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Mar 17, 2013 12:24 PM

L2O vs Tru vs Spiaggia- Birthday Dinner

I am deciding between L2O, Tru and Spiaggia for a 23rd birthday dinner. What have your experiences been at these three and what would you say are the pros and cons? Looking for interesting, tasty food without too much of a pretentious environment.


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  1. With the disclaimer that I haven't been to L2O under the current chef... They all feature excellent food and service, they're all quite dressy, and they're all very expensive ($200-300/pp including moderate alcohol and tax/tip). They're all good choices and worth considering for an expensive celebratory occasion.

    Have you looked at the menus on their websites? The types of food are quite different from each other, with L2O's emphasis on seafood, and Spiaggia's Italian cuisine. Also, I believe TRU now only offers tasting menus, whereas the other two also offer the ability to order a la carte. If one place's menu sounds better to you than the others, then that's where you should go!

    1. Spiaggia is doing a pasta degustation right now. Check their website for the menu. It is for a limited time. Six courses $95. We're going next weekend. They also have a matching wine pairing $55 or cocktails $45 and several courses have truffle upgrades $20

      1. Tru, L20 then Spiaggia. I have been to all three several times. The food at Spiaggia is outstanding but I just can't get by their wine prices. I have not been there for quite a while because of price. I will go again soon but will take my own wine.

        Tru has been our favorite for many years. Though it did go through some changes and it wasn't what it is today. Its a close call between Tru and L20, IMHO. L20's new chef have things going quite well.

        I don't think you can go wrong with any of the three. Depends on your mood.

        1. Happy upcoming birthday!

          If I had to pick from those three I would opt for Tru. Spiaggia IMHO is definitely the most pretentious of the three and IMHO also has the weakest food (still very good, but just not when compared to the very best venues Chicago has to offer) and also IMHO the weakest service (again, certainly not bad - just not top notch IMHO).

          I really enjoyed both L20 and Tru, but it has been nearly a year and a half since I dined at L20. I am glad that I went and had an excellent meal, but it just was not so amazing that it left me wanting to return (I definitely am pickier at this price point in terms of being a repeat diner than at less expensive venues). My biggest complaint at L20 was they tended to drown everything with heavy sauces that overpowered the luxurious ingredients, such as A11 grade Wagyu. They also had a lot of gelatin components to dishes that I found a bit unpleasant. Aside from that though, most of the food tasted incredible and had first rate service. The ambiance is nice, but just a tad pretentious.

          Tru I did like enough on my first visit that I returned recently. They had just rolled out not only a new menu, but a new concept - tasting menu only (two different options, based on number of courses). While my first visit to Tru was outstanding, my second was not quite as good - but it likely was just some growing pains with a brand new menu and format. They likely have worked out the kinks by now.

          Not sure if you are open to other venues than the three you listed, but in case you are there are a few venues that I feel are currently providing an even better dining experience factoring in ambiance, service, food quality and creativity.

          *Alinea would be my first choice, though it is a higher price point than the three venues you mentioned ($210 to $265 for food alone, varies based on day of week and time of day). The really cool presentations and invoking all the senses I would think would be really appealing to someone in their 20s - and Alinea does all the creativity while still serving some of the best tasting food I have ever consumed; my best meal ever was at Alinea.

          *Moto is at a lower price point is Moto ($175 for 13-14 courses); Moto is closest to Alinea in terms of the modern techniques and whimsical presentations. I personally love Moto, but they are not quite as universally loved as Alinea.

          *Sixteen. I just dined here for the second time last night and was really amazed by the food, service and ambiance. They have three different length tasting menus (range from $110 to $210) that change with the seasons and through the progression of courses a story is told of the season. Nice mix of modern and classic techniques. Elegant dining room with beautiful view of the city. I have found the middle length tasting menu ($150) to be plenty of food; with all the extras it is a very hearty meal.

          *Grace. Chicago's newest fine dining venue. Two equal length tasting menus - one vegetarian, one not (you can mix and match between the venues, both cost $185). The dining room is stunning and luxurious yet is extremely comfortable and not pretentious. The staff is among the best anywhere - not just in Chicago (perfect blend of personable but polished) and the food is phenomenal. More of a modern vibe than Tru, L20 and Spiaggia - so again might be a better fit based on your age.

          *El Ideas. Not similar to the other venues in that it is extremely casual, but the food is just as good and it is an incredible all around experience. Open kitchen where you can hang out and chat with the chefs between courses. The chefs themselves present and serve the courses. Has a dinner party vibe, but the food is modern, creative and amazing. Single tasting menu of about a dozen courses for $135; BYOB.

          *Goosefoot: I feel that Chef Nugent actually serves the best tasting food in Chicago. Goosefoot is also more casual than the three on your list, Grace and Sixteen - but still has friendly, attentive service and is a comfortable space. Goosefoot is actually the hardest restaurant in Chicago right now (possibly Next being the only exception) to score a reservation - so will not be a possibility unless you are planning well ahead. $115 for a 9 course tasting menu; BYOB.

