Archive for the 'FDL' Category

Roundup: FDL

February: Marigold

Hood: Uptown

Food: Indian

Weather: Slushy and awful

Ambiance: Candlelit, romantic, exotic. Couples, families, groups of friends.

Verdict: Spicy, authentic, flavorful.

                                                                                                

March: Boka (restaurant week)

Hood: Lincoln Park

Food: Indeterminate but ostensibly “Contemporary American”

Weather: Pelted by random hailstorm

Ambiance: Cirque du Soleil-ish tented interior meets mid-90’s upholstery, plus group of women apparently auditioning for Real Housewives of Moscow.

Verdict: (waggles hand from side to side in an indication of mediocrity)

                                                                                                            

April: The Bristol

Hood: Bucktown

Food: Mediterranean-inspired, locally sourced & seasonal

Weather: The sun shone bright on my old Chicago hooooome

Ambiance: Salvaged wood, communal tables, specials written on wall covered in chalkboard paint, owner helping servers expedite and bus. Friendly and breezy.

Verdict: Will return at earliest convenience

                                                                                                           

May: Paris Club

Hood: River North

Food: Durr

Weather: First warm day since last summer. Joyfully sat next to wide open windows.

Ambiance: Paris bistro circa 1920 plus flat-screens. Subway tile and mirrors. River North yuppies mingle with suburban cougars and aging “cool hip guys” who wear those long square shoes and flared jeans and untucked shirts with crosses, eagles, and/or skulls.

Verdict: Solid coq au vain and Roquefort-crusted filet. Thai-spiced mussels seemed inconsistent with Parisian concept, but were naturally devoured nonetheless.

Beepa da boopa! Boppa de beepa!

That’s my impression of the way Italians talk! Is that rude? Whatever, I have a friend who’s like half Italian so it’s totally cool. Also it’s my way of telling you guys that FDL hit up its first ever Italian restaurant last night! J. sent out an email yesterday to the rest of us, listing all the places we’ve eaten since April of 2009 when this whole project got started. After last night, we’ve been to 17 of Chicago’s finest eateries; running the gamut from chic gastropub to classic Chicago steakhouse. UNreal. I’m so proud!

Last night was the absolute perfect night for a hearty Italian meal, which is precisely what we got at Coco Pazzo. It was cold, it was windy, and Thanksgiving was two days away. We weren’t exactly in the mood for salads, if you catch my drift. Coco Pazzo was J.’s choice, and was decided upon after she had researched and polled and asked around for the best Italian joint in the city. I won’t say this place is the most “authentic”, and the menu is slightly more refined than that of a more rustically-based cuisine. We were seated in a cozy corner of the warmly lit dining room, half-hidden and ensconced by blue velvet curtains. I noticed that our group was pretty much the youngest in the place, save for a family with a kid who was about seven or eight. The rest of the diners were older and finely dressed in suits and business-casuals, chatting quietly over glasses of wine and plates heaped with thinly-sliced prosciutto, olives, and chunks of parmesan.

I think all of us were feeling a bit selfish and decided to forgo our usual sharing of appetizers and entrees, and to be perfectly honest I was slightly relieved that sharing was not required or even encouraged. In general, the sharing of food is something I relish; being able to take a bite of a particularly delicious dish and look around the table, eyes wide, knowing exactly how the rest of the table feels to be enjoying the same experience. Last night though…I just wanted the food all to myself. Bites were had off plates here and there, but our usual free-for-all was more of an every man for himself situation.

It seems to be an established yet unwritten rule of FDL that someone just has to get grilled octopus at some point in the meal. I unselfishly took that burden upon myself and ordered an appetizer of grilled baby octopus served atop a bed of greens, the plate studded with gigantic white beans and fresh olives, served with a thick slice of lemon. J. eyed my plate and made me promise to give her a bite, so unable is she to resist a plate of grilled cephalopod. (Yeah, that’s right. Cephalopod. Look it up.) I requested a smidgen of M.’s duck liver terrine, which was incredibly rich and resembled a cross-section of a giant hot dog in color and shape. Applause to her for finishing the whole slice, which was paired with sweet accompaniments to presumably balance the luxurious texture and taste of the liver. I should mention here that I DID TAKE PICTURES but I used some stupid iPhone app that–for some godforsaken reason–did not SAVE my pictures after taking them. Thanks a lot, Instagram! More like InstaCRAP, am I right?!

