I have been following L2O’s evolution from Chef Gras’ first blog entry – to say that Laurent Gras is meticulous is an oxymoron. He is obsessed with every single detail in this restaurant.
As we were early for our 6:15 reservation, we decided to go to the lounge and start the evening with champagne – 2 coupes of Dom Perignon 1999.
We were then escorted to the small tatami room by our server for the evening, Mona Lisa (real name). After removing our shoes, we entered a small room with sliding doors to ensure absolute privacy. There was no decoration, no flowers, just 3 flickering candles. The private space was appointed with a grass mat floor, yellow cedar sunken table and leather upholstered Zaisu seats. A foot pit allowed for comfortable seating.
Tatami Room pictured on L20 blog:
A word of warning —– If you don’t know or like the person you are dining with, do not book this room. The only people you interact with all night is your server and your dining companion.
Mona (she doesn’t use her full name) was terrific. We did get to know her fairly well as the evening progressed and she was engaging, knowledgeable and anticipated our every need. Dressed in a kimono, Mona presented each dish on her knees, in the Japanese fashion. Quite a work-out given that we had 20 different dishes plus a wine pairing of 8 different wines, not finishing until after midnight.
All dishes were described by Mona in minute detail and hopefully faithfully transcribed.
First Course – 5 small dishes are presented.
Mussel with coconut curry gelee, green apple, jalapeno, cilantro salad
Ishidai (parrot fish), shiso sprinkled with preserved Meyer lemon, smoked bonito, grated Sudashi, Heart of palm, Sea trout roe, red ribbon sorrel
Long-cove oyster, tapioca pearl, rice wine vinegar, sake (frozen in liquid nitrogen)
Tuna/Kampachi, Soy sauce, Yuzu, micro chives, extra virgin olive oil
Escolar, “served in the style of jamon” (smoked), olive oil emulsion, crystal ice lettuce, Espelette
Bread is now presented
The butter is churned in house. The dish for the butter is very expensive, about $400 a piece – no expense was spared at L20.
Second Course – Fluke, thinly sliced with thin shreds of shiso topped with Oscetra cviar from the caspian Sea. What set this dish apart was that the fluke had not been treated as tartare. The thin slices of fluke gave the dish texture.
Third Course – Sashimi Platter – from left to right – Fluke, Ishi-Karei (stone flounder), Ishidai, Suzuki (sea bass) Over the top was a ginger marshmallow. Also on the plate was kinome leaf (prickly ash tree), freeze-dried soy salt, ponzu, mirin dotted with liquid soy ginger gel, grated wasabi and a thin decorately carved slice of heart of palm
The ice block for the sashimi – unbelievable attention to detail.
Fourth Course- Lobster Mushroom served 2 ways – poached in butter and grilled topped with chives and nori, browned garlic, garlic bouillon puree. On the left butter powder, middle orange powder, right saffron powder. Nothing is for show on the plate.
Fifth Course – House-made Tofu (from soy milk from Kyoto), shaved bonito, miso, soy sauce blend, shiso buds, scallion, tomato pulp puree. The tofu is first presented without the tomato puree and then it is poured on tableside.
Sixth Course – Octopus, peeled and sliced then poached in olive oil, topped with coconut emulsion, soy salt, sea bean
Seared Foie Gras with Hamachi, crumbled air-dried, salt-cured Spanish tuna – Mojama, freeze-dried raspberry powder, raspberry with balsamic, tomato foam, raspberry dome, raspberry jus poured on top
Tomato gelee with Ebi (shrimp), parsley emuslion, tomato emulsion, freeze-dried tomato, shiso buds
Amadai with crispy scales, yuzu butter, grated black lime, sudachi, topiko, beurre blanc sauce
Butter poached lobster and warmed uni, Kinome leaf, Lobster and uni emulsion
Pickled Chanterelle mushrooms, rice wine vinegar, salmon roe, sea bean and grapefruit. My notes say this was a palate awakener.
Miyazaki Wagyu beef brushed with soy, sake, braised little gem lettuce, grated sudachi lime, caramelized hearts of palm, pickled beet root, pansies, smoked Murray River salt from Australia.
Dashi with junsai (water lily)
Exotic fruit Consomme, brunoise of mango, pineapple, passion fruit, mango sorbet, lemon grass marshmallows, passion fruit seeds, mint. The consomme consisted of 14 ingredients, basically based on citrus and tropical fruit with black peppercorn, cardamon and mint
Macaroons, Yuzu, Pistachio
Considering that we didn’t know what would be on the menu and also that it was quite extensive, we decided on a wine pairing. Mona kept raving about the wine director, Chantelle Pabros all evening. During one of my breaks, this very attractive lady looks at me and does a double take. She says I know you. Are you Liz who used to go to Bastide? Yes, I answered. She said she was Chantelle!
The wine pairing was excellent, but I do have one criticism. Mona, who is not a wine expert, served and explained all the wines. It would have been so much better to have Chantelle handle this or at the very least to have a printed copy of the wines at the beginning of the meal.
Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo (first three courses) nice match and good starter…sometimes sake gets a bit boring with the food. This one held up very nicely.
Kiralyudar Tokaji Sec 2005 (Mushrooms, Tofu)–good Tokaji, not too sweet and cloying, very nice finish, bright and fruity.
Riesling Spatlese, Max. Ferd. Richter, Erdner Trepchen, Mosel 1988 (Octopus, Foie)–great match, clean, bright and sharp
Arbois, Grande Elevage, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Rijakaert, 2004 (Ebi, Amadai)–I don’t know this wine at all..it was very good and worked well with the food.
Pinot Blanc Auxerrois, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Schoffit, 2005 (Lobster/Uni)–good, especially with the Uni.
Obata Shuzo, Manotsuru, Four Diamonds, Junmai Ginjo Genshu, Niigata (Mushroom, Wagyu)–very good match and a nice way to pair with the mushroom and then the meat.
Szigeti Brut Gruner Veltliner (Dashi)–this was a special sparkling Gruner…very nice.
Gourmandise Jurancon 1995 Petit Manseng Grape (Mango)–I always enjoy these wines because they are Sauternes like but not as heavy.
Over-all the pairing was very good. And, at $ 100.00 it was a definite bargain.
After our meal, Chantelle graciously offered to show us the kitchen. Everyone was busy scrubbing down the kitchen to only what I can compare to as Thomas Keller’s standards. Chef Gras was on the floor by a grate and was too busy to look up from his task to acknowledge us.
I think when you evaluate a tatami room meal at L2O you do so based on the totality of the experience, not dish by dish. You feel as if you are suspended in time and the experience becomes a total food and wine immersion. For 6 hours all of our focus was on taste after taste after taste. Each segment was an important part of the whole. Each element of the experience from the silverware to the china to the ambiance has been carefully crafted. In many respects, this is a meal that isn’t meant to be dissected or each dish graded. Not having been to Japan, I don’t have a reference point re staying at a traditional Japanese ryokan, but I would imagine that is what Chef Gras is attempting to emulate