p

pastry634's Profile

Title Last Reply

An Alternative to TRU?

One place that I do not see on your list is L2O. While there have been many positive and negative posts on the dining experience, I can say that I loved my meal there (and I ate post-Laurent Gras). I can't really speak towards your other suggestions, but if you want a great fine dining seafood experience, I would definitely consider L2O

-----
L2O
2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

Feb 18, 2011
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Topolobampo and Alinea - One Day?

Those two are absolutely doable in the same day. In my book, that would make an excellent day of Chicago eating. Just for reference, on the day that I went to Alinea, I went to Urban Belly for lunch and left full of dumplings and fried rice and felt comfortable that night. While Alinea will give you plenty of food, it will be a well paced and lengthy meal, and eating at Topo 7 hours earlier should have little effect on your enjoyment that night. Then again, I am a hearty eater and to each his/her own etc., so take my personal experience with a grain of salt. But, I think your plan sounds fantastic.

-----
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Urbanbelly
3053 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Feb 05, 2011
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Avenues or Bonsoiree?

Thanks for the input, nextguy. Did you happen to sit at the Chef's Bar? I called to make a reservation at Avenues and requested that we sit there, but I wasn't sure if it was a first come-first serve deal or my "request" will reserve us the spot at the bar.

Feb 02, 2011
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Avenues or Bonsoiree?

Hey all. My Dad and I are heading back to Chicago in late March and are trying to decide on our "big" dinner of the trip. Last year we hit the Tatami Room at L20 - prior to Gras's departure - as well as Schwa on a last minute (literally) reservation snag. The year before that we went to Alinea. This year, we seem tossed between a couple options.
The front runner is Avenues. I have never been there before, but my Dad ate there this past December. Does anybody know how frequently Avenues rotates out their dishes? My biggest concern is that my Dad will be eating much of the same menu he had months before, and while that certainly won't be a bad thing seeing that he enjoyed his December meal, it is something to take into consideration.
Then there is Bonsoiree. Having recently read uhockey's report, as well as the reports of others since their Michelin star, I have to say I'm mighty intrigued. If we'd go, we would definitely request the 13-course tasting. The one thing about Bonsoiree that I keep reading is that it is a "pleasant experience" with creative food, but it's nowhere in the same league as an Avenues/Alinea/etc. restaurant.
For those have gone to one or both, I'll take any input you can offer! Barring a few stable dishes, will Avenues be a new food experience 3 months later? Is Bonsoiree worth the spot as our one big dinner of the year? Thanks!

-----
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Bonsoiree
2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

Feb 01, 2011
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Trip to Chicago- Eating itinerary

Sorry, I should have said, "no place like it in Chicago." Thanks for the correction :)

Nov 19, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Trip to Chicago- Eating itinerary

Though I can't speak with 100% certainty, I wouldn't worry too much about L2O suddenly taking a turn for the worse. When I ate there in late July, Gras had apparently already taken a leave at the restaurant and was in a bit of a feud with the ownership. However, my meal was extraordinary. I ate in the Tatami room and had excellent service and food. With that said, I think the experience of eating in Schwa is unlike anything else out there. Though it is often said to the point of cliche, in my mind, you can't really go wrong with which of the two you choose.

-----
L2O
2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

Nov 19, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Trip to Chicago- Eating itinerary

It's funny you mention that. Two years ago, I was 18 and heading into my freshman year when I reserved my table and ate at Alinea. I've come to find that a lot of college kids give you strange looks when you tell them you and your dad spent $600+ on a single meal and that a chef is your role model. Good to see there are other people our age who know what an Alinea is =P
Anyway, even though L2O got two more stars than Schwa, I would go back to Schwa over any other restaurant in the city (not counting Alinea). Call, call, and call again until you get an answer. I called two months before and was told they were closed for an event on the date I wanted. The day before my trip, said, "What the heck? I'll try calling just for giggles." Sure enough, they were open the next night and had a table for 2 available. The moral of the story is that sometimes luck is better than perseverance, and for Schwa you need a lot of both.
Another option for you may be Trotters. I haven't been, but they seem to still be going strong (at least in the eyes of Michelin) despite some average reviews. Though, I would still shoot for Schwa. Good luck, and let me know if you have any more questions!

-----
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

L2O
2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

Nov 18, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Trip to Chicago- Eating itinerary

Hey dailybread!
When are you planning on taking the trip? Alinea accepts reservations on the first of each month for the next 2 months out, and as if it wasn't difficult enough to get a reservation, the three Michelin stars will make an Alinea reservation even more of a challenge. When I got my reservation for the end of August, I was on the phone at 10am on the morning of June 1. I wish you the best of luck!
In terms of another nice dinner, I would highly recommned Schwa, if you can handle the "off-beat" reservation policy. If not Schwa, I would recommend L2O (3-stars from Michelin, too. Hard to beat two 3-star meals in one trip), Topolobampo, or even Blackbird. I'm hesitant at recommending Avenues if you snag an Alinea reservation, only because they are similar in execution. There are plenty of nice restaurants in Chicago, though. Do you have any preferences in terms of the type of restaurant you are looking for?

