Wednesday, July 21, 2010

LudoBites 5.0 at Gram & Papas (Los Angeles, CA)

LudoBites 5.0 at Gram & Papas
227 E 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Wed 07/21/2010, 08:45p-11:35p

LudoBites 5.0 at Gram & Papas Exterior
Summer is finally here, and you know what that means right? Another season of LudoBites is upon us. Following two iterations at Breadbar, a round at Royal/T, and yet another installment at Gram & Papas, LudoBites 5.0 returns to the now-famous Downtown lunch spot for another rousing rendition. This series runs from July 21 to September 3, and has proven to be the most popular so far. The story of LudoBites' online reservation system crashing after being overloaded with requests is legendary at this point, and with the first two weeks of dinner service selling out in mere minutes, I feel fortunate to have secured a coveted spot.

LudoBites 5.0 at Gram & Papas Interior
Other foodie types in attendance included Darin of Darin Dines, Holly of The Michelin Project (who actually cooked at the last LudoBites), Kat of Kat's 9 Lives, Ken Hwang from Rivera, Ryan of Epicuryan, Sook of Yutjangsah, and yes, even the elusive Jonathan Gold (my first J.Gold sighting in the wild).

LudoBites 5.0 Menu
The opening night menu. We, of course, tried to run the gamut, ordering everything on the menu, but were foiled when the kitchen ran out of foie gras. Click for a larger version.

2007 Huët Vouvray Le Mont
Since Gram & Papas lacks a liquor license, LudoBites here is strictly a BYOB affair. We ended up toting along two bottles, the first of which was the 2007 Huët Vouvray Le Mont, from France's Loire Valley. This was a light, bright wine, with a backbone of minerality balanced by a lovely fruitiness that seemed to intensify as the wine got progressively cooler.

Vadouvan Naan Bread, Salted Coconut Butter
Vadouvan Naan Bread, Salted Coconut Butter [$4.00]
This was definitely not like your typical naan. It was considerably thicker, with a pleasant fluffiness and a relish that simply "tastes like India." The flatbread was quite nice on its own, but the paired coconut butter was a superb foil, providing notes of sugar and fat that deftly countered the naan's spice. I would've preferred a crisper, flakier texture, but that's probably not feasible here, given the lack of a tandoor oven.

Cheese Cupcake, Chicken Liver & Ham Mousse, Kumquats, Cornichon
Cheese Cupcake, Chicken Liver & Ham Mousse, Kumquats, Cornichon [$12.00]
Ludo once did a foie gras cupcake, so it was only natural that he'd also do one utilizing chicken liver. The cupcake was actually quite cheesy at first. It was only after a second or so that the liver hit me with its unmistakable sapor, one that only seemed to grow with mastication! Balancing this whole amalgam were the zesty overtones of cornichon and kumquat.

Raw Wagyu Beef, Dried Miso, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Candied Watermelon, Mint
Raw Wagyu Beef, Dried Miso, Somen Noodle, Peanut Vinaigrette, Candied Watermelon, Mint [$16.00]
This is one of Krissy's favorite dishes, and was one of mine as well. I loved the gentle savoriness of the raw wagyu, accented by peanut, and its interplay with the relative levity of the somen noodle and the overarching zing of mint. The compressed watermelon, meanwhile, provided the dish with a perfect, subtly sweet finish. Interestingly, this was somewhat reminiscent of Chinese zha jiang mian!

Grilled Squid, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Black Rice, Yuzu Red Onions, Umami Broth & Seaweed Tartar
Grilled Squid, Heirloom Tomato Salad, Black Rice, Yuzu Red Onions, Umami Broth & Seaweed Tartar [$14.00]
Here we have another favorite of Krissy and me. The squid was cooked to a tender yet snappy perfection, with a delicate sweet brine that linked up aptly with the tomato. At the same time, I adored the use of black rice as a moderating base to the dish, as well as the tangy finish courtesy of the yuzu onions. A beautifully complex, yet cohesive course.

