Every Wednesday, I’ll be posting a food related photo. But I’ve already said too much…
What do you get when you combine an artistic kitchen crew with knowledgeable front-of-the-house staff in a relaxed yet refined establishment, with a little LCD Soundsystem and A Tribe Called Quest* thrown into the mix? You get Graham Elliot, one of Chicago’s most fun fine dining experiences. My sister and I had the pleasure of eating our way through their thoughtful new 15 course menu (with 4 additional small bites, introduced as gifts from the kitchen) along with wine pairings, launched just last night. What a wild ride!
What do you get when you combine low lighting and stark white plates? Crappy food photos. I wish the pictures were a fraction as good as the food tasted, but they give an idea of the playful nature of the plating of each dish.
It was a long, luxurious meal. 3 hours and 15 minutes, to be exact. Each course had many components, building layers of flavor, but none of the courses were more than a few bites. If I wrote about each and every course, it would take you 3 hours and 15 minutes just to digest the info, so here are the highlights, in the order in which we ate them.
Pillow Talk – The cocktail that I started with. Colleen and I couldn’t have loved this any more. A nearly slushy mix of Tito’s Vodka, Americano Cocchi, St. Germaine, and sparkling Gamay, it was fragrant, floral, sweet, and very deserving of the award the mixologist won from Tito’s. I would drink this all the time if it was acceptable to drink all the time.
The only item that has consistently been on Graham Elliot’s menu since day one, and for good reason. This deconstructed salad is fun to look at, fun to eat, and packs all of the flavor of the classic salad into a few bites. The buttery brioche crouton (our server referred to it as a “Twinkie,” but that’s kind of insulting to the crouton) is filled with a creamy dressing. A tight bundle of crisp romaine rests on the crouton, and a filleted anchovy rides the wave of lettuce. It’s a fantastic riff on something you’ve eaten a million times in your life.
The octopus was cooked sous vide in chorizo fat, and served alongside both regular and dehydrated chorizo, and somehow the ocean flavor wasn’t lost. It’s a miracle! Saffron and fennel flavored the dish, and ultra thin grape slices add color and sweetness.
I just spent a few days in Playa del Carmen, a town on the Mayan Riviera about an hour’s drive south of Cancun. It’s a beautiful, lively place that I’ll remember fondly for a long time. Somehow I managed to make it to Playa del Carmen twice this year, and both times it was a tropical delight. I ate a lot while I was there. I also drank a lot, and the magical Mayan gods made sure that I never had a hangover, a feat that is mysterious and miraculous. A single tequila shot in Chicago would leave me with a reeling headache the next day, but in Playa del Carmen, the drinks can flow freely (and can also fluctuate between pina coladas, margaritas, beers, and Jager shots) all day and night with nary a bleary eye in the morning. Viva la Mexico!
The main strip, 5th Avenue, is very touristy, but great, authentic Mexican food can be found by venturing just a block or two away, by heading to the bus station for street meat, or by making friends with your hotel concierge. Here’s some of the most delicious stuff I tasted.
I had a lovely stay at The Bric Hotel. The staff was really fantastic, especially Gustavo. I recommend it highly.
I’ve been without electricity for three very. long. days. Apart from the obvious hassles this presents (the DVR failing to record It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and not being able to charge my cell phone which doubles as an alarm clock), I was supposed to be making a cake this week, and that’s a little tough to do without power. It’s worth mentioning that Jon and I live in a damn cave. We’re in a basement unit that faces north. On a sunny day, we’ll get a few hours of natural light in the family room, but the rest of the place remains very, very dark. It’s great for hangovers. The rest of the time it sucks. So, what do you do when your power gets cut when you’ve promised to make a birthday cake? If you’re me, you give thanks that you work in the Wilton Test Kitchen, which is pretty much cake decorating central. The cabinets are overflowing with pans and tools. Some of the cabinets are so full that I can’t get them closed, but that’s a matter for another time.
My future brother-in-law, Keith, turned 30 last week, and my little sis threw him a surprise party. Keith’s a Notre Dame Alum, so she suggested I theme the cake around that. It all came together pretty easily because Wilton makes a cake pan shaped like a football helmet, and we just started selling this aerosol metallic-gold color in a can. I baked the cake and used a Kitchenaid mixer at work to make the icing, then brought the whole lot home to decorate on the coffee table in the family room, savoring those precious few hours of daylight during the power outage. The lack of electricity certainly made things a little more difficult, but in the end, the cake was very simple to decorate. Rolled fondant is so much more forgiving than buttercream icing because it’s perfectly smooth every time. If I had sprayed buttercream with the metallic-gold color, it wouldn’t have looked nearly as perfect. And so what if it doesn’t taste as good as buttercream? There’s buttercream underneath it, holding it to the cake! Just peel off the fondant when you’re serving it, and stop complaining! You could even serve the cake alongside a bit of extra icing, or some fruit compote. Bottom line – if you’re at all interested in cake decorating, try using rolled fondant. It’s so simple you can practically do it in the dark!