Saturday, April 30, 2011

mexique, chicago il
1529 west chicago avenue
chicago, il 60622

our final meal in chicago came in the form of a saturday brunch at chef carlos gaytan's restaurant mexique. situated in chicago's noble square neighborhood, mexique is known for serving mexican cuisine with a french influence, and was recently named to the michelin guides bib gourmand list which recognizes restaurants offering great food at a reasonable price. although mexique's location was almost two miles from our hotel, the weather was beautiful, and we opted to get some exercise and see a new area of chicago by walking.

we arrived at mexique around 11:45am, and were promptly seated by a very friendly young man near the back of the restaurant. at this point, we virtually had the place to ourselves with only one other group present. this was not the case for long however, and as morning became afternoon, mexique began to fill rapidly. visually, mexique is an attractive contemporary space with hard wood floors, exposed brick walls, and fresh flowers on all the tables.

the friendly host who seated us also turned out to be our server, and quickly obliged our request for mimosas as we browsed the impressive menu. with roughly twenty five choices including french toast, sandwiches, tacos, sopes, crepes, and more, i knew deciding on a single entree was not going to be a possibility for me.

my first selection was mexique's take on french toast. dipped in a tequila/orange mix and topped with chopped strawberries and powdered sugar, the toast was a nice interpretation of a classic breakfast dish. as good as it was however, after tasting the next two dishes, i wish i would have substituted something with more mexican flare instead.

carrie's selection, which came after much debate, was an order of the chorizo stuffed crepes. featuring scrambled eggs, homemade chorizo, gruyere cheese, pico de galo, creamy guajillo sauce, green beans, and breakfast potatoes, this was an excellent entree overall with each component pulling its weight.

arriving a few minutes after the french toast and crepes was my second selection, the cochinita pibil tacos. accompanied by a pear salad, the tacos were prepared with annatto-tequila braised pork, purple pickled onion, and a mango habenero coulis. the tacos were outstanding, with the savory pork being wonderfully offset by the sweet and spicy coulis.

with both carrie and i feeling quite full at this point, we elected to split a dessert. upon browsing the rather short dessert menu, we both knew immediately which one we would be ordering. our choice was the dessert enchiladas, which was two crepes filled with chocolate ganache, toasted walnuts, ancho chile-chocolate fondue, and served with a side of creme anglaise vanilla bean ice cream. served warm, the enchiladas were every bit as good as they sound, and proved to be an excellent ending to an already delicious meal.

mexique easily lived up to my expectations from start to finish. the environment was laid back and stylish, the service was extremely warm and friendly, and everything we ate was top notch. i would love to come back to mexique for dinner someday, as the menu is even more extensive and complex.
Mexique on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 29, 2011

bonsoiree, chicago il
2728 west armitage avenue
chicago, il 60647

bonsoiree, which is located in chicago's logan square neighborhood, is a 26 seat establisment run by owner/chef shin thompson. the menu changes seasonally and features modern american cuisine heavily influence by japanese and french presentations and techniques. the restaurant was born from chef thompson's days running underground dinner parties all over chicago, and stays true to its roots on saturdays when dining is invitation only. bonsoiree is a byob, and serves no other beverages aside from water.

being that carrie and i had tickets to see mogwai play at the metro theatre later that evening, we booked the earliest reservation possible, 5pm. with the cab ride taking much longer than expected, we actually arrived about twenty minutes late. this was not an issue, and we were told to seat ourselves at any table set for two. i knew going in that bonsoiree was a very intimate restaurant, but i was still surprised at how small the space actually was. the soundtrack at bonsoiree sounded like it came straight from my ipod, with cuts from radiohead, arcade fire, pearl jam, bon iver, and more playing throughout the night. dining room service was handled by two servers, who assisted tables as needed without designating themselves to certain guests. both servers were friendly and easy to talk with, and made us feel relaxed and at home. taking full advantage of the byob policy, carrie and i brought a bottle of oregon pinot noir as well as a french vouvray. both bottles were surrendered to the staff, and served at appropriate times throughout the meal.

 quail lollipop - sour orange curry, thai flavors, thai basil, lemongrass, kumquat brulee

our eight course tasting began with a quail "lollipop". this dish was crispy, tart, and spicy and was a good warm up course that got our palettes tingling.

coriander butter poached tasmanian ocean trout - fava bean and fennel pudding, toasted sunflower tuille, rhubarb bloody marry

served in a boat of sorts, course two featured some of the best bites of fish i have ever eaten. paired alongside a smooth fava bean and fennel pudding and dots of a spicy rhubarb bloody marry concoction, the tasmanian ocean trout had a very fresh and clean flavor to it. while the accompaniments were good, i chose to eat most of the fish on its own so as not to mask its natural flavors.


