Chicago – 1/28/17 – Alinea Kitchen Table

There are a multitude of reasons that Alinea continues to be my favorite restaurant. As many times as I have been there I am always completely surprised by something new. And I always think back to my first visit quite a long time ago which was the first time I dined alone at a ‘nice’ restaurant. I was so nervous that my hand shook until I had finished my initial glass of champagne. But the experience was perhaps the beginning of my career as a ‘professional’ in conquering a very long tasting menu and I have never felt uncomfortable dining alone since.

I am not sure that I will be able to return to the dining room after this dinner at the kitchen table. I saw the space on my last visit but seeing it and sitting in it are quite different. Just completely fantastic especially with a great group of friends. I very much enjoyed again the dishes that I had previously – especially the scallop, corn, butter that I want several bowls of.  While it is not a substitute for black truffle explosion, the gruyere/black truffle/pumpernickel was delicious and filled the void.  And perhaps my favorite of the night was the very understated parmesan/pea/jamon iberico.  Until next time….




osetra, king crab, condiments

quince, parmesan, date

scallop, corn, butter

cornbread, nori

cider, orange, maple

yuzu

parmesan, pea, jamon iberico


kuzu, pompano, shellfish

pork belly, curry, banana

rosemary, hamachi, kombu

blueberry, lapsang souchong, maitake


mastic, concord

*foie

gruyere, black truffle, pumpernickel

short rib, bitter cocoa, cassis

wagyu, rice, myoga

sweet potato, chocolate, miso

bubble gum, cake, banana



chocolate, cherry, bourbon


sesame, brown butter, gold

Chicago – 9/17/16 – mfk and Next French Laundry

mfk.
Yet another fantastic brunch at mfk.  I am always baffled as to why this place is not packed at this time of day.  Chicago friends you really need to put it in regular rotation!

ceviche, poblano guacamole, squid ink tostada

shrimp and cucumber aguachile, jicama, avocado

chioggia beets, basil, aged goat cheese, orange yogurt

roasted and chilled cauliflower, almond, red onion, xato

pqm bread service, caramelized shallot butter, radishes

seafood fideous, toasted vermicelli, piperade, saffron

albondigas pork & veal, grana padano polenta, tomato jam

Next: French Laundry
Having the Next French Laundry menu to look forward to helped me to get past the letdown of my French Laundry meal a week before being over.  Its amazing that the dishes on this menu are 20 years old.  They are delicious and still completely relevant.  The French Laundry influenced dozens of chefs since it opened and fine dining has evolved in many ways.  I love the evolution but at the same time I would eat these dishes everyday if I could.  This was absolutely lovely and one of reasons I love Next for allowing me to experience what was before my time.

cornet of atlantic salmon

carrot soup

black trumpet mushroom soup

gulf shrimp and avocado salsa

blinis with peppers and bottarga

barbecue eel with sesame and yuzu

salmon chop

black truffle custard

oysters and pearls – sabayon of pearl tapioca with island creek oysters and golden osetra caviar

tomato salad – yellow tomato sorbet, basil infused oil and brioche crouton

agnolotti – butternut squash, quince and madras curry

pompano “amandine” – orzo, pole beans and preserved meyer lemon

atlantic cod – clam chowder, celery and bacon

sweet butter poached lobster – pommes maxim, melted leeks and beet essence

five-spiced lobster – port poached figs and moulard duck foie gras

“roulade” of duck breast – creamed white corn, huckleberries and chanterelle mushrooms

rabbit “saddle” – applewood smoked bacon with pruneaux d’agen, caramelized fennel and fennel oil

“pot au feu” – beef short rib with root vegetables and sauteed bone marrow

lamb – thyme, tarragon and dried beans

chaource – red plums, chive oil and lolla rossa

roquefort – trifle with french butter pear relish

“verjus” sorbet – peach butter and mint infused oil

“coffee and donuts” – cappuccino semifreddo with cinnamon sugar donuts

mignardises

Chicago – 9/15/16 – Au Cheval and Roister

Au Cheval
Of course now that United’s fares from EWR to ORD have been cut in half there is talk of Au Cheval coming to New York.  This burger was my reward for the dozens and dozens of trips I have made to Chicago, especially those early morning flights to be there by 11am when it opens for lunch.

