Every year, right after Thanksgiving, I, along with tens of thousands of other people make my way to Chicago for the largest tradeshow in my industry. And since this trip is inevitable, I have used it as an opportunity to start a new tradition. On the first night we get in, which is always Saturday, Dave, Linnea and I (and one other guest) make our way to a top Chicago hot spot…a place where I have to make a reservation months in advance. Last year was a phenomenal experience of Mexican fine dining at Topolobampo. This year, I decided to go for the cutting edge in modern American cuisine at Graham Elliot.
Graham Elliot made my “must dine” list when I saw chef Graham Elliot Bowles on Top Chef Masters, and was immediately impressed that the then 30-year-old was competing with such established chefs. To get to that level at that young of an age, he had to be doing something right and something special. When I told Dave and Linnea, they were on board…not that they doubt me anyway after Topolo.
Linnea and I smartly scheduled our flights to get in early enough that we could get settled and head over in plenty of time…which meant that we had time to sit down at the bar and have a drink. We both ordered this dangerously delicious rum cocktail with a girlie name that I can’t remember. I got teased a little, but that’s ok…it was delicious. Just about the time we finished, Dave showed up and we took our seats. The menu actually looked pretty basic…things like romaine with brioche, anchovy and parmesan (Caesar Salad, right?) and Scallop with popover, clam, parsley and salsify. But we knew that things wouldn’t be “basic” and rather than trying to decide on our own, we would let the chef decide and all opted for the 5 course tasting menu.
The five course meal actually ended up being closer to 8 when you added in the interesting bread services and little amuse bouches that appeared between courses. Rather than trying to describe everything, I made sure that I took good pictures. And the pictures definitely speak for themselves, and so I’m going to turn it over to them.
Somehow I actually missed two pictures. There was a canape of date, guanciale, pistachio and citrus that was a beautiful transition to the scallop dish. And there was an apple cider hot toddy prior to the dessert which could have been my dessert by itself.
Graham Elliot is self-described as a bistronomic restaurant where food is art and the meal absolutely lived up to the hype. The presentations were stunning and it was obvious how much attention went to each and every detail (though Dave thought the plates were awful big for the amount of food…). The flavors were complex in their simplicity (or is it complex in their simplicity?). Everything was clean and delicious and explosive…there wasn’t a lot of subtlety…nor was it overwhelming. I think the best way to describe it is just fun and delicious; absolutely worth making the trip. It’s easy to see why he’s received the accolades that he has, and I would absolutely love to go back and try five more things (or 10 or whatever). If there was only one thing, it’s that while the food was absolutely delicious, there wasn’t one dish that left me saying “Oh my God, I have to have that again!” like the bacon wrapped dates at Mercat (though the pumpkin pie bisque was pretty close).