Hi gang, here are my thoughts…
Our reservation was for Thursday night, 8PM. The neighborhood is an urbane commercial district, with almost every adjacent storefront closed and shuttered by the time we arrived... Except for gram & papa’s, which was illuminated with simple but cute string lights in the windows.
Inside, the décor is cozy, with an open kitchen, and Chef Ludo’s artwork dotting the brick walls. Ludo himself can be seen running to and fro, checking on dishes, bantering with customers, etc. All of this makes the whole experience more interesting and intimate.
Krissy warmly greeted our party of 4 at the door. The place was packed (no surprise), and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The wait for our table was much shorter than I thought it would be (15 minutes!). This is already turning out to be better than LudoBites 3.0 at Royal/T.
D’oh!!! We forgot to bring wine! Rookie mistake on our part. No worries, we were told that there’s a wine store just a few blocks away. Ten minutes later, we acquired 2 random bottles of red (pinot noir, cab). Now, on to the food!
The menu that night: 15 items total, consisting of 9 Appetizers, 4 Main Courses, and 2 Desserts. As a tribute to fellow ‘Hound Kevin (and because we were famished), we ordered one of each to share, family-style. Timing of the plates was excellent. I suspect this was in part due to the very competent servers, and partly because we sat right in front of Chef Ludo's station.
Appetizer #1: Tartine Plate "Warm Baguette" - Salted & toasted baguette with sweetened lavender butter... The salty and sweet combined for a great effect! No everyone at the table liked the salty&sweet combo, but I liked it.
Appetizer #2: Brie Chantilly Napoleon, Honey Comb, Frisée Salad, Balsamic - The quality of the Brie was excellent.
Appetizer #3: Burgundy Escargots, Garlic Flan, Green Jus, Yellow Flowers - Inventive dish... The escargots contrasted nicely with the green jus in flavor and texture. Not a home run, but close.
Appetizer #4: Carrot Salad, Saffron Anglaise Cream, Pearl Onions, Citrus Confit, Mustard Oil - Very ambitious, and certainly colorful... But, just not my cup of tea.
Appetizer #5: White Asparagus Velouté, Mozzarella, Fennel, Candied Olive, Salmon Roe - This was one of my favorite dishes. Served cold, the ikura (salmon roe) rounded out the gentleness of the white asparagus nicely.
Appetizer #6: Scallop, Almond Purée, Pickled Grapes, Capers & Cauliflower Ice Cream - Yes, cauliflower ice cream. We applaud the audacity of Chef Ludo in formulating novel ice cream flavors.
Appetizer #7: Tomato Ceviche, Jalapeños, Red Onions, Meyer Lemons - Straight-up excellent ceviche, in a great springtime presentation. Awesome.
Appetizer #8: Ham Soup, Bread, Swiss Cheese, Radish, Cornichon, Guiness - Really interesting; the soup is ham-flavored & paired with a hint of Guiness, and the big chunks of bread have soaked up all that great flavor. But where’s the ham?
Appetizer #9: Seared Foie Gras "Piña Colada" - Foie gras, coconut ice cream & pineapple? Yes, it works... It works well. Dang, that was good!
Main Course #1: Squid "Carbonara", Poached Egg (64 degrees), Parmesan Snow, Sage - Indeed, our votes can be bought, as long as you include pancetta. This was an outstanding dish.
Main Course #2: Monkfish, Jardiniere de Legumes, Vadouvan - Prefectly cooked monkfish, and all those great spring veggies... Merveilleux!
Main Course #3: Steak "Au Poivre", Shallots, Polenta Bone Marrow, Roasted Eggplant Purée - The beef was sooo tasty. Also, the marrow really accentuated the polenta! Admittedly this dish was less on the inventive side, yet it remained extremely solid in execution and extremely tasty to boot.
Main Course #4: Rack of Lamb, Fresh Goat Cheese, Smoked Eel, Artichokes, Potato Mousseline, Mint - This dish was reminiscent of the lamb we had in Kasbah Toubkal in Morocco – Just so tender and juicy, not gamey at all... Just the right amounts of mint. The eel provided an interesting side note as well.
Dessert #1: Dark Chocolate Soufflé, Vanilla Black Pepper Ice Cream, Chocolate Cream - Again, the boundaries of culinary art are pushed, with the addition of black pepper ice cream to a classic dessert. Meant to be a "soupy" soufflé, the black pepper flavor was a tad strong, but proved interesting nonetheless.
Dessert #2: Raspberry Religieuse, Pistachio - The raspberries transform the whole thing into a pastry with a very "airy" feel, and reminds me of good (but light) strawberry shortcake... A winner!
With each iteration of the LudoBites series, I see a definite culinary style emerging and evolving. Whimsical and impromptu in spirit, Chef Ludo’s 4.0 dishes were at worst, fun and experimental (Burgundy escargots, carrot salad, ham soup), and at best, brilliant (white asparagus velouté, foie gras piña colada, steak “au poivre”, rack of lamb with potato mousseline, raspberry religieuse, along with the use of cauliflower ice cream & black pepper ice cream).
Service was gracious, timely, and unhurried. As is his custom, Chef Ludo took time out to chat with our table and posed for some photos with us towards the end of dinner.
Total bill (before tip) for our party of 4: $255
Bravo! Kudos to all yet again for a meal well done. When/Where will 5.0 be? Sign me up, and consider me a devotee.