Archive for the 'Chicago' Category

Yusho, Chicago

As I was piecing together my most recent trip to Chicago, I was faced with the same dilemma as always..to try new places or revisit spots I already know and love. Rocky and I didn’t have a lot of time in town and naturally wanted to make the most of our stay. One of the best moves I made while filling in the blanks was booking a dinner at the chef’s counter at Yusho. That place is effing awesome. Matthias Merges really has his shit together.

yusho chicago chefs counter

We arrived for a fairly early dinner(though we somehow ended up closing the place down anyways) and posted up by the kitchen on what may be the tallest barstools we’ve ever sat on. After a little chatting with the staff, they proposed a few different ways to go about Yusho’s somewhat spontaneous tasting menu. After I established that there was no scared business and we were here to go for the gusto, we got the party started.

yusho chicago market oysters

Market Oysters. Two different oysters to start out. The first, from Deer Creek, Washington, was served raw and had firm body and full flavor. The second, from Prince Edward Island, was served warm with tapioca pearls.

yusho chicago tuna rice yuzu soy

Tuna. A tartare marinated with ponzu, yuzu, and soy served with nori, rice cracker, radish, and pine nut. The bonito-heavy tuna was a beautiful feature gracefully supported by the various accents and paired wonderfully with a smooth yamada nishiki by Kenbishi Kuromatsu.

yusho chicago octopus

yusho chicago octopus

Octopus. Tenderized baby octopus dressed with yuzu and served with enoki mushrooms, green beans, and garlic chives. Nice textures between the barely al dente tentacles, the fibrous bite of the enoki, and the crisp snap of the beans.

yusho chicago chicken wing

Chicken wing. A meaty hunk of wing flavored with bonito, lime, and thai chile. Nicely sweet, with light acid and spice.

yusho chicago skin chips

Skin Tasting. The puffed pork skin was dusted with togarashi. The monkfish skin had a tasty underlying Atlantic brininess. The denser chicken skin was dressed with garlic, mustard, and honey. Overall these were light and crunchy in weight but had a very filling richness.

yusho chicago osaka pancakes

Takoyaki & Okonomiyaki (Osaka pancakes). Two savory batter treats. The first, a dumpling with peas and onions topped with roe and katsuobushi. The other, a pancake with blue prawn, caramelized eggplant, and sprouts. I think this was Rocky’s favorite savory plate. I would ask her to confirm if she wasn’t sleeping right now. Paired with a pretty cool Sauvignon Blanc from Brda.

yusho chicago maitake mushroom

Maitake mushroom. With frisee, dashi gelee, pickled jalapeño, and a one hour egg. This dish was almost overwhelmingly wonderful with its savoriness. The richness of the yolk and dashi melted into the warm broth alongside the sour spice of the pepper and the earthy, meaty mushrooms was an over the top great combo. Tied for my favorite course of the meal.

yusho chicago seared foie gras strawberry

Seared foie gras. With strawberry coulis, mochi, and a vinaigrette made from foie fat. The sweet, gummy mochi was a fun compliment to the seared lobe. The acidic berry did well to balance the richness. Boldly and successfully paired with cocktail of White Dog Whisky, strawberry, lemon, Cocchi Americano, and creme de cassis.

yusho chicago pho

Pho. Noodle soup with sprouts, a nice pork meatball, and the tear inducing ‘angry red ball’. Rocky did better with the angry ball than I did. My Midwest white boy spice tolerance couldn’t handle the heat so I ate around the red. A Krombacher Pilsner pairing helped cool off the spice.

yusho chicago soy silky black chicken

Soy Silkie. Silkie black chicken sous vide, steamed, and fried(a shared plate; we didn’t each get a whole bird). Served with rice, orange teriyaki, caramelized kimchi, shishito pepper, and herb salad. Holy smokes. This bird was effing delicious. I went straight to work on the head, neck and toes then moved on to the meatier pieces. Sadly, I tried and died. The richness shut me down. It broke my heart to see the left over meat and skin go away.

yusho chicago beef spare ribs

Beef spare ribs. Cuts of beef dressed in sesame hoisin with a little thai chile served with dduk, steamed Korean rice cakes. The dduk had a superb doughy, chewy texture and was fun with the tender ribs.

yusho chicago cosmo blood sausage

yusho chicago cosmo

Cosmo. Blood sausage and pickled cauliflower over a steamed bun with red pepper sauce. The bun, lightly sweet and doughy, with the strong iron taste of the rich sausage and the persistent but not overpowering spice and acid of the cauliflower was delightful. Really good stuff. My other favorite course of the meal. Rodenbach Flemish Sour was a neat pair for the varied contrast of the dish.

yusho chicago hibiscus soft serve

Soft serve. Hibiscus soft serve with tamarind syrup, thai basil, and sansho pepper. The ice cream had a great density. I remember asking if it was thickened with anything but have no idea what the answer was. Our bev man brought a fresh, off-sweet cocktail to match dessert: London gin, thai basil, lime, and palm sugar.

yusho chicago tofu doughnut

Doughnut. A silken tofu doughnut rolled in cinnamon and sugar and topped with chocolate ganache, genmaicha, and candied ginger. Nice few bites to finish up.

yusho chicago chef counter

A great meal. The menu was creative and satisfying. The beverages our guy paired for me were spot-on, covering multiple wines, beers, sakes, and cocktails, and his enthusiasm was remarkable(I can’t remember his name but I remember him looking like a young Val Kilmer with crazy cool hair and birth control glasses). A really fun night at the kitchen counter with Chef Merges and his team.

