Monday, March 1, 2010

Cliff Visits Two Chicago Top Chef Restaurants

Hey there, hi there, ho there, Top Chefies. Cliffie here.

A few weeks ago, the hubby and I sought to escape the dreary cold of Columbus, Ohio, and headed to lovely, warm and sunny Chicago!

OK, there may have been a problem or two with that plan.

Well, it was sunny at least.

In any case, we had a good time. And it being Valentine's Day weekend (I know; I procrastinate), we decided to take in a Sandra Bernhard show and visit a couple Top Chef-related restaurants.

Our first day in town, we decided to have lunch at Top Chef Masters winner Rick Bayless' classic Frontera Grill.

Wow. I thought I had had Mexican food before. I clearly was mistaken. We knew that the Mexican cooking master had wowed the entire universe with his slow-cooked mole, so we ordered his Enchiladas de Mole Poblano, homemade tortillas rolled around Gunthorp free-range chicken, doused with Mexicos most famous mole; black beans.


And, I know, when one does this kind of thing, the dining parties are supposed to order different things. But there's no way either one of us were going to deprive ourselves of that delicious experience.

Even the (ordered separately) chips and salsa were exquisite. And my drink, a Bloody Mary-esque concoction made with beer was amazing. Yum!

The next night, we headed to dinner at Sprout, the establishment of Top Chef Season Three finalist Dale Levitski.

Being as this was Valentine's Day weekend, we felt this was a very special dinner and the place didn't disappoint. (Side note: I had "friended" Dale on Facebook in advance of our dining there and wondered if there was a chance we'd get to see him to say hello. He did accept the request, but never wrote back. Not that I expected him to come out to greet folks, really. Particularly when I saw how wonderfully busy the place was. Yea for him!)

The restaurant is located near DePaul University and, being near a college, is surrounded by the usual collection of pubs, laundromats, 24-hour copy shops and parades of girls in scrunchies and pajama bottoms with words like "FIELD HOCKEY" written across their asses. So, I was (for whatever reason) surprised to enter the place and discover it to be a very fancy fine-dining establishment. Thankfully, we did dress nicely. But if we hadn't, I would have felt impossibly out of place.

The restaurant offers both á la carte and a prixe fixe dining options. But since it was a special occasion, we decided to go all-in and take the latter choice from their special Valentine's Day menu.

Again, we both made the same dining choice across the board. (I really don't like to eat off anyone else's plate and refuse to let anyone eat off of mine. It's a reaction to that being my mother's perpetual M.O. Sue me.)

We started with the truffle, a creation with radish, frissee, mushroom and a crunchy baguette. The dish was quite tasty, though the truffle's gelatinous texture could be off-putting to some. The baguette tasted a mite stale to me, but perhaps that's how it was supposed to be.

This was followed by the second course where we opted for the game dish, made up of duck, pheasant, veal and lamb with blackened peas and apricot.

This was quite delicious and a lovely marriage of various proteins. Having watched the chefs last season have to create a protein inside a protein inside a protein, I wondered how that would taste. And now I know. Yummy.

And for dessert, we had the banana dish, a delectable pastry with cashews, coconut, 5 spice and chocolate.

All in all, it was a lovely time and a great dining experience. (Oh, I did see Dale in the kitchen through that little glass door pane on my two trips to the washroom. He is looking good, but clearly was very busy back there.) It's great to see that this Top Chef vet and his sous chef, castmate Sara Nguyen, are succeeding!

Hope you enjoyed that. And happy dining!


intuitive eggplant said...

Thanks, Cliffie, for the fab photos and report! Dale and his food always intrigued me during his season - happy to hear his new venture is off the ground and doing well. And Chicago is actually close enough (I'm from Cincinnati) that I might get there and be able to taste his food myself sometime.

theminx said...

Sounds like two great meals. That whole not eating off another's plate thing is weird though. :) How do you fare at family-style meals?

Kristine said...

I've been to Frontera a couple times, but now I'm going to have to try the mole. Thanks for the review. I kind of have the same issue with the plate sharing. More so with "univited" sharing. Maybe it's an Ohio thing!

Cliff O'Neill said...

Minxie: I tend to avoid family-style meals most of the time. But that's not a rule.

But once it's one one person's plate it either goes in that person's mouth or into the trash. None of this "Oh dear, I won't be able to finish this. Do you want the rest?" business. For that, I'd just as soon go into the kitchen and leftovers eat off strangers' plates.

And don't even get me started on buffets!