Restaurant Week 2011 - LM

Tonight's Restaurant Week excursion had it's impetus several weeks ago, when I was watching one of my favorite local television shows, Check Please!, which features a panel of ordinary Chicagoans offering reviews of area restaurants. This particular show contained a review of LM, a neighborhood French restaurant in Lincoln Square, which caught my eye not only due to the glowing recommendations, but also because I have several friends who live in, or near Lincoln Square and I find myself dining there increasingly often.

In fact, Justin and I already had plans for a double date in the area with my oldest friend, Sarah, and her boyfriend Zach to go to a different restaurant, when I saw the LM episode of Check Please! It wasn't until I spotted the restaurant on the list of Restaurant Week participants that I suggested we change our plans, and due to the customary post-Check Please! bump in popularity, we booked our reservation weeks in advance. For the most part, it was worth it.

The four of us had a lovely evening at LM, and on balance, enjoyed the food. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, and the service was by far the friendliest and most pleasant of all my Restaurant Week experiences. I'm a little sad that I probably won't be able to afford to return, especially given the proliferation of more cost-effective options in the neighborhood, but I was glad that I spotted it on television and had the opportunity to check it out for myself. Here's a more in-depth rundown of our experience at LM:

Service - Our waiter was very friendly, making an effort to connect to us on a personal level by making conversation with us, and sharing stories about his favorite dishes on the menu, even though we were sticking with the Restaurant Week menu. We felt very welcome at LM -- a feeling that is often absent during Restaurant Week, where servers often seem resentful that they are working at more crowded restaurants with lower tips as a result of the fixed-price menus. The owner was also on-site, effusively greeting guests, and generally creating a pleasant atmosphere. He even personally writes a thank-you note to each table that is presented with the bill at the end of the evening, thanking them for choosing his establishment. Whether or not that is a tactic designed to increase tips, it was nevertheless a very refreshing gesture.

Ambiance - The space at LM was a bit awkwardly laid out, starting at the entrance, where the first thing we encountered was a heavy curtain, a coat closet, and no immediately evident hostess stand to make sense of matters. We tentatively drew the curtain aside, and were greeted by the owner and hostess in a manner as if to suggest, "Yes, you are in fact in the right place." The restaurant consists of a series of rooms connected by a narrow hallway, which made the space difficult to navigate as we dodged a fleet of servers, but the small rooms gave a cozy feeling of dining in someone's home. That homey feeling was reinforced by very comfortable, padded chairs, that definitely made us want to linger over our dinner for further conversation. However, that conversation was hampered by the closeness of our fellow guests, whose tables were located mere inches from our own. The layout was crowded at best, claustrophobic at worst.

Food - Overall, our meal at LM was quite delicious. The restaurant is categorized as French, but I would classify it more as contemporary comfort food with a French inflection, as there were few classically "French" dishes on the menu. My only criticism of the food was in their failure to indicate the presence of a major allergen in one of their dishes, which was a potentially dangerous oversight. It was the only blemish on an otherwise lovely evening.
  • Duck Rillettes - Although rillettes is a traditional French preparation of meat that has been salted, slow cooked, then shredded and blended with fat to create a spreadable paste, I feel it's presence on the menu was less a nod to classical French cuisine and more a product of the recent snout-to-tail movement in American cooking. I'd never seen or heard of rillettes until the food philosophy started becoming trendy a few years ago, and restaurants started looking for novel ways to present less-known cuts of meat. These duck rillettes were smoother, less rustic, and less salty than others I've had, and therefore more bland. The saving grace of this dish was the fig jam with which they were served.
  • Roasted Salmon - This dish was the above-mentioned offender, as it failed to mention the presence of hazelnuts. Sarah is allergic to them, and had no way of knowing they were on her plate, because they weren't listed as one of the ingredients. Thankfully, her allergies aren't of the severity that mere contact with her food will send her into anaphylaxis, but she was very unpleasantly surprised when the waiter informed her that what she thought had been large chunks of garlic she'd left on her plate were in fact, hazelnuts. Our waiter was horrified at the mistake, and both Sarah and the restaurant were lucky that she didn't have any reaction to the dish. That problem aside, the salmon was absolutely perfectly prepared -- it was well-seared, and still slightly rare on the inside. I don't think I've seen such a nice piece of salmon since I checked out Le Colonial for my last Restaurant Week. Surprisingly, the salmon also paired perfectly with the sweetness of the apricots, which I never would have expected. I might just have to start experimenting with that flavor combination in my own home...
  • Chocolate Pot de Crème - Basically, this dish is a fancy term for chocolate pudding, but this version was intensely chocolatey, unctuous, and rich. It was accompanied by a delightful, crumbly sablé that provided a perfect textural contrast to the pudding. This dessert was a scrumptious finale to a delicious meal.

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