          *Boka. Also a bit more casual, but one of my favorites. Excellent cocktail program under Ben Schiller (including my favorite in the city - the Weston), fantastic service and excellent cuisine. Good choice to experience high end cuisine but in a laid back, unpretentious ambiance. Six course tasting menu for $85 or a la carte pricing available.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Gonzo70

            Agree with Gonzo in nearly every regard, particularly as it relates to Spiaggia - though I'd put their service on "disaster" alert. Disagree with regard to Moto, however, as I find it much more 'show' than substance.

            Sixteen is excellent, as is EL Ideas - and of course Alinea is a whole different level.


            1. re: uhockey

              We were at Grace this past weekend. It was really, really good. My wife had the flora and I had the fauna menu. The flora menu is vegetable centric but is not necessarily vegetarian. We loved it and will return but we found the food a bit heavy. We couldn't finish all of our courses. Still, its very good and likely to get even better. Very much recommended.

              At Sixteen this past winter we thought the food and presentation was great but the service needed a bit of work. The courses weren't paced very well in spots (we had the tasting menu). The wine list is the weakest of the high end places we mentioned, too. The staff tried very hard, we enjoyed ourselves and will go again. On this night though, it didn't measure up to Tru, L20 or, on our one time visit, Grace.

              Alinea is in a different world all together. If you can get in, go, but that seems to be almost impossible anymore.

              1. re: HoosierFoodie

                >> Alinea is in a different world all together. If you can get in, go, but that seems to be almost impossible anymore.

                Actually, reservations (which you make by buying tickets in advance on their website) have been much easier to obtain lately, without the need to make them way in advance the way it was in the past. Right now they show openings on almost any Wednesday, Thursday, or Sunday. Fridays are available as soon as April 12; the first openings on a Saturday are in May. The further in advance you are reserving, the more choices you will have for hour and size of party.

                All of these restaurants are excellent, but Alinea is in a class by itself, truly a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience (although if you can eat there more than once, even better). That's why it's widely considered one of the best restaurants in the world, and deservedly so. If you can do Alinea instead, do it!

            2. re: Gonzo70

              Thanks for the lengthy response! My birthday is on a Monday, so unfortunately many of those options aren't available. We did manage to get a reservation at Grace for the Friday before, so we're considering just cooking dinner on my birthday and enjoying at Grace beforehand.

              As of right now I think I'm leaning towards L2O if we do the dinner on my actual birthday. Thanks everyone for the responses!

              1. re: ajs489

                As visitors to Chicago (not residents, so experience is limited) I rate L20 as one of the most disappointing fine dining experiences of all time; the room is rather hushed, making it difficult for a convivial, fun atmosphere-with sort of dated "tricks" (with napkins, moving geometric boxes) and a feeling of being, well, ripped off for food that just didn't excite, tantalize, or even satisfy the palate---we're talking unexciting "gellees", aspics, and wierdness all around. My husband to this day refers to L20's cuisine as a "make work project." We visited Alinea on the same visit, perhaps this is why it was hard to be impressed----and, furthermore, the prices of L20 actually approach Alinea if you get upgrades on certain items (i.e. $50 for wagyu beef, other dessert surcharges). This was shortly after chef LG left--and, we were 26 when we went, and definitely found the crowd to be older....hope my sharing our experience helps inform your choices!

                1. re: unturtlesoup

                  Been twice under the new team and it has been outstanding. I think after LG left the entire restaurant went down hill. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend now that they have their act together.

            3. I didn't want to start a new thread, so I'll piggyback off of this one -- what would the board recommend between Tru and Grace for my wife's birthday?

              It's her and her mom and sister, and while she has extensive "fine-dining" experience, neither of the other two does (hence no Alinea; plus she's been before).


              9 Replies
              1. re: a213b

                Both are outstanding, but IMHO Grace is superior. Grace's dining room is stunning; comfortable, luxurious, elegant and modern. Service at both venues is highly polished and attentive, but at Grace it is also extremely personable. Grace seems to truly anticipate the diner's preferences and caters the dining experience to the individual more so than Tru. Grace's meal is also heartier and just a bit more interesting and tastier. You can't go wrong with either venue, but I feel that Grace is the clearly the better of the two; I think that Grace is already the second best restaurant in Chicago (after Alinea) despite only being a few months old.

                1. re: a213b

                  I'd have to (barely) disagree with Gonzo70. I've been to both in the last 6 months and I'd give a slight edge to Tru. I found the heartier, almost a bit heavy, at Grace. I don't think Grace is tastier, either. Possibly more interesting, though.

                  The service is a toss-up. I think the wine list and the wine pairings, if you do them, are a better at Tru. Then again, Tru has had a lot more time to put together a wine list, too.

                  1. re: a213b

                    It's really a tough call. Although I was not impressed by Alinea, I love, love, loved both TRU and Grace. I plan to revisit Chicago in the near future soley to try new menu at both TRU and Grace. You can't go wrong at either place. They are IMHO, two best restaurants in Chicago, even more impressive than Alinea to me.

                    1. re: a213b

                      Honestly, both to you a213b and the OP, for the best food outside of Alinea, I would suggest Schwa or EL Ideas if you are cool with a very casual or even party-like vibe. Or if you are looking for a fancy experience with doting service and an impress-someone-winelist, then you might be best off at Next (the current Hunt menu carrot course was better than Grace's IMHO).

                      I only am writing this because you said your wife has extensive fine dining experience, so I don't want her to be disappointed. But, simply put, Grace's food does not yet live up to its ambition. Full disclosure: I haven't been to Tru in a few years, though I loved it and dined many times back when Rick Tramonto was at least nominally involved.

                      Look, I would guess that your wife's mom and sister would be happy at either. I have good friends who are Chicago/Midwestern locals and haven't travelled for dining as much—except maybe Alinea once—and they were pretty happy with both Grace and Tru. But the consensus among people I know who are willing to fly internationally just for a reservation is that neither Tru or Grace are currently at the 3 michelin star level.

                      It's really just the food that is holding both back from greatness, because they have beautiful dining rooms and bathrooms, treasure troves of wine lists, and rigorously trained staff (my own dinner had a few problems with the service at Grace, but I don't care and still tipped fairly well). I admit it is still possible both restaurants could get 2 or even 3 michelin stars on the strengths of everything besides the food, as that does seem to happen all over the world. But those kind of 2 and 3 star places tend not to have much of a waiting list or are living off their past glory.

                      I can only comment on the recent menu at Grace, but my two guests—both of whom have worked with some famous restaurants—and I all agreed that the dishes were all ok, but there wasn't a single course we would want to eat again, or anything that inspired us to come back anytime soon. Several others have described the flavors as "muted" or "one-note," and I agree. Duffy consistently leans too heavily on a single fancy ingredient (caviar or Matsuzaka on the fauna menu, or preserved carrots or fried sunchoke on the flora). Good ingredients are important, but frankly they need to be cooked and combined somehow to become even more delicious, otherwise you could get the same thing at many other more casual places (this was especially true on the flora menu).

                      Duffy's basic dish composition seems to be a main attraction with a little bit of fat—though not too much butter/cream—a splash of acidity to cut through it, and then a piece of crunchiness. Nothing wrong with this philosophy—Stephanie Izard does the same thing to much greater, and cheaper, success a few blocks away at the Girl & Goat. Duffy also seems to have a sweet tooth, apparently reflecting his background in pastry, and both the food and wine pairings have a noticeable shot of sugar (I couldn't even finish half of my desert courses, but that just might be my own tastes). At the end of the day, I am looking for flavors that make me say "wow, I want to eat that again," and that just never happened for me (though one of my guests said he did like the piece of Scottish salmon, but that it was not as good as what he had the night before during the kaiseki menu at Katsu).

                      Grace and Curtis Duffy openly talk about ranking among the 3 michelin star/food worth a trip places like The Fat Duck, Noma, L'Arpege, El Cellar de Can Roca, Da Vittorio, Kitcho etc. I had high hopes and planned my trip around my reservation at Grace because I liked my meal at Avenues when Duffy was there. Again, Grace wasn't bad and it was a bit better than Avenues, but "corporate constraints" are no longer an excuse and I am not confident that Grace will become a "destination" restaurant.

                      To the OP: I only went to L2O once and that was before Laurant Gras left (it was pretty forgettable, though very fancy and super expensive). I have, though, heard decent things about the current chef at L2O recently.

                      Another option: I liked Elizabeth overall, though there were a few misses on the diamond menu this past fall. For a lower priced option, the deer menu intrigued me and Iliana Regan's cooking was good enough to make me want to go back. Elizabeth is definitely not pretentious, though you have to be ok with communal dining. Other options I have heard about but nothing strong enough to fly out for: Arcadia, Sixteen and Goosefoot.

                      1. re: W42

                        Thank you so much for taking the time to compose such a thoughtful response -- I greatly appreciate it.

                        Based on your comments, as well as others on this board, I believe Tru will be the best bet for a "celebratory" meal, given the parties involved.

                        Goosefoot seems interesting, but there is no availability; Schwa is a no-go on principle alone -- any restaurant that cancels on its patrons' reservations will not be receiving a penny from us; and EL Ideas is probably a bit too much for a couple of the diners.

                        Usually for us it's all about the food - with everything else being secondary - but in this instance some pomp & circumstance will be very nice, and a meal that is delicious (if a bit more classical) should work a treat.