Roister
A seat at the hearth at Roister may be my new favorite place in Chicago.  In a way the plating is deceiving as some of these dishes are dark and are not necessarily made for today’s instagram age.  And while looks can be deceiving, menu descriptions can be as well.  Oysters are one of the very few foods that I genuinely dislike.  I have been trying to train myself to like them for 2 years now but was set back by an unfortunate episode of food poisoning.  When Chef Brochu kindly sent out a gift of the smoked oysters my stomach sank.  I was dining with my mother, the only person I know who dislikes oysters more than I do, and who would be of no help in eating these.  I made her try one and she admitted it wasn’t bad at all (which is a very high compliment).   I happily ate the rest as they were completely delicious.  I love having my mind changed about an ingredient.  The fries I likely would not have ordered myself as bonito and tofu are not ingredients I particularly enjoy but a friend ordered them on a previous visit and I had to have them again. Then there is the chicken that I still think about.  The leftovers are the first thing I have ever taken in a doggie bag from any meal while traveling.  I cleaned out half of the hotel mini bar and we ate the rest for breakfast. It may have been even better.

Tomato bread – mayo, shallot, pecan oil

Aged cheddar rillettes – truffle, cauliflower, fry bread

Chow chow mein – aged cabbage, noodles, relish

Cucumber – melon, smoked creme fraiche

Smoked oysters – garlic butter, breadcrumbs

Yukon fries – soy dusted, bonito flakes, tofu mayo

Whole chicken & chamomile – braised, poached, fried with sunchokes

Hushpuppies – corn crema, sour corn, manchego

Chicago – 9/2/16 – Alinea

I knew that my first trip to the newly renovated Alinea would feel very strange but I was hoping that the Miami pop-up would have somewhat prepared me.  I tried my best to be in the moment and not compare to the past.  But while I understand the desire and need for change, as I rearranged my bedroom constantly as a kid, I still love the old space.  I think it is much better to experience the Gallery without knowing what to expect so I am going to keep this very brief.  I will say that it started off amazingly well, as all good things should, with caviar and champagne.  Looking through my pictures and thinking back through all of these courses, this was a much much better meal than I may have given it credit for at the time.  But I attribute that to my consistent feeling of immediate depression whenever a meal at Alinea ends.  The redesigned table dessert course was fantastic and someday I hope to live in a home with a wall worthy of a Thomas Masters piece.

Communal – osetra, king crab, condiments


Shaker – gin, green tomato, chartreuse
Roll – cucumber, feta, caper leaf


Paper – scallop, corn, butter


Crunch – shio kombu, nori

Contrast – tomato, watermelon, parmesan
Sangre – blood peach, green peanut, iberico
Swirl – apple, yuzu, lemon verbena


Fry – icefish, daisy mandarin, radish


Yellow – pork belly, curry, banana

Glass – maitake, blueberry, lapsang souchong

Petal – onion, purple allium, black pepper

Toast – gruyere, black truffle, pumpernickel


Bon Bon – mango, almond, cinnamon

Chicken – palo santo, pineapple, mezcal

Bone – wagyu, rice, myoga

Cloche – cheeks, chamomile, melon

Nostalgia – fennel, dark chocolate, lemon, strawberry

Paint – cherry, white chocolate, bourbon


Gold – sesame, brown butter, feuilletine

Chicago – 5/21/16 – mfk, Roister, Green River, Next and Aviary

mfk
Each time I have visited mfk I just can’t understand why it is not absolutely packed.  Somehow it has remained Chicago’s best kept secret.  Suffice it to say I love everything on this menu. Ok maybe not the sardine butter but the ceviche could just keep coming all day long.


