Grace, Chicago, IL (April 2013)

Tasting every one of the 18 courses on the menu at Grace is not unlike my experience with articles in Econometrica: you know something gnarly is going on, but you aren’t quite able to understand it. In contradistinction to Econometrica, though, everything–even things you don’t understand–was intensely satisfying. I’ll spare readers a long-winded narrative of the three-hour meal and simply say if you have a chance to try Chef Curtis Duffy’s food, do it. 

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Amuse: hibiscus gelée, lemongrass cracker, fava bean-infused gougere and a smoked paprika taffy-encased satsuma

 

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Osetra caviar, meyer lemon, kumquat jam and chive oil

 

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Parsnip, dried pineapple, frozen tarragon pearls and fennel

 

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Ginger ice water cylinder, rice pudding, golden trout roe, pomelo, toasted cashew and Thai basil

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Following my captain’s instructions, I went ahead and shattered the cylinder.

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Coconut milk-sweet pea terrine, fresh peas, lime, radish and blooms

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Golden beet noodle, raw and roasted beets, black garlic, apple, red sorrel, cocoa

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Scottish salmon, crispy and braised red cabbage, citrus pudding and marigold

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Artichoke, Sicilian pistachios, yellow curry and dandelion greens

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Grilled Miyazaki beef, king trumpet mushrooms, salsify and mashua leaf

 

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Dashi to accompany the beef

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Sunchoke, braised mustard seeds, freekeh, charred cippolini onions and lovage

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Cauliflower, black sesame, quinoa and opal basil

 

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Braised lamb neck, kale, parsley root and miner’s lettuce

 

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Russet potato sourdough

 

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Herb butter with black lava salt

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Maitake mushrooms, preserved daikon, coffee and scallion

 

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Cranberries, frozen cranberry spheres, crispy rye, toasted meringue, pine ice and sage

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Poached pear, elderflower, tamarind juice and fennel

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Caramelized sudachi, toasted cashew, asian pear and nasturtium

 

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Rhubarb, toasted brioche, chartreuse, buddha’s hand and lemon balm

 

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Young coconut, lime, basil ice cream, huckleberries and African blue basil

 

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Dark chocolate, raw chestnut, mandarin and lemon mint

 

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White chocolate with kalamasi liquid and lavender chocolate

L2O, Chicago, IL (April 2013)

It’s been a long winter semester in Ann Arbor, marked, alas, by a handful of mediocre restaurant outings. And so, a political science conference seemed only too good a reason to end what had become a five-month drought of meals in Michelin-starred restaurants.

While I don’t normally gravitate toward seafood-centric restaurants–in large part due to underwhelming experiences at Le Bernardin in New York and at Providence in Los Angeles–I went ahead and inaugurated my Chicago travels at L2O, and I couldn’t have been happier with the decision.  

Friendliness flowed from every member of the service team, from the kind hostess, who sat me at a Brobdingnagian four-top, to my captain, who sought my approval after every one of the dozen-plus courses. And that then gets us to Chef Kirkley’s tasting menu; it’s a contest of indulgences that monotonically builds in intensity, culminating in a foie gras-impregnated quail that was an overmastering pleasure to eat. It’s clear why the restaurant was recently awarded four stars from the Tribune, and I hope it’s also clear why I intend to return on my next jaunt to Chicago. 

Highlights: seafood dumpling, crispy striped bass, foie-stuffed lobster, foie-stuffed quail

Pr(return): high

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“Fruit de mar”: Foie gras-stuffed cantaloupe, Kusshi oyster-stuff honeydew, Smoked salmon mousse-stuffed cucumber

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Mussel tart with lemon and parsley

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Geoduck clam sashimi, Manila clam and lime

 

 

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Bacon epi

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Rosemary croissant

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English cow’s milk butter

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Lagoustine tartare with osetra caviar and poppyseed and a cauliflower cube with osetra caviar

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Nootka Sound oyster, green apple, Noilly Prat and a braised celery salad

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Crab chips with Old Bay seasoning

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Foie gras torchon-stuffed Maine lobster with lobster salad-stuffed turnips and clementine gelées

 

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Seafood dumpling with broccoli and black truffle

 

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Crispy stripped bass with snails, pearl onions and Chartreuse butter

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Turbot with grilled squid, scallion and guanciale

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Butter poached Maine lobster with royal trumpet mushrooms, grilled potato and hollandaise de mer

 

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Roasted quail presented tableside before being carved

 

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Foie gras-stuffed quail, sunchoke, smoked cherry, 23-flavor gastrique (of which Dr. Pepper is one)

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Champagne granita with meyer lemon foam and a pavlova

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Lime parfait, avocado, tarragon and cara cara orange ice cream

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Cherry semifreddo, Coeur de Guanaja chocolate caramel and pistachio creme anglaise

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Mignardises: bergamot marshmallows, caramels, pate de fruits and cassis macarons