course number three, a scallop and crab motoyaki,  was far and away the best course of the meal in the eyes of both carrie and myself. made with a surprisingly spicy ponzu aioli that contrasted beautifully against the sweet shellfish, carrie commented that this offering was better than anything we had eaten the night before during a 10+ course tasting at tru.

fully loaded potato - smoked duchesse, crispy sour cream, pulverized pancetta, crystallized celery, sharp cheddar creme anglaise

this was probably the most fun course of the meal to eat. basically, we have all the components of a loaded baked potato presented in a deconstructed manner. the combination of the smokey pancetta, savory cheddar anglaise, and crispy sour cream mixed beautifully with the smooth duchesse potatoes, and was a brilliant pair with our oregon pinot noir.

genmaicha pork tenderloin/crisp pork belly - genmaicha sake broth, carrot glazed peas, dashi soaked mushrooms, cherry-ramp chutney

the stars of this dish for me were most definitely the tenderloin and the cherry-ramp chutney. the pork belly was very disappointing, as it completely lacked the tenderness and flavor it is typically known to possess. i have noted before that peas are not a vegetable i am usually fond of, and while these were better than most, i still left several of them on my plate.

prime rib tonkatsu - fermented black bean gravy, blueberry-basil biscuits, jackfruit

the final protein course of the meal came in the form of breaded and fried prime rib tonkatsu. crispy on the outside and tender within, the prime rib was plated with an interesting black bean gravy, delicious blueberry-basil biscuits, and a dab of a jackfruit that added a bit of sweetness to the dish.

reverse cheese and crackers

serving as a segue between the savory courses and dessert, this course was a miss in my opinion. basically, we have cheese and crackers presented in reverse, meaning what looks like cheese was actually a saltine panna cotta, and what looks like a standard cracker was a cheese flavored crisp. also on the plate was a grape and a bit of salami for good measure. while the dish wasn't revolting or inedible, it did little for me as a whole.

eight chocolate presentations

our final bites at bonsoiree were eight unique presentations of chocolate. since i refuse to take notes during a meal, i am unable to go into detail on any of them. i can certainly comment that each of them was very good, with the creme brulee and white chocolate beignet being my favorites.

sufficiently buzzed (ok...drunk) after consuming a bottle of wine each, we chatted with the severs for a bit before settling the bill and hailing a cab to wrigleyville for the show. although a few of the courses were a miss in my opinion, our meal was a largely positive experience. given the price point (less than half of our meal the night before at tru including the wine we brought), use of fresh ingredients, and overall creativity of the dishes,  i could see us coming back each time the menu changes to try more of chef thompson's creations if we lived in chicago.
Bonsoirée on Urbanspoon

david burke's primehouse, chicago il
616 north rush street
chicago, il 60611

david burke's primehouse, which is situated within the hip and modern james hotel, was where carrie and i celebrated our first wedding anniversay. it was our first trip to chicago as a couple and was our first time venturing away from places like ruth's chris and maggiano's for an upscale dinner. while we enjoyed the food we ate that night quite a bit (the 55 day dry aged ribeye is unreal), the experience was severely marred by a large table of extremely crass men seated directly behind us. we have always talked about wanting a "do over" for that meal, and with almost two years of marriage and dining passing since that original meal, we decided  lunch at the primehouse was in order.

walking in right on time for our 11:30am reservation, we were left to wait at deserted hostess stand for at least two minutes before being greeted. we were led to a booth with ripped upholstery located on the right side of the mostly empty restaurant. the interior of d.b. prime is decent at best, and does not really match the beautiful minimalistic modern decor of the james hotel. for lunch, the only way to go is the "no bull steak feast", which gives you an appetizer, small steak, two sides, and dessert for $24.99. other choices for lunch are offered as well as items from the dinner menu being available upon request, but the cost of ordering that way greatly exceeds the great value of the "no bull feast". a glass of house red or white wine is also available with the feast for a mere $5. i went with a glass of red, while carrie (a caffeine addict) decided to go with soda.

moments after placing our orders, we were each brought a serving of the excellent house bread done popover style. these were light, airy, and moist on the inside and were something carrie and i were hoping was still offered at the primehouse.

for the first portion of our "no bull feast", we both opted for the lobster bisque. served with a lobster spring roll, the bisque was full of both fresh lobster and crisp apples. this is one of the lighter lobster bisques i have encountered, and the addition of the tart apple gave the soup an interesting dynamic in both flavor and texture.

after a brief wait following the completion of our bisque, our main courses arrived on a rolling cart. my choice was the 28 day dry aged bone-in ribeye which was available with the "no bull feast" for an additional charge. the steak was cooked properly to my specified medium rare, but was tougher and fattier than i would have preferred. while i realize a ribeye is not a lean cut, this offering did not live up to my expectations in quality or flavor. this steak paled in comparison to the 55 day dry aged offering i had during our first meal at the primehouse. for my sides, i selected the asiago truffle fries and the soy glazed asparagus (pictured below). both were very generous portions, and quite enjoyable.

