Saturday, April 24, 2010

LudoBites at Gram & Papas (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites at Gram & Papas
227 E 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Fri 04/24/2010, 08:45p-12:00a

LudoBites at Gram & Papas Exterior
Spring is finally here, and you know what that means right? Another rousing round of LudoBites is upon us. After two iterations at Breadbar and another at Royal/T, Ludo's popular, populist pop-up has made its way to Downtown lunchery Gram and Papas.

Yes, LudoBites 4.0 began on April 8th. And yes, it's about time that I wrote about it. Shouldn't I have been here opening night? Or better yet, at FoodDigger's pre-opening night TastEvent? Oui, and oui. I was invited to the FD event, but had to decline as I was up in Napa that evening, having dinner at Meadowood (so don't feel too bad for me!). Then, I was supposed to go the following Wednesday, but guess what? That's right, more travel, this time to the East Coast. And so here we are--I finally made it out to LB a full two weeks after its debut. By this point, pretty much every one of Ludo's creations has been scrutinized to death already, so bear with me. At least I've secured my ressie for the last night, right?

LudoBites at Gram & Papas Interior
Ludo paraphernalia (including the Chef's own artwork) dots the walls of Gram and Papas, a lowly sandwich shop by day, but a buzzing hub of gastronomic activity when the Sun goes down. A note to the "food paparazzi:" try to sit at the seats across from the kitchen; the overhead lights make things much easier on you. Over where we were seated, exposures where in the 1/10s, f2.0 range at ISO1600; uneven candlelight didn't help things, either.

LudoBites at Gram & Papas Menu
Ludo's menu, as we all know, is in constant flux, so by the time you read this, I'm sure that it'll be somewhat different. Interestingly, we asked Krissy what her favorite dishes were, and she responded with the Foie Gras Pina Colada, Ham Soup, and Squid Carbonara--I didn't have the foie, but she's spot on with the last two. Click for a larger version.

NV Duval-Leroy Champagne Design Paris
Unlike LudoBites 3.0, which sported a short wine list courtesy of DomaineLA, LB@GP is a strictly BYOB affair (there is, however, a "virtual wine list"). We failed to realize this, and thus were left scrambling at the last moment, on the lookout for booze. Fortunately, Jason's Wine & Spirits was just down the street, so we ended up picking up a LeRoy Neiman-designed, silk-screened bottle of the apple-tinged Duval-Leroy Champagne "Design Paris" (I do love the bubbles).

Burgundy Escargots, Garlic Flan, Green Jus, Violet Flowers
Burgundy Escargots, Garlic Flan, Green Jus, Violet Flowers [$13.00]
Escargot to start...what could be more French? Eating the dish at first, I could taste the buttery, garlicky flavors of a classic escargots bourguignonne preparation. However, the Chef gives us a little twist by way of the parsley imbued "green jus," which adds a hint of levity into the mix. Very good, with a fantastic, supple yet "crunchy" texture on the snails as well. Easily some of the best escargot I've had in recent memory.

White Asparagus Velouté, Mozzarella Mousse, Fennel, Candied Olive, Salmon Roe
White Asparagus Velouté, Mozzarella Mousse, Fennel, Candied Olive, Salmon Roe [$14.00]
Here, the initial, green attack of asparagus savor led to the saccharine sweetness of the candied olive, augmented with a prick of brine courtesy of the ikura. Meanwhile, I loved the crisp, juicy crunch of the fennel and its interaction with the creamy velouté. However, since there was a lot going on, I did feel that asparagus could've had a stronger presence.

Scallop, Almond Puree, Pickled Grapes, Capers, Curry Oil & Cauliflower Ice Cream
Scallop, Almond Puree, Pickled Grapes, Capers, Curry Oil & Cauliflower Ice Cream [$14.00]
Taken alone, the scallops were rare, dense, and luscious, though quite mild in flavor. Thus, I did appreciate the almost jarring tartness imparted by the grapes, as well as the sugariness of the almond paste, which mirrored the bivalves' natural sweetness. On the other hand, I was ambivalent about the cauliflower, and I did feel that the capers were a touch domineering.

Marinated King Salmon, German ButterBall Potato, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Crème Fraiche
Marinated King Salmon, German ButterBall Potato, Red Wine Vinaigrette, Crème Fraiche [$15.00]
With this course, Ludo presents his interpretation of the classic salmon-crème fraiche pairing. Indeed, the cream did provide a nice bit of tanginess to offset the somewhat overbearing weight of the salmon, but the vinaigrette was much more effective in that regard. The key, thus, was the potato, which had a fantastic starchiness to it that formed an excellent counter to the monolithicity of the fish.

