31 December 2008

Guest post: Holiday dinner at Graham Elliot, Chicago

By Tovah Domenick

When Peter and I decided to spend part of our holiday money on going out to a nice dinner, the possibilities were endless. Chicago is definitely a foodie's world and since it's rare that we treat ourselves to a nice dinner, we wanted it to be a memorable one.

After much debate, we decided on Graham Elliot. Graham Elliot is a celebrity chef in Chicago and is known for being at the forefront of the molecular gastronomy trend at Avenues, the restaurant in The Peninsula hotel. Creating dishes such as fois gras coated in Pop Rocks, Elliot took fine dining to a whole new level – though the prix-fixe menus were out of reach for everyday people like us. In June Elliot opened his own restaurant, coining the term "bistronomic" for his new approach, blending everyday bistro ambiance with modern haute-cuisine.

As we entered the restaurant we were greeted by friendly staff and an amazing smell, which turned out to be a bowl of juniper and rosemary boiling in water at the host stand. The restaurant decor is simple yet classy. The drink menu boasts of exotic drinks and a fine wine selection, but since we don't drink the bartender made us a "mocktail" of a passion fruit and ginger fizz.

The menu is divided into 5 sections- Cold, Hot, Sea, Land, and Sweet. The Cold and Hot were first courses, the Sea and Land were main courses, and of course the Sweet was desserts. We decided to order one of each. After placing our order, we were given a basket filled with not bread, but garlic butter popcorn, which was delicious!

For my first course I ordered the Bagels and Lox, a play on the classic Sunday morning favorite. The dish came with two thin bagel chips on top of thinly sliced tomatoes sitting in a herb puree, and topped with slices of smoked salmon. The salmon was very fresh and the whole dish tasted great. Peter ordered a sausage risotto topped with a nice layer of provolone cheese and fried basil. Yum!

My second course I ordered from the Sea menu, the Roasted Monkfish Wellington. Delicious! The monkfish was cooked perfectly in the breading and it was served with French lentils, glazed carrots and melted leeks, and a truffle coulis. Peter ordered from the Land menu, Beef Tenderloin, served with parsnip tater-tots, mushrooms, creamed watercress, and smoked BĂ©arnaise. The dish was simple but great, fresh flavors.

For dessert we couldn't resist ordering the Deconstructed Snickers, which was a fudge torte topped with peanut nougat, toasted peanuts, and salted caramel.

Overall the meal was great and we would go back again as they change the menu seasonally. We were expecting to be wowed a bit more, given Elliot's history, but everything was flavorful and fresh, and the portions were plentiful for the prices (appetizers were all around $11 and the entrees were $30-40). When in Chicago I would definitely recommend giving it a try!

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