Anyhoodle. For awhile now, there has been some deep and insatiable craving inside me for a plate of squid ink pasta. I can’t tell you why, for I’d never actually eaten it, but I kept hearing about it here and there, seeing recipes in cookbooks and magazines…I’ve even gone so far as to poke at a bag of it in the fancy pasta aisle at Treasure Island, wondering what flavor was hidden in those dark and mysterious strands. Lucky me, then, that Coco Pazzo’s menu boasted a squid ink pasta dish served with PEI mussels (also yum), calamari, zucchini, tomatoes, and a chili-infused marinara sauce. I mean, could you just die? Doesn’t that sound heavenly?

I had always imagined that squid ink pasta would somehow be imbued with a fishy, sea-like taste; so inseparable in my mind are the ideas of squid and sea. After my first bite, though, I could tell that the majority of any such flavor came mostly from the mussels and the calamari rather than from the pasta, which by itself tasted salty and even a little bit sweet. I needed no extra salt or pepper, and the only extraneous condiment added to the meal was a light sprinkling of freshly-shaved parmesan. We rounded out our dinner with two bottles of red wine, no dessert. Dessert would just be far too much, we simply couldn’t. I’d say we made out like bandits, seeing as we managed to get out of there without spending over $60 a person. Blammo! Nailed it.

Our next round will be my choice, and I’m hoping to finagle a way in to Grant Achatz’s new spot, Next, which is speculated to open sometime in the next month or so.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all.

All Praises Due

Chicago has been all atwitter (literally and figuratively…HA!) thanks to the descendence of the venerable Jean Luc Neret and his team of pro-ass eaters onto our fair city.

The 2011 edition of Chicago’s Michelin Guide has been released, and I am proud to say that, thanks to FDL, I have been lucky enough to experience the culinary forces behind several of these establishments. Alinea and L2O received top honors, awarded the rarely-bestowed three Michelin stars, and Blackbird, Graham Elliott , and Longman and Eagle were each granted a respectable one star rating. (For a full breakdown and a handy visual map, visit the Chicago Eater website.)

There’s been buzz about certain establishments being unfairly overlooked, but FDL favorite Girl & The Goat was honored with a Bib Gourmand recommendation, which means that particular establishment was chosen as a Michelin inspector’s favorite for good value. Other Bib Gourmands include Urban Belly, De Cero, Frontera Grill, Hopleaf, and The Publican, all of which have been joyfully experienced by FDL and/or myself.

All in all, I’d say the official Michelin star rating list definitely captured the best that Chicago has to offer, and really only serves to solidify my desire to tackle Alinea and Schwa. Also, Chicago Bites has a nice comparative chart that brings together ratings from across the web, comparing ratings from Michelin to user-generated review off of  sites like Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Metromix.

What are your thoughts? Ever eaten at these places? Wish that a lesser-known but equally delicious establishment had been recognized? Leave ’em in the comments!

Throwback in a New Jacket

Is this November? 65, balmy, breezy, and beautiful? How it thrills me so, to have summer linger like a particularly charming and welcome guest at a dinner party, to keep the ankle-length down coat at the back of my closet for just a bit longer.

Anyway, I didn’t come here to talk about the weather! No, last week was FDL’s monthly eatfest at Sable Kitchen. I really dug the vibe the place is going for, which is meant to mirror the “glory days” of dining out and the chivalry and elegance of the 1940’s. The interior is muted and accented with deep browns and rusty golds, and seemed to attract a bit of a mixed crowd that ranged from apres-work colleagues grabbing drinks to a table full of what were clearly yuppie-ass parents, reveling in a blessed few hours away from their kids.

In keeping with the emerging popularity of the “gastropub” concept, Sable Kitchen strives to inject a farm fresh sensibility into its menus, mixing this with two parts throwback retro cool and one part sleek modern. The bar boasts old timey cocktails, some served in impossibly tiny goblets with a wee carafe on the side, boasting old-school ingredients such as bitters or unusual syrups.

