In the heart of the Loop this past Saturday, Land & Lake Kitchen (81 E. Wacker Dr., Loop), the latest offering from Nicole and Stephan Outrequin Quaisser’s LM Restaurant Group, opened its doors to the public. Though service hasn’t fully rolled out yet (brunch begins this weekend), it’s clear that Land & Lake marks a shift away from the sophisticated French fare that’s previously characterized the LM Group’s restaurants. Instead, it’s a move into the heartland, with a menu that includes “elevated American classics” like buttermilk fried chicken and beer-battered walleye.
The concept comes in part from executive chef Tim Davidson’s childhood. Born in South Korea, Davidson was adopted by a Chicago-area couple—"it was kind of a trend after the war,” he says—and grew up on the thoroughly Midwestern diet that serves as the inspiration for Land & Lake’s menu. After cooking school, he cut his teeth with the Francophiles at Troquet and the now-shuttered LM (both concepts from the LM Group, where he’s spent most of his career). Land & Lake, though, is more personal. “This time I’m starting with my roots, here. It’s completely natural and normal to me.”
So the restaurant will, of course, feature sauerkraut and potatoes. And the ingredients, whenever possible, will come from local farms. But the dishes are also sourced a little closer to Davidson’s own heart: Many of them are inspired by his childhood cooking experiences with his family and friends. In particular, Davidson mentioned the influence his mom has had on his development as a chef. “She was the first person I grew up cooking with in the kitchen,” he remembers.
Davidson drew upon her homespun repertoire for Land & Lake’s onion rings and deviled eggs, which she used to make during the holidays. And the meatballs with sauce are a heartwarming version of Frankenstein’s monster, stitched together from his mom’s made-from-scratch meatballs and his wife’s grandmother’s sauce. (Davidson’s mom tended to use Ragú.) With their inclusion, Davidson’s hoping to induce something like the fervor that made him return clandestinely to the kitchen as a kid, when, as he says, “I used to sneak back down at night and eat a few extra [meatballs].”
Land & Lake’s interior, with its exposed brick walls and neutral tones, gives off a casual feel; Davidson says the goal is to create a laid-back vibe for a reasonably priced place that doesn’t “tilt to the tourist wallet.”