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Chicago

42 grams: Michelin 2 star dinner party

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42 grams: Michelin 2 star dinner party

Recommended: Strongly

Categories: High end dining, Creative, Technique driven, Modernist

Lately there are a few high end restaurants playing with the theme of a dinner party.  Lazy Bear in San Francisco is one of my favorites, and El Ideas in Chicago is also very successful with the model.  42 grams goes in a more intimate direction than either of the other two restaurants and seats only 8 people at a time.  The entire staff consists of two chefs, a dishwasher and one person running front of the house.  Jake Bickelhaupt is the chef and co-owner with his wife Alexa Welsh who is the entire front of the house.  Chef Bickelhaupt worked at Alinea, Schwa, and Charlie Trotter's, so he has a great resume.  Like Schwa and El Ideas in Chicago, 42 grams is BYOB.  They offer still or sparkling water only.  This is not a place that focuses on the traditional aspects of fine dining.  It is comfortable and modern inside, but the neighborhood is not a great one and there is no lounge area inside, so do not come early.  But don't be late either because everyone is served at the same time, like at a dinner party.  Clearly, the focus is on the food and creating a relaxed and friendly environment where people interact with each other.   42 grams is completely successful at this.  The food is amazing and I had a great time with the people next to me.  We shared our wine and chatted the whole night.  Most of the time we were talking about how good the food was.  

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Grace: One of the best meals of 2016

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Grace: One of the best meals of 2016

 

Recommended: Stongly

Categories: High end, Technique driven, Creative, Modernist

This is one of the best meals of the year so far.  Grace was extremely impressive.  The food was beautiful and unique.  There were classic European flavors like prosciutto and truffle served only a few dishes after tuna carpaccio with caviar, coconut, cashews and fennel, and then a few dishes later the beef had Southeast Asian influences from lemongrass and finger lime.  While some of these Southeast Asian flavors can be quite assertive (which is why I love them!), Chef Duffy manages to make them a bit more subtle so that they can fit in with the flow of the tasting menu.  The most beautiful dish of the night was the two layered cucumber and king crab dish that was sweet and savory in perfect balance.  The lightly sweet sugar crust on top played off the sweet king crab and cucumber below.  The raw tuna dish came in a close second for the most beautiful dish of the night.  The flavors here are brilliant and unexpected with the caviar and fennel pairing well with the Caribbean flavors of coconut, lime and cashew.  The raw squash dish was tossed with a warm som tum dressing and crispy, yet not overpowering, garlic might have been my favorite of the night.  This squash dish was from the flora menu, proving that the vegetable menu might be even better than the fauna menu.  

The service was very good and the wine pairings worked well.  One particular wine, Bukettraube from Cederberg in South Africa, was especially nice, and I had never heard of it before.  The table next to me had the same surprised reaction.  Bukettraube is a German varietal that is a cross of Silvaner and Schiava Grossa.  It reminded me of other German whites in that it was very aromatic and complex.  I will look for it again.  

Grace has some of the most beautiful dishes I have seen this year.  The restaurant opened in just 2012 and has already earned three Michelin stars.  After eating there, I am not at all surprised.  I am a huge Grant Achatz fan and would suggest Alinea, Next and especially the Aviary to anyone living in or visiting Chicago.  However, right now, if you have to choose one three star restaurant, I would choose Grace over Alinea.  If you don't have to choose, even better!

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Eataly in Chicago

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Eataly in Chicago

Recommended - Yes

Category - Food Hall with both ingredients and restaurants

This was my first trip to one of Mario Batali's Eatalys. I wasn't sure what to expect. The bottom floor contained some sweets counters and a large collection of boxed candies, along with books (possibly every book Mario Batali or Joe Bastianich have ever had anything to do with), kitchen gadgets and serving dishes. The top floor held a number of counter and sit down restaurants, charcuterie, cheese, fish, meat, bread, wine, and pasta sections. There was a huge collection of Italian cheeses and meats. I asked some some questions about prosciutto at the cheese and charcuterie counter and the very knowledgeable worker told me about the different regions and let me try some great cured ham from all of them, including an American La Quercia Acorn Prosciutto which turned out to be my favorite.  I am partial to jamón (shhhh, don't tell Mario), so it's probably not surprising that this one was my favorite. It is great to see American producers making such high quality products.   Overall, I was impressed by the depth and breadth of the offerings and would go back. It is certainly on the expensive side, but not more than other specialty food stores, and the selection is tremendous. 

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Pizza in Chicago, finally

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Pizza in Chicago, finally

Recommended - Maybe

Category - Local Specialty

I am not a fan of deep dish pizza.  There's nothing wrong with it, it's simply not my preference. As a result, I have never eaten pizza in Chicago until yesterday. Pequod's isn't quite deep dish and it certainly isn't thin crust. Pan pizza is the best description. It has a nice crispy ring around the top, the sausage was tasty, and it was packed with pepperoni. I would have liked more cheese. The crust was fluffy and nicely chewy where it met the tomato sauce. It's not the best pizza I've ever had, but the folks in the area who get to say Pequod's is their neighborhood pizza are quite lucky. 

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