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Blackbird - chef Paul Kahan - Chicago


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I can't vouch for the waffle & bacon (although that sounds great to me) as a dessert, but I think you'll find it difficult to be disappointed with anything that Ms. Lane produces (is she still there?  I can't remember.).

Dish reported last week that she was leaving to take a position at Common Threads. I don't know if it's happened yet. For whatever reason, Dish was not updated at Chicago Magazine's web site last week (or this week, for that matter) but it did arrive by e-mail last week:

A Rare Bird Flies Away

Tara Lane, the head pastry chef at Blackbird (619 W. Randolph St.; 312-715-0708), is leaving to take a job at Common Threads, a local charity aimed at benefiting children by, among other things, educating them on nutrition and sustainability. “I volunteered with Common Threads a few times before,” says Lane, 28. “I kind of fell in love with the creativity and the opportunity to make a difference. I draw a lot of inspiration from the kids’ random, crazy ideas.” Lane will be a project manager at CT, which means she will have administrative duties but will also teach 8-to-12-year-old kids about the joys of cooking and gardening. “A lot of them don’t have anyone cooking in their lives,” she says. “We put together recipes that teach the kids and then they take home a grocery bag with everything they need to make that meal for four.”


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

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ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Thanks ronnie. I thought something had tickled my radar about her... well, wherever she ends up, the desserts will be great.

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

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)


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  • 1 month later...

I had a brief visit to Chicago this past weekend and the possibility of one good meal out. I was by myself and managed to get a seat at the bar at Blackbird on Staurday night. It was a great choice for a solo diner: busy, hip, unpretentious.

I was slightly thrown by the menu as, after reading the threads here and the menu online, I had already decided that it would be pork belly for me. Zut alors! It had been removed.

With the help of the friendly bar manager Steven, I settled on a slow-cooked quail/celeriac/pork belly appetiser, which was truly delicious. The tang in the dressing on the celeriac slaw cut through the fatty pork without overwhelming the quail.

Next up: rabbit. I found the loin a little dry, but loved the flavourful leg. The crisp brussel sprouts with caraway seeds overcame a lifelong phobia of the vegetable.

The five cheeses were beautifully presented and delicious (there was one acompaniament that didn't work for me, but my memory escapes me as to which one).

I was headed towards one of the chocolate based desserts, but was steered by Steven to try the chestnut crepes with bosc pears, which were deliciously autumnal. I always choose chocolate, so it was good to have my horizons widened.

My only complaint was the lack of wines by the glass. Considering the breadth of the wine list, half-a-dozen whites and reds seems a little tokenistic.

I more than made up for it by testing the quality of the cognac and armangnac, however. :wacko:

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I had a brief visit to Chicago this past weekend and the possibility of one good meal out. I was by myself and managed to get a seat at the bar at Blackbird on Staurday night. It was a great choice for a solo diner: busy, hip, unpretentious.

I was in much the same situation as gingerpeachy was last week, but my night out was on Friday and I scored a seat at the bar at Avec. The whole experience was fantastic. My waiter and the rest of the staff were attentive and very helpful when I asked questions. I loved the energy of the place and the fact that the staff maintained their easy manner even when the place became packed.

The food was very good. I started with a special, an apple and celery salad that was fantastic. My other dish was octopus in a tomato sauce. The octopus was perfectly cooked, the best I've had outside of the Mediterranean. I'm not doing justice to the food in my descriptions because I was too busy people-watching and enjoying my food to examine the ingredients closely. My waiter even managed to find a wine that worked well with both dishes. There are many wines by the glass, another thing that makes this such a great solo dining place. My only frustration was that, since I was alone, I could only sample two dishes. Well, three -- I did have dessert, house-made chocolate that was in bark form. It was good, not too sweet. When I go back I'll try the bacon-wrapped dates, they looked fantastic.

We have great restaurants in Seattle, but we don't have a place that is hip (and so well designed) and unpretentious and has great food. This package is what made Avec really stand out for me.

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  • 4 months later...

(Cross-posted from my blog)

Blackbird has been on my Chicago to-eat list for quite a while now. But I get to Chicago so infrequently that there's always been something above it. So having a Monday night in Chicago was a blessing in disguise - most of the top tier restaurants are closed, and Blackbird was one of the few that was open. One look at the aintriguing menu and it quickly jumped to the top of my list.

I'm pleased to say the menu was as delicious as it was intriguing. And the location was certainly convenient - after 20 or 30 minute taxi rides to most of my Chicago dining destinations last time, this was just a few minutes ride from my Magnificent Mile hotel.

One of the reasons that I hadn't been to Blackbird before is that I usually seek out restaurants with tasting menus. That way I don't have to make those hard decisions, and I get to try a whole bunch of different things. Blackbird doesn't have a tasting menu, but that was another hidden blessing, as it was nice to walk out NOT stuffed to the gills. But it was hard to decide, since nearly every appetizer and entree looked tasty. We finally settled on two entrees and two appetizers, then each ate half and switched for maximum tasting opportunity.


The amuse was a split pea soup with a piece of perfectly seared salmon, some smoky bacon, and tiny cubes of tart apple. Very nice.


Appetizer #1: confit baby octopus and duck prosciutto with cocos beans, jerusalem artichoke and perserved lemon. The texture of the octopus confit was fascinating. Not rubbery at all, and somehow firm and soft all at the same time. The jersualem artichoke puree was delightful, and the duck prosciutto was swoonworthy. It all just came together beautifully.


Appetizer #2: crispy confit of swan creek farm suckling pig with cavollo nero, shaved winter radish, horseradish and banylus vinegar. On the menu, the words "suckling pig" were bolded, which was certainly eye catching. Some of the bits of confit were a little dry, but other bits were moister, and while I preferred the octopus, this was certainly no clunker.


Entree #1: seared loin of venison with parsnip, artichokes, smoked grapes and bacon caramel. This was wonderful, and a good example of what appealed to me so much about Blackbird's menu. I've been to lots of "food science" restaurants, and Blackbird strikes a good balance of using some excellent techniques from molecular gastronomy without making it the focus of hte meal. In this case, the bacon caramel and smoked grapes - wouldn't have been out of place at <a href="http://tammystastings.blogspot.com/2006/10/alinea.htmlv">Alinea</a> or <a href="http://www.wd-50.com/">WD-50</a>, but they also worked with a fairly straightforward presentation. The venison was perfectly cooked. The smoked grapes were a wonder - still crisp, but surprisingly smoky. Excellent.


Entree #2: fried leg and slow-roasted loin of royer's farm rabbit with white corn panisse, fresh huckleberries, brussels sprouts and caraway. Lots of fun little bits to this one. The white corn panisse was really lovely, and the huckleberries worked really well. The coating on the fried leg came slipped off and was soft rather than crunchy, but all in all this was another winner.

The room is clean and modern, and unusually (but pleasantly) bright. The tables are quite close together - they're making the most of a tight space. The music is a little funky, but not so incongruous as at <a href="http://tammystastings.blogspot.com/2006/10/schwa.html">Schwa</a>. Service was just right.

I wouldn't proclaim anything I ate as one of my "best dishes ever." But everything was very solid, very tasty, and very nicely presented. Quietly innovative. It was just an all around great meal, and I'd go back to Blackbird in a heartbeat.

Tammy's Tastings

Creating unique food and drink experiences

eGullet Foodblogs #1 and #2
Dinner for 40

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having a Monday night in Chicago was a blessing in disguise - most of the top tier restaurants are closed

Actually, quite a few top-tier restaurants are open on Mondays, including: One Sixtyblue, NoMi, Seasons, Aigre Doux, Ambria, Bistro 110, Butter, Custom House, Fulton's on the River, Joe's, Kiki's Bistro, Le Lan, Marche, Meritage, MK, Mon Ami Gabi, Osteria di Tramonto, Shaw's, Sola, Sweets and Savories, Tru, Va Pensiero, Vermilion, Vie, and most of the steakhouses. (Can you tell where I started looking up names from a quick check on opentable.com? :wink: )

Granted, many others are closed, but Monday in Chicago is hardly a culinary wasteland.

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  • 3 months later...

Tonight was my first night of the summer in Chicago. My first significant meal was at Blackbird. I managed to secure a seat at the bar (but not at a table) calling only a couple hours before. Blackbird does not have a tasting menu, so I kind of created one of my own. I ordered four appetizers and a dessert and was quite satisfied.

