When friends of friends are responsible for organizing an evening out, people like me end up at places like Sugar. Considering the recent mention in the NYTimes and the Reader (neither of which directly comment on the desserts themselves), I offer the following report based on a single visit last Friday night.
The entrance is guarded by a beefy guy with a reservation list and crowd control ropes. I was there for a 10PM reservation and people without reservations were being turned away. The beefy guy also mentioned that there is a dress code to a gentleman in jeans and a windbreaker. I didnt bother asking about the content of the code, but the understanding seemed to be club appropriateEattire. The setup gives an air of exclusivity, but anyone who calls ahead gets in.
The décor inside is all sugar themed, as mentioned in the articles. White hexagonal dorm bathroom tiles are supposed to evoke honeycombs, shower curtains with out of focus blobs are apparently close-ups of sugar molecules, and the table tops are patterned after hard candies. The designer seemingly intended to have fun with the place and I took the interior fashion in that spirit.
A bar in the front seats ten on stools and six more on couches. The rest of the room is divided among tables seating about 40, booths seating about 20, and a large room with couches (the VIP room?) seating 20 more. Despite their reservation list, Sugar likely lets in people who come for a drink, resulting in a very crowded feel. The music, played at a 100+ decibel level, and the crowd screaming over the music make conversation very difficult.
As a side note, there actually is a female staff member who dances on the bar starting around 11PM.
Predominantly 25-35, very much a see and be seenEcrowd. 1/3 beautiful people, 1/3 who think they are but arent, and 1/3 who know theyre not but try to be. Lots of fun to watch if youre into that sort of thing. The only person over 50 that I saw was a Polaroid photographer offering to take pictures for $10.
The Dessert Menu
Its nearly impossible to read through all 19 dessert entries, both due to the noise and the saccharine/ overwrought word play. For example, the entry for Diary of a Melon ($6):
January 19: Something very delicious happened to me today. I wandered into the kitchen of an illustrious chef and was pureed into a melon soup. Accompanying me on my strange yet flavorful journey were several of my fruity comrades who were promptly assembled into a salad. You may now find us beneath a scoop of yogurt sorbet. Oh, the infruitanity!
There are 18 desserts and a tasting plate which consists of tasting portions of four listed desserts selected by the chef. Each dessert has one or two suggested drink pairings. There are four or five fruit based desserts, four or five cake (non-chocolate) based desserts, three chocolate based desserts, with a cheese plate, ice cream sampler, crème brulee, and the like filling out the rest of the menu. The desserts range in price from $6 to $15, with 14 of the 18 priced at $12 or $15.
I gave up after reading three entries and ordered the tasting plate (The Marquis De Sucre, $18). Amusingly, the suggested pairing was a bottle (375ml) of Sauternes Chateau dYquem 1990 for $400.
The tasting plate on my visit consisted of MacDeth by Chocolate ($15 for full portion), I, Canolius ($12), Thus Cake Zarathustra ($15), and Through the Looking Glace ($12). The MacDeth by Chocolate consisted of a warm bittersweet molten chocolate cakeEand a scoop of chocolate sorbet. The chocolate used in the cake, the molten sauce, and sorbet was excellent. All exhibited a deep and clean chocolate taste. However, the texture of both the cake and the sorbet were unappealing. The cakes consistency was wet and chewy. Possibly an inherent problem with molten cakes, the moisture in the sauce either directly seeped into the body of the cake or produced steam during baking, resulting in a steamed cake. The sorbet was overwhelmingly chocolatey, which I enjoyed, but left a chalky, sandy feel in my mouth. The chalkiness reminded me of cocoa powder and the sandiness reminded me of the mouthfeel of Scharffen Bergers bittersweet chocolate. The latter is not a problem in eating chocolate, but was unpleasant in a sorbet. I, Canolius consisted of an orange flavored crisp/ tuile filled with macadamia mascarpone on a bed of roasted figs. The figs were nice and concentrated from the roasting, but the filling was nothing special. The crisp was so thin that the moisture from the filling compromised the structural integrity of the cannoli. I ended up eating it with a spoon. Thus Cake Zarathustra consisted of lemon bundt cake topped with honey-yogurt semi-freddo surrounded by lemon verbena infused strawberry soup.E The cake and semi-freddo were perfectly acceptable, but the strawberry soup really stood out. I dont have any experience with lemon verbena, but it lent a wonderful tartness to the otherwise sweet soup. Through the Looking Glace consisted of a scoop (well, quenelleE of white ice cream on a bed of diced fruit. The identity of the ice cream and fruit were of some dispute, as described below. The ice cream was very smooth and fresh. The slight tang was a welcome counterbalance to all the sweetness on the plate. Please note that these tasting portions omitted items from the full portion dessert at times.
I ordered a coffee (not on the menu, $3), which was noticeably poor. I didnt ask about the source, but imagine it to be Folgers / Maxwell House from a can or its equivalent. A strong brew would have made it palatable, but the version served was weak to medium strength. Considering the apparent aspirations of the place and its focus on desserts, I thought this oversight to be egregious.
The alcohol listing is extensive. There are 18 dessert wines by the glass ($6-$30), along with several by the glass options each for port, maderia, sherry, champagne, white wine, and red wine ($7-$25). Over 50 dessert wines by the bottle are offered, ranging from a non-vintage late harvest Boutari Samos (Greece, $20) to a Sauternes Chateau dYquem 1967 (750ml, $2500). 17 ports are offered, ranging from a Cosentino Cabernet Franc 1995 ($45) to a Quinta do Noval 1947 ($1500). Similar range of selection for maderia, champagne, white wine, and red wine. There are also 14 types of martinis ($10-$16) and over 100 spirits/ liqueurs listed ($8-$500).
I encountered female wait staff, male wait staff, and male hosts. The female wait staff is dressed (loosely) in pink mini-dresses. All blonde and beautiful, they reminded me of the Austin Powers femmebots. I dont have anything to say about their service, as I did not order a drink. The male wait staff is dressed in garish dark green shirts. All have shaggy dark hair. They were the main weak link regarding service. My male waiter had no knowledge of the contents of the days tasting plate and referred back to the menu in answering questions. He misidentified three elements on the plate and even patronizingly patted my shoulder when I insisted that the misidentified vanilla ice cream over diced mangos was in fact crème fraiche or yogurt ice cream over diced plums. All three hosts had shaved heads, dressed in dark suits, and wore ear piece-stick mikes connected to cell phones or two-way radios. They were the most helpful in answering my questions. I kindly asked if they could provide a copy of the menu, after the request was denied by the male waiter. One of the hosts discretely slipped me a copy before I left. My quest to identify the mystery ice cream was settled, when another host called the kitchen and asked for the chef, Ms. Tentori. She came up from her basement kitchen and clarified all three points on which the male waiter had been misinformed (the ice cream was yogurt, the fruit was cantaloupe). I wanted to ask her if the fruit wasnt plum, but I (a) lost my nerve and (b) thought etiquette called for me not to waste the time of the chef on such a minute detail.
More of a nightclub/ bar than a dessert destination. I dont know enough about clubs to say whether this is a good one. I do know enough about desserts to say that the offerings were uneven, but innovative. The service was mixed and the coffee was poor. The people watching and checking out the scene was worth $5 to me, the price by which the desserts seemed to be overpriced. I woke up the next morning with a hoarse voice. I wont be going back.
Sugar: A Dessert Bar
108 W. Kinzie St.
Chicago, IL 60610