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Schwa - Chicago


nick.kokonas
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Tripe with panzanella... for far too long, Schwa had become of passing interest to me. However, thanks to your report, it sounds like I need to go back for a re-visit soon.

Can you please indicate the number of courses and price?

Also, did you notice whether their closing produced any noticeable renovations/changes to the dining room?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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Tripe with panzanella... for far too long, Schwa had become of passing interest to me.  However, thanks to your report, it sounds like I need to go back for a re-visit soon. 

Can you please indicate the number of courses and price? 

Also, did you notice whether their closing produced any noticeable renovations/changes to the dining room?

I was very surprised at how different the menu was. In just a couple of years, Chef Carlson has become such a creative force that one never knows what to expect.

I did not notice any changes or renovations to the dining room. They had hired a couple of new guys, so the kitchen was crowded.

The number of plates is 10, including the amuse and dessert, and the price was $105 per tasting menu.

And that tripe was out of this world, but my table went nuts for the short rib and the corn concoction.

Go and let us know what you think. I am sure that, even if you do not like it, you will be shocked by the dazzling inventiveness of Chef Carlson.

L.

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With apologies to BryanZ . . . :wink:

Our Schwa experience started with an unexpected phone call a couple hours before the reservation time. It was the ever-thorough Blake calling to warn us that the AC was not working at 100%. As such, we were encouraged to dress appropriately. Not only was I going to Schwa, I'd be able to wear shorts! A dream meal . . . :wink:

When we arrived, the space was plenty cool and in an effort to keep it even cooler, the lights were turned down lower than usual (or at least seemed to be). That's why these images, taken without flash, are a bit noisy. Still, I think (and hope) they help capture the essence of this remarkably successful and satisfying meal.

schwa.fruitrollup.jpg

Cherry fruit 'leather' with thyme-accented cherry ice cream

This starter really set the tone for our meal. Not only was the combination of cherry and thyme a surprisingly harmonious combination but Schwa's mastery over ingredients was conveyed clearly here.

schwa.prosciutto.jpg

Prosciutto consomme salad

In the past, I'd had the delicious prosciutto consomme in liquid form at Schwa. Here, chef Carlson and crew turned that dish on its side by transforming the consomme into a gelee and coating the entire plate with a thin layer of it. Atop that base were accents of prosciutto in a couple of other forms (fresh slices, dried chips), fresh bits of melon and fresh baby arugula. A great combination of flavors and textures.

schwa.choccaul.jpg

Cauliflower soup with curry, chocolate

This course was the point in the meal where it transcended and went to the next level. Thinking that there was no way this could possibly work, I sipped the warm cauliflower soup, which was topped with a cold dollup of sweet chocolate emulsion. Amazingly, delightfully, the ingredients were delicious together. On the plate, roasted, curried cauliflower paired with dark chocolate again challenged my notion of what works and what doesn't. The well-seasoned and perfectly cooked cauliflower paired wonderfully with the soft dark chocolate. I was stunned and delighted. This was a real eye-opener.

schwa.padthai.jpg

Pad thai

This immensely tasty portion of pad thai had one substantial twist: the noodle element was replaced by jellyfish. I and everyone at our table loved it. I'm not sure how much I could actually taste the jellyfish on its own but the course completely succeeded as pad thai with rich and sweet peanut accents.

schwa.ravioli.jpg

Quail egg ravioli

We were told that they're trying to get this classic off the menu but it's been hard to do. Since we were with friends who'd never been to Schwa, I was glad to see this on the menu . . . and, of course, that wasn't the only reason :wink:

schwa.cone.jpg

Pine-cone

Uni ice cream cone with pink peppercorn accent. I love having these Iron Chef moments. When else would uni ice cream and I cross paths? I thought this dish was a refreshing bridge between courses. It was very subtle and tasted a bit briney with an ocean-like aroma. It primed our palates for the course that followed.

schwa.rockfish.jpg

Rockfish with lychee, mango and bacon

I saw chef removing these beautiful nuggets from the fryer no more than a few seconds before they appeared on plates in front of us. The fish itself was tender, moist and flakey. The coating, which contained some coconut, paired very well with the lychee and mango and the sweet smokiness of the bacon pulled the whole dish together wonderfully.

schwa.tripe.jpg

Panzanella

Of the 4 in our party, I am the only true fan of tripe. Here, as in the pad thai dish described above, chef put a wildly distinctive -- and successful -- touch on a 'tried and true' classic. Rather than the traditional panzanella, this version was comprised of bread and braised tripe. The entire 'salad' was dressed in a tart and slightly spicy mayo and topped with shaved parmagiano reggiano. Aged balsamic, basil oil and sweet 100 tomatoes rounded out the plate and provided distinctive bursts of flavor that complemented the tripe perfectly.

schwa.bbqplate.jpg

BBQ plate

This was a fun play on a traditional bbq plate. The tender short rib was topped with a smoked plum bbq sauce. My previous meal at Schwa incorporated the smoked plum element into a fantastic sweetbread dish. Here, that element was pushed along a bit further into a succulent bbq sauce, which went perfectly with the beef. The well-seasoned (with demura sugar, etc.) and caramelized section of corn on the cob was supremely delicious as was the popcorn puree -- plumed with a popcorn shoot -- served alongside of it. The watermelon salad was actually a frozen, granita-like rendition that was dotted with crispy bits of pickled onion. Fantastic!

