Friday, February 16, 2007


Blackbird has been on my Chicago to-eat list for quite a while now. But I get to Chicago so infrequently that there's always been something above it. So having a Monday night in Chicago was a blessing in disguise - most of the top tier restaurants are closed, and Blackbird was one of the few that was open. One look at the aintriguing menu and it quickly jumped to the top of my list.

I'm pleased to say the menu was as delicious as it was intriguing. And the location was certainly convenient - after 20 or 30 minute taxi rides to most of my Chicago dining destinations last time, this was just a few minutes ride from my Magnificent Mile hotel.

One of the reasons that I hadn't been to Blackbird before is that I usually seek out restaurants with tasting menus. That way I don't have to make those hard decisions, and I get to try a whole bunch of different things. Blackbird doesn't have a tasting menu, but that was another hidden blessing, as it was nice to walk out NOT stuffed to the gills. But it was hard to decide, since nearly every appetizer and entree looked tasty. We finally settled on two entrees and two appetizers, then each ate half and switched for maximum tasting opportunity.

The amuse was a split pea soup with a piece of perfectly seared salmon, some smoky bacon, and tiny cubes of tart apple. Very nice.

Appetizer #1: confit baby octopus and duck prosciutto with cocos beans, jerusalem artichoke and perserved lemon. The texture of the octopus confit was fascinating. Not rubbery at all, and somehow firm and soft all at the same time. The jersualem artichoke puree was delightful, and the duck prosciutto was swoonworthy. It all just came together beautifully.

Appetizer #2: crispy confit of swan creek farm suckling pig with cavollo nero, shaved winter radish, horseradish and banylus vinegar. On the menu, the words "suckling pig" were bolded, which was certainly eye catching. Some of the bits of confit were a little dry, but other bits were moister, and while I preferred the octopus, this was certainly no clunker.

Entree #1: seared loin of venison with parsnip, artichokes, smoked grapes and bacon caramel. This was wonderful, and a good example of what appealed to me so much about Blackbird's menu. I've been to lots of "food science" restaurants, and Blackbird strikes a good balance of using some excellent techniques from molecular gastronomy without making it the focus of hte meal. In this case, the bacon caramel and smoked grapes - wouldn't have been out of place at Alinea or WD-50, but they also worked with a fairly straightforward presentation. The venison was perfectly cooked. The smoked grapes were a wonder - still crisp, but surprisingly smoky. Excellent.

Entree #2: fried leg and slow-roasted loin of royer's farm rabbit with white corn panisse, fresh huckleberries, brussels sprouts and caraway. Lots of fun little bits to this one. The white corn panisse was really lovely, and the huckleberries worked really well. The coating on the fried leg came slipped off and was soft rather than crunchy, but all in all this was another winner.

The room is clean and modern, and unusually (but pleasantly) bright. The tables are quite close together - they're making the most of a tight space. The music is a little funky, but not so incongruous as at Schwa. Service was just right.

I wouldn't proclaim anything I ate as one of my "best dishes ever." But everything was very solid, very tasty, and very nicely presented. Quietly innovative. It was just an all around great meal, and I'd go back to Blackbird in a heartbeat.

619 W Randolph
Chicago, IL 60606

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