My palate that night was more in the mood for a solid beer than a cocktail, and I found the cocktail menu a tad too cerebral; divided as it was into chapters with themes and lines of prose and poetry. I couldn’t really wrap my head around it, so I went with a simple Allagash White beer. A. had already dined at Sable several times and advised us on what dishes were the best and most flavorful, so we chose bacon-wrapped dates, bison shortrib sliders with a root beer glaze, sweet corn creme brulee, and rock shrimp and corn fritters for our appetizers.

The bacon-wrapped dates were a smash (because really…how can you go wrong?), as were the sliders. I found the sweet corn creme brulee to be too sweet, even though I knew going in that a dish given such a moniker was likely to be less than savory, but it could have benefitted from a salty contrast or even a spicy kick. The rock shrimp and corn fritters were mysteriously devoid of rock shrimp and were instead simply fried bits of dough studded with corn and served with an equally mysterious and vinegary dipping sauce.

With the appetizers cleared, our entrees arrived. J. had decided on the oven-roasted chicken with buttermilk herb dumplings, M.’s pistachio-cherry duck sausage came with creamy parmesan grits, and A.’s seared scallops glistened plumply under madras curry oil paired with a tomato chutney. They were all well-presented and aligned perfectly with the restaurant’s concept. My dish is where things veered wildly and alarmingly off course.

For some unknown reason, I decided to order the lamb ragout. The menu described it as served over pappardelle pasta, topped with ricotta cheese and mint, so I was anticipating perhaps a slightly rustic, Italian-influenced dish, the texture perhaps similar to a cassoulet or a hearty stew. I don’t think my expectations were too lofty, as that’s by definition what a ragout is.  I should have taken a cue from our server’s “uhh…really?” face following my order, which is rarely a good sign considering servers are far more attuned to the subtleties of the dishes they serve, and tend to have a more informed knowledge base when it comes to choosing really solid options.

(As a server, if one of my customers ordered a dish I knew to be sub-par, I would sometimes gently suggest they try something else. But I came to discover that many people don’t like this, as it may denote a hint of judgement on the server’s part; a sly admonishment that the diner’s original choice was laughably off base. So I understand our server’s decision to let me order as I pleased, but I would have preferred to have fully enjoyed my time there.)

When the meal arrived, it appeared to be scoops of shredded lamb meat haphazardly slopped on a bed of unevenly-cooked pasta and crowned with glops of ricotta cheese and shreds of mint leaves. I faithfully dove in, extracting a noodle with my fork, and subsequently marveled at how a noodle could be simultaneously dried out and overcooked; both boiling hot and fridge-cold, and completely lacking in any appealing flavor. Deciding that maybe this was just a problem with the noodles, and that surely the lamb itself would be the star, I returned the offending noodle to the plate and dug in to the lamb part, capturing a bit of cheese and mint as well.

This forkful really did not fare any better than the noodle did. Yes, it tasted of lamb, but it too was off-putting in its uneven temperature and lack of real flavor. The ricotta did not mix well with the mint, nor the lamb, and none of the elements of the dish succeeded on any level. I debated internally for some time as the rest of the table enjoyed their meals and exclaimed over the superb flavors. I didn’t want to be “that guy” that sends a dish back in a restaurant, I groaned at the thought of having to flag down our server and point at the dish with a wrinkled nose and whisper “this…this just wasn’t good. Could I…..possibly….send it….back?” Ugh. It rankled.

But there was just no conceivable way I could finish this dish. It was nearly unpalatable. And as much as I pride myself on being a mellow diner, and as hard as I try not to ruffle any feathers, I had to swallow my pride (along with my final bite of ragout) and send the dish back.  Our server asked no questions, simply nodded and whisked the plate away, which to me again spoke volumes as to her opinion of the dish. It was almost like she was expecting me to send it back.

Taking pity on me I suppose, my friends urged me to take portions of their dishes, pointing out the remarkable flavors and textures of their respective choices. I obediently tried everyone’s dish but I think I was too disillusioned with the place to really put forth effort into noting the flavors.

We waved off dessert and when the bill came, the ragout had been comped. Good form, Sable.