Date of visit:  June 17, 2013

Yusho. 2853 N Kedzie Avenue. Chicago, IL  773.904.8558  yusho-chicago.com

Next: Vegan

As I’ve said many times, I tend to prefer beautiful, well-executed vegetables to most proteins. So when Rocky and I were last in Chicago we were excited to see what magic Chefs Dave Beran and Grant Achatz would work for their vegan themed menu at Next. Really excited. Amped even to the point that Rocky wrote and choreographed a full-on vegan cheer(complete with hip rolls and mock pom pom movements) which she performed throughout the day before our meal. Come dinner time, we were ready.

next vegan table setting

next vegan table setting

At our table, which was set with a few adornments that would be put to use through the early courses of the meal, we were greeted by a letter in some branches and our starting beverages.

next vegan starter cracker

next vegan burnt avocado

next vegan started avocado kale bouquet

Starter and burnt avocado. A dense, crunchy cracker made from sourdough starter, to be eaten with burnt and fresh avocado puree. Tangy and acidic, accented with oxalis and togarashi.

Kale bouquet. Small ‘bouquets’ of crispy kale sitting in the avocado.

next vegan frozen baked potato

Frozen baked potato. Frozen skin of Purple Majesty potato loaded with a smooth sorbet of the potato. Blah.

next vegan nori dumpling

next vegan sprouted tempeh

Sprouted tempeh. A tempeh tart with sprouted basil and chia. Nice basil taste.

Nori dumpling. Good vegetal seaweed flavor. Soft and spongy with a salty crunch on top.

next vegan earl grey rambutan

Earl grey rambutan. Rambutan(a lychee relative) flavored with earl grey and made into a pleasantly fruity jello shot.

next vegan baby artichokes

Baby artichokes. These were delightful. Charred and filled with artichoke puree. A wonderful balance between the rich puree, the toasty and caramelized leaves, and a little astringency. This was Rocky’s favorite savory course.

next vegan apples and lichen

next vegan aged apple cider vinegarnext vegan fermented apples

Fermented apples and lichen. Fresh apple ice and lacto-fermented apple. Cashew: roasted, raw, powdered, and oil. Rose candies and petals. Fried lichen. Seven month oak-aged apple cider vinegar made with an eight year old starter. An awesome back and forth between some really fun flavors.

next vegan herb pool

next vegan lily pond

Lily pond. Lily bulbs, sauteed and raw. Lychee. Red veined sorrel, burgundy and rainbow oxalis, celery leaf, and micro chard fished out of the table decoration. It was a nice contrast between the starchy sauteed bulbs and the crisps raw ones.

next vegan rice yogurt white asparagus

next vegan white asparagus

Rice yogurt and white asparagus. French white asparagus prepared three ways: confit stalk, blanched tips, and julienned then salt-cured with pear. With rice yogurt, rice crackers, purslane, and dried herbs. The asparagus was superb. The crackers lent a little salt and acid. A small amount of the yogurt was nice, but it was cloyingly sweet.

next vegan salsifies dandelion

next vegan salsify

Salsifies with oyster and dandelion. Pickled salsify with oyster leaf. Pureed salsify stuffed in bad-ass crunchy roasted skin with dandelion greens. I loved the super bitterness of the leaves with the light sweetness of the root.

next vegan swiss chard douchi

Swiss chard and douchi. A beer battered leaf of chard over a carrot and beet sauce. Next to a pretty solid black bean and chocolate douchi with some smoked orange. A fairly rich plate with the excess of fried batter.

next vegan kombu atoll

next vegan kombu atoll

Kombu atoll. Kombu seaweed, yuba, ponzu, pumpkin seed, shiso. Visually inspired by an atoll coral reef. Damn…this dish was incredible. Great depth of restrained savory layers of flavors. Easily my favorite dish of the meal.

next vegan mushroom cart

next vegan mushroom cart

Mushroom cart. Farro risotto in mushroom stock with a mix of wild mushrooms. Sunflower seeds, petals, and leaves. Sunchoke chips and milked sunchoke. The varieties of fungus were killer, though overall the dish was super rich and really salty.

next vegan red onion

next vegan red onion stupak inspired

Red onion | inspired by Stupak. A take on Larb, the national dish of Laos. Instead of minced meat, the focus was a pile of heavily caramelized onion. Accompanied with brussels sprouts puree, fresno chiles, coriander, lime, mint, and quinoa wire(circa Alex Stupak).

