Sunday, March 24, 2013

Next - The Hunt

The decoration on the table, along with a wax-sealed welcome letter.

Anticipation high.

It wouldn't have happened without both.  Ryan really wanted to go, and I was lucky to get tickets.

"Fine, fine Slovenian wine" as we learned, this is an orange wine that is made not according to science, but according to the recipe of nature.   Grapes are harvested, and fermented by the cycles of the moon.  The result is a tart wine with a soft orange hue.

The antique walnut picks that we had to use to 'forage' for our hen of the woods mushrooms with between the aromatics in the brass and glass box.

Along with the foraging we were served a fantastic mushroom consommé that was intensely flavorful, and made to match the mushrooms perfectly in flavor, with a different texture.

This plate began to celebrate preserving, called Catch of the Great Lakes, it featured walleye in a creamy sauce, house-smoked arctic char, pickled kolhrabi, and strips of tasty pumpernickel.  The char was one of the big favorites.  It wasn't overly smokey as things often can be, and it was melt-in-your-mouth tender.

As it can get cold out on the hunt, every hunter needs a flask to keep warm.  Ours was filled with tasty VS Classique Bas-Armagnac from Chateau du Tariquet.

The "Charcu-tree" including duck pâté, elk jerkey, wild boar salumi, venison heart tartare, and blood sausage.  They were served on lacquered antlers, and provided a progressive bite-size taste of the wild.

The carrot dish was really pretty special.  In preparation for this menu, they asked their supplying farmers to wait to harvest the carrots until after the first frost, when they're at their peak sweetness.  They were then cellared for a period of time where they desiccated slightly, concentrating flavor and sweetness.  The entire carrot was served with a fried onion, and a tangy sauce.

While it's hard to pick favorites, this might have been my favorite drink pairing of the night.  It's a French hard cider that's made from crabapples.  It had a really fantastic apple taste, and was a perfect balance between tart and sweet, with really great yeasty overtones.

Lisa, you should just jump to the next paragraph.  This dish, featured duck tongues,  cider vinegar, and multicolored sorrel.

In a play on bacon and eggs - a light duck egg souffle is wrapped in raddichio and accented by creme anglais with smoked sea salt.

As the courses get bigger and the feast starts in earnest, they bring huge candles to the table.

Sturgeon on a tiny platform of fried sunchoke.   Plated with spruce oil, and a burre blanc featuring the sturgeon's own caviar - O M G!  I felt bad because this was a truly fabulous dish, and one of the friends dining with us doesn't eat fish.  The other three of us got an extra bite ;-)

This course featured wild-shot scottish woodcock, wrapped (as in life) around it's ground organs mixed with black truffle and garnished with shaved cocoa.  To the left, an homage to what the woodcock might eat including huckleberries, hazelnuts, a bit of lettuce and of course, gold leaf (haha).

The centerpiece of the service was the Pressed Squab.   A young pigeon who was prepared in beak-to-tail, essentially 5 different ways.  You can see the offal wrapped in a wonton, the tender breast, and the green on the left is the stuffed head (see below).  All surrounded dots of a tasty duck au jus.

We were also supplied with a large bowl filled with the extra bits and encouraged to gnaw on them with our hands.   As expected, hot towels were supplied after this course.

Rounding out the squab course was a savory stone-cut oatmeal porridge with bits of squab, foie gras and duck fat and more of the sauce that embraced the bird.  It's actually a little sad that this was delivered at the same time with the rest of the squab.  It was all so good it was hard to synthesize everything and I think that the fantastic porridge was a bit lost.

Next up was a return to foraging - with found leaves, mustard and kidney, served on a wonderful piece of birch bark.  This was one of the most fun and unique presentations of the evening.

The vegetables were accompanied by a tasty cocktail based on smoked corn whiskey (Balcones Brimstone), artichoke liquor (Cynar), and a flavored simple syrup that I can't recall.

We were then delivered plates with a leak, and the tiny tiniest spring onion I've ever seen.  Not yet knowing what to expect, we were treated to a massive hot rock on a very fragrant bed of rosemary and thyme on which we cooked our own strips of Bison (check the video).  Turned out this was a riff on steak and béarnaise.

Our first dessert was a tasty Tokaji - hungarian sweet wine, similar to a sauternes.  It was tasty, accouterment for our final courses.

The Marrow Brulee was one of the most perfect salty-sweet combinations that I've ever had.  The marrow was removed and used to create a custard.  It was then replaced into the bone and seared perfectly.  This was one dish (of several) where there were serious threats of licking the 'plate' clean.

Next up was a sweet barley oatmeal that was served with eater-directed additions.  From left to right: browned butter sugar, cherry preserves, candied pecans, mint and basil, and toffee.  It was the perfect amount of sweet and the big barley chunks gave it a great texture.

Finally, we were given Japanese maple sticks.  As we were pondering what might lie ahead, they brought a tray of shaved ice and set it down on the table.   Onto the ice, they poured a maple bourbon mixture and allowed it to harden just enough to be able to roll it onto the stick and be eaten (see video).  The interactive presentation, and the tasty lollipop was a perfect way to end the evening.  Of course, even the spot of coffee offered was far from ordinary.  They cold-pressed coffee roasted just a few doors down from the restaurant, and then steamed it with buttermilk creating a creamy, sour, coffee concoction that was pretty darn yummy.

Video bits from the night:

Next - The Hunt from Marc Kohli on Vimeo.

The guy who seated us and guided us through several courses talked with us about the next menu - Vegan.  We had already been interesting in coming, but this meal has sealed the deal.  We're going to be trying hard to get tickets.  He also asked if we'd been before and when we let him know it was our first time, he invited us to take a peek into the kitchen.  There were three striking things about the kitchen: 1) it's really small (picture below shows almost the whole thing).   2) It was really quiet.  3) It was amazingly clean.  Nothing extraneous, nothing out of place.  

The restaurant design is pretty stunning.  Not for garish decor, or intriguing art, but in the way that lighting highlights the food and the guests, while making the servers almost invisible as they walk through a dark corridor between the two small rows of tables.  Service was top-notch with a sense of humor and playfulness that made the experience more human, without taking itself too seriously.

At the end of the night, we were all very, very happy and also very impressed.  We'll all be dreaming of this night, until NEXT time.


Thanks to Phil Vettel's review in the Chicago Tribune for filling in quite a few little details I couldn't remember.

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