schwa.risotto.jpg

Cheese course

This intense one-biter of risotto spiked with epoisse cheese and flanked with huckleberry puree, was a great transition between the savory and sweet portions of the meal.

schwa.camomile.jpg

Intermezzo

Here, aromatic camomile gelee, tart rhubarb puree and and creamy-cool honey sorbet combined into a potent intermezzo which successfully reset and re-sparked our palates. After all the intense flavors we'd enjoyed, this well-conceived bite really delivered.

schwa.cheesecake.jpg

Cape gooseberry cheesecake

Desserts are almost always surprising at Schwa. This cape gooseberry cheesecake was notably un-sweet but still scratched the dessert itch very effectively. I loved the way the rich cheese, tart gooseberries and nutty macadamia nuts worked together. The macadamia nuts took a couple of forms -- they were incorporated into the crust of the cheesecake and some were roasted and turned into a smooth puree that was also on the plate.

schwa.cheesecakecu.jpg

Cheesecake

A closer look at the cheesecake.

With the possible exception of my first time at Schwa -- during which I was completely blown away -- this was the best meal I'd ever enjoyed there. I marvelled at the cohesiveness of the menu and the progression of the courses, which I thought was brilliant. So many times, tasting menus run off in directions that are hard to make sense of, or that cause elements of the meal to interfere with each other. The exact opposite was true in this case. From beginning to end, our meal was seamless. Each course, while satisfying in its own right, seemed to 'set up' the palate for next one.

If I took a month off of work, I'd probably come out of it in a loagy stupor. Happily, the same cannot be said about Michael Carlson and the chefs at Schwa. After taking off the entire month of July, they returned to the restaurant at the very top of their game. Like a lot of my very favorite places, Schwa keeps getting better. It's a truly exciting restaurant that engages, enlightens and satisfies.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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What an extraordinary and fun looking meal, Ron. That looks like a meal that would be right up my alley mixing great, diverse ingredients with interesting technique and clever presentation to form a cohesive and delicious whole. Having eaten at Schwa but once, I have only a sense of what Chef Carlson and his team are capable of. That quail egg raviolo remains one of the greatest dishes I have had. I can see why he has such a hard time getting it off his menu. I know next time I visit that in addition to whatever else I have, I must have that again!

Ron, nice photography!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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Ronnie S.,

NICE shots and what a meal, I have such trust and respect for Chef Carlson's skillz to put a dish together that I know the dishes that may not fall into my"sweet spot" are bound to be good. Schwa is definitely a restaurant that is worth it to try and score a table for each menu change as you are liable to learn you like an ingredient that you may not otherwise ever try (unless it is Cuy, heh Doc).

Molto E

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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Ronnie S.,

                NICE shots and what a meal, I have such trust and respect for Chef Carlson's skillz to put a dish together that I know the dishes that may not fall into my"sweet spot" are bound to be good. Schwa is definitely a restaurant that is worth it to try and score a table for each menu change as you are liable to learn you like an ingredient that you may not otherwise ever try (unless it is Cuy, heh Doc).

Molto E

I have no doubt that if they did a dish with cuy at Schwa it would be excellent. I would have no problem with it, Molto. :wink:

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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  • 1 month later...

TOC is reporting that Schwa has closed:

As of yesterday, Schwa is closed. After the sleeper hit burst onto the Chicago restaurant scene two years ago, chef-owner Michael Carlson (at left) quickly earned a rep as one of the brightest culinary talents in the country, earning a place on Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chefs list less than a year into Schwa’s existence.

Per Carlson’s wishes, we won’t divulge at this time the reasons behind the closing, but will relay that he is determined to return to Chicago’s dining scene after dealing with personal issues. The timing is ironic considering the success of Friday night’s close-down dinner for the chefs in town for Trotter’s anniversary, but I can’t imagine a better way to end things than wowing some of the biggest names in the biz with your last night of service. Here’s hoping for a quick return, and thanks for food worth getting excited about.

So long, Schwa

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I will miss the Schwa experience and while I dined there there I always tried to cherish the experience because I felt it could be the last time in that venue. I hope the recipe for the quail egg ravioli's can be posted so we do not go into withdrawals :biggrin:

edit...fortunately, true or not this is just a temporary situation and Schwa will be back in biz.

Edited by molto e (log)

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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I just got an email from Chicago magazine's "dish" confirming that Schwa has closed indefinitely. Bummer. One of the best meals I've had in Chicago - and that was at the beginning of its run. I really tried to go back but could never get in. Hope Chef Carlson is doing all right.

Edited by david coonce (log)

"A culture's appetite always springs from its poor" - John Thorne

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he is determined to return to Chicago’s dining scene after dealing with personal issues.

Here's to hoping for a quick and satisfactory resolution of whatever personal issues are being dealt with and a return to even bigger and better things. There can be no doubting Chef Carlson's abilities.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I would hope that the most likely scenario is that someone in the party on Friday night made the Chef an offer that was too good to refuse.

He's decided to kick back a bit before moving to ...(Spain?)

Pick up your phone

Think of a vegetable

Lonely at home

Call any vegetable

And the chances are good

That a vegetable will respond to you

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