Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Graham Elliot

Looking back on last year (or the year before) I am amazed I was able to write (and eat out) as much as I did. The difference is having a real job that actually takes time and energy to do well. And the worst part is that my time is only going to diminish over the next few months so we'll see if I can keep that #2 Urbanspoon ranking or not :)

Graham Elliot has been our list for a long time since it's a name often spoken in Chicago foodie and culinary circles. I'm also a devoted lollapalooza participant and admire the work Chef E has done with Chowtown. Another catalyst to try the flagship (I've been to grahamwhich and want to try the Bistro) is that an unusually large number of people in recent months have given high marks to ge.

I'm very suspect of the entire Michelin Guide rating system but especially so when they give our their "stars." I can say I completely agree that GE deserves a star and is one of the best dining experiences we've had in the past year. There is a lot to love about the experience but most important is that the food lives up the high marks and delivers interesting yet not complicated courses. In addition to the food I really enjoyed the atmosphere and especially the soundtrack - it was as if they were playing my iPod or Pandora station all night. I'm not one to usually notice the music (unless it's painful), but Erica definitely got sick of me saying "that's another great song!" (It also makes sense given the combined affection for all things Lolla). The service was very good without being in the way or noticeable - they were all very well trained.

Why did I love the food so much? There wasn't any one course in particular that caught my attention and screamed "this is amazing!" But when I'm enjoying a 10 course meal, consistency (no bombs) and an element of surprise are key to having a good time and keeping your attention. I really enjoyed the pea (soup) course (reminded me of my mother's pea soup) and the risotto - super rich with parmesan, basil and truffle. The main courses of halibut and beef were spot on and fun. My beef was slightly under-cooked to my enjoyment but the flavors were very nice and simple - letting the food speak for itself instead of trying too hard.

All of the pictures are presented in order as they appeared. One common theme throughout was flowers and floral notes. I liked having that commonality with each course and something to tie them all together.

We started with 'sparklers' - something oyster tasting, the foielipop (foie gras with pop rocks) and frozen orange juice. 'Pea' was next and it was soup form but with really tasty treats on the plate, especially the ham. Next up was 'crab' with some interesting sauces but the best part was the powered bbq sauce/flavor. 'Risotto' was next and I'm glad they put it right before the intermezzo. It's a delicious and perfectly cooked risotto but extremely rich and flavorful. One of the best courses of the night. I honestly don't remember what was in the intermezzo besides a lot of flowers and some white powdery substance that really does numb and clean your palate. 'Halibut' was also one of my favorites but mostly because of the vegetables and not the fish. I liked the halibut, it too was perfectly prepared and tasted great but I was captivated with whatever they did to the vegetables and the powered brown butter. The beef course was probably my least favorite but still very good. The meat was under cooked for my taste but I really enjoyed the bites of medium cooked  and thought the onion, chive and thyme seasoning was a nice addition but did not over power the natural flavors. The final three courses were 'cheddar', 'doughnut' and 'chocolate'. Of the three, the cheddar course was my favorite because it was the cheese course but done with a lot of small parts that all combined for an interesting experience. The mini biscuit was awesome and I really liked the small bits of chorizo and sauce. The chocolate was rich and good but my favorite was the apricot sorbet and fresh apricots with small pieces of chilies.

I thought our entire meal top to bottom was fantastic and completely worth the price. It's a sophisticated and special restaurant without feeling fancy. The menu is playful and creative but approachable in execution and presentation. It's exactly what I would look for in a meal of this length and price range for the occasion. I just hope it doesn't take me a year to return.

graham elliot on Urbanspoon

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