Wednesday, June 15, 2011

RIA: When Life Gives You Lemons...

So there we were, huddled in an alley with two bags of booze, attempting to escape the howling wind on a random street in Wicker Park. We were supposed to be eating at Schwa, said by many as one of Chicago's best restaurants, only to find its doors locked with a scribbled handwritten note apologizing for the closure. Sure, I had read all of the cancellation stories (let me guess, burst pipe?), but never did I think it would actually happen to us! But sure enough, there I was, simultaneously trying to hail a cab while scrambling on my phone to make alternative dinner plans. Fortunately, with some quick thinking on my part and a little bit lot of luck, we scored a last minute reservation at RIA and managed to enjoy an amazing meal.

Located in the posh Eylsian Hotel, RIA is a relative newcomer to Chicago's fine dining scene and turned a few heads after it was awarded two Michelin Stars in its inaugural year. But even in the wake of the departure of former Executive Chef, Jason McLeod, RIA earned a glowing four star review by the Chicago Tribune praising the talents of the current Executive Chef, Danny Grant, ensuring MW and I that we were in capable hands for the evening. Greeted by the hostess who graciously checked our coats and booze, we were whisked through the lounge into the dining room. Simple yet elegant, the dining room was calm and comfortable.

Only a minute had passed from the time we were seated until we were greeted by our server who was willing to go over options from the nearby champagne cart. We enjoyed two glasses of the Raventos I Blanc, Brut Grand Reserve, “de La Finca,” Penedès, Spain (2005). It was fruit forward but had a dry finish.

While we examined the menu, we were given a dish of Gougères to share. Eggy and cheesy, these were excellent with our glasses of Cava.

After ordering, we were brought the first amuse bouche of the evening, a Cucumber Gelée with Cucumber, Radish, Green Almond and was finished table side with a Hendrick’s Gin Foam. Usually not a huge fan of foams, here, the cucumber and gin combination worked well together and resembled a refreshing cocktail.

The second amuse of our meal, a Smoked Halibut Mousse with American Sturgeon Caviar, Pan de Mie Crisp, Chive and Spinach Purèe was even better. The halibut mousse was formed into a perfect quenelle and contained just the right amount of smokiness, while the caviar and remaining components helped round out the dish.

To drink, we ordered a wonderful Kabinett Riesling, Blees Ferber, “Trittenhelm Apotheke” Trocken, Mosel (2007). Fruity but with a great amount of acidity to help cleanse the palate, the wine was versatile enough through the majority of our meal.

Bread service was done in house. A home made French Baguette was accompanied by a Cultured Salted Cow's Milk Butter from Wisconsin. While the butter was excellent, the bread lacked a crisp exterior and was disappointing from a restaurant of this caliber.

Our first course, Sea Scallops with Caviar, Octopus and a Fumet Blanc, was a promising start to our meal. Poached in milk, the sweetness of the sea scallops was beautifully offset by the salinity of the caviar and earthy octopus, but it was the stunning fumet blanc that really tied the dish together.

Wanting something a bit lighter, MW substituted the next course for the Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with Fine Herbs, Radish and Sable Breton. What appeared as little more than an ordinary salad tasted anything but ordinary. The creamy ricotta was a luscious foil to the various herbs, crunchy radish and bits of crumbled sable breton.

I received the original dish described as Rabbit with Verjus, Pumpernickel and Radish. Formed into a terrine which included foie gras and a mosaic of carrot, celery and potato, the rabbit was amazingly light and full of flavor. The pickled radishes and golden raisins were juxtaposed on a rectangular piece of pumpernickel, and the acidity and sweetness of the fruit and vegetable were the perfect accompaniments to what was, in my opinion, the meal's most impressive dish.

The following course was a terrine of Foie Gras with Apricot, Onion and Poppy. Covered by a thin layer of an assertive chicken consommé, the flavor of the foie was a bit muted in comparison. However, the richness of the foie remained, and as a whole, was much better when paired with the pickled onion and apricot jam on a piece of the provided brioche.

The Oyster with Green Garlic Pastis and Pain de Mie was an awesome display of Grant's culinary prowess. Three supple butter-poached oysters sat atop a decedent garlic panna cotta. Shards of pan de mie provided a much needed textural component to the dish and an oyster foam helped reinforce the natural brininess of the impeccable bivalves.

Our fish course was Turbot with Asparagus, Pasta and Razor Clams and was sauced table side with a Fumet Blanc. Almost a celebration of asparagus as much as the turbot, the fish was served poached, raw and as a gelée. For such a firm fish, we were both impressed with how tender the turbot appeared. Last but not least were the agnolotti that were perfectly al dente, and had been stuffed with turbot. Eaten in tandem with the razor clams and the velvety fumet blanc, this dish was as successful as anyone could have imagined.

Moving on, our next course was the Milk Fed Veal Loin with Sweetbreads, Morels and Fava Beans. The veal loin was as tender as one would expect, but the more compelling aspect of the dish was the sauce, which contained chocolate. Similarly sporting a number of seasonal ingredients, the morels and favas were a welcome sight, especially the morels, which had been split and stuffed with sweetbreads.

After the usual lull between courses, our server appeared with a whole Peking Duck. Dramatic presentations aside, the Peking Duck with Blood Orange, Potato, Fennel and Cumin was impressive and was finished table side with a rich Duck Velouté. While not as unique as the aged duck at Roberta's, the strip of duck breast tasted very ducky and contained a cracker-crisp skin. In addition to the duck were some coins of potato, braised fennel and segments of blood orange which provided both sweetness and acidity.

Acting as a creative twist on an intermezzo was an Apricot Sorbet with Dehydrated Apricot and Basil. The crunchy texture of the dehydrated apricot with the smooth sorbet and refreshing basil was a nice segue into desserts.

Our first dessert was described as Yogurt with Rhubarb, Hibiscus and Elderflower. In reality, the dish was a bit more complex. Consisting of a yogurt panna cotta with a hibiscus liquid center, the dessert was topped with a mint gelèe, braised rhubarb, lychee-elderflower sorbet and a hibiscus meringue. Tart and tangy from yogurt and rhubarb, with a herbaceous accent coming from the mint and hibiscus, this was beautiful and a delicious display of Pastry Chef, Stephanie Prida's skill with pastry.

Our final dessert was Chocolate with Puffed Rice, Banana and a Maldon Sea Sherbet. A brick of rich chocolate ganache was fine, but more interesting when paired with the banana and salty elements in the forms of the puffed rice and sherbet. To compliment the dessert we were treated to a glass of Vinedos de los Vientos, “Alcone,” Atlantida, Uruguay NV that smelt of chocolate and paired wonderfully.

To finish the meal we were each given a tray of petits fours that included a Grapefruit Pâtes de Fruit, a Praline Chocolate Truffle and a Mint Macaron as well as a final parting gift of Almond Dragées.

While we would have undoubtedly enjoyed our meal at Schwa, in hindsight, it seems that the cancellation was a blessing in disguise, as we then wouldn't have had the opportunity to experience this great meal. A big thanks go out to Chefs Grant and Prida, as well as the entire staff at RIA for helping make the most of a bad situation and more than salvaging our first dinner in Chicago.

11 East Walton Street
Chicago, IL 60611-1408
(312) 880-4400

To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.

Ria on Urbanspoon


  1. Were you able to reschedule at Schwa?


  2. Robert, I was able to reschedule only for them to cancel on us again! At least this time we got a phone call a few hours before our reservation. Haha, its all good though, we had another great meal somewhere else. Will have to try and go another time.

  3. Very disappointed to hear that news. I love the restaurant but there is simply no way I can defend that practice.