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Critics Revisit L20, Leave With Very Different Impressions

Photo: Forbes Traveler

Jeff Ruby revisits L20 following the departure of Laurent Gras and admits that dining with Gras, "left me more exhausted than exhilarated, pummeled by cleverness as if a brilliant machine were using algorithms to generate precise tableaux with names such as 18 Flavors of Summer." But this time around, Ruby said he "tried all three of [head chef Francis] Brennan’s first menus (4-, 10-, and 12-course options, all with holdovers from Gras), and I was satisfied in a way I never was at L2O before." He said Brennan lets the flavors speak for themselves, like the uni sashimi wrapped in hamachi with ginger and ponzu from the 10-course luxury tasting menu "is simple but clever, like a quiet song with an irresistible hook." [Chicago]

On the flipside, Julia Kramer asks: What is L20 without Laurent Gras? Giving it three out of five stars, she said that following an eight-course, four-hour meal, "I was far from dancing on the restaurant’s future grave, but there was no doubt: Things at L2O are precarious." Her amuse of shrimp ceviche had a grain of sand. The second amuse, razor clams, was "bathed in butter, interspersed with whole leaves of parsley, an altogether inelegant, unsubtle thing, the bracing flavors not quite cohering." She points out dishes Gras created that the kitchen is now re-creating and asks, "Why bring in chefs to execute the old L2O rather than taking the restaurant in a genuinely new direction?" But she also said there are still flashes of brilliance, like the filet of snapper with curry powder and cumin; or the bowl of forest mushrooms, the "most beautiful of plates, more concentrated in flavor than any animal protein, each bite wild and mysterious." Overall, the meal left her flat and compared the dining room to that of a cruise ship, which she says is "unfortunately fitting now that L2O is navigating such rough waters." [TOC]

Despite Ceres' Table's less-than-appealing location across from a cemetery or the institutional look of the interior, Phil Vettel said there are "compensations." He praises the ample street parking (free after 6 p.m.), the great midweek specials and the well-priced wine list, with many bottles under $40. Of Ceres' Table's arancini with braised oxtail and fontina cheese, he said it's a "revelation that should give other chefs a head-smacking, why-didn't-I-think-of-that moment." He calls the scallop over orzo and salad of barely cooked shrimp with fennel and blood orange highlights. And of the main courses, he loves the fish dishes. "My favorite is the duet of seared trout with short-rib-stuffed agnolotti over a cabernet reduction, just a marvelous surf-and-turf composition." [Tribune]

Of La Taberna, Mike Sula said that while they "aren't exactly breaking new ground, they are preparing the most celebrated Spanish dishes very well, with only minimal interference." He talks about their tortilla Espanola, an olive-y ceviche and other seafood dishes, but was "was happily shocked to find that the house paella is an ideal amalgamation of pork, chicken, chorizo, mussels, calamari, and shrimp. But most importantly, it has a perfect ratio of crispy socorrat and distinctly al dente, fat-saturated, stout medium-grain rice. I can't think of many paellas around town that can touch it." [Reader]

Ceres' Table

4882 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640


2300 North Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614


2300 N. Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL