Last week I rode the 12-course wave at Laurent Gras’s dreamy seafood sanctum L2O and our second course, Ishidai (pictured), bowled us over–not that most of the rest didn’t.
Described on the menu as “Ishidai, shiso leaf, preserved lemon, heart of palm,” it was a gorgeous cylinder of firm, buttery fish constructed around a vegetal bite of minty shiso, topped with a disc of heart of palm, sea trout roe, and a leaf of red ribbon sorrel. It was expertly paired with a glass of clean, crisp Hakkaisan Junmai Ginjo from Niigata prefecture.
Our server told us ishidai was the Japanese name for the beautiful blue tropical parrotfish, and gave a brief Cousteau-style tutorial on its coral nibbling habits.
Up until then I’d avoided reading the famous L20 blog, but two days prior I couldn’t resist and crammed it. Our server’s knowledge bomb reflects Gras’s keen interest in the habits and habitats of the fish he’s working with, and in the restaurant diners are given a helpful cheat sheet that lists the fishes du jour mostly by their Japanese names, along with more familiar alternates, one word descriptions of their respective textures and flavors, and their origins (“Parrotfish, Firm, Mild, Japan”). On our night they were limited to fish from U.S. and Japanese waters.
Further research revealed quite a bit of inconsistency regarding what ishidai really is, some sources affirming it as the parrotfish, but many others referring to it as a related (and not so pretty) species known as the “Japanese parrotfish.” Grocerytrekker calls it the “false parrotfish.” The Field Guide to Seafood lists parrotfish among the wrasse family which includes about 450 species. I’m not saying our server was embellishing, but that’s enough variance to cast some doubt on the exotic undersea context this plate was put in and underscores the ocean of confusion about the fish we eat in general, something the Sun-Times‘s Janet Rausa Fuller cast a much harsher light on earlier last year in her Beard Award-nominated red snapper exposé.
My proper review of L20 is coming in a few weeks, and I may yap a bit more on it here yet. But if you’re planning a splurge, you owe it to yourself to check out the blog first. It really enhanced what I suspect might be one of my best restaurant experiences of the year–maybe of the last few years.