2300 north lincoln park west
chicago, il 60614
arabako txakolina, xarmant, 2011
after finishing our cocktails and diving head first into the bread, our first wine was poured and shortly after the meal's first course arrived in the form of mussel mousse on a thin wafer with flavors of garlic and lemon. we were told that this was best eaten in one bite, and obediently popped the entire bite into our mouths simultaneously. while at first i thought the amount of mousse was perhaps too large for one bite (if using a spoon i would likely have taken three bites), i quickly realized that may have been the idea, as the briny mussel flavor absolutely coated the palate and clung there long after everything had been swallowed.
soave classico, gini, "contrada salverenza," 2006
course number two was actually a repeat from our meal in the tatami room last july, but this was no problem as it was a dish i remembered well and really enjoyed. basically this is blue crab layered with a gelee of some sort along with fennel cream and a bit of basil. it was as good as i remembered with an interesting mix of sweetness, salinity, and subtle spice. delicious!
coste della sesiarosato, proprieta sperino, rosa del rosa, 2011
following the crab was a dish i had seen in pictures online and was excited to see it placed before me. here we have tuna tartare wrapped in avocado and topped with a dollop of caviar. although both of the dishes main components were relatively mild in flavor and soft in texture, this was still a very tasty dish with the salinity of the caviar creating a necessary contrast.
next up was a soft and creamy dumpling filled with sweet loup de mer mousse of sorts and served in a scallop sauce with broccoli stems and some shaved black truffle. this was one of my favorite courses with the crunchy broccoli stems working well to create textural contrast against the luxuriously soft and smooth textures of the dumpling, filling, and sauce.
chablis, 1er cru, vaillons, thierry laffay, 2009
for the meals soup course, we first have rounds of zucchini topped with corn and glassy lardo that was next finished table side with a salty broth containing both mussels and clams. the key to this dish for me was the lardo as it's richness help cut through the salty tinge of the broth.
riesling spatlese, 'oestricher doosberg', balthazar ress, rheingau, 1992
st. pierre (also known as john dory) layered with foie gras, plated with cabbage, and finished with metelote sauce was the meal's sixth course. while the foie flavor was less pronounced than i expected, it certainly added an extra degree of savor to the mild yet sweet fish.
chateauneuf-du-pape, domaine des senechaux, 2008
kirkley's contemporary take on the traditional french stew was excellent with the loup de mer (which i believe was poached) reminding me of the incredible striped bass i had at le bernardin earlier this year.
one of the meal's largest courses was butter poached lobster with a hollowed out potato filled with mushroom and finished with a hollandaise sauce. this was one of the meals strongest courses with the well cooked tail meat being sweet and snappy on its own or smothered in the hollandaise.
saint-joseph, domaine monier perreol, 2008
starting to feel rather full at this point, the news that this would be our final savory course of the evening was music to my ears. pictured above is lamb loin served with a squash blossom and a zucchini lattice stuffed with sweetbreads. this course was the only one of the night to be served with a red wine, and was a nice change of pace after all the seafood. while the lamb loin was excellent, the star of this dish for me was sweetbread filled zucchini lattice.
colli euganei fior d'arancio, vignalta, 2011
our first actual dessert was a structural marvel consisting of an incredibly thin and crisp phyllo shell housing a lemon cream a sheets of dried rhubarb. on the plate were dots of basil adding just a hint of spice to this otherwise sweet and tart dessert.
finally, just as in the laurent gras days, the meal ended with a perfectly executed souffle. this time we were brought the long standing praline variety which was cracked open table side and finished with a hazelnut anglaise. although certainly not a creative offering, the two souffles i have eaten at l2o have easily been the best of my life, and will likely always be what i compare future souffles to. i am ashamed to admit that i was unable to finish the entire souffle, but will blame the failure on my seemingly self replenishing bread plate.
in the days leading up to this meal, i began to feel tinges of regret for electing to book l2o again instead of taking the chance on someplace new. even though i knew the meal would be excellent, i was afraid the overall experience might have a "been there done that" sort of feel to it. looking back on this dinner almost a month later, i am happy to say that this visit was my favorite of the three, and there is no question that the meals we could have had at either ria or spiaggia would have been far inferior. while i am not sure that l2o was ever quite at the three star michelin level, i feel like the restaurant's current one star status does not do them justice and will be very surprised if they aren't bumped up to the two star level this fall. regardless, carrie and i have a soft spot in our hearts for l2o and look forward to returning at some point with the assumption that chef kirkley's cooking is only going to get better.