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Image 1: Closed at the end of 2014. This review is for historical purpose only.
It was back in 2008 when Chef Laurent Gras opened his first restaurant, L2O, on the ground floor of this luxury residential apartment, next to Lincoln Park. His sudden departure in 2010 happened just weeks before the release of Michelin Guide which temporarily had L20 as the only other Three Michelin starred restaurant to compete with Grant Achatz's Alinea.

Image 2: Over the following 12 months, the head chef changed twice and L2O was unable to avoid the fate of having their stars stripped. The kitchen finally stabilized after they brought in the talented chef, Matthew Kirkley, who regained two of the three stars for this restaurant.

Image 3: The dining room was surprisingly quiet for a Friday night service with less than a quarter of the tables occupied! I guess Grant Achatz had stolen the spotlight of Chicago's dining scene. My experience at Alinea four years ago was one of my all-time best meal getting every aspect of a dining experience spot on. (Unfortunately, my revisit there the day before L2O was disappointing.)

Image 4: I quickly settled into my spacious dining space and instead of champagne, I ordered one of their signature blanc de noir cocktails.

Image 5: The kitchen team immediately sent out a Maryland blue crab cracker to accompany my cocktail.

Image 6: Followed by the first item on the tasting menu was a mussel tart, a small dome of mussel and herb purée which I finished in a couple of bites. The filo pastry base was very delicate that I almost made a big mess when I picked it up with my fingers. The purée was airy with a good concentration of shellfish and parsley flavour along with a lemony hint. Lovely!

Image 7: The second item of the menu was thinly sliced geoduck and manila clam served on an beautiful apple-like glass serviceware. Despite the tiny portion it had an enjoyable texture with a clean flavour of the sea. High quality food so far!

Image 8: So the third item on the menu was Nootka Sound oyster completely enclosed in green apple jello. This oyster, which came all the way from Vancouver island, was delectable without being overly salty! It was paired with a little stack of braised celery salad on the right and garnished with caviar. Good use of ingredient that I could taste each component of this dish!

Image 9: Look at this. Isn't this incredible! Meticulously arranged on top of each rectangle custard of parmesan and iceberg lettuce were cockles, tapioca, iceberg lettuce, and caviar. I had to force myself not to think about the amount of handwork that had gone into this dish before I could destroy this work of art. Very labour intensive plating!

Image 10: Another eye appealing dish. Rested on basil emulsion was a ball of ahi tuna tartare encased in slices of paper thin avocado topped with Osetra caviar. Freshness from the moist tuna, sweetness from the creamy avocado, natural seasoning from caviar, and a touch of basil fragrance from underneath, not only did each element shine through, they were in perfect harmony! Truly amazing, I really admired the remarkable handwork by the kitchen team.

Image 11: A very vivid plate of orange, yellow, and green comprised of ocean trout garnished with roe and citrus confit balls dusted with herb powder. I loved the minimalist style of the chef - just a few items on each plate, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. What a contrast to my Alinea experience the night before. Another fabulous course, both for the eye and the palate!

Image 12: A warm cup of crab consommé on the left and a shot glass layered with orange, fennel, and saffron granita on the right. Seemed a weird concept to have such a temperature contrast on a soup course but once I alternated between hot and cold, I understood. The cold ice completely cleansed my palate allowing every sip of the warm soup to provide an explosion of crab flavour!

Image 13: Despite a tiny portion of the soup, which was ideal for a tasting menu, I had crab flavours registered on my palate many times! They really fully utilised the ingredients. One of the most memorable course of the entire trip!

Image 14: Another carefully plated dish. Slices of Weever fish, each garnished with lemon zest, cucumber stick, and tarragon, a good choice of light ingredients to complement without overshadowing the subtlety of this fish.

Image 15: Served on a green chive sauce were soft poached foie gras and cusk fish. The foie was silky and light.

Image 16: Interesting presentation with a double helix constructed using the fish and turnip! The fish was very meaty and the unfortunately the fish/foie combination didn't work for me.

Image 17: The meal was all about seafood, not that I had any problem with that and especially with this lobster as the first main course. The claw and the tail were simply poached without any butter accompanied with baby white radish and one strand of neatly tied pasta drizzled with black truffle and shellfish sauce on the side. Wonderful!

Image 18:
The next course was entirely covered with shavings of black truffle!

Image 19: Inside the bone was a layer of silky custard at the bottom and three slices of abalone with bone marrow on the top. Abalone was definitely the star ingredient of this course supported by the richness of the marrow and the earthiness of truffle. Not a powerful but truly indulging main course; my only complaint was the portion.

Image 20: A granita was served as a palate cleanser before the sweet courses. A shot glass of Apricot and genepi, an Italian liqueur, sealed with melted marshmallow with dusts of black lime!

Image 21: A one bite dessert - cream puff of chartreuse, a French liqueur made with a large mix of herbs and flowers.

Image 22: Stunning artwork on every plate and I expected no less at this point of the meal. A citrus cannoli filled with citrus cream imparted with anise and decorated with cubes of grapefruit, lemon, orange zest and dill.

Image 23: Final dessert were two parallel strips of creamy chocolate ganache with lemon brioche and lemon sorbet, finished with drops of olive oil. Consistent with the style of the whole meal, the dessert was light and elegant!

Image 24: The server then brought me a blue box which surprisingly opened up to an elaborate set of petits fours - almond cake, white chocolate mint macaron, pimm's cup pâte de fruits, and dark chocolate disk with salt, anise seed, cocoa nibs and orange zest.

Image 25:
And finally, a lemon brioche for me to take away which I had during my early morning flight.

Image 26: The meal wasn't heavy at all and I wasn't overly full even though I had a few slices of bread. It was a meal about quality, not quantity! No need to impress diners with "Chinese take-away" or "edible balloon" (sorry Alinea), but to impress diners with top notch ingredients and precision handwork on each plate. Exceptional cuisine faithful to the ingredients. Bravo!

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