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FYI on Custom House - Chicago


ducphat30
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Ron.

I just read your review of C.H., which I somehow missed up until now. Wow... McClain dazzled me at Spring, I look forward to be wow'ed at another of his restos!

Does anyone know when their website will be launched?

u.e.

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

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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Ron.

I just read your review of C.H., which I somehow missed up until now.  Wow... McClain dazzled me at Spring, I look forward to be wow'ed at another of his restos! 

Does anyone know when their website will be launched?

u.e.

See above, u.e. . . . and thanks for the heads up on that, Justin. As recently as yesterday (IIRC), their site was still under construction.

As an aside, I had a great meal at Spring last week. I'll post on the appropriate thread as soon as I get a chance.

=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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My wife and I ate at CH last month and thoroughly enjoyed it. She said she would go back and she is VERY picky. The veel cheeks were out of this world good. The duck was excellent. The truffle risotto was great. The baked alaska was fabulous -whimsical but also good! The only misses were slight and still very good: to my mind the green beans had a bit too much orange to the spicing and the fois gras brulee was a bit too much show and not enough go (not enough fois gras flavor and a little too watery). Wine by the glass selection was excellent as was my martini. This place can please both the expense account crowd (if they go) and the foodie.

David, in Iowa City

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  • 1 month later...

Hello there!

We visited Chicago from DC last week and wanted to share our thoughts on Custom House......

We had lunch there and prices are reasonable, $6ish for apps and $10-15 for entrees which range from sandwiches to 'proper' entrees. It also seems clear from reading this thread that the lunch and dinner menus are very different.

I had asparagus soup with creme fraiche which was ok - it just seemed a little lacking in taste. I then had hangar steak with duck fat fries - both were excellent and the fries were among some of the best I have ever had.

My wife had the steak sandwich with caramelized red onions and horseradish which was also very good and a side of polenta, which while not being as thick as I would have expected, was creamy and delicious.

Service was a little subpar. Our first server was a sullen young French (?) lady who did little to hide her contempt of us, our child and our stroller. We were not apprised of the lunch special, and waited an age for her to take our order. After she took the order she dissapeared and it wasn't until towards the end of the meal we were informed her shift has ended and she had gone home.

We reluctantly relayed our concerns to the GM (we're really not the complaining type but are slowly coming around to the realization that unless you say something you'll just end up all piseed off) who responded with concern and some comped desserts, a delectable mint choc chip ice cream sandwich and a very dense and chocolately brownie type thing and a trio of sorbets (mango, rhubarb and coconut) - we literally licked our plates!

Notwithstanding the service issues I think we'd be tempted back for dinner the next time we are in town.

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This is my first restaurant review here, because we just about never eat out. But always be a good big cousin to your little cousins, because they may grow up to be rich generous foodies. My cousin Cort from Toronto blew into town for some serious eating and culture and he and his charming girlfriend offered to take us out to dinner – our choice. After a grueling Chicago walking tour directed by us, we stopped for a beer at the Palmer House Hotel at 5:45.A Saturday night, no reservations, they’d eaten at Trotter’s the night before…

The wonders of eGullet! I remembered this thread, realized that Custom House was blocks away, and had the presence of mind to stop at the hotel's concierge desk. John called the restaurant. Bummer. Earliest available seating: 10:00 pm, no reservations for the full-menu lounge seating. But John came through: Custom House would hold a table in the lounge for us. Leaving the boys to pay for the beer, Susan and I bolted down State Street.

