Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

[CHI] L.2O - Laurent Gras


allenkelson
 Share

Recommended Posts

We had dinner in the lounge last night and it was a very nice experience. The lounge menu is made up of smaller courses from the "Raw" and "Warm" portions of the menu along with some "Sweets", souffles, and cheese. The dishes were generally in the $15-$20 ranges (with some costing a bit more). The portions are definitely smaller than what you would get as part of the 4 or 12 course tasting menus. You can also order items a la carte off of the regular menu.

We had a bunch of smaller plates, focusing mainly on things we didn't have the first time we went to L2O. Standouts were the lamb and ebi tartare, the tuna & hamachi, and the golden egg with pork belly (I liked this pork belly dish much more than the one I had as part of the 12 course tasting). I rounded out my meal with the sea bass dish that YT captured above. We finished with souffles, and the kitchen was nice enough to send out the marshmallow, macaroon, and ganache that we would have gotten in the main dining room.

So all in all a nice experience. Still not inexpensive (we probably spent about as much as you would expect to spend if you order the 4 course), but a nice way to experience L2O's food on short notice or if you can't get a reservation.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

After having experienced the first night of service at L.2O, we had the pleasure of being the first guests at the tatami room, June 26. The tatami room is set up as one of the possible four private dining rooms. The main difference between this and the others is the menu. Whereas all rooms in the restaurant will follow the main dining room menu, the tatami room will have its own special menu. All the dishes are not exclusive to the tatami room, but there are some dishes that may never end up in the main menu. In the end, we ended up with 19 dishes and 12 (very generous pours) glasses of wine.

The tatami room is quite a unique experience for most diners, and especially for myself, as I have never had a formal kaiseki meal, dined in a tatami room, or been in a ryokan. At the entry to the restaurant, you are greeted not only by the normal entourage, but in addition, a server/captain dressed in a kimono. Christina leads us through the main dining room to a corner opposite from the entry, between the kitchen and the dining room. Here the tatami room is set up as two rooms of a six and two-tops. The room can actually transform itself to accommodate different sized parties.

20080626_l2o-03_005.jpg

Once inside the room, another server, Mona Lisa, enters the room and brings in our drinks. From this point forward, these two ladies are the only ones who we have contact with, and enter and leave from an entrance different than ours. After the drinks are brought out, they bring us the first five dishes as one serving. These small dishes are very light in flavor and easy on texture - a powerful way to start thing off.

20080626_l2o-03_018.jpg

The following plates that come out are as single serving dishes, but each starts to increase its weight and intensity. Caviar topped dishes, plates laced with gold specs, foie gras, lobster, and Japanese imported beef are just some of gratuitous preparation/ingredients used in the body of the savories.

A gradual decline into the sweet courses is made with pickled mushrooms, and junsai. This rare Japanese ingredient was such a treat to have, as I had only heard about it. It is a small herb-like stem, encased with a clear gelatinous texture. Tasty and different -- an acquired taste for sure. The desserts, or more realistically dessert, is a well prepared serving of strawberries and cream.

20080626_l2o-03_061.jpg

IMHO, Chef Gras and his team have done well in trying to balance a traditional kaiseki experience with westerners in mind. The food was very tasty, and not overwhelming. The staff knelt at the opening and closing of the sliding door. The room is beautiful, warm and comfortable. Although, I found it a little tight getting into the sunken table, especially for the portly gentleman. As we were the first diners of the tatami room I was not expecting it to be 100%, but were pretty close. As things get honed and start to work themselves out, this might be one of the most sought after private dining venues in the city. But it sure does not come cheap.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Following are the courses for the first night of the tatami room:

Escolar (course 1)

20080626_l2o-03_013.jpg

Mussels (course 2)

20080626_l2o-03_014.jpg

Tuna Kampachi (course 3)

20080626_l2o-03_015.jpg

Oyster Sake (course 4)

20080626_l2o-03_016.jpg

Ishidai (course 5)

20080626_l2o-03_017.jpg

Fluke Caviar (course 6)

20080626_l2o-03_020.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_021.jpg

Sashimi (course 7)

20080626_l2o-03_023.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_024.jpg

Asparagus Egg (course 8 )

20080626_l2o-03_025.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_028.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_029.jpg

Clam Jamon (course 9)

20080626_l2o-03_032.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_033.jpg

Kampachi Foie Gras (course 10)

20080626_l2o-03_034.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_035.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_036.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_037.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_038.jpg

Heart of Palm Grapefruit (course 11)

20080626_l2o-03_039.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_040.jpg

Tomato Santa Barbara Prawn (course 12)

20080626_l2o-03_041.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_042.jpg

Ebi Potato (course 13)

20080626_l2o-03_043.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_045.jpg

Wagyu Beetroot (course 14)

20080626_l2o-03_046.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_047.jpg

Aori Ika Lobster (course 15)

20080626_l2o-03_048.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_049.jpg

Chanterelle (course 16)

20080626_l2o-03_051.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_052.jpg

Dashi Junsai (course 17)

20080626_l2o-03_053.jpg

20080626_l2o-03_054.jpg

Strawberry Rhubarb (course 18)

20080626_l2o-03_055.jpg

Macaroons (course 19)

20080626_l2o-03_059.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

yellow truffle--Were you seated on the floor completely (as in a traditional tatami room), or were you on the floor and your legs were in a "dug out" area under the table? It almost looks as though everyone is sitting in regular chairs, but I can't imagine putting regular chairs in a tatami room.

Do you know very much about the serving pieces? Were they custom made for the restaurant? I'd love to have a set of the dishes containing the escolar (I'd love to have most of the dishes, actually!).

(small point--the staff were wearing yukata, not kimono.)

Edited by prasantrin (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

prasantrin: judging from the "regular" plates, the tableware at L2O is definitely from the german designer stefanie hering in berlin.

But I don't know if some items, such as the piece containing the escolar, were produced especially for L2O.

I hope that helps a bit.

Thanks! I did some research and the dishes are part of the Puls line. I found the dish used for the mussels (it's an egg cup!), but not the escolar one, yet. It's all handmade (and that explains, in part, the high price!), so it's possible some of the pieces were custom made for the restaurant.

Now I want to go to the restaurant so I can handle the dishes myself. And eat the food, of course! :biggrin:

Edited by prasantrin (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

yellow truffle--Were you seated on the floor completely (as in a traditional tatami room), or were you on the floor and your legs were in a "dug out" area under the table?  It almost looks as though everyone is sitting in regular chairs, but I can't imagine putting regular chairs in a tatami room.

Do you know very much about the serving pieces?  Were they custom made for the restaurant?  I'd love to have a set of the dishes containing the escolar (I'd love to have most of the dishes, actually!).

(small point--the staff were wearing yukata, not kimono.)

prasantrin

Your assumption, in how we were seated, is correct. Entering the tatami room, you take about 2-3 steps up and onto the floor, which becomes the seat, of the tatami room. Your legs hang into a sunken cut out space, the height of those 2-3 steps. A leather wrapped cushion and back rest is provided for your comfort.

I don't too much about the servicewares. I do know that a local (Chicago) designer, Martin Kastner, has been commissioned to do a few custom pieces. You might know him from doing those Alinea pieces.

And thanx for clarifying the name of the traditional Japanese garb.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Finally went to L20 last Saturday evening. I'm still digesting the experience (hopefully more figuratively than literally).

While I thoroughly enjoyed the meal, not everything was great. I'm certainly glad I went, but am not sure that the expense can be justified. I don't know if this is a meal I'm going to be talking about a year from now.

My husband and I went to celebrate his birthday. The menu had a generic "Happy Birthday" on it, which was nice - - but other than that, no acknowledgment of the celebration (we didn't really care, but thought others might want to know that they don't do anything with candles or comp a special dessert). We went with the 12 course meal. Hubby had the wine pairing; I just had two pours b/c I was driving. The meal took more than four hours.

