Saturday, September 13, 2008

Chicago 7: L20

I'd been reading about the new fish restaurant in and the chef's almost daily blog since the place opened a few monthes ago. It was much bigger than we expected, unlike the tiny rooms we had been in at Charlie's and Alinea, with a stunning decoration upon entering the room. This was one well-planned restaurant, from the ambience, the specially made utensils, and the music composed specifically for L20. When I told our server I had last been to Chicago in 1955, he seemed to think that was when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Didn't seem to bother him, though.

The first amuse: clam in cucumber and apple water. This ain't your grandmother's clam chowder.

Lemon zest foam, really good. Underneath, some tasteless vegetables. A wonderfully smoky jelly. The raw fish at the bottom is avoided.

The menu is divided into raw courses, warm courses, main courses and "singulars." We are encouraged to substitute, which is great as none of the raw courses are edible for me. I have two warms, while E begins with this Hamachi (yellowtail), Tuna, Soy Sauce, Yuzu and Olive Oil. E is happy. It is served with some sake from Ishikawa Prefecture. The bubbly sommelier wonders why I burst out laughing at this announcement. E has to explain that Ishikawa is my last name. I had a sip, but of course, avoided the raw fish E was eating with it. May have been a good pairing.

My first warm is this dish of morels, asparagus, parmesan tubes with parsley. I told the waiter I wanted to compare L20's morel dish with Charlie's that so overwhelmed me two nights before. No competition at all. Although not bad, they were more filling than tasty. When the server asked my opionion, I told him the dish was culinary rather than rapturous. He claimed to know what I meant. He asked if he could serve me something else instead but I was ok with this.

Scallops, sassafras, hibiscus, tomato. Actually the scallops tasted better without the leaves. The sauce was pleasent and the little islands of flavour were appreciated and the wine pairing was helpful.

E's warm course: Santa Barbara Shrimp, red pepper, raspberry, cucumber. E is blown away. The tidbit I taste is astonishing, far superior to my scallops. To me, the raspberry tastes like tomato. E says, "the texture is perfect, I've never had prawns done so nicely before."

My main: lobster, Tahitian vanilla, chanterelle, watermelon radish, cauliflour, peach, taragon jelly. The sous-vide lobster was chewier than I expect at this level of dining. I kept expecting the peach to kick the lobster to another level, but waited in vain. The cauliflour sauce, on the other hand, really helped the lobster. E tastes carroway in the cauliflour sauce but the server tells us there is no such spice in it. The peach cube by itself is a peach-lover's delight. My final bite was of the last piece of lobster smothered in cauliflour puree and taragon jelly was great in my mouth and a great aftertaste lingered on. I really didn't want anything else after this.

E's main, King salmon, pea, radish, chorizo boullion, small finger.

The server highly reccommended this Singular dish: Amadai (snapper), crispy scales, leeks, ginger boullion, tapioca pearl. He said the chef was really proud of it. I asked about the other things on the singular menu, but this he said was the best. It was the best piece of fish I've ever eaten in a restaraunt. When E had some, she said the contrast in textures is really fun. I was stunned at the quality of this dish, though not too happy with the leeks. One was enough for me. But the fish! I wish I had only this dish, instead of filling up on all the other stuff. E called the server and said the chef had hit a homerun! If the Amadai were a batter, he could lead the Cubs to the World Series.

A passionfruit marshmellow. I saw the blog post about the creation of this sweet. Doesn't mean I could actually eat it. More because I was full and not a sweet eater than any problem with the dish.

Agave: tastes like fresh shaved fruit. A bit too sweet for me. Too cantelopy. Supposed to cleanse palate.

Grand Marnier and orange souffle. E was pleased that it wasn't as sweet as she expected. The server punched a hole in the top and poured in the orange sauce. It looked good to me, without me actually wanting to eat any.

They allowed me to take my cheese course "home." That was nice of them. E said this was the best of our 3 restaurants, in terms of the consistancy of the food. It wasn't great/horrible/great like some of the stuff in the other places. The sommelier was so effervescent, even if her pairings weren't up to our standards, it was delightful just to have her around.
All in all, this 4 day trip was about as much fun as I've ever had in any 4 day period of my life. E was relentlessly entertaining. The food at the hotel was pretty good too, though limited to breakfasts, lunches and small bar food items. In search of Chicago's famous Deep Dish Pizza, we lunched at Due the day we went to L20, and though I was too tired from previous night to really appreciate it, I'm glad to have the city's famous pie at it's home. I missed all the travelling Monets, but I'll be back. Hopefully without waiting another 53 years.


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