next vegan spice tubenext vegan cauliflowernext vegan cauliflower naan

next vegan curry cauliflower

Curry roasted cauliflower. Curried cauliflower in a nice harisa with chickpea, turmeric, cumin, golden raisin, pine nuts, and sprouted chickpea.

next vegan szechuan buttons

next vegan olive oil chocolate strawberry

Olive oil jam and bitter chocolate. Olive oil, szechuan buttons, chocolate cake, freeze dried strawberries, and black truffle. Before the dessert arrived, we were offered some szechuan buttons so we could experience their tickling/numbing sensation. The dessert was fantastic. Great textures and tastes, not too sweet, and the tingle from the buttons was a lot of fun. This was Rocky’s favorite plate of the night.

next vegan hibiscus pistachio

Hibiscus and pistachio. Hibiscus cake dusted with pistachio. Pistachio shortbread. Thai long pepper sorbet with hibiscus. Fennel marmalade. Iranian pistachios. Vanilla syrup cased in pistachio. Quite an amazing dessert. A delightfully themed variety of preparations. My second favorite course, next to the kombu atoll.

next vegan steamed crepes

Steamed crepes. Burnt sugar. Passionfruit. Chocolate.

Overall a fun meal with some very creative and clever highlights. Initially on leaving dinner I was a little let down by the lack of pristine fresh vegetables I had expected from an all-vegan menu in summertime, but I got over it, looked back, and was pretty impressed with the offerings. Did it ‘challenge my perceptions of what vegan cuisine can be’ as the cheesy welcoming letter-mission statement suggested? Not really. But would I eat this menu again? Certainly.

Some wines I was served:

next vegan winenext vegan winenext vegan winenext vegan sakenext vegan winenext vegan winenext vegan wine

Date of visit: June 16, 2013

Next. 953 W Fulton Market. Chicago, IL  www.nextrestaurant.com

EL Ideas, Chicago

A few weeks ago Rocky and I flew to Chicago again to see what’s cooking(our third trip to the Second City in six months). I had been wanting to visit Chef Phillip Foss and his restaurant EL Ideas for awhile, but until this trip hadn’t been able to work it out. So after a late night closing up shop in Tribeca, two hours of sleep, and an early flight from LGA to ORD, Rocky and I stopped by our hotel a few minutes, then pounded some tortas and churros, stocked up on BYO options and headed off to dinner. Half an hour later as our cab was rolling into a scene from Training Day and our driver was telling us we had the wrong address, we arrived at the restaurant on a dead end of 14th St.

el ideas chicago table setting

We made our way inside, said hi to Bill the FOH guy, made some offerings to Chef Foss and his kitchen crew, then settled down at our table and started popping our bottles. Before long, Foss addressed the crowd and got the party started.

el ideas chicago ossetra popcorn avocado

Ossetra – popcorn / heart of palm / avocado. Belgian ossetra caviar with popcorn flavored Dippin’ Dots, avocado mousse, Hawaiian heart of palm, and sprouting chives. Holy sh*t. The smooth rich avocado with the cold buttery popcorn against the caviar salinity was brilliant. The fibrous crunch of the palm heart was a nice textural contrast. A great start to the meal and a beautiful match with our Champagne(Pierre Gimonnet Special Club 2005).

el ideas chicago radish

el ideas chicago radish salmon

Radish – salmon / kombu / black garlic. Radish slices with cured salmon, black garlic, cucumber, compressed watermelon, salicornia, and suds from kombu stock. The sweet watermelon, salty fish, fresh cucumber, and oceanic suds were nice compliments to the spicy radish.

el ideas chicago lamb

el ideas chicago lamb hummus tahini

Lamb – hummus / tahini / pine nuts. Seared za’atar lamb, hummus, fresh garbanzo, smoked & pickled green garlic, tahini, pine nut, bean leaf, and za’atar toast. Cool stuff. Like a refined, deconstructed gyro.

el ideas pork cauliflower

Pork – cauliflower / cilantro / gooseberry. Marinated pork belly sous vide for 72 hours served with roasted cauliflower with fish sauce, fresh gooseberry, cilantro puree, Cuban oregano, Vietnamese coriander, and crystal lettuce. Ultra dynamic flavor range. I was worried the belly would be too rich but degrees of acid and varying herbaceous notes balanced out exceptionally.

el ideas chicago bread

el ideas chicago bread uni morels

Bread – uni / morels / nasturtium. I think I have this right…bread made with a mix of three starters: morel, gooseberry, and pumpernickel, with sour brown ale and a little whole wheat flour. Accompanied with delightful small morels, decadent uni butter, peppery nasturtium, and pickled wild spring onion. A lot of love on a piece of slate.