WINE - The wine was a highlight. Hubby was good enough to let me taste all of the wines. The sommelier, Chantal, was personable, knowledgeable, and had great timing. The wine was there in time to enjoy the food. Because the menu is largely seafood, the wine pairing focused on whites. The highlight was definitely a 10-year Riesling. I had never had one before, and don't often adore whites, so this was a real treat. The only strange thing is that our server was trying to get us NOT to order the wine pairing. She thought that we "might not like all the wines," and "might be happier with a few bottles." The only explanation we can come up with is that the pairing is $90 and she thought she might generate a larger time with a few bottles, which would almost certainly cost more than $90. The other thing to note is that the "glasses" are really pours. My pour of Riesling was probably about 3 ounces; the pour of pinot noir was probably around 4 ounces. I thought the pours were a bit light and together cost nearly $40. The 12 pours with the wine pairing at $90 are a far better "value." Had I known that the pours were so small, I would likely have ordered myself a half bottle.

FOOD - We didn't take notes and the tasting menu has one-word labels, so I'll do my best to describe the highlights and lowlights. The summer menu had a lot of tomatoes and potatoes. The highlights were the lobster/morel dish, the halibut, and the jackfish. The lobster/morel dish was by far our favorite. There were two lobster quenelles (looking like egg yolks) in a lobster broth with 5-6 earthy delicious morels. Big yum. The halibut dish had far more going on. It wasn't quite as tasty as the lobster dish, but was quite interesting. There were tomato "tubes" around cherry tomatoes. Also seemingly pickled cucumber squares with yellow spinach (?) that looked like basil. Okay, so there was more going on with this dish. A lot more. But, memory isn't serving me and I don't want to describe anything incorrectly. The dish was served with a separate bowl of light buttery mashed potatoes. They were really unnecessary. The last dish, the jackfish, was splendid. It was described as mackerel, so I was concerned about fishiness, but it wasn't at all fishy. Two of the desserts were good - - the cannale and the prailine souffle.

I think the bread deserves it's own paragraph. It was wonderful, but really didn't go with many of the courses. In my opinion, the best breads were the demi-baguette, the anchovy, and the bacon epi. I mean, bacon bread with grainy mustard?!! Excuse me?!! This bacon bread is a meal in and of itself. I asked our server what they do with the bread at the end of the night. The server said that they throw it away. They have not been able to donate it and won't let the staff have any of it to take home. I thought this was strange and too bad. As we were there past 11pm, I was tempted to request a take out bag of bacon bread. I resisted.

There were a few dishes that weren't winners. I really didn't care for the king salmon, mainly because the salmon was cooked medium well. I almost said something, but decided not to. I was surprised that it was cooked so thoroughly. The grouper, too, was cooked far to much for my tastes, but not as much as the salmon. A strange touch, the grouper had bee pollen on it. One of the desserts included a very sour carrot pop rocks-like liquid. My husband really disliked it. I thought it was palatable, but probably only because I'm one of those people who likes sweet tarts and sour patch kids. He also disliked the mango dessert, whereas I enjoyed this one.

One dish that disappointed me, but that I didn't actually dislike, was the shabu shabu. The butterfish in the dish was delicious, but I felt that dipping it in the kombu broth didn't add anything. I was happier just dipping the raw fish in the ponzu (which I did with the last slice).

All in all, I enjoyed the meal, but don't think I'll be running back given the expense.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Here is a large excerpt from my blogpost review of L20. You can read the entire review (and see the photos) on the ulterior epicure.

*******

... the unique thing about L20 is that it’s not unique. It defies comparison with any other fine dining restaurant I’m familiar with or have visited. Yet, it seems to exhibit the behaviors and qualities of all of them. It’s so nondescript, yet all-encompassing that it’s almost a generic farce - an inside-out take on fine dining created for the sheer exercise of replicating such an enterprise. You know what it’s like? It’s like that song from the musical Spamalot, “The Song That Goes Like This.” Well, this is “The Fine Dining Experience that Goes Like This.”

It’s got the right ingredients, the servers (try to) say the right things, the serviceware is gorgeous, the wine list is extensive, and the presentations and compositions haute. L20 feels fine dining.

However, I left wondering how much of what I experienced at L20 was truly original and to the restaurant.

But, “Lettuce” not forget who and what is behind this enterprise. L20 is Chicago’s kingpin restaurateur, Melman, flexing his muscles anew. It’s the latest member of the Lettuce Entertain You group, and entertain, above all else, they do. Upon reflection, it’s sophisticated camp. Theatrics are high; the concepts, lofty; and the investment, extravagant.

It was clear from the very beginning that L20 was meant to dazzle and impress. Even before the restaurant had opened in the space formerly occupied by Ambria in the Belden Stratford apartment building, Chef Laurent Gras & Co. started the hype rolling with a blog which gave previews of the all of the tricked-out gadgets and techniques that would be employed. No expense was or is spared. Every whim was and is indulged.

The 12-course Tasting presented the following progression. You can click on each item to see a picture, or click here to see the entire set. I also supplemented two courses ($25 each) into my tasting. They are identified accordingly.

Amuse Bouche

Peanut Butter Sponge

Wasabi

Tuna

Bonito, Lime Foam

First Course

Geoduck

Citrus, Wasabi

Second Course

Butter Cod

Earl Grey, Orange

Third Course

Tuna

Yuzu, Soy Sauce, Black Olive Emulsion, Olive Oil Emulsion

Fourth Course

Kinmedai

Cherry Wood Scented, Shiso Bud

Supplement

Lamb Tartar

Ebi Shrimp, Pickled Peach, Tarragon

Supplement

Scallop

Sassafras, Hibiscus, Tomato

Fifth Course

Halibut

Espelette, Tomato, King Oyster

Sixth Course

Lobster

Morel, Sea Bean, Foie Gras Emulsion

Seventh Course

Hawaiian Sea Bass

Nicoise, Lemon, Corn Grits, Zucchini

Eighth Course

Black Bass

Shellfish Bouillon, Saffron, Rhode Island Mussels

Ninth Course

Pork Belly

Truffle, Potato

Tenth Course

Shabu Shabu Medai

Kombu Chicken Bouillon, Citrus, Porcini

Pre-Dessert

Carrot-Orange

Carrot-Orange Fizz

Watermelon Ice

Strawberry Juice

Eleventh Course

Mango

Mint

Caramel Filled Donut Holes

Cherry Ice

Twelfth Course

Praline Souffle

Praline

Grand Marnier Souffle

Mignardises

Passion Fruit Marshmallow

Pistachio Macaron

Many have likened L20 to alinea and moto on a broader scale. Although the restaurant’s interior, serviceware, and food looks hyper-modern, I don’t think this is an accurate comparison.

As for the food, I’m sure that Gras and his crew employ more chemicals in their cooking than is readily apparent. However, most of the molecular gastronomy - what little I detected - seemed isolated at the fringes, like the amuse bouche - a Peanut Butter Sponge which was like eating peanut butter-flavored air with a little moist resistance. (You can read how about the technique on the L20 blog.), and the pre-dessert - an orange nugget called “Carrot-Orange” which had the texture of an airy dry meringue and gave off whisps of (presumably) liquid nitrogen. The former was Achatz-like and the latter could have come out of the labs of Homaro Cantu.

Most of the techniques and preparations at L20 seem more straightforward and naturally achieved than either alinea or moto (same with the plating and presentation, which aren’t as “gimmicky” to me as those at alinea and moto), which is why some group L20 with Le Bernardin.

