She-who-must-be-obeyed treated us to dinner at Everest last night in honor of yet another birthday (amazing how quickly they begin to pile up, isnt it?).
We had one of the wonderful window tables and were treated to a spectacular sunset. As night came on, the view was truly magnificent. We were grateful, though, to arrive for the end of a truly lovely sunset.
Actually, I suppose I should back up and acknowledge the attention-and attention to detail-that begin from the moment you enter the second elevator (we did not drive) and are whisked from the 39th floor to the private sanctum on the 40th. Everyone was most welcoming and genuinely thoughtful as we made our way to the table. Our reservation was for 7:00 and there were, perhaps, four or five tables already in various stages of dinner. By the time we left (about 9:30 or so), the room (never more than half full) was beginning to empty.
A triple-threat amuse: a tiny (one tablespoon perhaps) serving of a celery root bisque in its own thimble-sized saucepan, a spoon of a brandade foam (sorry, Ive forgotten the term)-airy, ethereal, with the suggestion of cod-and a beautiful presentation of two tiny tuna stamps on julienned vegetables. All in all, a real treat.
She-who-must began with a creamless corn soup followed by a sauteed salmon entree, the latter accompanied by braised green lentils with Horseradish & Melfor (Im still not sure what Melfor is: we never asked and my internet search discloses the following from a company website: Melfor, a condiment based of alcohol vinegar, honey and an infusion of plants known since time immemorial has been singularly successful in Eastern France. More than 8 out of 10 homes in Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle use it regularly.) The corn soup (the additional details of which I regretfully failed to note) was quite good. Though she found it creamy and pronounced it excellent, I found it perhaps one step down from that level. Creamy? without question. Wonderfully seasoned? Without a doubt. But whatever was used to produce the creaminess left me vaguely put off. Im not certain that it contributed a flavor so much as a mouth feel that was not quite right. Still, she was delighted to find it on the menu and was, in fact, quite pleased with it.
Her salmon was a nice portion although, I must confess, I agree with her conclusion: surprisingly (and ultimately, a bit disappointingly) mild in flavor. The menu identifies it Wild Atlantic Salmon, which I took (perhaps in error) to suggest that it would have a slightly stronger, salmon-ier, flavor than farm-raised. I was wrong-or at least this piece wasnt. And I dont think that it was the preparation. The lentils did not provide a strong accent-something, admittedly, different people could take differently. And perhaps we didnt truly appreciate the contributions made by the horseradish and Melfor. While perfectly cooked and beautifully presented, the salmon ultimately disappointed slightly.
My appetizer was the risotto of yellow garden tomatos (heirloom?), followed by a veal loin with wild mushrooms served on a bed of not-quite-identifiable grits-like pasta. The risotto was superb. Joho uses Carnaroli rice and while it would be churlish to complain that the price of the rice dictates a very small portion, the fact of the matter is that the preparation, including four or five tiny tomatos and two crispy tomato skins, was so rich that I could not have eaten more than the one-third cup or so that was served. It was exquisitely done, beautifully flavored and a real treat.
The veal loin was served with the bone, carved and sauced with its own jus and the aforementioned mushrooms. Perfectly cooked (and I was not, now that I think about it, even asked my preference!) Beautifully flavored. The only off note was the not-small band of fat in each piece. I dont know enough about the intricacies of baby cow anatomy to know whether this is expected (or, in fact, desirable) but it did reduce the total meat portion by about 15-20%.
A side note on the wine. She-who-must-be-obeyed does not drink alcohol and so I selected from a very nice by-the-glass list. I had been inclined to a very full-bodied white and, upon seeking assistance, was, I confess, a little disappointed not to be provided the services of the sommelier. Perhaps it was Ms. Singhs night off (I note another poster also found her absent mid-week). I am among those who find her on-television persona to be off-putting, to say the least. However, her on-screen personality matters not at all to me if she can do her job and I have never heard a single word to the contrary about her abilities. I was, therefore, disappointed to have to rely on the waiter; though clearly knowledgeable, he was a bit more insistent than I expected about changing my choice to a light red. (In fact, I had perused the list with a light red in mind but wasnt taken by any of the choices.) The pinot he urged, and which I ended up ordering, was pleasant but not particularly light. While a good wine, (I am sorry but I cannot recall the maker; I remember only that it began with a t and was not Testarossa), it was no more than an adequate match. In retrospect, I imagine that I would have benefited from Ms. Singhs expertise.
This is, I imagine, the place to comment on the service. The water, bread, and plate removal (with attendant silver) service was, in a word, faultless. There was a selection of six breads, brought and individually served from a large silver tray, including a sourdough (with a top-notch crust), a mini-baguette, a multi-grain roll, a kalamata bread, and two others. All were truly excellent. Water was refilled regularly and we couldnt help notice the care with which the ice cubes were added, just a few at a time to avoid splashing-and done in a way that was not at all precious (my description notwithstanding).
However, our waiter-never particularly warm, though certainly attentive and unquestionably knowledgeable-paid less and less attention as the night went on. Although he had several other tables, there were several occasions when we had to wait longer than we should have for him to return. Indeed, though some might have relished his inattention at the end of the meal, to allow time for relaxation and rest, we ultimately had to ask one of the junior servers to find him and get our bill. At the outset, he was quite attentive (when I couldnt recall the name of the aperitif I wanted, he went to the bar and brought back a hand-written list of the aperitifs to help jog my memory-it was Lillet). Whatever the reason for his declining interest in our table, it was noticeable and not, as a certain soon-to-be federal prisoner might say, a good thing.
Dessert. Just eight desserts ranging from a chocolate fantasy to several apple preparations, a pear thingy, and a couple others. They managed to get my order wrong. (I didnt complain for a variety of reasons: I was getting tired, I was definitely getting full, and I had ordered one apple item and was given the other-they were related and I wasnt entirely displeased.) I received an apple beignet, presented like an apple cut into spiral form. Very good but no more. Hers was a vacherin which she pronounced excellent: a square base with fruit and ice cream, frosted with chantilly and in a strawberry coulis. On top, four meringue stalks looking like larger-than-life fiddlehead ferns. I didnt care for it and wouldnt have ordered it but she was happy and thats what counts. The coffee-I have, sadly, reached that stage in life where decaf becomes a necessity-was excellent.
Price. Inasmuch as this was a birthday gift, I dont know what the ultimate tab was. I do know that the appetizers ran about $18, the entrees were, I think, $44 and $49 respectively, and desserts were decidedly overpriced (in my humble estimation) at $16 each. The glass of wine was $18. All told, I would estimate, a bit over $250 including tax and tip. Quality of food and service notwithstanding, the price seemed to me a bit high. But thats only my take. Since I didnt have to foot the bill, I have no complaints. There arent many places in Chicago that can do better. Factor in the setting, the company, the leisure of having your table for the entire evening, and it seems ungracious, if not ill-mannered, to grumble.
(I should note: The birthday began the day before with a cooking demonstration by Fred Ramos of Pili Pili at Treasure Island. We had front row seats and I was able to chat with him quite a bit. I enjoyed his style, his manner, and his (relatively) relaxed demeanor. He happened to make the dish I had on our last visit and we will definitely be returning. For the $15 ticket, we not only received a two-hour demonstration with recipes, but servings of consomme, lemon sole with scallop mousse, the signature veal with Israeli couscous, and tarte tatin. There isnt a better deal in Chicago! I cant wait to find out what she has planned for tonight!)