Tuesday, December 01, 2009

LudoBites at Royal/T (Culver City, CA)

LudoBites and Royal/T Get In Bed Together
8910 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
Tue 12/01/2009, 07:30p-11:30p

Royal/T Exterior
August 22nd marked the last day of the second iteration of Ludovic Lefebvre's widely-lauded "guerilla style pop-up" restaurant LudoBites. For the uninitiated, the concept aimed to create a "bistronomy" of sorts, by marrying the seemingly antithetical objectives of haute cuisine, intimacy, and democratic pricing. LudoBites at Breadbar ran from May 19th, and despite its short lifespan, proved to be a smashing success, a turning point in LA's culinary landscape, even.

Before the doors even shut at Breadbar, patrons were already speculating as to where Ludo would end up next--would he find a permanent home, or would he continue to "pop-up" at various establishments in the Southland? Though rumors and tweets were plentiful in those final weeks of August, it was eventually announced that LudoBites, the third, would run from for 13 days in December. The location would not be Breadbar, however, but cosplay café-cum-retail shop-cum-art gallery Royal/T in Culver City. LudoBites and Royal/T Get In Bed Together (a rather unwieldy nom, I must say) thus represents an intersection of food and art, with LudoBites running in conjunction with Curator Jane Glassman's exhibit "In Bed Together."

LudoBites at Royal/T began taking reservations on November 3rd, via email only. I, of course, jumped on this with ferocious velocity (the event sold out within days), and was able to secure a reservation for six on December 2nd, opening night...or is it? It turns out that upstart food enthusiast community web site FoodDigger played a pivotal role in getting the word out for the last LudoBites, and because of this prior relationship, was able to convince Ludo and company to open one night earlier, to serve a small party of 16 guests in a FoodDigger-sponsored dinner.

Though I'd attended previous FoodDigger TastEvents before, this was arguably the most exciting one ever--you only had to consider the fact that our very own Jonathan Gold was invited (Gold, however, had to decline unfortunately, as he was going to be in Guadalajara eating tamales, or something like that). Though we didn't get Gold, we did get a dozen of Los Angeles' most well-regarded food writers: Caroline of Caroline on Crack, Cathy of Gastronomy, Danny of Kung Food Panda, Elina Shatkin from the LA Times, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs, HC of LA and OC Foodventures, Javier of Teenage Glutster, Josh of Food GPS, Lindsay William-Ross from LAist, Liz of Food She Thought, and Sonja of The Active Foodie. Rounding out the group were Brian, Marshal, and Will from FoodDigger, as well as Rachel Hirschfeld, a member of Les Dames d'Escoffier (a society for women in the restaurant and hospitality industries) and founder of Petriarch.com.

Royal/T Interior, Front Space
Royal/T Interior, Bar
Royal/T Interior, Cafe
Royal/T Interior, Back Space
This was my first time at Royal/T, which was opened by philanthropist-slash-art collector Susan Hancock in April 2008. The space is housed in long, thin, 10,000sqft building, broken up into various exhibition areas, a VIP lounge, retail store, and restaurant.

In Bed Together
The art at Royal/T rotates regularly, with this latest exhibition being ARTeamLA founder Jane Glassman's "In Bed Together." The collection debuted on November 20th, and represents Glassman's vision for a collaborative art exhibit, featuring 50 works by 50 artists selected by 50 art professionals. The idea, thus, is to draw attention to how each specific role, each person in the art world is somehow dependent and interconnected with one another. Examples of the art are shown in the collage above.

Cosplay Daria Cosplay Maids Cosplay Maids with Krissy and Brian
Royal/T is, of course, known for its cosplay servers, and here we see LudoBites veteran Daria decked out in a maid's outfit!

Javier Checks Out Sonja Joshua, Danny Marshal, Linsday, Rachel
Caroline, Marshal, Linsday Cathy, HC, Sonja Cathy, HC, Sonja
Javier, Joshua Cosplay Maids Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Millésimé Merfy
While waiting for dinner to begin, the group was left to mill around, polishing off a bottle of the 2006 Santomas Big Red and a magnum of Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Millésimé Merfy in the process.

Marshal Cathy Marshal
Once we sat down, Marshal spoke briefly about FoodDigger and the concept behind it. He highlighted the site's Flavor Match algorithm, a unique feature that aims to match the food preferences of users, in order to create more meaningful restaurant review results.

