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

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Standing in Line at Wurstkuche

You're excited. It makes sense. Ever since Marketplace profiled your favorite Downtown LA sausage house you've been jonesing to go back. Sure you've only ever had the bratwurst and a Fentinman's ginger brew, but in your mind you eat the rattlesnake and rabbit on a tri-weekly basis while pounding yards of Kwak and hitting on svelte portfolio-toting coeds from Sci-Arc.

You walk through the parted sliding warehouse doors--like entering the vagina of a concrete Decepticon--and find a line. Not a crazy long line, but a line. Maybe a dozen or so people split up into a handful of groups. It's okay. This won't get in the way of your lunch break. After all, you have a whole hour to get there and back to your Bunker Hill cubicle.

But what's this? Twenty minutes have gone by and you haven't moved. Why might this be? Everyone's looking at menus. It's not that complicated at Wurstkuche. Twenty or so sausages, two sizes of frites, and a whole lot of beer. I mean, admittedly you do have to pick two toppings for your sausage. And that's two toppings from an imposing menu of four. With those odds you have only a 75% chance of getting at least one topping you like. Those are odds that'll confuse even the most moronic autistic bookie.

Forty-five minutes roll by with the ease of a Speedo-rockin' Venice Beach denizen on RollerBlades ™ and somehow you've barely moved. Apparently selecting a sausage and deciding on onions versus sauerkraut takes the mental discipline of a seventh generation zen master. And that's without considering the anguish you'll have to go through over the dipping sauces. Sure every sauce is delicious, but you have to choose your two most delicious sauces. Because if you choose wrong, you know what happens? You will only have a VERY delicious sauce instead of the MOST delicious sauce.

Do you dare make such sacrifice?

Do you?

DO YOU?!?!

But finally you make it to the counter and you still have ten minutes to grab your sausage and, I guess, eat at your desk next to the photos of your ex-wife and your Joe Jonas poster while listening to your "Coldplay" channel on Pandora. But at least you have your sausage. Bratwurst again, but, well, hey--maybe next time.

The moral of the story? Sack up and order your damn sausage. It's not that hard. No wonder your wife's fucking the pool boy. And Wurstkuche? Put a freaking menu above the service counter. Christ, it's not that hard. Buy some fucking chalkboard paint. You deserve it. You're delicious.

800 East 3rd St.
Los Angeles, Ca 90013

Sunday, September 06, 2009

HFF on the Road: Jerome, AZ - Day 3

It's so rare in this post-iPhone UrbanSpoon App-age to dine at a restaurant that isn't on the e-radar SOMEWHERE. But I experienced such a phenomenon on our return trip from Jerome.

We opted to take the mountain highways back, as they run the hypotenuse from Jerome to Blythe. Two lane roads versus interstate, but there's a whole helluva lot more character. And I love the Highway 50 drive through the Sierra Nevadas, but US 60 through the Colorado Plateau is pretty goddamn beautiful. It takes you through the (relative) metropolis of Prescott but other than that you're dealing with ranches and creepy trailer park oases waiting for their snowbirds.

Prescott, Arizona came too early for us to be hungry, which was somewhat unfortunate as we discovered that it was basically the only place with multiple food options until, well, Palm Springs (not counting fast food options, naturally).

So we drove and drove and drove and drove and we got really fucking hungry and then we saw it, shimmering on the horizon, some sort of diner. We pulled off the freeway. We ate there.

The establishment in question is Steve & Shelley Bergeson's Ranch House. A thorough google search yielded nothing so it's a good thing I took a picture of the menu.

This was the sort of cash-only greasy spoon with a motorcycle-filled parking lot that exists in my imagination of Hollister is like. Once we found the door to get in, we were greeted warmly and found the place freaking packed. Which given its status as the only place for a home cooked meal for sixty miles makes sort of sense. The menu is a pretty typically diner selection of breakfast favorites with a vague white southwestern tinge.

Service was prompt and friendly and the food was good. My breakfast burrito was retardedly huge, loaded with eggs, potatoes, and peppers. Grandmaster A got a combo loaded with pancakes, eggs, bacon, and a biscuit/gravy combo. Biscuit & gravy was a real shining star, though the applewood bacon was also freaking tasty.

So really, in the world of random sit-down road trip lunhces, this was tops. My only complaint was as follows....

Somehow, our lunch which was advertised at costing ~$18 based on our listed prices ended up somehow coasting close to $40. Sure we got coffee. Sure we got "smothered" hash browns as our sides. But paying double what the listed menu price is makes me think that we were involved in a tourist scam.

And honestly? I don't object. This makes perfect sense. Why not scam douchebags who are cruising through your town to make a buck? Makes sense to me. It was the totally transparent nature of the upsell that pissed me off. "Do you want coffee?" Sure. "Do you want onions and peppers with your hashbrowns?" Fine. "Do you want to pay significantly more for nominal flavor enhancements to your dishes?" Why yes I do! Thanks for asking.

So, despite all the positives I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. It makes me less likely to go BACK to the Bergeson Ranch House on subsequent visits on Arizona highway 60....

Okay, not the most likely scenario, so maybe they're onto a new business model.

Other than being scammed and raped, it was a good restaurant, it's just disappointing that they would resort to such quotidian money stretching maneuvers.

As our day continued we ended up not being hungry again so we basically just kept driving and there isn't anything more to write about. Except for our evening Echo Park cocktail party courtesy of Pharmacie, so....