Goat Cheese Soup, Bacon, Lardo, Tofu, Green Apple Frisée Salad Goat Cheese Soup, Bacon, Lardo, Tofu, Green Apple Frisée Salad
Goat Cheese Soup, Bacon, Lardo, Tofu, Green Apple Frisée Salad [$14.00]
The goat cheese broth, tangy yet focused in savor, set the stage for the rest of the dish, the highlight of which was the reciprocal relationship between the saltiness of the bacon-lardo and the crisp sweetness of the apple, lightened by the application of frisée. Think of this as a sort of reinterpreted Lyonnaise salad.

Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Santa Barbara Prawn, Chorizo Condiment
Poached Egg, Potato Mousseline, Santa Barbara Prawn, Chorizo Condiment [$16.00]
Another star of the show was this rather innocuous looking dish. The potato mousseline was definitely the focus here, but the key was the poached egg, which was so well integrated into the potato's flavor profile, adding a richness and depth to the dish without drawing too much attention to itself. Kicking the course up another notch was the use of spot prawns; deftly cooked to a rare consistency, their snappy, softly sugary essence was a fantastic addition to the fray.

Grilled Octopus, Oregano, Grilled Hazelnut Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D'Espelette Gelée
Grilled Octopus, Oregano, Grilled Hazelnut Polenta, Pineapple Aioli, Piment D'Espelette Gelée [$16.00]
I was a bit surprised to see both squid and octopus on the menu, but I rather liked this as well. Taken alone, the octopus, soft and supple in texture, showed off a fantastic mix of sweet, brine, and char. It went gorgeously with the piquant piment d'espelette, and was expertly tempered by the polenta (one of the best I've had, in fact). My only issue was with the aioli, which was a bit overpowering at times.

2004 Podere Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione Alta Valle della Greve IGT
At this point, we moved on to our red wine, the 2004 Podere Poggio Scalette Il Carbonaione Alta Valle della Greve, a Sangiovese from Tuscany. This was another delicious vino. Almost Bordeaux-like in nature, it showed off beautiful hints of dark fruit, spice, and smoke, balanced by a bit of tannic character.

Cheese Plate
Cheese Plate [$22.00]
  • Goat Gouda with Pear Kimchi Chutney - Gouda is usually made with cow's milk, so I was surprised to see a goat version. In any case, this was a mild, clean, slightly nutty cheese, good alone but beautifully balanced by the sweet and salty kimchi. My favorite of the trio.
  • Gres Des Vosges (Cow) with Whole Grain Mustard, Honey Comb - Here we have a delicately salty, earthy cheese from the Alsace region of France. Very nice with the classic accoutrements of honey and mustard.
  • Bleu des Causses (Cow) with Apricots-Lavender - A cheese plate just wouldn't be complete without a bleu in the mix. Here we had a rather mild one, with a slightly grainy texture and salty nature that played rather well with its saccharine, floral accompaniment.
Day Boat Cod, Torched Uni, Ratatouille, Red Bell Pepper Pickles, Black Curry
Day Boat Cod, Torched Uni, Ratatouille, Red Bell Pepper Pickles, Black Curry [$28.00]
I first tried a bite of the cod alone, and found it characteristically briny in savor. The application of uni did a great job in countervailing the potency of the fish, but the crux here were the various vegetables presented. They gave the dish a tart, vegetal sweetness that worked absolutely flawlessly with the fish, really completing the dish for me. However, I did find the flavor of the black curry overly apparent; the course would've been just fine without it.

Steamed Duck, Lemon Verbena, Crispy Skin Puree, White Peach, Radish, Balsamic
Steamed Duck, Lemon Verbena, Crispy Skin Puree, White Peach, Radish, Balsamic [$26.00]
I don't think I've ever had steamed duck before, so this was a first for me. I found its taste very "duck-y" indeed--strong, savory, somewhat smoky flavors with a real depth. At the same time, the bird was deftly counterpoised by the crunchy tang of radish, and the skin purée was intriguing to say the last. I didn't quite understand the inclusion of the whole white peach, however.

