Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LudoBites 8: Lemon Moon: Out of this World

The announcement of LudoBites is that event each year that has food lovers quivering with excitement, like the promise of a new food frontier - so many unknowns, in unchartered culinary territory, in the best way possible. (If you don't want to spend the next few minutes reading the ravings of yet another LudoBites fan, now is the time to turn back.)

This year, the surprise element extended even to the reservation process itself - instead of an 'open the virtual floodgates' moment on OpenTable, which had caused site crashes and record-breaking sellout times (weeks of bookings for the pop-up in under a minute!) - this time reservations were done through a lottery system via Urbanspoon. You submit the dates you want, cross your fingers, and hold your breath for a rose...erm, I mean, confirmation email.

Though I was disappointed when I didn't manage to get a booking, I was hopeful, based on the experience with LudoBites 007 that I might be able to score a walk-in, if I go early enough.  And as luck would have it, just a week or two before the start of LudoBites 8 - I sealed the deal on a new job in West LA, a short hyper-drive to the (Lemon) Moon!

So it was that I pulled up to the bar one night after work, for the only thing that is predictable with LudoBites - for my mind to be blown.

It started with the Chicken Tandoori Crackling ($5) - a specimen that has most explorers asking: why has no one thought of this before?  The concept is fantastic - quenelles of creamy chicken liver mousse dropped on landing pads of crisp fried chicken skin. With a bit of heat from tandoori spices.  And the slightest crunch from beautiful salt crystals.  In texture sort of like a super gourmet cheese and crackers combo...The concept and presentation were both breath-taking; in taste, I liked the dish but personally would have wanted the mousse to be a little more delicate and not quite as dense and pungent.
Celery Root Soup, Foie Gras, Mushrooms, Ash ($22) - this one blew my mind on all fronts, immediately.  Foie gras, in soup? Genius.  And the presentation was like a work of art - with layers of sliced mushrooms blooming out from a gentle smattering of breadcrumbs dyed with squid ink and charred to an 'ash'-like texture.  In the lushest, creamiest soup. 

The soup came with instructions: "let it sit for a few minutes, so the foie can 'cook' a bit in the soup".  It was definitely worth the wait - each spoonful was a revelation: black, earth, liquid gold, cream, crumbs, crunch, broth, lush, buttery foie, upswell of beautiful purple port wine hidden just below the 'crust' of mushrooms.

This was a madly ingenious creation - a definite fav 'best of' dish that I couldn't resist repeating on a second trip! If I could I would eat this every day for the rest of my life and be happy.

One of the things that I admire most about truly creative and passionate chefs is the risks that they are willing to take - they really put themselves out there, reclaiming / reinventing our preconceived ideas about and experiences of food. 

Sometimes the alchemy of their brilliance with the right ingredients, preparation and setting produces proof of divine design - like the foie gras soup - but sometimes the results of the gambler's toss is not as ideal.

Personally I thought the Squid Ink Rice Pudding, Squid, Lardo, Kumquats ($14) belonged to the latter group - the concept absolutely blew me away, and I wanted to love it - but in terms of taste it just didn't keep drawing my fork back to the plate.  What was it?  The only way I can describe it is sort of like a giant dumpling filled with what looks and crunches like slivers of squid - but are really pieces of rice pudding made to look and feel almost indistinguishable from squid - spiced with some red/orange flecks that might be chili powder and/or powdered kumquats, and made to sit on top of a sludge of squid ink dyed...squid ink pudding?  This was an alien form that I wanted to love, as it was SO 'out there' - my brain was teased and I loved it - but my taste buds unfortunately didn't.

On Steamed Foie Gras in Apple Cider, Apple Tapioca, Buckwheat ($34) - as soon as I sat down, I had pretty much asked the server to bring me every dish containing foie (we only have til July until a ridiculous law banning sale of foie in California will be enforced, effectively cauterizing the heart of french cooking).  In the meantime, I was glad I got to taste the divinity that was in this bowl - the most perfect lobe of gorgeous, decadent foie, in an essential cold 'soup' of apple cider that though just a little too tart, cut through the richness of the liver nicely.  Throw little soft orbs of tapioca into the mix along with toasted buckwheat rounds for crunch and counterbalance, and you have a very original way to serve foie.

I had just enough room left by that point for one more dish - and asked for help with picking among the amazing options, it was too hard to choose on my own!  I had painstakingly narrowed it down to the Monkfish Liver dish and the Thai Snapper, Eucalyptus Oil, Leeks, Potato, Manzanilla ($26)- after all that lush goose liver, I was advised to go with the fish for a little something different, and that way also the monkfish liver doesn't pale in comparison to the foie.

I definitely appreciated the recommendation as soon as the plate of fish was within sight. The plate was in a word - art.  It looked like something that had washed up on the beach, exactly like this, but you know that can't be true because all the ingredients besides the fish itself, came from the ground.  So your brain and eyes go back and forth like this for a while, and you admire the beauty of the presentation - before setting out to explore what lies beneath the waves of apple and topping of fried fish skin.

