Friday, October 24, 2008

Chicago's GRAHAM ELLIOT exudes excellence

I often have a dilemma in Chicago of where to dine before the opera as the curtain is at 730pm and the places near the opera house are not so great.

Yesterday I headed for the River North neighborhood just north of the loop and found that the newly-opened in June GRAHAM ELLIOT( starts dinner at 5pm. Lucky for me and the chef here is none other than the award winning GRAHAM ELLIOT BOWLES previously of Avenues at the Peninsula and who came up through the ranks with the likes of Charlie Trotter and Dean Fearing (Mansion on Turtle Creek).

He calls his cuisine: "Fine dining redefined" and it works just fine indeed. I only wish he would tone the music down a bit. Upon arrival my server said she would ask, but it was to no avail, as this chef likes it blaring most of the evening. When I left at 645pm, the place was almost full and the music only made it impossible to have a decent table conversation....AGAIN!

The wooden floors, black wooden tables, exposed ceilings and no place for absorption at all don't add to this, but it is a comfy spot with leather and fabric banquettes and chairs and the food is simply superb.

An amuse of warm APPLE CIDER with Calvados soaked apples and milk cappuccino foam was a welcome sight on one of Chicago's coldest nights this fall. The came the nightly popcorn; last night's was a superb GARLIC BUTTER, but this could never replace bread as it really does not work to soak up those wonderful sauces. I would not want to trade the popcorn; but can't they find some bread on request?

A citrusy glass (big Riedel stemware) of 2007 SCHLOSS HALBTURN "Velt" 1 Gruner Veltliner from Burgenland in Austria was a great aperitif and went perfectly with the ROSEMARY SKEWERED SWEETBREADS, a dish I shall remember forever. Two huge cubes of crispy sweetbreads were skewered with the rosemary and served over an apple cider-caramelized turnips, heirloom apples and a magnificent BOUDIN NOIR Puree. I had to use my fingers to finish the sauce!

Choosing an entree was hard and I went for the ROASTED MONKFISH WELLINGTON which had the wonderfully cooked to perfection fish wrapped in a pastry dough with duxelles and spinach and sliced, served over French Lentils, Glazed Carrots, Melted Leeks and another brilliant sauce of TRUFFLE COULIS; it was AWESOME! Another Austrian wine was a superb match being a red 2006 Ernst TRIEBAUER BLAUFRANKISCH also from Burgenland with a huge fruit forward nose and oddly a completely different earthy taste.

I could not resist dessert and went with my delightful server Erin's suggestions as she had guided me so well on everything so far: GREEN APPLE FRITTERS were served with a warm icing of cider reduction and Cinnamon Ice Cream with pieces of apple...they were divine and I left for the opera knowing that I will return but hoping the music level drops.