Although L20 bills itself as a serious seafood restaurant, such a comparison doesn’t seem well-placed either. It’s not even because L20 has red meat on its menu. The entire aesthetic and approach to the food is different from Eric Ripert’s at Le Bernardin. Le Bernardin is French with international influences - Coco Chanel to L20’s Japanese-leaning French haute couture styles of Hanae Mori. Flavors and techniques are French, but there’s a dainty Asian style of plating. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon isn’t quite right either, but if one insists on drawing comparisons, it’s a closer approximation.

Perhaps such comparisons are unproductive and pedantic at best.

So, what about the food?

Without my two supplements, the 12-course menu is already a considerable amount of food for $165. Next to alinea’s “tour” ($225 for approx. 25 courses) and moto’s “GTM” ($175 for approx. 15 courses), it’s Chicago’s most expensive dinner. And, at these prices, it rivals the higher-end establishments on both coasts.

There’s no doubt that you get your money’s worth in the amount and quality of the products served. Although early reports indicated that the meal had numerous previews and postludes, they seemed to have trimmed them down to just two amuses bouche, two pre-desserts, and two post-dinner sweets.

But, the more interesting issue is whether, technical execution aside, L20’s tasting menu, as a gastronomic and intellectual experience, justifies the price tag. For the serious client, that’s the index that really counts. Beyond the cost of the food, which I’m sure is covered by the price of the meal, is there “added value?” - a priceless quantity that every serious diner seeks?

Given its heretofore short life, I’m hesitant to pronounce a verdict. But, here is my initial observation about L20’s tasting menu: while there were glimpses of true genius in some of the cooking, there were also gaps filled with somewhat hackneyed conventions.

And, there were also a few gaffes: the opening volley of geoduck was so uncharacteristically strong-tasting that not even a heavy dousing of lime could chase away the fishiness.

Later, a friend found an eyelash in his dish. Needless to say, it was promptly replaced with apologies.

And, the star of the 9th course, a cut of pork belly, was tough and the top layer of crackling was impenetrably hard. That was a bummer, especially since the accompanying cylinder of caramelized potato (think potato fondant, but glazed instead of crispy on the surface) was exceedingly good. The starchy drum was piped with a creamy filling not unlike the potato emulsion (think Robuchon’s potato puree) that came with another course.

For the price and level of respect that L20 tries to command, these mistakes shouldn’t happen, even if the restaurant has only been opened 2 months.

By and large, the proteins were extremely fresh and, where applicable, perfectly cooked. Halibut was poached to a soft, supple consistency. Likewise, Hawaiian Sea Bass, coated in breadcrumbs, and Black Sea Bass, which came tented under a thin, crisped slice of brioche (a preparation I first encountered a few years ago) on a bed of plump Rhode Island mussels, were treated with expert attention. Sauces were accomplished and seasoning and accents were deftly played (although a rapid succession of aggressively acidic preparations prompted my friend to wonder whether there had been a special on citrus at the market). But, this should all go without having to be said.

And, there’s clearly a high level of thinking going on. A few of the dishes presented unique compositions and combinations, some more successfully than others.

With the exception of the Butter Cod, which was lightly infused with an Earl Grey fragrance and paired with orange (segments, juice, and strips of orange gelatin) and fennel blossoms, the first few raw courses didn’t propose any extraordinary discoveries other than a reminder of how good raw fish can be. This, in itself, is an accomplishment not to be underestimated.

The sashimi slices of butter cod were a good example, as were the small tangled strips of Kinmedai that were topped simply with sea salt and fresh shiso buds. I appreciated the chef’s restraint in preserving the inherently rewarding simplicity of these ingredients.

The same could be said about the last course, Shabu Shabut Medai, which, looking past the drama involved, put the emphasis on the texture and flavor of the fish. Three slices of Medai (big eye snapper) sashimi lined up on a beautifully fashioned wooden bridge with a shiso leaf, some vegetables and porcini mushrooms. Servers set up a mini nuclear power plant-like device which helps keep a bowl of hot chicken-kombu bouillion hot. As the name suggests, you “cook” your Medai sashimi until you achieve the desired shabu shabu stage. There’s also a refreshingly tart and light citrus sauce on the side. The perfect bite (for me) involved wrapping a piece of fish in a shiso leaf for a 5 second dunk and then lightly dressing it with the citrus sauce.

The three most outstanding dishes were the Haawiian Sea Bass, the Lamb Tartar (supplemented) and the Lobster…

Beyond these three dishes, most seemed more focused on “wow factor” than on being meritoriously special in their own right. Indeed, most of the savory dishes were only slightly interesting at best. I didn’t feel like I got anything that I couldn’t also get at another very high end establishment.

The least successful ones seemed like obligatory references to (acknowledgments of?) current trends…

The desserts tended to be more refreshing - which was welcomed after such a long and heavy meal - than dazzling. There was a considerable amount of fruit involved. The “Carrot Orange” was more fun at best, and the underlying “fizz” of the same flavor combination was too syrupy thick to be truly enjoyable. The same complaint could apply to the “Watermelon Ice,” which came with a thick and over-sweet strawberry “juice.”

I couldn’t have the “Mango” – mango panna cotta topped with soft meringue with mango broth poured table-side - which my friends said was “just good,” so I got a bevy of delicate sugar-dusted donut holes filled (almost imperceptibly) with caramel. They were fine. The better half of this dessert was in the bowl beneath the donut holes - a cherry slushy with macerated sweet cherry halves. It was like iced cherry to the nth degree.

On a different tasting menu, the soufflé, which was the final word, literally and figuratively, on the desserts at L20, might have been the piece de resistance. It was textbook.

Tall and proud, it was a fluffy praline cloud loaded up with rich praline cream at the table. Nutty and buttery, this version could not have been improved upon. (My friend’s Grand Marnier soufflé substitution was equally as fantastic – perhaps even more so only for the fact that the sauce contained chunks of orange segments macerated in the liqueur.) Yet, despite the perfect execution, I’m not sure that these soufflés fit well in the tasting progression. The soufflés seemed jarringly out-of-step with the rest of the meal; old school in this new school world.

It’s obvious that the service at L20 has every intention of being excellent, even though, at just past the restaurant’s two-month anniversary, it didn’t quite achieve that level for me.

For example, I had asked if it would be possible to supplement two dishes into the 12-course tasting and have them sized down to fit, proportionally, into my progression. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Or, perhaps my server wasn’t clear when she said that it would not be a problem. Either way, I ended up with two full-sized portions, which was an absurd amount of food on top of what was already a large tasting.

The servers are, no doubt, still trying to feel out the rhythm and dynamics of the dining room, and it’s apparent. At times, the service felt strained and tight. Serious is good, funereal is bad - smug is even worse, and there was a bit of that, too. Although our server was very professional and accommodating, I found the individual annoyingly insincere and aloof.

The one noticeably bright spot on the staff was the wine director, Chantelle Pabros, who came to L20 from the highly acclaimed Ritz Carlton at Buckhead. She was effervescent and patient, even if I didn’t quite agree with her wine suggestion. She helped my friends home in on a bottle and me, a glass. I asked for an oaky white, she brought out Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006. It tasted of grapefruit, vegetables and petrol. Even though I didn’t quite care for the taste of the wine by itself, I took her word that it would pair nicely with my tasting. In my opinion, it did not strike a chord with any of my 14 courses.

On a positive note, I cannot quit this review without mentioning the bread at L20. It is spectacular. Beyond a few nibbles, I’m generally not a bread-eater in restaurants. However, the selection at L20 was extraordinary. There are the usual suspects; mini baguettes and rustic pain de campagne – both with excellent crumb and crust. But, there were also novelties like creamy pain au lait, flaky pastry buns filled with boquerones, and pain d’epi with bacon. Everything one of them is baked in-house in the same ovens used for baking the desserts and cannelés.

L20 may be the most anticipated and important restaurant opening for Chicago this year. But, on this early visit, the overall operation felt wobbly, if not terribly stilted. The arch and tenor of the tasting menu felt awkward. Portions tended to be over-sized. Getting hung up on repetition (halibut, Hawaiian sea bass, and black sea bass in succession, for example), with appearances of a few non sequiters (like the souffle and the Pork Belly), the progression also seemed to lack cohesion and flow.