So below was another surprise - thin, fresh made potato chips.  No, not as in the British-reference - real, thin, crunchy ovular petals of fried potato. A brilliant play on the ole fish 'n chips - well played, Ludo, well played.

And if you had to look up manzanilla - I did too - it's apparently spanish for chamomile. I couldn't see anything floral on the plate, but overall the fish had nuanced flavors that were clean and simply amazing. Especially when you make sure to grab a little bit of every element on the plate in each forkful.

This turned out to be one of the best tasting and most creative serving of fish I have ever had.  Loved it so much it would rival for my affections for foie.

On the night I went the first time to LudoBites 8, they were not serving the much raved about Uni Creme Brulee, Coffee - which meant I *had* to go back another night for it (twist my arm, not!).  This one was every bit as extraordinary as everyone said - and on the second visit, even more so as Krissy mentioned they had to source their uni from Japan (which pushed the price up to $34, but well worth it!). 
Uni (sea urchin) was worked into a creme, which was then topped with sugar syrup and torched for a nice, caramelized crust and smokey flavor, topped by delicious pearls of salmon roe (ikura) that exploded in your mouth like mini supernovas of fresh brine.

Then the whole thing was topped by frothy cappuccino foam.  It was all kinds of umami and sweet and subtle bitter all at once.

I wish I could eat this every week...(Ludo when are you going to open up a restaurant?!)

Another thing I love about LudoBites that I only found out about firsthand, on the second visit, is that certain dishes will change out even during the same edition of the pop-up, to keep guests guessing.  On the second time round the new dish in was Scallops, Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Yogurt-Madras Curry ($19)I thought the cross sections of cauliflower were beautiful, and reminded me of paper-cutouts of trees used in shadow puppet play, or some fanciful pop-up book (could this truly be the inspiration?).  These lightly crunchy trees sat atop lovely rounds of scallop, ever so lightly cooked so that their centers are still sashimi-like.  Served with a dollop of cauliflower panna cotta on the side, and topped by yogurt-curry sauce for slight heat and a bold beautiful saffron color.  All on a bed of pommes puree.  Really lovely.

And of course, science has shown (not, but I think it's true anyway because you should believe everything you read on the internet) that there is a 'second stomach' for dessert, even after gorging on all those rich dishes, I still had room for the Lemon Meringue, Poppy Seed Crumble, Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($13).  Another artful presentation with a small 'castle' formed by 'towers' of meringue and lemon cream, atop crumbly sand made with poppy seed, with a wheel of orange rind.  A nice refreshing dessert after a decadent meal.
All in all, an inspired, epic, out of this world meal, one of the best I've had so far this year.

[On a side note, I've talked about my favorite things food-wise about LudoBites, but there's one other thing I want to note too - that after all their enormous successes, in and out of the kitchen and with their own TV show - Krissy and Ludo seem to have remained exactly who they always were, and in every moment effuse passion for and dedication to what they're doing.  Krissy's the one answering the phones for reservations, she's personally welcoming and seating guests, helping set tables during pre-opening, and wiping them down after. Expediting or serving plates as needed. Ludo's in the kitchen pretty much the whole time cooking unless accommodating excited guests' requests for photos with him.  This is just what I can see of them in the restaurant - don't know them personally, but love them for all the reasons above - in addition to the mnd-blowing food of course.]

And also true to Krissy's marketing genius, though their last service just happened tonight - they've already started promoting to their next pop-up, which will for the first time be in Hawaii.  Which yes will make it unfortunately hard for those of us who live in LA to get to - but that dangles the promise of possibility of things to come: foie outside the boundaries of the tyrant state and its foie-banning legislation.  And Urbanspoon is running a sweepstakes with them for a trip to Hawaii for two to experience LudoBites 9 - which will be held at the Four Seasons Resort:  Hualalai starting March 6th. All you have to do is "like" Urbanspoon on Facebook AND make a free reservation at participating restaurants in either LA, Seattle or San Francisco for a chance to win.  See details and official rules here.  Good luck!!!]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks mains)
Probability of return visit - 100% (if I can even get in!)


LudoBites 8 at Lemon Moon

12200 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064
Ph: 310.442.9191


LudoBites 8 at Lemon Moon on Urbanspoon


  1. It was a pleasure to meet you! Glad you were able to make it back to get the uni creme brulee - so effing good.

  2. Great to meet you too! I didn't realize you are The One who shot those amazing Vogue Italy photos of Ludo!!! Are you taking any students for photog?! :)

    Yeah the creme brulee was amazing - I think my fav though was the foie gras soup. I can still taste it in my mind.

  3. Thanks! I get lucky with good photos once in a while. I can give ya a few tips but I normally just point and press a button hoping for the best.

    The foie gras soup with the ash was amazing too!



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