I think Sable may benefit from either removing this dish from the menu completely, or revamping it by using a different pasta shape and injecting just a wee bit more flavor into the lamb element. I wasn’t entirely put off by my experience, I know kitchens get busy and the less popular dishes tend to suffer by being rewarmed under the lamps rather than made to order. However,  Sable does bear the unique distinction of being the one and only restaurant at which I’ve ever sent a dish back. But who am I, right?

By popular demand….

Guys. Hi! Oh, hi there. Hey. What’s happenin? Me? Not much. Yeah, summer was good. Ate a lot of food. Good food. The blog? I know, I know. It’s been languishing. But guess what? IT’S BACK.

After enough harassment, people are willing to cave to pretty much anyone’s demands. I had no idea I had such a following on this blog of mine until preeeetty much everyone I came into contact with all but forced me agains the wall, shone a flashlight in my face, and questioned me relentlessly about why the blog hasn’t been updated! Where’s a new post! WHAT THE HELL!!!! So, I’m sorry. I really am. Summer is just made for turning off my brain and letting things fall behind. With the onset of fall, however, I’ve renewed my determination to make this blog shine, and convey to you, my (scarily) loyal readers, all my thoughts and observations and ideas about food and food-related thingys.

Quite frankly, and I hate to say this kind of, but I’ve found that I do my best writing when something really incites my ire. (See here.) When I find myself in a completely ridiculous experience that just sticks in my craw, my lather is raised just enough to dash off some scathing, sarcastic, bitchy restaurant review. So (un)fortunately, all my dining experiences this summer have been outstanding. Not one place has gotten me so riled up that I felt the need to verbally vomit all over their food and their service and their horrible hipster attitudes. It’s been a summer of love, y’all.

Let me get you up to speed on FDL’s progress over the past two months. August brought us a dynamic dining experience in Girl & The Goat, Top Chef winner and Chicago native Stephanie Izzard’s new joint. We managed to squeeze ourselves in about three weeks after G&TG opened its doors. A chat with the valet revealed that in those three weeks, the restaurant had been churning out roughly 400 covers a NIGHT, a staggering amount of business for a newly opened spot. It’s a beautiful space, with kind of a modern ski-lodge look to it. It would be perfect for a midwinter’s meal; all dark wood and wrought iron accents. Ms. Izzard herself was front and center, patrolling the outside of the long prep counter, separated from the dining room by a low wall. Diners could see and hear everything happening in the kitchen, watching Stephanie as she expedited the dishes out of the kitchen, sometimes hand-delivering them to the tables herself. She was gracious and smiling, clearly thrilled to be in the trenches with her staff, working hard to provide a memorable meal to her customers.

 The food was fresh and deliciously prepared, with rich flavors and plates small enough for sharing. Standouts included the crispy pig face which did not–to my vague disappointment–look anything like Robin Williams’s creepy rubber mask in Mrs. Doubtfire, but rather consisted of a pig’s tongue wrapped in the crispy skin, then lightly fried and topped with arugula and daikon. Observe:

Looks good, right? Well, it was ultra tasty. Crispy on the outside, melty and delicious and meaty on the inside. We also had grilled baby octopus, softshell crab with sweet corn, and grilled goat ribs. Goat, incidentally, tastes a lot like lamb. So don’t be scared of it.

Half of what made FDL’s dinner at G&TG so phenomenal was, without a doubt, our server Meadows. He was hysterical and showered us with attention, bringing over the manager to introduce him to us, making impeccable recommendations which we followed to the T, and urging us to “find our perfect bite” in every dish. Meadows chatted with us in between courses, and when we seemed undecided on a dessert, he would flit by our table every few minutes, whispering recommendations out of the corner of his mouth.

We so enjoyed his company that as we got up to leave, it just seemed completely normal that all four of us would obviously give him a giant bear hug. Can you think of a time you felt it was totally cool to hug your server after a meal? It was just amazing. He made our night. As this was going down, the kitchen staff was winding down their night after being slammed for at least three hours straight. We watched as Stephanie poured each of the line cooks a shot of whiskey, and one for herself, and clapped along as they downed the shots and high fived everyone. The whole experience just shone from beginning to end, and FDL left that night feeling overjoyed that we’d had such a fantastic night.