el ideas chicago skate

el ideas chicago skate calf heart

Skate – calf heart / turnip / onion. Six years ago in Overland Park, KS I had a skate dish I really liked. Two years later on the UWS I had another skate plate that was superb. Aside from those two events, ray consumption in my life has been a downward spiral of bland, mushy mediocrity. This course however was very nice. The wing was prepared into a roulade with an almost crisp, caramelized skin and served with calf heart, 24 hour sous vide turnip, red mustard greens, mustard seeds, and onion jus. The skate was really nice with 2011 Ostertag Riesling, while the heart combined with the sweet duo of mustard and onion was beautiful with 1996 d’Yquem(a multiple beverage blessing).

el ideas chicago cotton candy

el ideas chicago cotton candy foie

Cotton Candy – foie / bergamot / bachelor button. A good acid/sweetness balance with a finish of rich shaved foie. There’s not much more to say about this one. I ate it really, really fast.

el ideas grouse

el ideas grouse rapini summer truffle

Grouse – rapini / angelica / summer truffle. Scotland Grouse roulade with confit leg, angelica, lamb’s quarter puree, rapini, and summer truffle. That was a gamey bird, in the best way. Put together with some great vegetal astringency, leafy bitterness, and dirty earth tones. This plate was covered with raw, masculine, sex appeal.

el ideas chicago beef

el ideas chicago beef beets sumac

Beef – beets / verjus / sumac. Shlagel Farms sirloin aged 60 days and sous vide 8 hours served with beet variations, verjus, sumac, and wood sorrel. A really nice piece of beef. Remarkable. The beets teetered on being too sweet but the acidic oxalis brought them back around. A great plate to finish out the savory menu.

el ideas chicago strawberry

el ideas strawberry rhubarb pistachio

Strawberry – rhubarb / lychee / pistachio. Strawberry sorbet and powder, lychee and rhubarb gelee, lemon verbena financier, brown butter pistachio crumble. A nice few bites with a good variety of textures.

el ideas chicago fennel chocolate honey bussel

Fennel – chocolate / lemon / honey bussel. This dessert was quite a compilation. A mixed plate of fun ideas. Super light and cooly herbaceous fennel ice cream, dark chocolate ganache, dehydrated dark chocolate, compressed blueberries, peanut something, tangy meyer lemon pudding, and a gingerbread honey bussel cookie. I don’t know that it made a lot of sense, but it was kick-ass and we had a lot of fun eating it.

el ideas chicago final bites

Final Bites – guava / macaroon / sudachi. Guava pate de fruit, maple macaron, sudachi chocolate.

Here’s some wine we brought along for dinner:

el ideas chicago pierre gimonnetel ideas chicago domaine ostertag

el ideas chicago d'yquemel ideas chicago wine byob

And here’s some of the kitchen crew hard at work:

el ideas chicago platingel ideas chicago kitchen plating

el ideas chicago kitchen platingel ideas chicago kitchen plating

As I mentioned at the top of this post, we had slept very little, and by this point had drank quite a lot(including sharing a post-dinner bottle of Yamazaki single malt with the kitchen). That leads me to this…

Here’s Rocky posing in the kitchen in a banana suit:

el ideas chicago kitchen banana suitel ideas chicago banana costume

el ideas chicago kitchen banana costume

Date of visit: June 15, 2013

El Ideas. 2419 West 14th Street. Chicago, IL  312.226.8144  elideas.com

Next: The Hunt

To finish up our trip to Chicago last week, Rocky and I had our first visit to Next for The Hunt menu. We arrived for dinner remarkably early and were told we could stand and wait in the small, somewhat crowded entrance way(where a small older lady on her way out almost threw up on Rocky but thankfully made it out the door before letting go) or we could head somewhere else for a drink(they suggested a hip place across the street). So we skipped across the street and enjoyed some bubbles and lively music until dinner time.

next the hunt table settingnext the hunt note letter

Arriving back at the restaurant we waited another few minutes then were escorted to a table adorned with a deer hide and a note to get us amped up for The Hunt. We got our first pairings(we ordered the reserve wine and the non-alcoholic) and let the game begin(haha..game..get it?)

next the hunt hen of the woodsnext the hunt maitake broth

Hen of the Woods. A little mushroom two-ways to begin. We were told to first ‘forage’ through the terrarium then sip the broth. A fantastic meaty little maitake followed by an amazingly savory and lightly earthy broth.

next the hunt catch of the great lakes

Catch of the Great Lakes. Some Lake Superior fish. The n/a pairing of grapefruit juice with smoked spruce and pepperberry was fantastic with the smoked cold trout. I thought the pickled kohlrabi was great for a crispy palate cleanser. The toast sticks for the lake fish rillettes had a perfect crunch without being hard.

next the hunt calvados flask

And then..a flask of Pere Magloire VSOP, Calvados Pays d’Auge for the next pairing. That’s pretty bad ass.

next the hunt charcu-tree

Charcu-Tree. A piece of tree with a meat flight. Rabbit terrine with ‘purple condiment’ grape must. A superb smoky elk jerky with subtle sweet and spice. A cut of wild boar salumi, soft textured with good heat. Deer heart tartare. And blood sausage with jasmine and mustard.

