Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the bug...
On a lovely late-winter day in Chicago, Fox & Obel came by our office in Streeterville and bought us all lunch. Evidently, their catering people are targeting corporate accounts by holding these sampling events at offices around the neighborhood. My impressions echo those of previous threads on F&O--great quality food=premium prices. The difference here is that getting the corporate nipple or a grateful client to pay for it renders that equation much more palatable. That, my friends, is Chowhound new math.
I've only dined in at F&O a handful of times, so there were a number of revelations. Their basic house salad of greens, shredded carrots, and cherry tomatoes was elevated from pedestrian to extraordinary by the addtion of extremely fresh chunks of goat cheese. A ziti pasta salad with roasted asparagus and portobellos was similarly elevated by the inclusion of perhaps the finest, sweetest, roasted red pepper I have tasted. A Cobb salad platter was also well-done. The omission of avocado in the salad despite its inclusion in the menu description was a positive to me, indicating that some thought was given to the low probability of diced avocado making the trip from F&O in pristine condition.
Two sandwiches from their Boxed Lunch offerings stood out: ham and cheese on sourdough and roast beef and blue cheese on baguette. I missed out on a good-looking smoked turkey and brie on multi grain. The ham and cheese featured Black Forest ham and white cheddar with a sublime slather of apricot mustard between fresh sourdough slices. The beef and blue cheese was okay, but I thought the assertive Maytag blue overpowered the rare roast beef and mellowly sweet caramelized onions. A better approach to me would have been pairing the brie with the roast beef and saving the blue for the more robust smoked turkey. But having been subjected to so many truly horrible "boxed lunch" offerings at client offices (the green turkey breast and bright orange cheese slice on white wrapped in petroleum-scented plastic wrap comes to mind), quibbling with these combo choices seemed a little precious. Funny what free lunch does to one's perspective.
The catering reps combined a couple of their deli tray offerings, consisting of excellent cuts of lunch meats and cheeses, including fresh, bright white mozzarella and creamy (if undistinguished) brie as well as interesting sandwich spreads like Russian horseradish sauce, pesto mayonnaise and F&O's always excellent breads.
The fruit and dessert trays were the true highlight. Amid all these fairly fussy food offerings, what really blew me away was biting into a strawberry that tasted exactly and without exaggeration like it had just been pulled from the vine. That strawberry had no business in a dreary conference room in late-February Chicago, but boy was I glad it was. Pineapple slices, blueberries and melon were also fresh surprises.
What I will seek out on my subsequent trips to F&O (when the weather improves) is the frangipane tartlet. It is glorious. For those complaining about the lack of bargains at this place, look no further. I don't know what they charge for these individually, but they're a bargain at any price (but if any place can prove me wrong, this would be it!). Go now and have one. Right now. The lime curd tartlets are nearly as good.
I have just learned that we are changing our house account to F&O catering. I have mixed feelings, as our previous default was L'Appetito, which serves the finest subs in the 312 area code. Somehow I think I'll manage.