Does L20’s food suffer from what some might want to coin as “per se Syndrome?” - that is, technical proficiency without soul. Is it guilty of gimmickry? Is it stuffy? To all of these questions, and more, I answer: perhaps. I need to eat at L20 more consistently to decide.

Melman and Gras may be great at replication, but there needs to be a little more fine-tuning and a heavy injection of personality before I’m convinced that L20 deserves to be declared a fine dining heavyweight. I’ll look forward to returning one day to see how it develops.

“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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for this report, ulterior epicure as it clarifies some of the questions I had in mind when thinking about this L.20 and pins down precisely your critique. We didn't make on our trip in may as Laurent opened on the last day of us being in Chicago.

Do you think that Laurent has the potential to develop towards a heavyweight?

Moreover, I found I awkward that they charged you 25 bucks per additional course . I just did the same at oud Sluis and somehow nothing extra appeared on the bill... What were the a la carte prices for those courses?

Cheers

IFS

Edited by IFS (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for this amazing -no:brilliant!- review, ulterior epicure.

On can feel that you really tried to do the restaurant justice with your well thought out words - and you succeeded!

I still think about going to l20 on my chicago-trip in september. Since you criticized the repititions and the sheer amount of food, do you think one fares better with the 4-course-menu (meaning that this could be more "satisfying")?

I find the 4-course very, very expensive, though, given the fact that they don't seem to add many amuses and stuff...

Anyway, thank you again for this great report!!

best

kai

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I still think about going to l20 on my chicago-trip in september. Since you criticized the repititions and the sheer amount of food, do you think one fares better with the 4-course-menu (meaning that this could be more "satisfying")?

I find the 4-course very, very expensive, though, given the fact that they don't seem to add many amuses and stuff...

As far as I could tell (from observing a number of regular prix fixe diners around me), that the 4-course prix fixe does include amuses and mignardises, although there may not be as many pre-desserts as on the 12-course. Also, the portion sizes for the 4-course are commensurate with the price, in my opinion.

“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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Here is a large excerpt from my blogpost review of L20.  You can read the entire review (and see the photos) on the ulterior epicure.

*******

... the unique thing about L20 is that it’s not unique. It defies comparison with any other fine dining restaurant I’m familiar with or have visited. Yet, it seems to exhibit the behaviors and qualities of all of them. It’s so nondescript, yet all-encompassing that it’s almost a generic farce - an inside-out take on fine dining created for the sheer exercise of replicating such an enterprise. You know what it’s like? It’s like that song from the musical Spamalot, “The Song That Goes Like This.” Well, this is “The Fine Dining Experience that Goes Like This.”

It’s got the right ingredients, the servers (try to) say the right things, the serviceware is gorgeous, the wine list is extensive, and the presentations and compositions haute. L20 feels fine dining.

However, I left wondering how much of what I experienced at L20 was truly original and to the restaurant.

But, “Lettuce” not forget who and what is behind this enterprise. L20 is Chicago’s kingpin restaurateur, Melman, flexing his muscles anew. It’s the latest member of the Lettuce Entertain You group, and entertain, above all else, they do. Upon reflection, it’s sophisticated camp. Theatrics are high; the concepts, lofty; and the investment, extravagant.

It was clear from the very beginning that L20 was meant to dazzle and impress. Even before the restaurant had opened in the space formerly occupied by Ambria in the Belden Stratford apartment building, Chef Laurent Gras & Co. started the hype rolling with a blog which gave previews of the all of the tricked-out gadgets and techniques that would be employed. No expense was or is spared. Every whim was and is indulged.

The 12-course Tasting presented the following progression. You can click on each item to see a picture, or click here to see the entire set. I also supplemented two courses ($25 each) into my tasting. They are identified accordingly.

Amuse Bouche

Peanut Butter Sponge

Wasabi

Tuna

Bonito, Lime Foam

First Course

Geoduck

Citrus, Wasabi

Second Course

Butter Cod

Earl Grey, Orange

Third Course

Tuna

Yuzu, Soy Sauce, Black Olive Emulsion, Olive Oil Emulsion

Fourth Course

Kinmedai

Cherry Wood Scented, Shiso Bud

Supplement

Lamb Tartar

Ebi Shrimp, Pickled Peach, Tarragon

Supplement

Scallop

Sassafras, Hibiscus, Tomato

Fifth Course

Halibut

Espelette, Tomato, King Oyster

Sixth Course

Lobster

Morel, Sea Bean, Foie Gras Emulsion

Seventh Course

Hawaiian Sea Bass

Nicoise, Lemon, Corn Grits, Zucchini

Eighth Course

Black Bass

Shellfish Bouillon, Saffron, Rhode Island Mussels

Ninth Course

Pork Belly

Truffle, Potato

Tenth Course

Shabu Shabu Medai

Kombu Chicken Bouillon, Citrus, Porcini

Pre-Dessert

Carrot-Orange

Carrot-Orange Fizz

Watermelon Ice

Strawberry Juice

Eleventh Course

Mango

Mint

Caramel Filled Donut Holes

Cherry Ice

Twelfth Course

Praline Souffle

Praline

Grand Marnier Souffle

Mignardises

Passion Fruit Marshmallow

Pistachio Macaron

Many have likened L20 to alinea and moto on a broader scale. Although the restaurant’s interior, serviceware, and food looks hyper-modern, I don’t think this is an accurate comparison.

As for the food, I’m sure that Gras and his crew employ more chemicals in their cooking than is readily apparent. However, most of the molecular gastronomy - what little I detected - seemed isolated at the fringes, like the amuse bouche - a Peanut Butter Sponge which was like eating peanut butter-flavored air with a little moist resistance. (You can read how about the technique on the L20 blog.), and the pre-dessert - an orange nugget called “Carrot-Orange” which had the texture of an airy dry meringue and gave off whisps of (presumably) liquid nitrogen. The former was Achatz-like and the latter could have come out of the labs of Homaro Cantu.

Most of the techniques and preparations at L20 seem more straightforward and naturally achieved than either alinea or moto (same with the plating and presentation, which aren’t as “gimmicky” to me as those at alinea and moto), which is why some group L20 with Le Bernardin.

Although L20 bills itself as a serious seafood restaurant, such a comparison doesn’t seem well-placed either. It’s not even because L20 has red meat on its menu. The entire aesthetic and approach to the food is different from Eric Ripert’s at Le Bernardin. Le Bernardin is French with international influences - Coco Chanel to L20’s Japanese-leaning French haute couture styles of Hanae Mori. Flavors and techniques are French, but there’s a dainty Asian style of plating. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon isn’t quite right either, but if one insists on drawing comparisons, it’s a closer approximation.

Perhaps such comparisons are unproductive and pedantic at best.

So, what about the food?

Without my two supplements, the 12-course menu is already a considerable amount of food for $165. Next to alinea’s “tour” ($225 for approx. 25 courses) and moto’s “GTM” ($175 for approx. 15 courses), it’s Chicago’s most expensive dinner. And, at these prices, it rivals the higher-end establishments on both coasts.

There’s no doubt that you get your money’s worth in the amount and quality of the products served. Although early reports indicated that the meal had numerous previews and postludes, they seemed to have trimmed them down to just two amuses bouche, two pre-desserts, and two post-dinner sweets.

But, the more interesting issue is whether, technical execution aside, L20’s tasting menu, as a gastronomic and intellectual experience, justifies the price tag. For the serious client, that’s the index that really counts. Beyond the cost of the food, which I’m sure is covered by the price of the meal, is there “added value?” - a priceless quantity that every serious diner seeks?

