Tuesday, July 31, 2012

tru (2) - chicago, il

676 north st. clair street
chicago, il 60611

following our dinner at chris nugent's goosefoot in lincoln square, carrie and i caught a cab back to the city proper and took a short power nap prior to our evening's grand finale. while our dinner at goosefoot was a plan made months in advance, the idea for our nightcap was conceived just a few days before our trip. knowing that our early goosefoot reservation would have us back on the streets by 8pm, we figured that we would need a second venue to enjoy the rest of our one night in the city. the original plan was to go to the drawing room for cocktails, but then i remembered the $50 we had accrued on our lettuce entertain you frequent diner card after our blowout meal at l2o back in june. with little interest in any of the lettuce entertain you restaurants aside from l2o, everest, and tru and with no plans to revisit any of them for dinner in the foreseeable future, the card had slipped to the back of my mind. however, now that a late night option was needed, an idea was formulated. after a quick call to the restaurant, a 10pm reservation for two was booked at tru for their three course dessert tasting menu.
after making the short walk from our hotel, we checked in with the hostess (same as last time) and were shown to our table in main dining room which at this point was about one-third full. we were then given the choice of black or white napkins and upon declining wine in favor of coffee our choice of still water was synchronously poured by a pair of servers. al a carte dessert menus were then presented but promptly handed back as we confirmed our desire for the full dessert tasting. service for the evening was handled by a team of three of four, with a man named carlos taking lead. carlos was our primary server during our dinner at tru in april of 2011, and for both meals he was exceptionally personable and engaging without ever overstepping.
for our first taste, we have gelatins of anjou pear with fennel and granny smith apple with chile flake served whimsically on a mock clothesline over grass. although not nearly as soft or sticky, these reminded me of a much more interesting fruit roll up.
next up was a sweet and sour meyer lemon sorbet palette refresher.
like our first visit to tru, a basket of honey madelines was brought to the table to nibble on throughout the dessert courses. these arrived hot and went very quickly.
for our first of the three actual dessert courses we received rhubarb with strawberry gelee, goat yogurt, and lemon balm. this was a nice course with the tartness of the rhubarb mixed with the cool yogurt being the main gist of the dish.
arriving next was a honeycrisp apple beignet with vanilla ice cream. basically we have a light and crisp doughnut filled with fresh apple and served with a wonderful slightly gritty vanilla bean ice cream. this was easily my favorite of the three desserts however i did find eating the ice cream in conjunction with the beignet rather difficult due to the service pieced used.
finally we have chef martin's contemporary take on s'mores. with each of the necessary ingredients present in multiple forms, this was very interesting texturally and certainly pleasing in taste.
following the s'mores was a miniature root beer float with some serious notes of ginger present.
mignardises fore the evening were coconut macaroons, raspberry truffles, caneles, marshmallows, black currant gelees, and a lemon chocolate offering. the raspberry truffles and black currant gelees were my favorites while the canale was a major let down as the shell was far too soft and lacked the crackle a good canale is known for.
just as our first experience at tru, our tasting ended with the restaurant's signature exploding truffles. basically these are a razor thin chocolate shell filled with a liquid of some sort (this time the flavor was peanut butter) and topped with a bit of gold fleck. last time around, carrie managed to burst her truffle all over the table and as such the treats were approached with a great deal of caution. i am happy to report that there were no casualties this time with both truffles safely making it to our mouths before the big burst.
as a parting gift, we received a small cake along with more macaroons, gelees, and truffles. the cakes were great first thing the next morning while the mignardises were saved and enjoyed on our car ride back to st. louis.

this visit to tru was certainly enjoyable, but i am just not sure the food was worth $40 per person. all the desserts were well executed and quite tasty, but were no where near the level of what we had at goosefoot hours prior in terms of creativity or overall flavor. honestly, the peanut gooey butter cake i had at big jones earlier in the day was more satisfying in all ways than anything tru served me. when it comes to service and ambiance however, tru certainly ranks amongst chicago's finest, and i went into the tasting know that part of the expense is simply just getting to sit in that magnificent room. all things considered i am glad to have revisited tru, but unlike alinea and l2o i highly doubt i will feel compelled to make another return.

goosefoot - chicago, il

2656 west lawrence avenue
chicago, il 60625

taking its name from the plant family also known as chenopodium genus, goosefoot is chicago's newest byob tasting menu only restaurant owned and operated by longtime les nomades chef chris nugent. located in chicago's lincoln square neighborhood, the restaurant has made quite a name for itself since its opening in december of 2012. most notably, goosefoot upstaged grant achatz's concept shifting restaurant next as eater chicago's top new restaurant. with a considerable buzz around the restaurant coupled with a dining room that holds just 34 diners, getting a table at goosefoot is no easy task. currently opentable is the best route for securing a reservation, but you will have to commit to a table 90 days in advance. prior to the meal carrie and i stopped by binny's and picked up two bottles of wine to go with the meal. our choices were a gruner veltliner from austria and a pinot noir from oregeon's willamette valley.
our arrival to goosefoot was unfortunately almost ten minutes past our reservation time of 5:30pm due to an incredibly confused cab driver who would have taken us to a completely wrong address had we not been tracking the route ourselves via gps. frazzled from the debacle, we made our way into the small restaurant and were greeted warmly by chef nugent's wife nina before being led to our two top along the left wall. with our bottle of white wine promptly whisked to the kitchen to begin chilling we received a brief explanation of the menu (8 course tasting) and reconfirmation that we had no dietary restrictions. throughout the course of our meal, several different servers visited our table to deliver dishes or refill water glasses. all were cheery and seemed knowledgeable, but no one team member was overly engaging or stood out as being the leader.
the evening's amuse bouche was a sliver of poached beet with goat cheese. this was tasty enough with the tang of the cheese nicely pairing with the sugary beet, but overall i found this a rather weak introduction to the meal.
1. lobster/scallop/licorice root/curry

