I've been consumed with reading "Never Eat Alone" lately. It's an amazing book that breaks down how to form, maintain and develop new connections—which can be applied to business and personal life. Granted, some tips provided are elementary, but Ferrazzi gives many more that are great and really hits it out of the ball park with his personal story and case studies.
Excited to apply Ferrazzi's wisdom to my life, I decided to test out his rule of reading up on inspiring professionals before meeting them. The first opportunity happened to be Ludo Bites. Unable to visit its earlier incarnation at Breadbar, I had to live vicariously through other blog reviews so I had a good idea about the concept as well as Chef Ludo, but just to be safe, I made good use of google. Armed with my newly found information, my friends and I went made our way to Royal/T.
As we walked past the scandalously named art exhibit, "In Bed Together" to the dining area, we were greeted warmly by Krissy, Chef Ludo's wife and right-hand (wo)man.
Without thinking, I quickly blurted out "how is service tonight?" You see, I had read in a blog that their sous chef had walked out a few days earlier. Krissy was taken aback and with good reason. After explaining that I had some insider information, she gave us the update (Everything's a-ok now) and ushered us to our table and gave us the menu.
The menu was concise, with a handful of firsts and mains, as well as two desserts. I scanned the menu for LFC, aka duck fat fried chicken, unfortunately though, it wasn't on that night. However, pork belly and the foie gras beignets were, so I was a happy camper.
After ordering, my friends and I walked around the space to check out the exhibit, which turned out to be less risque than its name suggested, but worthy to see the sweet cassette tape sculpture.
A light box was also ingeniously set up in one of the art rooms for bloggers to photograph their plates. Clever, but I only got to use it once because we were too hungry to refrain from eating to walk it across the room once a plate was set in front of us.
Imagine my surprise when I came back to my seat to find this beauty—LFC! My friends and I all looked at each other, not daring to make a move until Krissy explained that this was an off-the menu item and the kitchen had bestow the last one to our party. It was as if the stars aligned at that moment. We split up the dish as best we could into 8 portions and reveled in the salty, crispy goodness. The boneless dark meat was deftly fried with a magnificent crust but was too well-seasoned to be eaten by itself. However, when paired with mashed potatoes and grill baby corn (how cute is that?), it was just right—a filling amuse bouche and exciting start.
Next a barrage of plates arrived: Celery root soup, Sauteed Monterey wild squid, and the confit of pork belly. We were all a bit dismayed as we had hoped to savor each dish slowly, yet the thought of letting the other dishes cool was unthinkable. I ended up initially jumping from one dish to another, which on one hand solved the temperature problem, but did not fare too well in the flavor department, so I chose to focus on my perceived favorite dish and make my way across the others.
The first was the crispy confit pork belly with a burnt eggplant puree, plantain, and coconut Thai chili emulsion. The fatty pork was wonderfully prepared with its fat literally melting upon mastication. The coconut foam (couldn't quite taste the chili) provided a sweet balance. The other elements unfortunately didn't pull their weight with the plantain being dry and flavorless and the puree tasting like the insides of a communal ashtray at the local dive bar.
By the time I moved on to the celery root soup, it was already at room temperature, but even so, it was my favorite of the night. With a viscosity like gravy, the creamy soup was richly favored with black truffles and had a delicate vanilla taste. It felt like being wrapped in a warm, fluffy blanket.
As for the Monterey squid, our table was pleasantly surprised how good it was. While we were intrigued about its components—chorizo oil, kimchi puree, black olive—we didn't want to take a big risk so we only ordered one plate, to which we regretted. It was an galvanizing match between the delicate squid, the saltiness of the crumbled olive, tart kimchee and robust oil. May I say black olive is the new salt and chorizo oil the new brown butter?
I was happy to try out the light box when the beignets came since we ordered 4, enough to be share with just one other person (it was much easier to get permission from than the entire table). It's a weighty dish, with substantial foie gras chunks covered with crispy dough and paired with a jammy dried apricot sauce. A dish meant to be shared.
Ironically, the most anticipated dish from the night was also the biggest disappointment. We all read such wonderful reviews of the braised veal udon, with its broth being a labor of love. Yet, upon tasting, the broth was overly salty, as if someone accidentally knocked over a bottle of soy sauce in a pot of French onion soup. It overwhelm the otherwise lovely shredded veal, the noodles and the mushrooms. On top of that, the sesame miso had a funky, musky aftertaste.
Fortunately, the subsequent cod dish made up for it. The luscious, flaky cod fillet was lacquered with a thick Terkiyaki sauce—like a souped up unagi. The mashed potato puree at the base was a smooth buttery heaven.
We ended the night with the beef tenderloin, nicely grilled with lard chips (I could eat those with the celery root soup any day) and roasted veggies. The pungent accompanying mustard sauce masked the beef's flavor, so I ended up eating my portion sans sauce.
Just as our meal was winding down, Chef Ludo stopped by our table and kindly asked us if we had enjoyed the meal. This, I thought, was my moment to shine. Had it all planned out too: I'd suavely compliment the kitchen and sprinkle in some facts I've recently learned that would do Ferrazzi proud.
Truth was, it was a disaster—the kind that is mortifying at the moment, but kinda hilarious once enough time as passed. Just like Krissy, Chef Ludo was taken aback from my statements, but had enough sense of humor to indulge my endless string of questions such as, what was the weirdest thing he has cooked (entire pig's head), what he eats when at home (frozen pizza) and recommendations for bakeries in Paris (Laduree). Thanks for being a good sport!
Sorry Mr. Ferrazzi, I see I still have a long ways to go. Live and learn right?