When Chef Austin aka Living to Eat aka the newly hired pastry chef at Westside Tavern invited me along as part of his quattro for the highly sought ressie bid competition that happens online about 2 months prior, I was IN with no turning back. Making up the foursome was the fabulous Andee from LA Easy Meals and the should-be-food-blogger Pinoy Panda whom I immediately loved for bringing one of my favorite wines to the show: Gruner Veltliner, which he'd randomly sampled hours before at a wine shop, deciding to purchase 6 bottles on the spot.
We started off with the Tartine Plate "Warm Baguette" with honey-lavender butter and smoked lard ($4). The bread sat there for what seemed to be hours to me, but in reality, minutes.
"Can I dig in? Is it OK if I rip off the bread Greek style?" I asked the guys as we sat waiting for LA Easy Meals to appear.
Luckily the guys all nodded and I tore off a huge chunk of salt crusted bread, slathering it with what I suspected to be the lavender-honey butter. A divine combination of soft perfumed butter and fresh bread with the occasional salt granule. I dabbled in the smoked lard, but ultimately the pig grease was not my thing.
Bread's BFFs: lavender-honey butter and smoked lard
"It's not really hand whipped"
Austin whispered to our table as the Brie Chantilly, honey comb, frisee salad, balsamic ($7) arrived at our table. He explained to us how Chef Ludo hired him on to work in the Ludobites kitchen for 2 days and that the brie was made on site, but with the help of electric machinery. The brie itself was truly an extension of the previous two butters we'd engulfed. A dab of honey comb, a shred of frisee and a spot of balsamic made the perfect bite, although it would have been even better with a little more crunch (bread?).
The whipped cream of all Bries
The Crispy Soft Shell Crab Cornet, Mango, Red Spicy Mango, and Corona Granite ($19) was one of my favorites of the night. It was a whimsical play on something straight out of Coney Island, but in the South of France? I loved everything about this appetizer, from the warm sweetness of the crab played up by the mango and a savory crunch from the cornet shell with the corona granite cooling my tongue between bites. So much fun to eat!
Crab ice cream cone
I told my table I really, really wanted the Seabream Ceviche with heirloom tomatoes, jalapenos, meyer lemon paste and cilantro flower ($14). Luckily, they were all nods and it turned out to be a lovely addition to our appetizers by providing an acidic freshness pow to the other dishes. The cilantro flower made me chuckle inside, hearing my Significant (m)Other's voice telling me to "cut off the herbs' flowering heads lest they go to seed!" and here I am in a fancy dinning situation eating the actual flowers.
Fresh and Sassy Ceviche
While discussing the menu, Fiona of Gourmet Pigs popped over from her spot two tables down, mentioning the Foie Gras with green cabbage, kimchi consomme, pickled turnips and sesame oil ($26) to be her favorite of the night. The guys looked at each other and nodded. I looked at Andee with slight horror in my eyes while she firmly stated she did not want to eat any fattened duck liver that night (or maybe never ever). Having never eaten foie gras before, but being sort of disgusted with the thought of eating force-feed mashed up duck liver, I convinced myself that I must perform my due diligence as a food blogger and try fatty liver. I bailed and ate the scallops (see below) instead. I did try the consomme and the turnips, which were highly flavorful, however I wasn't ready to pop my foie gras cherry just yet by breaking into the green cabbage mystery.
Kimchi and foie gras looking like green brains
The Scallops with spinach, yogurt-curry, spring garlic and violet flowers ($14) were perfectly, perfectly cooked! Andee and I took a bite of our scallops and mutually both gasped a long "Mmmmmmmmm." They were perfectly seared on the outside and perfectly creamy and fresh on the inside. I enjoyed the foamy yogurt curry and appreciated that it didn't overpower the delicate scallops, like I thought it potentially could do.
LudoBites heavenly scallops
My dinning companions supported me in my other favorite for the night: Marinated King Salmon with German ButterBall potato, red wine vinaigrette and creme fraiche ($15), by gifting me the last bite. The tangy salmon melted in my mouth. I loved the thin red onions and smooth potato paired together with the slightly briny salmon.
My golden child for the night: salmon and potato
Our main entrees came next, starting with the Squid "Carbonara" with pancetta, poached egg (63 degrees), parmesean snow and chive flowers ($18). This dish is truly the epitome of Chef Ludo's creative forces of nature. Since Austin had just got the job as Pastry Chef of Westside Tavern, he got the honors of cracking the egg, all the while Chef Ludo making funny faces at us from afar. Once the egg was broken and mixed into curls of tender calamari & friends, the result was a rich, smokey "pasta" dish.
For not being a big cow eater, I wanted more of the Flat-Iron Steak with escargot red butter, shallots jam, roasted eggplant and carrot slaw ($27). The tender steak was complimented well by the butter, shroom-like escargots. I sampled the roasted eggplant schmear separately and appreciated the the robustness, but not sure how this component fit in to the rest of the dish. The steak and escargots alone was enough intensity for my humble palate.
The new Turf and Turf: Steak and snails
The Rack of lamb (roasted in it's own fat), goat cheese, artichoke and mint with potato mousseline ($26) was another reason to turn me into an everyday carnivore. Austin, again, had the honors of cutting up the meat.
"I usually don't do this, but it's a special occasion tonight," he said forking a piece of lamb fat and popping it in his mouth.
I wasn't that daring to delve into the fat; the muscle was plenty tasty for me.
Lamb and Taters
We paused to open our rose cava reserved for desserts.
We ordered the two desserts available that night. The Dark chocolate souffle with vanilla whipped cream and hot chocolate cream ($13) was a masterpiece of what it means to be a fluffy and light souffle. This is it.
The Souffle of souffles
The Strawberry, macaron and lemon-verbena meringue ($12) was something every Hello Kitty pencil box toting 4th grader girl (and me) dreams of. Light, fluffy, pretty, berry and a little sugary crunch that floats like Sanrio dreams.
Hello Kitty? Are you under there?
Delicious times at LudoBites 4.0 at Gram & Papa's. I'm so there for 5.0!
Danny of Kung Food Panda sneaked into this one, with Chef Ludo, Austin, Me, Andee and Rimel.
LudoBites 4.0 until May 28th!
Gram and Papa's
227 East 9th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015