Confit Pork Belly, Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Guinness Emulsion
Confit Pork Belly, Raw Choucroute Thai Style, Guinness Emulsion [$24.00]
Our last savory was another favorite of mine. The pork, cooked confit, was as you'd expect: rich, fatty, tender to the point of falling apart, and imbued with indelible porcine sapor. The pig's considerable heft was adroitly offset by the superb Thai-style sauerkraut, which lent a lovely South East Asian tinge to the entire dish.

Campfire Smoked S'mores, Guacamole Sorbet
Campfire Smoked S'mores, Guacamole Sorbet [$12.00]
Talking to various people at the restaurant, I found that the guacamole sorbet was often a point of contention. I personally didn't mind it, finding its contribution to the dessert rather appropriate. My issue was actually with the s'more itself, which had a distinct spiciness to it (courtesy of chipotle) that I found a bit disconcerting.

Caramel Soufflé, Blanco Grapefruit, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream
Caramel Soufflé, Blanco Grapefruit, Fleur De Sel Ice Cream [$14.00]
I preferred the soufflé, which demonstrated an unabashed sugariness and egginess that was skillfully accented by the savoriness of the ice cream. However, I did feel that the grapefruit was a bit too apparent, drawing undue attention to itself at the detriment of other ingredients.

I will say, without equivocation, that LudoBites 5.0 is the strongest iteration yet. The cuisine seemed particularly well conceived, as well as more confident, more articulate; for the most part, everything just worked, an especially impressive feat given that it was the pop-up's first night. I look forward to returning later on in the series to see how the cooking's progressed!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The story of the reservation system crasing is legendary? I don't think we have the same definition of that word.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 7:40:00 AM  
Anonymous ila said...

geez, you're such a ninja! a post already?!

needless to say, we couldn't score a res. SUPER jealous. Especially with that live sighting of the j gold.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 9:12:00 AM  
Blogger Eleana said...

I saw you there last night!! Not in a stalker way, but I was asking my boyfriend "Wow I wonder who that family is and how come everyone is hugging them?!" Haha - nice to know now, and I'll have to read your entire blog.

Your kids are adorable btw =)

Thursday, July 22, 2010 9:46:00 AM  
Blogger nelehelen said...

lucky!! i was trying for 45 minutes to grab a reservation spot for opening night! :( *sigh* but at least i can live through you (like i always do!)

i loooove ludo's potato mousseline! and that grilled squid dish looks fabulous.. i have a very soft spot for grilled squid.. yummmm!

Thursday, July 22, 2010 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger H. C. said...

thanks for the early report, from reading EaterLA's ingredient list of a menu preview I was *hopeful* something vegetarian would sneak its way into the menu; but in true Ludo style and as I expected, there's a meaty item in every dish.

But since everything is very modular, maybe I'll just bite the bullet, reserve and order the items sans the animal, and hope it doesn't ruin the overall effect of the dish.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger H. C. said...

or... maybe just the naan, the cheese plate and the desserts :)

Thursday, July 22, 2010 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

invite me when you go a 2nd time, couldn't get a reservation. I'll bring the champagne :D

Thursday, July 22, 2010 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger stuffycheaks said...

ahhhh envious! I couldnt get a reservation. that cheese and liver cupcake, how innovative!

Thursday, July 22, 2010 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Darin said...

Good to see you last night. In case you're confused, I think there was a family that was sitting at our table before us with some adorable asian kids.

I mean, all asians look alike, right??

Thursday, July 22, 2010 12:49:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great meeting you last night.
I believe your review was spot on.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 2:01:00 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Looks like I missed out last night! There's not a dish there that I would kick off my fork. Though I might have been secretly happy they were out of foie gras. ;)

Thursday, July 22, 2010 3:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odd placing of the cheese course in the order of service. No?

Also, the grilled octopus dish seems to be a "Ludo" version of a pretty standard Basque-region dish.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 4:38:00 PM  
Anonymous holly said...

I had the best of intentions on trying to 'beat you' to posting on this first ;) But when I was driving home, I hit the closure of the 5 freeway, and figured you were already home uploading pics already. lol

Good to see you there last night, if only for a second!

Thursday, July 22, 2010 5:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn. You have a post up already and I don't even have a reservation. Jealous! Soon, soon.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 6:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Ann said...

Great review, Kevin. I've noted the favs.

