the Insiders


April 9, 2010 4:53 PM


LudoBites Pops Up in Los Angeles

Ludovic Lefebvre at work.Courtesy photo There are many ways to describe L.A. chef Ludovic Lefebvre. There's dreamy, judging by his centerfold-style photo in his 2005 cookbook, "Crave: The Feast of the Five Senses," in which he wades into the...

Ludovic Lefebvre at work.
Courtesy photo
There are many ways to describe L.A. chef Ludovic Lefebvre. There's dreamy, judging by his centerfold-style photo in his 2005 cookbook, "Crave: The Feast of the Five Senses," in which he wades into the ocean wearing nothing but tattoos and a pair of wet jeans, manhandling a giant striped sea bass in each hand.

There's angry. Artist Burton Morris has portrayed him as a beady-eyed rooster with a heart tattoo, wielding a big knife.

There's also easily excitable and slightly cuckoo, based on his manic performance last year on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters."

Last Tuesday, two days before the grand opening of the fourth edition of his pop-up restaurant called LudoBites, he says he's "happy these days. Tomorrow, I go to the market. Maybe my mood will change."

The foie gras croque monsieur.
Courtesy photo
His temperament will likely swing in many directions over the next two months while LudoBites occupies a sparsely decorated eatery called Gram & Papa's, where it will continue to serve its popular egg white omelets and olive oil-poached tuna to designers and sales reps manning the apparel showrooms in the city's Fashion District. After 4 p.m., Lefebvre and his wife, Krissy, will wheel the drink bar to the back and bring out the huge terrine of foie gras, white asparagus, lobster and other ingredients that Lefebvre and his staff need to prepare French-inspired dinners for 100 patrons each night.

Compared to his previous stints at L'Orangerie and Bastide, both of which won him the Mobile Travel Guide Five Star Award, LudoBites is a more personal -- if not primal -- venture.

"I don't want to do a big restaurant," says Lefebvre, who grew up in a village of 50,000 in France's Burgundy region. "I want to know my customers. It's like my house. I want to play the music I want. I want to be accessible to people. I want to talk to them about food, life, art and fashion. A restaurant is about communication."

Lefebvre has excelled in communicating his vision of guerrilla gastronomy, which launched three years ago with two turns at BreadBar and another at Royal/T in Culver City, Calif. He also took LudoBites to the streets in a truck painted as red as a cockscomb, dishing out fried chicken to hungry urbanites.

At the pop-up LudoBites, every dinner seat is booked through its run, which ends May 28. Some enterprising eaters have scalped their reservations online.

"We didn't expect any of this," Krissy says. "I didn't sleep last night," she confesses, hiding her silvery blue eyes and long blonde hair under horn-rimmed glasses and a camouflage-print cap.

Krissy's own résumé is laced with notoriety. A licensing attorney, she made it to the final six in "The Apprentice" before being fired by Donald Trump three years ago. Afterward, she doffed her business suit to pose nude for Playboy magazine. She now serves as her husband's business manager.

On opening night at LudoBites, as French hip-hop streams from the stereo speakers, Krissy also takes on the role of hostess and cashier. Hanging on the brick wall are two paintings that Lefebvre splashed with bright colors Basquiat-style. One is plastered with the labels of Chateau d'Yquem. Another is his self-portrait as a happy chef with blue eye shadow, surrounded with the initials of his cooking mentors such as Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Passard.

The priciest item on the menu is a $29 croque monsieur made with toasted black squid ink brioche filled with pillow-soft foie gras, melted sheep's milk cheese and prosciutto shavings. There are also Burgundy escargots with garlic flan, steak au poivre with polenta bone marrow and dark chocolate soufflé with black pepper milk chocolate ice cream.

It's unclear where Lefebvre will take LudoBites next. Krissy says they're aiming to launch a week-long run on June 23 at the Hilton Hotel in Bangkok unless the capital of Thailand is paralyzed by another series of political riots. The chatter in the Los Angeles food truck community is that Lefebvre will drive his bright red food truck around the City of Angels and across the country. Lefebvre is coy with his plans for the mobile restaurant.

"I can take it across the Pacific," he says with a wink. "I hear in China they love fried chicken."

Whatever happens, the culinary experiment will leave a lasting impression on the Lefebvres. Four days after LudoBites' grand opening, the couple is scheduled to get tattoos of the rooster logo designed by Burton Morris.

"Ludo loves cocks," Krissy says. "It's the national emblem of France. It's also the only bird standing in sh*t in the morning but is singing."

Sounds a little like her husband.
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