Friday, February 12, 2010

May Street Market

There is good reason why @ChicagoMag named May Street Market one of the best new restaurants of Chicago in 2006. They serve high quality food and have attentive service in a comfortable and welcoming environment. As I mentioned in a previous post, Mondays at MSM are special because they offer a 3 course prix-fixe for $25 AND it’s BYOB. So in addition to the qualities I just mentioned, our meal also featured a very healthy helping of value.

The prix-fixe option doesn’t give you a full run of the menu with only two selections per course, so I recommend investigating before committing a reservation if this is your main objective. Since we knew what we were getting before walking in the door, everything went smoothly. You could choose from either a beet salad or butternut squash soup to start, turkey leg or salmon for the entre, and a cupcake flight or S’more for dessert. We ended up ordering everything but the beet salad.

We both enjoyed the soup very much. I love soup, and especially during cold winter nights. The butternut squash was not cream based, having only coconut cream for texture. There was a hint of spice which also makes a soup even more warming during the season. The one surprise we had, and this may have been simply not reading the menu closely, were clams in the soup. I am not usually a clam person but the flavors and textures worked well. The first course was a 4.5/5.

I ordered the salmon and Erica had the turkey leg for our main course. When I say turkey leg, I mean a full fledge drumstick that you find on the streets of Taste of Chicago. This, of course, is a little more sophisticated and was seasoned with full French complexity. She said she enjoyed the dish, didn’t love it and much prefers turkey Thanksgiving style.

My salmon at first bite was great, well seasoned and cooked, served with a dark sauce/glaze of extreme richness. There were also puréed sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and other green vegetables on the plate. Similar to Erica, I found the entire dish a little too overwhelming for salmon. I recognize and appreciate the technique involved and the complexity of flavors attempting harmony; I just could not enjoy finishing the entire plate. About half way through the richness of the ingredients became a distracter instead of enhancing the experience. I much prefer to eat a dish where I enjoy each bite more than the previous and not the other way around (I guess that’s obvious but a point worth making). Maybe I’m not made for French style richness, but I thoroughly enjoy a very simple, well cooked and seasoned salmon served with a side of something green. The main course gets “an A for effort,” but a C for enjoyment.

Our experience at this point in the meal was wavering between good and fair, with great service and starter but let down by the entre. We figured the dessert would be the tie break. We can happily report that cupcakes and s’mores can save almost any meal. In a word, the desserts were outstanding. The flight of cupcakes included a carrot cake with frosting, a chocolate with peanut butter and finally a banana cream lemon combination. The “S’more” May Street style was effectively a large block of Swiss fudge, meringue instead of marshmallow and a homemade graham cracker frosted with chocolate. Yes, it was as good as it sounds.

I started with the S’more, and only needed a few bites. I’m not a chocoholic and this thing was Rich Rich Rich. The homemade graham cracker with chocolate was my favorite part, especially with a small piece of meringue. In order to try the cupcakes I had to peal Erica away from the dish, since I had not heard a word come out of her for a few minutes, thoroughly enjoying her time. My least favorite was the lemon banana cream concoction, a little too much lemon and cream for my taste. The carrot cake cupcake was great, though I think I prefer my carrot cake in cake form a la Hub 51. Finally, the best piece of dessert for both of us was the chocolate cupcake with peanut butter frosting. You have to like peanut butter, which I do, because it was very strong and thick, but boy did it taste good. Whoever created the idea of chocolate and peanut butter as combination should receive a Nobel, and MSM does a wonderful interpretation of this marriage of flavors.

To put things back in perspective, the meal ended up very well. We enjoyed our soup, did not love our entre, raved about the dessert, had great service and did not create a whole our wallet. All of that to me adds up to a solid 4/5. One critique could be that the main course should count more and drag down the experience, how can the meal be a success without a great entre? I prefer to take a holistic approach and review my entire experience. Since everything else was wonderful, maybe I ordered wrong, or simply don’t like how they prepare a certain item. One does not have to love everything on the menu for a restaurant to be successful. I would recommend May Street Market to anyone, especially with a $25 BYOB meal on Mondays. I will watch the menu selection closely for the prix fixe and return again to try a different combination. And if you were wondering, the restaurant is in fact located at the corner of Grand and May St.

May Street Market on Urbanspoon

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