next the hunt cellar aged carrots onions

Cellar Aged Carrots & Onions. A carrot grown by Peter Klein in Michigan, preserved and dried in sawdust. With dehydrated carrot, fried carrot tops, fried onion, and carrot & veal jus. The featured carrot was soft and sweet, set off by the richness of the sauce and the crispy textures of the tops and onions.

next the hunt duck tongue cider vinegar

Duck Tongue, Cider Vinegar. Pitched as ‘Bacon & Eggs’. Soft scrambled duck eggs, crispy puffed duck tongue, apples, radicchio, rainbow sorrel, pink tip parsley. A nice peppery breakfast of eggs balanced with the racy acidity of the sorrel and the super bitter radicchio.

next the hunt sturgeon & caviar

next the hunt sturgeon caviar

Sturgeon & Caviar. Damn. Butter poached sturgeon, smashed and fried sunchokes, spruce oil, and caviar beurre blanc. Tender, buttery fish. Ultra-decadent sauce. Rich, opulent, old world perfection.

next the hunt woodcock jolie

Woodcock Jolie. A roulade of wild woodcock and napa cabbage with shaved 99% bitter chocolate, berry, black truffle, hazelnut, and gold leaf. The bird was bangingly gamey. Some nice earth from the chocolate and truffle.

next the hunt pressed squab skeletonnext the hunt pressed squab oatsnext the hunt pressed squab claw

next the hunt pressed squab

Pressed Squab. Squab breast, leg, brain with breadcrumb served in a split head, an offal filled wonton, and squab presse with cognac. On the side, steel cut oats with squab jus and bacon fat, and roasted back & wing. This was damn delicious. I’m not sure how long it took me, but I cleaned up both our plates pretty solidly, including all the toes and beaks in their entirety, and everything I could get off the skeleton. Again..this was damn delicious.

next the hunt fallen leaves & kidney

next the hunt fallen leaves kidney

Fallen Leaves & Kidney. A nature scene inspired by charcuterie flavors served on birch bark. Some nice salsify, fried parsnip, brussels sprouts, dehydrated purple cauliflower, seaweed, with a veal kidney mustard sauce.

next the hunt bison béarnaise next the hunt bison béarnaise next the hunt bison béarnaise

next the hunt bison & béarnaise

Bison & Béarnaise. In the center of the table, a big hot rock. Arriving on a piece of slate, thin slices of bison to be cooked on the big hot rock. And a ‘béarnaise’ condiment: leek and burnt leek liqueur. A sublime little snack.

next the hunt marrow brûlée

Marrow Brûlée. Bone marrow and sassafras bruleed with sugar, sprinkled with sea salt, and served in a split bone. Really rich, but dynamite. The sweet/savory balance was great.

next the hunt maris otternext the hunt maris otter

next the hunt maris otter

Maris Otter. First, a small tray of condiments: English toffee, basil and mint, pecan, tart cherry jam, and brown sugar butter with cinnamon. Then a cast iron pan of Maris Otter barley risotto pudding. Mixed all together, it was a tasty little pan of porridge.

next the hunt stick

next the hunt syrup taffeenext the hunt tire d'erable

Tire D’erable. First some sticks showed up. Followed by a trough of crushed ice. Then a pitcher of warm maple syrup mixed with bourbon was poured over the ice. We used the sticks to roll up the syrup, resulting in a bourbon maple taffy on a stick. Sugary, slightly toasty, and a lot of fun(as evidenced by Rocky’s enthusiasm, shown above).

next the hunt passion house las brisas

And to finish out the meal, Passion House Nicaragua Las Brisas. A pretty decent cup of delicate single origin coffee roasted by Passion House in Chicago.

After dinner we were taken on a brief tour of the kitchen, after which we saw Chef Beran sitting alone at the kitchen table with some paperwork. As we walked by I said ‘Thank you Chef’ and he seemed pretty upset and bothered because of it. Our tour guide told us he was stressing because he had to do a tasting for the upcoming ‘vegan’ menu with Chef Achatz the next morning. If I make it back for that menu, I’ll make sure to reserve my gratitude.

There are certainly some clever minds at work at Next. Our dinner was very creative and a lot of fun. The non-alcoholic drinks were remarkable at times. Two standouts(in addition to the one I mentioned with the Great Lakes fish)were: beet, prune, blood orange, cola nut, and pomegranate, made to look like a blood drink; and quince, satsuma, black walnut, black pepper, and bay leaf, which was a super rockin beverage.

