Despite the grand scale of Chicago, my world is rather small. Living a block away from the restaurant, my environment on a weekly basis overwhelmingly consists of the 400 block of Belden Avenue. I find that a narrowed scope improves my focus, and I find that that improved focus leads to better food as a whole for the kitchen. Nonetheless, every now and then it's good to get out.
My wife and I returned to France, by way of Germany with a quick stop in Switzerland along the way. An abbreviated, yet more aggressive trip than our 3 month sabbatical 3 years ago, with restaurants determining our daily stops this time around. Starting in Cologne, we tracked a southerly route which ended in Marseilles; but moving further east than on our previous trip to hit regions we had missed last time. Our restaurant lineup was daunting, six 3 star restaurants, and a 2 star too. North to south: Vendome, Schloss Berg, L'Auberge de L'Ill, Hotel De Ville, Flocons de Sel, le 1947 and Le Petit Nice.
More than a few might share the sentiments that to spend what precious little time I have out of the restaurant travelling to other fine dining restaurants while navigating the trains, planes and automobiles necessary to do so in foreign countries would be less than relaxing. And indeed it is less than relaxing, more an adventure than a vacation.
Yet the fact remains that I am still a genuine fan of the genre, art, or whatever you may call the experience of fine dining, and I have never lost that sense of wonder with it. I still voraciously read cookbooks, I still constantly search out information on the happenings of chefs and restaurants around the world, and I still feel compelled to spend significant amounts of time off and even more significant amounts of money to eat at such establishments as often as I can.
It is always wonderful to meet others that share passions the same as your own. After a phenomenal meal at Schloss Berg, I had the honor of sitting after dinner with Chef Christian Bau, his wife Yildiz, and their sommelier Daniel. It becomes quickly apparent in conversation that Chef Bau spends much of his time enraptured with a love of fine cuisine, which comes through in his thoughtful, meticulous cooking. It is inspiring to meet a personality that remains as dedicated and passionate to his work, when he has already accomplished so much through his cooking over the last 15 years at Schloss Berg. A true cook, and a brilliant one at that. That passion is equally apparent in the enthusiasm that Yildiz exemplifies in the service staff. Kind, gracious, meticulous. Daniel too approaches his work in the cellar and on the floor with a true zeal for the wines of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. An eye opening education in Riesling, just plain brilliant.
This time around, I decided to not post a daily, play by play of meals eaten as I had before. I came to this conclusion not only in the interests of Industry PCdom, but I also wanted to keep the time spent eating and travelling with my wife to ourselves this time. Keeping it more in memory than in print.
To synopsize the dinners we had, what became clear after all those meals in nine days time is that each one of those restaurants is serving something quintessentially their own, creating a unique experience that cannot be replicated. Some meals greatly surpassed my expectations of them while some were less than fantastic to me, yet this is likely due to my personal tastes rather than one restaurant being better or worse than the next. Service standards in all of the restaurants visited were superb, and there was technically accurate execution in the cooking of all of these restaurants.
As I've posted about before, I find Michelin's ratings to ring true in that these restaurants are "worth a special journey" as these restaurants are unique, and the experiences they offer can only be found in that particular restaurant. Vendome's bold, creative approach. Schloss Berg's global, hyper precise cooking. The Haeberlin Brother's unapologetically classical nature of their work. The sheer opulence of Benoit Violier's cooking. The very personal cooking of Emmanuel Renaut. The decadence and Aspen style grandeur of Cheval Blanc and the 1947. The light, almost laid back cuisine of the ocean from Passedat. It's all one of a kind. And these experiences drive my desire to create something unique of our own here at L2o. Timelessness through cooking in the moment, a romantic's view of our work. I am happy to be back in my kitchen, doing what I love to do most. But I also can't wait to go back.