(Visited: July 2012)
After a week of OK to mediocre to frankly quite vile eating in Evanston, IL, for work, we decided that on our last night we deserved something with that je ne sais quoi… so off we go to Chicago.
As soon as you enter L20 (of illustrious multi-starred fame, currently holding 1* Michelin under chef Matthew Kirkley) you realise you are not in an ordinary place. The low lighted room is modern, cool and grand, yielding a sense of oriental calm, open yet affording a multitude of environments at the large, well spaced tables (there also an inviting separate tatami room).
There’s a four course a la carte selection ($120) and two tasting menus, one ‘basic’ (a manner of speaking as we shall see) at $150 and one luxury (called ‘Singular’) at $180. Not in the mood for choosing tonight, we go for both.
This time we won’t comment on each individual dish and let some photos do most of the talking, but here are the menus we had: they deserve reading because they make clear the interest for seafood ingredients that characterises L20:
|turbot • ceps, champagne, brown butter, parsley|
‘Basic’ tasting menu
- ahi tuna tartare • avocado, caviar
- mussels • clams, corn, zucchini, lardo
- agnolotti • artichoke, ricotta, clarified barigoule
- bouillabaisse • scorpion fish, daurade, mussels, fennel, tomato confit
- lamb loin • zucchini lattice, sweetbreads, squash blossom
- lemon tart • rhubarb, basil
- grand marnier soufflé • orange
|lamb loin • zucchini lattice, sweetbreads, squash blossom|
- Maryland blue crab en gelée • fennel cream, basil
- grilled abalone • royale of sweet corn, black truffle, chorizo
- turbot • cepes, champagne, brown butter, parsley
- st. pierre • foie gras, cabbage, matelote
- 28-day dry aged ribeye • lobster, spring onion, brioche, civet
- fromage blanc • apple, calvados caramel
- praline soufflé • hazelnut anglaise
|grilled abalone • royale of sweet corn, black truffle, chorizo|
Every dish was a pretty composition, executed with great precision, on a foundation of classical techniques and little space for all-too-obvious modern pyrotechnics, the flavours complex but clean, tending to the subtle and restrained rather than ‘in your face': real class.
|Maryland blue crab en gelée • fennel cream, basil|
Hard to choose in that feast, but two dishes especially will stand out in our memory. The ahi tuna tartare,
|ahi tuna tartare • avocado, caviar|
the first item from the basic menu, made us understand early on how modestly described the dishes are, concealing the amount of work they embody: the tartare was encased in a beautiful and minutely constructed avocado sphere, the feel on the palate luscious, the caviar not merely a thrown in standard addition but a fundamental element to elevate the dish.
And the ribeye with lobster from the luxury menu, with the ribeye glazed with soy and the stunning combination of flavours from the excellent produce, took our breath away.
|28-day dry aged ribeye • lobster, spring onion, brioche, civet|
But tonight, really, everything was masterful. And judging from the quality of the beef and lamb, the impression is that if this seafood specializing venue transformed itself into a meat restaurant it would be no less impressive.
|lemon tart • rhubarb, basil|
The only minor negative was that, for our taste, the meal lasted too long. This is a bit of a place for special occasions (and they see themselves in that way), given the complexity of the experience and the investment in time and money needed – the wine list is expensive too (how lucky we could have no alcohol that night….). It would be nice if they also gave food lovers the chance of returning for multiple visits of a less demanding nature.
Service was, from booking to final greetings, one of the most professional we’ve seen (only margin for improvement is in the description of the dishes, which should be slightly less rushed).
What struck us in the cooking style tonight was how thoroughly logical it was, every element in the dish having a clear function, and the lack of pointless, childish gimmicks despite the high techniques used. A sober style that we very much appreciated. After dinner we had the chance of seeing the lengths they go to to source top quality seafood: in the enormous kitchen they have huge tanks with live Abalone clams and Brittany lobsters, and the fridge was full of fantastic FedExed fish from Europe. This was very impressive, mature top level cooking, that makes L20 an obligatory stop for gourmets in Chicago and beyond.