LudoBites and Royal/T Get In Bed Together Menu
Above, we see the night's menu, comprised of a whimsical selection of small plates; click for a larger version. As for the libations, Domaine LA has created a small, focused wine list of about a dozen bottles for the restaurant, priced very reasonably at roughly $15 above retail. I will note that, although the previous versions of LudoBites were known for their lax BYOB policy, Royal/T does have a liquor license, and thus corkage will be enforced at $15 per bottle. On this night however, wine pairings were graciously provided by the FoodDigger staff.

Krissy's Soft Box Krissy's Soft Box
Here, we see Krissy showing off her brand new soft box. At my last LudoBites meal, I struggled with the lighting at Breadbar, and facetiously suggested that she consider setting up a soft box in the restaurant's next incarnation. Little did I suspect that Krissy would actually take the suggestion to heart!

Ludo Speaks
Before the meal began, Krissy poured us glasses of Bernard Remy Champagne Grand Cru. Then, Ludo came out to say a few words and joined us in a toast. He was duly impressed by the bubbly, as seen in the last photo!

Ludo and Scallops Danny, Sonja, Caroline Ludo and Scallops
Fiona, Cathy, HC Caroline Caroline, Fiona, Danny, Cathy
Ludo and Scallops Brian, Marshal, Sonja, Will, Danny Ludo and Scallops
We were invited out to watch the preparation of the first course...

Scallop, Brown Butter, Pineapple & Black Powder
1: Scallop, Brown Butter, Pineapple & Black Powder
2008 Telmo Rodríguez Rueda Basa Blanco
Ludo explained that the scallops were initially raw, but were then topped in the beurre noisette to be "cooked." I was afraid that this would impart an overly heavy flavor to the bivalves, but fortunately, that wasn't the case. Rather, the scallops remained delicate in flavor, and their sweetness was deftly accentuated by the use of pineapple, which also contributed a great tanginess to the dish. The so-called "black powder" (really squid ink powder), meanwhile, added an interesting finish to the mollusks.

Bread Soup with Gruyere Marshmallow Krissy with Bread
2: Bread Soup with Gruyere Marshmallow
2008 Telmo Rodríguez Rueda Basa Blanco
Upon reading the description of this dish, I was expecting a soup with some chunks of bread within. Rather, what I got instead was a homogenous potage imbued with the very marrow of bread (the actual loaf, from Breadbar, is shown in the second photo). Javier summed it up nicely by stating that it was like "sipping on pure toast." As you'd imagine, the soup was a bit austere on its own, so the key for me was the poached egg, which added a lovely creaminess to the dish. The Gruyère, meanwhile, was surprisingly mild, and provided a nice cool temperature contrast.

Foie Gras Beignet, Celery Roots Remoulade
3: Foie Gras Beignet, Celery Roots Remoulade
2003 Château Charmail
The beignets themselves were pure decadence: a sweet attack leading to the pure, sensuous essence of a full two ounces of rich, decadent liver. The inspiration for this dish came from Parisian restaurant Citrus Étoile, which Ludo visited in September. The Chef tweeted twice about the brilliance of the beignets, and here at LudoBites he presents his own interpretation of the dish. Along with the red Port glaze, he pairs the pastries with his céleri rémoulade, or sliced celeriac with a tangy remoulade. Its piquant, vegetal, even curry-tinged flavor was a superb counter to the luxuriousness of the foie (I wanted more of it!). I remarked that a smaller size would make the beignet easier to eat, but according to Ludo, if you go too small, you risk overcooking the foie.

Squid, Chorizo Oil, Kimchi Puree & Red Onions
4: Squid, Chorizo Oil, Kimchi Puree & Red Onions
2003 Château Charmail
The squid itself was deftly cooked, imbued with the pure, briny soul of the cephalopod. It was definitely kicked up a notch by the savory chorizo and the fantastic, pungent kimchi in particular. The onions, meanwhile, adding a bracing bitter tang, while the eggplant paper contributed an earthy smokiness. This was a great way to pique the palate after the sheer opulence of the preceding foie gras.

Krissy Krissy Krissy
Throughout the night, Krissy helped ensure that service went off without a hitch.

