Archive for the 'Chicago' Category

Les Nomades – Chicago

On Wednesday, October 28, the roving reporter was in Chicago.  Business associates suggested and arranged for dinner at Les Nomades.   I knew Mary Beth Liccioni from the Merci Julia event in 1993. 

The Chicago Tribune, August 13, 2009 review headline says a lot:

“Times change; Les Nomades does not.  And that’s a good thing. Ontario Street restaurant requires jackets and our respect.”

What a pleasure to visit a restaurant where the patrons are well dressed, the noise level is muted allowing conversation, and the servers and sommelier are totally professional.

The menu is designed for DIY tasting menus. 4 courses $115 and 5 $130. One of my associates did not want dessert.  Could he have an additional main.  “Of course, sir!”   Later the same gentleman wanted an extra ravioli for the duck consommé.  He had only gotten one and he loved it.  “I’ll be right back, sir!”

That says it all.  The food is not timed out.  It is solid French with beautiful presentation.  The wine list is excellent.   It is not cheap, but it is a good value for expense account dining and special occasions.

the room

The Room

champagne

Champagne

amuse

 Amuse – Pumpkin soup with a gougere

sweetbreads app

 Roasted Veal Sweetbreads, Spanish chorizo, smoked paprika and potato

pates

 Pates Maison – assorted house-prepared pates served with cornichons and toasted brioche

duck consomme

 Duck consommé with organic root vegetables and duck confit ravioli

crispy farm egg, crawfish, smoked bacon

 Crispy farm egg, rouge vif d’etampes, crawfish, smoked bacon, Chanterelle mushrooms and Iberico ham

 

Red wine

Red wine

 

venison  

Roasted Venison Loin, parsnip puree, pickled cherry, Swiss chard, pearl onion and bacon aigre-doux

 

lamb

Slow-Roasted Veal Tenderloin, wild mushroom ragout, pommes puree, preserved lemon and sauce Perigueux

 

lamb2-1

 Rack and Loin of Lamb, Lyonnaise onions, Chanterelle mushrooms, English peas and lardons

 

tarte tartin

  Fresh Apple Tart with green apple sorbet

 

fromage

  Artisan Cheese

 

petits fours

 Petits fours


Spring

Shawn McClain is the executive chef and partner of Spring. The restaurant opened in 2001 and was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s “Best New Restaurant” award. Spring is essentially a seafood restaurant “juxtaposing Eastern influence with Western foundations.” 

Chef McClain was not in the kitchen the night we were there as his wife had just had a baby.

Amuse – Spiced White bean espuma, beet chip, micro-basil – delicate, but well-seasoned.

 

Wine with beginning dishes

 

Cortes Island Oysters, coriander spiced ginger, tabasco and citrus caviar – excellent

 

Nori-cured Hamachi sashimi, spiced watermelon, cucumber-sake gelee, citrus and cilantro – first rate quality fish and I really enjoyed the pairing with the watermelon.

 

Tuna tartare, banana miso, toasted cashews, poached shallots, soy-lime dressing – the key ingredient in this dish was the banana – again a surprise element but excellent.

Tuna up-close

 

Charred Tuna sashimi, in the style of Nicoise, soft quail egg, black olive-lemon vinaigrette – In retrospect, we should not have ordered two tuna dishes, but as we were doing splits one for two, we thought it would work. 

 

Hoisin Glazed Baby octopus, Thai Pancetta, caramelized onion and Japanese eggplant – this was so tough and chewy that 2 bites was all we could manage. Compare the above dish to the tender, flavorable squid at Mercat.

 

Mercat octopus

 

Barramundi, Chinese mustard and yukon gold potato gnocchi, shiitake mushroom, edamame – The gnocchi were excellent, but I was underwhelmed by the fish. To be honest, I am not sure why. Perhaps, it was under seasoning, but I don’t have a clear taste-memory of this dish.

 

For me, the chilled appetizer dishes at Spring were far superior to the warm appetizer and main that we ordered. It could be that we ordered badly and didn’t pick the best dishes to showcase Spring’s cuisine. This post is based on a one-time dining experience so it must be viewed in that context.  As for service, it was absolutely stellar.  Ann, our server, was superb as was Fletcher, the GM.

