A Non-Fish Lover’s Take on L2O

Last Friday night, I joined a couple foodie/chef friends for dinner at L2O, Laurent Gras’ new fish-centric restaurant in the Belden-Stratford, occupying the old Ambria space.

I’ll admit, right up front, that I don’t like fin fish. Never have. I enjoy most types of shellfish, but never cared for fish with fins and gills. Maybe it was the Friday night Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks I endured during my childhood. Or, too many field trips to the Shedd Aquarium during grade school. My husband introduced me to sushi and sashimi a number of years ago to no avail. He now enjoys sushi with his buddies.

I decided that if I’m ever going to develop a taste for fish, dining at L2O might very well do the trick.

The restaurant had opened on Wednesday and was about half-full when we arrived for our 7:30 reservation. Sitting at the next table was Ina Pinckney, Chicago’s breakfast queen. Restaurateur Rich Melman was there most of the evening, observing his latest venture.

The main dining room is elegant and comfortable, with clean lines, muted colors and architectural flourishes reminiscent of Japanese restaurants. There’s no hint that Ambria ever occupied the space.

After much negotiation, all three of us decided to order the 12-course tasting menu. We each ordered one of their signature cocktails, the Mediterranean Breeze. It was a delicious, refreshing slightly sweet, slightly tart vodka-based cocktail that reminded me of adult lemonade.

I won’t go in to a course-by-course description, because there were just too many. Counting amuses, listed savory and sweet courses, bread service and the chef’s whims, I think we ended up at 16 or 17 courses…most just a bite or two.

I enjoy tasting menus because I can try a variety of items I would not necessarily order, and if I don’t like a particular dish, it doesn’t ruin my evening.

I now know that although I still don’t like fish, I can tolerate mild raw fish. But, even after course after course of this wonderfully prepared meal, I just don’t like the flavor or texture of cooked fish. Salmon, tuna, halibut, fluke…it doesn’t matter. And, I cannot tolerate caviar, no matter what type.

The highlights for me were non-fish related. The above-mentioned Mediterranean Breeze cocktail…a thin slice of foie gras…braised pork belly…praline souffle.

Molecular gastronomy isn’t exactly lost on me, but foams and fizzes and vapors just don’t excite me. Scientifically fascinating, but not soul-satisfying the way I believe food should be. The presentation of each course was inventive, but for me, the “wow” factor ended there, with the exception of the highlights I already listed.

The service was excellent…professional, friendly, knowledgeable, well-paced and not stuffy. After dinner, our server gave a us a short tour of the architectural highlights, and a glimpse into the large kitchen. As we left, she handed each of us an autographed menu presented in a wax-sealed envelope.

Would I return to L2O? No. Would I recommend it to others? Yes, on a qualified basis. This is event dining. If you truly love all things that swim, have an appreciation (or tolerance) for molecular gastronomy, and like to dine at the trendiest restaurants in town, go. Expect to pay a lot of money, but you’ll be treated like a VIP and will certainly have a unique dining experience.

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