L2O Restaurant is located inside the Belden-Stratford Hotel Esquire magazine named this place 2008 Restaurant of the Year (among new restaurants). The same Nov. 2008 issue also crowned Dominique Crenn, executive chef at SF’s excellent-but-underappreciated Luce, as 2008′s Chef of the Year.

While L2O is a pretty fabulous restaurant, calling it the year’s best is debatable. However, there’s no question this is a serious dining establishment. More to the point, unlike many of its high-end restaurant peers, their seriousness extends all the way to their coffee service.

Located in the Belden-Stratford Hotel across the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chef Laurent Gras resurfaced here in May 2008 after previously making waves in SF. In 2001, he served as Executive Chef at SF’s Fifth Floor and was named Chef of the Year in San Francisco magazine for 2002.

L2O is located across the parkway from the Lincoln Park Conservatory It's a fluke!: sashimi platter complete with excessive use of gelée topped with soy sauce and two odd marshmallows

The restaurant models itself as a sort of inventive, high-end, Japanese-influenced (and very expensive) seafood restaurant, but that’s limiting the menu a bit. They boast that they don’t use distributors for their seafood — FedEx’ing it in from fishermen directly, so that what they serve has only been out of the sea for two days. They’re also proud of their two tatami rooms, where they sand down wooden tables before you eat off of them.

As a test, we saw their Japanese seafood snobbery and tried to raise them with some of our own West Coast J-snobbery, asking if they offered any unpasteurized sake. No dice. (Hooray for San Francisco snobbery.) They are inventive, however, and borrow heavily from the science lab techniques of the cuisine-formerly-known-as-molecular-gastronomy: liquid nitrogen, freeze-drying equipment, vacuum pumps, etc.

To their discredit, they tend to go crazy pairing some form of a gelée with nearly every course, and they also exhibit an occasional odd use of what we can only call marshmallow nouveau. It’s no COI, but it’s impressively good.

And of course, there are white tablecloths and multiple servers — the latter who are fun rather than stuffy.

Inside the L2O kitchen Detailed plating inside the L2O kitchen

It wouldn't be dinner at L2O without the liquid nitrogen L2O's blogger-photo-friendly cabinet contains their natural flavor palette

We would have been remiss by not talking about their food, so back to the subject of coffee. Restaurant coffee has long been an afterthought at many of even the finest American restaurants, but that’s not true here. This is the only restaurant we’ve seen with a Clover machine. They offer Intelligentsia for both Clover and espresso use, using Black Cat Espresso (also available as decaf) from a two-group La Marzocco in the back service area.

With the Marzocco, they produce a thinner, textured layer of medium-to-dark brown crema. The body is a bit thinner as well — related to the larger pour size. It has a mostly pungent flavor with no smokiness and is served in Hering-Berlin porcelain cups.

They make a serious attempt at a restaurant coffee program here. Yet it still leaves significant room for improvement.

Read the review of L2O Restaurant in Chicago.

L2O's coffee menu features Intelligentsia coffee for espresso and even Clover coffee The L2O restaurant espresso