Blackbird – July 9, 2008

For my birthday Erin took me to Blackbird, a well known and well respected restaurant on Randolph street just west of the loop.

I’ve always been hesitant to eat at Blackbird.  It always seemed like a scenester sort of restaurant to me.  As we walked by Avec (Blackbird’s sister restaurant just next door), my fears were heightened even further.  And the cold indifference of the hostess at Blackbird was equally as troubling.

Once we sat down though all worries disappeared.  Our server was competent, allowing us to enjoy our cocktails in full before we placed our order.

And when it came to ordering our meal, he was certainly more than accomodating.  My experiences with the appetizer, entree, dessert model of dining have left me a bit disenchanted.  The appetizer is almost always the best thing you eat, the entree seems to last forever, and I never make it to dessert because the entree is always way too big.

So in response to this, Erin and I set out to make our own tasting menu, albeit much cheaper.  We ordered five appetizers, asked the server to course them out, and then ordered glasses of wine to pair (roughly).  The server even one upped our expectations and had the kitchen plate everything on two plates (for the most part).

Our first course was chilled cuttlefish with jicama, snow peas, cardamom cream and fried chocolate.  The cuttlefish was treated like pasta noodles and overall this was a great summertime dish.  I was skeptical of the fried chocolate, but it was so mild that it worked especially with the cardamom cream and added a nice crunch along with the jicama.

The second course was seared Maine diver sea scallops with black trumpet mushrooms, fava beans, fried chicken skin remoulade and pumpernickle.  Again, this was a very nice, light dish, great for the summertime.  The scallops were cooked perfectly; the fried chicken skin remoulade was perplexing, but paired well with the sweetness of the scallops.

For the first two courses we enjoyed a glass of Riesling, which paired exceptionally well with the cuttlefish.

Our third and fourth courses were presented together, mainly because our server thought that they worked that way.  Their website has changed and I can’t quite recall all the accoutrements, but the two proteins were sweetbreads with a rye waffle with figs and foie gras.  The foie gras course was fairly simple and presented a fairly large portion (I thought).  And I finally got my sweetbreads in for the week, just a few days late.

The wine I paired for the sweetbreads was a pinot noir.  I was hoping that the foie gras course was going to be presented separately so we could have a sauternes, but that wasn’t the case (it didn’t pair nearly as well with the pinot noir).

The last savory course we had was a charcuterie plate of mole country pate and smoked eel rillette, with green almonds, cucumber, haricots verts and sesame brittle.  The pate contained ample amounts of diced foie gras in it, the eel rillette was delicious, and the sesame brittle offered a nice sweet contrast to the richness of the meats.

For dessert we had roasted pineapple with brioche ice cream, hibiscus and puffed ‘cinnamon toast’.  The dessert was really good, but the star of the plate was the brioche ice cream – I just wish that there was more of it on the plate.

Overall we had a great experience and I’m glad we were able to eat at Blackbird before we were able to leave Chicago.  In the same price range though are North Pond and 160 Blue, both of which I would actually recommend over Blackbird, despite all its awards.

As for the whole scenester thing, it didn’t seem too bad, though there were some pretty huge (and purchased) boobs on display.  In no way would I go there on a weekend or recommend anyone to do so.  I imagine it would be insufferable. 

And lastly I’ve read that the restaurant is loud.  I thought the volume was at a good level, mostly in part because you’re seated so close to other people that you don’t want them listening in to your conversation.  And just like rock and roll, if it’s too loud, then you’re too old.


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