September was a crazy, crazy month. Both crazy good and crazy bad. Tons of work. Tons of travel. Tons of stress. But now that work has slowed down some, I get to tell you about the crazy good parts. I ate a lot of good meals in September, so many that I almost feel a bit guilty about it. Almost. Yay gluttony!
Let’s start with dinner at Schwa. Although I’d just been to Schwa a few months earlier, my brother insisted we had to eat there while he was in town. Knowing how difficult it was to get in, I hadn’t counted on eating there. I gave up after a few attempts of trying, leaving a few messages and occasionally finding that when I called I couldn’t even leave a message because the voice mail box was full. My brother, however, was not so easily deterred. He called daily during the two weeks leading up to his Chicago trip and left no less than a dozen voice mails.
On his second to last night in Chicago, he got a call from the restaurant asking if he could come in that night. He answered yes before the call had completely registered. I was supposed to work late that night and wasn’t sure if I could join him. Last minute, the project fell through so I got to go. Even if I hadn’t, I’m certain that my brother would’ve gone and eaten the meal alone. He was that determined to eat there. In the end though, it’s as if the stars aligned to make this meal happen and I’m happy to say that even the second time around, it did not disappoint.
Once again, the meal was kicked off with an amuse–a distilled bloody mary which was taken as a shot. (Sorry, no picture this time either.) The menu that followed was not all that different from the menu during my July dinner, but this time I brought the fancy-pants camera and got much nicer pictures. Of course we did the full nine courses. I won’t belabor you with a ton of descriptions here since I already did that write up last time, but meals like this are so memorable I would be remiss if I didn’t post some nicer pics of a similar meal here.
Course #1: deconstructed panzanella (top); octopus confit, shaved pineapple hearts, macadamia smear, tangerine greens (bottom).
The kitchen asked if either of us had been there before. I mentioned my visit back in July and was pleasantly surprised when they brought out two different first courses. My brother got the octopus confit from the menu but I got something off-menu to make the experience a little different. I was super impressed that the kitchen was able to do something like this completely on the fly. The deconstructed panzanella was fantastic, like tasting the very best of summer.
Course #6: braised beef tongue with puffed rice, fig kimchi, and baby bok choy. This was another surprise for us as this course ended up replacing course #6 (biscuits and red eye gravy) from the menu. I was a little sad that my brother didn’t get to try the biscuits and gravy since I loved that course so much, but he ended up liking this course so much I hardly think it mattered. I confess that I wasn’t head over heels for this course quite like my brother. I’m finding that beef tongue is a bit of an acquired taste, but I gotta say that the fig kimchi was pretty fantastic. I would love to know how they make it.
Course #8: beer and cheese course. (Woops. Didn’t get a picture of the Hendricks gin + rosewater gelée palette cleanser this time.)
All in all, a really, really great meal. It’s nice to see a kitchen performing at this level and with such consistency. There wasn’t a bad course in the bunch. The only complaint (and it’s really not a big one) was that the pace of the meal slowed down considerably in the middle of the meal. Near the end of the meal we learned that the kitchen had lost its sous chef a few weeks earlier. The fact that they were still putting out this level of food with such a skeletal staff impressed us that much more. I’m really pleased that my brother got to try this place out. I think he loved it as much as or more than our dinner at Alinea. Now that’s saying something, isn’t it?