As another poster noted, everything at Blackbird was very solid, quite tasty, and subtly creative. Like good contemporary American cuisine, just one level higher. I don't usually dine alone at the bar, I prefer tables, but I must say I enjoyed my experience given the energy of this restaurant. It is undeniably busy and quite loud. A true hive of activity in a rather small, minimalistic space.

I had:

-Amuse of trout belly and a really interesting barbeque consomme. I loved this.

-Crispy confit of swan creek farm suckling pig with cavollo nero, shaved chiogga beets, horseradish and banylus vinegar 13.

-Crispy veal sweetbreads with nichols farm baby leeks, fresh green almonds, puffed wild rice and remoulade 13.

-Braised octopus with fresh hummus, charred ramps, sesame brittle and chickpeas 14.

-Soft shell crab (not on the online menu) for $15.

-Milk chocolate cremeux with coconut-curry ice cream, cashews and lime 10.

My favorite dish was definitely the sweetbreads, totally delicious with the puffed wild rice adding great texture. I thought the octopus was a bit weak because the terrine portion (literally a slice of compressed octopus meat that looked cool in a vaguely gruesome sense--I mean this as a compliment) lacked seasoning. It was interesting texturally but needed some salt or acid to perk up the flavor. The confit tentacles were much better. The pork dish was very nice, if perhaps slightly thrown out of balance by the banylus vinegar. I liked it, but it was probably too assertive objectively speaking.

I also really enjoyed talking to one of my bartender/waiters, whose name I believe was Brandon. Cool dude and full of information for a newcomer to the Chicago food scene like me. If only I could remember all the places he told me about; I'll try to get to them all eventually. Also sat next to a nice couple restaurateurs from Ohio in town for the NRA show. They seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Blackbird isn't the type of restaurant I usually go to, it's a bit loud and hectic for my tastes. Given that, I was quite pleased with this first meal. I spent a bit more than I would've liked ($103 after tax, tip, and a meh glass of Sanceree), but I'd go back to try more of the menu. I'm also interested in Avec, as its crowds were literally spilling out onto the sidewalk with everyone drinking and eating.

ETA: I just realized why Chef Sheerin looks so familiar. Wasn't he the sous-chef at wd~50? I think so.

Edited by BryanZ (log)
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I am. But may be traveling four days a week, leaving me actually in Chicago on like only Thurs, Fri, Sat nights, making it difficult for resos. Then again, BB worked out for me so I'm planning on some good meals at some perhaps less-than-good times.

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Walking down Randolph on a Friday night in April was ridiculously cold, but the warmth from the wood siding looked inviting.. Entering Avec proved to be more difficult than one would assume as we failed to figure out how the door worked. The second time we tried to enter we hit the jackpot.

Not surprisingly showing up at 830 on a Friday night required an hour wait. Off to Blackbird it was for a drink at the bar. The bartender made a nice recommendation of bourbon, and we watched the dishes come out of the Blackbird kitchen. It was tempting to stay there, but that will have to come at a later date.

Less than 45 minutes later we walked back over to Avec and somehow managed to get the seat right in front of the sauté station at the bar. One can assume that everyone would not enjoy a seat here, but this is what I was hoping for. After being seated we discussed the menu with Chef David. My date and I had some ideas on what we would like to try and we also asked the chef to cook us his favorites on the menu.

We had.

roasted beet bruschetta with a hazelnut pesto, goat cheese and fresh herbs

roasted red pepper and tomato braised haddock with caperberries, bacon and spicy mustard greens

chorizo-stuffed madjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce

marinated hangar steak with asparagus, grilled bread, tarragon and salsa verde rustic

whipped brandade

deluxe" focaccia with taleggio cheese, truffle oil and fresh herbs

While ordering I was obviously too interested with the entire menu and not thinking ahead. Putting down the two richest menu items, at the same time, is not the smartest thing to do, but we made a valiant effort. I might add that they were both very good. My only complaint was that only two crostini were served with the brandade, however that was easily remedied by the chef.

The only dish that I did not enjoy was the hangar steak. It was cooked perfectly, but I found it to have no flavor. My favorite dish of the night was the dates. I have had dates wrapped in bacon before but never stuffed with chorizo. You are served 4 per order, and I could have eaten 8 alone. I also greatly enjoyed the braised haddock. I thought all the accompaniments worked well with the haddock. The bruschetta was fine. Roasted beets were a nice topping, but to me, the dish was not memorable.

We ended the meal with tangerine sorbet. I make my own sorbets and ice creams and thought this was comparable to my tangerine sorbet. Whether that is a good thing I do not know.

Overall this was one of the most enjoyable meals I have had in the last year… For the value and the food. I plan on going back very soon to sample the other half of the menu and some more of those dates.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Blackbird, the restaurant that throws too many items into the pot, complex does not always make better IMO and last night confirmed my personal belief that Blackbird is too complex for their own good. I had not been for quite a few years. Went last night with my parents as my Mom had wanted to go to Blackbird for awhile. Dined on the following.

crispy confit of swan creek farm suckling pig with cavollo nero, shaved chiogga beets, horseradish and banylus vinegar, so good we ordered two, but could have done without the cavollo nero, it did not add but subracted.

braised octopus with fresh hummus, charred ramps, sesame brittle and chickpeas, VERY tender and flavorful octopus but the rest, ehh.

sauteed maryland soft shell crab with smoked onions, roasted beets, horseradish cream and juniper, parents both had this dish and did not share so I'm assuming good.

sauteed wild king salmon with local asparagus, candied black olives, saffron caviar and califlower almond puree. overcooked salmon, seemed like something off of a steam table.

roasted half grimaud farms muscovy duck breast and confit with fresh hearts of palm, mustard greens, pepperoncini and amaro. excellent

slow roasted sunset farm baby lamb with fried moels, favas, herbed ricotta, spring radishes and wild flower honey. excellent but lamb was VERY rare when MR was requested.

braised pork belly and knackwurst 'choucroute' with fingerlings, crunchy sauerkraut and celery root puree. Knackwurst seemed store bought, nothing special. Pork belly was delicious.

buckwheat 'crepaze' with rhubarb consomme, candied celery and sicilian pistachio ice cream. Excellent crepaze with carmelized sugar coating the individual layers of the crepaze, skip the candied celery.

meyer lemon mousse with white chocolate, anise and winter citrus - nothing special, very so-so.

I had the cheese course, only standout on its own was the blue persille de malzieu, outstanding.

capriole farms 'julianna' - goat's milk, greenville, indiana - with pickled grapes

colorouge- cow's milk, fort collins, colorado- with plum mostarda

big bang -raw cow's milk, westfield vermont - with candied kumquats

hopeful tomme-raw cow's and goat's milk, thomasville, georgia -with smoked almonds

persille de malzieu- sheep's milk, france- with caramelized onions

Service was good until the dessert course, then forgotten coffee, forgotten liquors, etc etc. Very much solidified my not returning.


"I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be"
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  • 3 months later...

There's also a dessert- chocolate polenta, which comes with sweet corn ice cream and caramel corn- which is unbelievable, and an appetizer (may have been a special, unfortunately) of soft shell crab with a horseradish foam. Both very good. But I went with 3 others, and everybody loved everything.

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Never had a bad meal there, or even a bad dish. Chef Kahan is amazing, and I've never received anything remotely close to "steam table" quality fish. The service is impeccable - I wish they'd lose those goofy oversized suit coats and bad ties - but that's a minor quibble. Considering the prices, Blackbird is the best restaurant in Chicago - by far.

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

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Considering the prices, Blackbird is the best restaurant in Chicago - by far.

I wouldn't go quite as far as that statement, but I can sympathize with it.

To me, a really great restaurant is one where I can go with a friend, order two appetizers, two soups, two entrees, and two desserts, and all eight dishes will be superb, where every bite screams "WOW! THIS IS DELICIOUS!!!"

You expect and experience this from the super-expensive splurge places, like Avenues, Everest, etc. So I consider those places almost in another category, and I'll set them aside for a different discussion, leaving this one to Blackbird and similar restaurants in the "casual fine dining" genre.

