French chef Ludovic Lefebvre aka "Ludo," has been on my radar, but elusive to me for many years now. He's cooked in several notable French restaurants in Paris, as well as in LA, or at least when LA had more than one high end French restaurant. After honing his French chops to a tee parfait, he introduced Los Angeles to a new kind of pop-up. Ludo's pop-ups were one of the hottest tickets in town, crashing internet servers for people trying to get one of the limited time seats in a rotating slate of restaurants. I was one of the people crashing servers to get a taste of Ludo's creation, but to no avail. The best I could do is eat some of his succulent fried chicken on his food truck.
Then at long last, Ludo teamed up with the adventurous epicureans of Animal, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, to create Trois Mec, translated to three guys in French. And again, entry became elusive to me and many other Angelenos. "Tickets" are sold and released online two weeks in advance, every other Friday at 8 in the morning. You must buy a seat in advance and pre-pay for your prix fixed meal at $75 a head, plus tax and gratuity, which comes in just shy of $100 and doesn't include alcohol or any supplements you might want. That's not cheap, and the question I keep returning to is, is it worth it?
When you arrive at the address for Trois Mec, you'll find yourself in a strip mall off Highland, where there's a neon sign touting Raffalo's Pizza. You need to know that this is the place even though there's no sign for Trois Mec. You're only hint is a French Parking sign out front.
We had an early bird seating at 6pm. If you arrive early, you'll be sitting on the bench overlooking the 76 gas station until the door is unlocked promptly at 6:00pm. We snagged front row seats at the counter where we could watch our meal and the master create. Ludo was in the kitchen the whole night, mostly calling orders to which others would respond, "Oui, chef." We were also greeted with a roaring French chorus of "Bonsoir!" when we walked in, making me feel right at home. Everyone working in the kitchen was extremely nice and helpful in describing what they were making and what we were eating and then repeating it when we couldn't discern specific ingredients.
An assortment of "Snacks" arrived in rapid fire succession in beautiful neutral colored terra cotta as soon as we sat down. Snacks included buckwheat popcorn with rice vinegar powder (as if grapenuts partnered with a salt and vinegar chip), grilled brioche with sweet clove butter (a dreamy version of a Krispy Kreme), a sunchoke chip with wakame sesame (like the Terra Veggie chips) and a crisp humus with butter dill. The snacks packed a lot of flavor into small bites. We were off to a good start.
We watched the thin layers of the beef carpaccio being compiled in front of us. A bed of dense yogurt that's quickly grilled took the bottom layer, then fermented black walnut and caramelized eggplant filled the middle before thin cuts of tender and seasoned raw beef were draped across the melange for one outstanding dish. Each layer on its own was robust and pronounced, but together, they were a divine chorus.
The Nantucket Bay scallops were an optional supplement that we tried next. They were more subtle and nuanced with a gentle citrus providing contrast to tandoori, cauliflower and sesame.
Our next plate contained a single piece of cabbage, cooked sous vide and then grilled for one amazing smoky, flavorful green. But they didn't stop there. The lone leaf was accompanied by smoked almond milk anglaise, bone marrow flan and a cured egg. Truly unique and full of intense flavors.
We watched warm potatoes pushed through a hand press for a plate of 'potato pulp', enhanced by rich brown butter, salty bonita, sweet onion sauce and a salers cheese. The fully loaded potato dish hit all notes.
Thin strips of rare duck were neatly tucked under a wilted, charred endive, duck skin puree and candied orange for yet another full bodied, nuanced plate.
Trois Mec does offer a vegetarian option, which my friend enjoyed alongside of me, with meat omitted from most of the same dishes and vegetables substituted throughout. In place of the duck, she received a warm bowl filled with a salty broth, mushrooms and hazelnuts. A worthy substitute.
Ludo's take on a cheese course came in the form of a creamed brie with apple butter, toasted barley and hay since I don't think you can be an of-the-moment restaurant without hay. I can still taste my hay heavy meal at Copenhagen's Noma. I would have liked a little more differentiation in texture for this dish, but you can pretty much whip any cheese and add butter to it and I won't complain much.
Dessert was the most disappointing course. The powdered sugar covered eclairs were dry and the miso caramels were nearly impossible to pick up in one piece since the high butter content had heartily embraced the plate. Again though, can't complain too much with a lot of sugar assembled in one bite.
Overall, I was impressed with the quality of ingredients, the layers of unique flavors and the bold plating of diverse tastes. The one thing I'm still torn about is the price. You're going to spend at least $150 each with 2 glasses of wine, which is an expensive meal. I very much recognize the amount of work that goes into each plate, but then I think about my recent experience at Bon Appetit's Best New Restaurant Alma. That meal was a lot less (though before the mandatory tasting menu) and Chef Ari Taymor is doing some similar experimenting with flavors and ingredients, though in a slightly different way. I would say I enjoyed my meal more at Trois Mec, but for the money, I don't think I'll be back anytime soon, unless you're buying?!
The good news is that the trend of serving the freshest ingredients in unique combinations is here to stay, and it's nice to have a selection of restaurants to choose from at all price points.