Blackbird follow up, et al (long)
My Quest-For-The-Perfect-Shoe and needing to arrive at the Green Mill early enough to grab seats prompted friend and I to woefully cancel our last Wed. night rez at Blackbird. Instead, we found something close to our hotel in Gibson's and braved the ugly scene to eat quickly at the bar. We ate simply and well, jumbo shrimp cocktail, salads with dry bleu/vinaigrette combo and perfectly cooked salmon with lemon caper butter. Great cosmos, too.Followed by a long, smoky night of jazz by vocalist Kurt Elling and friends.
Fortunately for our palates,terrifically high winds were brewing in Chicago and Cleveland compelling white-knuckled flyer friend and I to stay another night. We easily made another date for Blackbird.For lunch, we stopped at the bar of my favorite, Frontera Grill. Two sopas de tortilla, app platter for two and a side of black beans later, we were on our way and I was already regretting not returning there or to Topolobampo later. I love Rick Bayless food. His flavors are so true and so addictive, I'm still in the deep throes of Crave a week later.
Blackbird. Full, but not unpleasantly so. Friendly host, impeccably informed and courteous server. We did not feel like we had been thrown into a den of hip/chic/trendy, (remember this is Chicago not New York).Happy to see Billecart-Salmon by the glass(can't get it in Cleve). For starters,an amuse of slightly poached salmon with mango salsa. Didn't love this. the salmon smelled a bit off. Friend had house salad of mixed endives, crispy pancetta, poached egg and red-wine vinaigrette. Served in a cylindrical fried potato basket. This could easily be lunch for me anyday. I opted for a buttery croustade filled with silken brandade, topped with a seared piece of fresh cod and topped with dollop of stringent tapenade. Rich and good. Mains were the essence of spring. Seared halibut in shrimp broth with poached shrimp, morels and peas. Subtle and good.Tiny rack of spring lamb with baby artichoke "chips" and ricotta dumplings in a grape reduction sauce. Beautiful lamb but dumplings were a tad burnt and sauce a bit cloyingly sweet. I drank an impressive Pinot by the glass;I wish I had written down the name. Skipped dessert and opted for another glass of champagne instead at the bar and chatted with other diners.
Honestly haven't though twice about that meal until now but I can't seem to get rid of the Frontera flavors spinning around in my taste memory.
Great post, Heidi. Very interesting!
On my last trip to Chicago, I ate once at Frontera and once at Topolobampo in a period of two days. One reason for eating a both places was to satisfy my curiosity about some recent Chowhound posts that were critical of the food at Bayless's restaurants, and suggested that they weren't all they were cracked up to be. I had absolutely terrific meals at both places. The dishes I sampled were varied and distinctive in taste. One dish had a sweet note, but intentionally and appropriately so. The food in general did not suffer from having its flavors punched up with sugar. My conclusion: Frontera and Topolobampo were re-confirmed as two of my favorite places to eat in Chicago. No slippage or decline in quality was noted.
On the subject of Blackbird, your descriptions were terrific and I found myself thinking, "Mmmmm yes, how Blackbird-like." It all sounds perfectly fine, and I'm sure, with the couple of exceptions you noted, that it was perfectly enjoyable. But I'd trade several meals at Blackbird for one meal at Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas anyday, speaking of flavors that spin around in your memory.
I was interested in your reaction to the grape reduction sauce as "a bit cloyingly sweet." It brought to mind a dish I had at Aubriot in Chicago, chicken livers in a grape sauce, that was one of the best dishes I've ever had. The grape sauce was amazing, and not bit cloying. I don't know how he did it. Alas, on my last visit to Aubriot, it was no longer on the menu.
re: barara ryan
Ask and you shall receive. I've provided a link below to an earlier post of mine, on December 6, 1999, on Le Bouchon. I really love this place. The atmosphere is just right: very relaxed and casual, nice energy level, upbeat, happy. And the classical bistro food ranges from good to terrific.
re: barara ryan
Le Bouchon does have great food. However, it is cramped and noisy.
When we ate there, the server got a surprising ratio of our order wrong.
The "duck for two" - supposedly a whole duck carved for 2 people - mysteriously was endowed with 4 legs and no breast. And this was after they went through the pretension of trotting a whole, roasted bird out to our table to display it to us before carving! Whatta bunch of phonies!
What saved this experience is that everything we had was excellent. We would go back in spite of these little shortcomings.
There is one exception. The cheese plate we had instead of dessert was very disappointing. It really seemed like an afterthought. Our server was not very well informed about the cheeses and the quanities were very skimpy, considering the price. And it was refrigerator-cold, not room temperature as it should be. It was as if the plate had been sitting under plastic wrap in the fridge for hours. Why bother offering a cheese plate if you're not going to do it right?