The Blackbird Chicago: Bring on the Flavor

We had the unbelievable luck to grace the chef’s table at The Blackbird during the NRA show. Hot on the heels of Chef Paul Kahan’s James Beard Award for outstanding chef, our visit to this intimate Chicago eatery couldn’t have been less timely. The fact that we got a reservation during NRA week, much less a seat at the chef’s table, is akin to winning the lottery. I have to admit, I was like a kid in the candy store (forgive my cliché, but there is no other way to say it). What makes a visit to such a hot commodity even more memorable? Share the experience with equally adventurous and gracious dinner guests, and you have the equation for a perfect evening, filled with shareable plates.

We started with cocktails by award-winning chief mixologist Lynn House and were not disappointed. I had a drink called The Sea of Green. A beautiful sea-foam green libation consisting of Ford’s Gin, Jack Rudy tonic, Green Chartreuse, egg white, cucumber puree, and rosemary mist, it is a beautifully balanced drink.

This is one of the most original and perfectly balanced drinks I have had in a long time. No one flavor overpowered the other, but each was distinct in the drink. This was an understated and beautifully composed drink. I would make this my regular drink if I were ever able to figure out how to make it.

For our appetizers, we started with the salad of endives. A very fun presentation of deep fried potatoes in the form of a cup, it’s artfully layered with fresh local endives, a dressing of basil and Dijon, topped with pancetta, and finished with a perfectly poached egg. My favorite breakfast is fried potatoes and fried eggs, so this salad evoked that comfort of salty potatoes and runny yolks.

Next up on the menu was the roasted asparagus. A mix of green, white and purple asparagus, it was artfully prepared with charred spring onion, goat cheese, chamomile, toasted peanuts, and cured egg yolk. This was a very fresh tasting dish, with the nice crunch of the peanuts, and delicious cured egg yolk, with a flavor akin to a sharp cheese.

For our next taste, we chose the Hamachi tartare. Tender strips of top grade Hamachi are paired with crunchy and bright sprouted lentils, rhubarb, spicy marrow and chickweed. A very refreshing dish, this was one of my favorites.

Our final appetizer, the roasted foie gras, was done perfectly. Cooked to a medium rare, and served with thin sliced kohlrabi, grape halves, black sesame, and shiitake broth, it was all the meatiness of foie gras with absolutely no chalky or metallic aftertaste.

For dinner, we shared the fermented black bean cappelletti. It was served with crispy morels, fresh spring peas, finished with sherry butter and grated wasabi root. Cappelletti meaning “little hat” in Italian is pasta stuffed and then folded. The subtlety of the Cappelletti was contrasted by the crispy morels that almost tasted deep-fried. Overall, this was a balanced but simple dish.

Our second choice for the main course was the roasted lamb saddle. Spring fava beans, tender eggplant, crispy-fried endive chips, and creamy smoked ricotta. A beautiful presentation, the lamb was succulent and paired well with the smoked ricotta.

To finish off our meal, we shared a trio of desserts. Steamed banana cake, with chicory ice cream and macadamia was rich and creamy. Deep-fried battered apple slices, served with ice cream, were an interesting take on traditional apple pie. Saxon Creamery Cheddar, paired with toasted brioche, passion fruit, and black currant jam and sudachi was a savory end to the meal, more in line with traditional British dinner endings.

Between the excellent wine pairings (a beautiful Bordeaux), the cappuccino, and the amazing company, this was definitely a resounding and unanimous gastronomic experience. Chef Kahan, and his staff are definitely ones to keep on the radar for future successes.

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