The space looks small. In your photo, I see 6 small tables that seats 2-4 and a big table in the back near the kitchen that seats 6-8.

I still haven't ate at any Ludo renditions. Hopefully, on Saturday I can get thru the res system.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 11:52:00 PM  
Blogger bagnatic said...

wow. getting ludo ressies sounds stressful. vicarious living through kevineats is what i say.

Friday, July 23, 2010 12:48:00 AM  
Blogger Cookie Chomper said...

you're the envy once again.. I'm surprised you didn't order the entire menu this time.

Friday, July 23, 2010 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

wow past three meals have looked great

Sunday, July 25, 2010 3:50:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Anon: "Legendary" can refer to things both good or bad, with this case being the latter!

Ila: By now, you should know that being a post ninja is one of my hallmarks. ;) Did you manage to get a res on Saturday?

Eleana: Lol, maybe you didn't see me, in fact. ;)

Helen: Yeah the mousseline and squid were arguably the two strongest dishes of the night. Hopefully they'll still be there when you come. Did you get your reservation yet?

HC: Better stick with your second plan. I think ordering items sans meat would exactly ruin the overall effect of the dish!

Charlie: What kind of Champagne? :) Were you able to get a spot on Saturday?

Stephanie: Did you ever get to have the foie gras cupcake at version 2.0?

Darin: Yes, I was confused, and yes, we orientals do look alike. ;)

Ben: Great meeting you too! You have to tell me about the foie gras.

Diana: Lol. I figured as much. Heck, even I was a bit wary of the foie.

Anon: Indeed--our server thought we wanted the cheese course before the mains. As for the octopus, that's not surprising, Ludo's known for his reinterpretations of classic dishes.

Holly: That's no excuse--I hit the 5 closure as well! So when are you going to get the post out now?

Linden: I've noticed that you've been on a sort of blogging hiatus. Perhaps LB is the one to get you going again?

Ann: The space is small, which doesn't help with the ever-increasing demand. The two circular tables in the front actually can seat up to 5, and there are a couple larger tables in the back facing the kitchen. Were you successful on Saturday?

Amy: Well, at least it's still not as bad as TFL. ;)

Cynthia: We tried, believe me! :)

Aaron: Any plans to make it out here?

Sunday, July 25, 2010 5:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Jai said...

I'm going to have to finagle my way into 5.0 since I wasn't able to make a reservation...

Sunday, July 25, 2010 8:39:00 PM  
Blogger Charlie Fu said...

unfortunately I was white water rafting on Kings River with zero reception. I tasked my friend with making one, but he forgot.

*shrug* if i miss out I miss out. Just curious to try it since I work a mile or two away.

Sunday, July 25, 2010 9:57:00 PM  
Blogger Cookie Chomper said...

apparently the kids aren't yours and you don't lead a double life .. I did double take when I saw the "kids"

Monday, July 26, 2010 5:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Jai said...

Damn Kevin, kids huh? I guess a lot has changed since we last ate! =P

Monday, July 26, 2010 10:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Ann said...

Score! I got a res for LudoBites 5.0.
OpenTable's system survived.

Fyi, res was open for an hour before all the spots were filled.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 2:34:00 PM  
Anonymous HealthyBites2 said...

geez.. the squid & s'mores look overrrly charrred!!! souffle's as perfect as can be! Thx,

Thursday, July 29, 2010 6:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out the news coverage!

Sam Sifton's review - 08/03
LudoBites 5.0, Pop-Up Dining in Los Angeles

Zagat's blog post - 07/30
LudoBites 5.0 – a Peek Behind the Curtain

Wednesday, August 04, 2010 7:20:00 PM  
Blogger kevinEats said...

Jai: Ugh, sorry for the late reply, did you ever get in?

Charlie: How's v6.0 looking for you? I, unfortunately, didn't manage to score.

Cynthia: You and me both!

Ann: Any luck for 6.0 this time around?

HealthyBites2: Squid no, s'mores, probably.

Anon: Yep, definitely saw those. Curious if Sifton will make it out for this round.

Friday, October 15, 2010 1:38:00 AM  

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