-----
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Topolobampo
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

L2O
2300 Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL 60614

Nov 17, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Long Trip Report (Schwa, L2O, Blackbird, Primehouse, Frontera, Sunda)

Hey uhockey, sorry for the late reply. When I originally booked Schwa, they did take my name. They are very chill about the whole reservation process (some would say too chill), and even told me, "Make sure you guys dress comfortably, it's f****** hot here." They did ask us about restrictions and number of people, as well as told us that they are a BYOB place. I wouldn't worry about it. They probably don't have a lot of people coming in at 5:30, so they'll know who you are. If you don't know what you are bringing yet, I would recommend bringing whatever you would drink. Even if, as I believe you are doing, you are not planning on drinking, bringing the kitchen a case of brew or really anything alcoholic is always appreciated :)
In terms of portion sizes, it is "small" in terms of average restaurant portions, but 9 courses adds up quick. We were full by the end of the meal but not stuffed. Carlson packs a lot of flavor into small bites. There is no bread service. You will sit down, tell them you want the 9-course menu (you get a choice between 9 and 3...you will want 9), and then they bring out the amuse and it begins.
Another final note: Do not ask for the quail egg and brown butter ravioli. I'm not sure if you know this, but this has been known as their signature dish. They consider it a "surprise" dish that will be brought out in addition to the 9 course menu, and they have been known to not bring it out if you ask for it. Sit back, enjoy the rap and rock beats, and let Carlson and his crew take care of you. I've read your blog and it sounds like we have similar tastes, so it's safe to say you will have a great time!
If you have any more questions, feel free to ask away.

Oct 21, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Late 20's Single, love food, and looking to mingle.. Ouch, excuse the rhyme!

Just to let you know, Avec is closed (and will be closed until mid-September) due to the recent fire and death of a fireman that occurred in the restaurant.
However, I do highly recommend Publican. Great place for pork, beer, and a good time.

-----
Avec Restaurant
615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

Aug 23, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Two Alinea-related links that may be of interest

Wow...thanks for the link. I can't believe the entire kitchen is cleaned every 2 hours. The other good point in the first article - and something I noticed on my visit - was that the kitchen was dead silent, save for clinking plates or searing pans. That place is truly amazing.

Aug 19, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Long Trip Report (Schwa, L2O, Blackbird, Primehouse, Frontera, Sunda)

Dinner 2: Blackbird

In deciding where to go for Friday night’s dinner, it was really a toss-up between the two Kahan restaurants that we haven’t been to yet: Blackbird and Publican. What was a big factor in making the decision is the fact that I am still 5 months away from 21 years of age and thus would not be able to sample some of Publican’s fine beers. But, really, when Blackbird is the choice you are “left with,” things are that bad.

After a day’s worth of walking the Primehouse burger off, we arrived at the restaurant a little before 6:30. The one word I would use to describe the décor and style of Blackbird is: Modern. In contrast to the homier, wood-covered style of its neighbor, Avec, Blackbird is a sleek white and black with contemporary art and designer outfits for the staff (No, really). When we arrived, the room was mainly filled with businessmen and women ending their week with a nice cocktail from the bar, and only a few of the tables were occupied. We were led to one of the many tables against the left wall. Now, Blackbird is a very small place for the volume of people they serve a night. The tables are very close together. So close, in fact, that to take my seat against the wall, the table had to be pulled out and pushed back in. When both of the tables next to ours were empty, this was little more than minor inconvenience. However, as the night wore on both of the tables became occupied and servers began navigating the restaurant at a more hurried and frequent pace – both of which makes for a very awkward moment of getting out from my seat. With my only major complaint aired, I think it’s time to move on to the definite highlights of the evening.

We began with an amuse of braised lamb belly with watermelon and spicy roasted peanuts. Though the whole thing was eaten in no more than two bites, this was one of my favorites. It was a small glimpse at how Blackbird treats its food – high quality, often unique ingredients that are simply prepared in their own right and brought together in sophisticated combinations. Here we have rich, sweet, and spicy. A classic profile in a not so classic interpretation. I would have ordered an entrée size of this dish! Following the amuse, we were presented with our drinks and some bread and butter. My dad ordered a seasonal cocktail that I took a sip of and really enjoyed, but I can’t quite remember what it was. I, on the other hand, ordered the house made lemonade that the waiter told us was actually Paul Kahan’s own creation at his home, so he decided to bring it to his restaurants. It had a fresh, tart lemon flavor with a good handful of mint leaves. Interestingly, mint in lemonade would make another appearance in our trip (but more on that, later).

