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allenkelson

[CHI] L.2O - Laurent Gras

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I thought Bruni raised some valid points (as much as I enjoy the food, the service does still need work). I'm also more partial to the appetizers than the main courses (although I still enjoy both).

I've now eaten there three times, and still enjoy the place immensely. Their raw preparations are some of the best I've had anywhere (especially the lamb/ebi tartare which is a stunning dish to both look at and eat). I think if the main dishes can be elevated just ever so slightly (along with the service), L2O would be a solid 4-star restaurant. As it stands right now, I would agree with this statement from Bruni:

But it has certainly vaulted to the top tier of Chicago’s restaurants and is undeniably one of the country’s outstanding newcomers, with a few dishes as impressive and enjoyable as any I’ve come across in many months.

As for comparing it to other restaurants, it's inevitable given what they're serving. It doesn't make it right though. It's like all the nonsense with lumping Achatz, Bowles, and Cantu together. Maybe it makes sense superficially, but if you really understand how all 3 cook it makes less and less sense.

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But it has certainly vaulted to the top tier of Chicago’s restaurants and is undeniably one of the country’s outstanding newcomers, with a few dishes as impressive and enjoyable as any I’ve come across in many months.

As for comparing it to other restaurants, it's inevitable given what they're serving.

And what is that? Very expensive (over-priced?) food?

It doesn't make it right though.  It's like all the nonsense with lumping Achatz, Bowles, and Cantu together.  Maybe it makes sense superficially, but if you really understand how all 3 cook it makes less and less sense.

I'm not sure I see it as a right/wrong issue as much as I just find the comparison utterly worthless and incoherent. What does Achatz's, Ripert's, Vongerichten's, and Chang's food have in common? The only one I can think of is that their food is presented in a "haute" manner and comes at a high tariff. I suppose you could argue that much of it is technically French-based. But then that comparison could go on almost ad infinitum.

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My only point is that writers like to make these intellectually lazy comparisons. Before I went to L2O I thought I would be able to easily compare it to Le Bernadain. After I went I realized that the comparison can't be made any further than "two restaurants that specialize in seafood".

While L2O is expensive, I'm not so sure that it's overpriced given the quality of many of the ingredients that they're using. If you're going to serve top quality seafood (taking out of the equation whether you like the cooking or not), you're going to have to pay top dollar (especially in the middle of the country). I mean, when was the last time you ate at a cheap sushi place in Chicago (or, really most cities for that matter) that was any good?

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While L2O is expensive, I'm not so sure that it's overpriced given the quality of many of the ingredients that they're using.

I am.

To me, the word "overpriced" (your word, not mine) means that either you can get better quality for the same price, or similar quality for less money. I've found better quality food, including the seafood dishes, for the same price at those other top-tier restaurants that don't specialize in seafood. I've also found better quality seafood for significantly less money at Oceanique (just to cite one example), which may not use the foams and may not have the decor but I know for sure I'll get one dish after another that will be "wow, delicious!", without any misses like the main courses at L2O.

when was the last time you ate at a cheap sushi place in Chicago (or, really most cities for that matter) that was any good?

L2O isn't a sushi place. It's a restaurant that serves many foods, with an emphasis on seafood.


Edited by nsxtasy (log)

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My focus here is on the raw ingredients (meaning the actual quality of the fish, not what is done to the fish after it arrives at the restaurant) that the restaurant is using.

Based on the uncooked preparations that L2O puts out, I would contend that they are using higher quality raw ingredients than many other places. The raw fish I've had there has really only been rivaled by Sushi Yasuda in NYC.

I know L2O isn't a sushi restaurant. But, if you're going to evaluate a seafood focused restaurant you have to start with the raw ingredients, and eating those ingredients uncooked is a pretty good way to evaluate what they're using.

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My focus here is on the raw ingredients (meaning the actual quality of the fish, not what is done to the fish after it arrives at the restaurant) that the restaurant is using.

Based on the uncooked preparations that L2O puts out, I would contend that they are using higher quality raw ingredients than many other places.  The raw fish I've had there has really only been rivaled by Sushi Yasuda in NYC.

