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A Discovery in River North/Chicago: Blue 13


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We just moved to Chicago from New York and have noticed a new restaurant that opened some 6 weeks or so ago on Ontario near Kingsbury in the River North area of Chicago. This place--Blue 13--should be on the culinary map of foodies....something great and impressive is happening here. Its a bit intangible--I don't now if it was the sleek style of the restaurant that somewhat reminded me of the look of Perillo in NYC, or the edgy music that almost reminded me of Babbo, or the soft lighting and a king of informatlity that reminded me of Tabla/Bread Bar. But, put together, it worked its magic on me--I loved being there. Something impressive is happening in the place. Take my word for it.

We first noticed the menu in walking by---a menu that reached high and revealed some sophistication. Take a look: an appetizer of "Deconstructed Caprese: Tomato water, Tomato Confit, Fresh Mozzarella and pesto." Or: "Fish and Chips"--"tuna tartar cocktail, wasabi foam, and tarro root chips." For main courses--Rabbit Duo--loin strudel wrapped in grape leaf, braised leg, roasted cipolini onions, and baby carrots." There could be many more examples.

We walked into the restaurant that had the appearance of sophistication but the music and art revealed some edginess. The restaurant is sleek, with dark wood, mirrors, and soft lighting. The music speaks of east village. The tattoos on the arms of Chef Chris Curren reinforce the edginess.

This is one of the few restaurants in Chicago, outside such luminaries as Alinea or L2O, that I felt could truly and successfully compete in New York. This is a sophisticated chef in a stylish yet unassuming setting. I started with the lobster pizza--beautifully prepared with not quite New York-thin crust, but crispy and perfectly crisped in a hot oven, with a great tomato sauce and lobster. Lovely! My main course of pan seared halibut with asian vegetables and a mango nage was beautifully cooked--flirting with under-doneness as sometimes has been said. My partner had the a carpaccio which looked beautiful--with balsamico, horseradish foam and baby greens. A friend had the fish and chips which I tasted--very fresh sushi grade tuna. My partner's main course were the asian spiced roasted lamb chops with asian long beans, onion confit, and a potato gratin. The lamb was cooked medium rare and perfectly, IMHO.

Don't get me wrong--this is not a competitor to Jean Georges or Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park in NYC....but for a newcomer start-up, this is a place to notice. My meal was excellent--with sophistication and integrity. Though the chef has a solid but relatively modest pedigree (he worked at several restaurants in Cleveland before Chicago), he has real native talent and is someone to notice.

I have no affiliation with the restaurant other than being a foodie and a recent resident of Chicago. But I was stunned at the quality and sophistication of the dishes for a new and thus far unheralded restaurant.

You should take note of this place and the chef. Very good things are happening here.

Edited by DutchMuse (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...

Interesting stuff! I'm looking for good places to explore this fall - I'm a junior at Northwestern and now that I'm halfway through I'm realizing how little I have explored this great city. What is the environment at the restaurant like though? Some of my friends are certainly up for fine dining but don't necessarily have the money or interest (or palate for that matter) for a place like alinea. Is it dressy/up-scale or trendy and what is the price range? My friends probably don't want to blow $200 on a meal but if they're willing to spend over $120 at Japonais (and without drinks!) I don't see why that or more for better cuisine is too much to ask.

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  • 1 year later...

Two oenophile friends came over on Wednesday night--actually they were in Chicago to promote their wine publication (he is the editor, she the publisher) and wanted a respite from their travel and gargantuan meals they've been having as they travel from NY/Chicago/SF/Seattle etc. (they are from the UK where the magazine is published).

Thinking of Blue 13, I suggested we go to a local restaurant near our apartment for dinner. They heartily agreed, wanting a quiet, no fuss kind of night.

Being wine geeks from the UK, I thought they might enjoy a couple of American wines that might not be easy to find in the UK, so we brought along a 2006 Rhys Home Vineyard pinot, and a 1994 Ridge Monte Bello.

We started with the obligatory lobster pizza with a Vouvray they had on their list. Nice, appealing wine which went well with the pizza. The pizza was as always--fun, tasty, hot and delightful.

In looking at the menu, I didn't see an appetizer that I thought was a great pairing with the Rhys pinot...so I asked Dan (the host and co-owener) to ask Chef Curren if he might do something with the Amish chicken (maybe over a salad?) as an improv appetizer for the 4 of us. Dan immediately said he would ask the Chef; he came back in a minute and said it would be no problem.

What came out was just great--a chicken roulade sort of Nicoise style--a roulade of chicken that the chef stuffed with a black olive tapenade, and asiago and pecorino cheeses. It was served alongside a tomato tartare with a "sunny side up" quail egg on top with a horseradish foam. It was delightful! A really perfect match with the pinot, which is almost Burgundian in style. The chicken with the new world pinot worked very well.

For the main course, I had mentioned the pork chop to Dan and thought it would pair well with the Ridge Monte Bello. But the chef had another idea, and it was a perfect pairing and was so good--it was a crispy pork belly served with a toasted brioche served alongside a bacon jam, blue cheese mousse, and a hydroponic watercress salad. "This is better than what you'll find at 95% of restaurants in town" I opined. "I think its better than 95% of what you'd find anywhere" said my friend, the editor. It really was great and it was a perfect pairing with the Ridge.

When we went in, we expected a regular meal which we would order off the menu. What evolved was what almost turned into a "quick fire challenge" and Chef really rose to the occasion, totally spontaneously! He and Dan couldn't have been more willing and enthusiastic to create something just for the occasion, even though we hadn't warned them!

My hat's off to these guys. I still think this is an undiscovered jewel and continue to be impressed with the chef's talent and creativity. We left the restaurant thrilled at a fun evening with really delicious food and fun wines. It turned into a beautiful food/wine pairing that shows what can happen when when a chef is willing to take a chance with the diners and the diners willing to take a chance on the chef. This one worked!

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