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New Yorkers' Chicago Report (part two, very long)


Restaurants & Bars 4

New Yorkers' Chicago Report (part two, very long)

pbnjaam | Nov 3, 2005 10:31 AM

To continue with the bad news, lets start with Tru. This is a beautiful, comfortable room. We went on a Monday night, and due to my wife's aversion to long tasting menus (this almost caused a marital breakup on this trip)we ordered a la carte. The amuse included spiced sweet apple cider, just about the last thing I would want to have before a French meal. After both ordering the butter poached lobster our server returned to tell us that they only had one serving left. This type of thing should not happen in any restaurant, never mind one aspiring to four stars. Then my cynical mind started working - its Monday night, and there's one lobster left. How long has it been sitting in the walk-in? I switched to the veal - sweetbread, loin and cheek, all very well done if not exceptional, but my wife stuck to the lobster, which I thought was mealy, a sure sign of age.

To their credit, they sent out an extra dessert (a duo of excellent blackberry and smore souffles, in addition to our Milk Chocolate creme brulees with chocolate ice cream and sorbets. Then they forgot to give us the truffles we purchased to take with us.

Avenues - I dined solo here, and the FOH is truly outstanding. I regret having to say anything negative, as the chef added the foie gras course between my appetizer and entree. I had bluefin tuna with a matsutake panna cotta to start - very, very good. The foie consisted of a small piece coated with pop rocks and sauteed (wierd but its hard to mess up sauteed foie) and a torchon in the form of a lollipop on a stick ( not very good.) The accompaniments consisted of a piece of funnel cake and a candied lady apple, both very sweet and really inappropriate. My entree was braised bison which turned out to be shredded braised short rib compacted into small squares, coated with corn nuts and fried until almost inedibly dry. Dessert was an excellent butternut squash souffle with brown butter ice cream. Bowles has talent for sure, but some of the ideas as well as execution leave a lot to be desired.

Spiaggia - A beautiful room, dined solo here and they added a cheese course. Wood roasted scallops of astonishing quality, with porcinis and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Gnocchi with ricotta sauce and black truffle sauce, as good as it sounds, and wood roasted rib of lamb with braised shoulder. Some excellent cheese, and a great selection of gelati and sorbetti for dessert. Not a missed note here, this is one of the best Italian restaurants in the country.

Topolobampo - A revelation, even for lunch - its hard to imagine that this is not the best Mexican restaurant in the country (and perhaps even Mexico). Clean, vibrant flavors of astonishing complexiy. Guacomole, followed by a tamal polenta style with braised rabbit and an amazing sauce. Entree was the oaxacan sampler, also fantastic, and dessert was crepes with cajeta, also great.

Alinea - I was semi-prepared to hate it, but all I can really say is that we had a great time. We had the 12 course option instead of the 25 (due to my wife's bizarre, unshakable stand that she didn't want to still be eating dinner at 1:30 am). What I was most impressed with was not the gimmickry (which was actually terrific fun) but rather the depth of flavor and the amount of combinations that worked. I particularly loved the chestnut puree, the black truffle explosion, the cured opah, the tempura fried poached pheasant, the lamb cheeks served over a sassafras pillow, and the bison, wrapped in potato and served with Iranian pistachio puree. Desserts consisted of smoked paprika nougatine, matusutake cake, pumpkin custard filled with coconut milk and chocloate mouuse with lime ice cream, cocoa nibs and avocado puree, all amazing. The only disaster was the dover sole, traditional flavors. The latter consisted of powders of lemon, brown butter, and parsley, which tasted just like the real thing. So what is the purpose? Why go to the trouble of making a dish in an entirely different way just to show that you can make it taste like the original? Just make the damn thing the original way to begin with. The fish was also laying on banana slices, hardly a traditional flavor, and a most unwelcome one at that.

All in all, an exciting and important restaurant worthy of the attention it has received.

Blackbird - A great lunch, one bite of my wife's pork belly sandwich and I stared transfixed at it the rest of the meal, almost unable to polish off my Lamb t-bone with spicy lamb sausage. We had a sweet waffle with milk chocolate ice cream, marshmallow cream and bacon for dessert. This is a terrific restaurant,its bold flavors a nice counterpoint to some of the more subtle places in town.

Finally, a Wednesday solo lunch at Le Francais. And I mean solo - not one other diner present. My waiter and I discussed their difficult situation while I had a wonderful artichoke terrine with ravigote sauce followed by roasted loup de mer and coconut mousse with passion fruit filling and a chocolate dome for dessert. Especially with Liccioini back, this is a fine dining institution in this country that deserves more support than it is apparently receiving.

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