I know L2O isn't a sushi restaurant.  But, if you're going to evaluate a seafood focused restaurant you have to start with the raw ingredients, and eating those ingredients uncooked is a pretty good way to evaluate what they're using.

And Yasuda is cheaper... though that comparison is a loose one, given that it's really like comparing apples to oranges. Which is what I've said all along: I don't think comparisons here are helpful.

FWIW, I just got back from eating at masa. The quality of the fish there is superior to the fish I've had at Yasuda (but Yasuda's rice is still better). But masa is also thrice as expensive as Yasuda.

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Man, I am dying to go Masa...one day!

Anyway, we can go 'round and 'round on this all day. Obviously I like L2O better than you guys. But I do agree that there is room for improvement.


Edited by jesteinf (log)

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Man, I am dying to go Masa...one day!

Anyway, we can go 'round and 'round on this all day.  Obviously I like L2O better than you guys.  But I do agree that there is room for improvement.

Caveat emptor.

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I haven't read the Bruni piece yet, so I don't know to what extent he's comparing disparate cuisines. I threw out a comparison to Alinea, and my comparison was based simply on price and attention to detail, things which I think can be placed more-or-less in a vacuum (obvious caveat, I understand the best fish in Chicago will cost more than many other ingredients for obvious reasons). I find the price to culinary fulfillment ratio at L2O was just far lower than so many other restaurants in Chicago. Is that a statement I can make without conflating the food with other very different places? I think so...maybe you disagree.

Re: the quality of the seafood, it is certainly very fine, especially given the location. But, I don't eat sushi in Chicago for a reason. I've had better fish at hole-in-the-wall sushi places in Vancouver than what I had at L2O. L2O certainly gilded the lily (literally), but to me the meal on the whole (including my issues with service) is just not good enough for the price they are charging, and I'm pretty sure I would think that even if I'd never dined at any of Chicago's other top tables.

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It was with enthusiasm that I accepted the invitation to join two of my foodie friends for a dinner last night at L2O. One friend had flown in from New York and joined us for a night of enjoyment at L2O. My friends and I are experienced diners, exploring terrific restaurants far and wide. Both have a keen curiosity of restaurants, which they cover in well-followed food blogs. I had been to L20 once before, about a year or so ago.

The evening turned into a disappointment for us, both due to structural problems in communication at the restaurant, and in terms of the food. Here are the details:

The Setting and Service

The room is lovely, albeit a bit corporate in feel. There’s a Zen-like feel to the room, and I found the minimalist feel pleasing. The room was only about a third full of guests when we arrived, and at its busiest, was probably 2/3 full. Our Captain was very attentive and a definite asset to our dinner. Chantelle, our sommelier, was delightful, smiling, highly competent, and fully on top of the wine service. Both enhanced our experience tremendously despite the missteps below.

My friends and I debated what to do for the menu, and, when told Chef Laurent Gras was in the kitchen, we asked if the Chef would put together a menu he thought best for that night. Our Captain said fine, and off she went. We assumed we would have some type of tasting menu that we could discuss amongst ourselves.

What followed was an insight into both structural problems in communication between the front (FOH) and back of the house (BOH) as well as striking inconsistencies in the dishes the kitchen produced. As the meal began and progressed, we saw that we were each being given a different item, which we hadn’t anticipated (when we asked for the kitchen to cook for us, I commented that I did not like to share my food and we expected we would each have the same menu). Had the dishes flowed properly, and illustrated the chef’s style and some rationale for the entire menu, we would have been happy, but what resulted was an almost haphazard cacophony of dishes, widely disparate in both make up and quality of execution, that had an almost random feel to it. The odd combination and order of dishes prompted one friend to ask if our request that the chef would put together a menu for us was communicated to him was met with the reply that “I communicated it to someone there but I’m not allowed to approach or speak to the Chef.” What? In further inquiry as to what happened, it seems the general manager and Captain were hesitant or fearful of communicating our request directly to the chef, and took it upon themselves to devise a sort of tasting menu. The problem is that the resulting flow appeared amateur at best and random at worst. When we expressed our disappointment to the General Manager (GM), Tony, he replied “the Chef doesn’t do any special menu for anybody, including famous chefs who dine here.” We told him that it was fine not to do it, but someone should have communicated this to us when we initially asked, and we would have then either ordered the standard tasting menu or devised one tasting menu, ourselves, for the table from the menu.