As Ronnie said above: Yowza. Window seat, the charming Jolie our server, and the hits just came on coming. Refer above to descriptions of the sweetbreads, octopus and quail starters – Ronnie got it perfectly. Cort said the sweetbreads were the best he’d eaten anywhere, and the man has eaten everywhere. But, with my usual acumen, I choose the sublimest starter of them all: Foie Gras Brulle with macadamia and dried fig compote. It’s served in a largish shallow dish, acrackle with the thin crisp caramel lid. I broke the glass with my spoon, and dribbled some, silky unctuous foie custard onto a toast point, took a bite and pounded my plate with the spoon. I also moaned and bounced in my chair. The stellar sweetbreads, quail and octopus sat untouched as my companions asked for extra toast and said things like: “This is the best thing I’ve eaten in my life. Or: “I want this for breakfast. And lunch.” The serving was so large, the pleasure so intense, that the four of us could easily have skipped the three other starters. But we were glad we didn’t – I’ll remember all of them.

The room was full and the lounge was packed with folks standing at the bar. We never felt rushed; it fact it felt cozy and relaxed. I typically skip the scallops because I detest both their taste and aroma, but Susan said I had to try one because she couldn’t remember a better. She was right. Cort had the lamb medallions, tremendously tasty, but not tremendously tender. My husband had the above-mentioned addictive veal cheeks. When Cort took a bite he flashed me a look of wild surmise: “Why have I never eaten veal cheeks? I’m on a permanent mission for veal cheeks. I’m talking to my butcher the minute I get home. “(He’s also a first-class cook.)

I had the enormous, crispy on the outside, melting on the inside never-ending short rib, with the magical molten horseradish beignets. I slipped generous tastes to my companions, but it was getting to the I Can’t Eat Another Bite stage, abetted no doubt by the glorious truffle risotto. Naturally, I finished every bite.

It started to rain, so my husband offered to walk the ten blocks and bring round the car. A sweet idea, especially because it allowed the three of us, who had mentioned we’d eat again on Tuesday, to order some furtive desserts. Yeah, you’ve had mango sorbet, but you’ve never had pastry chef Elissa Narow’s mango sorbet. Cort was struck dumb: “It’s nothing but mango mango mango! This is intense! I love this!” We also loved the rhubarb upside-down cake, nice homey stuff. But it was the scoop of ginger ice cream that lifted this dish. It was infused with the sharp/sweet unmistakable flavor of crystallized ginger—punchy and over the top.

Cort (he’s a Wine Guy too) chose a couple of bottles of an outstanding Napa Syrah from a vineyard that started with E –Elisa? It went surprisingly well with everything, even the scallops.

As we stood outside waiting for the car Susan squealed: “Ohmigod, this place serves breakfast! I wonder if you can get the foie gras for breakfast? “

Clearly, visits to chef Shawn McClain’s Spring and Green Zebra are in order. Gee, I hope Cort comes back to Chicago soon.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

Studs Terkel

1912-2008

A sensational tennis blog from freakyfrites

margaretmcarthur.com

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Maggie! Your eloquent write-up reminds me all over again of just what a terrific meal we had Custom House. I agree about Shawn McClain too. I think his recent Beard award win in the 'Best Chef - Midwest' category was wholly earned and well-deserved. When a chef can lay down such a distinctive footprint in a market like Chicago, you know he's something special.

I'm glad you all had such a great experience. And thanks for momentarily 'bringing me back' to ours as well. :smile:

=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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  • 2 months later...

I had another fantastic dinner at Custom House this past weekend. Started with the quail, which has become one of my favorite appetizers in the city. I also sampled the foie brulee for the first time. I think that I've heard some mixed opinions on this dish, but I found it to be the perfect balance of richness from the foie, sweetness, and saltiness. Great texture too.

For my main I had the always outstanding veal cheeks. This brings me to my main point. Shawn McClain, in my view, has achieved Chicago ultimate bad-ass status (up there with Achatz, Kahan, Bowles, and the Schwa crew). I'm sure he's been one for a while, I just haven't had that much experience with his food until recently. But here's why. The cheeks are served in a nice little pot on a plate. Accompanying the pot is a good size piece of nice crust bread that has been nicely toasted. The bread had something on top that I couldn't immediately identify, but had a feeling what it was. I managed to discreetly ask our waiter what it was (since I didn't want to submit the large party I was with to my food-nerdiness), and he confirmed my suspicion. It was marrow from the veal. How cool is that? Not listed on the menu, not described when the plate is served. Just enjoy your marrow. I wonder how many people who would characterize themselves as unadventurous eaters wind up eating it and loving it, not having any idea of what they just consumed. I just thought that this was really cool.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I was in Chicago for a couple of days last week on business and decided to head over to Custom House right after I checked into my hotel.

