I started the trip off with a late dinner reservation at Avenues, located at the Peninsula Chicago. I was instructed by a fellow eGullet-er to reserve at the kitchen bar, such that I could see Chef Graham Elliot Bowles and his Sous-Chef, Alex Martinez, at work. Little did I know what was in store for me as the two appear to be great buddies and Chef Bowles was pre-warned of my coming. Without revealing my overall impression until the end of this post, I'll bombard this thread with food photos.
The menu for Avenue's Chef's Palate:
The kitchen bar:
That's Alex (blurry) on the left corner.
Chef Bowles at work:
I thought the wooden place setting was worth a shot.
Amuse: Parsnip Pudding in Cream Puff
The light as a feather choux burst in the mouth with a chilled rich buttery goodness of parsnip cream. Both sweet and smooth, the piped replacement for traditional whipped topping was a pleasant, yet subtle surprise.
Tartare of Venison Loin: parsley custard, fruit compote, juniper gelato
My first introduction to the cuisine of Avenues consisted of unctuous venison diced into perfect morsels that slipped between bites down the throat. Each succulent bite was coated with the lightly infused juniper ice cream that melted in the mouth. Both the velvety smooth tartar and chilled custard were contrasted with a decadent and heavily spiced mixed fruit chutney which was both sticky and chewy, and was a superb harbinger of holiday cheer. Happy emotions were stirred from this amuse sized appetizer and signalled for an amazing dinner ahead.
Avenues Deconstructed Caesar Salad: baby romaine, grated parmesan, brioche twinkie
I watched Chef Bowles neatly trimming a small head of greens from behind the bar and gingerly perch that atop a perfect golden cube. Soon afterwards I was presented with a perfect pickled anchovy filet perched atop a ruffled quenelle quarter of baby romaine. Beneath the sushi like cap sat a crisp foundation of toasted brioche, filled with a luxurious parmesan cream. Cutting a bit from each layer I experienced an explosion of the buttery rich and creamy smooth base juxtaposing the crispy and crunchy layers, all washed down with the tart and refreshing elements.
The manditory cross-section:
Raisin pecan bread served with Italian parmesan butter, grass-fed Wisconsin salted butter, house thyme and lemon rind butter
Three breads were offered by the kitchen, and although the sourdough and multigrain varieties appeared lovely, I was drawn to the fruit and nut option. Still warm from the oven, the mini-boule was soft and spongy, having a chewy crust and moist crumb. Sampling bites of the bread with the butters offered I found favour with soft and rich flavours of the grass-fed Wisconsin salted butter. However, noting the progression of the oncoming procession of courses, I decided to slowly snack on the lone boule for the duration of the evening (a significant achievement for those who are familiar with my carb addiction). I wished I sampled the other two options, however, in retrospect, I am glad that I left my stomach space free for the real superstars of the evening.
Wine: Dirle(??) 2002 Muscat. (I can't make out my notes). Not being much of a wine drinker, the sommelier was kind enough to introduce my amateur palate to a light fruity white wine that had notes of citrus notes. I found this wine friendly and lovely to sip on while enjoying my next couple courses.
Carpaccio of Maine Lobster: cucumber noodles, yuzu foam, soy caramel
Since I first saw glimpses of this course in photographs from a friend's previous dinner at Avenues, I was in much anticipation for this dish. The ear shaped porcelain vessel contained a delicate streak of soy caramel that ran across the surface of the plate, scattered spicy strips of julienned cucumber "noodles", and a center pool of cucumber jelly strips buried beneath an ethereal spicy and tart yuzu ginger foam. The bright flavours of the yuzu bubbles further lifted the lightness of the slippery cucumber jellies, while the al dente strips of fresh cucumber provided a bit of bite. These components acted collectively as a refreshing palate cleanser, leaving the lobster pieces behind, almost as an afterthought. My favourite component was the soy caramel, an ingenious sweet temptation of smooth blend of soy powder with rich caramel, leaving my tastebuds in pure ecstasy.
Vichyssoise in Dual Preparations: potato terrine, roasted garlic, petite herbs
The pretty terrine of leak and potato was more pleasing to the eye than a friend to my taste buds. I found the steamed potato pieces were a tad too firm for my liking, while the strips of leek too sinuous, making it difficult to properly slice the two components to consume in a lone bite. Interestingly enough, the stars of the plate were the surrounding peppery slices of spicy artisan radish, and the dollops of bright green herb oil and umami flavoured roasted garlic cream. Overall the dish was visually appealing and was like Spring on a plate, decorated by the gentle sprinkle of micro-greens.
Edited by Renka, 06 September 2007 - 05:52 PM.