Sunday, September 27, 2009

LudoBites - A Belated "Meh."

This post has been stuck in the pipeline longer than Baby Jessica. I apologize, but unlike her I don't have access to waterjet cutting.

A primer: LudoBites is the "guerrilla pop-up restaurant" from Chef Ludovic Lefebvre, late of Bastide and L'Orangerie. Currently on hiatus, LudoBites ran for three months over this past summer in the evenings at BreadBar on Third Street.

Chef Ludo seems to be in that family of LA chefs who, thanks to a slick website, good looks, and a strong PR man or two, prematurely claim "celebrity" status. Prematurely is a poor choice of words--maybe unsubstantiatedly? If being behind the counter at a couple locally renowned restaurants makes you a celebrity chef, I have a couple dozen ex-French Laundry folks for you to sign to development deals.

There's also a charming naivete to the average Los Angeles diner. They're easily distracted by bells and whistles like foam, foie gras, and the novelty of oddly juxtaposed ingredients. It's cute. In other major dining cities--San Francisco, New York, Chicago--these odd juxtapositions, trendy ingredients, whimsical preparations are merely the jumping off points for quality innovative dining. There's nothing wrong with using cute ingredients, but use it in the service of a higher art. Make it the culinary equivalent of Peter Jackson's live-action/CGI-integration in Lord of the Rings, not an eye-catching Michael Bay plotless special-effects bore.

I'm going to be careful with my discussion here of LudoBites because I did have a good meal. It was well-made, sometimes intriguing, and overall pleasant. But at the end of the night I paid premium prices for what was, in my mind, a moderately compelling meal conceived and prepared by the equivalent of an adventurous, talented home cook. Couple that with a dining room and service quality that was uncomfortable and amateur you have a situation where you're paying Lucques prices for a Zankou Chicken service experience.

It's not to question Chef Ludo's pedigree--he's got a good resume, no doubt--but LudoBites was greatly lacking. Maybe it was the kitchen, designed to bake bread and make sandwiches and salads, not prepare fine dining entrees. Or maybe it's the LA diner that demands foie gras and squid ink rather than interesting innovative food. Or maybe it was the uncomfortable stools and nearly-competent servers. Or maybe it's just "meh."

Having a look at the LudoBites menu, it reads fairly impressively. But the preparations themselves were sloppy and inelegant--assembled with a heavy hand. That's where the home cook criticism comes in. I could buy ham, foie gras, bread, slap the ingredients together and grill it to the level of Chef Ludo's kitchen. In fact I do it, sans foie gras, a couple times a week. But I can't wrap a perfectly-packaged panino like Bacaro or the Cheese Store of Silverlake.

Throwing foie gras on a decent grilled cheese sandwich is like bolting implants on a bucktoothed hooker. Worth your time? Maybe. Worth the money? No. Fine dining isn't about indulging in luxury products for the sake of indulging in them or experiencing a bacon-maple cupcake for the sake of the story.

Contrasting LudoBites with its closest cousin I've experienced, Le Pigeon in Portland, shows LudoBites falling short on all counts. Where Le Pigeon did weird and whimsical steeped in honest innovation and virtuosic preparation, LudoBites wallows in high-concept just enough-itude.

LudoBites' chocolate cupcake with foie gras chantilly and maple-bacon crumbles is the strongest case in point and contrasts disfavorably with Le Pigeon's foie gras pumpkin pie. In LudoBites' case, the cupcake itself was of a quality on par with what you might get at a Kindergarten birthday party, the chantilly was liver-y, and the bacon-maple bits were tooth-crackingly carbonized.

At LudoBites, the menu description intrigues you enough to draw you in, but so does a neon marquee advertising "Live Nude Girls." Either way in the end you leave kinda happy but with a lighter wallet and the vague sensation that you've been scammed.

LudoBites (on hiatus)
8718 West Third St.
Los Angeles, Ca 90048


Noah said...

When I saw "uncomfortable stools" I was all ready for a poop joke. You let me down, sir.

Steve said...

My only objection is that you give far too much credit to the mediocrity that is Chicago dining.