Naha

I just love this restaurant. It is so comfortable, so welcoming, so inviting with great service and equally delicious food. You can actually carry on a decent conversation and the vibe is just enjoy the food and the wine. If we lived close by, we would be, at the very least, bi-monthly diners and my husband would probably be at Naha weekly for business lunches. 

Sarah, our waitress, was terrific and as always, Carrie Nahabedian is one of the nicest and most talented chefs. She deserved to get the James Beard award this year. Well done, Carrie!

My notes are not the greatest, particularly at the end of this meal – lots of wine is always my excuse. Also, Carrie changed some of what we ordered at the last minute so….. All dishes were splits, one for two.

 

Yellow corn soup, caramelized corn, bulb onions and basil with a “griddled” sandwich of Kentuckiana “Mont St. Francis” Goat Cheese and a tempura of squash blossom on a bed of corn kernels. This was just yummy – I know not exactly a haute cuisine word, but it just tasted perfect.

 

Tartare of Hawaiian “Yellowfin” Tuna and  Cured Tasmanian Red trout with Mosaic of Nicoise Garnsihes, Aigrelette Sauce and Toasted Brioche – First you look at this dish and just marvel at how beautiful it is. Then, you taste and realize each element is not just for show but is essential component to the whole.

 

“Coddled” Organic Farm Egg “Benedict”, Kurobuta Pork Belly and Housemade English Muffin with Smoked Homegrown Wisconsin “Red Thumb” Potatoes, Italian Frisee and Yellow Helios Radishes – John is an egg freak and I think he inhaled this dish. I was a little slower as I wanted to savor each and every bite.

 

Lake Ontario “Smelts”, lightly fried with lemon and parsley and salted capers, “Pimenton de la Vera” – It was as if these smelts were just caught – fresh is an understatement. There was not one hint of grease – the white napkin stayed white. The sauce had just enough heat to accent the smelts.

 

This was an improvisational dish on Carrie’s part so I can’t vouch for complete accuracy.  Wild Alaskan Halibut sat on top of cannelloni of Swiss chard, “fondue” of Blue Marble Family Farm Buttermilk Ricotta cheese, Sungold tomatoes – What more could one ask for? – farm fresh ingredients plus fish that was perfectly executed.

A warning – my notes get worse so hopefully the photos will do the talking and I apologize in advance for any mistakes – trust me there are probably plenty.

 

Whole roasted squab, foie gras and crisp potato cake with black currants, Harlane apricots and Cipollini onions, Armenian Rose Petal marmalade, Licorice Root and Flowering Cilanto Pods. Carrie was very unhappy with the squab as it was delivered without feet. I just hope this glistening photo displays the tastiness of this dish.

 

Braised Pheasant Valley Farm Goat and Duck Confit Potatoes, Cavaillon Melon and Persian Cucumbers with Charred Tropea Onions, candied Valencia Orange and Dill Seed Heads – this was an add-on from Carrie so I am hoping that the menu accurately describes this dish. In any case, it was delicious, balanced and perfectly executed. Look at the beauty of that sauce – this is not “quick quick” cuisine, but cuisine based on classical sauces done with finesse.

 

Not one note so I am not even going to try.

All I can say is that if you are in Chicago, Naha is a must restaurant for anyone who loves good food and good service.

 PS I had John read this before posting and all he said was “Boy, wasn’t that delicious” after every photo.

Primehouse – American Dim Sum Brunch

On Sundays, David Burke’s Primehouse serves an American Dim Sum Brunch.  Its a buffet brunch served on rolling carts, in the style of Chinese dim sum. It’s a unique idea that doesn’t work. 

 

The first cart featured cold “Asian goodies.” Because the food is served cold, this was one of the better offerings.

 

Asian shrimp cocktail with seaweed salad, chili miso dressing – the shrimp was cut in half and poached- not bad.

Beef carpaccio on a toasted baguette slice – this was made way ahead of time so the bread was stale.

