Tag Archives: STYLE: New American

Grace | Chicago | Mar ’14 | “herbal baroque”

4 Mar
  • Address: 652 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
  • Phone:(312) 234-9494
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $241
  • Courses: (9 main/15 total) 1 amuse / 4 bread / 6 savory / 3 dessert / 1 mignardises
  • Price/Main Course: $27
  • Rating: 18.5/20
  • Value: 2/5
  • Dining Time: 133 minutes
  • Time/Course (total): 9 minutes
  • Chef: Curtis Duffy (ex: Charlie Trotter’s, Trio, Alinea, Avenues)
  • In own words: “intricately plated food to be consumed in six bites or fewer — just enough before the palate, mentally, becomes numb to the same flavor.” [1]
  • Style: Avant-garde New American
  • Michelin Stars: 2

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Rating: 18.5/20

I knew almost nothing about Grace when I stepped in. I only knew that in the year that they were open since December 2011, Grace has had a meteoric rise, garnering two Michelin stars immediately. This is the restaurant that Chicago expects to be its newest 3-star Michelin restaurant.

Some people have called it “Chicago’s per se”. I think that is a mistake. The dissimilarities with per se are much more striking than the similarities. Firstly, the plating of food. The plating at per se is a style one might call classical, putting the main ingredients front and centre. The plating style at Grace eschews that to put the ingredients by the side; in two piles; even three dimensionally (see the Alaskan king crab). The plating has more in common with the chaos on view at Schwa. Secondly and more substantially on the flavours, make no mistake – Grace is exciting. Licorice, in particular, played a part in 4-5 dishes across the 18 we tried across both Flora and Fauna menus. It was not uncommon to have up to 15 different ingredients in one dish, as the kitchen strived for a very precise effect. Some touches, with the onion in the perigord truffle custard, were sensational and subtle. This paradox – baroque of taste and minimalist of plate – is what drives Grace forward.

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As a diner, you have a choice between two menus. The Flora and the Fauna menu.  The Fauna has the better mains. The Flora has (slightly) better desserts. Beware though: if you’re accustomed to having meat in some measure on your menus, you will likely be dissatisfied with Flora mains, which are much more intellectual-exercise than delicious-plate (a problem I had with vegetarian Kajitsu in New York as well). Strangely, the Flora menu isn’t vegetarian by default, I guess some animal products still find its way into the sauces. Most people, faced with this conundrum, order different menus across the table, so that everyone can try a bit. All kinds of herbs find their way onto both menus, and many of them hail from Asia. A Indian tamarind named kokum, Vietnamese herbs, bold use of licorice: at times it almost seems as if each dish was constructed around a single herb (USUALLY EMPHASISED WITH ALL CAPS). My overall verdict on the menus: each menu features very strong dishes, but they tend to alternate (the 2nd dish on Fauna, the 5th dish on Flora). There is already a 3-star Michelin menu on the table, if we take the strongest dishes of both Flora and Fauna.  The Fauna menu was the one served to me, and so apologies if my descriptions or recollections of the Flora menu are patchy.

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Grace’s dining room is a classy muted bronze in colour. No natural light seeps in, except a brightly-lit kitchen sealed it by glass at the very head of the room. It is the open-kitchen concept that is all the rage today. Both of us were seated facing the kitchen, the metaphor of dining as theatre made explicit. Grace certainly has all the trappings and food to merit a 3-star rating (if the best of both menus are combined). I would be surprised if it doesn’t make it within a couple of years.

Notable Links:

Curtis’ cooking was the sort of intricately plated food to be consumed in six bites or fewer — just enough before the palate, mentally, becomes numb to the same flavor. “You want diners to say, ‘I wish I had one more piece of Wagyu beef, one more piece of salmon,” Curtis said. “You want them to not have just enough of a dish; you want them to crave for one more bite.”

So the plateware, Curtis decided, should act as more than serving vessels and actually enhance the taste of a dish, even if just in the mind. A chestnut puree’s creamy texture might be accentuated, he reasoned, if it was served in a bowl with no edges. He ordered curved bowls from France that resembled overinflated inner tubes.

