Thursday, January 17, 2013

sixteen - chicago, il

www.sixteenchicago.com
401 north wabash avenue
 chicago, il 60611

in its first iteration under opening day chef frank brunacci, sixteen at the trump tower was never really on my radar. although the restaurant was able to garner a michelin star in chicago's first red guide, there were always more alluring options in the windy city for both lunches and dinners. after brunacci's departure in 2011, the restaurant lost its star and i assumed it would either close or re-concept into something more basic serving as mere sustenance to guests of the trump.

was i ever wrong...

instead of downgrading, a six month search for a new chef was held before michigan native thomas lents was wrestled away from his position as chef de cuisine at joel robuchon at the mansion in las vegas. after completely revamping the menu, lents and newly hired restaurant director will douillet (alinea, next) reopened sixteen in january of 2012 as a more upscale dining experience set to rival chicago's best. in the following year, the restaurant would regain its lost michelin star, and receive a glowing four star review from jeff ruby of chicago magazine along with much critical aclaim from other publications and online bloggers. this put sixteen into my stream of consciousness, and made the restaurant a no brainer for our second dinner of the trip behind curtis duffy's grace.
arriving promptly via taxi for our 7:30pm reservation, the friendly staff at the trump made sure we found our way to the proper elevator which transported us to the building's sixteenth floor. as the elevator doors swung open and we entered the restaurant, it became apparent why the trump was not willing to let sixteen become an ordinary restaurant. the space is amazing, with a glass wine corridor leading into the dining room, featuring an incredible swarovski chandelier and the best view i have ever had from a dinner table (blows everest away).

sixteen offers three prix fixe menu options, a four course, an eight course, and a sixteen course. guess which menu we chose! for wine, we skipped the pairings and made the request for three glasses each to be served throughout the meal at appropriate times. within moments, champagne arrived at the table, and a barrage canapes started flowing from the kitchen.
roasted chestnuts
apple cider
meat pastry
1 - blood orange - elderflower soda, citrus gelee, pomegranate
2 - season's citrus - artichoke, tarragon, spanner crab
sixteen's bread program is easily one of chicago's best, with roughly six choices available. although the mini baguette and sea salt ciabatta were both excellent, it was the bacon and stone ground mustard bread that stood high above the others. for spreads, we were served both goat and cow butter along with an olive oil emulsion.
3 - smoked sturgeon - fennel, oyster, caviar
 4 - diver scallop - apple gelee, ossetra caviar, sea grass
5 - amadai - crispy scales, daikon, leek and sake
6 - langoustine - uni, licorice root, nori, cauliflower snow
7 - endive - foie gras curls, venison bresaola, huckleberry
8 - truffled roots - beluga lentils, pine cep emulsion
9 - borscht - spiced foie gras, caraway, creme fraiche
10 - raclette - coal roasted potatoes, onion brulee, perigord truffles
11 - rohan duck - rye bread, red cabbage, black trumpet mushrooms
12 - rib of wagyu beef - marrow, bearnaise, yorkshire pudding
13 - citrus fire - pink lemon, coconut, campari
14 - mont blanc - hazelnut, chestnut, milk cloud
eggnog
15 - chocolate - cookie sponge, ice milk
16 - hot chocolate - ganache, vanilla soda
mignardises - each offering represtend a classic candy. i chose "dots", "butterfinger", and "cracker jack"
as a parting gift, we were given a "pop-tart", as chef lents hails from the home of the famous pastry, battle creek, michigan.

as i sit here over a month after our meal at sixteen, i am afraid that "good" is the word that best describes our experience, as the food was rarely "great" and at times merely "ok". in any menu of this length, there are obviously going to be some peaks and valleys, but at this price point and with a chef of lent's pedigree, i was expecting higher highs and fewer average courses. there was never a time where i longed for just one more bite of something. i found the dessert portion of the meal the least exciting, and thought that the liquid nitrogen show at the end was a bit stale. service as a whole was pretty solid, with everyone we encountered being very pleasant and unpretentious. the server that spent the most time at our table seemed a bit nervous and inexperienced, but no major gaffes were made. at meal's end, we were not given a copy of the menu (nor did i think to ask for one), but an email to the restaurant days later yielded a pdf file along with an offer to send one via mail.

when speaking of restaurants located in st. louis or chicago (where return visits are realistically plausible), the biggest endorsement i can give to a restaurant is stating  my willingness to go back in lieu of trying someplace new. as far as fine dining is concerned, chicago's group of restaurants i have revisited or plan to include alinea, l2o, elizabeth, and grace. sixteen unfortunately does not quite make the cut, landing at the top of my "glad i tried it" column above tru, everest, and moto. with that said, i realize that chef lents is probably just finding his stride at sixteen, and i urge anyone reading this who is interested in dining there to do so...just so long as you have already visited the restaurants mentioned above.
Sixteen on Urbanspoon






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