Foie gras beignets as LudoBites 3.0 debuts at Royal/T
Chef Ludovic Lefebvre built his reputation at fine dining palaces L'Orangerie and Bastide* and cemented it on Top Chef Masters, but he's made his cooking accessible to the rest of us with LudoBites, his pop-up restaurants. These experiments in temporal dining have allowed Lefebvre to innovate in the kitchen while adding an air of exclusivity to dinner. It's all the intensity of an affair without the day-to-day torpor of a marriage.
After a widely acclaimed three-month stint behind the stoves at Breadbar this past summer, Lefebvre on Tuesday night launched LudoBites 3.0 at Japanese maid cafe/art gallery Royal/T. It's a much shorter stint and a much smaller kitchen, but once again, the tattooed French expatriate mixes classic culinary technique with a slew of global influences and ingredients.
The hanger steak topped with fried escargot comes with a side of baby corn, baby bok choy and a black olive mole that Lefebvre learned to make from food blogger Teenage Glutster's mother. The veal udon features French blanquette de veau swimming among udon in a traditional Japanese sukiyaki broth. Garnished with enoki mushrooms, it comes with a dollop of earthy, sesame seed miso paste that's meant to be mixed into the soup.Other playful combos include a tissue-thin sliver of eggplant paper floating on squid that's accompanied by pickled onions, chorizo oil and kimchi puree. Black squid ink powder is sprinkled on scallops with brown butter and tiny pineapple chunks. Then there's Lefebvre's most profoundly gluttonous creation, a foie gras beignet. With a whopping two ounces of foie gras encased in a crisply fried, honey-glazed ball of dough, it's the Humvee of duck liver, flaunting its size, its sumptuousness, its sheer lack of necessity.
Most of the dishes, aside from the hanger steak ($22), wild striped bass with yuzu aoili ($18) and the foie gras beignet ($16), cost $12-$13. But the menu will change -- frequently. Since last night (when I ate there) Lefebvre has already made two changes, adding a fish ceviche and a caramelized Clementine dessert. "I expect by the last week [the menu] will be about 75% different from this week," says Ludo's wife and GM, Krissy Lefebvre (a.k.a. FrenchChefWife).
Look for Lefebvre's version of chicken and waffles as well as his foie croque monsieur. "I am sure that our adventures in Puerto Rico this weekend at a Top Chef Masters reunion charity event will be all sorts of inspiration for next week's menu," Krissy says.
The problem isn't finding new dishes to amuse your bouche; Lefebvre seems to be pulling from a bottomless bag of culinary ideas. The problem is getting a table. The 15-day engagement (Dec. 2-4; Dec. 9-10; Dec. 13-17; Dec. 18-19; and Dec. 20-22), presented in conjunction with Jane Glassman's "In Bed Together" exhibit, was completely booked a day-and-a-half after reservations opened. For Lefebvre's growing fan base, it will only add to the demands that he open his own restaurant.
Photos: Top Left: Squid with eggplant paper / Two Hungry Pandas. Top Right: Veal Udon / Gourmet Pigs. Bottom Right: Foie gras beignet / Two Hungry Pandas. Bottom Left: Scallops with brown butter and pineapple / Gourmet Pigs.