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What we had:

  1. Amuse: “Log of Delights”
  2. Fauna #1: Chawanmushi: osetra caviar, yuzu, PURPLE SHISO
  3. Flora #1: Salsify: golden char roe, apple, OXALIS
  4. Fauna #2: Alaskan King Crab: kalamansi, cucumber, LEMON BALM
  5. Flora #2: Winter Vegetables: huckleberry, amaranth, TARRAGON
  6. Bread #1
  7. Fauna #3: Scallop: tamarind, smoke, FLAVORS OF LICORICE
  8. Flora #3: Beet: black garlic, apple, RED RIBBON SORREL
  9. Bread #2
  10. Fauna #4: Duck: sunflower, cranberry, MARJORAM
  11. Flora #4: Sweet Potato: picholine, grapefruit, YARROW
  12. Bread #3
  13. Fauna #5: Sweetbreads: ten grains, caperberry, SAGE
  14. Flora #5: Perigord Truffle: crème caramel, sherry, CHIVE
  15. Bread #4
  16. Fauna #6: Miyazaki Beef: romaine, peanut, VIETNAMESE HERBS
  17. Flora #6: Swiss Chard: red wine, elephant garlic, CHERVIL
  18. Fauna #7: Raspberry: lychee, kokum, NASTURTIUM
  19. Flora #7: Buddha’s Hand: passionfruit, brown butter, LEMON BALM
  20. Fauna #8: Pear: black sugar, licorice, LEMON VERBENA
  21. Flora #8: Medjool Date: chartreuse, honey, CELERY
  22. Fauna #9: Chocolate: pineapple, hazelnut, BANANA MINT
  23. Flora #9: Young Coconut: fennel, pistachio, BRONZE FENNEL
  24. Birthday Cake
  25. Mignardises

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Amuse: “Log of Delights”

Quinoa chips, a lemon cup of intensely-lemon-scented(incl. zest and all) cold risotto, candied pineapple, ham with the slight taste of ginseng.

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Fauna #1: Chawanmushi: osetra caviar, yuzu, PURPLE SHISO (4/5)

Chewy “bubble tea” balls in a ham-flavored chawanmushi, with puffed rice, a sprig of seagrapes. Osetra caviar at the center.

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Flora #1: Salsify: golden char roe, apple, OXALIS (4.25/5)

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Fauna #2: Alaskan King Crab: kalamansi, cucumber, LEMON BALM (5/5)

A tremendous dish. This dish alone was worth the entrance fee. King crab and small cubes of cucumber sit at the bottom of the bowl, with calamansi (a particularly tangy and acidic Southeast Asian lime) juice surrounding. A neutral sugar glass holds up the upper deck of ingredients, the including trout roe. To begin the dish, I smashed the upper deck into the lower deck with a spoon. It was all you could have asked from a dish, in both taste and effect. In the effects department: it had 3-dimensionality, interactivity (diner plays the chef), and time-sensitivity. In the taste department, the meaty flavor of king crab was contrasted the small neutral refreshing taste of cucumber, and the sourness of the lime, transformed by the dissolving sugar glass into a dessert-like thin calamansi sauce. The sugar glass was just the right thickness, not too sharp and easily dissolved in the mouth. This dish will haunt my dreams for a long time.

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Flora #2: Winter Vegetables: huckleberry, amaranth, TARRAGON (3.25/5)

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Bread #1: Whole Wheat Croissant, Herbed Butter and Butter

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Fauna #3: Scallop: tamarind, smoke, FLAVORS OF LICORICE (4.5/5)

A whole Maine scallop from Desert Island, with licorice and anise hyssop purees. A coconut custard by the side.

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Flora #3: Beet: black garlic, apple, RED RIBBON SORREL (3.75/5)

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Bread #2: Red Onion and Black Olive Waffle

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Fauna #4: Duck: sunflower, cranberry, MARJORAM (4.75/5)

A duck confit tortellini, with cranberry and an intensely flavored duck-consomme. This was a very complex dish, and everywhere I scooped with my spoon there was new bit of sweet solid stuff which I could not place. Tastes of lemongrass permeated the dish.

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Flora #4: Sweet Potato: picholine, grapefruit, YARROW (3.5/5)

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Bread #3: Rye baguette with sprinkled rye berries

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Fauna #5: Sweetbreads: ten grains, caperberry, SAGE (4.5/5)

Perfectly fried sweetbreads, resting in a pile of multigrain, in a rich jus.

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Flora #5: Perigord Truffle: crème caramel, sherry, CHIVE (5/5)

Another amazing dish of the night. Shaved truffle – still retaining all its crunch unlike some that can taste like cardboard – is put on top of a custard that has the taste of sherry, with caramelised chipolini onions. Little slices of brik (Turkish dough) scattered on top provide textural contrast. Superb. Decadent. Sherry, custard, and the texture of fresh truffle. Divine.

