Naturally, when we all heard the announcement of Ludobites 4.0, then the location, then when the reservation system came open, the Ludo faithful (myself included) couldn’t help but involuntarily jump up and down for joy. Call me biased, but ever since working for him at Ludobites 3.0, I have been following as closely as I can and literally within 5 minutes of the reservation system going up, I had secured 2 for myself. Good thing I wasted no time, as Krissy had proudly posted on Twitter a couple days later that they had sold out the near 2 months worth of reservations in a record 18 hours.
The first of my reservations was for this past Tuesday, April 13. I intentionally did not book a reservation for the first couple of days because even though Ludo is no newbie to opening a restaurant and running a kitchen, with essentially half of his staff being new on top of being in a space they are not 100% familiar with, I wanted to give all of them a few days to acclimate themselves and get into a rhythm. Actually, the few days leading up to this reservation posed to be quite interesting. Last Friday, I received an email from Krissy asking if we could move our reservation from 7 PM up to 6:30, saying that she had a VIP wanting to come in at 9 PM. 5 minutes later, I get another email from her saying that now that VIP wanted to come in earlier at 6, asking if we could move back to 8:30. After confirming with my party about the change, I gave Krissy the green light to move us back to 8:30.
I suppose now that its after the fact, the VIP that she was frantically trying to accommodate was none other than Gordon Ramsay, to which I just laughed. She told me she’d make it up to me for being so understanding.
Upon pulling up to Grams & Papas in a relatively quiet and unsuspecting intersection of Downtown LA, my friend and I managed to find a parking spot right out front. I took that as a sign that tonight was going to be a good night.
The space itself is indeed quite small. The kitchen alone took up maybe a third of the space out front. Looking up at the far wall, it appears Grams & Papas is a sandwich shop of some sort. Their chalkboard menu looked enticing enough to want to try the place once Ludo leaves. Plus, any place willing to let Ludo come in and utilize the space after hours is my new friend. I looked around and tried to see Gordon Ramsay, but didn’t notice him anywhere. After a few minutes, Krissy came up to say hi, saying, “Gordon Ramsay was a no show, but we’ve got Graham Elliot (Bowles) back there”. In case you have no idea who that is, he, like Ludo, was on Top Chef Masters Season 1 and is one (again, along with Ludo, this time the same episode no less) of the 6 returning chefs for Season 2. He is the Chef/Owner of Graham Elliot Restaurant in Chicago.
As we were waiting, I saw Matthew of Mattatouille dressed in a Ludobites shirt and pinstripe apron, surprised to see him working as a server. I know he’s a big foodie and blogger like most the rest of us are, but I didn’t know he was going to be serving for Ludo. We briefly chatted before I let him resume his duties. It was also nice to see veteran Ludobites server, Daria, working the floor.
The party that was at our projected table were taking their sweet time and we actually were not sat closer to 9 PM. No biggie though. As we were sitting down, Chef Bowles and his party were leaving and he happened to be standing right next to us amidst the commotion, so I took the opportunity to meet him and chat him up. It was actually then when Virginia asked him for a photo, in which Ludo got in on as well (photo to come). He was in town on some business and the brief few minutes chatting with him I was able to realize he’s just an all-around awesome guy. He’s now one of my favorite chefs and it will be hard to root for both him and Ludo when they compete next week on TCM (well, I’m still rooting for Ludo but let’s just say I’ll also being rooting that Bowles is the other chef to advance)
With a New York minute, Daria came by (to which I was glad she was our server) to give us our menus and take our beverage order. We unfortunately made the mistake of not bringing any of our own wine or whatever, a mistake I will not make again when I return on May 14. Looking over the menu, as Ludo has done every other time, there was a completely different set of dishes. The only returning dish was the brought back by popular demand foie gras croque-monsieur. Actually I take that back, it just so happened THAT particular night, it was NOT on the menu. But more on that later.
We started off with several of the tartine plates, which was simply a warm salted baguette with a beautiful lavender honey butter. The butter was magnificent and the lavender further permeated once spread on the warm bread.
Between the 6 of us, we decided to pair up and get our own appetizers and entrees, however, Allen and Virginia talked Jacqueline and myself into sharing all 4 entrees. Between Jacqueline and myself, we decided to order the burgundy escargot, pork cheek terrine, and the brie chantilly.
The brie chantilly was really good. The brie was so smooth and creamy. Of course, that’s what happens when you whip it for 2 hours. The honey comb and balsamic added just the right amount of sweet and acidic, respectively, balance to the dish. I probably could have had a whole bowl of the brie.
The burgundy escargot was really great as well. The escargot was crispy on the outside but pleasantly chewy on the inside. The garlic flan was nice, though Jacqueline and Angie thought it was too rich. I didn’t think so. The green jus seemed to be spinach and rounded out the dish. The presentation was just as stunning.
The pork cheek terrine, I have to grudgingly admit, was probably the least impressive dish of the night. I mean, normally any part of the swine is enough to send my mouth into gastronomical bliss, but overall, this didn’t wow me like all of the other dishes. Don’t get me wrong, it was still good, and the smoked mayo, apples, and German butter ball potatoes were cool, but yeah….
