Last Friday we talked with L2O chef Matt Kirkley about the restaurant’s tumultuous journey from three Michelin stars to one to two. Or, if you don’t care about Michelin stars, about its tumultuous journey as opening chef Laurent Gras departed, Kirkley (who had been on the opening team) returned under Francis Brennan, and was ultimately promoted to the position where he could guide the restaurant back to its present state of excellence (and, he hopes, more of it in the future). Kirkley’s L2O plainly ranks among the top fine dining experiences in town for the delicacy of his jewel-like seafood dishes, less Asian and more varied than under Gras, the artful and gorgeous presentation, which rarely gives away how inexpensively Kirkley has achieved his effects (“I’m a big customer at Michael’s,” he says), and the highly polished service in the relaxed and gracious dining room. Here’s a look at what’s on the menu, and a little of what’s behind it in L2O’s kitchen.
An impossibly light mussel tart, topped with a creme fraiche chip.
Freshly shaved geoduck atop a manila clam gelée whose clear color utterly disguised what a burst of flavor it was. How fresh was the geoduck? You’ll see.
A five part seafood course that looks like a deconstructed, Cubist aquarium; this piece is a cauliflower mousse topped with osetra caviar and with a coral-like slice of dehydrated cauliflower. The grouping of mirrored boxes it’s plated on is actually a light fixture Kirkley spotted at CB2; he liked that the glass was thick enough to hold the cold for these chilled bites.
Though the delicate flavors of seafood are still the foundation of L2O’s cuisine, it’s much more varied in form now under Kirkley than it was under Laurent Gras; this dumpling with scallop, broccoli and black truffle is an example.
Turbot, andouilette, galette, bibb lettuce, matelote normande.
Brittany blue lobster claw with grilled potato, royal trumpet mushroom in a hollandaise de mer.
Surprisingly, L2O has not had a dedicated pastry chef since Kirkley’s RIA/Balsan colleague Stephanie Prida went back to California about a year ago. You wouldn’t know it from the delicately refreshing quality of a dessert like this cold yuzu soup with sorbet, raspberry and white chocolate.
We’ve forgotten what the foam in the glass was (update: fuyu persimmon foam with lavender granita), but we loved the politically incorrect touch of the housemade candy cigarette (actually licorice meringue).
The meal ends with an artfully charming unpacking of mignardises in little boxes, which is like Christmas come early. (The boxes are from the Container Store.)
L2O’s is the rare kitchen that’s not too small. In fact, if anything Kirkley wishes its stations and passes were packed closer together— he’s most at home on the line, everything within reach.
The star attraction of the kitchen is the pair of specially-built temperature controlled tanks which keep seafood at its freshest and cleanest. The two sides are at different temperatures, but they also serve to keep certain creatures out of the mouths of other creatures.
How fresh was that geoduck? Well, here are future courses, in all their inescapably-obscene glory.
Matt Kirkley with a Maryland blue crab, its pincers strong enough to take a finger off.