carrie's choice of steak was the bone-in fillet that also carried a supplementary charge when ordered with the "no bull feast". however, she was served the regular fillet instead by mistake. after speaking with the waiter and insuring we would not be charge the additional cost of the bone-in, carrie decided to just eat the standard fillet. her thoughts on her steak were similar to mine, decent but a bit disappointing. for sides, carrie chose a mushroom offering along with the asiago truffle fries.

there are two dessert choices available with the feast. my choice was the tanzanie pecan brownie, featuring kaluha ice cream, banana mousse, caramelized banana, and cinnamon caramel. while predictable flavor wise, this was a nice dessert overall. by this point i was feeling rather full, and failed to finish the entire portion.

carrie decided to try the key lime pie, made with white chocolate mint ice cream, toasted coconut, and toasted meringue. i did not sample the pie, however carrie reports that it was "really good".

overall, i have mixed feelings regarding our two experiences at david burke's primehouse. our first meal there was great from a food standpoint, but the boisterous dining room made it hard for us to have a romantic anniversary dinner. meal number two featured steaks that were slightly disappointing, although being that they were lower end options than we had ordered previously, this was to be expected, and i still walked out feeling as though we got a good deal all things considered. with a multitude of other dining options in chicago as well as my taste for steak as a whole declining, this will most likely be our last trip to david burke's primehouse.
David Burke's Primehouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 28, 2011

tru, chicago il
676 north st. clair street
chicago, il 60611

after previously experiencing alinea, l2o, and moto, our next choice for a decadent chicago tasting menu was between tru, avenues, spiaggia, and charlie trotters. we had originally decided on avenues only to be unable to secure a reservation for the available night of our visit, and tru became our choice. opened in 1999 by chefs rick tramonto and gale gand (tru stands for tramonto unlimited), tru is known for modern presentations of french cuisine with a mediterranean influence. tramonto left tru in 2010 to develop a new restaurant in new orleans, and while gand remains a partner, sole control of the kitchen has been given to chef anthony martin. before making the move to tru, martin was the executive sous chef at the prestigious joel robuchon restaurant in las vegas. tru received the honor of one star by the famed michelin restaurant guide when it made its first stop in chicago in the fall of 2010. unlike our meal at alinea a few months ago, i wasn't exactly sure of what to expect from tru and went into the meal with my expectations tempered. 

we arrived right on time for our 8:15pm reservation, and were led by a very pleasant hostess into one of the most grand dining rooms i have encountered in my young dining career. with classical music tinkering softly overhead, we were seated at two top that gave each of us a nice view of the half full  (pictures above were taken after the meal) dining room. we were easily the youngest couple in the restaurant, with most of the diners being in their fifties and sixties. before ordering, we were asked to decide between still or sparkling water, as well as black or white napkins.

tru offers three different menus, a three course prix fixe, six course grand collection, and nine course chef's collection. we went for the chef's collection without hesitation, which seemed to surprise our server a bit. in addition, we elected to add the three course dessert tasting to our meal. tru offers a rather extensive wine list, but the only way to fully appreciate a lengthy tasting menu is to partake in the available wine pairings, which we split to ensure sobriety by meals end. as i have mentioned before, neither carrie nor i drink heavily, and the full pairing would have had a negative impact on our meal. humorously enough, we were both carded before being allowed to take part in the wine pairings, something i have never encountered at an establishment of tru's caliber.

our first bites at tru were a pair of comte cheese gougeres. these were good, but not overly exciting, and were reminiscent to the flavor of a chez-it.

we were next presented with a large bread tray featuring four fresh made choices. choosing three of the four, my selections were a salted brioche, hearty pumpernickel, and a baguette style roll. all three breads were wonderful, with the brioche being the winner in my eyes. served along side the bread were both salted and unsalted butter.

immediately following the bread was an amuse bouche entitled cucumber salad on gelee, bouchot mussel veloute. served cold, this was light, smooth, and refreshing with an element of savor.

white sturgeon "caviar", avocado, hazelnut
santorini santorini barrel siglas 2009

our first proper course, served in a caviar tin, was a play on the traditional delicacy. instead of actual sturgeon eggs, these were made from smoked sturgeon fillets mixed with milk and rolled into pearls to resemble caviar. smooth and delicious, the sturgeon balls paired well with the mild avocado mousse that lay beneath them. served alongside the tin were three hazelnut crackers.

linear foie gras, black fig ice wine vinegar, caramelized popcorn
coteaux du layon clos ste, catherine domaine des baurmard 2006

course number two was one of our favorites of the evening, and could have easily been served along with the desserts. the rich and salty foie gras looked as though it had been squeezed from a toothpaste tube, and contrasted very nicely with the sweet flavors of the figs and popcorn.