There are many, many casual fine dining restaurants in the Chicago area where you can get excellent food. But the ones that meet this qualification of "greatness" are not all that many, in my experience. Blackbird is one of those few. To it, I would add one sixtyblue and Aigre Doux in the city, Oceanique in Evanston, Michael in Winnetka, and Tallgrass in Lockport. All six of which are in roughly the same price category (typically around $100 per person including 3-4 courses, tax/tip, and alcohol/wine of moderate quality/quantity). I would hesitate to have to choose ANY one of those as "best" over the others, because they are all so very, very good. (Although I have eaten at four of these six within the past twelve months, and Tallgrass was the best of those four great dinners.)

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Yeah, Iguess I should have qualified that with "In my experience..." because I certainly haven't eaten at every place in Chicago around Blackbird's price range.

Whatever . . . when it comes down to opinions, there's no wrong or right. It's certainly reasonable to say that Blackbird is arguably the best restaurant in Chicago, especially at its price point. If someone else likes something else better, it doesn't make them right (or wrong), either. The "in my experience" part is implied.


Edited by ronnie_suburban (log)

"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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Well, between my girlfriend and me, we had the scallops, sweetbreads, arctic char, pork belly, milk chocolate cremaux, and beignet with fig. All were good; all apart from the char were excellent; the pork belly was the best dish I've ever had. The service was impeccable, including a brilliant wine recommendation (2003 Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris) from our waiter, Ivar, that went perfectly with all four savory dishes. The best meal of my life, so far.

Also, Wylie Dufresne was there, having dinner at the bar in sneakers and a t-shirt. Gotta love random sightings like that.

"Degenerates. Degenerates. They'll all turn into monkeys." --Zizek on vegetarians

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  • 2 weeks later...

I had an excellent lunch at Blackbird yesterday. It was upstairs in the event room, a lunch for 30 people, so there were limited choices, but the choices were delicious. Particularly impressive was the vegetarian option, "crispy buckwheat crepes with hazelnut 'cassoulet', fresh ricotta, pickled baby carrots and grilled abalone mushrooms," which appears on the normal lunch menu as well. I also tried a beautiful piece of halibut (I'm working on getting the recipe for the sauce), and a faultless green salad. I can see why Blackbird has such a following: rarely do I encounter a restaurant that treats ingredients with such respect yet is also able to inject substantial creativity into the dishes.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 2 months later...

So Tomorrow --- Blackbird

I enjoyed a splendid lunch at Blackbird. A wonderful way to end a year of eating. The food at Blackbird really flies. At its best Chef Kahan's cuisine is as creative and accomplished as any chef in town, perhaps less elaborated but with a startling and compelling mixture of tastes and textures.

I began with baby octopus confit with braised chestnuts, empire apples, pea tendrils and sassafras caramel. This construction was as fascinating and wildly textured as any appetizer I have had for awhile. Chewy, crackly, smooth and crunchy. Sweet and just a bit sour. A truly magnificent dish.

As an entree I selected slow roasted duck with fried byrd mill grits, citrus brussel sprouts and puffed wild rice. I was blown away by the finely threaded brussel sprouts - the emotional heart of the dish. The duck, grits and rice, well-cooked, played a supporting role.

Dessert was a beautifully composed mission fig beignet with cara cara oranges, butterscotch and bacon ice cream. I have been rather critical of desserts as late, but not this. Like the appetizer, this was one of the most sensational and brilliant desserts of the year. The bacon ice cream seemed simultaneously surprising and totally natural. What a lovely way to end the year.

Why then is Blackbird not often listed in the company with other four star restaurants, where, by virtue of the food it belongs? When Blackbird opened a decade ago it was sleek and chic. But time has taken a toll on the restaurant. The restaurant no longer seems as stylish as it had once been. The plates don't need to be refreshed, but the tables might be. The room is so 1999! The food is so tomorrow!


619 Randolph Street (West Loop)




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The room is so 1999! The food is so tomorrow!

Agreed. I would throw the service into the 90's category as well. Each time I've dined there, I've felt that I wasn't really 'cool' enough to be there and that I might be kicked out at any time for not looking hip enough. The 'better than you' vibe I've gotten each time I've been there has always been a huge turn-off for me. Not quite huge enough to ruin the incredible food, though.

Sandy Levine
The Oakland Art Novelty Company

sandy@TheOaklandFerndale.com www.TheOaklandFerndale.com

www.facebook.com/ArtNoveltyCompany twitter: @theoakland

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