Some wines we were served:

next the hunt winenext the hunt winenext the hunt cidernext the hunt winenext the hunt winenext the hunt wine

Date of visit: April 10, 2013

Next. 953 W Fulton Market. Chicago, IL  www.nextrestaurant.com

Lunch at Blackbird, Chicago

When filling in the schedule for my short trip to Chicago with Rocky last week, I needed a good lunch spot, and I wanted to return to Blackbird. Since Paul Kahan’s flagship is among the few restaurants in the city on my list that offer lunch service, it only made sense.

blackbird chicago paul goerg blanc de blanc champagne

Though I didn’t think it would happen, I had inquired about the possibility of us being served a chef’s tasting for lunch. On arrival we were told that the kitchen would happily split and course out anything from the day’s menu for an extended lunch. Perfect. While we were looking over the menu, it seemed prudent to get started with a bottle of bubbles. So we ordered the Paul Goerg Blanc de Blancs. Lively elegance, bright bubbles, and flavors of apple and citrus. A fantastic lunchtime Champagne. Rocky and I made a few choices from the menu, asked for a few suggestions as well, and got a nice little meal lined up.

blackbird chicago asparagus

Green and white asparagus with charred spring onion, goat cheese, cured egg yolk, peanuts, and chamomile. The plate of grilled spears of green with blanched white asparagus and beautiful early onions was a nice celebration of spring. The rich yolk and tangy goat cheese played well as condiments.

blackbird chicago smoked arctic char

Smoked arctic char with ‘nduja, cauliflower, pear, and rosemary. A pretty piece of smoked fish. I loved the cauliflower, served both pickled and fried. The sliced pear was nice for some fresh sweetness. The spice of the ‘nduja pate was nice to enhance the arctic char.

blackbird chicago duck liver sausage

Duck liver sausage with honeyed eggplant, pickled delicata squash, peanut, and dandelion greens. The sausage had a nice smooth taste. The setting was extremely dynamic: the sweetness of the eggplant, the acid from the squash, and the super bitter dandelion greens somehow managed to stay in balance.

blackbird chicago lamb tenderloin tartare

Lamb tenderloin tartare with sprouted lentils, cured rhubarb, spicy marrow, and chickweed. The melted chili bone marrow tied together the sweet rhubarb with the strips of lamb. I love eating most anything that is just sprouted. These lentils, some of which were fried, were very special little legumes.

blackbird chicago cauliflower soup

blackbird chicago cauliflower soup

Cauliflower soup with seared tuna, pickled shallots, and toasted pepitas. A great cauliflower soup. The spiced toasted seeds were a lot of fun texturally. The bites of acidic allium were nice surprises amid the richness. The tuna, for me, had no place in the bowl. And some beautiful wild sorrel got drowned in the soup.

blackbird chicago maitake mushrooms

blackbird chicago roasted maitake salsify

Roasted maitake mushrooms with salsify, meyer lemon, and sweet potato. A savory, meaty, wonderfully prepared portion of maitake mushroom over a smooth puree of salsify with red wine mushroom sauce. Sweet potato two ways: batons and chips. With crisp sliced heart of palm.

blackbird chicago goat cheesecake

Goat cheese cheesecake with cajeta ice cream, burnt grapefruit, avocado. Bonus points for Pastry Chef Dana Cree. A nice variety of sensations here. Delicious, lightly tangy cheesecake. A little char from the burnt citrus and toasted meringue. Little pieces of candied grapefruit rind were bangingly sweet and bitter. And the avocado was super cool.

blackbird chicago bittersweet chocolate

blackbird chicago chocolate torte

Bittersweet chocolate torte with burnt honey ice cream, tangerine marmalade, toasted sesame, cumin. A decadent serving of chocolate. Fantastic combined with the citrus. Non-coincidentally, a very similar flavor palette to a dessert we had two days prior at Blackbird’s neighbor and relative, Avec.

Overall, a great lunch in a beautiful space. With a beautiful lady.

blackbird chicago bread serviceblackbird chicago oolong tea serviceblackbird chicago monthelie burgundy meursault

Also: Bread service. A kick ass oolong tea. And a pinot noir from Meursault.

Date of visit: April 1o, 2013

Blackbird. 619 W Randolph. Chicago, IL  312.715.0708  blackbirdrestaurant.com

Kitchen Table at The Aviary, Chicago

I had a lot of cool stuff planned for my three days in Chicago with Rocky last week; drinking, dining, and otherwise. What I was most excited about before we left home was our visit to The Aviary. Now that we’ve been back into our routine in NYC for a few days I’m looking back over our little trip and what I’m most excited about is..our visit to The Aviary.

aviary chicago pass

The experience at the chef’s Kitchen Table is billed as a 10-course cocktail tasting with food pairings. That’s f*cking sweet. We arrived, curious and eager with anticipation, and were escorted to a small round high-top table in the corner of the kitchen, facing the pass.

aviary chicago pisco grappa amuse

Amuse. To start, an amuse of pisco, grappa, and pineau des charentes. Pleasantly fresh and mildly fruity.

aviary chicago moon river shrubaviary chicago sun also rises

Moon River Shrub. Huckleberry, champagne vinegar, white armagnac. A little tart and very viscous.