Snapper Ceviche, Heirloom Tomato, Jalapenos, Red Onions, Meyer Lemon Paste, Olive Oil
Snapper Ceviche, Heirloom Tomato, Jalapenos, Red Onions, Meyer Lemon Paste, Olive Oil [$14.00]
There's always room for a good ceviche, and this certainly was no exception. We have to start with the snapper, which was uncompromisingly fresh and, well, snappy. The onions and bell peppers, meanwhile, provided a superb vegetal counterpoint, and the use of olive oil lent tones of gravity and contemplation to the dish. The best part, however, was the application of jalapeños--mild at first, they intensified with mastication, leading to a great bit of lingering heat on the finish. One of my favorites of the night.

Ham Soup, Bread, Swiss Cheese, Radish, Cornichon, Guiness
Ham Soup, Bread, Swiss Cheese, Radish, Cornichon, Guiness [$12.00]
Interestingly, this ham soup had little in terms of identifiable ham. Rather, the potage was positively imbued with a light, "hammy" essence that effectively conveyed the meat's character. It went wonderfully with the bread and cheese, and in fact, I wanted more bread to sop up the leftovers--we even described the dish as a "liquid sandwich!"

Squid "Carbonara", Pancetta, Poached Egg (63 degrees), Parmesan Snow, Chive Flowers [$18.00]
Squid, pancetta, poached egg? There was almost no way that this could turn out poorly, and indeed it didn't. It was, in fact, my dining companion's favorite dish of the meal. I loved the supple texture of the squid "pasta," augmented by the bits of salty, fatty pork belly and creamy egg. Classic flavors, but with Ludo's flair.

Steak 'Au Poivre', Shallots, Polenta Bone Marrow, Roasted Eggplant Puree
Steak "Au Poivre", Shallots, Polenta Bone Marrow, Roasted Eggplant Puree [$25.00]
And here we have Ludo's take on the classic steak au poivre, with plenty of poivre. The steak, expertly cooked and quite delicious on its own, was quite peppery indeed, and went gorgeously with the unabashedly tangy shallots. I didn't care too much for the eggplant, however, finding it overly smoky. Obviously then, there were some strong flavors at play, so the polenta--some of the best I've had--was crucial in its temperance.

Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Smoked Eel, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint Potato Mousseline
Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Smoked Eel, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint [$26.00]
Out last savory course of the evening was this beautiful lamb chop, which proved to be immensely flavorful, with an almost beef-like quality to it. I enjoyed its inherent succulence and profound saltiness, accented by just a hint of mint. The eel, at the same time, gave the dish a trace of smoke, which played well with the creamy tang of the goat cheese. Nice!

Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Vanilla - Whisky Ice Cream, Hot Chocolate Cream Vanilla - Whisky Ice Cream, Hot Chocolate Cream
Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Vanilla - Whisky Ice Cream, Hot Chocolate Cream [$13.00]
Our first dessert was actually a surprisingly straightforward soufflé, a classic mélange of chocolate and ice cream, at least at first. The whisky added a slight hint of woodiness into the fray, but what got me was the finish, which had just the right amount of black pepper(!) creeping up on you.

Macarons, Organic Strawberry & Chantilly
Macarons, Organic Strawberry & Chantilly [$12.00]
And finally, we close. The strawberries (from Harry's Berries?) were incomparably bold, vibrant, and sugary sweet. The chantilly, thus, formed a crucial moderating element and, along with the macaron, made this dessert reminiscent of a strawberry pie! Delish.

Chrstine, Krissy Daria
As usual, food cognoscenti were abound: AK of The Salty Lawyer, Christine of Folie à Choisauce, Julian of Jewelz, What Are We Doing Today?, Ryan of Epicuryan, and Zach of Midtown Lunch. And that's just in the dining room. Working in the kitchen were Austin of Living to Eat, Holly of The Michelin Project, as well as the one and only Sydney Hunter III, Fraiche's recently departed Chef de Cuisine (who'd worked with Ludo before at Bastide). And let's not forget about everybody's favorite server, Daria!

LudoBites just feels different this time around--the food seems more grounded, more self-assured, more confident. We said as much to the Chef during our post-meal chat with Ludo, and he agreed. He finally has a real Sous Chef in the form of Sydney Hunter, and no more of the drama that plagued version 3.0. I'm looking forward to returning on the 28th!


Blogger Kung Food Panda said...

Excellent Post! Looks like you and Ryan cleaned up on the menu. Good job!

Saturday, May 01, 2010 2:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Al said...

Thank you for this review. This incarnation of Ludobites was my first, and I expected to be titillated rather than satisfied. I'm pleased to say that Ludo can please the tummy while teasing the mind!