As previously described, the space was beautiful. However, things started a bit on a sour note. The hostess greeted me with a suggestion to sit in the lounge area since the light was better for reading (I was dining alone). Seeing as I was without a book, I was surprised that the hostess would make a suggestion like that. Maybe I'm a little touchy but there should be nothing wrong with dining alone.

Next gaffe. I was placed at a table smack dab next to a wait station, where busboys were continuously pouring water...loud and annoying. There were other tables available so I'm not sure why the hostess put me there. Maybe she didn't like the fact that I didn't take her suggestion and sit in the lounge. I asked for another table and was moved promptly. I was then given a glass of ice water without anyone asking if I wanted bottled or bubbled water. Ok. Maybe they server EVERYONE ice water....but no, the next table over had bottled water. Very strange.

No wine list or waiter came for 10 minutes. I did get warm bread and salted butter....SO good.

The waitress finally came and, after failing to decide between 2 appetizers, I asked the her if the appetizers were small enough for me to order 2. She assured me that the portion would not be too much so I went ahead and ordered 2 appetizers and a main. Even though this was quite a bit of food, she still tried to push me to get a vegetable.

The first appetizer came. A delicious octopus salad...red and yellow peppers, mushrooms, red onions, etc. I was excited. The portion was a bit larger than I had expected but it was yummy so who was I to complain?

Hmmm...water glass has been empty for 5 minutes. No refill. There it is! Are they reading as a type into my Crackberry? Let's test it. Hmm....no one has replenished my bread. Guess not.

Next came the quail dish. 4 quarters of quail, a battered cipolinni onion, and caramelized fennel. Again...so flavorful and rich that I was starting to wonder if I was going to be able to eat my main course.

BTW, at this point, my bread plate was taken away. Guess they assumed my savories were done.

Veal cheeks...looked extremely rich and fulfills that expectation. This was so good that I could eat this every day. And I LOVED the marrow on top of the bread. Only problem was...the waitress was wrong. This was too much food. However, I couldn't bear not to finish this amazing dish and made sure I cleaned the plate.

The busboy (interesting) then brought over the dessert menu. I was stuffed at this point. I ordered an espresso and I was done.

I thought I was done writing as well. At this point, the waitress came back and asked if I wanted dessert. I politely declined and said that the food was delicious but I was too full. She told me that the melon sorbet was teh best sorbet she ever had. I declined again and she said it was just a small scoop. I declined again and she asked me if I wanted another espresso!!! She just lost half her tip!

Doesn't she understand that pushing more food can spoil a meal? Because of the quantity, what would have been an amazing entree became slightly sickening when I was on my last legs. This doesn't serve the food well through no fault of the chef (or sous chefs in this case). Plus, I didn't get to try any desserts! I'll take some of the blame. My eyes were probably wider than my appetite but I can normally eat a ton of food. This was too much.

Despite my displeasure at the waitress, I will definitely be back. Chef McLain obviously knows his stuff. There are other items I need to try and I'm hoping this service experience is an abberation.

Edited by hshiau (log)
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My wife and I had dinner with a group of friends last Saturday night at Custom House.

I didn't take copious notes; but, across the board the food was wonderful.

A couple of the highlights were a wonderful corn soup and a godlike pork two ways type main course.

The menu was a bit terse, and lacking in descriptions beyond an incomplete list of ingredients. I was really happy with my pork dish; but, from the menu I expected something completely different.

