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[CHI] L.2O - Laurent Gras


allenkelson
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In January New York magazine pointed out that "Laurent Gras, the talented chef best known here for his work at Peacock Alley...is launching an ambitious haute cuisine restaurant in Chicago, L20, and recently launched a blog detailing the process: the how and why of the butter program, the bread, even the very wood of the place. It’s a fascinating view of how one of the country’s top chefs thinks about creating a restaurant, told in the first person."

I've been following the blog, which at first seemed quirky, but I now see as often insightful and entertaining at its worst; I look forward to seeing a post from it in my email almost daily. I've been fortunate enough to have tasted a few tastings of Gras's phenomenal creations ("cooking" isn't always an apt term for his food), and I'm convinced his work here will become one of the city's defining culinary accomplishments. His food is often witty, frequently ingenious, and sometimes pathbreaking, but it always begins with an underlying sensibility about gastronomic satisfaction, rather than mere showmanship.

Just to keep the record straight, L.2o is associated with Lettuce Entertain You. After I retired as a restaurant critic, I became a consultant to Lettuce, among others, and that's how I first came in contact with Gras's work: Till his new kitchen is ready, his atelier has been at Tru. I'm recommending his blog to my fellow eGulleteers not because I'm a flack for the operation — I definitely am not — but because I've learned so much from it, despite having spent 30+ years in the culinary field.

I never know what I'll find in his blog. One day he writes about commuting by bicycle; another time it's about the wood on his as-yet unbuilt walls. Last week he wrote about toro so fat it melted at room temperature; yesterday it was the flesh and skin of variegated lemons. The blog has told readers why he insists on churning butter himself, but he's also experimenting with — and running readers' thoughts on — freeze-drying.

Not even his routines are routine! Today he talks about the "greens database" he's put together for produce ordering, staff training, and recipe development. The installment is at http://www.l2o.typepad.com/.

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  • 1 month later...

You know, this place is about 1 month and the blog is fascinating. There seems to be no expense spared in terms of equipment and ideas -- cold smokers, freeze driers, etc... They want to want to make EVERYTHING from scratch; bread, butter, curing meat, etc...

The blog is really good reading, and the restaurant appears to be very interesting...

If you liked Alinea development, this is good too!

http://l2o.typepad.com/l2o_blog/

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You know, this place is about 1 month and the blog is fascinating.  There seems to be no expense spared in terms of equipment and ideas  -- cold smokers, freeze driers, etc... They want to want to make EVERYTHING from scratch; bread, butter, curing meat, etc...

The blog is really good reading, and the restaurant appears to be very interesting...

If you liked Alinea development, this is good too!

http://l2o.typepad.com/l2o_blog/

Peter, you are right - it does appear that Chef Gras (and his team) are sparing no expenses. I look forward to hearing about the opening.

u.e.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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You know, this place is about 1 month and the blog is fascinating.  There seems to be no expense spared in terms of equipment and ideas  -- cold smokers, freeze driers, etc... They want to want to make EVERYTHING from scratch; bread, butter, curing meat, etc...

The blog is really good reading, and the restaurant appears to be very interesting...

If you liked Alinea development, this is good too!

http://l2o.typepad.com/l2o_blog/

Peter, you are right - it does appear that Chef Gras (and his team) are sparing no expenses. I look forward to hearing about the opening.

u.e.

I am heading out to Chicago at the end of may, now I have a resy at Alinea, North Pond and L2o

I was a huge fan of his cooking in NYC at Peacock Alley. It was a sleeper restaurant.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I ate there on Wednesday and was seriously impressed. I think this is quickly going to become one of Chicago's most important restaurants. I hope to make a longer report, along with some photos, shortly.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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L.2O Restaurant

2300 N Lincoln Park West

Chicago, IL 60614

(773) 868-0002

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Finally, opening night. After having read Chef Laurent Gras (and his team) post bits of information on their blog, we get to see all the pieces assembled and experience the machine.

Prior to L.2O, Chef Gras has worked in France, and in the east and west sides of the U.S. Today, the Heartland will play host to his, and Richard Melman's (aka Mr. Lettuce Entertain You), visions.

THE ENVIRONMENT

L.2O is located in the Belden Stratford Hotel, in the space that Ambria occupied, ten and one half months ago. Since Ambria was part of the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) group, it was easy to move into the space. Not having been to Ambria (but many times to Mon Ami Gabi, located just across the hall), I cannot elaborate on how much work was done to transform the space into, the now, ultra clean and modern aesthetic, but I can say that that it looks like a complete make-over.