Given its heretofore short life, I’m hesitant to pronounce a verdict. But, here is my initial observation about L20’s tasting menu: while there were glimpses of true genius in some of the cooking, there were also gaps filled with somewhat hackneyed conventions.

And, there were also a few gaffes: the opening volley of geoduck was so uncharacteristically strong-tasting that not even a heavy dousing of lime could chase away the fishiness.

Later, a friend found an eyelash in his dish. Needless to say, it was promptly replaced with apologies.

And, the star of the 9th course, a cut of pork belly, was tough and the top layer of crackling was impenetrably hard. That was a bummer, especially since the accompanying cylinder of caramelized potato (think potato fondant, but glazed instead of crispy on the surface) was exceedingly good. The starchy drum was piped with a creamy filling not unlike the potato emulsion (think Robuchon’s potato puree) that came with another course.

For the price and level of respect that L20 tries to command, these mistakes shouldn’t happen, even if the restaurant has only been opened 2 months.

By and large, the proteins were extremely fresh and, where applicable, perfectly cooked. Halibut was poached to a soft, supple consistency. Likewise, Hawaiian Sea Bass, coated in breadcrumbs, and Black Sea Bass, which came tented under a thin, crisped slice of brioche (a preparation I first encountered a few years ago) on a bed of plump Rhode Island mussels, were treated with expert attention. Sauces were accomplished and seasoning and accents were deftly played (although a rapid succession of aggressively acidic preparations prompted my friend to wonder whether there had been a special on citrus at the market). But, this should all go without having to be said.

And, there’s clearly a high level of thinking going on. A few of the dishes presented unique compositions and combinations, some more successfully than others.

With the exception of the Butter Cod, which was lightly infused with an Earl Grey fragrance and paired with orange (segments, juice, and strips of orange gelatin) and fennel blossoms, the first few raw courses didn’t propose any extraordinary discoveries other than a reminder of how good raw fish can be. This, in itself, is an accomplishment not to be underestimated.

The sashimi slices of butter cod were a good example, as were the small tangled strips of Kinmedai that were topped simply with sea salt and fresh shiso buds. I appreciated the chef’s restraint in preserving the inherently rewarding simplicity of these ingredients.

The same could be said about the last course, Shabu Shabut Medai, which, looking past the drama involved, put the emphasis on the texture and flavor of the fish. Three slices of Medai (big eye snapper) sashimi lined up on a beautifully fashioned wooden bridge with a shiso leaf, some vegetables and porcini mushrooms. Servers set up a mini nuclear power plant-like device which helps keep a bowl of hot chicken-kombu bouillion hot. As the name suggests, you “cook” your Medai sashimi until you achieve the desired shabu shabu stage. There’s also a refreshingly tart and light citrus sauce on the side. The perfect bite (for me) involved wrapping a piece of fish in a shiso leaf for a 5 second dunk and then lightly dressing it with the citrus sauce.

The three most outstanding dishes were the Haawiian Sea Bass, the Lamb Tartar (supplemented) and the Lobster…

Beyond these three dishes, most seemed more focused on “wow factor” than on being meritoriously special in their own right. Indeed, most of the savory dishes were only slightly interesting at best. I didn’t feel like I got anything that I couldn’t also get at another very high end establishment.

The least successful ones seemed like obligatory references to (acknowledgments of?) current trends…

The desserts tended to be more refreshing - which was welcomed after such a long and heavy meal - than dazzling. There was a considerable amount of fruit involved. The “Carrot Orange” was more fun at best, and the underlying “fizz” of the same flavor combination was too syrupy thick to be truly enjoyable. The same complaint could apply to the “Watermelon Ice,” which came with a thick and over-sweet strawberry “juice.”

I couldn’t have the “Mango” – mango panna cotta topped with soft meringue with mango broth poured table-side - which my friends said was “just good,” so I got a bevy of delicate sugar-dusted donut holes filled (almost imperceptibly) with caramel. They were fine. The better half of this dessert was in the bowl beneath the donut holes - a cherry slushy with macerated sweet cherry halves. It was like iced cherry to the nth degree.

On a different tasting menu, the soufflé, which was the final word, literally and figuratively, on the desserts at L20, might have been the piece de resistance. It was textbook.

Tall and proud, it was a fluffy praline cloud loaded up with rich praline cream at the table. Nutty and buttery, this version could not have been improved upon. (My friend’s Grand Marnier soufflé substitution was equally as fantastic – perhaps even more so only for the fact that the sauce contained chunks of orange segments macerated in the liqueur.) Yet, despite the perfect execution, I’m not sure that these soufflés fit well in the tasting progression. The soufflés seemed jarringly out-of-step with the rest of the meal; old school in this new school world.

It’s obvious that the service at L20 has every intention of being excellent, even though, at just past the restaurant’s two-month anniversary, it didn’t quite achieve that level for me.

For example, I had asked if it would be possible to supplement two dishes into the 12-course tasting and have them sized down to fit, proportionally, into my progression. Perhaps I wasn’t clear. Or, perhaps my server wasn’t clear when she said that it would not be a problem. Either way, I ended up with two full-sized portions, which was an absurd amount of food on top of what was already a large tasting.

The servers are, no doubt, still trying to feel out the rhythm and dynamics of the dining room, and it’s apparent. At times, the service felt strained and tight. Serious is good, funereal is bad - smug is even worse, and there was a bit of that, too. Although our server was very professional and accommodating, I found the individual annoyingly insincere and aloof.

The one noticeably bright spot on the staff was the wine director, Chantelle Pabros, who came to L20 from the highly acclaimed Ritz Carlton at Buckhead. She was effervescent and patient, even if I didn’t quite agree with her wine suggestion. She helped my friends home in on a bottle and me, a glass. I asked for an oaky white, she brought out Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2006. It tasted of grapefruit, vegetables and petrol. Even though I didn’t quite care for the taste of the wine by itself, I took her word that it would pair nicely with my tasting. In my opinion, it did not strike a chord with any of my 14 courses.

On a positive note, I cannot quit this review without mentioning the bread at L20. It is spectacular. Beyond a few nibbles, I’m generally not a bread-eater in restaurants. However, the selection at L20 was extraordinary. There are the usual suspects; mini baguettes and rustic pain de campagne – both with excellent crumb and crust. But, there were also novelties like creamy pain au lait, flaky pastry buns filled with boquerones, and pain d’epi with bacon. Everything one of them is baked in-house in the same ovens used for baking the desserts and cannelés.

L20 may be the most anticipated and important restaurant opening for Chicago this year. But, on this early visit, the overall operation felt wobbly, if not terribly stilted. The arch and tenor of the tasting menu felt awkward. Portions tended to be over-sized. Getting hung up on repetition (halibut, Hawaiian sea bass, and black sea bass in succession, for example), with appearances of a few non sequiters (like the souffle and the Pork Belly), the progression also seemed to lack cohesion and flow.

Does L20’s food suffer from what some might want to coin as “per se Syndrome?” - that is, technical proficiency without soul. Is it guilty of gimmickry? Is it stuffy? To all of these questions, and more, I answer: perhaps. I need to eat at L20 more consistently to decide.

Melman and Gras may be great at replication, but there needs to be a little more fine-tuning and a heavy injection of personality before I’m convinced that L20 deserves to be declared a fine dining heavyweight. I’ll look forward to returning one day to see how it develops.

Not having been to L20, I'm glad I read this. I've gotten this same impression of lack of personality from what I've seen so far.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Great review. I, unfortunately, share your many objections to this restaurant. I was highly disappointed and it is nowhere near Alinea, Moto or Bernardin. I have also been very surprised to read the many accolades that the place has received on this board which is very different from the buzz from industry members.

To me the soufflé was a corollary to a mediocre dining experience. It reminded me of the creme brulée at Per Se....is it an inside joke?