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Bread #4: Pretzel with black lava salt from Hawaii

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Fauna #6: Miyazaki Beef: romaine, peanut, VIETNAMESE HERBS (5/5)

The discovery of Miyazaki” is how this dish was described to me. Miyazaki is perhaps the best beef in Japan, and the highest grade of wagyu. A slice of cured dreamy Miyazaki beef on top of a rice cracker, perfectly rare-cooked Miyazaki beef. Tender and full of fat. With something like fermented turnip undearneath, and various fresh, taut, Vietnamese herbs that evoked some of the street food I had in Saigon. It was paired with a cup of tom yum broth. This had some of the best elements of Southeast Asian cooking: the Indochinese rice cracker, the Vietnamese herbs, the peanuts and tom yum evoking Thailand. Tremendous.

I ate my Miyazaki beef using my rice cracker as a taco. Possibly the most expensive taco I’ve had to date.

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Sorry for the blurriness!

Flora #6: Swiss Chard: red wine, elephant garlic, CHERVIL (3.75/5)

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Fauna #7: Raspberry: lychee, kokum, NASTURTIUM (4.5/5)

A dessert building on the Ispahan-esque base (also see, Restaurant Andre’s version) – raspberry, lychee, strawberry substituting for rose. Strawberry sorbet, dehydrated raspberries, dehydrated lychee. The 4th and 5th wheels were a cylinder of earl grey (one of the trendy tastes in Chicago – I had it all three nights in a row at Schwa + Alinea + Grace) and kokum puree, from an Indian tamarind.

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Flora #7: Buddha’s Hand: passionfruit, brown butter, LEMON BALM (4.5/5)

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Fauna #8: Pear: black sugar, licorice, LEMON VERBENA (4.5/5)

Another good dessert. A dome of (white chocolate?) covers licorice-tinged financiers, and Asian pear ice-cream. The licorice here was a star player, cutting through just pear and butter, and elevating the financiers.

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Flora #8: Medjool Date: chartreuse, honey, CELERY (3.75/5)

I found this a bit one-dimensional, with the starchy sweetness of medjool date overpowering the other ingredients.

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Fauna #9: Chocolate: pineapple, hazelnut, BANANA MINT (4.25/5)

A rooibos-infused goats-milk, strong tasting, into a traditional preparation of chocolate-hazelnut and pineapple.

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Flora #9: Young Coconut: fennel, pistachio, BRONZE FENNEL (5/5)

Amazing, I remember – a cylinder of young coconut pairing with a tart cherry. A cylinder of coconut meringue and pistachio gelato were good, but all it needed was that sensational squiggle of coconut with a tart cherry.

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Birthday Cake

Chocolate ganache, with passionfruit. Mmm.

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Mignardises

Bonbons and apple “tartlets”.

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Memory: Alaskan King Crab; Perigord Truffle Creme Caramel; Miyazaki Beef; Young Coconut

The NoMad | New York | Oct ’13, Nov ’13 | “crackling with late night energy”

21 Feb
  • Address: NoMad, 1170 Broadway, New York, NY 10001
  • Phone: (347) 472-5660
  • Hours: Breakfast: Daily 7-10am, Brunch: Sat, 11am-2pm, Sun 11am, 3pm; Lunch: Daily 12-2pm; Dinner: M-Th, 530-1030pm, F-Sat, 530-11pm, Sun, 530-10pm.
  • Price (after tax + tip, excl. drinks): $60-80
  • Rating: 17/20 (dinner)
  • Value: 3/5
  • Average Dining Time: 90-120 minutes
  • Chef: James Kent
  • Style: Contemporary New American
  • Michelin Stars: 1

Rating: 17/20 (dinner)

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The NoMad is Eleven Madison Park duo Daniel Humm and Will Guidara’s sister restaurant, opened in April 2012. I came here twice towards the close of 2013; once for dinner, and another time for a weekend brunch.  The main dining room is topped by a glass pyramid which lets down natural light during the day, and has two other dining sections as well as a bar.

Instead of trying to appeal to a single new audience, however, Humm (who was named James Beard Outstanding Chef last week) and his partner, the restaurateur Will Guidara, have decided to jam a hodgepodge of styles under one roof. There’s a glass-ceiling Atrium for the ladies who lunch and a clamorous, stand-up bar area for the cocktail crowd. If you wish to sit with your bespoke cocktails and French wines and pick at casual snacks, you can do that in the Library, and if you’re looking for something more intimate, there’s the Parlour, which is appointed, like a Victorian sitting room, with burgundy-colored rugs and velvet chairs trimmed with gold. – NYMag

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During the night, a crackling electricity runs through the place. The average decibel level in this place is loud, with the constant buzz of conversation from tables tightly packed, if you sit in the main dining room. (It was much quieter during brunch). Classic rock is played at a moderate loud volume, the choice of music is no accident.