For appetizers, we decided to each order our own and split a third. I went with the glazed veal sweetbreads with lime onions, tamarind, bee pollen, and fried chocolate. Always a sucker for sweetbreads, I thought these were fantastic. Unlike Schwa’s sweetbreads, which were deep-fried and crunchy, these were tender all the way through and glazed with a nice sweet syrup. The lime onions had the crunch and burst of acid of pickled cabbage, and the fried chocolate offered some savory relief in an otherwise sweet dish. The bee pollen came in the form of little purple and white flowers. Other than making the plate look beautiful, they gave the dish some unexpected floral hints. However, if the bee pollen was too easily overpowered by the other strong flavors on the dish and was too often lost. If sweetbreads are my weakness, foie gras is my dad’s. Thus, he happily gave in and ordered the roasted Hudson Valley foie gras with charred green garlic, black garlic, green almonds, and shrimp salt. I only got a taste of the foie gras, and I can happily report that it is still as unctuous as ever. As for the composed dish, he ate it with nary a complaint – which is always a good sign. For our shared appetizer, we ordered the Charcuterie plate with duck sausage and mortadella with almond yogurt, fennel, smoked almonds and lobster roe vinaigrette. While the mortadella tasted fine, the real star was the duck sausage. The sausage had a nice kick and a grind that still had distinguishable chunks of duck. The fatty richness of the meats was tamed by the combination with the cool and creamy almond yogurt, fennel, and lobster roe vinaigrette. This was my first experience ordering a Charcuterie plate, and I have to say I was not disappointed in the least.

Around 15 minutes after our appetizer plates were removed our entrees were delivered. I had heard many positive reviews on Blackbird’s preparation of pork belly and was dead set on making that my choice. However, the belly was replaced only a few days prior with a pork tenderloin. Though it threw me for a loop, I found a quick substitution: Aged pekin duck breast with porcinis, fava beans, and brown butter Worcestershire sauce. Did I mention I love duck? Too often, refined places such as Blackbird get a bad rap for serving stingy serving sizes at high prices. Therefore, it was to my delight when four large pieces of duck breast – cooked perfectly tender with crispy rendered fat – arrived atop a succotash of sorts of bright green fava beans and sautéed, earthy porcinis. Far too often I have had duck that had more fat than meat, and the fat was inedible because of its chewiness. Blackbird’s duck, while I wasn’t sure if I could make out the “aged” qualities of it, was one of the best preparations I’ve had. The fava beans were more al dente than I was used to, but offered a nice crunch and color contrast. Overall, this was a very successful dish, and one to which I will be comparing all future duck preparations. My dad went with the roasted Colorado lamb saddle (loin) with white asparagus, vermouth, fromge blanc, and spring pea falafel. He loved this dish. The lamb was cooked rare and had a nice sear on the outside. Strangely enough, I did try one component of the dish, and it was not the lamb, but rather a sample of the spring pea falafel. The falafel, more oval shaped than circular, had a very bright green color (sort of a color theme of our whole meal) and strong pea taste. It had a crunchy exterior and tender, crumbly interior.

Feeling that I was almost at my bursting point, knew that I had to march onward and try dessert, if not for me, than for those who will read about it. OK, so it wasn’t that heroic of a situation, but I was surprised by how full I was up to that point (eating a huge burger for lunch probably didn’t help matters, either). I ordered the Criollo chocolate with cupuacu, milk meringue, and tonka bean ice cream. To be honest, I had no idea what most of those ingredients were, but if it was chocolate, how could it be bad? After some Wikipedia research, I discovered that Criollo chocolate is sourced from the northern coastal range of Venezuala. It is also one of the most expensive and difficult kinds of chocolate to grow in South America. Cupuacu is a tropical rainforest tree similar to the cacao. In my dessert, the flavor of the pulp was extracted and used to flavor the chocolate that was spread across the plate. Tonka beans come from a species of flowering tree from the pea family. The bean itself was used in my dessert to flavor ice cream that was encapsulated within a hard chocolate shell. The flavor was very similar to vanilla but had some extra spice in there (Wikipedia says “almond, cinnamon, and cloves.”) Now that we have some of the terms defined, I’ll try and describe what exactly I ate. A long, rectangular plate was smeared with a bottom layer of the dark criollo chocolate. Nestled atop the smear was a row 3 chocolate balls. The farthest left was a solid chocolate ball flavored with the cupuacu dusted with a fruity powder (I want to say raspberry). In the middle was a hollow chocolate ball filled with the tonka bean ice cream. And, finally, the farthest right ball was filled with melted criollo chocolate. The milk meringue was ethereal light and melted in my mouth. It was drier than I expected and crumbled over the entire dish. After I finally figured out what was going on in my dessert, I really loved it. It was a sort of taste journey through the sensationally complex and rich criollo chocolate, and I really appreciated the way the chefs were able to highlight the chocolate and pair it with other flavors without masking it. My dad ordered the fried polenta with Klug Farms blueberries, lemon verbena, and smoked brown sugar ice cream. Again, I was only able to snatch a bite from this dish, but I really loved what I tasted. The polenta was marinated (I don’t know if this is the right word. Dipped?) in maple syrup, and the blueberries were plump and fresh. What I loved most, though, was the smoked brown sugar ice cream. It tasted exactly as it sounds, but even then it surprised me. It had that sort of sweet, smoky flavor of a good dry rub on ribs, and it was definitely a combination I had never thought of putting in ice cream form.

Blackbird was a fantastic dining experience. While it certainly didn’t change the way I thought about food, it does what it does better than any restaurant I have been to in some time. Each flavor was well executed, the service was very attentive and helpful, and the ambiance was lively and fun. I would love to go to this restaurant in each season just to taste what they can come up with next. So, we left Blackbird full and pleased, and we headed towards the theater for Inception. On a non-food related note, if you haven’t seen that movie, please do yourself the favor and do so!

