Thursday, September 01, 2005

Lunch at Blackbird

I spent the better part of last night on the phone with our financial adviser guy discussing all of the possible bad things that could happen to us. To repay me, Stephanie invited me to join her for lunch at one of Chicago's finest restaurants - Blackbird. This was particularly special no only because Blackbird was the 2004 James Beard Award Winner for the best restaurant in the Midwest, but also because Stephanie took an hour-and-a-half lunch break (75 minutes longer than her normal lunches).

To say that the food was exquisite would not do it justice. I should start by mentioning all of the things I passed up on the menu: gazpacho with tuna, confit of sucking pig, skate wing and jonah crab, croques madame and monsieur, bouillabaisse, and lamb t-bones. You get the point - deciding what to eat was incredibly difficult. Stephanie, devoted fiance that she is, made my task easier by ordering two items that I would have ordered instead of the ones I ultimately chose - "seared maine diver scallops with new crop fingerlings, scallions, guanciale and uni vinaigrette" with two enormous slices of truffle that were not listed on the menu and the "braised prairie gove pork belly sandwich with spicy coleslaw, bread and butter pickles, dijon, and arugula salad." Both were phenomenal. The former was perfectly prepared, with layers of delicate, contrasting flavors and a powerful aroma of truffle (it reminded me of the time that Charlie and I deep fried scallops in truffle oil). The pork belly sandwich was also superb. The meat was unimaginably tender, the slaw was great, and the bread was perfect. There were, perhaps, too many pickles on the sandwich, and the salad left something to be desired (although it was no doubt intended as a palate cleanser between bites of the very rich pork).

By now, you must certainly be asking yourself what I chose. No more delays. I selected two appetizers. First, the "charcuterie plate with country-style pate, boudin blanc, pickled spring salad, and walnut mustard." What a choice! The pate was just lovely - an fine blend of meat, fat, and savory herbs - and the sausage was great, perhaps the best I've ever had. The salad included pickled leeks and haricot verts. I followed this with "sous vide greengold acres farm chicken breast and sauteed sweetbreads with braised baby leeks and gribiche." These were, without question, the best sweetbreads I've ever tasted - a perfect blend of crisp coating and rich inside. I have been waiting to try some "sous vide" something after reading about it in all of the magazines (it requires vacuum-sealing foods in plastic for slow poaching at low temperatures), and the chicken certainly lived up to my expectations. Although the two small slivers didn't provide much opportunity to think about the flavors, they were amazingly tender.

Lunch prices are decidedly reasonable at Blackbird, although dinner gets a little more expensive. The wine list is impressivly stocked with cult cabs and big name burgundies (and they even had 5 chenins), but the wine prices are high - more than 100% over retail. The by-the-glass list could also have been more substantial and offered more playful wines to match the clever food preparations. Our service, by a young lady named Meredith and her crew was exceptional. They were all friendly and helpful, and Meredith made all the right recommendations. We shall return soon.

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