Graham Elliot is following me. Really. First, I go to his restaurant (where I do not see him but do have a really swell waiter and a really really swell meal). And then he is everywhere. He is in Bon Apetit (with the lovely moniker of rebel). And then, I watch Master Chef ( for one of the first times ever) and there he is. Graham Elliot is following me.
But really, about the restaurant. Here's the scoop: the place is hip. In fact, for a tiny moment, I felt unhipbecause I felt too old for the place, but that drifted away as we both got compliments (on the fish shirt my dining partner was wearing) and debated the menu (tasting of a shorter or longer version or, gasp, a la carte?). In fact, I eventually felt hip. Not really me, but hmmmm. Hip?
We went with the medium length tasting. And believe me, it was pretty damn good. It included bits and bobs that were not there on the menu, most excitingly a short trip to the kitchen (where alas, not even the chef of that evening was still there, but still) and a really great waiter who both got us, got food and wine, and was kind. Plus, they gave us a copy of the (autographed) menu at the end of the evening. Well, two copies, one autographed. And a fois gras lollipop which sounds bad but was actually really good. In a sort of Mae West kind of way. And, we mentioned having wanted one other thing not included on the tasting and voila, it appeared, sans charge. Yes, we spent a lot. But it was a truly amazing meal.
So: the menu: in all it's luciousness. A menu that went on for some time. That made us happy. That made us smile. It all began with popcorn. . . and for me, it ended with a fois gras lollipop. Here it goes:
Popcorn: with parmesan fluff (aka lightly grated), black pepper, and (I think) chives. It was great. Why? Truffle oil. Yep. And it went well with the drinks. I wanted to lick the little serving gizmo. In fact, we have been trying to replicate it at home. We'll never q uite get to the surprise of what it was that night, but we keep on trying. And yes, I do own truffle oil.
Then, an amuse bouche. It was a green panna cotta in a shot glass (who invented that) and it was amazing. It had some caviar on it -- steelhead roe -- and the combination of tastes was perfectly savory. The caviar popped. In fact, it popped so much I was unsure it was caviar. And it was made with ---- wood sorrel. (That's what made it green.)
This was followed by the first official dish of the tasting, octopus. I was a tad nervous but this was one of my favorite dishes. The menu said "liquid olive" and smoked potato and piquillo pepper. The liquid olive was the smoothest, olive-y-est green goo with a tiny dollp of red (yep, the pepper) and the octopus was both charred tasting and sweet simultaneously.
This was followed by one of the restaurant's most famous bits -- a caesar salad - kind of deconstructed into a brioche twinkie with gem lettuce inside and a white anchovy on top. Yep, once again I was nervous because I am not an anchovie person. I was converted. On the other hand, I found the lettuce a bit too cold for my taste. My dining partner, though, loved loved loved this dish.
This was followed by an onion course. Yep. Onion soup. I actually love it when you get a soup bowl with bits in it and then the waiter pours liquid into the bowl. In this case, the lovely green soup came out of a beaker; and the bits in the bowl included a green gel-like strip and the menu says things like icycle scallion and pickled ramp. This was, in many ways, the best course. (But I may say that about others.)
Next: foie gras with compressed rhubarb, caraway streusel (yes, you can get it without the streusel if you have an allergy to caraway), and candied angelica. MMMMMMMM Compressed rhubarb may be my next favorite thing. And I know I am supposed to be opposed to foie on all sorts of grounds but I am not. I love it.
There then followed a surprise pallette cleanser which tasted absolutely wonderful and sounds weird: green strawberry, honey crema and macona almonds. The best tart bit ever.
And we were on to proteins for a bit: swordfish, skate, chicken, lamb. Each bit was a bit (yep, they scale servings to the tasting you are doing.) I can still see and taste the chicken, which sounded sort of ordinary and tasted extraordinary -- chicken with baby carrot, israeli couscous and honey granule. The chicken was the most perfect chicken ever. And just a bit. I like the two fish tastings as well -- I make skate occasionally and somehow they managed to make it less oily. My one quibble with the whole meal was the lamb, which . . . .just did not do it for me.
Then there was a brief trip to the kitchen, which was fun fun fun -- and I was amazed by the orderliness and an intermezzo, served in a beaker, of madagascar vanilla, morello cherry, and soda spritzer.
Dessert: here's where we lost control, because I mentioned we'd been torn about the tasting because of one of the desserts which was not on our tasting. Rather than substitute, they brought us that one as well. So, three desserts -- hte lemon had blueberry gelato, violet foam, and a poppy ribbon. The poppy ribbon was white, and tasted more like poppy seeds than anything I have ever eaten, including my beloved Mohn torte from Dano's. The surprise involved lemon thyme and honey and . . . I will leave you in a mystery. The final (Not quite) was chocolate which involved majari cremeux, jivara ganache, and ancho chili. I ate two.
And yes, I ate the whole foie lollipop. What a meal. What a meal.
DRINKS: Ok, I began with a drink that involved the word fiddleheads and in reality involved cucumbers (which seem to be all the trend in drinks these days) as well as a combo of gin and vodka (I think) and talked my dining partner into a split of champagne, which was lovely (since I had some) before we started the pairing with the tasting. THe waiter was great in putting it away appropriately in a lovely silver bucket.) The quanitity consumed may have been just a teeny tad too much for me in the end but we also slowly but surely ate a lot. In any case, the drink was absolutely the best drink ever. The champagne was great and the pairing was to die for. The whites were especially good and the final dessert wine. Here are the details:
*with octopus: 2008 barranc "dels closes" garnacha blanca/macabeu/pedro ximinez, priorat
*with caesar: 2009 domaine des vieux benjamin gaubert semillon/sauvignon blanc, graves
*with onion: 2009 gustave lorentz pinot blanc, alsace
*with foie: 2008 couly dutheil "les chanteaux" chenin blanc, chinon
*with swordfish: 2009 coenobium bianca terbbiano/malvasia blanca, verdicchio, lazio
*with skate: 2009 grosjean pinot noir, vallee d'aosta
*with chicken: 2009 tamarack cellars cabernet franc, wahluke slope
*with lamb: nv sean b. thackrey "pleiades xix" old vine red blend, bolinas
*with lemon: sloeberry gin fizz. In memory this slides a bit into the cherry spritzer, but was dandy. . . .
*with chocolate: I so loved -- noe 30 year pedro ximenez manzilla that I may buy some. Over the top.
As an utterly exciting side note: we did have one other item to drink (besides the water): the spritzer noted above. Wowzers.
SERVICE: As noted, the waiter was splendiferous. He chatted and even, when asked, did break down and tell us his second choice Chicago restaurant(s). We went to one. He was kind, informed, and had a sense of humor.
SETTING: KInd young hip meets trendy formal?
ON THE WALLS: Not a lot.
Graham Elliot has a Michelin Star. Yep. This may only be the second time I went to such a place, since Charlie Trotter's did not have its two stars when I went there. Maybe one place in Paris? Anyway, graham elliot has one. And, oddly, urban spoon does have something to say. Here's what
We spent money. We were there for hours. We'd go back. It was a truly great meal. And this despite the fact that graham elliot is following me.