Saturday, May 01, 2010 6:26:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

did he yell at all the foodbloggers for taking pictures again?

Saturday, May 01, 2010 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

dude, this place looks good. Man, I gotta come here before it closes! Good post man!

Saturday, May 01, 2010 8:52:00 PM  
Blogger thngotiatr said...

Surprised you didn't do the whole menu... or are you saving the rest of the menu for the last day?

Sunday, May 02, 2010 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

i love how he changes his menu! i have another reservation in couple of weeks.. i can't wait to go again!!

another food blogger dinner here would be awesome...

Monday, May 03, 2010 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger ila said...

whos that dude with the INTENSE moustache in the first photo?

anywho, awesome post as usual. so detailed!

Monday, May 03, 2010 10:49:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Danny: I didn't clean up as much as I would've liked--still dirty. ;P

Al: Good to hear! Any particular dishes stand out?

Charlie: Hardly. I think that's only an issue when a gaggle of us get out of control with the photos. ;)

James: If only you still lived in Downtown! Any luck with the res? Has Cathy been?

Vinh: I wanted to, but my dining companion demurred. ;)

Helen: See if you can come the last day--it'll be a blogger party lol.

Ila: I was invariably captivated by him as well. Sort of looks like a younger, mustached Brad Pitt!

Monday, May 03, 2010 11:45:00 PM  
Blogger daniel s. kim said...

awesome!!! going this sat. very much looking forward to it.

btw, i think i may have found a part-time/freelance job for you


Wednesday, May 05, 2010 9:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Gabriel said...

Hi, my name is Gabriel. I went to Ludo Bites last Friday with a friend of mine and fellow food blogger, Andrea (foodietraveler; I believe you know her). I was surprised to read your positive experience with Ludo Bites. I like to keep it real and, unfortunately, our food was rather mediocre. The only stand-outs were the squid "carbonara" and the lamb. To my surprise, our steak "au poivre" was chewy. I couldn't believe it! We were comped another lamb dish, but I'm surprised something like came out of the kitchen. The macaron dessert was simply a joke. For $12 he quartered a macaron, threw some sliced strawberries in and topped it off with "whipped cream." I could make that at home LOL. Just wanted to give a fair comment here and let others be aware that not all of his dishes are great.

Friday, May 07, 2010 9:36:00 AM  
Blogger Foodie Traveler said...

Hi Kevin,

Just backing up Gabe - I was very disappointed with most of what we had. My favorite item was the lamb chop - but that is all it was, a well-executed ~$25 single lamb chop. With mashed potatoes and goat cheese. Something I could have gotten at any number of fine establishments around town.

And to put things in perspective, I simply LOVED RoyalT and breadbar before that. This time around, there wasn't nearly the creativity or the perfection in execution that we saw last time. It simply was not as inspired. And the prices were ridiculously high as a reflection of quality, quantity, and venue.

Did you think it was as good as RoyalT?

Friday, May 07, 2010 9:47:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Daniel: Do let us know how your visit turns out. And regarding that job, kevinEats works for no one!

Gabriel: Indeed, not all the dishes are great, though personally I would've picked the salmon and scallop as the weaker ones, as I enjoyed the steak.

Andrea: Interestingly, my initial feeling was that this iteration was actually more polished than Royal/T. I'll be going back in the coming weeks, so I'll have to reserve final judgment 'till then.

Saturday, May 08, 2010 5:24:00 PM  
Blogger stuffycheaks said...

OMG i am salivating over the squid carbonara. Hope it's still on the menu when I'm there next week. Can't wait!

Monday, May 10, 2010 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger daniel s. kim said...

so i went this past sat and man, i came away one regret - not being able to go back!

we ordered pretty much everything on the menu, and i enjoyed most of them, especially the lamb, brie chanitlly, and the chocolate souffle - bomb diggitty! it was literally heaven in my mouth.

wasn't too keen on baguette with honey lavender butter and smoked lard. least the butter that is. the lavender scent of the butter was a bit overpowering and smelled very strongly like a girl's hand lotion.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 4:05:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

SC: My guess is that it'll be on the menu for a while, given its popularity.

Daniel: Thanks for the report back. I'll be returning the last day, and am looking forward to it. I just hope that the menu changes a bit more.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 7:24:00 PM  
Anonymous AK said...

Just re-read this and remembered how gorgeous it is, and how I never commented (What a bastard!) So, just to clarify, this is me commenting on what a beautiful post this is. Just loooovely, dahhhling.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 10:07:00 AM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

AK, it's too bad that we didn't actually get to meet. Oh well, I'm sure we'll run into each other soon enough. It's a small blogger world... ;)

Friday, June 25, 2010 3:52:00 PM  

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