Grace — Chicago (6/2016)

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Grace is one of two 3-star Michelin restaurants in Chicago (the other is Alinea).  My trip to Chicago was planned early enough for me to try for a reservation.  They accept reservations up to 30 days in advance on OpenTable.com.  But, on the day the slots became available, I was not able to secure a solo spot.  I decided to call, and they had no problem accommodating a Saturday night reservation (at 5:30, but that was fine with me).  On the evening of my dinner, I mentioned hat to them and they said that on weekends, they do not release a lot of seats to Opentable because they would like to chat and get to know who would be coming in.  That may be, but I also think it is a strategy to prevent reservation services from booking and re-selling seats.

The restaurant is actually a little obscure.  I was glad I scoped out its location beforehand, rather than trying to find it while trying to be on time.  Inside, it is a bit formal looking and quiet.  The kitchen can be seen behind a glass window in one corner of the seating area.

After being seated, I was asked if I wanted Champagne.  I declined, but I did ask later whether there was a non-alcoholic beverage pairing.  I found out there isn’t a formal one, but would come up with something.  I opted for a glass of Ovum Riesling from the Oregon.  They also offered the use of a Kindle with reading material for my enjoyment.

I looked over the wine list beyond the by-the-glass offerings.  I was puzzled as to why there were no Burgundy wines on the list (there were no Bordeaux wines either).  I asked the sommelier why that was the case.  He said that with the unique food offerings on the menus, they wanted to offer wines that diners might not run across in the normal course of fine dining.  I heard another diner ask a similar question later in the evening.

Diners have a choice of tasting menus.  One is called Flora and focuses on use of more seasonal ingredients for a largely vegetarian experience.  The other is Fauna, with more traditional protein ingredients.  I went with the Fauna menu.

The dining experience started out with some snacks.  The first one was razor clams in whipped cauliflower juice and chives.  The center bowl contained pickled okra seeds, puffed rice, asparagus tips and daikon radish.  The final bowl contained artichoke sorbet with chips and parsley.  This was a nice mixture of textures and temperatures to start.

For the full write-up, click here.

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42 grams 9th Visit — Chicago (6/2016)

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My last visit was in mid-March, still very much in the late winter/early spring menu time period.  It was now time for a mid-summer visit.  Since I was dining solo again, I went for the later seating, especially since it was my flight arrival day.  Inspired by my last visit to Kitchen table, I found a white Rioja that I wanted to give a try.  It wasn’t quite as good, but it still was nice enough to have with dinner.

The meal started off with the return of a favorite ingredient of mine – fried corn silk.  For this dish it garnished a Golden Nugget oyster from Washington State.  This sits on a sweet corn panna cotta and a piece of crispy speck (Applewood smoked). The final garnish with the silk was a celery leaf.  The slight crunchiness and sweetness made the bite much more interesting than just having mostly oyster in the bite.  

At the bottom of the bowl, there was a kombucha gelée (tea made from stems and leaves).  There was also a small dollop of tofu cream.  Diced carabinero (Spanish scarlet prawn) was placed on top of the gelée, along with a froth made from a broth based on the cleaned prawn heads. The noodles were crispy rice noodles, dusted with nori and phytoplankton.

For the full write-up, click here.

Pineapple and Pearls — Washington DC (6/2016)

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A friend had sent me a link to a new restaurant in Washington DC.  It sounded interesting and very much the type of place I would like to check out.  When a last-minute trip to DC for work came up on my schedule, I went to their website to make a reservation.  They have different seating/menu choices.  If you want a place at the Chef’s counter or a table, then you have to reserve a tasting menu plus beverage pairing place.  They will charge you half the cost up front and then charge the other half the day of the reservation.  You can also select a seat at the bar, where you do not have to select the beverage pairings (but you can order the alcoholic or non-alcoholic pairings or individual beverages when seated).  The split charge to your credit card works the same way.

The restaurant is located right across the street from the Marine Barracks.  Upon arrival, while waiting to be seated, they offer you a beverage. One choice was Kir Royale, which is what I had.

The first presentation of the evening was a fennel and absinthe bonbon with a cucumber chaser (underneath).  The bonbon shell is filled with house-made fennel yogurt, fermented fennel and orange zest and rehydrated raisins.  Apple, sunchoke, cucumber. and celery juice spiked with the absinthe made up the chaser.  This was a nice quick bite to start up the palate.

For the wine, I chose just to have a glass of wine.  On the wine menu, they listed a 2000 Chablis from a magnum pour.  However, they said they were out of it that evening and could substitute a 2003 Puligny-Montrachet.  They let me taste it first, and I decided it would be fine, even though I tend not to favor Puligny-Montrachets over other white Burgundy choices.

The next bite was pineapple-glazed asparagus topped with Serrano ham, some chilies and pineapple aioli.

For the full write-up. click here.

Restaurant Kei — Paris (6/2016)

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I had been targeting this restaurant for over a year.  The last time I was in Paris, I was not able to get a reservation.  This time, it was much easier.  I just sent an email and they confirmed.  From the pictures and description, the cuisine of French-Japanese fusion looked to be very much what I like to experience. They only do one seating at each table (staggered times), and they also serve lunch.

The restaurant is located a few blocks north of the Louvre, so it was easy to find.  I had an early evening reservation, so I was seated soon after I arrived.  They asked if I wanted Champagne to start, but I decided I would stick with wine.  They offered a Meursault by the glass, so I couldn’t resist.

Before we got to the menu decisions, they brought some small bites to go with my pre-dinner drink.  These included a cockerel (in the bowl), hibiscus ice (in the spoon) and a white fish gougère (pastry puff).  This was a nice variety of flavors and temperatures to start.

For the full write-up, click here.