-----
Avec Restaurant
615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

Blackbird Restaurant
619 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL 60606

Jul 21, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Long Trip Report (Schwa, L2O, Blackbird, Primehouse, Frontera, Sunda)

Also, I would highly recommend a feature Chicagoist did on Chef Michael Carlson. Several of the dishes we had were listed, and you can really get a feel for his restaurant philosophy and vibe: http://chicagoist.com/2010/03/15/deta...

Jul 18, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Long Trip Report (Schwa, L2O, Blackbird, Primehouse, Frontera, Sunda)

Day 2: David Burke’s Primehouse

Last year, our burger trip took us to Kuma’s. While very good, putting it at the end of a 5-day caloric catastrophe (in a god way…) was not very smart. By that time our palates were exhausted and our stomachs pleading for mercy. To avoid such events this time around, we scheduled our burger as early as we could. I’m sure glad that we did, because this was unlike anything I have tasted in patty form.

We arrived at 11:30 and were immediately seated. Literally being the only two people in the dining room at the time, service was expectedly quick, helpful, and friendly. My dad and I each started with the soup of the day: A beer and cheddar soup. Shortly thereafter, our soups arrived with a complimentary side of their delicious assiago popovers. OK, with the near 100-degree heat outside, this wintery dish might have sounded unappealing. But it really hit a savory–spot with me with its classic sharp cheddar and yeasty beer flavor that harkened back to my childhood in cold Wisconsin winters. What really kept me going back for more bites was the little kick of spice (maybe cayenne?) that would creep up after every spoonful. The popovers, which arrived steaming hot with a crackling exterior, served as an excellent way to sop up the cheesy remnants at the bottom of the bowl.

Soups finished, our two “Burkers” arrived. This isn’t any normal burger, however. These are 8-9 ounce patties of 40-day dry aged prime beef. Now, just for a little perspective, to my knowledge I have never had dry-aged beef before, let alone 40-days. And I am now regretting the number of years that have passed where it was not in my life. The burger was cooked a perfect medium-rare and had the most luscious, funky, intense beefy flavor I’ve ever had. Each bite I would go in expecting the ground beef I was used to and was surprised of the complexity I came away with. Not only that, but the texture was amazing as well. The patty was obviously hand formed, but the meat had what I can only describe as a “pull.” The meat wouldn’t just crumble away from its original form, yet it wasn’t tightly packed and tough. Quite simply, it didn’t feel like I was chewing a burger so much that it felt like I was chewing a steak. This likely has something to do with the coarseness of the grind they use, but whatever it is, I hope they keep doing it.

According to our waiter, the beef is only lightly seasoned with salt and pepper - letting the meat stand on its own. I found this kind of odd, considering the burger is topped with garlic spinach, crispy shallots, and bacon mayonnaise (literally bacon mixed in with mayonnaise). The condiments were meant to replicate a steakhouse experience. I usually consider myself a burger purist and rarely add more than some onions and mustard. However, I have to say that it all really worked well together. The fried shallots offered great texture, and the spinach and bacon mayonnaise wasn’t globbed on in overkill amounts and instead worked with the beef to make this not only a burger of well-prepared ingredients but also of surprising creativity. The toasted potato bun was also a pleasant surprise. Being used to the flimsy potato buns of super markets, one of my biggest worries was that this juicy burger would create a bun that was a soggy shadow of its former self. Instead, it was firmer than expected, almost cibatta-like sturdiness without the unpleasant chew. On the side, we received a mountain-sized pile of shoestring fries topped with assiago and truffle oil. The fries by themselves were unremarkable, but the cheese and truffle oil made them addicting starches to snack on in between burger bites.

After our meal, we were able to visit the butchering and aging room below the restaurant. Inside was the very friendly butcher who explained to us the process the meat goes through from delivery to plate. After it is carved and the differing cuts separated, the meat is placed into an aging room. The smell of the room was certainly pungent with hundreds of pounds of meat and mold doing their magic. He showed us the back wall of pink salt from the Himalayan Mountains and told us that it not only dries the air out, but also it flavors the meat in a distinct manner. Thus, if we were to purchase 40-day dry aged meat from another establishment, it will taste somewhat differently from Primehouse’s because of the salt sourcing. The butcher then showed us some aging ducks and quail, stating that they are “experimenting” with aging different kinds of meat. I’ve only seen these types of operations online or on TV, so I thought the whole experience was fascinating.

I must admit, after my first encounter with dry-aged meat, I have feelings of both joy and sorrow. Joy that my world of what meat can taste like has substantially increased, and sorrow that it will be sometime before I can experience it again. But, if I had it all the time, it wouldn’t be so special. This is a rich, filling meal for even the most insatiable carnivores. But if you get the chance, I would certainly try what has become my favorite burger experience.

