Frog n Snail | Restaurant review
Dale Levitski’s new bistro reopens the debate about his food.
The restaurant came out of nowhere, but it wasn’t a surprise. Nothing from Dale Levitski comes as a surprise anymore. When a chef jumps from making fruit sushi at Orange to succeeding Grant Achatz at Trio to almost winning Top Chef to running a popular (if kidphobic) brunch at Sprout, a Lakeview bistro-by-night, crêperie-by-day just kind of fits. At this point, what wouldn’t?
And yet no matter what Levitski comes up with, it’s going to be divisive. His is love-it-or-hate-it kind of food, which people find either blunt and falsely sophisticated, or flavor-forward and creative. I’ve been in the latter camp. When, on an early visit to Sprout, licorice root was shaved over my salad tableside, I didn’t think it was gimmicky. I thought it was…cool. And I thought the naysayers were just being overly hard on a guy who’d been on TV.
At Frog n Snail, though, I began to understand the haters. My defection started small. After a pretty good meal of anchovy crostini (with the inspired addition of slivered lemon), rich housemade ricotta and overly salted chicken, I experienced a lingering disappointment. I chalked this up to Levitski’s use of big, easy flavors. Salt. Oil. Bread. Cheese. Mix these in a bowl and you can please anybody, I reasoned. But the truth was I wasn’t pleased—I was just making excuses.
Later, there would be dishes I just couldn’t excuse, like the dry and dusty carrot-curry cake, or the ferociously underseasoned beef Stroganoff. A pile of brandade “stix” had almost no flavor and did nothing to repair the reputation of fish sticks. And what should be the restaurant’s signature dish—frog legs with a snail ragout—should instead be removed from the menu entirely. At least until the kitchen can learn to cook frog and snail right.
Here and there I found traces of the Levitski I could appreciate: a strawberry snuck into the bottom of a very pretty, very good garden salad; French gnocchi paired with luscious bites of lamb; some lovely pieces of fish. Though simple and big, the flavors of those bites reminded me how winning Levitski can be. But when a chocolate cake with potato chips and pretzel sticks thrown haphazardly on the plate arrives at the table, the Top Chef loses his lead.