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.
Trumpet mushrooms are inside and under the pasta. Fresh ricotta adds extra creaminess, and a perfectly runny quail egg and a sweet red wine reduction acted as sauces. Super decadent, this may have been Colleen’s favorite course of the night.
At this point, we’d consumed a good amount of wine. Before it got to the table, Colleen and I debated on whether this word is pronounced “turbo” or “turbot.” I won’t tell you who was right (because it wasn’t me), but it is in fact, “turbo.” The firm fish was cooked perfectly, and we both loved the silky cauliflower puree and champagne sauces. Super white, super chic, both in looks and in taste. Colleen joked that she liked how it was really full of turbo flavor. Again, lots of wine at this point.
Look at that perfect carrot. It’s so perfectly squat that it could be a caricature of a real carrot. But enough about the carrot. The hen was the real star of this dish. Who knew that hen would be so juicy, fatty, and succulent? I was expecting chicken, and I was blown away. This dish was a great balance of sweet and salty, accented with maple and yam. That’s kale underneath the hen. Kale’s so hot right now.
This was one of the more playful dishes on the menu, a play on cherry cola. Brian, the Chef de Cuisine made sure that we understood that he didn’t use any Coca Cola in this dish, which means that he nailed the flavors on his own. The beef was fork tender, and the beautiful beets were perfectly roasted.
Holy god, we’re both stuffed at this point, and secretly a little thankful that this is the last meat course because there are still 4 more plates after this. But then, the venison! Check out that savory oatmeal cookie crumble! And those sparkly pomegranate seeds! And the perfectly cooked game! And the wrinkly currants! The look of this dish snapped me out of my food coma before I tasted it, and when I did, it easily became my favorite for the night. Tons of textures, with the crunchy cookie, the popping seeds, and the chewy currants. Well played, GE. Well played.
See how the tabletop looks different in this picture? That’s because the intermezzo, a delicious eggnog with perfectly squared off bits of brandy gelee was served in the kitchen, at the pastry station. Nice little presentation for eggnog, don’t you think? It tasted like Christmas. I like Christmas.
It takes a lot to wow me with dessert, but the new menu at Graham Elliot managed to do it twice. This beautiful plate was refreshing with fresh grapefruit, tart with persimmon pudding, crisp with pecan brittle, and sweet with caramel. If only more desserts could be this inventive! It was served alongside a hot buttered rum.
Here’s the second dessert that floored me. Graham Elliot isn’t reinventing the wheel, here. A plated dessert like this has been done a thousand times: chocolate custard, ice cream, cookie crumble, fruit. It’s the amazing flavors that they’ve pulled out of each component that made this particular dessert shine. Look at the drag on the sides of that chocolate custard – it was the most amazing, creamy texture. The chocolate shortbread crumble had a dark, sophisticated flavor. The ice cream is actually a tangy Greek yogurt sorbet, which cut through all of the sugar very nicely. And the pretty yellow ribbon on top is a passion fruit gelee, wrapping up the whole meal like a huge present.
So, there it is. That’s about half of the new menu at Graham Elliot, and I didn’t even speak to the spot-on wine pairings.
*Other goodies heard throughout the evening: Band of Horses, Daft Punk, The National, Morrissey, Andrew Bird, and Kings of Leon. Don’t be fooled by the fancy plating. This place is laid back. Our server, who was amazing and knew the menu inside and out on its first night, was rocking some pretty sweet sneaks, and you can, too. Because when you’re eating your way through a 15 course menu, Graham Elliot understands that you have the right to be comfortable in your clothes, and in their restaurant.
217 W. Huron,
Graham Elliot was kind enough to pay for my meal, but my opinions of the food, atmosphere, and staff are my own.