Actually, in fact, all of us had ordered the pork cheek terrine, but Daria soon returned to unfortunately report that there was only one order left, so I took it upon myself to order the ham soup for me and Jacqueline. We were both very happy I did. The soup was slightly reminiscent of the bread soup from 3.0, but this was more complex and more sophisticated. With croutons, swiss cheese, radishes, cornichons, and a guiness caviar, there was a lot going on in a spoonful of this dish, but none of it got lost amongst the other ingredients. This was one of my favorites of the night.
Next was a real treat and honestly, made me feel like I was a VIP. I just so happened to look at the menu earlier that day and noticed that there was NO foie gras croque-monsieur on the menu! Playfully, I immediately tweeted my utter dismay, but when Laura and I first arrived that night, I think as sign of appreciation for changing our reservation time because of Gordon Ramsay, when Krissy came to say hi, she said “I saved a couple croque-monsieurs for you” to which I literally jumped up and down in joy for. When it was brought out, I was so ecstatic that I yelled across the room to Ludo, “Merci Chef!”. As we all know, the foie gras croque was brought back by popular demand, and I cherished EVERY bite of this. I think Virginia got a picture of that and I’ll post it once she does.
Moving onto the entrees, first to come was the monkfish. Simply presented with Jardiniere de Legumes and vadouvan, the monkfish was cooked perfectly and was simple in flavors but was still really solid. I personally love monkfish and was not disappointed in this.
Next was the steak “au poivre”, which was grilled hangar steak with bone marrow polenta, shallots, white asparagus, and a black pepper coulis. The steak was a perfect medium rare and the polenta was so rich with the most ever subtle touch of marrow flavor. I have to tell you, Ludo makes THE BEST polentas I’ve ever had (Cantal cheese polenta at 3.0 that he paired with his LFC)
Our third entrée was a squid “carbonara”. Sauteed squid with pancetta, poached egg, parmesan “snow”, and sage. The squid was really great, the pancetta added that much needed saltiness in a carbonara. We collectively were disappointed when I broke into a yolk and we were all expecting a runny yolk to run over the dish, but alas, the yolk had coagulated to what’s similar to a medium boiled egg. Despite that, this was another top dish of the evening.
It was at this point when Krissy came to us with 2 bowls of what apparently was a misfire of the white asparagus veloute. Basically, we were becoming the beneficiaries of a mistake by the kitchen. A couple people at thought this was a little rich, but I thought it was just right. With mozzarella, shaved fennel, candied olives, and salmon roe, I think it was a well balanced dish and the pop of the roe added a nice salty balance.
The 4th and final entrée of the night was the rack of lamb with fresh goat cheese, smoked eel, artichokes, potato mousseline, and mint. The lamb wasn’t gamey and cooked perfectly, however, nothing else on the plate wasn’t much of a huge wow factor, but again, a very solid dish. I could probably have an entire plate of those lamb chops though.
Finally, for dessert, as a table we ordered one each of the dark chocolate soufflé and the caramel religieuse. I don’t even want to attempt to pronounce that last one. The religieuse came out first and was basically a large ball of pate a choux with an “a tete” (“with head” in French). Breaking into it, there was a burnt caramel cream. So essentially, this was a glorified cream puff, just 100 times better than what you would find at a place like Beard Papas. With salted butter topping and caramel sauce on the side, this was really good. Some may not like that burnt caramel taste, but I loved it.
And last but not least, the dark chocolate soufflé. I couldn’t tell if they were making these to order or if they had the batter premade and only baked them to order. I mean, when I was at Scott’s Seafood Costa Mesa, our soufflé batter had so much flour in it that a large batch would last about 3 days and we just were simply baking them to order. Regardless, this was a good soufflé. It was served with vanilla black pepper ice cream and chocolate cream. The ice cream was different but good. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like soufflé and this was the perfect way to end the evening.
When all was said and done, we actually ended up being the 2nd to last table in the restaurant. Of course it was about 11:00 and we took the opportunity to chat up Ludo, as I invited him to sit down with us. We chatted about this and that and our conversation, thanks mainly to Angie, consisted of some dicey topics. I hope Ludo doesn’t think all my friends are weirdos. Just kidding, I love you guys. Ludo proudly showed us his latest tattoo, the “raging coq” that we all have now come to associate with Ludobites. Krissy apparently has one as well on her back.
We ended the evening taking group shots with Ludo, Krissy, and Daria.
Once again, Chef Ludo has not fallen short of wowing us with his simple yet creative and at times, whimsical dishes. And yes, you can probably say I’m a little biased because I’ve worked for the guy, which I’ll admit is maybe partially true, but having gotten to know him a little bit and his style of food, he just loves to cook and puts out really good food. That right there wants me to go back time and time again, regardless of who’s behind the stove.
Actually, in fact, I am going back for part deux next month 😉
Ludobites @ Grams & Papa’s
227 E. 9th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015