inside of an english pea soup, lavender
prager gruner veltliner achleiten smaragd wachau 2007

dish three was the only dish i was hesitant about, as i am not a great fan of peas as a whole. however, as i have mentioned before, i am starting to learn that even food items i tend to dislike can be delicious in the hands of a world class chef. poured table side, the soup was smooth and creamy, with a bit of sweetness along with a bit of savor. i can say without a doubt this is the best use of the pea i have ever encountered.

dashi flan, edamame, yuzu koshu
kamoizumi kome kome happy bride hiroshima prefeture

next up was a rich and creamy flan topped with american sturgeon caviar with edamame. while by no means bad, this dish may have been my least favorite of the evening.

duroc pork belly, stone ground grits, pickled ramps
nahe riesling kabinett diel 2009

this was a fairly simple course, and was kind of a gourmet play on comfort food. all the flavors here were good, although i found the pork belly a bit lean for my taste.

scottish salmon, sorrel, smoked cream
isole e olena chardonnay tuscany 2009

served on a very intricate plate, this course featured some of the best bites of salmon i have tasted. topped with a very smokey flavored cream, the salmon was cooked to perfection, and melted in my mouth. also on the plate were some dots of a sorrel sauce, which gave the dish a bit of acidity.

glazed veal, fava bean, morel mushroom, tokyo turnip, prosciutto
brunello di montalcino casanuova delle cerbaie 2003

for our final savory course of the evening, we with presented with veal, a protein i typically find rather bland. luckily that was not the case with tru's offering, as this perfectly cooked cut was full of delicate beef flavor. also on the plate were turnips, mushrooms, fava beans, and a bit of prosciutto. this was the largest course of the evening, and was a nice end to the savory portion of the meal.

a selection of cow, goat, and sheep's milk cheese
poire granit eric bordelet 2009

next up, a server approached our table pushing a cart boasting rather impressive selection of cheeses. i am unable to recall the cheeses that i chose, but all three were quite nice, with the one in the middle being one of the most pungent (in a good way) cheeses i have tasted.

a light cucumber and yuzu vanilla bean sorbet was served next as a palate cleanser. this was quite tasty and surprisingly tart, and proved to be a good segue to the sweet dessert courses.

before our first true dessert course, an offering of honey madelines was brought to the table. served warm, these were wonderfully light and absolutely delicious. we could have easily eaten another helping.

honeycrisp apple beignet, vanilla ice cream
sauternes chateau rieussec 1998

our dessert proper began with a pair of warm and delicious apple filled beignets. crisp on the outside and soft within, the beignets paired wonderfully with the accompanying vanilla ice cream.

gleaming chocolate mousse coffee ice cream, chicory texture
rare wine company boston bual special reserve

regretfully, due to my work schedule and following the bruins closely as they compete in the stanley cup playoffs, i was unable to get to this review until a week after dining at tru. being that i refuse to take notes during a meal (pics are bad enough), the last two dessert course have been lost in my memory. while i do recall both being excellent, i cannot really comment on either at this time.

passion fruit mousse, coconut, lime, chocolate terrain
muscat de beaumes-de-venise domaine de durban 2007

following the final dessert course, a cart of mignardises was brought to the table. we were left to choose from six different types of chocolates and pastries. carrie, who was beginning to feel full, opted for just two while i requested one of each. all were delicious, with the canale being the clear winner for me.

served alongside the mignardises was a miniature root beer float. this was not at all unlike the classic dessert one can easily make at home, but never the less, it was enjoyable to sip on with the mignardises.

our final bites at tru came in the form of exploding chocolate truffles. we were told to put these in our mouth, seal our lips, and bite down. the light chocolate shell is liquid filled and does indeed burst in the mouth. carrie, who seems to be cursed with bad luck, had an incident with hers however. when she picked up her truffle, it burst in her hands (she claims it was defective) and got all over the tablecloth. a server quickly rushed over, took care of the mess, and brought carrie another truffle. we were the last couple in the restaurant, but carrie was still sufficiently embarrassed!

on our way out, we made a stop at the restroom, which was rather plain with the exception of this incredible sink.

before departing, we were presented with a personalized menu listing each of the courses and wines we consumed along with a treat to eat the next morning.

as i mentioned above, i was a bit unsure of what to expect going into our meal at tru. prior to previous tastings at alinea and moto, i had done extensive research on each restaurant and knew much about what i would be experiencing. i wanted to go into the meal at tru not knowing what was coming, and i feel like this heightened the overall experience somewhat. while the service was a bit stiff at first, the servers definitely loosened up a bit by the end of the evening, conversing and joking freely with the two of us. overall, tru provided us with a wonderful experience and is a place i would definitely recommend to someone wanting a progressive upscale meal with classic sensibilities.
Tru on Urbanspoon