Archive for us – chicago

L20 (Chicago, IL) – Striving

L2O is a restaurant that is striving to be one of the country’s best. Through the chronicles of his educational blog (linked to judiciously throughout this post), Chef Laurent Gras has put L2O on the national radar as a (slightly) more traditional alternative to Chicago’s infatuation with too modern cooking. L2O mixes Laurent’s French roots with an ample infusion of Japanese ingredients, aesthetics, and philosophy. I don’t remember my meal at Fifth Floor (SF) many years ago, but it is clear that Japan has recently resonated with Gras.

Sea bean

The meal had possibilities that can not be found in most American restaurants. In a country currently obsessed with locality, L2O unabashedly imports seafood and products from across the globe, particularly Japan, in search of the very best. There are many chefs that incorporate Japanese ingredients/dishes/techniques, but very few feel as natural as Gras.1 Other restaurants would come off as forced or diluted, but Gras’s food faithfully pays homage to its influences.

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Moto (Chicago) – Lab Rats

“Science is the future!” a young chef exclaimed to me over a WD-50 meal. He said it with the zeal of a futurist in the short-lived early 1900′s art movement (many died thanks to their belief that war was progress.) The premise behind that movement, and arguably that of the “molecular” gastronomy chefs, is that progress for the sake of progress is necessary. In the culinary world, it has been argued that taste is an acceptable casualty of molecular cooking if progress is made. The practical rule of thumb is that a meal of experiments is OK if some of the experiments are true winners – I can live with this.

Homaro Cantu of Moto has been getting a lot of press lately for his daring culinary experiments. In a world where Ferran Adria spends 6 months of the year stuck in a Barcelonean laboratory; Wylie Durfresne has more medical equipment in his WD-50 kitchen than some small-town hospitals; and Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck is researching the physiology of taste; some claim Cantu may be the most experimental of all. How would his cuisine compare against El Bulli, Mugaritz, Fat Duck, or WD-50? Would the food have any relation to our traditional concept of food? Would it taste good?

In short, this was a very average meal that did not compete w/ the others of its genre. If judged on its creativity, I’d put him near the bottom. He had 2 tricks – turning anything into a puree and liquid nitrogen. If judged on taste, he is at the bottom – too many artifical tastes, an unnecessary sweet tooth, and poorer-quality ingredients. If judged on value (a novel concept w/ this blog?), the meal is an expensive failed experiment – 21 dishes with 4-5 that could be rated as very good. If this meal were $100 or less, I’d give it another go but it’s far too expensive to be the chef’s guinea pig.

1. Edible Menu w/ Dahl & Cucumber Consomme
The promising starter – the cucumber consomme was excellent. I *hate* cucumbers but this was very vibrant and completely refreshing. Sweet w/ the tang of the yogurt. Excellent.

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