Aug 19, 2009

Challenge # 15 : Eat at Blackbird

Slagel Family Farms Organic Pork Belly and Crispy Sweet Shrimp with Chinese Broccoli, Preserved Green Tomato and Black Pepper

I attribute the renaissance of the Chicago culinary scene to the opening of Blackbird in the late nineties. Classic standouts like Charlie Trotter, Spiaggia, Everest Room and Le Francais dominated most of the decade until Blackbird came into town with its minimalist interiors, seasonal cuisine and no jacket requirement, in fact, dress comfortably is the mantra. I was given the choice to dine at Blackbird when it first opened but I opted to check out another new restaurant in the meat market district, One Sixty Blue, in hopes of seeing co-owner, Michael Jordan, greeting guests at the door. One Sixty Blue still stands, but Blackbird is the undisputed king of this food crazy city.

After eleven years of salivating, I finally made it to Blackbird on Saturday. The verdict: My wife and I agree that our dinner was the BEST dining experience ever. This is coming from a hotel guy who has dined everywhere. Blackbird joins my top restaurant short list: Le Bec Fin, Babbo, Joel Robuchon, Hotel Tugu Bali, In and Out Burger (ok, that's a stretch, but I do love In and Out).

I give the food an A+, with the Mussel Soup topping the score card. But what really made the experience so memorable was the stellar service. Chef Mike Sheering might not like it, but on this night, the service was the star.

We counted fourteen restaurant staff members, from one of the owners to the busboys, who interacted and serviced our table of two. This sixty seat restaurant was humming and there were no wasted motions coming out of each staff member. No small talk here. Everyone was too busy serving, bussing, pouring, crumbing and greeting. We felt like the only table in the room. Owner Donny was the conductor and the symphony of service was in complete harmony. Not a single note was missed. Erin, our main server in her black and white dress, was professional and cordial. At the end of the evening, one of the hostesses stood in the middle of the street in her black dress and flagged a taxi for us.

We were left speechless.

Patio Seating

Pistachio Gazpacho with Ahi, Watermelon Confit, Sea Beans and Cocoa

Blue Hill Bouchot Mussel Soup with White Fish, Saffron, Garlic and Basil

Sauteed Sweetbreads with Golden Beets, Molasses, Pine Aioli and Summer Truffles

Seared Maine Diver Scallops with Fresh Hearts of Palm, Sugar Snap Peas and Lovage

Great Idea: Portable Purse Hooks

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