Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ludo Bites

To move forward, we must explore the past. As I delve into my memories of great food, certain memories stand out. I can remember a meal from Chinese New Year, at my uncle's restaurant from when I was 13. I remember every dish, in exact order, and the textures and flavors. That meal included a whole braised shark's fin per person. The texture of the gelatinous strands of shark's fin in the slightly thickened braising liquid was heavenly. Every bite was a culinary adventure, as different aspects of the dish came crashing through...now memories of when I was eight, in Canton, China are flooding my thoughts. An uncle, from my dad's home village, came to visit us at our hotel. With him, he carried a trap full of crabs, freshly caught. They were blue in color, but every other aspect of them reminded me of dungeness crabs. There were at least 30 crabs in that trap, with each crab at least three pounds. We drove around in this beat up van, looking for a restaurant that would cook the crabs for us. On the third try, we found a taker. They steamed up the bunch, and served us. That night, I ate five crabs, brains and all. The meat was sweet and tender, and I left not a strand of meat per my grandma's teachings of never wasting. On that same trip, we also ate Shanghai River crabs, famously known for their eggs. To this day, I crave those river crabs. The succulent, rich roe provided flavors that danced in my mouth. I can't explain the flavors, but yet, I long for it. These memories flood my thoughts, memories from long ago.

In the recent past, I most remember my experience at Breadbar in Hollywood. Breadbar, you ask? I still wonder what the hell we were thinking. But then I remember how we were sitting around, wondering where to go for our Thursday night dinner. We discovered that Ludovic Lefevre, formerly of Bastide, was doing a guest stint at Breadbar. After picking up a few bottles of wine, we headed over and sat outside on the patio. On the menu that night was a cornucopia of tapas-like dishes that Chef Ludo created based on the fresh ingredients he was able to find that morning. We decided on Proscuitto Di Parma with marscapone and honey, a salumi sopressata, foie gras tart with maple syrup, chicken liver mousse tartine with green apple gelee, sauteed scallop and spinach in curry-yogurt soup, rice veloute, beef tenderloin with herb sabayon and aligot puree and a cherry tomato aigre-doux with rigatoncini pasta and poached lobster in tamarind butter. A couple of cheese plates were squeezed in between. We finished with a couple orders of the Red Fire Chocolate Mousse soup and a couple of belle-helene pear milkshakes.

Every dish that came out inspired conversation regarding the combinations of flavors that Chef Ludo put together. For instance, the rice veloute contained grilled mushrooms with garlic soubise, egg mollet and Christmas tree oil. The flavors were initially strange, but then as we thought about it and talked about it and ate more of it, we realized just how inspiring it was.

Eventually, the plates stopped coming out. We were stuffed, but that dissapointment that we were done still lingers in my mind. We went on to discuss why a chef of Ludo's caliber would be cooking in a bakery. We asked that he come out so that we could thank him and chat. When he finally came out, he looked ragged and his apron was dirty. We thanked him and asked him why he was here, and for such a short stint. He went on and on about wanting to be able to cook more affordable meals without sacrificing quality. He wanted more people to be able to eat fine cuisine without having to spend an arm and a leg. It felt like he yearned to connect more with the average joe. He came up with the idea of creating the 'Ludo Bites' menu as a way to keep prices lower, and he chose Breadbar because a friend of his owned it. Considering he was used to commanding close to a score of sous chefs, I thought it was admirable that Chef Ludo went back to his roots and crammed himself into a tiny kitchen and prepared every dish personally.

The food, the company, the wine and the chef made this a memory that I will remember forever. Memories...in the end, that's all we really have. Like that first kiss, or the first time you held her hand, or that look when she smiled, that moment is over quickly. It's the memory that stays forever. It's been months since Chef Ludo finished his stint, and the hints of red jalapeno in those chocolate mousse canales still linger. Merci, Monsieur Lefevre.


CapsiumHeat said...

I had dinner there as well when Ludo was guest-cheffing. That's pretty cool that you were able to go. He definitely likes to explore culinary envelope edges.

Sharon said...

Your descriptions made my mouth water. I'm jealous.