Veal, Udon, Kombu Dashi, Mushrooms & Sesame Seed Miso
5: Veal, Udon, Kombu Dashi, Mushrooms & Sesame Seed Miso
2006 Domaine Jo Pithon Savennières La Croix Picot
2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois
Regular readers will know that I'm generally not a fan of veal, finding it a bit boring compared to beef. Thus, the meat's accoutrements are absolutely crucial in making or breaking a dish for me--this definitely made it. The veal was marinated in a commixture of French spices, giving it a rather prodigious taste for veal. Ludo then proceeds in a Japanese-inspired direction. I loved the mildness of the udon (as well as its texture) and how the noodles matched the richness of the meat, which was heightened by the umami-heavy broth. The scallions then offset the weightiness of the dish with a beautiful vegetal tang, completing the course. The sesame miso provided a lovely piquant smack, but wasn't necessary in my opinion. This is something I could just eat a big bowl of!

Wild Striped Bass, Garden Vegetables, Aioli
6: Wild Striped Bass, Garden Vegetables, Aioli
2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Noir Cuvée de Trois
The bass was cooked to a firm, yet supple texture. Alone, it was pleasantly tangy, yet a bit monolithic, so I really enjoyed how the various vegetables (the cauliflower especially) balanced out the gravitas of the fish. Interestingly, upon seeing this, I thought that Ludo might've been inspired by the classic Provençal dish Le Grand Aïoli, which consists of fish, veggies, and eggs, paired with aioli--it wasn't.

Marinated Hanger Steak, Crunchy Escargot, Baby Corn, Bok Choy & Black Olive Mole
7: Marinated Hanger Steak, Crunchy Escargot, Baby Corn, Bok Choy & Black Olive Mole
2005 Domaine Tissot Poulsard Arbois Sans Soufre
An oft overlooked cut of beef, the hanger steak, or onglet, is known for its beefy savor, which was apparent here in spades--sweet and smoky, I could've easily devoured it alone. The steak's accompaniments, however, mustn't be overlooked. I first paired the beef with the bok choy, and then the baby corn (in its husk, which I've never seen before), and greatly enjoyed the mitigating effect of both vegetables. The crux of this course, though, was the mole, which was Ludo's take on the mole Zacatecano that he learned to make from Javier's mother. Simultaneously sweet, savory, and spicy, it was complex, fascinating, mysterious even, and went absolutely beautifully with the beef. My favorite course of the night.

Fourme d’ Ambert Tourte, Red Pears, Honey-Balsamic
8: Fourme d’ Ambert Tourte, Red Pears, Honey-Balsamic
2005 Domaine Tissot Poulsard Arbois Sans Soufre
A positively ancient cheese, Fourme d’ Ambert is a semi-hard French cow's milk blue from Auvergne. I've had it a few times before (at XIV and Guy Savoy, notably), but here at LudoBites, it was baked into a tourte, or tart, form. The tart was marvelous, and demonstrated the cheese's saltiness, as well as its characteristic bleu finish. As good as it was, it was made even better by the pear, which provided a stupendous, sugary contrast. Very, very good.

Chocolate Cake, Coconut Sorbet, Caramel Coffee
9: Chocolate Cake, Coconut Sorbet, Caramel Coffee
2005 Domaine Tissot Poulsard Arbois Sans Soufre
2007 Dönnhoff Riesling
We ended with a single, seemingly straightforward dessert. The chocolate cake, not surprisingly, was pure decadence. The liquid sorbet, thus, was instrumental in tempering its gravity--so far, a pretty standard pairing. The beauty here, however, was contained within the bits of pink peppercorn, which conveyed a profound pungency that I absolutely adored.

After dinner, Ludo came out to say a few words and thank us, and we applauded him for a job well done.

Royal/T Kitchen
Ludo Ludo with Caroline and Danny Ludo
We were then provided a tour of the kitchen, which is actually smaller than the one at Breadbar. It also doesn't help that LudoBites has to share the kitchen with Royal/T's own in-house cafe.

Though LudoBites and Royal/T Get In Bed Together is advertised as a confluence of food AND art, based on what's on the plate, I must begin to think of the experience as food AS art. As with his previous restaurants, Ludo again serves up a playful selection of seemingly incongruous dishes, not always entirely successful, but invariably interesting. In his reimaginations of French fare, we get to see Ludo's commitment to creativity, his ode to the rigors of classical technique, his interpretation of the quintessence of bistronome, the heart and soul of a chef. The question, now, is whether or not Ludo is actively seeking a traditional brick & mortar space to call his home. He likes the freedom, the simplicity, the low-cost structure, the personal relationships that are inherent in a "pop-up" context. Given what's he accomplished so far, there's no rush, in my view, and I've even heard chatter of an upcoming LudoBites, Version 4.0, to open early next year...

