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DINING OUT | L's KITCHEN

Dining Out: L's Kitchen owner resurrects a familiar Lincoln location

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Lawrence De Villiers has returned to the site that put him on Lincoln’s restaurant map.

The restaurateur teamed with former Lincoln City Councilman Roy Christensen and former longtime school board member Doug Evans to open L’s Kitchen on April 1 at 17th and Van Dorn streets, where De Villiers owned and operated the French restaurant The Normandy from 2014-17 before selling it.

Dining Out 6.22

A main course of Atlantic Salmon topped with a sweet tomato sauce at L's Kitchen in Lincoln.

The new restaurant will enjoy its official grand opening July 8-9. The “L” in L’s Kitchen is not for Lawrence, but rather for Lincoln, with the idea of Lincoln residents embracing the small bistro as their own.

L’s Kitchen serves “American comfort food with a continental twist,” including must-tries meatloaf ($22) and Hungarian goulash ($22). De Villiers created the menu that’s executed by his staff led by executive chef Kevin Milligan.

“It’s not quite fine dining,” said De Villiers, who also is the business manager at Lincoln furniture store Barnwood & Leather. “We like to call it gourmet comfort food.”

Milligan, 23, grew up in New Hampshire and graduated with a liberal arts degree from Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he ran the school’s cafeteria. The meatloaf is his recipe.

“Looking for a quality chef can be difficult, but we found one in Kevin,” De Villiers said.

Because seating is limited -- a max of about 40 -- L’s Kitchen requires reservations and turns over tables only once or twice each evening. (With Milligan gone this weekend, De Villiers will operate the kitchen with a limited menu.)

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Co-owner Lawrence De Villiers (left) and executive chef Kevin Milligan work together on the menu at L's Kitchen.

“I know, it’s a non-capitalistic concept,” De Villiers said. “Most restaurants want to turn over tables as often as they can. But we’re not about making money. We’re about making quality.”

That starts with L’s delicious, accessible menu.

Food

The restaurant showcases its distinct takes on familiar foods: salmon, rib-eye steak, scallops, pork tenderloin, chicken breast, three kinds of fettuccine, etc.

The chicken entree ($21), which I ordered and thoroughly enjoyed, featured a rich, white wine parmesan cream sauce and was served with goat cheese mashed potatoes and asparagus. It offered a nice mix of flavor and color.

My companions, Andy and Jill, went with signature dishes. Andy had the goulash, which boasted hearty beef chunks in a savory, semi-spicy brown sauce served atop fettuccine. Jill combined two appetizers – leek soup ($8) and crab cakes ($16) – into a meal. The soup was chowder-like, creamy with a not-overpowering leek flavor. And the crab cakes, well, they were some of the best I’ve tried: loosely pattied, with a wonderful crab taste.

The appetizer menu also includes Moroccan meatballs ($13) served with house aioli and bacon Brussel sprouts ($10), roasted and sauteed and finished with a cream sauce.

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Other entrees include wild scallops ($34), which Milligan learned to make at home with his father, and a carbonara fettuccine ($18), featuring a garlic bacon cream sauce.

Desserts are made in-house. You may have seen Milligan’s bread pudding in a Facebook post. He also makes a yummy chocolate mousse, which my companions and I shared.

L’s Kitchen recently obtained its liquor license. De Villiers said the restaurant will offer a mix of affordable wines from around the world. Grade: A

Atmosphere

L’s Kitchen is small, which is why reservations are required. The restaurant seats 30, plus another eight at the bar. Two- and four-top tables line the walls. They are covered in paper black-and-white checkered tablecloths. Walls feature black-and-white photographs of Lincoln landmarks by Chuck Starr, including the Joyo Theatre, with L’s Kitchen spelled out on its marquee. Classical music played from the speakers during our visit. Grade: A

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The interior of L's Kitchen, located on South 17th Street.

Service

The restaurant will take walk-ins, if there’s room. I called when L’s opened at 5:30 p.m. and booked a table for 7. You also can reserve a table online through the restaurant’s website at lskitchenlincoln.com. Weekends fill up quickly.

Our service was exceptional. Norma, who hails from Mexico, was our server. She explained the menu, noting a couple of items weren’t available (sadly, the scallops) that night. She brought us freshly baked, complimentary honey rolls to munch on while we waited for our entrees. The food takes a little time because each dish is made from scratch. Our orders arrived between 15 to 20 minutes after ordering. Grade: A

Specialty diets

L’s Kitchen goes out of its way to accommodate those with special diets, designating vegetarian and gluten-free items on the menu. Three of the eight appetizers and three of the 11 entrees are vegetarian-friendly. The entrees include a house special vegetable parmesan gratin ($20) and ratatouille fettuccine, which is vegan-friendly, too. Grade: A

Jeff Korbelik is the winery manager at James Arthur Vineyards, former Journal Star features editor and author of “Lost Restaurants of Lincoln, Nebraska.” He’s written restaurant reviews for Ground Zero since 1998.

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