-----
David Burke's Primehouse
616 N Rush Street, Chicago, IL 60611

Jul 18, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Long Trip Report (Schwa, L2O, Blackbird, Primehouse, Frontera, Sunda)

Thanks! I was really wanting to take pictures of the dishes, but the room was really dark and my iPhone (my only camera at the moment) takes poor images that wouldn't do the food justice. I've been meaning to purchase a better camera, but I spend all of my extra money on restaurants :(. I think they call that a catch-22.
Anyway, if you go to Schwa's website (www.schwarestaurant.com) and click on the "Menu+Experience," you will notice 10 thumbnail pictures on the right hand side of the page. Each of these pictures will bring up a video of a dish being constructed. The Bottarga dish is on the second row from the top on the far right hand side.
Just for reference, the pretzel/beer dish is on the 3rd row from the top on the far left side, the Tagliatelle dish is on the second row on the far left side (above the pretzel), the sweetbreads biscuits and gravy is on the 3rd row in the middle, and the celery root dessert is the only one on the 4th row. Sounds confusing, but I hope this helps!

Jul 18, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Long Trip Report (Schwa, L2O, Blackbird, Primehouse, Frontera, Sunda)

Night 1: Schwa (or the Food God’s deux ex machina)

At around course five (or was it four?), the front door creaked open, the light from the outside world illuminating a man holding…pizza boxes? Well, I suppose even the chefs of the renowned restaurant, Schwa, have to eat something. But who would have guessed that a restaurant - serving some of the most creative, exquisite food I’ve ever eaten - would choose pizza for their evening snack. You see, I have nothing against delivery pizza. In fact, I’ve been known to dial up my local Pizza Hut every now and again. No, what I was more taken back by was what led my Dad and I this restaurant, on this day, to that moment where the pizza man made his delivery. Two weeks ago, I made an eventual failed attempt to get a reservation for a Thursday night at Schwa. I was certainly disheartened, but happily substituted Great Lake Pizza in its place and thought nothing more of the matter…until Wednesday afternoon – the day before my previous failed reservation date. In a moment of what I can only deduce to be divine inspiration, I decided to call Schwa. I don’t know if I thought I had more than the smallest of chances to score a reservation for the next evening (especially after being told they were closed for an event on that day when I called 2 weeks prior). After two rings, I was met with the friendly, relaxed voice of Chef Carlson who said that he did, in fact, have an opening for 2 people the next evening. But…I thought…Two weeks ago…Nevermind. Don’t ask questions, just go. And go we did.

Like much about Schwa, its location is a bit of an oddity. Housed in the Hispanic section on North Ashland, the 26-seat restaurant is adorned with nothing more than a few dimly lit light bulbs, metallic ceiling tiles (I believe for the acoustics), and 2 speakers. We were greeted and seated by Chef Michael Carlson’s brother. Though we would be served by nearly every one of the 4 chefs there – including Michael himself – his brother would be the “front of the house” man. Neither my Dad nor I were in the mood for wine, so we opted for tap water. Of course, when given the choice between 3 and 9 courses, we decided on the 9-course menu. Though, it seemed that many of the past 9-course menu items make their way to the 3-course, perhaps in an attempt to phase them out (i.e. The pork, beet risotto, and apple pie soup were all recently moved from the 9 to 3 course menu).

Regardless, the food began coming out shortly after our decision was made. Carlson does have an order to his menu. Dinners always begin with an amuse, then followed by his takes on a salad, soup, pasta, roe, fish, offal, meat, cheese, and dessert. I apologize if I can’t remember what was in each dish since each had at least 6-10 components.
Amuse: “Essence of Bloody Mary” – A shot glass filled with liquid that had the appearance of a pale white wine, but the intense flavor of tomato, pepper, spice, and perhaps a hint of bacon (?). Reminded me very much of Alinea’s “Distillation of Thai Flavors” in its concept. A perfect palate awakener.

1st course: “Octopus, pineapple, macadamia” – I believe the chef stated that the octopus was boiled for hours, and it sure tasted like it. Five of the most tender pieces of octopus I’ve ever had were placed in a wave-like pattern along a rectangle shaped plate, each topped with nori dusted yucca chips. On the plate was our first meeting with one of Chef Carlson’s signatures: The Smear. This dish had two excellently flavored smears: A burnt pineapple and a macadamia nut smear (I’ve never used “smear” so much in such a short time frame. I’ll try to use my thesaurus). Also on the plate were micro greens dressed with a pineapple dressing and dots of the most intense aged sherry vinegar I’ve ever tasted. According to Michael, it was aged 20 years in oak barrels in Michigan. This offered a great acidic contrast to the sweet nuttiness of the rest of the dish.

2nd course: “Elote” – This was the chefs’ take on the classic Mexican street food of grilled corn rubbed with mayonnaise, cotija cheese, and spicy chili. According to Matt, one of the chefs/servers, elote is served up and down North Ashland, and the crew began brainstorming ways to make this into a dish of its own after trying one a few days ago. The result of that brainstorming session was one of the most delicious, corny soups I’ve ever had (and I mean that in the best way possible). A small cup was filled with charred corn soup with cilantro. It was rich, and very creamy. To the right of the soup was a nice salad of charred corn kernels, cojita cheese, a garlic mayo, and spicy pieces of popcorn. Used as the glue to hold the soup cup to the plate was a nice lime puree that lightened up the soup but also served as a palate cleanser for going between the spiciness of the salad and the richness of the corn soup. One of my favorite things about not only this dish but also our entire meal was their “mix and eat” playability with their courses. As will be noted in later courses but first seen in this one, diners are encouraged to play with their food and discover the flavors for themselves. Putting the spicy popcorn and lime puree in the soup completely changed the flavor – not necessarily for the better or the worse, but simply an evolution of the dish into something altogether your own.