Clearly it was hard to follow up a display like that, but September found FDL dining at Longman & Eagle, a farm-friendly spot out by the Logan Square Blue Line stop. I’d eaten there before, but I was dying to get back there and have another order of their delicious bone marrow, served IN the roasted bones and topped with a red onion jam, sea salt, and served with sourdough toast. To me, that is L&E’s standout dish. But you have to really, really like bone marrow and not have any sissy “texture issues”, because that shit is gelatinous.

L&E is certainly the domain of the hipster, without a doubt, but we got no attitude. Just a romantically lit, rustic, flavorful meal in the restaurant’s back room, where we spent less time focusing on the food and more time discussing J’s impending nuptials. Oh, and they have over 65 different kinds of bourbon. So if that’s your bag, belly up to the bar and just start at the beginning.

Whew! Feels good to be back. Thanks to everyone for making me feel like this blog is something worth sticking with.

Stay tuned.

Province: it’s a good thing.

I think Province never had a chance in hell of making it into the “omg this is the best thing I’ve ever eaten” category, strictly because it came directly after our kickass L2O dining victory of champions. FDL was still humming from that decadence, and quite honestly everything I’ve eaten since that meal has paled in comparison. Clearly it’s unfair to compare; it would be like comparing 1994 Michael Jordan to 2010 Hanes-hawkin’ wife-cheatin’ bald head-rubbin’ Michael Jordan. Or something.

Was Province good? Absolutely. Would I go back again? Mehh…hrmm..probably not. I think part of it has to do with the location;  on Jefferson a few blocks north of Randolph. Not that it’s a bad location by any means, but there’s something about that area of the city that feels industrial and empty and totally devoid of charm. 5:00 hits and everyone vanishes. There’s no one on the streets, and it’s slightly creepy. Part of what I love about dining out is the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood and being able to sit and watch people come and go and maybe talk some smack about tragic outfits. The location of Province afforded none of that, and outside of the people also dining in the restaurant, I’m not sure I even saw anyone else on the street that night.

All that aside, Province is really a beautiful-looking space. It’s mainly neutrally-gray painted save for a few accent walls that pop with bright magenta and a cluster of upside-down hanging trees. There’s a private dining area partially sequestered behind a wall of wine bottles and a glass door, and a wide, open, covered outdoor patio. We opted to eat inside due to J. feeling under the weather and also to get a better sense of the nature of the service. M. rushed to check out the bathroom and reported bamboo counters and fancy toilets, and our server handed us menus affixed to brightly-colored clipboards. I have to deduct cool points for the puzzle-like nature of the menu. It’s divided up into way too many sections (seven altogether, not including dessert), based mostly on the size of the dish, and while I understand it’s meant to inspire sharing we just wound up having to ask our server to explain the way most people utilized the menu. It did provide an option for half portions though, which I found convenient.

Province’s food is ostensibly American with Latin-infused elements, but I felt the menu lacked a certain cohesion. Some dishes were a direct reflection of the combination of American and Latin influences; like the softshell crab  bisque with sweet peppers and piquillos, or the house cured & smoked Arctic char ceviche with olives, preserved lemons, and fried capers. On the other hand, there were items on the menu with Asian inflections such as the seared Hawaiian tuna with baby bok choy.  In fact, that’s what I went with for my dinner selection. The tuna was cooked perfectly, with that light crunchy sear on the outer edges but buttery and nearly raw on the inside.

The other dishes on our table that night ranged from a heavy, nearly wintery filet paired with velvety blue cheese mashed potatoes to a sweet, tangy mis0-glazed salmon. I think on the whole we were all satisfied with our dishes, but no one was completely floored. The standout for me was an appetizer we all shared; a lightly crisp softshell crab, sweet and crunchy.

I totally dig Province’s vibe. They’re big on eco-friendly, sustainable shit, locally farmed ingredients, the whole shebang. I’m into it. However, there was a certain….soul that I felt was lacking from the operation. The menu didn’t exactly align with the sparse, clean decor of the interior, nor did the menu even correlate with itself in many respects.

Onward and upward. Province is in my rearview mirror and I’m looking forward to our next adventure, a meal at Top Cheftestant Stephanie Izzard’s Girl and the Goat

 Stay hungry my friends.

L2Omfg.

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.