The fervor surrounding Chef Ludovic “Ludo” Lefebvre and his growing LudoBites empire is simply mind-boggling. What Los Angeles chef breaks the news of opening a “pop up” restaurant in Sherman Oaks in a New York Times feature story — and the Los Angeles press follows from there? Especially for a guy who’s never had his own brick and mortar restaurant?
Lefebvre, who has been cooking since his teen years in France, is a celebrated chef having the distinction of being the only chef in Los Angeles to receive the Mobil Travel Guide Five Star Award at two different restaurants, having helmed the kitchens at L’Orangerie and Bastide. Time Magazine called him the “chef of the future.” He’s known as the renegade from Top Chef Masters and Iron Chef America.
His first event was in 2007, but it was the summer of 2009 “pop up” event at Breadbar in Los Angeles that got the foodie fever going , and since then Ludo and his wife/business partner, Krissy, have been operating LudoBites guerilla style events at venues across Los Angeles — first becoming famous for his “fried chicken bites” (which now wraps lines around the block at food truck stops). Getting a reservation is like playing roulette and are done through Open Table. For the last two venues, there were so many people trying to get reservations, the system crashed — followed by reservations filling up the run in an hour.
The latest incarnation is LudoBites 6.0 at Max in Sherman Oaks (the former Marche and Max). Opened on October 19, the first run ends November 11 with a return appearance November 30 to December 5. Reservations are filled, but there are possible cancellations, so it’s best to keep checking back on Open Table. There are 10 walk-ins seats per night from 6 to 9:30pm at communal tables as well. There is no phone number.
Lefebvre’s cooking makes you think. It intellectualizes the pleasure of dining by way of fun and curiosity. Instead of eating to satiate your hunger, it’s more like eating with a brain on fire — just because each taste makes you wonder about the ingredients and preparation. He calls his cooking “bistronomy” — which is a combination of bistro food and molecular gastronomy. The menu is referred to as “deconstructed” — meaning that dishes described on the menu do not come out as you imagine. The look is different, but the taste sensation created is similar to what you imagined.
The menu changes nightly. On this evening, it appeared to be a fusion of French, Latin and Asian influences. After our most pleasant server meticulously described every dish, my dining partner and I chose four, plus a wonderfully warm baguette served on a long wood plank with Barrate Smoked Butter and Sardine-Laughing Cheese. The smooth, smoky flavor of the butter and the tart cheese complemented each other well.
We started the meal with one of two ‘Coq-tails’ offered. We had the Mexican Mojito which was a twist made with jalapeno and cilantro. It was refreshing and crisp, instead of sweet. The other choice is a Yuza Tequila Martini. There’s a select wine list with bottles and carafes, as well as German Gilbert Cava and Grand Cru Brut Champagne.
The dishes started coming quickly, overwhelming our small table. The Hamachi Vietnamese style arrived first topped with a slice of fried daikon on top. The yellowtail was sliced beautifully, covered with a salad mix of green papaya, green banana, jicama, crispy shallots and black basil, inspired by a sweet/tart rice wine/fish sauce vinaigarette.
The next dish was a take on Pad Thai with Squid Noodles which were really sliced calamari rings, long rows of black radish, slivers of black grapes, bean sprouts and raw prawns. I also tasted peanuts, ginger and coconut. On the side of the flat serving bowl was a splash of cream tofu with red chili, so you can add spice. It’s a twist of subtle textures and tastes fused together to make your taste buds pop.
When the Oriental Mussels Veloute and small fries arrived, I was waiting for mussels in a soup and pomme frite as I remember in France. This dish is an example of deconstruction at its most interesting. It was a rendition of a traditional Veloute, but was more of a rich cream soup because the mussels were taken out of the shell and pureed. The taste was all mussels, however, mixed with a roasted heirloom tomato confit and two slices of toasted baquette in the veloute. This was accompanied by a deliciously crispy and addictive mound of pomme pailles, which are like the thinnest of shoestring fries. Only these are prepared in clarified butter instead of oil.
The last dish was John Dory, a very delicate white fish, prepared in a broth seasoned with chili spices and a mix of herbs, jalapeno and broccolini, surrounded by paper thin slices of fried potato. It’s a very light dish and although it surprises by the absorption of the spices, I wished that I had ordered the Half Chicken with the Poached Egg, which I heard from the couple at the next table, was tremendous. They said the chicken was just incredible and the egg was prepared so that instead of being runny, the yolk was cooked at a precise temperature that made it seem gel-like.
We could not pass up dessert. Two were offered that evening — a Warm Carrot Cake (think chocolate souffle, but sweet carrot instead) served plain on a plate surrounded by a Thai Curry Cream frosting, Mango Sorbet and Kaffir Lime Oil. The fun of this dessert was adding the accoutrements to the cake as you eat. (Note: It does take 25 minutes to bake). The Thai Curry Cream was most unusual and a perfect complement of spicy/sweet to add to our meal. The second dessert was the Cold Chocolate Soup. Neither I nor my dining partner are chocolate lovers, so we were both shocked by how much we enjoyed this dessert. Served in a bowl, the chocolate had a pudding type consistency, but every bite provided a surprise — caramelized peanuts, marshmallow cream, peanut butter and a whipped cream with pepper filled the bowl which also tasted like there was an essence of coconut and ginger.
I wish I could’ve tried everything on the menu — eight more innovative dishes included Ludo renditions of Mackerel, Salmon Somen Noodles, Scallop, Poached Roasted Foie Gras and Marinated Korean Steak. Next time I’ll have to come with a crowd — or become quick friends with the next table — just to taste them all.
The ambiance is casual and relaxed. It’s a fun vibe. The servers are trained and dedicated to give suggestions and help explain every step of the way. Ludo’s wife Krissy mans the restaurant and the front desk and couldn’t be more gracious. As we looked at the cream spread on the side of the Squid noodles dish and tried to figure out what it was, Krissy came running over to explain. LudoBites may be a foodie rage, but no snobbery here.
Ludo’s take on cooking is daring, imaginative and inventive. It’s not for those whose taste in food is black and white or those who have special requests, but for those who eat “as is” and appreciate a mad science approach to culinary creation. Dining at LudoBites is simply a palate popping blast.
Ludobites 6.0 at Max Restaurant 13355 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks. Through Nov. 11, and from Nov. 30 until Dec. 5. Two reserved seatings at 6 and 8 pm, as well as a ten seat communal table for walk-ins from 6-9:30 pm Reservations are accepted only at www.opentable.com Choice of two specially paired cocktails, wine BYOB with $15 corkage.
Karen Young is the Founder/Editor of My Daily Find. Email her: email@example.com