avec (!), blackbird and charlie trotter’s

August 25th, 2008 · 25 Comments

to begin, let’s jump right in with the above photo: chorizo stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce.  now, for the record let me just say that these were awesome.  but totally freakin’ awesome.  and by the way, these awesome stuffed dates?  they are absolutely nothing like those bacon wrapped almond stuffed date things you once made for that party…  because i know you did. 

yes you did.

this post is long overdo.  but i’d been gone so long over the summer that i wanted to show you that i could still cook, or that i would cook or that yes, cooking was still a huge part of my life.  so first i wanted to present you with some of what goes on around here, in my kitchen – and well, now that i have a few posts under my too-tight belt, i’d like to talk a bit more about chicago.  i mean avec.  because avec is a great restaurant.  so great that across the street from avec there are newly constructed condo’s for sale, and i was looking at them and seriously thinking, "if i bought one of those and moved to chicago then i could eat here every single day".  oh and by the way, avec is not necessarily in an emboldened font – but in my mind it always will be…

whipped brandade

do you see what i see?  that right there is a bowl of the best brandade ever.  EVER.  seriously freakin’ awesome.  and right alongside the bowl on the wooden plank, stacked up in 2 perfect rows are the toasted baguette slices.  the perfect presentation. 

english pea crostini with lemon zest, radish, watercress and ricotta salata

questions?  i didn’t think so.

sockeye salmon tartare with marinated baby carrots, zucchini, red onion and grapefruit juice

this was freakin’ wonderful. (excuse the iphone pic)

housemade country terrine pork, sweetbreads, cherries and pistachios with cherry mustard and pickled quail eggs

excellent excellent excellent in every way.

focaccia with taleggio cheese, truffle oil and fresh herbs

this stuffed focaccia was a phenom (another iphone pic – sorry)

avec pic from my second (4pm) visit before my flight…

avec pic swiped from their site – i mean, just look at this place…

avec serves my kind of food, all rooted in mediteranean cuisine.  it’s owned by donnie madia, an impressive restaurateur who also owns blackbird right next door.  donnie’s undeniable attention to dramatic yet minimalist detail is exquisite to me.  his design sensibility creates a vibe that works well with my psyche, and somehow becomes a clean, neutral, even peaceful altar for the knockout food.  when i’m back to chicago, avec will be my first stop.  for sure.

blackbird was there first, sits right next door and is the french upscale version of it’s younger more bohemian counterpart.  we dined there too, and i must tell you that it was also a standout dinner but in a more refined manner.  i didn’t shoot any photos of the food – and perhaps should have, but quite frankly we got to drinking cocktails and that right there is supremely dangerous territory.  i begin to care much less about documenting the food and exponentially began to care way more about just enjoying the evening like a regular (non food-blogger) person.  and then the cocktails were followed by the wine pairing to go along with our tasting menu – well it is the sure fire way to remembering things vaguely.  case in point – the following morning when i looked over our menu – i had zero recollection of the last course.  but none. nada. zippo.  and honestly, i wasn’t even that smashed… honestly…

chef paul kahan was nominated just last year for the james beard award for outstanding chef, and in ’04 received the honor of being named the best chef in the midwest.   his devotion to both his craft and his kitchen staff is well documented – and although i know none of that first hand, i would attest to all of it if only by the level of food he puts out.  and i’m quite sure that donnie madia wouldn’t have it any other way…

the menu was as follows, and i honestly do recall being knocked out by this dinner.  the white gazpacho was out of this world, the foie was perfectly prepared and with unique accompanying flavors that were as harmonious as a bach double violin concerto – and the sweetbreads were the best i’ve ever eaten anywhere – by far.

blackbird tasting menu

chilled parmesan gazpacho with peeky toe crab, local black raspberries and pumpkin seeds

chilled cuttlefish with jicama, snow peas, cardamom and crispy chocolate

roasted hudson valley foie gras with preserved grapefruit, sherry-braised radishes, sea beans and lychee-espresso

seared tasmanian sea trout with cherry molasses, kohlrabi, baby turnips, forbidden black rice and salad burnet

crispy veal sweetbreads with cashew butter, rye waffle, black mission figs and black olive honey

braised rack of lamb with fresh soybeans, spring radishes, pickled feta and lovage

local strawberry sorbet and olive oil

kalamata olive cake with rhubarb, toffee and buttermilk ice cream

milk chocolate fritters with apricots, soy and rice milk sorbet

which brings me to my final evening in chicago, a dinner at charlie trotter’s.  so let me please officially state that the food itself was really wonderful – totally top notch – and i did take a bunch of pics but they all look like kinda this due to the lighting and my old point and shoot…

and really, this representation is hardly fair to do to a forty eight hour braised short rib with chanterelles and black fermented garlic.  just think of what the perfect bite of beef could taste like, and this would be not only in the running, but on the short list.  though there was one thing… you would think that in the forty eight hours it took to cook the rib, that they might have found the time to clean the chanterelles properly.  because our chanterelles were gritty and this was charlie f’ing trotter’s and we were both biting down on mushroom dirt.  big misstep for a kitchen such as ct’s. 

and… the service was a bit stiff and well, odd… and that rooooom was beyond tired, as in – think early 80’s fancy but stuffy hotel dining room, such as, say, the ‘pierre’ or the ‘st. regis’ – but back in the day when carpets were burgandy with leaf patterns and wall sconces were high french and gilded.  that was charlie trotter’s.  and that vibe squicks me out.    but hey, for me to complain at all about this dinner would be pretty foolish because what was really the very best part was that it was a surprise gift.  i had a feeling that something was up when they began pouring from the premium wine pairings without asking us… so thank you mr. youknowwhoyouare.  the dinner was delicious and i was so happy to be able to experience chef trotter’s food.

this is joe.  we met in economics 101 in 19muffleshhhsecond semester we took philosophy together and then greek mythology and well, afterwards we never spoke of any of that again, but we’ve remained like family all these years.  one of the many reasons i love joe is that he was by far the hottest guy in the trotter dining room that night and the only one without a tie.  that and the fact that he is all irish and insists on cocktails before dinner and drinks a lot of very good wine.  joe is also a restaurateur in chicago, his place is the beloved le colonial.

and so that was chicago.  all of that and alinea, of course.  so to recap, my 5 days looked a little something like this: alinea/avec/blackbird/charlie trotter’s/avec with lunches at le colonial thrown in for very good measure…

as a true nyc girl, born and raised – it’s hard for me to admit love for another city.  but chicago, i love. 

i do… 

Tags: restaurants · travel

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