Below are some pics from our opening night meal at L.20. I wasn't exactly sure how to organize them, so I decided to begin with the design elements, which one does experience first, and finish up with the food . . .
The restaurant is laid out symmetrically, with each table being unique or distinctively-located in some way. Frame left you can see an alcove and 2-top which are made completely from onyx. Behind the frosted glass, in the back of this shot, is the private dining room which, iirc, seats 8. It'll be about 2 months before private dining is available.
Another perspective, looking across the back of the large dining room, which is intended to call to mind classic, fine-dining rooms which are traditionally associated with hotel dining. In the distance, in the back of the shot are 2 modular tatami rooms, which can be completely closed off from the main dining room and serviced entirely via a separate doorway directly from the kitchen. Because of their modular nature, these rooms can actually be configured to different sizes and seating capacities, depending on what is required.
A view of the banquette that is situated at the back, center of the dining room. This bench seating faces the door and as someone in our party noted, it's the perfect vantage point for people watching.
In the center of the dining room is the oblong 6-top at which we dined. Visible throughout the room are many subtle nods to the 'under the pier,' nautical theme of L.20. I really love the double cables that ran from floor to ceiling. They evoked an underwater feeling and defined the space around our table without closing it off.
Because the design of the restaurant is so intertwined with its mission and theme (and because the restaurant is so new), I want to show some of the specific design details here . . .
An overview of our table. At first glance, a couple of notable elements include the onyx slabs, the round, frosted glass containers (the purpose of which would be revealed shortly after we were seated) and the blue-tinted water glasses, which again evoke the nautical theme in a room where there are very few other color accents.
These small onyx slabs, each cut from the larger slabs that comprised the alcove, are placed in front of each diner and moved about depending on which utensils are provided with a given course.
Here, the slab is readied with a mother of pearl spoon in preparation for our caviar course. Frame right, you get a closer look at the blue-tinted water glass.
For some courses, the fork was placed, tines down, on these onyx chits. I'm told that one reason they were selected (along with the slabs) is because of their general uniformity and their individual uniqueness.
Chopsticks were provided with a few courses, as well.
Elements of L.20's coffee service which, I'm told, are produced in Germany.
The frosted glass cylinder opens to reveal house-made butter, which is showcased beautifully.
As I mentioned in my post upthread, bread service was phenomenal. Here, pictured left to right are the miniature baguette, bread stuffed with lardon and anchovy bread, which was actually a masterfully-produced croissant.
In all, 6 breads were served. Here, pan au lait, wheat baguette and one other wheat bread, the name of which I regretfully, cannot recall, are pictured.
We opted for course-by-course wine pairings but I really didn't take very good notes on them. Pictured above is a tremendous, single-vineyard Gonet Medeville Champagne, which was served in an elegant coupe that showcased the nose and again, evoked a classic fine-dining feel.
The 12-course tasting menu, which was comprised exclusively of fish and seafood preparations, was immensely impressive on many levels. We also added 3 courses (caviar, pork belly, cheese course) and the kitchen sent out a few amuses, pre-desserts and mignardise, too. In all, I'm told that we were served 23 courses. Of course, I myself lost count. What follows are pictures of the courses with some fairly rough notes and descriptions (with profuse thanks to yellow truffle
for inviting me to his table and for passing his notes on to me) . . .
Amuse 1 - Oyster
Amuse 2 - Fluke
Amuse 3 - Crab Ceviche
Ossetra Caviar, Toro, Avocado with lobster gelee and accoutrements.
Interior view of the caviar course. You can see some edible flowers in the background, under the ribbon of lobster gelee.
Hokkaido Scallop with yuzu and shiso leaf.
Shimaaji with soy salt, daikon, breakfast radish, lime and olive oil. I loved these meaty bites. There was a subtle heat here which came in at the end. Very nice.
Tuna and Hamachi with soy, olive oil and chive. Aside from the obvious artistry here, the glorious fish was the star. Like so many of the dishes we enjoyed, chef used a light hand on this one. His stamp is clear but it's applied in a way that highlights the ingredients without obscuring them.
Baby Octopus, slow-cooked with coconut emulsion and soy-infused salt. This may have been my favorite dish of the meal. The octopus had an extremely satisfying texture. It was dense without being chewy. I was surprised by how well the coconut went with the octopus. It was an inspired combination.
Morels with asparagus, parsley, egg yolk and parmesan. A very successful riff on a classic Spring combination. The morels were succulent, the asparagus perfectly tender and the additional elements unified them deftly.
Codfish with fingerling potato, green olive, lemon, Ossetra caviar and white grits. This liquid-form play on brandade was fantastic. The caviar was a nice accent, too.