I had great service though.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To me the soufflé was a corollary to a mediocre dining experience.  It reminded me of the creme brulée at Per Se....is it an inside joke? 

As I stated, I thought the soufflé was out of step with the overall aesthetic of the tasting menu. That being said, I don't think that a soufflé, per se (not to be confused with the restaurant that I shall comment on next), equates with mediocrity. The soufflé at L20 is a exemplary; I maintain that on a different tasting menu, it could have easily ruled the roost.

So too for the creme brulée at per se. Is it my favorite dessert? Absolutely not (in fact, it's one of my least favorite - it's like spooning facial cream). But, as I stated in a recent review of per se on my blog, it is the perfect creme brulée, technically. I don't think that it's an inside joke. Rather, it's one more flawless execution for those "in the know" to marvel at. I might be willing to concede that L20's soufflé tries to accomplish a similar purpose.

BTW, the pistachio macaron at L20 had a fine texture. Unfortunately, I thought it was too sweet.

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

L2.0, Someday *** L2O *** Chicago

The question constantly abuzz is what is the next new thing, and this summer in Chicago fine dining circles, it appeared that San Francisco Chef Laurent Gras’s new seafood restaurant (in the Ambria space), part of the Lettuce Entertain You Group (now 38 restaurants strong, including Everest) might be that place. Chicago, in truth, does not have a four-star restaurant, like Le Bernardin, that specializes in the aquatic. It still doesn’t.

To review L2O is to calibrate. Chef Gras’s establishment is by no means a failure. They have a superior seafood supplier, the fish is served without fault, and one of the dishes (of four, plus two amuses) is stellar. (Many of those who have raved about L2O indulged in the tasting menu; for our late dinner, we selected the workingman’s four course repast: the Goldman Sachs blue plates special). L2O does not have a poor record, except in competition with Alinea, Trotter, Tru, Avenues, or Everest.

What constitutes four-star dining? Surely decor matters, and I was startled at the casualness of the dining room (it is decorated in tones of cream and brown, reminding me of a suburban corporate lounge. It lacked astonishment). With the exception of a wonderfully complex and evocative sculpture of branches in the entrance (providing Japanese notes, also seen on the menu), the space itself is rather conventional (table settings are impressive). This is satisfactory for a restaurant with modest aspirations, but can this space match Alinea or Everest.

A second feature is the service. At the highest caliber restaurants one blindly places oneself in the hands of consummate professionals: a wine director and skilled server. We trust nothing will go wrong. Of course, things do go wrong – and allowances must be made – but each glitch chips one’s confidence. Our server was quite congenial – friendly, warm, caring – yet, although we were told that we would be able to choose a soufflé that option was not asked when we ordered. Worse, we were not asked about wine service. Where was the sommelier? (This was a weeknight.) But whether present or not, we should not have had to inquire. And wine should not be spilled. Nothing terrible, but L2O has been open long enough for everything to settle into perfection.

And then the food. It is not surprising that L2O is at home with fish, but it is distressing that a restaurant that hopes for national recognition should fumble elsewhere. The fact that many dishes, including the dessert and cheese course is garnished with emerald crystal ice lettuce revealed either a fatal absence of imagination or a terrific deal on these greens. Although some have praised the bread service, I was less taken with the anchovy bread, which served no purpose as an accompaniment to delicate fish or as a match for sweet butter.

Our first amuse was the least engaging starter I have had in some time: had someone eaten this pseudo-molecular creation and pronounced it magnificent? Here was a peanut sponge with wasabi. Granted it was a bit like eating a sponge, but neither the peanut nor the wasabi added much in the way of taste, and the visual appeal was decidedly limited. Do I really want my chef to consider me sponge-worthy?

Better was a second amuse with tuna, tomato, olive foam, and orange gelee. It was a startling combination. The flavors were not perfectly coordinated (olive and orange are not ideal bedfellows), but the tuna was just fine, and it suggested a chef who is testing boundaries.

2933402402_6e58da2980.jpg

The four course menu is structured around a raw course, a warm course, and a main course (reminiscent of Le Bernardin), plus a dessert. My raw course was Ishidai (a type of bream, a very mild white fish) with shiso leaf, preserved lemon, trout roe, and heart of palm. The ishidai was wonderful, but it was overwhelmed by the pungency of the shiso and lemon (both wonderful tastes, but would have been better as undertones). Served in four pieces, the ingredients had to be unpacked and rearranged to be fully satisfying.

2932544399_4bc142c860.jpg

The second (warm) course was the highlight of this and many meals. A truly memorable dish: a two layered circle of lamb tartar and ebi shrimp with pickled peach and tarragon. This was a combination that could stand up to its accompaniments. It was a supremely wonderful dish – meaty in land and sea - a set of startling contrasts that forced a diner to rethink preconceptions. Sterling.

2932544541_36c3b28e01.jpg

The main course was striped bass with shellfish bouillon, saffron, Rhode Island mussels, striped sorrel, and a plank of toasted brioche. The bass was perfectly prepared, the bouillon rich and complex, the mussels, fine. The board of brioche meant that any attempt to conquer this bread led to flying crumbs. It was not the most congenial dish to consume. The ingredients were well composed, but the flavors were not as remarkable as the previous course. It was a more traditional entrée. Does Chef Gras have a distinctive style? These dishes make a theme hard to find.

2932544733_681d1a78a2.jpg

Finally there was dessert. Sigh. As the desserts were described, they seemed to have numerous interchangeable parts. One (unordered) choice was Chocolate and Raspberry in fourteen textures. Perhaps it was wonderful, but it seemed pretentious. My selection, with a similar number of parts, was Tomato Strawberry. Nasty. The fact that a recipe for the dish (or something similar) is on the website suggests that someone must have found a black pepper meringue to be inspirational. But is this a marriage for strawberries? Should you wish you can prepare this dessert at home, reach in your cabinet for versawhip, low acyl gellan, soy lecithin, xanthan gum, red food coloring, something called Fizzy, and, oh yes, petite emerald crystal ice lettuce. Bon appetit! Alice Waters, where are you when we need you. In contrast to the locavore crew, I am not ideologically resistant to creations from Dr. Frankenstein’s kitchen, so long as they are toothsome. This dish - a blurred mix of sweet, bitter, and peppery - was a mess. Serve durian and be done with it.

2932544913_9365a91c61.jpg

My companion ordered the cheese course. No choices and no accompaniments (jams, nuts). But nice cheese.

L2O is not without its moments. The fish is lovely and there are flashes of brilliance, and on other times moments of sheer, unalloyed pleasure (the silky bouillon). I have tried to calibrate my review to capture a restaurant that itself does not always calibrate its dishes. The check certainly indicates that Chef Gras is striving for four-star dining, but the experience itself seems at some distance from those lofty heights. And so we have L2O, waiting, perhaps, for L2.0.

L2O

2300 Lincoln Park West (Lincoln Park)

Chicago

773-868-0002

http://www.l2orestaurant.com/

Vealcheeks

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Has anyone mentioned here that the brave souls who dare don checks and whites in the kitchen show up at 11:00 am, finish around 1:00 am and are paid $80 per day in shift pay?

No wonder their chef de cuisine walked out - I would too if my staff were on the verge of mutiny.

This could be, of course, speculation. What do I know?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
Great review.  I, unfortunately, share your many objections to this restaurant.  I was highly disappointed and it is nowhere near Alinea, Moto or Bernardin.  I have also been very surprised to read the many accolades that the place has received on this board which is very different from the buzz from industry members.

To me the soufflé was a corollary to a mediocre dining experience.  It reminded me of the creme brulée at Per Se....is it an inside joke? 

I had great service though.

how can you include moto in comparison with alinea, LB, L2O, not even in the same league.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

I had the privilege of having dinner there recently.