Sun Also Rises. Absinthe, sloe gin, cava, with Peychaud’s ice. Named after the Hemingway novel, a tribute to his drinking style, and in strong contention for my favorite of the night. A great balance of bitter herb and fresh botanical flavors.

aviary chicago bowl of chipsaviary chicago bowl of chips

Bowl of Chips: Polenta, lotus root, bonito, white rice with squid ink, nori, tapioca saffron, chicharron, white cheddar with yellow cheddar, and parmesan. The bonito, nori, and squid ink chips had honest flavors of the sea. The parmesan was light, crumbly, and strongly cheesy. The tapioca was luxuriously endowed with saffron.

aviary chicago gingeraviary chicago ginger

aviary chicago ginger

Ginger. Shiso, peychaud’s, vodka. Ginger and lime made into a snow, courtesy of liquid nitrogen, with shiso, fresno pepper, and lemongrass. Rocky was told to add vodka and stir. The drink had a great ginger root spice.

aviary chicago trinidad teaaviary chicago tea in trinidad

Tea in Trinidad. Rum with rooibos, verjus, and benedictine, served warm. Holy smokes. I think this was the best warm drink I’ve ever had. Like a boozy tea with honey, but better.

aviary chicago corn guacamole cannoli

Corn. Guacamole cannoli in corn flour shells with sour cream and fresno pepper. Great stuff. Full flavor guacamole in a super delicate shell.

aviary chicago infernal imageryaviary chicago infernal imagery

aviary chicago infernal imagery

Infernal Imagery. Barolo, maurin quina, rhum. Served in a smoky treasure box.

aviary chicago lavaaviary chicago lava

Lava. Mole, chocolate, scotch, rum. Sweet on the nose with a woody vanilla palette.

aviary chicago potato

Potato. A warm potato custard covered with malt vinegar chips, chives, and black pepper. The malt vinegar was nice with the rich custard.

aviary chicago rob royaviary chicago rob roy

Rob Roy. Scotch with 1985 pedro ximenez served in a bag of lavender air. Like a dark, earthy, herbed caramel.

aviary chicago in the rocksaviary chicago in the rocks

In the Rocks (second edition). Benedictine, vermouth, cognac, rye. A vieux carre on the rocks, served in a rock. Presented with a circular sling shot to place atop the glass and crack the ice sphere to release the cocktail.

aviary chicago bacon and date

Bacon & Date. With purslane, greek yogurt, and thyme. On a sumac and walnut base. Sweet and rich, broken up by the yogurt and thyme.

aviary chicago evil twin beer

Aviary One, Aviary Nine. Two beers from a series made in collaboration with Evil Twin Brewing. ‘Plantation’ had citrus and stone fruit flavors with subtle creeping bitterness. ‘George T Stagg’ was smooth with berry and light wood.

aviary chicago thai mountainaviary chicago thai mountain

aviary chicago thai mountain

Thai Mountain. Saffron, rooibos, maraschino, reposado. With orange peel and tonka bean. Served not quite hot. A great depth of warm spices.

aviary chicago wagyu

Wagyu. With smoked paprika toffee, pumpkin seed, and yogurt. A bangin little bite.

aviary chicago cranberry portholeaviary chicago cranberry porthole

aviary chicago cranberry

Cranberry. Gin, rum, absinthe, allspice dram, lemon, rosemary, cranberry, orange, tea leaves, and apple served in a porthole. An incredible infusion that intensified with each pour.

aviary chicago duck rillette

Duck. Duck rillette sandwiched between hazelnut crackers with carrot, parsnip, and puffed rice. Fun, gamey little bites.

aviary chicago avenueaviary chicago avenue

Avenue. Grenadine calvados and bourbon with passionfruit sorbet.

aviary chicago lollipops

Lollipops. An assortment of ‘lollipops’: rice krispie and tonka bean, banana peanut butter, rooibos pate de fruits, malted nougat, raspberry with balsamic foam, coffee toffee, and chocolate hazelnut.

aviary chicago foie gras

Foie Gras. With pomegranate, gingerbread, and charred onion. Delicious.

aviary chicago root beer

Root Beer. Rum and sassafras caramel with fernet and angostura foam.

aviary chicago brioche

Brioche. A burst of super buttery chocolate.

aviary chicago snake charmer

Snake Charmer. Yerba maté, ambergris, amaro, smoked whiskey.

aviary chicago ice water

Damn. That was a lot of booze. But an amazing and unique experience. The work The Aviary does is astoundingly impressive. From the obvious talent behind the pass to the super-cool floor staff. The creativity in the production and presentation of their cocktails and the attention to detail in the execution of service makes for an engaging, lively, and pleasant night of drinking. I was happy that throughout the night new glasses and ice cubes kept showing up to replace our water. I probably should have chugged a little more of it.

Date of visit: April 9, 2013

The Aviary. 955 W Fulton Market. Chicago, IL  312.226.0868  http://theaviary.com

aviary chicago kitchen tableaviary chicago kitchen table

Avec, Chicago

Last week, Rocky and I flew to Chicago for a few days to have a few meals and do a little boozing. Since I met Rocky I had been telling her of my admiration for Paul Kahan, his restaurants, and the creativity of his team. After a sleepy flight into the Windy City from LGA, we checked in to our hotel, enjoyed the amazingly sunny day for a bit, then made our way over to Avec for an early dinner.

