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graham elliot

July 14, 2011

We celebrated the Fourth of July weekend in Chicago and shared a wonderful evening with Ben’s brother and his wife at graham elliot on Saturday night.  Described as Chicago’s first ‘bistronomic’ restaurant, the philosophy here is high quality gourmet food served and enjoyed in a more casual and relaxed setting.  From my impression of the website, I was expecting the restaurant to be packed and very loud and was pleasantly surprised by how vibrant and busy it was without being overly chaotic.  The decor and table settings were very minimalistic and the dining room was large and spacious.  Exposed brick and dim lights further contributed to the laid-back atmosphere.

Soon after being seated, we were brought some peppered popcorn dressed up with truffle butter and parmesan and ordered a round of cocktails.  This was a fantastic take on snackfood–salty and nicely infused with the truffle oil, it whet our appetites and went great with our drinks.  I think I ordered the girliest cocktail on the menu–the pillow talk–and would highly recommend it to any fans of sparkling wine out there.  Composed of vodka, elderflower liqueur, and sparkling wine, it was bubbly but most importantly not too sweet.

We started with an amouse bouche of chive panna cotta topped with caviar.  The panna cotta had a nice creamy texture and was very earthy.  On its own it would have been overwhelmingly ‘green’ but was balanced out by the saltiness of the roe.

We decided against the tasting menu since we wanted to sample a few more of their dishes without being overloaded with the experience or the repertoire.  It was recommended that we order two smaller dishes from the ‘cold’ or ‘hot’ menu and one larger item from the ‘sea’ or ‘land’ menu.  One of the early favorites was the deconstructed caesar.  Beautifully composed, the gem lettuce sat on top of a mascarpone filled brioche twinkie and was finished off with parmesan fluff and a few spanish anchovies.  This signature dish lived up to its reputation and the brioche twinkie was pretty incredible.

I chose the charred octopus as my starter, served with preserved turnips, liquid olive, smoked potato and cured orange.  I love the texture of octopus and enjoyed the smokey and acidic flavors here.  I was also charmed by the liquid olives decorating the dish and was happy with my choice, but the overall consensus of the table was that this was the least interesting dish of the evening.

For round two, I chose the crab cake–battered soft shell crab with old bay was served with kohlrabi slaw and celery gel cubes. Beautifully presented, and every mouthful had a perfectly crispy morsel of nicely seasoned crab.

Our love of foie gras is well documented, so it’s no surprise this next dish was highly anticipated.  Slices of seared foie were served with compressed rhubard, wild strawberry, caraway crumble and candied angelica.  Tasting like fruit pie, this dish certainly did confuse my taste buds at first.  The more bites I took, the more I appreciated how the sweetness and tartness of the rhubarb and strawberry cut the fattiness of the foie and how the crumble added the right amount of crunch.  A memorable and gorgeously presented dish.

Worthy of a close up.

Now onto the land and sea main dishes.  I got the atlantic swordfish with cannellini bean, saffron infusion, fennel ratatouille and razor clam.  In contrast to my previous experiences with swordfish, this version had the most incredible texture and the flavors were robust.  The fish was so tender that for a second I thought I was eating giant scallops.  I enjoyed just about everything about it–the saffron infusion, the creamy sauce and the fennel all came together in this stellar dish that was my favorite of the evening.

I have to admit I was expecting the veal loin with royal trumpet, sweetbread schnitzel, mustard caviar and white asparagus to be the hit of the night.  Having so many ingredients, the dish was put together meticulously, but there was just too much going on.  The veal was cooked perfectly but it was taken over by the other superfluous ingredients, which made it less successful.

The last large dish was the jidori chicken served with israeli couscous, baby carrot, granulated honey, and chamomile sauce.  I was a bit stuffed at this point so only had one bite…I was surprised by how juicy and tender the meat was and could not believe it was actually chicken.

For dessert, we had to try the chocolate framboise–a rich base of jivars ganache was topped with manjari cremeux, decorated with coffee earth and sprinkled with ancho chili.  This was intensely full of chocolate flavors, which were only enhanced by the flavor and crunch of the coffee earth.

The last dish we tried was the lemon cake served with citrus curd, blueberry gelato, poppy ribbon and violet foam.  This dessert was a lot more playful than the first and the blueberry gelato sticks out for me as being the highlight here.  I was also fascinated by the poppy ribbon and while it was very subtle in flavor it added a unique texture that kept drawing me back for more.

I thought it was smart that the menu featured a range of dishes, from creative interpretations of classics that were sure to please most palettes to experimental ones that pushed the envelope a bit and challenged preconceived notions.  We enjoyed how unpretentious the atmosphere was and would be happy to return and check out the changing menu.

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