Having dined at nearly all the top places in Chicago, this one stands out. Just on the basis of the exceptional wine list, L2O (which stands for Lakes to Oceans) deserves its Michelin stars. Each offering is so well considered for its ability to match the food or offer something special, and there are a few real gems at reasonable prices.
The food is, of course, superb, and each dish is a true work of art. But perhaps the thing that most sets L2O apart is the service, which perfectly strikes that balance between professionalism and sincere friendliness. Truly an experience not to be missed.
I approached Next with some trepidation because I’m not a fan of Alinea, its sister restaurant. I found the atmosphere and service there stiff, and grew tired of the dictatorial way we were instructed to consume each course.
I’m happy to say that Next is nothing like that. Service is professional but relaxed, and the servers are happy, informative and passionate about the food they’re serving.
As to the food, there’s little point in mentioning it… or the decor, for that matter. Because the restaurant evolves into something completely new and different every four months, and you’re unlikely to go twice during any given incarnation, you just need to put your trust in the culinary team and expect something special.
That’s certainly what we received the night we visited. There were several home runs and nothing forgettable about the Modern Chinese menu.
I also like the ticketing system. It was refreshing to have no transaction at the end of the meal. The food, wine pairing and tip were all included, and were certainly fairly priced for the experience we received. It left me anxious to return to experience future incarnations of this excellent restaurant.
Evanston has a new high end restaurant to be proud of. The chef from Publican, and one of the owners of Brothers K coffeehouse have teamed up to take over this space, formerly a (good) noodle shop and turn it into a very trendy and noteworthy restaurant.
As others have noted, there is one major downside to the place. Because of its austere, hard-surfaced decor, it is VERY LOUD. In fact, if I had been at a regular table entertaining guests I would not be able to give it a five-star review. But since I was alone, and seated at the chef’s bar facing into the kitchen, the sound level was tolerable.
Of course, it’s wonderful that the place is packed all night after being open only weeks. And lots of people like vibrant restaurants. But when the quietest place in the establishment is the kitchen, there may be a wee acoustic problem!
So therein lies my tip for pleasant dining: ask to sit at the chef’s bar. Not only will you not be deafened, you’ll see the fascinating parade of dishes as they leave the kitchen.
Anyway, the food is wonderful. Since the menu changes often, my selections won’t necessarily be available to you, but I loved everything I had: grilled Brun-uusto cheese with sweet and sour cherry sauce, pickled cauliflower, quinoa salad, crispy potatoes (quite possibly the best potatoes I’ve ever had), a whole sardine with fennel and orange, and chicory ice cream.
There is a somewhat eclectic selection of wines, with about a third of them available by the glass, but I opted for the cocktails, because there were several interesting offerings. I prefer drinks with bitter or sour components, and these didn’t disappoint. I tried: El Mescalero del Norte (mescal, grapefruit, Compari), Evanston Sazerac (rye , bitter, absinthe), and The New Georgian (peach, bourbon, mint). They were all excellent, and I’ve listed them in increasing order of sweetness. The mescalero was probably the best, combining earthy and bitter flavors.
Given the quality of the food, I felt pricing was fair. Some of the starters and veggies are under $10, and most mains are about $20. Plan on a starter, main and vegetable, and you’re looking at $40 per person. If everyone at the table does that, and you want to sample everything, you’ll all get reasonable sized tasting portions and won’t leave hungry or broke.
Service was very friendly and professional. I’d read some uneven reviews on this, but I don’t think it’s completely fair to criticize a restaurant that’s not running like a well-oiled machine during its first few days. The service I received was faultless.
As the meal ended and I emerged onto Davis Street, a fire engine was passing with its siren on, and I noted how quiet the city was now that I was outdoors!