On rainy days in elementary school, our teachers would pop in VHS tapes (remember those?) of classic Twilight Zone episodes to keep us kids entertained during recess. Those black & white stories were fascinating and I must admit, a little scary. Not because they show gory details, but the way they leave you hanging with the ending, your imagination was your greatest enemy.
One especially memorable episode was called "The Eye of the Beholder." It starts out showing a young woman with her head completely bandaged as she was undergoing face surgeries to look normal. Yet failing for the 11th time, she was sent away from society to live with people with the same "condition" outside of city limits. It was then that the camera panned to the "normal" people, who all sported pig snouts, whereas the young woman was the one with the beautiful face.
It was a powerful episode for me as it got me pondering: what is normal?
You see, for the longest time, I've been secretly in love with food. Before this blog—before having a reason, so to say, to take photos of food, I've been quite self conscious about outwardly showing my enthusiasm for a wonderful meal. And even now, as I've gotten more comfortable with sharing my love of food and taking countless photos of particular epicurean delights in public, I always saw myself as an oddity. The eccentric one who stops others from taking their first bite until she got that perfect shot. Yes, I'm that friend.
I've slowly started to own up to my quirks, yet it wasn't tell last night where I felt at home. Thanks to Will from FoodDigger, I was invited amongst other food enthusiasts to preview Chef Ludo's latest incarnation of the much anticipated LudoBites 4.0, housed in Gram & Papa's in downtown. It was there where I got to meet others who equally (if not more so) adore food as much as I do and we spent the night enjoying Ludo's newest creations, discussing the benefits and setbacks of DSLRs for and most of all, walking on air to be meet others who share the same passion. It was an unbelievable evening.
And the food, it was anything but forgettable.
1. Tartine with "3 fat textures"
The night started with a warm crusty loaf of baguette studded with crunchy salt crystals and 3 saucers each featuring a different form of fat: clarified butter with chiblis, emulsified brown butter and creamed lard with honey and lavender. Each delicious in its own right, but I kept going back to lard, which was floral, sweet and rich—it's the new butter.
2. Carrot salad with saffron Anglaise, pickled pearl onions, citrus and mustard powder
Next up was an in depth study of carrots, with the specimen prepared 2 ways: gastrovac'ed and marinated. The gastrovac'ed carrot was curious indeed, for although it tasted fully cooked, it retained the texture of one that was almost raw—it was the best of both worlds. As for the wide ribbons of citrus-marinated carrots, they had a nice zip that paired nicely with the sweeter cooked ones. Because the trio of fresh citrus segments (we were advised to eat it peel & all) added even extra tang, I thought the dish was complete even without the Anglaise.
3. Egg, potato mousseline, lobster and borage flower
Our meal went up exponentially through the roof with this. Whimpers and moans could be heard throughout our table as we tasted the magical combination of butter poached lobster, swimming in a heady broth made from the shells and tomalley, then layered with a soft boiled egg and an avalanche of velvety butter-whipped potato puree.
If I wasn't in public, I would have literally licked my bowl clean. I almost did in fact... as documented by Elliot from F for Food.
4. Foie gras-croque-monsieur with lemon turnip chutney
Brought back from LudoBites 2.0, this is panini version of Helen of Troy as I can imagine battles fought over this beauty. Impeccably made, it features toasted squid ink bread spread with a creamy cheese and arranged with delicate slices of proscuitto and slabs of dreamy foie gras terrine. Initially, I ate my portion plain, but as I passed the half way point, the tangy lemon turnip relish was invaluable in keeping the richness in check.
5. Burgundy escargots, garlic flan and green jus
An unique take on the ubiquitous "escargots in garlic butter and parsley," Ludo starts out with a luxurious custard infused with garlic, then he adds a note of freshness with a green jus made with parsley. The dish was than capped with plump saute snails. Fabulous dish, even if it followed an impossible act.
6. Columbian River king salmon confit, spring cabbage, orange skin & Juniper berries
This was one of those instances where the sum wasn't better than its individual parts. While the salmon was fantastically poached in a temperature-controlled olive oil bath until perfectly rare, the Juniper and lemon aspic lent a peculiar texture that unfortunately took attention away from the fillet. The limp cabbage side didn't help the case either.
7. Poached Jidori chicken, crispy skin with hazelnuts, garden vegetables and bacon Royale
For the last savory course, we all got to experience Ludo's childhood. He explained roast chicken with cream (Supreme de poulet) is a classic in French homes, particularly in his region, so here he recreated the dish for us. With a twist, of course!
Like a true scientist, Ludo isolated each component of the dish and re-engineers them to make it the best it could be. Take the chicken breast for example: we all love crispy roasted skin, but to do so often means sacrificing moisture from the meat. Ludo solves the problem by poaching the breast in a roulade for an unadulterated succulent chicken "fillet mignon" if you will. Then for the clincher, the skin is then fried with hazelnuts and crumbled on top of the "fillet." Perfection.
The best way to eat the dish is to have a bite of the chicken (be sure to get a few fragments of the skin chips—sorry, that did not come out right), a smear of the bacon royale, which is the cream sauce in custard form, and a piece of the fresh leek salad. Repeat as needed.
8. Brie Chantilly Napoleon, honey comb, balsamic, frisee salad
As a note, our meal was paired with exquisite wines, courtesy of Jill from DomaineLA. However, because I am afflicted with ADD (Asian Drinking Disorder), I refrained from most of the pairings until the cheese and dessert course. That's right, even as a one drink wonder, there was no way I was going to miss out on dessert wines.
So, to accompany the impossibly fabulous cheese plate, Jill poured a flute of the Coteaux du Layon. A sweet white wine, it's made with Chenin blanc grapes that were left on the vines till they are over-ripe, to the point where some have rotted (in Jill's words!) for a complicate, honeyed profile that tasted faintly of St. Germain.
The sweetness of the wine and the honey comb went exponentially well with the Napoleon of brie. Hand-whipped for a total of 2 hours by Holly of Michelin Project, the brie took on a smooth, buttery texture. It was a dream when paired with the peppery frisee, crunchy toast points and balsamic syrup. My 2nd favorite of the night!
9. Dark Chocolate souffle, black pepper milk chocolate ice cream and chocolate cream
The evening concluded with another study, this time in chocolate. Not unlike the "3 fat textures," the dessert studies the cocoa bean in 3 different temperatures and preparations. The hot element was the airy dark chocolate souffle, with its molten interiors. If that wasn't chocolately enough, there was a saucer of warm bitter chocolate sauce for pouring. Then to complete the trifecta, a milk chocolate ice cream with a real pepper kick. The pepper was critical in this dish from being one-noted as was the smoky Banyuls.
With that comes the end of the roller coaster ride that was LudoBites 4.0. I can't wait to get back on! Now if I could somehow find a reservation...
Much thanks to Ludo, Krissy and Sydney for a meal of a lifetime, to FoodDigger for organizing said meal, Jill for the excellent wine pairings and to all my dining partners!
227 E 9th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90015