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May Street Market - a Review


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Restaurants & Bars Chicago Area

May Street Market - a Review

mattlap_2000 | | Jan 20, 2008 06:12 AM

When I was making the decision to go to May Street Market for my anniversary, I noticed that there was a paucity of material written about it on these boards - so I thought I'd add to the canon.

The decor, in my mind, is quite sterile. There are white walls, white table-cloths, and wood chairs. The only color is provided by a handful of modern paintings, and the table candles. The bar area is actually quite charming. The restaurant is quite small - maybe only 20 tables between the dining room and the bar area. Unlike most places I've been that would compare (Blackbird, Aigre Doux, Spring, Custom House) they do not pack as many tables into the restaurant as possible. This, to me, is a blessing. The room is quiet, and you don't hear the conversations of the tables around you.

That said, you'd think the lack of tables would make the service easier. Not so. We ordered the tasting menu, and experienced some problems from the start. The paired wine seemed to arrive roughly 10 minutes before the course with which it was paired every time. Every course seemed to be brought by a different person. Occasionaly, that person (for instance, if it was a busboy) couldn't explain to us, as the waiter could, what was on our plates. Empty plates frequently stayed on our table for long periods of time. On one course, the server came by, asked how we liked it, and asked if we were done. We said we would, and he, having a full tray, said he'd be back to clear the plates - we had them for ten more minutes. The room seemed to be more than adequately staffed, and the staff seemed to be working hard - I just think that the service was poorly managed, and badly organized. Our waiter was extremely personable, and very helpful, and the busboys were very friendly as well. We asked a question about a wine as an aside, and when the waiter couldn't give a great answer, the owner/hostess showed up at our table nearly instantaneously to answer it for us. Overall, I'd say the service was uneven, but not unbearable.

The food, frankly, was the star. As I said, we ordered the tasting menu. The mini-donut with cured salmon was delicious (essentially, a puff pastry filled with cured salmon) - bringing the tartness of citrus and ending with the slight heat of fennell pollen. The paired wine - a sweet reisling - rounded out the flavors. My wife thought that the second course, an oyester carpaccio with great lake sturgeon caviar, otherworldly. I merely thought it was really good. We agreed that the Jicama wrap was rather mediocre, though the pickled bananas w/ guacamole salad should be packaged and sold as a retail spread - it was wonderful.

The stars, however, were the fish and game courses. The crispy skate wing came on a bed of roasted cabbage, and topped with a bacon-based sauce, hazelnuts, and blood oranges. It was the most decadent, smoky dish you can imagine. Perfect for a night where the wind-chill took the temperature below zero.

The game course was an elk chop - something I'd never had. Elk, as it turns our, is, for all purposes, a less fatty lamb. Everything on the plate was delicious - the pistachio crust (so simple and almost obvious, yet I've never seen it), the red wine/lingonberry reduction was wonderful, and I'm just s sucker for spaetzle.The carrott puree wasn't really needed, I suppose.

The cheese course was a deconstructed fondue. The server brought 2 warm, candied/carmelzied apple lolipops jammed into a smoldering log to dip into the cheese. The apples were delicious - the cheese was OK.

The desserts were, largely, forgettable. I'm sort of constantly repulsed by tapioca, and the first dessert didn't really shake me of that conviction. My wife, on the other hand, loves tapioca, and thought the dessert was good. The chocolate dish - a toffee tort, wasn't really memorable in a good or bad way.

The wine pairing was good. Chantal, one of the owners, is apparenly in charage of the pairing, and seemed to put a premium on highlighting locales of the country other than california. We had wines from Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Virginia, and Connecticut (and one french) during the service. Sometimes the wine brought a flavor that was absent in the dish (like the sweet Reisling paired with the tart, then spicy salmon). Sometimes, it was merely complementary (the Virginian Meritage, with it's tobacco flavor paired with the Elk Chop).

In terms of food, I wouldn't hesistate to put this on the same level as my finest meal at Blackbird or North Pond - or even Charlie Trotter's. The service certainly lacked the sharpness of those establishments, however. Finally, the fact that our tables had adequate spacing provided a sharp contrast to sardine-cans like Blackbird or Aigre Doux.

I would, without hesitation, brave the service again for the food - possibly, I caught it on a bad night.

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