Thanks again to FoodDigger, Ludo, Krissy, and the entire LudoBites team for an incredible evening!


Anonymous Krystle said...

i cannot wait to go on friday! great photos as uaual. what was the price ranges for everything?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 7:15:00 AM  
Anonymous Gastronomer said...

You speedy little devil ;-) Thanks for staying up late and taking one for the team!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 8:50:00 AM  
Blogger FoodDigger said...

Great seeing you and everyone last night. Sorry I had to leave early, but Ludo gave me a piece of the tart on my way out, so I only missed dessert! Thanks for getting this out so quickly. A great guide to all who will be going in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 8:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Nice preview, Kevin. I can't wait to taste what Ludo has in store. Three weeks seems like a long wait for me, but it will be worth it.

Love Krissy's new table top soft box. That's great lighting for those dishes.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 9:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Krissy said...

Thanks Kevin. Your thoughtfulness and diligence are greatly appreciated. Although the light box was for fun, I think it turned out to be a great investment and made the photos even better. What do you think they would say if you walk into Twist with one under your arm?? Enjoy and can't wait to hear.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 9:15:00 AM  
Blogger The Active Foodie said...

Wow Kevin! I give you 5 stars for your review! So eloquently written and your pictures are so beautiful! You captured the evening perfectly!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 9:20:00 AM  
Blogger MyLastBite said...

Nice photos Kevin... but I think your food photos W/O the light box are so much better.

It always amazes me how you capture the "real" light and FEEL of each dish (sometimes the same exact dish I've eaten) without "faking" the light, like I usually do!

: )

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 9:28:00 AM  
Blogger glutster said...

Ok...did you go legal (Aderal?!) or illegal..huh, huh, huh?

ha, ha.

Nawh but seriously, it's pretty awesome, you're really coming along now with the photography.

panoramic shots?! Nice!

And as always, descriptions of food rock, thanks for the shout!

happy eating.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 9:44:00 AM  
Blogger Chicken said...

Sooo jealous after seeing these pics! Ah well, I'll be there tonight!

-- Hanhonymous (HungryHungryHanh)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger MyLastBite said...

Forgot to say how HOT Daria looks in the RoyalT uniform!!! : )

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Hall-e said...

Wow Kevin! That was fast. Great pics as usual. I'm excited for tonight!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 10:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Food GPS said...


Great job of capturing the scene, explaining the evolution of the LudoBites concept and of course taking some truly impressive photos, as always.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 10:42:00 AM  
Blogger yutjangsah said...

Amazing photos Kevin. That udon looks good! I can't wait.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Food, she thought. said...

So fun to relive that wonderfully memorable experience again this morning. Brilliant!!!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous arnold | inuyaki said...

Thanks for the preview and great pics. However, it just makes my reservation on 12/22 seem so far away!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger weezermonkey said...

Epic. Can't wait to go.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 1:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, great web site. Do you (or does anyone) know whether the menu will be fixed each night or if it will be a la carte? In other words, can a vegetarian-friendly selection be arranged?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 2:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn, you're quick!

Great review, great pics. Can't wait to try it all myself on Thursday.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 2:26:00 PM  
Blogger gourmetpigs said...

Hardcore, Kevin. Not only did you finish posting a comprehensive review in the morning, you managed to post tons of photos!
It was great seeing you and sharing this awesome meal, even though we didn't get to talk much.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 2:45:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Krystle: Though the menu's not finalized yet, expect most items to be in the $10 to $20 range. ;)

Cathy: I'm not sure that I would consider it "taking one for the team" exactly!

FoodDigger: Thanks again for making this happen! Do make sure to try the chocolate cake tonight, and let's not forget about picking up a copy of Crave for M. Gagnaire.

Phil: Thanks Phil. When you go, see if you can get a brief interview with Ludo to put on your site!

Krissy: I think that they'd ask me to leave, that is, unless Ludo ok'd it with Pierre first. ;) Thanks again for making the event a success!

Sonja: Great seeing you again Sonja, and thanks for the stars!

