First Taste: L20


The Kindai Toro, Green Apple, Olive, Sudashi at L20.

Forget the rather silly name (L for the first name of the chef, plus 20 for the last half of the water molecule, if that makes sense to you). Forget the fact that the menu is confusing even after the charmingly obliging wait staff explains it. Laurent Gras, who made Fifth Floor one the most exciting restaurants in San Francisco, has found a new home in Chicago, and that is very good news, indeed.

Once you step inside the obscure door in the lobby of a historic Lincoln Park building, you’re in his world. Like so many other high-end chefs, Gras is presently inspired by seafood (hence the 20) and the cooking of Japan. Unlike many others, however, he has the skill and, perhaps more importantly, the judgment to find a near-perfect meeting ground of pristine product and chefly invention. On the night that I ate there, perfectly sliced kampachi sashimi shared a custom-made rectangular dish with smoked white soy, sudashi, matcha marshmallow, and a little dot of fresh wasabi. Sound busy? Maybe, but it tasted wonderful.

At dessert, molecular gastronomy comes more to the fore—there’s one of those nitrogen-based freezing machines in the kitchen somewhere, and a tablet of effervescent chocolate is the meal’s final fillip. But by then you will most likely be blissfully willing to accept whatever the kitchen sends your way.

Sommelier Chantelle Pabros is still building her list, but she is fully capable of introducing you to artisanal wines you have not experienced before, not to mention the most sensual sakes I have ever tasted. Score one more for Chicago, fast becoming America’s most exciting restaurant city.

L20 2300 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL (773-868-0002;

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