Bread service, as always

dsc1838assmartobject1pg6.jpg

Amuse 1: Gruyere Cheese puffs

dsc1834assmartobject1bt7.jpg

Amuse 2: Tuna

dsc1840assmartobject1xs4.jpg

Raw 1: Shimaji, Red Miso, Radish, Soy Salt

16035402ka3.jpg

Raw 2: Peekytoe Crab, Avocado, Kaffir Lime, Lemon Oil

13876054yz8.jpg

Warm 1:Foie Gras, Port, Cocoa Nibs, Pear, Celery

dsc1843assmartobject1oo5.jpg

Warm 2:Salted cod, Fingerling Potato, Smoked Gelatin, Caviar

dsc1845assmartobject1ol7.jpg

Main 1:Arctic Char, Champagne, Zucchini, Chanterelle

dsc1847assmartobject1yg6.jpg

Main 2: Pork Belly, Truffle, Potato

98578214gh3.jpg

Amuse 3: Frozen Marshmellow

dsc1848assmartobject1wu7.jpg

Dessert 1: Chocolate and Raspberry done 16 ways

dsc1851assmartobject1yc5.jpg

Dessert 2: Souffle with praline

dsc1849assmartobject1gl8.jpg

Amuse 4: Passionfruit Marshmellow

dsc1853assmartobject1mp2.jpg

Amuse 5: Chocolate Ganache(once was)

dsc1854assmartobject1yq7.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

If you're interested in what goes on in the L2O kitchen, Laurent Gras has posted some videos of the restaurant on YouTube.

Check out the guy in the background on the far right (shaved head). I'm sure it happens in more kitchens than I'd care to know, but I just don't care to know it's happening (hear no evil, see no evil. . ). :unsure:
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you're interested in what goes on in the L2O kitchen, Laurent Gras has posted some videos of the restaurant on YouTube. 

B3XuoDY&feature=channel'>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeecB3XuoDY&feature=channel  Check out the guy in the background on the far right (shaved head).  I'm sure it happens in more kitchens than I'd care to know, but I just don't care to know it's happening (hear no evil, see no evil. . ).  :unsure:

Maybe he's eating his dinner? :unsure:

It's particularly interesting when you consider the two guys at the main counter, who seem to have OCD in the cleanliness department - wiping the counter non-stop.

“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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

A friend and I dined at L2O this evening, and we both had a very underwhelming experience. I wish I would have taken the UE's review more to heart. The bottom line is that there are things about this restaurant worth experiencing, but not at anywhere near the price it ends up costing. All told, dinner topped $400 pp, making it more expensive than my last trip to Alinea, and the meal had no where near the same level of execution.

My two biggest issues with the meal were the poor wine service and the excessive level of salt in many dishes.

To just touch on the latter, some type of salt was specifically mentioned during the explanation of between half and three-quarters of the courses. There were several instances of specialty salts being repeated across dishes, and many dishes where the flavor profile was completely thrown off by excessive salt.

On the former issue, the sommelier was simply no help at all. To start, she would point at the most expensive wine on the page, and in the face of reluctance to try the $100 half-bottle of organic Riesling, would counter with their cheapest offering. We asked if there was a pairing to go with the 12-course menu and were told that because we had added supplemental dishes (2 total) that we should just do half-bottles. I told her we weren't in the mood to make many decisions and let her take it from there.

We agreed to start with a bottle of sake, and on a bottle of white that we would switch to when she believed it would be appropriate, leaving the door open for adding another half-bottle or glasses of red when the few courses that called for it were approaching. The sake was fine, but only really paired well with 2 of the 6 or 7 courses that came before we had to ask for the white to be retrieved (at least two courses too late in our estimation). When skate wing and pork belly approached, we switched to a glass of Pinot Noir, which was quite fine, but didn't require any assistance to discover on the rather limited selection of wines by the glass. The sommelier tried to sell us a half-bottle of red, under the premise that there was another fish course with which it paired (from watching their website, I know that course was previously on the tasting, but it had been removed by the time we were dining there). I had to correct her as to the composition of her own menu. Dessert wines were offered rather late, leaving us to pair with just the second of the two main desserts, as the first was already on the table by that time.

Well, that's the bad. As for the good, and the strange...the truly fine dishes were the house-made tofu, crab in foie gras emulsion and the lamb tartar. 'Shanghai bouillon' was delicious, but the skate wing it was served with was ordinary. The bread service was exceptional, but the room was so uncomfortably hot that our butter was a gooey mess midway through service. A pre-dinner drink in the lounge was a gin gimlet with the marvelous addition of a touch of Aperol. I'd been wondering what I'm going to do with the unopened bottle in my cupboard, but now I know.

The strangest sensation of the night may have been the smoked salmon that tasted exactly like Oscar Mayer bologna...check that, the strangest sensation was having to wait in line to use the restroom at a restaurant of this caliber. Seriously, the place is woefully equipped in that department. Or, maybe it was our waiter early in the meal (before we'd had a chance to open up or even joke with him) telling us about all the drunk people in his neighborhood this morning (St. Patrick's day celebrations, I guess). No, it was definitely the number of courses that involved gold leaf as a decoration...3. I can't believe anyone still thinks that's a good idea.

I didn't have my hopes up for L2O. I try to avoid eating ocean fish in Chicago; it's just not worth it when there's so much else that is likely to be fresher, and I get to areas with amazing fresh fish often enough that I don't mind abstaining during the interim. Still, I was not impressed by the experience, and likely wouldn't return unless someone else was buying or to have a very limited menu of the few dishes that soared.

Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I ate at L2O a week ago last Sunday, and my experience was totally consistent with KD1191's, right down to the issues with the wine service and salt. It wasn't a bad meal; I thought the food was very good while not extraordinary, and it's a lovely space. But the real question is a matter of value. While you don't have to spend $400/pp - the four-course menu is $110 before wine/tax/tip and one of the tasting menus is even less - it's still expensive. If I'm going to spend that much money, I would easily prefer any of our high-end mainstays (Alinea, Everest, Avenues, Trotter's, TRU).

We started with a drink in the "bar" area (it's really more of a lounge area with a couple of tables, where you can order drinks; no bar was visible). They have a bar menu including drinks as well as starters and desserts, for those who wish to go there for less than a full meal.

The décor of the dining room is breathtakingly contemporary, just an exquisite space. Those who dined there in its previous guise as Ambria will be shocked at the transformation. On this Sunday evening, about 40 percent of the tables were occupied during dinner. (I have no idea whether that's considered busy or not for a Sunday evening.)

One surprise was that I expected the attire to be more dressy than it was; the Opentable listing says "jacket preferred" but about half the gentlemen were not wearing jackets, even with diners wearing jeans and collarless pullovers at a couple of tables. One dining companion and I discussed our displeasure at this discrepancy, and noted that a restaurant should either enforce whatever dress code they want to dictate (for example, by advising diners when making their reservations), or else describe the actual attire accurately (such as in the Opentable listing, which would be more accurate if it described it as "dressy casual"). Either way, there would be no surprises.

The menu offers "good news and bad news" and requires some explanation. It was similar (although not quite identical) to the version on their website. The good news is that it offers tremendous flexibility, as the server was happy to note. On the left is a six course "tete a tete" tasting menu for $90 and a twelve course tasting menu for $165. There are a few specific "singular" items shown on the left with two prices, the first an upcharge when substituted on one of the multi-course menus, the second the price when ordered on a standalone basis. Souffles are shown because they require ordering at the same time as the other courses; other desserts can be ordered later. Upon our request, the server was happy to bring us the dessert menu at the same time, to help us decide whether or not to order the souffles. (This really ought to be mandatory for places that require the advance ordering of souffles.) On the right side of the menu is their four course menu ($110), which all six of us ordered. The four-course menu was grouped as "raw" (I think some of these items were apparently better described as cold rather than raw), "warm", and "main".

