My first encounter with Chef Curtis Duffy was at the chef’s counter at Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago where The Bro and I had a strikingly beautiful meal in fall of 2010. We were floored by his precise, thoughtful, and gorgeously presented plates. We made tentative plans to return but not long after Curtis left Avenues. My second run-in with Chef Duffy was a year later at a Friends of JBF dinner hosted at The American Restaurant in Kansas City where he contributed a course of Nuac Mau braised short ribs that I still crave occasionally. After the dinner, Rocky and I made a promise to pay him a visit when he got his next venture up and running. Moving forward another year: after spending most of 2012 following the progress of the opening of Grace in Chicago with anticipation, Rocky and I made good on our promise. We had decided to make our holiday trip home to the Midwest from NYC into an extended road trip, with a stop in the windy city on the return leg to spend an evening with the team at Grace.
The menus offered are ‘Flora’ and ‘Fauna’ tastings. Typically I would have leaned towards the vegetable focused Flora menu, but the dishes on the Fauna side looked more compelling. We ordered the Fauna with supplements from the Flora.
Canapés. Crisp and bright rolled cucumber and green apple ribbons. Smoked banana and gruyere pastry. Mandarin orange with smoked paprika taffy. The smoke was good and the crispness of the taffy over the juicy segment was fun. The chip was great, though I don’t remember what it is…tapioca chip possibly?
Parsnip – dried pineapple, tarragon ice, FENNEL. Light and cool. The tarragon ice beads were fantastic. The dehydrated pineapple was not too sweet, though the parsnip very sweet to start. The fennel had a good crunch. Parsnip chips added some needed salt.
Osetra Caviar – meyer lemon, kumquat jam, CHIVE. The kumquat jam had a good bitterness. The meyer lemon custard was nicely tart and sweet. Breadcrumbs were crunchy and toasty. And the salinity from the osetra rounded out a great balance of flavors.
Carrot – iranian pistachio, whipped mascarpone, CARROT TOP. Roasted carrots, candied carrots, braised pistachios, whipped mascarpone, carrot top puree, passionfruit, over a carrot gelatin base. Amazing. Pure carrot flavor presented in brilliant sweet textures with darker flavored hearty roasted carrots. Acid from the passionfruit and the savory pistachios keep plate of carrots lively.
Kampachi – golden trout roe, pomelo, THAI BASIL. A dish that has received a lot of attention and I think can be called an early signature dish of Grace. Kampachi in a ginger ice sleeve with coconut rice pudding, brook trout roe, candied pomelo, and pomelo segments. Another fantastic course. Certainly something special. A beautiful piece of Kampachi(on other sites I’ve seen different fish with the same setting) accented on all sides: ginger spice, bitter citrus, the pop of the roe, and the vibrant thai basil.
Sunchoke – braised mustard seeds, freekeh, cippolini onion, LOVAGE. The sunchokes were great. Mustard seeds and mustard cream were good also. I adored the charred cippolini onions, and the little cippolini chips were delightful. For me, the astringent celery didn’t have a place here.
Chilled Scallop – hibiscus tea, FIVE LICORICE FLAVORED HERBS. A cooled seared scallop, black tapioca flavored with licorice, a tapioca chip, and herb foam served in a pool of hibiscus tea. The hoja santa foam was served warm over an otherwise cold plate of food. The strong multi-herbal energy made a success of the dish.
Scottish Salmon – crispy red cabbage, citrus pudding, MARIGOLD. A nice cut of cold smoked and sous vide salmon. With Napa and Savoy cabbages, potato, mushroom emulsion, a tapioca chip flavored with beet, and a base of meyer lemon.
Grilled Wagyu Beef – matsutake, salsify, MASHUA LEAF. A gorgeous, perfectly prepared cut of wagyu beef. With preparations of salsify and matsutake mushrooms, and a base of bonito dashi and lime. The finger lime made for a very potent tartness that broke the richness. The varied flavors of black salsify were outstanding.
Poached Chestnut – perigord truffle, roasted almond milk, RED SORREL. With black truffle meringue and truffled sherry vinegar. If by this time in the meal I wasn’t yet starting to get full, this richly decadent chestnut puree would make sure I was well on my way. This hard hitter made me wish I had done a pre meal workout.
Veal Cheek – red wine braised endive, black grape, BLACK MINT. With brilliant sunflower seed risotto and crispy white anchovy tempura.
Poached Quince – elderflower, tamarind juice, BRONZE FENNEL. The cool fennel and the spice of green cardamom made for a nice small plate of quince.
Caramelized Sudachi – toasted cashew, asian pear, NASTURTIUM. With celery and burgundy sorrel. Quite an amazing dessert with a strong dynamic range of sensations. Bright sudachi citrus with crisp pear, peppery nasturtium, crunchy and sweet cashews, tangy earthy celery, and acidic sorrel. A thrill.
Bitter Chocolate – raw chestnut, persimmon, LEMON MINT. Balanced with vanilla creme fraiche and espelette spice. Beautifully bold and captivating.
Mignardises. Chocolate sphere with caramel popcorn. Yuzu chocolate.
Duffy has a knack for pairing a progression of bread along with his meals. Amish butter two ways: with sea salt, and herbed with black lava salt. Hibiscus brioche with fennel. Pretzel bread – Rocky’s favorite. Rosemary focaccia with wagyu fat. Sweet red wine and black grape bread(I think).
For being two weeks old at the time, this was an impressive accomplishment of a meal from Chef Duffy and his team at Grace. I look forward to returning to see the progression and growth of the beautiful restaurant. I’m certain with a little time, tweaking, and refinement that Grace will have a spot among the elite restaurants in the country.
Date of visit: December 28, 2012
Grace. 652 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL. 312.234.9494