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Experiencing the restaurant begins with the valet service. Once you tell the valet that you are dining at L.2O (remember that Mon Ami Gabi share the same building entrance), it is like going through the first class, express check-in at the airport. They take your car, with no ticket given, and radio in your arrival to the host staff.

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You then go through (unassisted) the hotel lobby and find your way to the entrance of the restaurant. It is quite easy to find the doors to the restaurant, as the wall of ebony wood are quite different from the look and feel of the hotel lobby. And just in case you are not sure, there is sign on the door.

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As you enter, Katie, the maître d' / hosttes, who was at Alinea and Tru prior, greets you by name. Here you can start to piece some of the elements of the restaurant. The current website illustration is a perspective drawing of the entry vestibule. The area is dark, yet warm, made comfortable by an always smiling group of FOH staff. These wood monoliths, are irregularly spaced, providing one with different glimpses into the main dining room. Sort of reminds me of the Tadao Ando room at the Art Institute. I wonder if there will be a mini shop, like at Tru's entry, promoting those little Laurent Gras products -- I want mine with an engraved signature, please.

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Having arrived very early, I decide to have a beverage while I wait for the rest of my party. To the left of the entry vestibule, there is a lounge area, designed as a waiting area. On a first come first serve basis, you can come in enjoy their lounge menu of food and drink. In fact there were a few people there already way ahead of the game. As this area was full, I decided to wait in the hotel lobby, and ordered the L.2O gimlet. Gimlet, you say, but why does it have an orange hue, you ask? The gimlet part is the standard recipe; gin (a not so dry version, can't recall the name), and lime juice. The L.2O addition is Aperol, Italian aperitif, made by Campari. This was a tasty beverage of citrus and bitters; "adult candy." This cocktail, along with the Mediterranean Breeze, are shaken table side with Alessi Cocktail shaker.

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This was served by our captain for the evening, Alyson (not the lady pictured in the above). I bring this up because of how the restaurant operates. As soon as the hostess greets and welcomes you, they introduce you to your personal captain, who takes you down to your table. Although there are other staff members assisting in your evening's experience, through out the whole evening, the captain and the sommelier are primarily the ones you will be interacting with. Not to say that the general manager, floor manager, and any of the head honchos will be stopping by to check in.

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As our party has arrived, we decided to have a cocktail in the lounge area. Most everybody had the house aperitif, a champagne cocktail. I, the caipirinha. Although the lounge is in the same room as the main dining room, a frosted glass panel hinders your view into the main space. The tables and chairs are slightly different from the main space, providing one with more a 'lounge' atmosphere. As we sat comfortably, enjoying our beverage, I noticed the only piece of wall art.

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1945 (7:45 pm), and we were ready to be seated. We have been enjoying the space, beverages and hospitality for 45 minutes, that we almost forgot the main reason for coming in this evening.

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As you move from the lounge area into dining room, you take a couple of steps down into a more grandiose space. The walls of the room is clad with wood veneer panels, and series of tensioned cables provides a visual dispersion of the space. There is music in the air, not classical, but hip and modern. I was informed that the harmonic selections were made by the folks at Buddha Bar, in New York.

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We were seated at the only six-top in the main ding room, behind the floral arrangements, which were sandwiched between two pieces of clear glass. The three private dining rooms can hold much more. The main dining room has about 18 tables. Although tonight the restaurant will operate under capacity, filling around 10 of 18 tables, with no tatami and private party seatings. This will ramp up in the coming weeks.

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The table is an ebody veneer, similar to the wood monoliths in the entry. On the table is your linen napkin, a blue (O-Ridel?) stemless glass, bread plate, silverware on top of a thin and slender slab of onyx, and a short plastic cylinder. The custom, leather wrapped chairs are cantilevered, proving a stiff and springy feel. It was very comfortable. And we are going to need comfort as we were going to be seated there for almost six hours.

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THE MENU

There are going to be three type of menus that planned once everything is up and running; lounge menu, main dining room menu, and the tatami room menu. The main dining room menu, will be presented in their private rooms. The menu offerings for the main dining room are:

12-course tasting ($165)

4-course prix fixe ($110)

à la carte, snack size (range $15-$110).

à la carte, super sized (range $45- $140)

Note that the staff responded affirmatively when we inquired about the possibility of a party having a 12 and 4 course menu.

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For those that can't read it...