The server also noted that they can be very flexible in ordering; for example, an extra course can be added to one of the multi-course menus (for an additional charge, of course). Our server also confirmed, when we asked, that one could order two warm starters rather than one raw and one warm. Not shown on the website version is the fact that three of the items on the four-course menu involved upcharges: the lobster dish shown on the website was an extra $10, a "surf and turf" item for an extra $40, and I forget the third. Personally, I found the lobster upcharge rather odd, because lobster is not all that expensive right now (and on a $110 menu, why "nickel and dime" with a $10 upcharge?). OTOH the seared foie gras starter did not have an upcharge, which was a good thing.

One thing I find frustrating is that the menu descriptions really don't do the dishes justice; you can't get a sense of what the dish is really like from the listing of a few ingredients on the menu. Most of the dishes were elaborate and exquisite, but you might never know it from the menu! For example, the foie gras starter is described as "foie gras, port, cocoa nibs, apple, celery", which sounds like a fairly standard foie gras preparation. What it actually consisted of was a nice-sized piece of seared foie gras, on a bed of celery. (Yummy - but wait, there's more!) Alongside it were half a dozen half-inch cubes of apple, and each one was topped with a very spicy chocolate sauce - very unusual and creative and delicious - who knew? (But wait, there's more!) The dish was also served with a scoop of what I think was pear sorbet - who knew? (But wait, there's more!) The cocoa nibs were crunchy chips that provided a nice counterpoint to the soft foie gras; I've had cocoa nibs before, but these were bigger and better (not huge, but not tiny like the ones I've had).

Another illustration of how much the menu falls short in adequately describing the dishes is the short rib, described on the menu as "short rib, cabernet sauvignon, huckleberry, black trumpet". Most restaurants braise short ribs and serve them. What L2O does is, they braise the short rib and form it (boneless) into a long thin rectangle, and then grill it. It was very good - properly tender on the inside, and ever so slightly crispy on the outside edge (although it could have even been more so); however, the flavor seemed somewhat overly salty. There were three elements of cabernet sauvignon in the dish: a sauce on one side of the short rib, a gelee on the other side, and an evanescent foam on top (over the black trumpet mushrooms which topped the short rib). The result was a visual treat which you wouldn't necessarily have expected from the menu description.

One of the delights of the meal were the five complimentary small dishes that were brought without being ordered. (I understand one served before the main course is properly called an amuse bouche, whereas one after the main course is a mignardise.) After we ordered, the staff brought out the first, a delicious smoked salmon croque monsieur. The second followed shortly: tuna tartare topped with a savory granite. Between the mains and desserts, we were served a meyer lemon marshmallow sorbet. Following the desserts, we were served two different amuse desserts: a passionfruit marshmallow, followed by a "canelé", a small pastry that I had never had before (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canelé ) which was one of my favorite items of the entire dinner.

Bread service was interesting, with six different kinds of miniature bread/rolls, all very good (notably the rosemary croissants). They were not warm, but they were so small that warming really isn't appropriate, since they wouldn't stay warm and it would only dry them out. They came by a couple of times with refills, without having to ask.

One minor but noticeable glitch was a bottle of white wine we ordered, and arrived insufficiently chilled. The server seemed flustered, and although she was happy to bring an ice bucket to chill the wine, we wondered whether perhaps on other nights of the week, they may have a sommelier who might have realized the problem before actually serving the wine...?

Some random impressions of other dishes I had/tried during dinner... The diver scallops were good, and prepared exactly as we requested ("cooked through"). The lobster bisque was excellent, with a couple of nice chunks of lobster and a couple of small lobster quenelles in it. In the skate preparation, the soy flavoring tended to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the skate. The arctic char was quite mild in flavor, almost bland.

Of the ordered desserts, the souffles are definitely the way to go; they were quite ample in size for individual souffles, and incredibly light. The two ingredients in the menu description ("praline, praline" or "orange, Grand Marnier") refer to the souffle and the sauce, respectively. I had the "chocolate surprise", which was a small rectangular shape filled with several different mousses of different consistencies, and I also tried the passionfruit mousse which had a bit of ginger flavor to it; both were good, but both were also too small in portion size (they could have easily been twice as large without anyone possibly thinking they were particularly generous).

I wasn't entirely thrilled that the restaurant applied an automatic 20 percent tip to the bill. I can understand the need to do so for large parties; I just don't think a party of six should qualify. However, the service was consistently excellent (friendly, knowledgeable, and unobtrusive, as the finest service should be) and the amount was warranted; I just prefer to make that decision myself.

L2O is an excellent restaurant, and deserves the acclaim it has received (including four stars from the Mobil Travel Guide in its first year); it's worth considering for a special occasion. However, it's a somewhat different approach from the rest of the pantheon of Chicago's finest and most expensive restaurants (e.g. Alinea, Everest, Avenues, Trotter's, TRU, Spiaggia, NoMI). At those other restaurants, you're likely to look back at dinner and recall how wonderful everything was, but especially the food, perhaps making you recall about how such-and-such dish was the best you've ever had. L2O is not "all about the food" - at least, not nearly as much as those other high-end places. I would instead describe it as a delightful experience rather than spectacular food, with the delight arising primarily from the gorgeous surroundings and service. That's what makes L2O a very special place. (But again, if I wanted to return to one of our high-end restaurants for a special occasion dinner, I'd easily choose Everest or Avenues over L2O.)

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Whilst Frank Bruni comes to (largely) the same conclusions as I did about L2O in his recent article in the New York Times, I find his comparisons of the restaurant with le Bernardin, momofuku ko, and Jean Georges confusing and unconvincing. I'm not sure why more than just a few feel the need to analogize this restaurant to another.

I'll admit that I don't think Gras's food is unique enough for it to be completely incomparable. But, I don't think that just because Gras shaves frozen foie gras, or features a cauliflower dish makes comparison of Gras's dishes with other famous frozen foie gras and cauliflower dishes (done in completely different ways) remotely worthwhile.

Any updates from fellow eGers?

“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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Whilst Frank Bruni comes to (largely) the same conclusions as I did about L2O in his recent article in the New York Times, I find his comparisons of the restaurant with le Bernardin, momofuku ko, and Jean Georges confusing and unconvincing.   I'm not sure why more than just a few feel the need to analogize this restaurant to another.

I agree. OTOH the article did appear (today, BTW) in the New York Times, which is still to some extent a local newspaper, so maybe he felt the need to provide comparisons that New Yorkers can identify with.

Incidentally, I thought his experience was similar to my own. IOW the decor is sublime, the food has its share of misses as well as hits, and the service is uneven. In fact, although I didn't mention it in my post above, I had the exact same experience he describes regarding the need to see the dessert menu before being able to decide whether or not to order the souffle in advance. I'm sure I wasn't the first, but they should have ironed that out by now.

Any updates from fellow eGers?

I've now had a chance to reflect a bit on my meal there in March, and put it into perspective. The problem I keep coming up with is one of price and value - basically one of comparisons, and what L2O should be compared with. I had a very nice dinner there, loved some of the dishes, and found others just okay. If it were priced like our better casual fine dining restaurants, such as Aigre Doux or North Pond (i.e. around $100/person inclusive), I would consider it a good contender worth considering. However, it's not. You'll pay $200+/person, which is comparable to our top tables from top chefs, fewer than a dozen restaurants in the Chicago area. And if you compare it with those other places in that price bracket (Alinea, Charlie Trotter's, Avenues, Everest, TRU, Spiaggia, Carlos), I don't think it compares well. At all of those other places, everything is just perfect, with one "wow, delicious!" dish after another after another with no misses, with exquisite service without any issues whatsoever, without the wine service issue, without the attire issue, without the tipping issue, etc. When I have a special occasion worth spending the money, I would easily go back to any of those other places rather than return to L2O. And that's why L2O just didn't particularly impress me, even though I loved the space and much of what it had to offer.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...