Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chicago Weekend: Part 2, Vomit Avec Blackbird

Sister restaurants, Avec and Blackbird are located next door to each other.

Chicago is only an hour and a half plane ride, yet worlds away when it comes to dining. I love DC, but Chi-town is a real city with its skyscrapers and distinctive food culture. They have hot dogs and pizza styled after their town...and they love their tater tots. (Do we have DC-style food?) But it's the fine dining that is really promising (or is it?). Don't get me wrong, DC is starting to really come into its own, and has some incredible spots. But we still have a ways to go.

Anyway, we tried to skip the popular, stalwart treats to savor the other half of Chicago's food scene. We did everything from Le Colonial for French-Vietnamese, to Alinea for a real gastronomic experience (think micro bacon on hangers and lavender pillow chargers that deflate while you eat) to Blackbird.

After my "frenchy" snack in the hotel, we washed up and went out to the West Loop Gate area of town to try Avec, a fabulous, amazingly well-priced, and creative wine bar*.

They don't take reservations at the tiny, wood-paneled mod spot, (which attracts the young hipster, boho set) so we waited outside in their little courtyard. Next door, at their less interesting (but more refined; read: they take reservations) sister restaurant, Blackbird, there was no line. But the menu was a lot more expensive, and a lot less interesting. It goes to show that creativity and quality doesn't need to mean pricey.

We would have waited indefinitely for Avec. However, at one point a petite asian lady made her way to the front of the restaurant to get some air. I remarked to G that she didn't look well. A few seconds later she lost her dinner in front of us. The smell was horrific. We promptly left to go next door.

A little disappointed, we settled in for dinner at Blackbird. They had a pretty good wine list.We had the Ayres Pinot.

They started us with an ever-so-popular-it's-tired-now amuse bouche. It was a bit of shrimp with micro cilantro and basil crumbs. The combination was most definitely Southeast Asian. Nice.

We shared a "cheese salad" of Fayette Creamery "Avondale Truckle" cheese with bibb lettuce, cherries, artichokes and sunflower sprouts. It was mainly some blue, a semi-firm cow's milk cheese, and some bits of wild mushroom chips on a bed of bib lettuce. Decent. Funny how these things happen, but I was interested in it because of the sunflower sprouts. I don't recall seeing them or anything very interesting. In fact, I didn't taste the cherries or artichokes either. Oh well.

For the main, I had "schnizel" -- yes, there are a lot of quotes, here, to indicate an interpretation of the real thing. The ersatz german treat was actually abalone (a sea snail or mollusk) and mushroom with brown butter yogurt, snow peas, apricots, crispy maitakes and oregano. It was nice, but after several bites, it took on the aroma of wet dog. So I couldn't finish it.

From top: cheese salad, abalone schnitzel, Wagyu steak

G had the wagyu beef. It was grilled flatiron steak with smoked quinoa, baby swiss chard, goat's milk caramel and lemon balm. Though not a great cut, it should have been a bit more tender. The smokey rub on the meat was a bit overwhelming and had an artificiality, maybe like liquid smoke. The quinoa and chard mixture was a bit flavorless, but the caramel lent a nice sweetness that cut through all the strong, musky, char flavor.

Overall, it wasn't a terrible meal, but it wasn't great. The menu read like a who's who in popular niche ingredients, and I think it was more appealing in print than in product. However, the service was really pretty good. White tablecloth and all.

After our late dinner, we went back to our hotel room and had the macarons to cleanse our palates of the oddly semi-good dinner. But the next day and night we fared much MUCH better at Le Colonial and Alinea (see part 3).

*G went back to Avec this week and said it was absolutely fantastic.


by Fay and Josh said...

Exactly, Chicago restaurants seem to have a lot of promise but not really hit the mark on execution. So many meals here taste alike.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with blackbird. I ate there the day after Alinea and had great dining experience. I'm a chef from california and thought chicago was way more impressive of a food city than i thought.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

View My Stats