kicking off the meal was a seared scallop topped with licorice root foam resting in a lobster and mushroom ragu. to the left is a dollop of butternut squash puree and to the right is an assortment of edible micro greens and flowers. this was a very strong opener with the perfectly seared scallop possessing all of the natural sweetness one would expect while the salad on the right provided a bit of bitter contrast. it was not until we were almost finished with this course that our chilled wine was returned to the table. while it was somewhat frustrating that we were unable to enjoy the dish with wine, the blame is on us for arriving late. i will also note here that at goosefoot they open the wine for you but claim they are unable to pour it. this differs from bonsoiree (under shin thompson) who takes care of everything and schwa who doesn't even open the bottles for its guests.
2. corn soup/potato/shrimp/truffle essence

for course two we received a rather large portion of corn soup filled with potato and shrimp and topped with a white truffle foam. on the outside of the bowl we have most notably a parmesan gougere along with a swipe of sauce and some greens. as good as the scallop course was, this dish took things to a whole new level. first we have the foam which upon the dishes arrival made its presence firmly known as it gave off that unmistakable truffle aroma. opting to try a bit of it on its own first i was happy to find that its flavor lived up to its scent. next i sampled the soup itself which was wonderfully sweet yet rich and luxurious at the same time. finally, after mixing everything together in the bowl and having a few bites, i opted to eat the light but potently cheesy gougere on its own (recommended by our server).
3. arctic char/maitake/english pea/espelette

next up was arctic char with maitake mushrooms, english peas, and a swoop of espelette pepper puree. this was another very solid offering as the char was well cooked and cut like butter. there is more to this dish than i can accurately recall...
4. duck breast/spiced beluga lentils/ginger/compressed apple

after eating the char we polished off our bottle of gruner and one of the servers opened our pinot noir in preparation for the heavier courses. pictured above is pan fried duck breast with beluga lentils, ginger, compressed apples, and a few other components. duck is definitely one of my favorite proteins and this preparation definitely did not disappoint. i really enjoyed trying small pieces of duck with all the different flavors on the plate. like most of nugent's dishes, no two bites are just alike.
5. angus beef/heirloom carrots/goosefoot/cumin/shallot jus

for the meal's main course we have the much hyped consomme poached angus beef elaborately plated with carrots done three ways and several other ingredients. this course was a real stunner as the poached beef was incredibly tender and absolutely full of flavor. definitely one of the best pieces of beef i have ever had. as for the carrots, we have poached, pureed, and a modernist gelled rendition on the far right of the plate.
6. crispy goats milk cheese/lemon balm/red pepper/balsamic

bridging the gap between savory and sweet was the most composed cheese courses i have ever had. here we have goats milk cheese covered in a thin layer of phyllo dough and fried, creating a light and crackling exterior that gave way to a soft and gooey interior. the "bunny ears" on the plate were a red pepper puree and the dots were lemon balm and balsamic vinegar. while i am not certain, i believe the powder to the right was an olive oil powder. i really like how instead of throwing a few pieces of cheese on a plate with some fruit and/or nuts nugent instead creates a legit dish.
after the cheese was a palette cleanser of pomegranate, yuzu, and thyme. this was quite refreshing with the tartness of the yuzu being the primary flavor i detected.
7. passion fruit/coconut/lime/vanilla cremeux

as a rule i am particularly bad at describing desserts and after having had almost a full bottle of wine at this point in the meal, my memory is beyond hazy. i really can't offer much commentary here aside from saying that i remember both carrie and i really enjoying this. by the way, there is no pastry chef at goosefoot...nugent does it all.
8. chocolate/sea beans/orange/port wine

for the meals final course, we have a chocolate mousse covered in a light and crispy chocolate shell with an orange cream, a swoop of port wine, and some chocolate covered sea beans. this was a phenomenal dessert in both flavor and texture, and while this may sound strange, there was a certain flavor to it that reminded me of something from my childhood...i'm just not sure what exactly.
to finish we were brought one final treat...a gooseberry dipped in chocolate and chopped hazelnuts.