                        Will report back, regardless of the final spot, though I imagine it will be Tru.

                        1. re: W42

                          Interesting take on Grace. I went last night for the first time and although I agree on a few small points - Duffy using a lot of sweetness, for instance, I tend to disagree that the restaurant is not 'destination worthy." As a matter of fact, I'd go so far as to say that aside from a few service slips (very minor things like mispronouncing ingredients) the meal was as perfect as I've had in recent memory. From savories to sweets I felt each course presented a familiar flavor profile and flawless technique brought to a completely different level by something unique; whether the presentation, an ingredient, or simply something visual. I particularly found the Maitake, Poached Chestnut, and Cranberry dishes compelling.

                          All in all I found almost everything about Grace to be superior to Goosefoot, though it too was a very good meal, and I'd be hard pressed to say whether I think Grace or Sixteen is currently executing better (though Grace is obviously far younger in its maturation.)


                          1. re: uhockey

                            I appreciate your thoughts, especially since I've seen a few of your other reviews from around the country. Just have to say that I welcome your good-natured tone.

                            Oddly enough, I think I agree with much of what you have written, but just not the conclusion (I know that seems strange). For me and my friends, I think we would all agree that Grace was technically perfect and the space and courses looked like modern art, just that the taste was nothing special.

                            So I agree with you on "flawless technique," "brought to a completely different level by...the presentation...something visual," and "familiar flavor profile." But for all the fancy looks and impressive knifework or modernist wizardry, I think the taste was just too familiar to the point of boring.

                            I do remember saying to myself with the sunchoke course, "this tastes just like any fried artichoke in a Jewish restaurant in Rome, or elsewhere." My friend said the Matsuzaka beef was good, but not as good as what he had at several places in Japan or even other famous steakhouses/grills (I thought Asador Etxebarri was better). I could go on and on, but after every course we looked at each other and said "not bad, but just a dressed up version of what I could get at _____ for much cheaper" or "not as good as this other well-regarded place."

                            I am trying but I really can't remember what the Maitake, Poached Chestnut, and Cranberry dishes tasted like, and this was less than a week ago. I do however remember the Hunt menu at Next having much more flavorful mushrooms to start and a tastier carrot dish.

                            Whereas I can pretty much recite to you the entire menu of the first 3 michelin star place I ever tasted, and that was years ago (Yannick Alleno's early Le Meurice). Or how the truffle menu at Da Vittorio ruined my expectations for truffles to the point where I never order them if they are more than 5 days old (I picked up and nibbled on the ones at Grace and thought they had lost most of the flavor). That for me is what makes a destination restaurant, not just flawless technical execution in the kitchen and mistake-free service.

                            If this standard seems too high, maybe, but I've paid a lot more and a lot less than what I spent at Grace, and gotten both much better and worse food. There are a lot of fancy and expensive restaurants all over the world, and I just hope I help people figure out which ones are really worth it. Hell, I think a lot of people would agree that some Michelin 3 star places are much better than others when it comes to the food.

                            I wasn't going to elaborate above since, again, I can tolerate bad service beyond say, L'Ambroisie's dismissal of anyone of who is not Parisian. But I must disagree about the service being close to perfect. In my case, here's what I can remember about the experience
                            • serving one friend a pairing she did not order
                            • twice refusing to answer questions about the other pairings besides saying it was "some reds"
                            • having to wait half a hour for our table (I know, not the staff's fault that the earlier table wanted to linger and drink)
                            • mixing up drink orders and pouring different things into the same glass
                            • Front of house staff were nice enough, but the actual table servers seemed generally cold (not every place has to be as fun as El Ideas or Schwa, but this was beyond stiff/formal)
                            To some, these problems might affect their impression of a restaurant, but honestly, I had to try hard to remember the flaws, so my lukewarm review is really just based on the taste of the courses.

                            Agree to gently disagree? I really hope Grace does make enough people happy as I really am rooting for Curtis Duffy to take his cuisine to the next level (not just because he had that inspiring life story in the Tribune). Running a top restaurant is expensive and if enough people don't love it, it won't be around in a few years for me to try again.

                            1. re: W42

                              Very fair and well written points. Either way, the restaurant is still very young and I expect them to grow nicely. I hope the early buzz remains as it has been quite a while since someone tried to pull off a tasting only, Michelin 3* aiming restaurant from the ground up here in the states - especially since Trotter's and Ria shuttered.


                        2. re: a213b

                          I think Grace might be a little more comfortable for the two who don't have a lot of fine-dining experience. It's hard to explain, but the servers seem to be a little more in on the joke at Grace, if that makes sense? Also, the atmosphere isn't as formal.

                          However, both restaurants are excellent and I think your guests would enjoy either one. I've been at Tru several times over the years, though not super-recently, and it has never failed to please me very much.