While in town for the weekend visiting my family, Cookie Monster and I went out to dinner in the city of Chicago (my parents live in the burbs) with my brother and his fiancee. We ended up going to Graham Elliot’s restaurant given that all of us love Top Chef Masters (he was on last season) and the menu seemed to be interesting and inventive. The reviews were mixed – many remarked about the small portions and high prices, others raved about the quality of the food and flavors. I guess we were about to find out.
Restaurant is dressed in alot of wood paneling, it’s sparse and modern. We were seated and served this wonderful popcorn with parmesan cheese and truffle oil.
SO delicious! You got the nutty salty bite of the grated parmesan followed by the lingering notes of truffle oil. The popcorn was a great start to the night.
Next came the restaurant’s amuse bouche: chive panna cotta topped with a small bite of shad roe served in a shot glass. I’ve been dying to try shad roe which is only in season a couple months out of the year.
The panna cotta was mild and creamy with hints of onion-y chive and the shad roe added a nice briny bite. I definitely would like to try a larger portion of shad roe in the future.
The menu is divided into “hot” and “cold” appetizers, “sea” and “land” main courses and then “sweets” for dessert. Surprisingly, there were only three choices per heading.
For appetizer, my brother, his fiancee and Mike got the crabcake appetizer. Wonderful presentation:
The crab cakes were actually battered soft shell crab – which translates to lots of succulent sweet crab meat – and it was served with kohlrabi slaw and some grain mustard. The mustard added a nice touch of acid while the slaw added freshness and a crunchy bite. It was really lovely and everyone did say it was the best crab cake anyone ever had.
I, of course, spotted the foie gras on the menu and had to have it.
The foie gras was seared, served with compressed rhubarb, strawberries and caraway crumble. The foie gras was deliciously fatty and melted on the tongue. The rest of the components on the dish were ok. I expected a sweet partner to the foie but there was too much sweet in comparison to the portions of foie so after the four small slivers of foie were gone, the appetizer tasted like dessert. Please add more foie!
For main course, my brother had the lamb served with mint and we were surprised that the lamb was served medium rare when my brother had specifically requested medium well. The portion was tiny although the lamb was tasty.
Cookie Monster got the veal breast served with trumpet mushrooms, white asparagus, black pepper and white chocolate:
Again I loved the presentation of the large plates with the decorative pieces of food but honestly, the portions were ridiculously small. The veal was tender and well prepared and ICookie Monster’s choice was probably the best at the table.
My brother’s fiancee and I both had the Alaskan sable (which is basically cod) with buckwheat gnocchi, shimeji mushrooms, marsh samphire and dashi bubble.
I hate foam. I’ve expressed it before and I’ll say it again – I hate foam. It’s decorative and doesn’t do much for the food. The sable was moist but salty and that was pretty much it. The fish had no other flavor. Thank god for the mushrooms because they were the only things I could really taste that had any kind of flavor aside from “salty” – they were meaty and earthy and delicious. I realized that marsh samphire was basically sea beans and they too were incredibly salty. Those tiny green beans packed a punch! I did not love my dish. The buckwheat gnocchi were gummy. Everything was salty and didn’t taste like anything else (and I’m the self proclaimed queen of salt!).
The meal started off great and sort of fizzled out. The portions are indeed pretentiously small for the prices charged. The wine list is ridiculously overpriced. Our waitress was pushy and trying to get us to order as much as possible and even tried to push the more expensive wines on us. Offended by the meal, we opted NOT to get a pretentiously small piece of dessert. Look, don’t get me wrong, I am a New Yorker and not shocked by high prices but I expect a certain standard if I’m supposed to pay those price tags. This meal was ridiculous. For three tiny appetizers (my brother and his fiancee shared), four tiny main courses and one bottle of wine the meal cost $400! Plus we walked away unsatisfied and probably could have had another round.
I’m sad I didn’t enjoy Graham Elliott – I had great expectations.
Graham Elliot Restaurant, 217 West Huron Street, Chicago, IL