Stone Flower 2nd Visit — Chicago (12/2019)

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A quick trip to Chicago made for a stop for the fall menu at Stone Flower.  This was more of a typical experience, as I dined with a full complement of other diners at the counter.  They offer two tiers of wine pairings.  As usual, there is no menu presented beforehand.

The first bite was a brand-new dish for the menu.  It was a dehydrated banana log (wrapping on the outside) filled with Santa Barbara uni and ginger, with finger lime at the ends.  It was topped off with whipped roasted bone marrow and oyster blossoms. This was a nice opener.

The next dish was skate wing cheek.  It was lightly cooked and served with celery juice and  curry leaf.  Around it was a sauce made with smoked celery root purée, brown butter, smoked cream and a touch of buttermilk.  This was garnished with alyssum flowers and snail caviar.  The dish was full of delicate flavors and textures, with a small crunch from curry leaf on the sides.

This upcoming dish was paired with a 2015 Grand Cru Chablis, which I was able to taste. I thought it was the best Chablis I’d ever had.

The dish featured lightly poached sturgeon (still firm) served with a beurre montage sauce made with dashi instead of water.  It was topped with a potato nest, a little osetra caviar, and dill.  The dashi-based sauce provided a nice umami flavor to go with the moist fish, very different if it had just been the standard beurre montage sauce.

For the full write-up, click here.

Stone Flower — Chicago (8/2019)

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The chef at the newly opened Stone Flower is the same chef that was behind the 2-star Michelin 42 grams that closed a few years ago (The story behind 42 grams is well-documented in the film “42 grams” available on Netflix).  As 42 grams was one of my all-time favorite restaurants, I had to make way to Chicago to try it out when a friend said he was going to be there on business.  Stone Flower operates on a pre-purchased ticket system for the meal through the SevenRooms reservation system.  When we booked, they were offering two seating times—they have since gone to one seating per evening at 6pm around the counter of 12.  Afterwards, diners are invited into the parlor, if they desire, for after-dinner drinks.  In our case, we had booked a later seating and when the time came, they opted not to change our seating time.  So, there was just the two of us for dinner.

The first beverage was a “garden” (herbaceous) gin with yuzu juice, lemon verbena syrup (house made), and rose hip soda (house made).  This was topped off with cucumber foam, dehydrated cucumber pieces, and basil blossom flowers.

The first course was snail caviar with some brown butter powder and tofu mixed with perilla oil.  This was garnished with freeze-dried cucumber balls.  This was a nice herbaceous combination with the paired beverage to start off the menu.

The next wine was a Portuguese Alvarinho.

The next bite was yuzu curd set on fried phytoplankton and topped with citrus marigold.  We were instructed not to eat the moss underneath.

The pairing for this dish was a wine called Roditis from Greece, with an earthy aroma, but having a bright, acidic flavor.

The next bite was skate cheek, just lightly poached (preserving the tender and moist texture) and served on top of celery juice and stalk mixed with lemon verbena.  Around it was a purée made from celery root cooked with brown butter and cream that was smoked with applewood.  This was garnished with celery strips and elysium flowers.

The next wine was from Slovenia.  It was a pink Pinot Grigio.

The next course was Faroe Islands salmon which had been brined in a Lapsing souchong tea.  This was torched and then a beer vinegar glaze applied.  On top was some fried corn silk, smoked trout roe, corn silk tea mousse, jicama pickled/compressed in sudachi, and hoja santa leaf. Some very nice flavors were melded together in this dish.

For the full write-up, click here.

Alinea 2nd Visit — Chicago (8/2019)

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My first visit to Alinea was about 5 years ago.  Then it was the original version.  I thought the food overall was fine, but I had found the experience okay.  I wanted to like the restaurant a lot more because I thought what the chef was trying to do was very much in line with what I was looking for in a food experience.  Since that visit, Alinea has had a makeover with a remodeling of the interior and reformatting of the menu options.  It still holds a 3-star Michelin rating.  The upstairs Salon rooms offer a multicourse menu to parties of 1 and higher with somewhat staggered reservations throughout the evening.  The Gallery Room downstairs offers a longer menu for parties of 2 and higher with a single seating time. In the past, the restaurant did not take reservations for solo diners.  They now will take one solo diner per evening in a Salon Room at 8 pm.  It turns out that the table is a normal 2-top, but they only will seat one person  at that time because they change the room around for the later seatings to accommodate a larger party.  Doing so changes the configuration and the service flow through that room such that a 2nd diner at that table would be in the way of the serving staff.

There is no printed wine list.  If you do not choose a wine pairings option (they had a non-alcoholic option for only a week), you can order a glass of wine.  What is offered changes from evening to evening, so diners have to speak to the sommelier about what they like or want to have, and the sommelier suggests a selection for you. They selected a 2016 Russian River Chardonnay for me.

They opened with caviar suspended in white sesame yogurt inside a cocoa butter shell flavored with spring onions.

The next course was jumbo white asparagus made into an ice cream.  This was served with flecks of basil, manuka honey, and pieces of chiffon cake.  There was also a piece of cassava-based Parmesan cheese bread. This was a pleasant blend of cold and hot, and sweet and salty with a combination of different textures.

The next several dishes were served simultaneously.  There was squid salad with a little green papaya salad.

The light green presentation was young coconut with horseradish cream, bits of cucumber, and succulent leaves (soft and juicy in texture).

This was a lobster parfait with carrot and passion fruit sorbet, topped with anise.  In the background was octopus served Korean BBQ style (at room temperature).

The warm soup was shrimp and coconut with red curry.

On the crystal crab dish was Dungeness crab with coconut pudding and mustard seed.

Finally, on the glowing bowl with ice was compressed chilled Japanese melon.  This was compressed in its own juice.

For the full write-up, click here.

42 grams 12th Visit — Chicago (3/2017)

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This visit was my first with their new format for 2017 with just one seating for the evening. Timing-wise, it worked best for me as dinner probably wasn’t going to run as late as the late seating used to run. However, the price went up with the new format and the experience was no longer BYOB (for free).
With the new format, there were going to increase the number of courses, upgrade the course ingredients and slow the pace of the experience. Also, they recently received their liquor license and now had a wine list (by the bottle only). It wasn’t going to work for me to buy one of their bottles, so I just opted for tea. I ended up being seated next to another solo diner who did order a bottle, and he shared a glass with me, which was very nice.

The menu is not normally presented at the beginning. I just placed the photo up front to allow viewing of the wine choices and food at the same time.

For the full write-up, click here.

It is also with a great deal of sadness that I have to report that 42 grams is now closed.  It was one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, and I will miss the food and the people that made each dining experience an enjoyable one.  There is an independent film that made its premier in March called “Courses” that documents the history of Sous Rising/42 grams.  See it if you can.

 

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.