It’s difficult, for instance, to give your full attention to a meal at the NoMad once you have read the interviews in which Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, its ambitious young operators, talk about modeling the restaurant on the Rolling Stones.

They went through a branding exercise, writing down words that defined the band (loose, alive, genuine, deliberate) and molding the restaurant’s identity around them. Those words hang on a kitchen wall, not far from the enormous photo of Mick Jagger onstage, one leg goose-stepped up to microphone level. – NYTimes

Dinner was priced very reasonably for this level of cuisine, featuring a couple of tricks not done any, at about $50 per person. Tables were turned over quite fast at around 10pm (I’d estimate about 90 minutes per table). Brunch is priced about $20-25 per person, and there is no overlap between the two menus.

Other Notable Write-ups:

  • Bloomberg reviews the NoMad, recommends roast chicken, foie gras and suckling pig.
  • “Under a skin of lacquered brown the color of a loaf of challah lies a stuffing of brioche with foie gras and truffles. It is a dish from another era, when chicken breast was still seen as a worthy canvas for great chefs. Taste it and you know why. This is white meat for sybarites. On the side is a fricassee of the dark meat with morels, almost an afterthought. If served at a dark no-reservations tavern in the Village, it would be enough to put the place on the map.”

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(Unfortunately, I lost the pictures from dinner, so I shall rely on credited photos taken by others.)

SUNDAY DINNER

Snack: Rosemary Focaccia with Grapes (3.5/5) A huge slab of rosemary focaccia, laid on with grapes. Fresh from the oven.

Tagliatelle. King Crab, Meyer Lemon & Black Pepper. $28 (4.5/5) : Considered one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, I liked this dish very much. The bright lemon made eating the king crab and tagliatelle very appetising. There’s a visual and textural similarity to the flat noodles (mee pok) used for my favorite Singaporean hawker dish – bak chor mee. The sourness that opened the appetite (“开胃” in Chinese) was a simple application of lemon juice.

Photo taken by Eatingwithziggy.com

Photo credit to EatingwithZiggy. Also, see the Gastronomy blog for a great photo and write-up.

Lemon.Custard with Almond Shortbread and Ricotta. $12 (4.75/5)

I came to the NoMad on the strength of a SeriousEats write-up about their lemon tart. It was slightly on the bitter side for me, but with a strong lemon taste and ingenious method of coating the lemon with pastry. A great dish.

Photo Credit: SeriousEats

On first glance, the tart appears to be surrounded by a thin, shiny layer of caramel or mousse. In fact, the covering is made of shortbread. [Mark] Welker explains that they start with a classic French-style tarte citron that’s baked in a half sheet pan before the lemony discs are punched out and frozen. Then a traditional almond flour-based shortbread is pureed in a blender until the heat melts the butter, creating a molten mixture. The discs are then dropped in liquid nitrogen and then dipped into the shortbread batter. The shortbread coating solidifies as soon as it comes into contact with the cold lemon discs.

The result is a beautiful, even layer of glossy shortbread that tastes as good as it looks. Both the shortbread and the lemon filling are soft in texture and easy to pass a fork through. Those who might miss the crust from the absent tart shell will be pleased to see some almond shortbread crunch on the plate that easily replaces the lost texture. Similarly, Welker says the (subtlety flavored and light) ricotta ice cream serves to replace the traditional role that meringue plays in balancing the tart citrus. Some iridescent confit lemons are artfully arranged on the plate. – Niko Triantafillou, SeriousEats.

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BRUNCH

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OMELET (4.5/5)

Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Spinach, Chevre & Toast. $18

A well-executed omelet with a creamy center of cheese and mushrooms. I’m not the biggest fan of brunch food but this was a well-executed omelet.

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HASH

Chicken, Sunny-side up eggs & Roasted Potatoes $20

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Condiments for Scones

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“I suppose that finally New York is a Broadway theater where one play after another, decade after decade, occupies the stage and the dressing rooms-then clears out. Each play is the biggest possible deal (sets, publicity, opening night celebrations, stars’ names on the marquee), then it vanishes. With every new play the theater itself is just a bit more dilapidated, the walls scarred, the velvet rubbed bald, the gilt tarnished. Because they are plays and not movies, no one remembers them precisely. The actors are forgotten, the plays are just battered scripts showing coffee stains and missing pages. Nothing lasts in New York. The life that is lived there, however, is as intense as it gets.” – Edmund White, City Boy.