braised oxtail & potato croquettes, charred tomato aioli

ceviche, poblano guacamole, squid ink tostada

bread, sardine butter, breakfast radishes

roasted & chilled cauliflower, xato, almond, pickled onion

poached shrimp, green papaya, cucumber, sugar snap peas

seafood fideous, toasted vermicelli, piperade, saffron

Roister
Unfortunately Roister was not yet open for lunch by this trip as I was hoping so we were forced into Plan B which was a Roister and Next doubleheader. Maybe it doesn’t quite count doing the a la carte menu vs. the Roister menu but there always has to be something to strive for the next time (no pun intended). We were not able to order the larger dishes that I wanted the most (actually willing and able but would regret it later on) but I still think that we did pretty well. As Roister seemed to be so long in the making there was a part of me that feared it would fall short of expectations. But of course I should know better. It was exceedingly difficult to not finish absolutely everything and think about anything other than when I could get back here again.

Yukon fries – soy dusted, bonito flakes, rice vinegar, tofu mayo

Baja hiramasa – black sesame, raspberry, tarragon
Grilled asparagus salad – macadamia nut dressing, fennel, rice

Gulf shrimp toast – red crab butter

Carolina gold rice – hoisin glazed carrots, mushrooms, thai basil

Foie gras – black walnuts, pretzel, marshmallow

Strawberries & milk – jam, gummies, shortbread crumb

Green River

We had to exit the West Loop for a bit of the evening to enjoy some fantastic cocktails from the lovely Julia Momose.


Next South America (Peru)
There is not too much I can say about each visit to Next that I haven’t already said before. But this was easily my second favorite of all of the Next menus and if I lived in Chicago I would certainly be back for the other country iterations. This was a completely seamless transition to Chef Tomaska and I can’t wait to see what he does with the next menu.

Raspadilla – chicha morada, cassia, leche

Pisco sour

Ceviche
banana & passionfruit
corn & chocolate
aji
lime & orange



Tiradito
mackerel, kombu, peanut, cactus fruit

Picanteria
casabe, canchita, solterito de queso
empanada, rocoto relleno, anticucho






Alpaca Wool
escabeche de camaron


Sudado
paiche, gooseberry, coconut, pork


Pachamanca
gallina, humita, pina, salsa criolla


Dulces
guava & picarones
chocolate, rhubarb, dulce de leche

Aviary
Because one is never too full for a black truffle explosion.

Miami – 2/20/16 – Blackbrick Chinese & Alinea Miami

Blackbrick Chinese
I loved this place so much on my first visit and couldn’t wait to come back.  For once I did not have to do any of the ordering which was completely amazing as it is always my role.  Because of that I have no idea really what any of these dishes are.  Perhaps I knew a month ago but now I haven’t a clue (well except for the beans which I insisted upon and which I could eat every single day).




  

Alinea Miami at the Faena Hotel
Perhaps it has taken me so long to complete this post because I haven’t been able to sort out what to even write.  I was prepared to be completely disappointed by this dinner as when Alinea popped up at EMP in NYC I was completely thrown by having Alinea food in a different space.  Until then I had not realized how much the physical space was a part of the experience.  Also looking at some pictures from the pop up a month prior in Madrid many of the dishes were ones I had already had. But I do often say that its best to have low expectations so that you can only be pleasantly surprised.  Then of course there is the Faena hotel which is completely over-the-top in every way.  And I must digress for a second to note that the service is truly fantastic.  Before beginning dinner I visited the hotel ladies room which had a multitude of stalls and every garbage can was empty and all toilet paper folded into perfect points.  Alinea standards and suddenly it somehow all made sense.  I love how the dining room light fixture reflects in the majority of my photos as it perfectly sums up the experience and in a way was good preparation for Alinea 2.0.  I was completely surprised by how local parts of this menu felt as I simply didn’t think there was time to reinvent too much.  Of particular note, of the many versions of this menu’s beef dish that I have had, this was far and away my favorite.  I truly hope this wasn’t my last BTE or hot potato/cold potato, but if so they went out in style. Very much looking forward to the next chapter.