12-course tasting

- Hokkaido Scallop

- Shimaaji

- Tuna-Hamachi

- Octopus

- Morels

- Codfish

- Lobster

- Halibut

- Black Bass

- Medai

- Mango

- Praline

4-course prix fixe

RAW (course 1)

- Salmon, Ginger, Parsley, Cantaloupe

- Fluke, Lemon Vinegar, Caviar, Basil Seeds

- Vegetable Consommé, Parmesan, Pistachio, Zucchini Strip

- Sashimi Platter, Kinmedai, Fluke, Kampachi

- Kinmedai, Cherry Wood Scented, Shiso Flowers

- Medai, Shiso Leaf, Preserved Lemon

- Peekytoe Crab, Avocado, Kaffir Lime, Lemon Oil

- Geoduck, Citrus, Wasabi

- Tuna, Hamachi, Yuzu, Soy Sauce, Olive Oil

- Escolar Jamón, Espelette

- Shimaaji, Red Miso, Radish, Soy Salt

WARM (course 2)

- Kampachi, Mojama, Balsamic Vinegar, Raspberry

- Octopus, Coconut, Sea Bean, Olive Oil

- Salted Cod, Fingerling Potato, Smoked Gelatin, Caviar

- Lamb Tartar, Ebi Shrimp, Pickled Peach, Tarragon

- Scallop, Sassafras, Hibiscus, Tomato

- Lobster Bisque, Chestnut, Lobster Dumpling

- Burrata Cappelli, Nepitella Mint, Cherry Stone Clam, Jamón Bouillon

- Gold Egg Yolk, Kampachi, Kurobuta Pork, Sake

MAIN (course 3)

- Lobster, Tahitian Vanilla, Chanterelle, Watermelon Radish

- Skate Wing, Bordelaise, Asparagus

- Ivory King Salmon, Pea, Chorizo Bouillon

- Cod Fish, Green Olive, Lemon, White Grits

- Black Bass, Shellfish Bouillon, Saffron, Rhode Island Mussel

- Pork Belly, Truffle, Potato

- Lamb Loin, Rhubarb, Tomato, Cu beb Pepper, Zucchini

- Shabu-Shabu Medai, Kombu Bouillon, Citrus, King Trumpe

DESSERT (course 4)

- Soufflé, Orange, Grand Marnier

- Soufflé, Praline, Praline

- Cheese (pre-selected by the house)

- a selection from the dessert menu

à la carte

- Sashimi Platter, Ishidai

- Shellfish Platter, Oyster, Clam, Scallop, Lobster, Shrimp, Octopus, Uni

- Miyazaki Wagyu Beef, Lettuce, Heart of Palm, Beetroot

- Kindai Toro, Green Apple, Miso, Olive, Sudashi

- Amadai, Crispy Scale, Ginger Bouillon, Tapioca Pearl

- Dover Sole, Champagne, Scallop, Watercress, Sorrel

- Ossetra Caviar, Toro, Avocado

- Ossetra Caviar ( loz) , Toast, Crème Fraîche

The wine list was huge and selections were varied and excellent. Today, we were going to leave all of that decision making to our sommelier, Chantal (Ritz-Carlton Buckhead Café, Atlanta). The other sommelier also on the floor is Doug (Spring Restaurant Group, Chicago). The wine pairing for our 12-course menu was $85.

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Fascinating. Nice work,a s usual, YT. I'm looking forward to the presentation of the actual meal.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Fascinating. Nice work,a s usual, YT. I'm looking forward to the presentation of the actual meal.

Thanx John. The meal was fantastic.

Amazing looking meal! Though not a clone, the influence of Alinea appears to permeate this restaurant. From what I saw and read, this restaurant appears to be a must on my next Chicago visit, which can't come too soon.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Fascinating. Nice work,a s usual, YT. I'm looking forward to the presentation of the actual meal.

Thanx John. The meal was fantastic.

Amazing looking meal! Though not a clone, the influence of Alinea appears to permeate this restaurant. From what I saw and read, this restaurant appears to be a must on my next Chicago visit, which can't come too soon.

John, before you come to Chicago, try Le Bernardin. I would be interested to hear about the differences and similarities.

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Fascinating. Nice work,a s usual, YT. I'm looking forward to the presentation of the actual meal.

Thanx John. The meal was fantastic.

Amazing looking meal! Though not a clone, the influence of Alinea appears to permeate this restaurant. From what I saw and read, this restaurant appears to be a must on my next Chicago visit, which can't come too soon.

John, before you come to Chicago, try Le Bernardin. I would be interested to hear about the differences and similarities.

