Imagine a restaurant that’s not really a restaurant but, rather, an event that will exist for only a limited period of time. What you’ve just imagined is a pop-up restaurant, a phenomenon that’s sweeping the food world and that’s been spearheaded, mostly, by L.A.’s Ludo and Krissy Lefebvre. I met them both back in July when they came over to my New York apartment (what!) and I fed them a piece of Melissa Clark’s pecan chocolate chip loaf cake. We talked about the fact that I was moving to L.A. and how, once I got here, I’d have to eat at LudoBites. They offered no help, though, in securing a reservation. I’d be on my own. I was ok with that.
I was especially ok with that when they changed their reservation policy to be more of an online lottery: you simply entered your e-mail address, checked your available dates and your party size and hoped for the best. I stayed flexible (said any date or time would do) and, sure enough, a few weeks later, I scored a reservation for four on Wednesday, February 1st.
This particular LudoBites pop-up was taking place in a restaurant called Lemon Moon, located on Olympic near Bundy. The complex was rather corporate looking; the garage underneath it, where I had to park, was also rather corporate and pretty expensive ($12). Such is the drawback of a pop-up restaurant, though; you don’t have a lot of control over the environment or the parking.
Once inside, the atmosphere was rather exciting. Chefs with intense looks on their faces stood behind a glass display case and carefully plated food. Tables of food-obsessed guests stared at their plates like dispatches from another world. Ludo and Krissy stood off to the side; I said a quick hello and then joined everyone–Mark, Diana, Craig–at our table.
Mark and Diana, who’d gotten there first, took the liberty of ordering a bottle of French cider. When the waitress tried to open it, something happened that I’ve never seen happen at a restaurant before–after she unwrapped the foil, the cork shot out like a bullet and sailed through the air, a geyser of foam bubbling up on to the table. The waitress laughed, and we did too, and she quickly wiped up the mess and poured us our drinks.
As for the menu, the waitress suggested we order EVERYTHING and share it, which was a rather bold thing to say, considering each dish was somewhere between $20 and $30 and that there were over 12 dishes on the menu. Mark, Diana, Craig and I conferred and we decided to eliminate a few dishes–we didn’t need all that food (though no one “needs” this kind of food in the first place)–but mostly ordered everything.
The first course was brioche with seaweed yuzu butter:
What a wonderful way to start a meal. Buttery, fluffy, eggy bread slathered with a citrusy, briny butter that put a smile on all of our faces. I could’ve eaten a whole one of these myself, but as it was we had to divide it up by four.
Next up, another ingenious starter–Chicken Tandoori Crackling:
I mean, come on. That’s basically a chicken liver mousse on fried chicken skin. If there were a religion based on food, you’d walk up to some kind of priest and he would feed you this and you would see a blast of light from heaven. And then you’d put on a costume, pretend to be someone else, and go back for seconds.
This here is Uni Crème Brûlée:
Creamy and oh so rich, but oh so hard to stop eating–especially with the big, bold uni flavor (with a hint of barely detectable coffee, as mentioned on the menu).
Here we have Sweet Shrimp, Miso Cream, Beans, and Smoked Salmon:
Once again, there’s something creamy, something fishy, and several components to add texture. Truthfully, this may have been the least memorable dish of the night. Never to fear, though; next up is something special:
Raw Beef, Radish, Beets, Eel:
This dish was my favorite of the night (next to the brioche and the chicken skin) and it’s easy to see why. It’s composed with an artist’s eye—it almost looks like a painter’s palette. But everything isn’t just there to look pretty, it’s there to make the raw beef taste even better. The beets, in particular, made everything taste earthier–as did the beet puree on the edge of the plate. If you order one dish at LudoBites, let it be this one. It’s not to be missed.
Next up, Razor Clam, Avocado, Yuzu Cream, Apple, Lavender:
Razor clams are a strange thing to share—they’re long and chewy and hard to cut up. That said, this was a nice dish, if (like that other unmemorable one that I no longer remember) slightly unmemorable too.
This next one, though, wasn’t unmemorable–though I can’t find it listed on any online menu, so you’ll just have to accept my name for this dish: Fish on Very Good Noodles. (Actually, I did just find the name for this–Big Eye Tuna, Tahitian Vanilla, Somen, 7 Flavor Vinaigrette.)
These were cooling and refreshing after the very creamy, rich dishes we had leading up to it.
But speaking of rich, it’s time to roll out the foie gras. Specifically: Foie Gras, Tamarin, Turnips, Daikon.
I’ve had foie gras many different ways–in fact, I once turned a piece of foie gras into a torchon–but have I ever eaten it floating in a soup so black and potent it should be bottled and used in place of soy sauce? No I hadn’t; but now I have and I’m glad that I did. It’s a delightful combination.
Are you getting tired yet? This is a very big meal. (But remember all of these plates were shared by four people.) Don’t worry, though, we’re almost done.
We ate this Veal with a Black Olive Tapenade Crust, Orange Caramelized Endive, and Clementine Beurre Blanc:
This dish actually caused some controversy at our table. Mark very matter-of-factly said he doesn’t eat veal when we were ordering, but encouraged us to get it. But when it came out, Craig decided that he doesn’t eat veal too, leaving Diana and I to eat this whole thing ourselves. Which, actually, was totally fine because this was absolutely delicious—right up there with the beef, the brioche, and the chicken skin. The olive flavor took the veal into a beefier direction and the orange flavor in the endive was surprising but made total sense. I’m going to try recreating that endive at home.
Finally, our last savory course, Jidori Half Chicken, Parmesan, Celery Root Soubisse, Walnuts:
This presentation did bring to mind my post “When Foam Looks Like Spit,” but that aside, it was, again, a lovely plate of food. And a good one to share.
For the cheese course (not really listed as a cheese course on the menu, but we saw it that way) we had the Goat Cheese Profiterole, Pistachio, Crispy Leaves:
It was a nice transitional dish to take us from savory to sweet.
As for the sweet, we enjoyed this Brown Butter Almond Cake with Apples, Salted Caramel, and Orange Creamsicle:
And the Lemon Meringue, Poppy Seed Crumble, with Extra Virgin Olive Oil:
Both were sweet and satisfying and still interesting with lots of playful components.
If, after looking at this whole meal, you’re thinking “that’s over-the-top! Insanely decadent! Too much even for four people!” You may have a point but think about it this way: what we experienced at LudoBites was fancy four-star food in the most casual of casual settings. We spent less money than we’d spend at, say, Jean-Georges, and the food was totally on that level.
So think of LudoBites not just as a pop-up restaurant, but a pop-up palace of gastronomy buit for the people. The kind of food that usually asks you to wear a suit in order to eat it.
I can’t wait to see where Ludo and Krissy pop up next.