Hot Dog – welcome to Chicago

Osetra – plantain, papaya, rum
 ​Guiso De Maiz – chorizo, tomato, pumpkin seed

Snapper – bouillabaisse, miro june 2, 1973

Moqueca – tiger’s milk, coconut, citrus vapor
 Crab – cucumber, vanilla, green curry
Pig Ear – tamarind, watermelon, szechuan
Siam Sunray – lemongrass, chili, soda
 ​
 ​ ​Hot Potato – cold potato, black truffle, butter
 ​Duck – ginger, yogurt, gold
Rose – on roses
 ​Beef – chimichurri, lettuce cores, red onion

Black Truffle – explosion, parmesan, cabbage
 Bacon – butterscotch, apple, thyme
 Balloon – helium, green apple
   Chocolate – banana, fernet branca, dulce de leche (Photo truly not representative of how this looked when plated but we got to talking and parts started to melt before I was able to take a picture)

Chicago – 2/12/16 – Au Cheval, Cold Storage, CAA, Aviary, and Next Alps

Au Cheval
Where else to start a whirlwind one day tour of some of my favorite places in Chicago than at Au Cheval?   I know I have had burger blinders on for years and have largely ignored the rest of the menu venturing only as far as the raw vegetable salad.  A huge thank you to our server who told us that the beef cheek marmalade could be ordered as a side dish.  How I have lived without this I don’t know.  Next time I may thrown caution to the wind and add it to my burger.

pickles
beef cheek marmalade and toast
 ​cheeseburger with egg and bacon


Cold Storage

Some travel days call for a double lunch, and not only a double lunch but going big with the large seafood tower.  After visiting Swift & Sons a few weeks prior I was looking forward to checking out its more casual inner restaurant.  Fantastic hospitality.  How we ate this all I don’t know.


 ​

Chicago Athletic Association 
For years before the Chicago Athletic Association opened as a hotel, I looked at the amazing facade from across Michigan Avenue on many of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s walking tours.  I just love everything they have done to maintain the original details and character and can’t help but walk through whenever I pass it.  Unfortunately the cocktails in the grand lobby were far from fantastic, but ambience almost made up for it.

Sidecar and Negroni 

Aviary

As anybody who reads this blog likely knows, Aviary is my favorite place in Chicago.  Not only have I met many people here who have become incredible friends, but I am always blown away by something new on the menu.  I am always nervous bringing somebody new here, afraid that they won’t like it as much as I do or I have talked it up too much.  But when the person gets it and is as excited about the experience as I always am, these are the best visits of all.  Many, many pictures missing somehow.

Loaded to the Gunwalls

Next Alps
This was an absolutely frigid day which made the Next Alps menu the perfect dinner.  A very fun menu separated into six sections – the French farmhouse, the German beer hall, the warming yurt, the top of the Swiss mountain, intro to Italy and Austrian sweets.  While there wasn’t necessarily one stand out dish for me as there has been on previous menus, anytime you can have raclette is special and this is definitely a menu that I would happily repeat.


   stone soup
 ​gratin of Beaufort and trumpet crozets

game pie
 tourton of salsify and apple

 gateau de St. Genix avec du beurre de chevre
 pork belly schnitzel with cherry and black walnut
 ​pretzel, sausages and pickles


 Raclette with potatoes, fermented mustard greens, chestnuts, and black truffles

 Augustiner Brau Edelstoff lager
 chocolate with black truffle and milk crisp
 preserved summer berries with cognac and honey
 smoked arctic char with cauliflower and juniper

 
goulash of beef and Barolo with sour cornbread

 bitter green salad with pomegranate and fennel ice

Salzburger nockerl
 pie spiced ice cream
 apple strudel with clove and cinnamon

And as if this wasn’t enough in one day, missing from the photos are cocktails at Grace as well as post dinner in the Office.