42 grams 11th Visit — Chicago (12/2016)

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After my early October visit, I had not planned to return to Chicago until sometime early next year.  However, some unused vacation time gave me the chance to add an extra three-day weekend to my schedule, so I scheduled a one-night stop in Chicago to check out the fall-to-early-winter menu.  There were a few courses that were the same or similar but with slightly different ingredients.  There were also some changes in dish sequencing for the familiar ones from the prior visit.

Since this visit was with a friend, we brought along two bottles of wine to have with dinner – a Chassagne-Montrachet for the white wine and an older Rioja for the red wine.

The first dish is one that I had on the last visit, but not as the first dish on the menu.  It was whipped foie gras at the bottom with Australian finger limes, freeze-dried mango and rice sticks to form the nest.  The garnish at the top was citrus marigold.  There were lots of texture and flavor contrasts to make this a nice opening course.

This dish featured King crab, with a thick (sliceable) butternut squash panna cotta, crispy speck, land caviar (actiually the seed from an herbal plant called Bassia Scoparia, with a taste and texture similar to quinoa).  A mixture of lettuces and herbs formed the salad.

This course included wood ear mushrooms (instead of the lobster mushrooms from last time) as the main ingredient.  A shellfish sauce made from Spanish scarlet prawns dressed the mushrooms.  A homemade XO sauce added a little spiciness to the flavors, and char roe added some saltiness and texture.  Sea vegetables finished off the composition (dulse (red algae lettuce fried), a succulent called ice bud, Okinawa sea grape). There were a lot of texture contrasts to each bite, as well as a nice savoriness.

For the full write-up, click here.

42 grams 10th Visit — Chicago (10/2016)

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A fall business trip gave me a chance for an early evening mid-week visit to 42 grams.  Since they opened up the counter seats to late seatings, I haven’t been to the early evening seating.  Since the next day would be a full workday, the relatively early dinner worked out fine.

The first dish started out with Hamachi poached in wagyu fat.  A thin sheet of daikon topped the fish, which was in turn topped with golden osetra caviar, beef tongue smoked in lapshang souchong tea, and tom kha cream (kaffir lime, lemon grass galangal).  The beef, caviar and daikon offered texture contrasts, although we were supposed to try and eat it all in one bite.

The next course had whipped foie gras at the bottom, covered by crisp rice noodles. On top, there was a star flower, finger lime pulp, and freeze-dried mango sprinkled for a final garnish.  The crispy rice noodles contrasted with the smooth foie gras, and the tartness of the finger limes worked nicely to add acidity and the mango came in with a touch of sweetness.

This course featured lobster mushrooms in a shellfish butter sauce.  This was garnished with char roe, crispy dulse (red algae) leaves, oyster blossoms, sea grapes and XO sauce.  is was a nice umami-filled dish.

For the full write-up, click here.

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.

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.

Intro 2nd Visit — Chicago (3/2016)

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Intro was one of the few restaurants open on Sunday, so I decided to give it another try.  Plus, Sunday is free-corkage night.  Since the last visit with the 2nd rotating chef, they hired a chef to stay around as executive chef and they have a guest chef every month.  Tonight’s guest chef put in some time at Manresa in Los Altos.  They also changed the format a little.  There is an a la carte menu, as well as a tasting menu option (which was vegetarian). The dishes were pretty straightforward, so I didn’t have to do much describing.

The first course was the salad with burrata, pear, feta cheese, endive and cara cara oranges.  For texture, some toasted sourdough croutons and blood sorrel finished the dish.

For the full write-up, click here.

42 grams 8th Visit– Chicago (3/2016)

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This visit was only about six weeks since my last visit.  It was not planned when I made my prior reservation.  A group of Chicago friends was planning to go and invited me, so managed to fly into Chicago for a couple of days prior to a work assignment.  The menu was almost the same as a few weeks ago.

The first snack was the African snail caviar.  It has a cucumber taste, so the other ingredients play off that, including lacto-fermented and charred Korean cucumber (for a little tartness and flavor enhancement), viola flowers, avocado and buckwheat blinis.

The next course was new last time for the restaurant.  The bottom had a kombucha (fermented) tea made into a gel form.  This was topped by diced carabinero (Spanish scarlet prawn), tofu, citrus caviar (finger limes), prawn head froth, and crispy rice noodles seasoned with phytoplankton.  This was intensely good and well-balanced, with bright flavors and lots of texture variations. Bright, sharp flavors perfectly complemented the savory shrimp flavor, nicely enhanced by the foam.

The next dish featured grilled white sturgeon from Idaho with golden Osetra caviar from Israel, vichyssoise piping, and dill. Along the one side of the fish was a helping of fingerling potato chips.  It was a very tasty take on fish and chips, with nice flavors and textures melding together.

For the full write-up, click here.

42 grams 7th Visit — Chicago (1/2016)

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One of the times I like to come back to 42 grams is just after they take some time off.  I’m just interested to see what Chef Jake comes up with to start off the year and the new season’s menu.  I had time to go wine shopping before dinner, so I picked out another Meursault, a Roulot this time, which I don’t usually have access to.  But this one was from a recently-purchased vineyard in the village and not the main Roulot acreage.  But they finished and bottled the wine under the Roulot name.

The first snack was the same as in the fall, where we were introduced to African snail caviar.  It has a cucumber taste, so the other ingredients play off that, including lacto-fermented and charred Korean cucumber (for a little tartness and flavor enhancement), viola flowers, avocado and buckwheat blinis.

The next course featured several new ingredients for the restaurant.  The bottom had a kombucha (fermented) tea made into a gel form.  This was topped by diced carabinero (Spanish scarlet prawn), citrus caviar (finger limes), prawn froth, and crispy rice noodles seasoned with phytoplankton.  This was intensely good and well-balanced, with bright flavors and lots of texture variations. Bright, sharp flavors perfectly complemented the savory shrimp flavor, nicely enhanced by the foam.

For the full write-up, click here.