Monday, June 20, 2011
Blackbird: Birds of a Feather Flock Together
While everyone (rightly) attributes the advent of Chicago's fine dining scene to Charlie Trotter, one must not forget the invaluable culinary contributions of Paul Kahan. While associated with several of Chicago's finest restaurants, including Avec, Publican, Big Star and The Violet Hour, Kahan's flagship remains Blackbird. Located in Chicago's West Loop, MW and I made our way to the Michelin starred restaurant for a lunch.
Arriving on time for our reservations, it took a few minutes before the manager put down his blackberry to assist us. However, all was forgiven once we were seated, as our excellent server took great care of us through the course of our meal. The restaurant's interior was distinctly minimalist with a sleek and modern aesthetic in a prominently white space. Though it contained all the usual characteristics of a formal restaurant, the close tables and killer soundtrack reminded me of a David Chang restaurant.
While deciding what to order we were given a few slices of Multi Grain Bread and a plate of Salted Butter. Although there were several appealing options on the a la carte menu, we ultimately both chose to go the prix fixe route, which at $22 for three courses, is an absolute steal!
To start, MW chose the Spring Pea Soup with Lamb Bacon, Lemon-Almond Yogurt and Green Almond. Poured table side, the thick soup had a smooth consistency and was the very essence of fresh springtime peas. The soup was paired with several large cubes of crisp and gamey (in a good way) lamb bacon, a tangy lemon-almond yogurt and crunchy green almonds to offset the natural sweetness of the peas.
For my appetizer, I selected the Warm Sepia Noodles with Spring Onion, Avocado, Green Pumpkin Seeds and Lime. As much as we enjoyed the soup, we both agreed that this dish was easily our favorite. A tangle of thin strands of tender sepia cut to resemble "noodles" was dressed with lime, avocado puree, pumpkin seeds and spring onion as a garnish. In addition to making the dish pop, the lime helped draw out the inherent sweetness of the sepia, while the avocado provided some fat and the pumpkin seeds added texture. As a whole, the dish was not only creative, but very well-executed and incredibly tasty.
MW's Wood-Grilled Sturgeon with Ham Hock, Red Beet, Cabbage and Smoked Dates was equally successful. The sturgeon had been expertly cooked, flaky with a bit of smoke from the grill, while the ham hock provided some additional body. But what really stood out on the plate were the smoked dates, which lent the fish a complex sweetness.
My Roasted Chicken and Sausage with Lime Onions, Tamarind and Smoked Cucumbers was also impressive. The chicken was served two ways. The breast had been formed into a roulade and was nice and moist, while the thigh meat was ground and formed into sausage. The onions and tamarind helped prevent the dish from being monotonous, while the smokiness of the cucumbers was interesting.
Aside from being a tremendous value, another allure of the prix fixe menu was that it would allow me to sample multiple desserts from Pastry Chef, Patrick Fahy. First up was the Vanilla Parfait with Satsuma, Campari and Caramelized White Chocolate. While the campari never came through, the flavor combination of vanilla with the satsuma (apparently a Japanese citrus fruit) was light and refreshing.
Even better was the Chocolate Ganache with Tahitian Vanilla, Gastrique and Parsnip Ice Cream. Salted parsnip chips not only provided a pleasant crunch, but also salt, which enhanced the flavor of the rich ganache.
To finish our meal, our server surprised us with a plate of Spiced Chocolate Truffles along with our check.
Ultimately, our itinerary prevented us from visiting any of Kahan's restaurants for dinner, but if our lunch was any indication of the restaurant's dinner service, then it will surely not be missed on my next visit to Chicago. From the creative-but-delicious savories to the equally stunning desserts, I was very impressed with Blackbird in almost every facet and only wish I could visit more often.
619 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60661
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.