3rd course: “Tagliatelle with veal heart, huckleberries, black truffle” – Wow. I’ve read about this dish from other reports, but I was still blown away by the umami savoriness of the dish. Hand-cut tagliatelle, which we were told was cut an hour before we were served it, was placed in a swirled fashion climbing the side of the bowl. Throughout the pasta swirl were huckleberries and veal heart., and the entire dish was topped with shaved black truffle…never a bad thing. The bottom of the bowl contained 2 liquids. The first – my favorite – was a tellegio cheese imported from Italy. This wasn’t any ordinary cheese, however. According to Matt, the cows were not given water during the day and were essentially dehydrated. This gave the milk a more concentrated flavor, and I certainly couldn’t argue with him. The cheese was oh-so rich and went perfectly when mixed with the second liquid, which I believe was a huckleberry sauce, but I don’t quite remember. We were given a spoon with direct instructions to slurp up the leftover juices after the pasta was consumed. For those, like myself, who have never had huckleberries before, think a smaller version of a blueberry. The pasta was perfectly al dente and had that chewy give that only fresh pasta can have. I could have eaten a whole bowl, but I was assured the best was yet to come.

Free course: Ravioli stuffed with Buffalo ricotta, goose egg, aged parmesan regianno, topped with brown buttershaved summer white truffle. Michael’s brother delivered this to a guest saying, “This will melt your face off.” My face was thoroughly melted.

4th course: “Bottarga, chocolate, polenta” – Another dish that, by looking solely at the ingredient list, had me shaking my head in disbelief that the flavors would work in harmony. After the dish, I was still shaking my head in disbelief, but this time at how wrong I was. Set before us was a bowl of creamy polenta. Normal enough, right? Yes, but above the polenta was a “bridge” of chocolate extending past the ends of the bowl. The chocolate was sourced from a small producer in Venezuela and was extremely cocoaey and bitter on it’s own. Atop the chocolate were 3 nickel-sized chunks of blue cheese from a small farmer in Wisconsin (at which time Michael’s brother made a joke that all people from Wisconsin are crazy and cannibalistic, but make great cheese. I, being a Wisconsinite, disagreed on the cannibalistic part). Sharing space with the blue cheese were slivers of bottarga (cured fish roe). We were once again encouraged to smash the bridge of goodies and mix it into the creamy polenta. Again, wow. All of the buds on my tongue were dancing to this funky mélange of flavor. Each bite would be a surprise. Creamy and pungent blue cheese in one bite, bitter cocoa and smoky bottarga (kind of had a smoked salmon flavor) in the next, all held together by perfectly cooked grits. Who knew? Michael Carlson, I guess.

5th course: “Day-boat Halibut, carrots, marshmallow” In a close race with the Bottarga for the most unique plating of the night, the 3 or 4 oz filet of halibut rested on a sweet date puree. Enrobing the entire piece of fish was a frothy carrot puree, with 2 yellow heirloom carrots on its right and left flanks. On the far left and far right sides of the plate, crispy shallots lay atop a puree of something I cannot remember to make a flavor eerily similar to the traditional green bean casserole (which was the chef’s intention, by the way). Where this dish really takes a Carlson turn into left field is the long stripe of toasted, homemade green cardamom marshmallow. The marshmallow, by some kind of sorcery, provided a great aromatic element that made the dish very bright and refreshing. My only qualms were that it was a touch too sweet. Carlson has an affinity for sweetness in his dishes, but the heirloom carrots, carrot foam, date puree, and marshmallow were all sweet things. The fish, by the way, was cooked perfectly. In the moment, I thought the dish to be somewhat overkill on the sweetness level, but when taking it in consideration with the whole meal – and especially the following dish – it all seemed to fit.

6th course: “Biscuits and Gravy” – In stark contrast to the sweetness of the halibut, this dish was 100% savory and rich. His grandmother, who lives in South Carolina, influenced Carlson’s take on biscuits and gravy. In fact, the house-made biscuits were not only his grandmother’s recipe, but the flour they use is sourced directly from the same kind she uses in South Carolina. Because the three biscuits were so small (about the size of a bouncy ball), they were more dense and dumpling-like than flaky. But, this made them excellent vehicles to sop up the coffee-accented red eye gravy, fermented black beans, braised mustard greens, and sausage gravy. Up to this point, this dish sounds very traditional. However, I doubt Carlson’s grandmother used sweetbreads in her recipe. Yes, 3 perfectly fried nuggets of offal goodness dotted the plate. Crunchy on the outside but creamy on the inside, Carlson sure knows how to prepare a thymus gland.