Jo: You're right that the softbox represents a more "studio" character, rather than conveying the "real" ambiance. In hindsight, I should've photographed using both methods, and compared the results. And yes, Daria does look good. ;)

Javier: Nothing but Pepsi Max, man. ;) That mole was one of the highlights of the night; you should take your mom here to try it!

Hanh: Are you going with Christine's party? And are you ever going to start blogging yourself?!?

Holly: Nice, who are you going with? If you have a chance, you might want to mention to Ludo that you'll be going to Twist this weekend as well.

Josh: I appreciate the kind words. I'll look out for your review (soon hopefully?).

Sook: The udon was damn good. When are you going?

Liz: You called my timing perfectly lol. I thought you were going to read it over lunch though.

Arnold: You're up in NorCal right? Where else are you going down here?

Weezer: Epic indeed. When do you plan on making it out?

Anon: The original idea was to have a changing a la carte menu. However, given the limited nature of the kitchen at Royal/T, Ludo has been considering doing a fixed menu. If you have vegetarian limitations, I would definitely talk to the restaurant beforehand; due to the environment, they're somewhat constrained in what they can do.

Linden: My speed is one of my hallmarks. ;)

Fiona: I think that handling all the event/venue photos took longer than writing about the actual food!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 3:56:00 PM  
Anonymous arnold | inuyaki said...

Kevin, I'm coming home for Christmas, and Ludo Bites is basically our first stop. Considering going back to Jitlada and Animal. Might take parents to Campanile or Lucques for their anniversary. Still want to check out The Bazaar. I'd love any other suggestions though. :)

Wednesday, December 02, 2009 4:59:00 PM  
Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

Seriously, great post Kevin. I don't know how you stayed up all night to post this. I give you props!

Lots of great pics of the art exhibit and the food. I can't wait to go back before the Royal/T run is over. Are you down for a redux?

Thursday, December 03, 2009 1:58:00 AM  
Blogger yenasung said...

Haha so this is what the next Royal/T project is...only a few weeks ago it was a huge Hello Kitty art show! But this brings up a good question: On what level does Ludo want to place himself in the professional chef world?

It's like the difference between comic book artists and fine artists like Picasso; which one does Ludo want to be? Ludo certainly cooks like Picasso paints, but I doubt Picasso would ever have agreed to work in a shared/limited space the way Ludo does. Or perhaps I am being too snobby? Or perhaps there isn't such a huge distinction between caliber of chefs as fine cuisine transcends all bounds?

Thursday, December 03, 2009 5:05:00 AM  
Blogger Brian Resnick said...

Nice post! I'm going there on Dec. 14th. I'm very excited. Thanks Kevin.

Friday, December 04, 2009 2:41:00 PM  
Blogger joanh said...

awesome post! i wish was in LA to check this out after having missed the first round. maybe ludobites will turn up somewhere else in january!

Friday, December 04, 2009 4:58:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Arnold: Some nice choices there! Looks like you have all your bases covered. May I suggest some sushi, Sushi Zo perhaps?

Danny: Yeah I was up until 6:00AM writing this--what kept me going was the desire to be first, as usual. I'll be seeing you the last day I assume?

Yena: I thought Michael Voltaggio was the one who cooks like Picasso. ;) But seriously, as an artist, I think that you're particularly sensitive to the issue. I personally find it refreshing to make the food more "accessible," so to speak. Ludo himself actually paints (he had a piece on display), so that may be one of the reasons he chose Royal/T. In addition, there probably aren't many venues in LA that would allow a pop-up restaurant, so Ludo's choices may have been limited.

Brian: Thanks! I'd be curious as to what you'll think about the food.

Joan: It just might, it just might... ;)

Saturday, December 05, 2009 3:32:00 AM  
Blogger thngotiatr said...

Another fine post Kevin, looking forward to my meal on the 18th

Sunday, December 06, 2009 2:16:00 AM  
Blogger me said...

2 words: kimchi puree!?! loved the pics, kevin!

Sunday, December 06, 2009 7:03:00 PM  
Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

Definitely, even though neither of us expected to go back for a second go around, we were lucky to get a table on the last day, huh? See you tonight at Newport!

Monday, December 07, 2009 3:17:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Vinh: Running the whole menu I assume? ;)

me: Yes, kimchi puree; 'twas all sorts of awesome.

Danny: Yeah I'm looking forward to seeing how the menu progresses. Newport should be good; it'll probably my most expensive Chinese meal ever lol.

Monday, December 07, 2009 3:13:00 PM  

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