A chef changeover at Blackbird and a six-month hiatus demanded a return to our favorite restaurant in Chicago, hands down.
The chef changeover wasn't a big deal. Mike Sheerin recently left the day-to-day to pursue his own venture (cooking a sampling of that at Chalkboard in Lakeview tonight), handing everything over to David Posey, the sous chef under Sheerin and before that, an Alinea/Trio guy. So...you know...good hands.
Right now, it seems that little has deviated from the Sheerin past with a few notable exceptions. Simple and clean is the order of the day, seeming like one, maybe two elements on each plate were taken off. Previously, interplay in each course felt like two games were being played to great effect, or a triangulation of sorts with the protein and one or two elements creating a great bite and an accompanying starch doing its own original thing with everything tied together with one element playing the vital and always delicious peacemaker. That separateness followed by a togetherness always wowed me.
Now, that togetherness takes the stage early. Accompaniments support the star in a more direct, obvious way and the results, at least last night, made for one great meal right in line with our experiences over the last three years. Seamless but sufficiently tweaked to create an identity. And the acid seems to have been upped an oh-so subtle notch. It's coming in more raw ways, subtly sprinkled throughout the meal to lift everything as a collective experience instead of overhauling each individual dish. I felt it at the end more than during the meal, which was sneaky and welcome.
Six months. Way too long. And it was as good as ever. Utterly original, perfectly cooked food with the service and atmosphere to match. Unpretentious, friendly, evocative food that nonetheless sits on an entirely different plane and always, always, always worth every cent and more.
Amuse: Skate wing and sesame seeds (? - we were talking and didn't hear the details)
And started with two glasses of NV Argyle Brüt Sparkling Rosé Willamette Valley
Scallops with Brussels sprouts and sauerkraut powder/emulsion (?)
Paired with 2008 Domaine Paul Blanck Alsace Pinot Gris
Smoked suckling pig with hama hama oyster, fall giardiniera, sunchokes and hazelnuts
Intermezzo: Garbanzo soup with asian pear, garbanzo falafel and caramelized egg yolk with sumac
Roasted colorado lamb saddle with salsify, fried lentils, licorice root and smoked olives
Braised short rib with parsley root, grapefruit, elderflower and red wine
Paired with a bottle of 2008 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge & two glasses of 2005 Jérôme Bressy Gourt Des Mautens Rasteau Rouge
Chocolate ganache with tahitian vanilla gastrique and parsnip ice cream
paired with Barros 1977 Colheita
Chestnut brioche with pear, pedro ximenez and tarragon ice cream
paired with ‘05 Kracher Scheurebe Tba ‘Number 4’
Finished with passion fruit chocolates and espresso
The scallops and the lamb saddle (again) ruled their respective courses for us and both desserts just couldn't have been more spectacular. The ganache looked almost too pretty to eat (like a Kandinsky) and the brioche came off beautifully savory, rounded out perfectly by the fruit in the Kracher. We've come to know the proteins of Blackbird but I've always been blowed away how they're reinvented while stayed true to something like a lineage or ancestry of the menu.
Things have evolved in thoughtful and organic ways over the last three years, almost like great care has been taken to ensure that the personality of the cuisine always stays true to what Blackbird is and was all about. Cuz you can't make this stuff at home, going there is like visiting an old friend that is and always will be the most interesting person in the room.
The wines, a few notes: The 2008 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge (mourvèdre dominant blend) - tight stuff and drunk too young. Decanted to get the game going. Purplish red in the glass and gamey on the nose. Floral blackberry dominated with an underlying smoke and flickers of herbs. Bit of red licorice. Just too young, I think, to be truly expressive but served up something delicious with the lamb saddle while the grapefruit in the short rib destroyed it. Serviceable is the best descriptor, but I'm curious enough to get on the Bandol red bandwagon. First Tempier Rouge I've had outside of a tasting.
The surprise came with two glasses given by our server to finish out our entrées after we killed off the Tempier bottle. Nose of briary red and black fruits and beef fat. Shimmered in the glass with purple and reddish hues alternating back and forth. Explosive on the palate. A huge, entirely together attack of blackberry, blueberry, cherry and licorice, all rubbed in fine earth and drops of blood just for good measure. Jumped around everywhere like a light show and dropped down the throat like silk with a finish that seemed to keep going forever. Gasped after the first drink. Probably the best sip of wine I've had by itself, not related to food, in the last year (?).
Turned out to be the 2005 Gourt Des Mautens Rasteau, a wine we had at the restaurant last April that made me go out and buy more. Seemed a bit closed but delicious then and left both of us stunned and thankful it's showing this well now. Served by the glass at the restaurant and our server said it had been open for about 45 minutes. Freakin' great news. The Chicago market got a ton of this two or so years ago and couldn't sell it at the $60 price tag. A closeout came and Howard's is currently selling it for $36. Get. It. By golly, this is a good one.
Great meal, great time. Always.
In the Chicago restaurant scene, as it vacillates here and there, from tacos and whiskey to gastropubs to farm-to-table to cupcakes to back to Belguim to micro-regional peasant to whatever else, for us, Blackbird is and will be the thread in our time here, however long that is.
It's in it for the long-term and you can taste it. Rare thing, that, in so many ways.