There were some oddities with service, mostly relating to our waiter. One of my friends described his attitude as, "convinced he was starring in his own hollywood movie".

I am something of a cocktail geek, so we thought we would try some of the house cocktails. We asked for recommendations and got a response to the effect, "At my other job I am a bartender, so I would suggest you go with a classic cocktail like a Martini or a Manhattan." Sigh. Others at the table eventually wheedled information out of him regarding the house cocktails. I asked for a rye Manhattan. The waiter then asked me what I meant by "Rye Manhattan". I thought he was winding me up and started to explain that it was a type of American Whiskey. He stuttered something about Canadian Whiskey and ran off to check with the Bartender. Sadly, he discovered they had no straight rye Whiskey, so I settled on a Maker's Manhattan. It was fairly well made. The other house cocktails I got to try were also nice.

Some of the cocktails were rather warm. I don't know if their ice machine was on the fritz or if they display their liquor on lighted shelves; but, it was disconcerting. They took them back and chilled them again; but, they then were watery to my taste.

The red wine we ordered with dinner was also on the warm side.

In any case, aside from these quibbles, we had a really great evening at Custom House. I would be very happy to get the chance to return.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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  • 1 year later...

Went to Custom House for the first time tonight because I got off work early and was in the mood for some sweetbreads.

The sweetbread starter did not disappoint. I'm not sure the mushroom dusted sweetbreads paired that well(or made them any better) when combined with the polenta or bacon, but all the ingredients, especially the sweetbreads, made me not care about that fact in the least.

The veal cheeks were outstanding. It was like the richest, heartiest, most fulfilling pot roast ever. If I had to nit pick, I would say they became overly sweet at the bottom of the cast iron pan they were served in. Another winner however.

The pommes anna was slightly disappointing as the dish was too heavily salted. This was not because of the cubed bacon,, merely there was too much salt added to the surface. Dissecting to the middle of the potato stack, helped correct this, but in my mind they were not worth the $8.

Even though I was stuffed, since everything else was so excellent, I had to try dessert. The sour cherry pie was exactly the type of dessert i like.

Having dined at Green Zebra I had expected the food and flavor to be at a high level of which my expectations held true. I was also impressed with the decor which is a bit more upscale and glamorous than Green Zebra. This was an excellent restaurant, with a great staff, and I look forward to dining here again in the future.

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Hmm...I hope I made the right decision by cancelling Spring tonight in favor of Blackbird. I may not have if I could find the egullet thread on Spring, which is difficult to find since the name is also a common word. Oh well, too late now.

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Hmm...I hope I made the right decision by cancelling Spring tonight in favor of Blackbird.  I may not have if I could find the egullet thread on Spring, which is difficult to find since the name is also a common word.  Oh well, too late now.

Either way is "the right decision". Both are excellent.

As for the search, if you search ONLY the Heartland forum for topics with Spring in the TITLE, you will get six topics in the results. I believe the one you're looking for is this one (although it's not that recent, with the most recent post from three years ago).

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  • 4 months later...

I dined at "Custom House" last night and it was an excellent dining experience. Among the standouts:

Sweetbreads with pork belly. Slightly battered (I think) and served on top of white polenta with greens. Out of this world and we had to ask for another serving.

The soups were both incredible (one was a bean soup and the other was a butternut squash soup with apples and blue cheese).

Among the entrees, the rack of lamb was very good as were the veal cheeks and the bone-in short rib. They were outsanding. However, one of the sides was the scene stealer: sweet potato puree with pecans. I am not a fan of sweetpotatoes, but this puree was so good that it could have been served as dessert. Among other sides, brussel sprouts were good and the fingerling potatoes with truffle oil was outstanding

Desserts were also good.

If you have not been to Custom House lately, you should give it a try. It is a great space and very close to many of the downtown attractions (theatre, CSO, Lyric). I cannot recommend it enough.

L

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