into the Sherman Oaks evening after 6.0, "I feel like I just had a really great one night stand with all of you." It should be noted that her wine bar Pour Haus was born from an evening when the stars aligned at Ludobites 7.0.
All this remembering is making me crave Ludo's food. He's been very busy cooking at various events to protest the California ban on foie gras, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that he'll pop up again soon, and if he does we should totally go - I'll meet you there at 5:30.