Archive for May, 2010


You know a meal is unforgettable when it takes you over a week (or four) to write a recap of it. The FDL, in honor of our first turn around the calendar, decided to drop mad dough at L2O. That rhymed. Readers, adjective honestly fail me when it comes to describing this wildly inventive, perfectly-presented, full-fledged foodie experience, so I’ll just dive right in.

L2O is located unassumingly in the same building that houses Mon Ami Gabi, another joint on the Lettuce Entertain You roster. Both places sit facing each other across the gilded, ornate lobby of the Belden Stratford; a 20’s era former hotel that has since been turned into “charming” (read: tiny) apartments. L2O’s sleek, warm-toned wood doors are easy to miss, but entering the restaurant’s quiet and starkly-decorated interior is like passing into a different world. The hustle and bustle of the Belden-Stratford’s lobby is hushed, and all that’s heard is the quiet rustle of voice and faint ambient music. I think we all immediately felt the urge to use our six-inch voices as we were led to our table.

We sat half-hidden behind a strange, bare-branched tree of some sort, which was encased in glass and provided us a modicum of privacy. The dining room was relatively quiet, which is not suprising seeing as it was  a rainy Thursday night. However, seated directly behind us was a couple who had inexplicably brought their seven-year-old child with them. I was mildly amused, and could only wonder at the type of income these parents pulled down if L2O was a viable option for a  casual Thursday night family dinner. The kid was well-behaved, so I can’t complain. She seemed content playing games on her mom’s BlackBerrry and regarded the food placed before her with only mild interest. That kid is way cooler than I am.

L2O’s menu is a fixed price deal, and we chose the four-course option. For brevity’s sake, I’m going to focus on my selections, with the exception of M.’s truly unbelieveable pick for her “Raw” dish. L2O kindly divided the menu into four sections: Warm, Raw, Main, and Dessert. Our adorable server took great care to explain the various ways the menu could be consumed; pointing out that we could swap out a Raw course for two Warm courses if we wished, or vice versa. She was impeccable in her service; moving almost unnoticed around our table clearing dishes, placing dishes, refilling water, and she always made sure we understood the menu fully. We told her what brought us to the restaurant, and how we were so thrilled to be dining there that night. “Oh, that’s so cool!” she exclaimed, which gave her another point in my book, “how would you ladies like to see the kitchen after your meal?”

What was that sound, you ask? Oh, just the sound of four girls crapping their pants in excitement simultaneously. Just kidding. But we basically had to curb our enthusiasm as I casually replied with a  “Sure, that sounds great. Thanks so much!”

Back to the food. Because I was trying to watch my spending as much as one could in a place as expensive as L2O, I went with a relatively cheap beer selection, and the rest of the table chose the house cocktail, a delicate aperitif that consisted of prosecco with a raspberry cordial float.

For my first Warm course, I selected the diver scallops served with a sauvignon blanc/vanilla emulsion and crunchy toasted passionfruit seeds. Done to perfection, the scallops were buttery and practically melted in my mouth, and were tinged with just the right amount of sweetness from the sauce. The toasted passionfruit seeds added a delicate crunch, which complemented the perfect crispness of the scallop’s sear.

M.’s Raw selection far outshone anything else on the table, hands down. She chose the Eighteen Flavors of Spring;  tiny little bites presented on lucite block. I didn’t actually count and make sure that there were in fact eighteen flavors, but each one-biter represented an aspect of the earthy, crisp nature of the season. I was instantly jealous when our server placed this in front of M., and squirmed anxiously as I watched her relish each perfect little bite. Sensing this, M. generously offered a taste of the carrot sorbet; a perfect globe dipped in liquid nitrogen. It melted within moments in my mouth, leaving me with a mouth full of smooth, creamy, cold carrot. It wasn’t as sweet as I was anticipating, but rather slightly tangy and, well, carroty.

For my second Warm course, I asked myself the age-old question: “Do you like luxury?” My answer to myself was yes, I fucking love luxury, so I went with the foie gras. Seared on the top and smoothly rich in the middle, the foie gras was about as big as my fist and was served with a garnish of toasted marshmallows and a scattering of flower petals. This dish also entitled me to a tableside emulsion preparation, which involved much whisking of liquid nitrogen into a tiny bowl of rasperry puree. The resulting concontion was to be poured over the foie gras, but I chose to leave it in its bowl, dishing out spoonfuls as I saw fit. Now, you’d think I just basically described a dessert, what with the marshmallows and the raspberries and all, and I too was skeptical about how all the different pieces of the dish might mesh. Well, mesh they did, and beautifully. Foie gras is rather on the sweet side as it is, so the raspberry and touches of ginger drew out the flavor of the meat without being overly sugary or dessert-like.

We have now reached the main event. I’ve said this before–if not on this blog then definitely out loud, ad nauseam, to anyone who would listen–I absolutely love food that makes you work for it. By this, I mean any dish that requires effort on the part of the diner, taking you from passive watcher and consumer to active participant. Lobster is the best example I can think of here, because tackling a whole in-shell lobster takes effort, it takes cunning and patience, and that makes the ultimate reward that much sweeter. Peel-and-eat shrimp, ribs, crabs, crayfish, even mussels; any and all of these items make it a challenge for the diner to just sit and stuff their face without putting in at least a small amount of elbow grease.

This is why, when scanning the menu for my Main course dish, I landed on the shabu-shabu. For y’all who don’t know, shabu-shabu (Japanese for “swish swish”) involves taking thinly sliced pieces of raw protein and submerging them in  a boiling liquid, usually water or broth, until they have cooked to your liking. L2O’s shabu-shabu presentation consisted of perfect, fresh slices of raw hiramasa (yellowtail) served on an arched wooden plank, interspersed with individual slivers of onion, king oyster mushrooms, and leafy, fragrant greens. Alongside this was a small pot of konbu (kelp) bouillon with its own warming element to ensure the temperature stayed constant. I gleefully dunked my slices of of fish into the broth, adding greens and mushrooms as I went. I like my protein a little on the raw side, so I kept the slices submerged just long enough to lightly cook the outside while the innards stayed soft and fresh.

Once the fish had been eaten and all that remained was a pot of flavorful broth, our server removed the broth from the table and returned with a bowl of buckwheat ramen noodles, served in the broth I had just used to cook the fish. It was a delightful and unexepected second act, and I appreciated the fact that the rich broth didn’t go to waste. Apparently I was so enthralled by this part of the meal that I forgot to take a picture.

We were so sufficed after our lengthy meal that dessert was the last thing on my mind. I passed on the house speciality, peanut butter souffle, and selected a dessert of raspberry puree, golden yuzu (a Japanese citrus), and a creamy portion of marscapone cheese. Sticking with the luxury theme, the whole plate was flecked with edible gold leaf. I love luxury.

After we settled up (I won’t say how much this meal cost, that’s just unladylike), our server led us on a tour around the dining room, showing us the private sunken dining areas enclosed in sliding wooden doors and the banquet space. True to her word, she led us out through the Belden-Stratford lobby and through a small door into the kitchen. It was already about 10:30 so the staff was in the midst of shutting down for the night; coating the floor in buckets of water and hurriedly packing up the storage freezers. L2O’s kitchen is beautiful, all stainless steel and bathed in blue light, and I imagine it as a calm and zen space even at the height of the dinner rush.

If you have the means, I highly recommend you try L2O. It is so choice.


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