 

Tuna and Salmon tartar on a wonton crisp – tasteless salmon and tuna

 

The next cart was labeled “Brunch and Crunch”

 

Smoked Salmon Pastrami, red onion, crème fraiche and chives

 

Oatmeal crème brulee –  incredibly sweet

 

Mini pancakes with mango butter – these were cold. This was to be a constant problem. It seems that it is very difficult to serve food fresh and warm from this type of delivery system.

 

Yogurt Parfait with Granola and Fruit– I didn’t taste this and John only took one bite

 

Bread Pudding with Chocolate sauce – this was sickly sweet and inedible.

 

Cheese and Salmon Strudel – another cold dish with soggy pastry

 

A plate from the kitchen – Eggs Benedict – John’s dish was fine, mine was cold.

 

Hot “Asian Goodies”

Tempura Green Beans – think tons of grease

Sesame Crab Balls – completely dried out

Some sort of stale bun filled with ????

 

Now a cart is wheeled to your table with a hot stone. Pepper-crusted beef tenderloin is cooked to order on the stone. The table next to us ordered their steak very well-done. We ordered ours rare. It is served with creamed spinach.

 

The steak was OK, but the creamed spinach was poor.

 

More Hot “Asian goodies”

Pork dumplings and Vegetable Egg Rolls. These must have been fried hours before they were served. Think cold and greasy inedible bites.

 

 

Another cart with wonton soup and shrimp dumplings – wonders of wonders hot and tasty.

 

Oysters on the half shell – John forgot to snap the picture until there was only one oyster left.

 

Little Hamburgers with a sausage stick. This comes from the kitchen and you order it at the beginning of your meal. We rejected the first burgers as they were medium well. The second batch was very good. It shows that when something is cooked to order, it can be done right.

 

The dessert cart – we didn’t choose anything.

 

I should have known better and gone for real dim sum or just let John pig out on pizza. The day before, we had gone to Pizzeria Due and he was one very happy camper.

Mercat a la Planxa

Mercat a la Planxa was a real surprise on this trip. It was our last meal in Chicago and we made early lunch reservations before having to go to the airport.  Mercat is located in the newly restored Blackstone Hotel. Sage Hospitality bought the Blackstone and partnered with Chef Jose Garces (owner and operator of the highly regarded Amada and Tinto restaurants in Philadelphia.

Although Chef Garces is rarely there, Chef J. Michael Fiorello is chef de cuisine. Judging from our meal on Monday, he is absolutely up to the task.

The room is gorgeous with a mosaic-tiled open kitchen and an explosion of color.

 

 

The menu is a modern take on tapas. Our server, Frank was wonderful and helped us devise a diverse selection of small plates, even including some items not usually offered on the lunch menu.

Croquetas de Jamon – Serrano Ham Croquettes – absolutely delicious.

 

Truita de Patata con Espinacas – Spanish omelet (more like a frittata) with spinach, potatoes and saffron aioli – another absolute winner

 

Inside of the omelet

 

Pulpo con Patatas – Spanish Octopus, Confit Potato, Smoked paprika – octopus if done improperly can be tough and chewy. This was anything but – tender, well-seasoned octopus bites. I hope the photos convey how vibrant this cuisine is.

 

Frank surprised us with an order of Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with almonds, frisee. Then he poured an applewood/manchego cheese fondue on top. Sensational.

Fondue on top

 

Habas a la Catalana – Warm Fava and Lima Bean salad with shaved Serrano Ham – we were on a roll – another winner

 

Mercat has an entire list of fish and meats done on the grill.

Hamachi done on the grill and served with Guindilla Chili Aioli and Romesco – perfect

 

We then ordered 2 sandwiches to go for the plane – not pictured.

The Shoko Club – smoked turkey breast, mahon cheese, bacon, honey mustard and almonds on mutigrain artisan bread done like a panini

El Borne – Serrano Ham, Manchego Cheese, Roasted Peppers and Basil Aioli on a baguette

We certainly didn’t need United’s lousy airplane food.

I would love to go back to Mercat for dinner and eat my way through the menu.


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