7th course: “Waygu beef” – Our final primary savory course was expertly cooked (likely sous vide style) waygu beef. If you like your beef ultra-rare, as I do, then this was nirvana. In fact, I would have been fine with just a few ounces of that succulent cow, but then I would have missed the invigorating parsley puree that lightened the dish and the crispy fried brussel sprouts that added a good earthy crunch. But what’s this? Little orange gems? I bite into one and what can only be described as “the taste of the ocean” burst across my palate. Shad roe, one of the culinary signs that spring is upon us, are the eggs of river herrings (source: Wikipedia). Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but this seemed to be a sort of surf-and-turf. In between bites of minerally, rich waygu beef would be lustrous pops of ocean cleanness. Oh, and I forgot to mention that a good shaving a black truffles were sprinkled in just to seal the deal (Truffle counter is up to 3 courses)

8th course: “Beer and Cheese” – Chimay monks, normally known for their beers, also happen to make excellent cheese. Instead of washing the rind of the cheese with salt, they use beer. This cheese was melted into a fondue and filled into a croquette-sized pretzel ball. Chimay beer foam and a mustard crisp completed the reinterpreted version of this classic flavor combination.

9th course: “Celery root custard, white chocolate, banana” – It seems only fitting that in a meal full of sweet savories, we end on a savory sweet. In the center of a bowl lay firm textured, yet incredibly creamy custard. It has the consistency of a well-made flan. By itself, the custard had a strong celery taste with a unique saltiness, which proved a perfect match for the sweet sous vide banana, white chocolate mouse, and salted caramel sauce. Again, everything seemed to go together despite what my preconceptions taught me.

As the pizza deliveryman left the restaurant completed his journey, I wondered if it wasn’t some half-hearted jab by fate of what our night could have been. I’ll probably never know why I called back the day before, let alone how I was able to obtain a reservation, but I didn’t much care anymore. During our entire 3-hours of dining, the service was excellent and attentive. No, there wasn’t any bread service, and, yes, we ate 4-star food to the sultry sounds of Tupac and death metal, face-melting guitar riffs. But the passion of the chefs was evident in their hospitality and genuine thanks to our dining with them that evening. Never before has a restaurant experience felt so much like dining in the chef’s home. In the words of Chef Michael Carlson, “We cook the food we want to eat in an environment we want to eat it in.” And thank goodness, because the restaurant world is all the better for it.

**More to come in the next few days!**

Jul 17, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Chicago Trip 2.0

Thanks for the input. I actually was able to get through to Schwa and tried to make a reservation for either the 15th or 16th of July, but apparently they are closed for an event :(. No worries, because that just gives us another reason to have a culinary adventure in the future. Besides, Blackbird isn't a bad substitute. Will report back!

Jul 02, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Alinea: Beverage list

I too am not an alcohol drinker, but I was more than covered when I went to Alinea a year ago. They had 3 non-alcoholic homemade sodas (basil and orange, thyme and cherry, and a lemon soda that tasted like a great Sierra Mist) - all of which were outstanding. In terms of beer, I don't think they had a separate pairing, but my Dad had the wine pairing and they did pair a few of the heartier dishes with beers. So, I suppose it's more of an alcohol pairing.

-----
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Jul 02, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Alinea -- which menu?

If by "too much," you mean too much food, then I would say no. I was certainly satisfied and not looking to eat more after the meal, but I also wasn't busting at the seams. The tour will take around 4-5 hours and is well paced so as not to push too much food on you at once. If by "too much," you mean too much money, I would say that it all depends on how much you are willing to spend, but the tour was my best meal I've ever had. It is unlike any tasting menu I can think of this side of Spain. Do the tour and you won't regret it!

Jun 29, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Chicago Trip 2.0

Thanks for all the great responses! I completely forgot that we had put Schwa in on Friday, but I haven't received any word back yet (not that I'm surprised). I've searched the boards for answers, but was unable to find out whether or not they call to tell me that my reservation did not go through. If not, is it worth it to leave another message asking for Thursday night? I'm not so much asking in the dining choices sense, but more in the "will they even consider me if I already asked for one date" sense. I don't really want to start another complaint topic on their reservation policy, but a few answers will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Jun 26, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Chicago Trip 2.0

Wow, thanks for the quick reply! I've actually read your write up on L20 many times (big fan of the blog, by the way)! I think we will just play it by ear and see what the night's offerings are. I can't see us choosing wrong no matter what we get, though.

Jun 24, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Chicago Trip 2.0

Thanks for the reply's, everyone. We called an audible after discussing the restaurants. One of the places we've always wanted to hit was Blackbird, so we're doing that for dinner on Friday (can't say I disagreed much!). For Friday lunch we are going to do DB Primehouse for the burger. Not wanting to overdose on Kahan, we substituted Sunda for Publican on Sunday for brunch. Overall, I'm definitely excited for the trip!
I did have one question, however. We were looking over the 2 tasting menus offered (Regular and luxury). I've read a lot of reports on the 12 course regular menu, but has anyone tried the 10-course luxury? There is an $80 upcharge for the luxury menu, which is $245. For those that have had it, was it worth the price? We are not price shy in the least, but we don't want to be spending money where we don't have to in order to and always strive to get the best experience from any restaurant.

