How do you pick a restaurant? The birthday edition.

Picking a restaurant for a special occasion can be hard, especially when it comes to birthdays. There are expectations of having a wonderful dinner, of course. There’s also the balance of finding a restaurant that meets your requirements while being respectful of the pocketbook of the person who’s buying the meal. I always find it a challenge.

L2O Ahi Tuna Tartare

Ahi tuna tartare, cleverly disguised as an avocado egg.

My boyfriend made it easier and harder on me this year when he asked me nearly two months in advance to think about a restaurant. We’d forgo our normal dining out routine until my birthday and then splurge. Optimal choices, minimal guilt.

This gave me plenty of time to think about my must haves: multiple courses, wine pairings, great service, and a romantic setting on my actual birthdate. Unfortunately, it also gave me multiple opportunities to strike out from Next, Alinea, Goosefoot and Schwa.

I am officially put off by ticketing systems, “online” reservations and overflowing answering machines. Automated rejection, FTL!

L2O Ora King Salmon

The salmon was as psychedelic as it was delicious.

With a week before my birthday and no reservation, I dusted off my back-up list and tweeted for suggestions (thanks, all!). While an exclusive restaurant or a new-to-me place would be a nice culinary adventure, I also wanted to wow my boyfriend with my selection and prove that “older and wiser” bit I’d heard so much about.

It was @aribendersky who reminded me that L2O‘s new Chef, Matthew Kirkley, was doing incredible things and that I should consider it. The restaurant met my criteria, had an abundance of “wow factor” and had availability on the night in question. I had been, but not since the new chef had taken the helm. I called and got a seating.

L2O Dessert

This is dessert, not a floral arrangement. Trust me.

Everything was perfect: the menus printed with a birthday greeting, the exemplary service, the progression of prix-fixe choices with wine pairings that brought out the best of everything, bonus courses, the take-home sweets package. Everything. If you can splurge, this place is definitely worth the expense.

I can’t say I won’t go through the selection rigamarole again as I’m still savoring the victory of getting it right this year. But knowing me, I’ll be back at square one next summer.

Do you stick with a tried and true spot for your birthday? Or opt for a new culinary experience? Let me know!

L2O Restaurant
2300 N. Lincoln Park West
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 868-0002