The quality of execution of the dishes was like a roller coaster of quality and creativity. As with my one prior visit to the restaurant a year ago, the sashimi first course was served too cold to allow the flavors to be fully appreciated. On this visit, a foie gras served inside a spiral of cotton candy that was both sweet and savory, was brilliant. Perfectly cooked and spiced foie, inside this spiral was spectacular, and was my dish of the night. Unfortunately, it was followed by a kampachi that, visually, looked sad and dry. Tasting it, it was in fact overcooked, dry and quite bland. The kampachi had some kind of accompaniment that the Captain referred to as a type of pita chip filled with some type of vegetable, but they were largely surprisingly devoid of taste and had a texture of cardboard. One friend has the arctic char that was poached in butter, which looked fabulous. “That looks incredible” I said to him, to which he replied “I’m afraid it looks a bit better than it tastes.” The salted cod with caviar was very salty and I actually did not eat my portion and mentioned to the GM that it was too salty. Disappointingly, I saw that I was charged the $25 supplement for this dish, even though I told him I did not like it. Unfortunately, I noticed this after I had paid the bill, and in light of the other problems, I decided not to make an issue of the charge in front of my friends, though it disappointed me. My final course was the smoked ribeye which was good but difficult to eat with the knife served with it. When I asked for a steak knife, I was told the knife I was given (a standard knife with slight ridges) was the sharpest they had.

So, we had some dishes that were stupendous (foie gras, for instance), some that were average, and one that I found difficult to eat due to the level of salt (cod). The greatest problem for me and I think my friends, was the notion that the chef was unapproachable and not to be spoken to.

At the end, one of my friends commented to the Captain that—given our dissatisfaction with the flow and miscommunication, he was surprised that the Chef never came out to inquire, she replied that the Chef never comes out into the dining room (even though by that point we were the last table, and she confirmed he was still in the kitchen). “He is very focused on the food” was all she kept saying; it almost became a parody.

After this jarring experience, I doubt I’ll return to L2O. We saw flashes of brilliance, but far too much unevenness in the execution to make it worth a return visit. Far worse, though, was what I think of as structural problems in communication between the front and back of the house, where the Chef is not to be spoken to (at least as we were told) by the service staff. He may be in a cocoon, but its not to his advantage.


Edited by DutchMuse (log)

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What are some of your feelings on late reservations at places like L20, TRU etc... I recently checked on opentable for a reservation for this saturday for both TRU and L20 and both had 10PM reservations available. Is this too late if we are planning on having a tasting menu? I know we do not mind staying there late I was just curious if this is a regular occurrence that individuals come in for a 3-4 hr meal at 10PM. I assume it is fine based on the pure fact that they take reservations this late I was just curious some of your thoughts.

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I had another go at L20 this week. We had the tasting dinner and started and 7 and left at about midnight. At midnight, we were one of about 2 tables left in the restaurant. I'm sure you could do it, but you would definitely be closing the place.

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While I don't feel quite up to writing a lengthy review at this point, I still feel it is my duty to share with everyone my recent amazing experience at L2O.

Long story short, last Saturday my girlfriend and I had dinner in one of the tatami rooms. First the experience of being in such a secluded room with a kimono clad server was an entirely new and enticing experience. This combined with an amazing array of unique, delicious, and sometimes surprising dishes proved to be one of my top 5 meals of all time. From this one meal I must account at least 2-3 top 5 dishes of the year. Of particular note was the combination of seared foie, Hamachi, and Mojama. I had never even considered pairing fish with foie before, but this dish opened my eyes.

Given my recent experience I'm surprised there isn't more discussion on this board about this great addition to Chicago restaurants.

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