At almost a decade old, the dining room is still as hip and relevant as the coolest spots on either coast. Communal tables along the west wall. To the east, counter seating facing the kitchen. The space surrounded by cedar, oak, steel, and glass.

avec chiacag napkin

We took a couple seats at the stainless steel bar, started with some bubbles, looked briefly at the menu, and dinner was underway.

avec chicago english pea ricotta crostini

English pea-ricotta crostini with mint, watercress, lemon vinegar and bottarga di muggine. Our first peas of the season..Hooray! The peas and ricotta were pureed and spread on toasted garlic bread. Fresh flavored and lightly bitter with clean, sharp acid from the onions dressed with the lemon vinegar and salinity from the sliced bottarga.

avec chicago chorizo stuffed medjool dates

Chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce. Full mouth flavor. Not too spicy. Super rich with balanced sweetness. Served with beautifully light and crusty bread.

avec chicago chicken thigh

Marinated chicken thigh with brussels sprouts, ginger-currants, potatoes, sumac and cilantro. Rocky said ‘This chicken is super awesome!’ and I agree. Juicy and meaty with crisp delicious skin. The brussels sprout salad was tossed in a strong acid and carried some pretty decent heat.

avec chicago squid amatriciana

Wood-fired squid amatriciana: san marzano tomatoes, guanciale and fideo with fennel aioli. This was bad ass. Tender squid over thin, short fideo pasta amatriciana baked and barely crusty. The fennel aioli was fun for a slight cooling against the spice, but I preferred it without.

avec chicago lamb bolognese

Lamb bolognese with hand-cut tajarin, swiss chard, mint and pecorino romano. I prefer tajarin to be sheeted a little thicker for a more dense bite, but the broad thin noodle did well with the oily lamb sauce. The swiss chard tossed in was fantastic.

avec chicago affogato

avec chicago affogato

Affogato with pistachio zaletti. Just as it should be, with a nice buttery texture. The zaletti were incredible.

avec chicago chocolate tangering sorbet

Chocolate & tangerine sorbet. Chocalte sorbet, almost chewy in texture, accented with light tangerine.

avec chicago semifreddo

avec chicago burnt honey semifreddo

Burnt honey semifreddo with orange carmel and cumin sesame. Inside a chocolate dome. From Rocky: ‘Oh boy…this semifreddo is where it’s at’. A little salt was nice with the richness. The orange, cumin, and sesame were all apparent, but none were overbearing. A tasty dessert.

avec chicago nutter butters

Nutter butters. These little guys were effing awesome. A crunchy, buttery, striated base studded with cocoa nibs with a caramelly top.

avec chicago chocolate crisps

Housemade chocolate crisps. Milk and dark chocolate tempered and sheeted with feuilletine. Simple enough. Nothing not to like here.

The food at Avec is delicious. Full-flavored, accessible, and exciting. A week later, Rocky and I are both still craving more.

Date of visit: April 8, 2013

Avec. 615 W Randolph. Chicago, IL  312.377.2002  avecrestaurant.com/

Grace, Chicago

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.

grace chicago amuse canapes

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?

grace chicago parsnip pineapple fennel tarragon

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.

grace chicago osetra caviar meyer lemon

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.

grace chicago carrot pistachio

grace chicago carrot

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.

grace chicago kampachi

grace chicago kampachi trout roe pomelo thai basil

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.

grace chicago sunchoke

grace chicago sunchoke mustard onion lovage

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.

grace chicago scallop

grace chicago chilled scallop hibiscus licorice

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.

grace chicago scottish salmon cabbage marigold

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.

grace chicago wagyu

grace chicago grilled wagyu beef matsutake salsify

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.

grace chicago poached chestnut truffle almond sorrel

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.

grace chicago veal cheek endive grape mint

Veal Cheek – red wine braised endive, black grape, BLACK MINT. With brilliant sunflower seed risotto and crispy white anchovy tempura.

grace chicago poached quince fennel

Poached Quince – elderflower, tamarind juice, BRONZE FENNEL.  The cool fennel and the spice of green cardamom made for a nice small plate of quince.

grace chicago caramelized sudachi cashew pear nasturtium

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.

grace chicago bitter chocolate chestnut persimmon mint

grace chicago chocolate

Bitter Chocolate – raw chestnut, persimmon, LEMON MINT. Balanced with vanilla creme fraiche and espelette spice. Beautifully bold and captivating.

grace chicago chocolate caramel popcorn

Mignardises. Chocolate sphere with caramel popcorn. Yuzu chocolate.

Bread service:

grace chicago bread servicegrace chicago bread servicegrace chicago bread servicegrace chicago bread service

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

http://www.grace-restaurant.com/


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