Although it has been awhile, I have been to Le Bernardin several times. Why this comparison?

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Fascinating. Nice work,a s usual, YT. I'm looking forward to the presentation of the actual meal.

Thanx John. The meal was fantastic.

Amazing looking meal! Though not a clone, the influence of Alinea appears to permeate this restaurant. From what I saw and read, this restaurant appears to be a must on my next Chicago visit, which can't come too soon.

John, before you come to Chicago, try Le Bernardin. I would be interested to hear about the differences and similarities.

Although it has been awhile, I have been to Le Bernardin several times. Why this comparison?

When I think of seafood, French, and in the U.S., Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin comes to mind. I would, IMHO, probably find this to be more of a direct correlation, than Alinea.
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I just had a (fantastic) dinner at Le Bernardin. With the exception of the inclusion of meat dishes, it does seem, from reading the menu and seeing your photos, that L.20 is more akin to Le Bernardin than to, say alinea. I can see how the presentation/plating of the dishes might remind one of Achatz's aesthetics, however.

That being said, it *seems* to me (having never eaten at L.2) that a comparison to both Le Bernardin and alinea seems inadequate, if not inappropriate.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Fascinating. Nice work,a s usual, YT. I'm looking forward to the presentation of the actual meal.

Thanx John. The meal was fantastic.

Amazing looking meal! Though not a clone, the influence of Alinea appears to permeate this restaurant. From what I saw and read, this restaurant appears to be a must on my next Chicago visit, which can't come too soon.

John, before you come to Chicago, try Le Bernardin. I would be interested to hear about the differences and similarities.

Although it has been awhile, I have been to Le Bernardin several times. Why this comparison?

When I think of seafood, French, and in the U.S., Chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin comes to mind. I would, IMHO, probably find this to be more of a direct correlation, than Alinea.

Doh, the seafood predominance of L2O passed me by. It was the style of the restaurant rather than the source of the principle proteins that caught my attention at first.

I'm not sure why the comparison would be inadequate or inappropriate, U.E. Maybe the comparison is not valid, but I don't see why it can not be made.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Sorry, not inappropriate in the sense that such a comparison should not be made. Surely, your comparison is valid. Perhaps I should have said that the comparison is a weak one.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Sorry, not inappropriate in the sense that such a comparison should not be made.  Surely, your comparison is valid.  Perhaps I should have said that the comparison is a weak one.

Neither of us have yet to eat at L2O. You may be right that ultimately the comparison to either Le Bernardin or Alinea is a weak one, but I still don't understand why you would say so at this point.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Sorry, not inappropriate in the sense that such a comparison should not be made.  Surely, your comparison is valid.  Perhaps I should have said that the comparison is a weak one.

Neither of us have yet to eat at L2O. You may be right that ultimately the comparison to either Le Bernardin or Alinea is a weak one, but I still don't understand why you would say so at this point.

While L.20 certainly has the seafood theme in common with Le Bernardin, Gras seems to be doing something more progressive than Ripert. Ripert's treatment of seafood seems more classical, traditional, and simplistic (in terms of flavors and ingredients) that what is going on here.

At the same time, Gras's cooking doesn't seem to reach as far "in the future," so to speak, as Achatz. It doesn't appear that Gras's cooking relies on technoemotional modes, so a comparison to alinea seems not quite right.

Of course, you know me doc, I can't wait to test my own observations. I'm *hoping* to make it back up to Chicago in July.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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I believe Laurent Gras is one of the most talented chefs in the country and maybe L.20 will finely give him the opportunity to showcase that talent.

Like in 94 when Thomas Keller took a drive to the unheard of small town of Yountville. It sometimes is a matter of making the right choices at the right time and more then a little luck.

Anyone notice the blog post the other day mentioning there is no pastry chef?

Robert R

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well I have a res tonight at L20, and being from NYC, I have eaten at Bernardin a bunch of times. Bernardin is very traditional, it seems the only comparison to L2O would be the use of seafood as a main ingredient.

IMHO, Bernardin is good, but not great. Daniel Hume at 11 Madison Park does fish as good or better, and the overall meal and experience there is almost peerless.

To throw more logs on the fire, I ate the other night at Alinea and left unimpressed and disappointed.

I know I am in the minority when it comes to this belief, but while interesting, it was not the be all and end all by any means. I feel this way for a variety of reasons.

I am however really looking forward to L20, as I have eaten Chef Gras' food at Peacock Alley in NY and it was exceptional.

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