Former enfant terrible chef Ludovic “Ludo” Lefebre has set forth an extremely difficult endeavor: To forge a cuisine in the spirit of his mentor, the legendary avant gardist, Pierre Gagnaire, whose deft blending of unlikely flavors and ingredients have elevated him to the zenith of Parisian culinary culture. Erratic execution bedevils LudoBites, the restaurant Ludo has set up for the summer at Breadbar. Moreover, Ludo’s conceptual flights of fancy conceal his considerable technical abilities. As a consequence, our raucous party enjoyed some truly delicious Ludo “bites,” while also enduring a miasma of misfires.
I became concerned when our first course—a poached egg served on toast with bacon and Mornay sauce, i.e., béchamel and cheese—revealed itself as bland, closer in flavor to a special from Norm’s than to the oeuf dishes served in Parisian temples of haute cuisine. We progressed to an incoherent take on miso soup, which included chunks of foie gras, plus rhubarb, hibiscus, and beets. This dish seemed designed to present foie gras in the unlikely context of a soup, but it failed as a summation of all its components. While the foie’s pillowy texture was a clear benefit of its bath in the broth, the beets and hibiscus were indiscernible amidst the salinity, and the broth itself was pedestrian.
The beef tartare posed a different set of problems. Texturally, the beef was rich and succulent and should have been the best dish of the night. But Ludo emasculated the beef with so much black pepper that I tasted little else. Then, to exacerbate matters, he topped the beef with a giant stalk of white asparagus that added one more layer of cacophony to the plate. He redeemed the dish with a single act of genius: He decorated it with large, briny anchovies that were luxuriously good, perhaps the best I have ever had. The anchovies transported me to the Mediterranean coast, if only for an instant, and I could have made a meal of them alone. To my great disappointment, the gregarious, transplanted Texan sitting next to me also liked them, so I could not steal her portion despite my furtive casing of her plate.
Ludo also knows how to sauté a scallop. His divers were plump and delicious. I did not bother with the accompanying curry-yogurt sauce or spinach, because the scallops were too good to be adorned with anything. I also enjoyed the nuanced richness of Ludo’s creamy polenta with its cantal and tender tail of beef lurking at the bottom of the crock. In addition, L.A. blogdom’s consensus that Ludo can fry a chicken is, for once, correct.
On the other hand, the shrimp in a “sweet and sour emulsion” was a disappointment. The unsightly emulsion resembled the nasal outpourings of a very sick Cyrano de Bergerac, and it did not taste much better. The veal sweetbreads with foie gras, pear, and a liquid choucroute could have been great—that is, if the sweetbreads had not been overcooked. (To be fair, Ludo was not far off the mark, and I am confident he usually does much better.) The cod, which had attractive red contours owing to its spicy butter, was slimy and utterly inedible. The kitchen simply phoned it in.
All three desserts were bad; one of them, the odious combination of chocolate mousse and jalapeno, molested my tongue into submission, ending my night. (A simple cheese plate would have sufficed.) Although Ludo offers dessert, his heart and mind certainly lie elsewhere.
Ludo attempts to navigate a lengthy menu, put his stamp on the entire meal, and befriend his customers in the process. Alas, he does not convince in a single course. At this point, the aspirations are too high, and Pierre Gagnaire remains sui generis. (Our lunch at PG’s eponymous restaurant during our honeymoon remains a high point and one of my fondest memories.) For this type of restaurant, Ludo may find more success with a tightly edited menu with dishes that are demonstrable theorems, not hypotheses undergoing constant experimentation. As a devoted Francophile, I truly want Ludo to succeed. I appreciate his spirit of adventure, and I do like this style of food very much. But it is a high-wire act, and he is not there yet.
LudoBites at Breadbar
8718 West Third Street