Jun 24, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Trip Report: Xoco, Publican, Bongo Room, Intelligentsia, Violet Hour, Alinea, Hot Doug's

Love all your reports, Kathryn (especially your NYC coverage). Last summer, I checked out Alinea, and suffice to say, it was the best meal of my life. Though I desperately wanted to go back this summer, we decided to check out how L20 is faring. Reading your menu description is making me jealous :(. Just out of curiosity, did Chef Achatz or any of the servers speak to you about taking pictures during the meal? I've read that he has been banning some photography to take place out of a fear of letting the food get too warm or cool.

-----
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Jun 22, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Chicago Trip 2.0

Thanks for all the replies, everyone! I changed things around a bit, and I think I've ended up with a good weekend! For Friday, we are doing Shui Wah for our very first dim sum experience ever. I've heard that they don't do carts, so it's not 100% authentic, but it sounds delicious. We snagged reservations at Frontera for brunch on that Saturday (only had the noon slot left). For Sunday brunch, we decided on Publican. Since we tried Avec in our previous trip, we wanted to hit one of Kahan's other spots.
I really only have one more question (for now, that is :P). I've heard that Mado is BYOB. Does that mean that they have no beverages and you must provide your own? Or, does that mean that you have the option to BYOB without a corkage fee?

-----
Avec Restaurant
615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

Mado Restaurant
1647 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Jun 15, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Chicago Trip 2.0

I somehow knew you would be the first to reply, nsxtasy :). Thank you for all the suggestions! Looking back at my tentative schedule, Blackbird followed by Mado does sound a bit of the same (I'm in no way saying the restaurants are similar, only that they share a certain contemporary American style). I'm definitely thinking of adding a tapas style place for Friday lunch (thinking Cafe Iberico). What about traditional dim sum for Sunday? What would you recommend?

-----
Mado Restaurant
1647 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Cafe Iberico
N Lasalle St Chicago IL, N Lasalle St Chicago, IL

Jun 14, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Chicago Trip 2.0

Hey there guys and gals. Last summer, my dad and I ventured to Chicago to sample some of its finest culinary experiences. During that trip, we hit Perenial, Urban Belly, Avec, Hot Dougs, Alinea, Kuma's Corner, Topolobampo, DB Primehouse brunch, and Cafe Spiaggia (phew!). We are heading back again for round 2 in mid-July, and would like to consult the fellow chowhounds once again. Here's the breakdown with applicable questions:
Thursday dinner: Great Lake Pizza. Will get there at 5:30. Although we really have nothing going on that night, we are crossing our fingers the line isn't THAT long, seeing as it's a Thursday night.
Friday Lunch: Was thinking Blackbird. We both really want to go there, but don't want to spend the dinner prices. Is lunch just as good as I've heard their dinner to be?
Friday Dinner: Mado
Saturday Lunch: Xoco
Saturday Dinner: L20 (was thinking about the Tatami room, but will opt instead for the luxury tasting menu)
Sunday Lunch/Brunch: Not sure quite what to put here. I was thinking about going to Lula or Nightwood. I know they are owned by the same people, thus their menus seem extremely similar. What do you guys think about which serves the better brunch? Just a side note, I was also considering Publican for Sunday's brunch.

Thanks a bunch! You all helped tremendously last time, and I knew just where to turn to for help.

-----
Alinea
1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

Hot Doug's
3324 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Avec Restaurant
615 W Randolph St Ste A, Chicago, IL 60661

Cafe Spiaggia
980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

Topolobampo
445 N Clark St., Chicago, IL 60610

Mado Restaurant
1647 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

Kuma's Corner
2900 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Great Lake
1477 W Balmoral Ave, Chicago, IL 60640

Urbanbelly
3053 N California Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Jun 14, 2010
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Milwaukee (and surrounding areas) for good vegetarian cuisine? :)

Second Comet Cafe. Who knew a place that serves unlimited bacon on Sundays could make such good veggie options?

Apr 16, 2010
pastry634 in Great Lakes

Milwaukee: Hinterland, Sanford or Bacchus??

I completely agree with nsxtasy. While all 3 are fine restaurants, there is nothing in Milwaukee with the high level of attentive service, great environment, and excellently prepared food that Sanford has. I would suggest you get the 7 course seasonal "surprise" menu. I put surprise in quotes because many of the dishes are taken straight from the menu itself. Either way, you will not be disappointed.

Mar 18, 2010
pastry634 in Great Lakes

Touring Chicago One Bite at a Time - Day 4: Cafe Spiaggia

Sorry, I just started school and have been super busy! I promise to post the rest of the reviews once time allows.
By the way, is your roomie in the kitchen at Alinea?

Sep 02, 2009
pastry634 in Chicago Area

Touring Chicago One Bite at a Time - Day 4: Cafe Spiaggia

Yeah, if given the chance, I definitely would like to give it a try. But to me, there are a lot more places I'd like to try in Chicago before Spiaggia (L20, Tru, Trotter's - just to name a few). I'm sure the food is excellent, and I don't doubt that in due time I'll give it a try :).
And concerning your hubby's comments on Alinea, just tell him its not "sci-fi-food" (I'd call Moto that, however), its extremely well prepared and delicious food done in a way that has never been done before. People once thought that whole "internet" thing would never take off either :P

Aug 29, 2009
pastry634 in Chicago Area