after downing two cups of coffee each we collected our menus (printed on planting seed paper) and were thanked enthusiastically by nina nugent (chris never visited the dining room during out visit) before hailing a cab and heading back to our hotel for a much needed nap before the next phase of our evening. what i liked best about the food at goosefoot is that even though there was a lot going on with each of the plates, they were really only as fussy and confusing as you want them to be. what i mean by this is that while every dish has a foam/gel/powder along with several other small ingredients, at their core they all feature a perfectly prepared and seasoned protein that could easily stand on its own without all of the other trickery. often with fine dining i worry if i am eating a dish the way it was meant to be eaten. what if i don't combine all the components correctly? am i eating this as the chef intended? could this be more enjoyable eaten differently? whether you are the type of diner who enjoys constructing the perfect bite or one who prefers to just eat without over thinking (i consider myself a hybrid of the two), you will be happy at goosefoot as there is really no wrong way to eat nugent's food. at $90 per person, goosefoot is a serious bargain and in my opinion the restaurant is a lock for a michelin star this november. being that chef nugent has a twelve course menu in the works, i can say without hesitation that carrie and i will be visiting goosefoot again in the future for the extended experience.
Goosefoot on Urbanspoon

big jones - chicago, il

5347 north clark street
chicago, il 60640

for those who know me or read this blog regularly, seeing a restaurant specializing in "southern heirloom cooking" appear on my site may be somewhat surprising. i first became aware of big jones while browsing through lthforum's list of great neighborhood restaurant's and decided to take a calculated risk based on the forum's high praises along with the restaurant's admirable business ethics rooted in sustainability and the humane treatment of animals. located in andersonville, big jones was our first stop on a one night trip that would also include visits to goosefoot, tru, topolobampo, and great lake.
as always, our drive from st. louis was a breeze as we arrived in andersonville around 11:30am, right on schedule. with pay box parking being plentiful we found a spot two blocks from the restaurant and with our appetites ready we entered the small storefront restaurant which at the time was completely empty. after taking our seats in the window and ordering a pair of cocktails it was quickly determined that narrowing down our order would be quite difficult. aside from the al a carte menu which boasts a nice assortment of authentic cajun charcuterie, several appetizers, lunch platters, and sandwiches, there is also something called the boarding house lunch. for just $16 per person, the boarding house lunch includes biscuits, cornbread, fried chicken, a variety of sides, and dessert. after thinking long and hard we decided to go al a carte as we figured the boarding house lunch would likely be too much food.
sazerac - old overholt rye, house cane syrup, peychaud's bitters, absinthe
moscow mule - vodka, ginger, lime, soda
to begin, carrie and i shared an order of potato and goat cheese croquettes. the crispy breaded potato balls were topped with a bright and punchy anchovy dressing and filled with a mixture of goat cheese and herbs.
following the croquettes was a complimentary plate of cornbread. as a rule cornbread is something i will eat but rarely does it do much for me. this, however, was different. served piping hot, the cornbread was crisp on the outside, light and springy on the inside, and contained several whole kernels of corn which added a pop of sweetness along with some textural nuance.
for my main dish, i had my selection narrowed down to two southern classics, chicken and dumplings and shrimp and grits. being that i was really unsure if i had ever actually had shrimp and grits before, i decided to go that route and was not let down. at big jones, the dish is made with gulf coast white "gumbo" shrimp, creamy antebellum heirloom grits, mushroom and tasso gravy with house made worcestershire, and scallions.
carrie knew right away that she wanted to try the gumbo made with andouille sausage, chicken, and aromatic rice from arkansas. however what she received was not quite what was anticipated. when we were placing our orders the server made sure to let us know that the gumbo was a "dark roux" and without asking questions we consented. when the dish arrived at the table and we each tried a bite it became very clear why it came with a slight warning. this was not like any other gumbo we had ever tasted as the flavor was so incredibly deep and bold that i wouldn't hesitate to use the word bitter to describe it. even though it wasn't a perfect match for our palettes it was far from inedible, and we decided that the more we tasted it and became used to the flavor the more we liked it.
i only had to look at the dessert menu for a brief moment to decide how to end my meal. pictured above is the peanut gooey butter cake with buttermilk ice cream, coffee crunch, sorghum molasses, and banana anglaise. without exaggeration, this was one of the most satisfying desserts i have had in recent memory. the way the hot and gooey cake mixed with the cold and tart buttermilk ice cream was fabulous.
while not quite on the level of the peanut gooey butter cake, carrie's selection of buttermilk pie with muddled raspberries, spearmint ice cream, and cracked pepper candy was not far behind. feeling rather stuffed after finishing my entire helping, i only intended to try a bite of the portion carrie couldn't finish but ended up clearing the plate. while the pie (served cold) was excellent, it is the spearmint ice cream that really stood out to me as there was no subtlety to its flavor whatsoever.

aside from the gumbo which if nothing can be considered a valuable learning experience, carrie and i absolutely loved big jones. all the other food was excellent and i really cannot say enough about the desserts. later that night we did a dessert tasting at michelin starred tru and based on taste alone nothing came close to topping big jones' $7 peanut gooey butter cake. andersonville is very lucky to have big jones, and based on both the dinner and weekend brunch menus if we lived in the neighborhood it would be very difficult to stay away.
Big Jones on Urbanspoon