Thursday, April 4, 2013

graham elliot - chicago, il
217 west huron street
chicago, il 60654

about the restaurant:
- opened in 2008 in the river north area
- first venture for the chef after leaving his post at avenues in the peninsula hotel
- "contemporary cuisine"
- dinner wed-sun with two tasting menus ($125, $165) being the only choices
- two michelin stars, three from the tribune
- graham elliot has two other restaurants in chicago (grahamwich and graham elliot bistro), and has appeared on several tv cooking shows including iron chef, top chef masters, and masterchef
details of our visit: 
having visited most of the notable players in chicago's fine dining lineup over the last few years (some multiple times), i figured it was time to finally give chef graham elliot's epynonamous restaurant a try. the original plan was to visit before the sigur ros show at uic, but that idea was foiled as the concert was on a tuesday when g.e. is closed. it was then that the decision was made to stay late on our last day in the city, dining at g.e. at 5pm before making the drive back to st. louis. pictured below is the full chef's tasting menu.
scallop - lime - cilantro - avocado
venison - date - juniper - rosemary
duck - confit - peas - risotto
butternut - yuzu - chili - shiso
foie - fig - chervil - cherry
halibut - seaweed - asparagus - miso
crab - morel - black garlic - artichoke 
rabbit - carrot - lentil - fava
lamb - turnip - potato - onion
cheese - vanilla - olive oil - orange
strawberry - pistachio - chevre - milk
chocolate - hickory - lingonberry - birch

the most disappointing aspect of this meal was the service. the gentleman handling our table had little personality or enthusiasm, and seemed genuinely disinterested in performing his job. aside from a few groups having cocktails at the bar, only one other table was seated throughout the entire 2.5 hours we were at the restaurant, and they left without eating once they learned dining was by tasting menu only. this means that our server had very little to do, but yet still failed miserably. he was unavailable when i wanted to order wine, and after the first few courses, left dish delivery to his back servers, whose first language was most certainly not english. descriptions were mumbled in virtually inaudible/incomprehensible fashion, and key ingredients were twice forgotten without promise to check with the kitchen and report back. when they weren't delivering plates, the two back servers lurked awkwardly near/behind our table. also worth noting is that the valet was not present when we arrived, forcing us to find parking ourselves.

i am not sure how g.e. was awarded its michelin stars, as what we were served was miles from the other two star meals we have had in chicago as well as on both coasts. this is not to say the food was bad, as that is far from accurate. the problem is, with a menu of this price at a restaurant of this "caliber", one goes into a meal wanting to be wowed, and that never happened for me at graham elliot. the few dishes that i thought stood out were the scallop, venison, foie, and lamb offerings, but at other two star restaurants, these would have been the weaker dishes.

overal thoughts:
with food that didn't live up to expectations and service that fared even worse, graham elliot is not a place i would recommend or consider revisiting.
graham elliot on Urbanspoon

bar toma - chicago
110 east pearson
chicago, il 60611

 about the restaurant:
- located just off of the magnificent mile, near the park hyatt
- owned by spiaggia chef tony mantuano
- open all day for lunch and dinner serving 20 different pizzas along with italian themed small plates
details of our visit:
this was an impromptu meal on the last day of our trip. we had already had doughnuts from the doughnut vault, and with reservations at graham elliot for 5pm, wanted something relatively light and inexpensive. we made a reservation that morning via opentable, but arrived 30 minutes early and were seated at a high top table without issue.
duvel single and goose island matilda
charred octopus antipasti
margherita pizza
raspberry gelato

the man handling our table was very friendly and informative, explaining the restaurants concept and checking in on us at appropriate times.

decent...the octopus was a nice starter with good flavor and texture, but the pizza was just ok. gelato was forgettable, but that may be due in part to our choice of flavor.

overall thoughts:
this meal definitely served its purpose, offering decent food at a good price just a few blocks from our hotel. one could certainly do a lot worse for lunch in the magnificent mile area. with that said, bar toma is not the type of place i would plan to revisit, but if i was in the area and needed a quick bite without spending much, i would consider it again.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

el ideas - chicago, il
2419 west 14th street
chicago, il 60608

about the restaurant:
- el ideas is a small (20 seats?) restaurant located on a back alley street in an industrial area of chicago's southwest side
- the name is short for elevated ideas in cuisine and dining, and is also a tribute to the city's transit system
- the man behind the project is phillip foss, who has spent time cooking in new york, hawaii,  france, brazil, israel, and bermuda
- before opening el ideas, foss used the space as a prep kitchen for his food truck, meatyballs mobile
- reservations are taken via both phone and email, and can be made two months in advance
- the menu is a 10-12 course tasting ($145), and diners are charged one week prior to the meal
- byob
- one seating per night
- el ideas holds three stars from the chicago tribune, and was recently featured on bizarre foods 
details of our visit:
after confirming via email that reservations for april opened on february 1st, i sent another email early that morning and my request was confirmed in just a few hours. finding the restaurant was relatively easy, but since no parking was available in front of the restaurant, we had to park around the corner and down a block or two. with some concerns about the safety of our car, we made our way to the restaurant, walking in 15 minutes early for the 7:30 seating. we were given the opportunity to choose our table, and selected one providing a great view of the kitchen. once everyone was present and seated, chef foss introduced himself and his team, and after a few words about the concept, the meal began.
ossetra - marrow / artichoke / chardonnay

 turbot - dungeoness / tapioca / sorrel

 octopus - red onion / cucumber / caper

halibut - parsley root / garlic / horseradish

 peas - buttermilk / coppa / lavender

 black cod - allium / rye / turmeric

 oyster - smoked duck / kimchee / mushroom

 sweetbreads - celery root / hazelnut / licorice

 lamb - green garlic / olives / hay

 rhubarb - ginger / strawberry / black pepper

georgia pecans - stout / root beer / pie crust


el ideas is really more of a dinner party than a traditional restaurant, and as such things from a service standpoint are considerably different. the dining area is handled by a gentleman named bill, who serves as a host, waiter, wine steward, dj, and all around awesome guy. dishes are delivered to the tables by the chefs, and are described by whoever is responsible for the creation.

from the nights opening bites of caviar with bone marrow to the liquid bacon filled chocolate that concluded the meal, the food at el ideas blew me away. my two favorite dishes were the turbot poached in dill and the octopus course which had insane amount of different flavors. there were really no low points in the meal, but i did find the pea course to merely "good".

overall thoughts:
there is nothing better than going into a meal with high expectations, and having them met or even exceed. that is exactly what happened at el ideas, and i am certain that i will return at some point. the fact that the michelin guide overlooked this restaurant is absurd, as the food is closer to two star cooking than zero.