Lobster with lobster dumpling, chestnut and lobster bisque. This was another great combination of flavors. Unfortunately, by no fault of the kitchen, the lobster itself was a bit chewy but still very delicious.
Lobster bisque is poured over the lobster and the dumpling.
The entire dish is then finished with a emulsified, creamy topping.
Halibut with trumpet royale-tomato water gelee, tomato heart, golden spinach, Chablis-tomato bouillon and (not pictured) potato emulsion. I was a bit stunned when, this late in the meal, a portion this large came out. It was one of those moments when I was able to happily rely on my training. This fish was immaculately tender and the tomato accents highlighted it's clean flavor wonderfully. The tomato emulsion was served separately, as a miniature side dish and it was fantastic, too.
Halibut after being sauced at the table.
Black Bass topped with brioche, with mussels, manjari-pasilla chili gelée and duck bouillon. I loved this preparation because the buttery, razor-thin sheet of brioche added so much to the bass, both texturally and flavor-wise. Again, this was a seriously large portion but it was so delicious it was impossible to stop eating it.
Shabu Shabu Medai with daikon and Matsutake, kombu bouillon, ponzu-dashi dipping sauce (not pictured). I didn't do a great job of documenting this service-intensive dish. Shabu shabu is always fun (a bit like Japanese fondue) and again, the flavors were pure, unobstructed and distinctive.
Kurabota Pork Belly with caramelized Yukon gold potato, potato emulsion and black truffle pork jus. Out of curiosity, we added this course and even though I was really full by the time it was served, I'm glad we did. As many pork belly preparations as I've had and made, this one was distinctive and new to me. The belly is cured for about 24 hours, then braised and then, somehow, handled in a way which makes the top layer of fat intensely crispy -- almost like cracklings. The potato and truffle accents worked perfectly here. Delectable proof that chef Gras is indeed amphibious.
Cheese course . . . don't remember them all but the one of the left was creamy and mild, the middle cheese was nutty and pungent and on the right is the intense Stilton.
Carrot Meringue . . . a wonderful bite which bridged us further from savory to sweet. The meringue was tasty.
Under the meringue was an intensely-flavored carrot and orange liquid, topped with pop-rock-type granules. A really delicious and effective palate cleanser.
Green Tea Shaved Ice . . . aromatic, cool and soothing.
Mango Sorbet with 'Exotic Fruit' consomme, lemongrass meringue, pineapple, mango and papaya seeds. This dish was a tropical paradise on a plate. It was very complex, with many fruit elements in a multitude of forms.
The herbs accentuated and amplified the tropicality of the fruit elements. The papaya seeds, used as a garnish, provided bright accents and crunch.
Miniature Harpoon (as described by one of the diners in our party) . . . a service piece used for only one dish of our meal . . .
Passionfruit Marshmallow . . . I believe this delicious, pillow-soft, made in-house marshmallow was covered in some sort of passionfruit powder.
Harpoon meets Passionfruit Marshmallow . . . a delicious one-biter on the way to dessert . . .
Soufflé, Praline, Praline. It was quite a sight seeing 6 perfect souffles standing tall on their way to the table. Here, the souffle is actually flavored with almond and the sauce is hazelnut. This was another huge portion and I'll admit that even though it was perfect, I couldn't finish it.
Pistachio Macaron. Simply put, the best French macaron I've ever eaten. Ever.
Coffee Ganache . . . this intense bite, along with coffee from the Clover machine, was a great way to end the meal. This was actually served from a cart, tableside. The beam from which it was cut was a perfect rectangular bar.
As I posted upthread, I think L.20 will immediately take its place with Chicago's other finest restaurants. I read the mildly snarky comment about it being a LEYE property but this restaurant is (already) operating at such high level, such comments are completely irrelelvant. Service was friendly, polished and extremely knowledgeable. As was posted above, dinner was not inexpensive but very much in line with other top-tier restaurants in town. Before tip, our meal came out to about $380 per person. Of course, we added several courses (including 2 orders of the Ossetra appetizer), selected full wine pairings, etc. Still, for the experience we had, I'd call it a value.
I'm thrilled to have L.20 in Chicago and we're extraordinarily lucky to have it here. Not only do we now have a world-class fish and seafood restaurant but regardless of the menu, we'd be fortunate to have such easy access to any restaurant with this level of quality. They're so rare. The amount of vision, thought and care that have been invested in L.20 is completely impressive. On top of that, this is delicious, distinctive, artistic food that is an experience unto itself, and one that should not be missed.
Belden Stratford Hotel
2300 Lincoln Park West
Chicago, IL 60614
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I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider