tasting menus

#Foodie Review: Grace (Chicago)

Clearly I love food. Anyone that follows my blog or my tweets on Twitter understand this more than most. I love to eat, I love to dine out, and I love to experience new cuisines and restaurants. I have a low tolerance for bad food and no tolerance for bad service. Of course I can’t write a blog for every restaurant that I visit. So I’ve decided to do a series of comparison reviews. In some, the connection will be obvious. In others, perhaps less so. In the first of the series, I set out to find two restaurants that were of similar quality in food, decor, value, and service albeit different cuisines. In this case, also looking for strikingly different levels of activity and, likely, different levels of competition and long-term success. For the first pairing, I chose two upscale restaurants.

Today I focus on the first of the upscale restaurants, Grace, one of the West Loop’s premier dining establishments. As a comparison, I dined at Acadia and will subsequently do a full review of that South Loop spot.

A tale of two city restaurants … Grace and Acadia

Part 1: Grace

Grace
652 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60661

Summary: Recommended / Special occasions only.

This is one of the restaurants I have wanted to visit since moving back to Chicago. Everyone has heard of Chef Duffy’s fascinating and tragic history and rise to where he is now. You kind of want this place to thrive. But, this is Chicago, so backstory or not, the food and service must be stellar. And I was impressed. The food was spectacular. It was showy without being too over the top (I don’t really want a pillow on my plate). And I left more satisfied than when I dined at Alinea, albeit less so than L20 or Everest.

FOOD: 5

Very interesting presentations of each course. We all had the menu with meat and lots of it. We loved the heirloom tomato dish with a delicious whirl of sauce.  There was an amazing oyster dish that my friend Sherry thought was superb.  An artichoke dish could have been skipped but the meat dishes were amazing, including both lamb and beef. Wine pairings were good but not great, and I have yet to find a wine guy as good as Dan Pilkey, formerly of Ria. It is perhaps because of him that I find so many not up to par. (Let’s be clear here, I am not an expert and they certainly know more than I do, but the good ones bring you along with them and the wines fit perfectly with the meal.)

When I dine at these showy places, I often worry that the emphasis will be so much on presentation and flare that the food will be bad. Or, that the temperature will be off. That was not the case at Grace, and all of the dishes came out at good temp and high quality.

SERVICE: 4

Service was exceptional and well coordinated, albeit a bit practiced and “obvious”. My friend summarized service as “quite good but a little bumpy given the prices.  Could have been more precise.” I agree. At Les Nomades, service is amazing and the servers are there when you need them and almost invisible when you don’t. Here, and maybe this is more due to newness of the restaurant, the service seemed too much like they practiced and wanted to get it right like a routine. I kind of want them to seem a bit more like they are simply happy to serve us.  Overall, I think service was great. Nothing we needed was ever held back, transitions were smooth, and timing was on point. If I felt they were happy to be hosting us, I would have felt a tad better.

One note: The sommelier, as I mentioned above, was good but not the best. IMHO, she needs to learn to be less intrusive and a bit more nuanced in her interactions with the diners.

DECOR: 5

This is a beautiful, understated, classy establishment. I love the open and airy kitchen with bright woods and colorful spices on display. It’s fun to watch the activity in the kitchen without being overwhelmed by it as can be the case in some restaurants (I sat sweltering in front of the kitchen of Little Goat recently.) The room is small and thus not many patrons. You can have a conversation without screaming or worrying that your neighbor hears every word. Everything is tastefully presented.

VALUE: 3

This is a very very very expensive place. And I knew that of course before dining. It is in line with most places of this style and caliber but I still feel it is pricier than it needs to be. One caveat is that it has been a few years since I dined at Alinea and thus cannot vouch for whether that place and others have also gone up significantly. But, you get what you pay for and Grace is an experience more than a meal.

OVERALL: 4

Grace is a great addition to the West Loop culinary scene and its nice to have another high-end restaurant over there versus in the Gold Coast / River North area. Grace is ideal for a very special date, not business in my opinion. More for celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary. Given the prices, this clearly could not be a regular dining spot for most people and I personally would not see myself returning anytime soon given the tremendous number of other choices in Chicago, many of them significantly less pricey. That said, the chef’s story, the great food and tasteful decor, and the strong level of service make this highly worth trying if you are a foodie.

Stay tuned for review of Acadia in part 2 of this tale of two city restaurants.

More on the chef >> http://graphics.chicagotribune.com/grace/

Chef Curtis Duffy

Chef Curtis Duffy and Adam Stanley

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

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#Foodie Review: Bishopsgate Kitchen (London)

Bishopsgate Kitchen
230 Bishopsgate
London EC2M 4QH

Summary: NOT Recommended / Abysmal Service with subpar food.

SHORT VERSION:  I have reviewed DOZENS of restaurants and out of over a hundred reviews, I only have 5 places rated one star. I can only guess the reviewers of this place are either friends of the staff or owner or infrequent diners. Or I was just here on a VERY BAD NIGHT. This place is awful and I would recommend you walk right on by.

Service: 1

The great host that greeted me and took order, a guy that was friendly and fast, seemed to disappear and leave two amateurs on the floor. He left two women who walked around and chatted to the two guys who were hitting on them while ignoring everyone else.
After a half hour of trying to use their butter knife to cut the overlooked steak, one of the servers finally brought me a steak knife.

After ignoring me for the hour I was eating, a different server, the one that was chatting it up with the likely married but ringless diner, came over to ask me if I wanted anything else. Get this: the kitchen was closed by then so if I wanted either of the hot desserts I was plum out of luck. First of all, the fact that the restaurant’s posted closing hour is 10pm and they close the kitchen at exactly 10pm is pretty pathetic. That basically means they should stop accepting patrons at 930 pm latest. Second, if chatty Cathy had actually come over during my meal perhaps she could have gathered my dessert order BEFORE the kitchen closed.

Food: 1

My meal consisted of quite possibly the worst steak I’ve had in a year. I’ve had better steaks at Disney World and strip mall food courts.  Absolutely no flavor and if this is medium, well done must resemble a charcoal briquette. Incredibly bland food. Even the bread was just ok.

Decor: 2

A nice space except whereas I typically enjoy seeing the kitchen, seeing the cook open a container of uncooked food and smell it was less than appealing. One of the cooks approached what looked like a more senior guy and appeared to suspect something was off. The other guy smelled it, looked at it, and smelled again. I was sick wondering if he concluded it was “acceptable”.

Value: 2

Really bad food at moderately expensive prices. Fail.

Overall: 1

I suspect this is the type of place that gets clientele who don’t feel like walking farther than across the street RBS. There are WAY too many restaurants in London to waste time or money on a place like this. In Chicago, this would be one of those places I would predict would be out of business soon. Not sure if here in London a crappy restaurant can survive due simply to convenience of location. Maybe so!

I was looking for my first failure of a restaurant in London and, alas, I’ve found it. Not only do I not recommend this place, I urge you to go out of your way (which really is only about 4 blocks toward Spitalfields) to find a decent meal. Do not go to Bishopsgate Kitchen. It should be closed.

Note: while waiting for my bill, I overheard another guest tell the server he ordered lamb and got tuna. She laughed and he laughed. Interesting. I wouldn’t actually find that funny.

AVOID THIS PLACE.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For all reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

Follow me on twitter http://www.twitter.com/alswharton
Connect with me on Linked In http://www.linkedin.com/in/adamstanley
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ALS

#Foodie Review: Vivat Bacchus (London)

Vivat Bacchus

47 Farringdon Street
Holborn
London
EC4A 4LL

Overall Verdict: Highly Recommended

YOU: Have enough money to eat pretty much anywhere in London or other major cities. You love great food, fine wines, and great service and want to know the place in which you dine is attractive and cozy enough for both business dinners or romantic nights out.

OR

YOU: Money is not running over but you want to have a great night out from time to time. You love good food and wine and are proud to say you know some of the best values in town. You want a nice spot without attitude.

OR

YOU: Can only afford to go to one or two “really nice” restaurants a year and have a special someone you wish to take on a romantic date. You want it to be special, memorable, have amazing food, and not completely break the bank.

Message to ALL OF THE ABOVE:

Go. To. Vivat Bacchus. Now. Really.

Long Version:

I actually dined here on Valentine’s Day so am way overdue writing this review.

FOOD: 5

Before starting our meal, we were given a bottle of sparkling wine to excite the palate. Good stuff but the smells in the place were already stirring up my taste buds so the champagne just went straight to my head.

Pan fried scallops paired with Quinta de la Rosa Branco 2010 from Portugal came next, with the first and only hiccup of the night. The wine did not show up at our table until the scallops were almost done. This was the only major show of amateur service though I will get to service later. That said, the scallops were great and we forgave her for getting out of sync with the wine as the next course came.

The main course consisted of Grilled venison cutlets with squash and beetroot gratin. The venison was bone in and this was the first time I ever had it like that. JUICY. FLAVOURFUL. PERFECTION. The sauce complimented the meat splendidly and the venison was prepared to just the right temperature. At this point in the meal, I started checking out the chef and making eye contact. Really, can we be friends? You cook for me, and I will …. Buy the ingredients? Wine? Serenade you and run a bath with rose petals?

For dessert, I had the MOST amazing chocolate trio with a decadently rich torte and a gluttonous stem ginger mousse. It was paired with a Banyuls from Roussilon. This French version of port is absolutely perfect with chocolate and the choice of this bottle was inspired. …. Banyuls Rimage ‘Les Clos de Paulilles’ 2008. … I seriously considered asking the chef to marry me at this point but thought I was way unworthy so decided instead I would just have to become a regular!

SERVICE: 4

The team here seemed happy to welcome us and the other guests. They were friendly and prompt. While there were a few signs of amateur servers, the manager continued to oversee the meal and typically was able to keep things on track and flowing smoothly. The courses were well timed and our glasses were always filled. Even when she screwed up the wine match with the first course, we actually still had water and champagne so were ok.

DECOR/AMBIANCE: 4

This restaurant is apparently one of a few owned by the same team. I am very interested in seeing the others. The layout of this place was quite odd, with a long and narrow column of tables somewhat crammed in like a bowling lane. (yes, I go bowling sometimes). It was a bit loud yet still allowed us to have a decent conversation, get a decent amount of people watching in, and enjoy watching the chef work kitchen magic. It was a unique restaurant that did not follow the format of other restaurants. Rather, it seemed content to be unique, a bit quirky, a bit disorganised, and full of good wines. As is my preference, the open view of the kitchen less the flames and smoke was a nice addition.

VALUE: 5

Having recently dined at La Chappelle in London and Graham Elliott in Chicago, and especially after my Michelin Quest of 2011, I have been excited to spend this year finding contrasting restaurants that offer similar quality food and much better prices. I found one such restaurant n Vivat Bacchus. The meal was approximately £140 for two, compared to about 3 to 4 times that much at La Chapelle.

Would I go to a Michelin starred über expensive fine dining establishment again? Of course! Those places do tend to offer a level of service unparalleled by most places, interesting and innovative cuisine, and enough posterior region kissing to impress your guests without turning them off. But, and I find myself somewhere between person 1 and person 2 above, this is where I would go for a guaranteed good meal at a good price. I have enough money to dine at the finest places but why do that when I can dine at great value spots and donate more to worthy causes? Happy stomach. Happy heart. Happy Adam.

In short, this place is a great value.

OVERALL: 4

I love great food and great service. Vivat Bacchus had great food and good service. I want to know the place in which I dine is attractive and cozy enough for both business dinners or romantic nights out. I would take a date or colleague to Vivat Bacchus. I am proud to say I know some of the best values in Chicago and am excited to build my list for London, my new home. Vivat Bacchus has made that list early in my transition. There is no attitude, they have amazing food and one meal here will not break the bank for most people.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND Vivat Bacchus and would be more than happy to go there regularly, with friends or colleagues. And I look forward to getting to know the chef. If you are reading this, Chef, you are welcome to come over to my flat anytime. I will provide the wine if you cook! But, no bath. That might be awkward. Smile.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

Follow me on Twitter 
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Or visit me online at http://www.alswharton.com/in

 

Adam Stanley

Adam Stanley

#Foodie Review: Galvin La Chapelle (London)

galvin-entry

La Chapelle

35 Spital Square,
London, E1 6DY
United Kingdom

Reviewing: La Chapelle Menu Gourmand (£110 per person for tasting menu with seven courses, paired with wine)

Overall Verdict:

RECOMMENDED WITH MINOR RESERVATIONS

So for those of you who were following, I must confess I abandoned somewhat my 2011 quest to dine at all 23 of the Chicago restaurants awarded at least one Michelin star. See all reviews of the list here http://bit.ly/nGR9Vc ….. I was able to review over a dozen of these top spots from Michelin’s guide.

Frankly, I think the Michelin rating system is flawed at best and a fraud if you’re really a cynic. And I know I will get in trouble for that, but I will save that for another post on another day. That said, I was quite bemused when I selected La Chapelle for dinner on the last night of my last stay in London as a “visitor”(1) and found it too was part of a family of restaurants that included Michelin stars. Despite my lack of faith in Michelin’s ability to fairly pick quality restaurants without bias of marketing and fad, I stayed!

As is often our preference, my partner and I decided on the tasting menu, in this case the Menu Gourmand. There is simply no better way to get a sense of a restaurant, sampling what the chef feels are his or her finest delicacies (or what was on sale at the butcher?’ said the cynic). This tasting menu had seven courses ranging from a light lasagna to a meaty pigeon I’m afraid made me think of Trafalgar Square. Including cocktails, deserts and wine pairings, the bill for two of us came to around £350. And overall it was a fine meal.

Long Version:

FOOD – 4/5

Flavourful and well presented, the menu was creative yet filling. Beginning with a lasagne of Dorset crab and cauliflower velouté, we were treated to a gastronomical journey through fish and foul as well as a FANTASTIC but salty risotto of Perigord truffle and Jerusalem artichokes. While a bit salty for my taste, and therefore also bad for my blood pressure, the food wowed me from start to finish. Temperatures were on point, the flow was spectacular (getting heavier each course without extreme jumps), and the wine was perfectly paired. Drawbacks: In addition to slightly salty courses, dessert was awful, like a store bought sponge cake with sour cream on the side and apple compote slathered on top. BONUS – Milan born bartender makes a mean Vodka Martini that allowed me to formally end my day before starting the meal and my evening. I watched and learned from a master.

SERVICE – 4/5

You go to this place for the service and you pay for the service with the fairly exorbitant pricing. But if you don’t want to take a chance with that key client, special date, or the boss, you choose a place like this. The host was pleasant, the managers present but not overbearing and our table constantly attended to. The all-male waitstaff (sadly all too common at these high-end restaurants that seem to feel gender diversity only matters at the host stand) were friendly and prompt. They were not personal at all, though perhaps one or two slipped up and let loose for 10 seconds or so. But they were good. And our food was always hot, glasses full, table clean, etc.
Drawbacks: The explanation of each course got progressively lazier as the night wore on. By the end of the menu, the wine was simply being placed on the table and the courses explained as if we were suddenly at Pizza Express. The place was emptying out and perhaps the team members were tired, but unless you’re going to reduce the cost of a tasting menu for your late night patrons, you must keep it up until you close the doors!

galvin-medDECOR/AMBIANCE 5

The place is beautifully appointed without being gaudy or austentatious. It is vibrant yet quiet enough for a conversation. It is classy but not pretentious. But it is a bit boring and, despite the romantic sound of the name and the very romantic menu, the place is above all a business restaurant. Bankers and bankers, basically. No evident diversity in either gender, age, ethnicity, or professions. And, I will admit here that I am assuming. You’re right, I did not conduct a survey. The entire restaurant might have been full of bohemian artists wearing bespoke suits for the very first time while discussing Occupy Wall Street.

VALUE 3

I love food and I love trying new restaurants, and I am blessed to be able to afford a variety of spots from inexpensive value restaurants to some of the world’s most exclusive and expensive. My value ratings are based on the relevant class of restaurants; a relative rating versus a pure value rating lest all exclusive restaurants would get a 1. Let’s face it, all other things being equal, I would always recommend someone eat a great meal for £50 per person and donate the difference to a local charity. HOWEVER, for a restaurant of this caliber, La Chapelle is appropriately priced on the “border” of too expensive. The tasting menu with wine includes more wine with every course where some have begun pairing one wine with two courses or serving half pours. And you leave feeling well fed. Believe me, I don’t plan to go here again anytime soon, but if looking for a place to splurge for a special occasion, you will likely enjoy this place.

la chapelle menu gourmandOVERALL 4

With consistant service, great food, a charming decor that allows for conversation and interaction whether with two or twelve, I rate La Chapelle a 4 out of 5 and RECOMMEND WITH MINOR RESERVATIONS. If dining with business colleagues, I highly recommend it. If dining out with good friends, going on a date or looking for romance, I would likely suggest somewhere else. The place is somewhat too business oriented due to location. Despite officially being in Spitalfields, you might feel more as if you are on Bishopsgate, the closest main street. So that’s my reservation. I like food and I hate attitude. There are awesome restaurants like RIA in Chicago that are fantastic AND relaxed. I would recommend those types of places first.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

Follow me on Twitter 
Connect with me on Linked In 
“Like” me on Facebook
Or visit me online at http://www.alswharton.com/in

1) This is my first UK restaurant review here and will hopefully be first of many. I am relocating to London and excited about experiencing more great food, especially Indian, French, and “eclectic European” cuisines. Click here for more on my move.

 

#Foodie Review: Everest restaurant (Chicago)

20111002-220658.jpg

Everest

440 S. LaSalle | Chicago, IL

SHORT VERSION:

Everest, while an absolutely fantastic experience I would recommend to friends, colleagues, and anyone who asks, was not good enough to win me over either Avenues at the Peninsula or Les Nomades. I do, however, think it had better food than Alinea, better service than L2O, and a better overall experience than Ria. If you love French food, and can only try one uber expensive fine dining experience this year, go to Les Nomades. If you want to get a distinctly Chicago experience that is almost as good but has a better view of our city in a historic building, go to Everest. If you can afford to do both, by all means, HAVE AT IT and invite me to come along if you like! Avenues is still #1 on my list of the restaurants given Michelin stars, but I STRONGLY RECOMMEND Everest and would go back again (especially if someone reading this review invites me to be their guest. Smile.)

LONG VERSION:

Continuing on my Michelin star restaurant quest and admitting up front that this review is biased based on comparison to the other Michelin star restaurants at which I have dined. See all reviews of the list here http://bit.ly/nGR9Vc

Most relevant comparisons: L2O (quality of food, value relative to others); Sixteen (decor highlighted by beautiful views); Avenues (Service and staff) but unlike Avenues, Everest is not CLOSED now. (Read about Avenues closing here)

Food: 5

Roasted Maine lobster in butter and ginger sauce almost made me cry it was so good. The terrine of Foie Gras with black mission figs was the perfect balance of sweet and savory. The wild halibut with heirloom tomatoes was perfectly prepared and amazingly flavorful. The veal? Not so great and quite the disappointing final course.
Dessert was absolutely fantastic, both the selection of cheeses and the Alsace Style Plum Financier, fromage blanc Tuileries, with cinnamon glace. Yum! Cannot pronounce most of it, but boy was it good! I could have done without the paired Hungarian Riesling poured with it, but that leads me to the wine review….

Wine note (part of Food rating):
I am not going to change my system and rerate all restaurants based on wine but I do find that with these upscale dining experiences the wine can make or break a particular venue. The fact is, Ria is made better by their sommelier and his personal participation in the evening. Likewise, the embarrassingly poor explanation of wine pairings at L2O hurt my experience there. Unfortunately, Everest was more like L2O. Note to restaurants: I can read. If all you are going to do is read the label to me, save it! At Everest, most of our wines were poured by a somewhat grumpy server who did not smile the entire evening. At one point, he poured a French Pinot Gris that was definitely a bit sweeter than my norm. No, I am not a wine expert but I do drink it a lot. I mentioned this to him when he served the next bottle and he just about scolded me saying, “It was NOT sweet, maybe off dry but not sweet.” Whatever grumpy!

dessert

Service: 5

Unlike Les Nomades, where I felt the server enjoyed making us happy, this place had servers that seemed to do it because it was how they were trained. Strangely, the net result is the same, but I left with a slightly less satisfied feeling after my meal at Everest. Yes, everything was well timed. Yes, every course was served seamlessly, explained well, and picked up at just the right point after completion. But the team seemed just a TAD sterile. Don’t get me wrong, here. Service was spectacular, but do I remember anyone in particular or have fond thoughts of the team overall? Not really. The kitchen team at Avenues that seemed to be having a ball or the service staff at Ria that worked so hard to please made me WANT to give them a 5.
That said, this team gets it. You are paying a lot for a meal and it needs to be an experience that is both memorable and flawless. I did not have to ask for anything the entire night.

Decor: 4

It took me a while to get over the fact that I felt as if I had walked back into the 80’s but was missing Madonna, bad hair, and rubber bangles on everyone’s wrists. I mean mirrors, white walls, somewhat gaudy lighting, and white art deco furniture was a bit overwhelming. But the view, oh the view, it makes you forget everything else. We initially were seated at a table removed from the windows but when the restaurant cleared, we were asked if we wanted to have our cheese and dessert at a window. Spectacular view of the city. And while the decor is a bit dated, the restaurant was clean, ambiance pretty nice and the noise level minimal. There was also artwork from an Italian sculptor that is a friend of Chef Joho that was pretty cool.

Value: 3

Tasting menu at $125 per person for roughly 8 courses was higher than many and equal to a few of the other high end of the restaurants on the list. The wine pairing was a bit pricey relative to the others at $98 per person. The champagne was ridiculous with a glass of Mumm at $24 (More than a bottle at Binny’s). Our meal for the two of us was $570 so with tip this was a $700 meal. I do not give this restaurant a 3 because that is ridiculous, though most will agree that this cannot be a normal meal. However, relative to some of the other restaurants on the Michelin list which have great food at much better pricing, I would say Everest is a lower value.

Overall: 5

This is getting harder as I reach the final restaurants on my quest. I saved a few of the highest rated for last. Just how do you compare venues like Everest, L2O, Ria, Avenues, and Charlie Trotters when all of them are clearly leaders in fine dining? All of them would arguably be classified as 5 star restaurants in their own right. And, frankly, you are guaranteed to have a good meal at all of them. But alas, I must try hard to differentiate amongst the “dining gods”. Everest, while an absolutely fantastic experience I would recommend to friends, colleagues, and anyone who asks, was not good enough to win me over either Avenues at the Peninsula or Les Nomades. I do, however, think it had much better food than Alinea, better service than L2O, and a better overall experience than Ria.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam in Four Seasons Hotel

Let's Eat!!

Reviews:
NaHa
Avenues
All Yelp Reviews

#Foodie Review: Les Nomades restaurant (Chicago)

Les Nomades

222 E. Ontario | Chicago, IL 60611

SHORT VERSION:

Attention Chicago and fellow #foodies around the world, I have a new favorite restaurant and I can’t even pronounce it’s name. Les Nomades changed my world with a meal. This place is fantastic, and their EXclusion from the Michelin list frankly makes me question Michelin more than the INclusion of Sixteen, Boka, and Topolobampo. Avenues is great but alas only held the top slot for a brief period on my list before this quaint French orgasmitronomy romanced me. Avenues is still #1 of those restaurants given Michelin stars, but I PROUDLY, STRONGLY, FIRMLY RECOMMEND Les Nomades and hope to go back again soon.

LONG VERSION:

I only have three full months left in the year as I continue on my Michelin star restaurant quest (See all reviews of the list here http://bit.ly/nGR9Vc). I have dined at roughly 3/4 of them so am on track. I have been impressed by a few, satisfied with many, and completely disappointed by some of the restaurants given stars. And I have a few very key spots still to go on the list, including Charlie Trotters, Tru, and Everest. Meanwhile, I decided to try one of the restaurants that generated the most surprise for NOT being awarded one of these “elusive” acknowledgments. It’s one thing to compare the 23 Michelin restaurants among themselves, but how about some of the ones that did not even get a nod. Thus, my visit to Les Nomades.

Comparisons

Most relevant comparisons from the Michelin list: L20 (taste of food); Takashi (taste and appearance of food); Ria (Decor, Service); Spiaggia (jackets required – no other comparisons), Avenues (Overall experience)

Les Nomades Food

Les Nomades Food

Food: 5

The food here was amazing. Every course, from the chef’s complimentary amous bouche to the deserts. Astoundingly good, perfectly prepared, appropriately temperatures. We all had 4-course Prix Fixe meals.

Me: Seared scallops with squash and chorizo, Duck consommee with organic root vegetables, Loup de mer, warm chocolate tart (Not a drop of a course was wasted though I tried to avoid licking my plates in public)
Both guests: Roasted quail with lentils, heirloom tomato salad, venison loin. One had the cheese tray for dessert and the other had the Grand Marnier souffle. (They especially loved the venison and quail but the heirloom salad was even uniquely presented and flavourful)

Les Nomades Decor

Les Nomades Decor

Decor: 5

Beautiful. Ignoring the tacky hotel next door (not related to restaurant), you walk into what looks like a quaint french apartment. Cozy, comfortable, quiet enough to have a conversation, and decorated enough to keep your attention without overwhelming you. It was a beautiful room.
Although the restaurant requires jackets, it is a completely relaxed environment. At no time did we feel stuffy or pretentiousness like Spiaggia.

Service: 5

As was the case with Avenues, this place got Service perfect from the perspective of timing, attention to detail, and knowledge of the menu. But above and beyond Avenues, our server really seemed to want us to be happy and enjoy our pleasure. He was friendly, patient, attentive, and knowledgeable. I still wish we had a chance to see and interact with the sommolier but our server did a good job explaining the wine pairings.

Value: 4

Certainly not your everyday meal, the pricing of this restaurant is similar to Avenues, Boka, and L20 with similar quantities of food (though at L20 and Boka it is split over a greater number of smaller courses). Frankly, I was so in love with the food and the service I had a hard time worrying about the price. That means this place is a better value than any of the restaurants on the Michelin list, in my opinion.

Overall: 5

Giving this place a 5 out of 5 is in no way a stretch and I would recommend it to anyone. I challenge you to go and tell me where I over-rated them. From walking in the door to going home, everything was perfect, with great service presenting phenomenal food in a beautiful environment. We left content, full, and relaxed. We were comfortable and satisfied. Michelin somehow missed this gem, calling into question their entire list in my opinion. There is NO WAY Sixteen can even hold a candle to Les Nomades. Compared to all of the Michelin recognized restaurants, this place is the winner. Therefore, I PROUDLY, STRONGLY, FIRMLY RECOMMEND Les Nomades and hope to go back again soon.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam in Four Seasons Hotel

Let's talk about #food ...

Reviews:
NaHa
Avenues
All Yelp Reviews

#Foodie Review: NaHa restaurant (Chicago)

NaHa

500 N Clark St | Chicago, IL 60611

SHORT VERSION:

Feeling better now … after a few good but not great experiences in my Michelin star quest, I was beginning to question our critics at Michelin and their choices in Chicago. Alas, Naha merits its Michelin star.

LONG VERSION:

Continuing on my Michelin star restaurant quest and admitting up front that this review is biased based on comparison to the other Michelin star restaurants at which I have dined. See all reviews of the restaurants on the list here
http://www.yelp.com/list/michelin-star-chicago-restaurants-chicago

Overall Verdict: This place does, in my opinion, deserve one Michelin star and it merits a return visit. I would recommend it to friends as well as collegaues or clients.

FOOD: 4.5

My appetizer was ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. – Hudson Valley Foie Gras and a “Tarte Tatin” of Golden Delicious Apples, Crimson Raisins and Caramelized Fennel, Quince Jam, Ararat Valley Walnuts. It was sweet, savory, and best of all, HOT!

For my main, I had the Lacquered Aged Moulard Duck Breast. Again, flavorful, well prepared, and served at the appropriate temperature. Everyone else at my table had the ribeye, and I happily sampled their plates as well as shared mine. All plates were empty at the end of the course, despite very large beef portions and a hearty duck.

Unlike Boka, Ria, and some of the other Michelin restaurants, this place does not go for the look of the food as much as they do the taste of the food. I do not recall anything fancy in appearance other than the desert (Complexite Bittersweet Chocolate “Bar”, Hazelnuts, Cocoa and Goldleaf). No colorful sauces sprinkled across the plate, sculptures of meat or lilac scented pillows here. Just good food.

DECOR: 3

Giving the place a 3 not because it was not nice, just that it was boring. But it was comfortable, not too noisy, and very well maintained. To be honest, I could not remember what it looked like so just went to the website for a reminder. That qualifies for A-Ok rating. That said, my more fashionable friends tell me I’m totally wrong because they apparently have fabulous design. I just didn’t get it. Sigh.

If interested, here is more on their decor http://www.naha-chicago.com/text/design.htm

SERVICE: 4

Very attentive, friendly, and fast. And the restaurant was very accomodating given we were 20 minutes late and instead of having 6 people only had 4. Not sure whether they would have been as happy or patient on a Saturday but I will give them the benefit of doubt. The service was good but not great, and our server was helpful. I did not feel like I was being pampered a la Alinia, Le Bec Fin, or Le Bernadin, nor did I feel “unworthy” as when I dined at Spiaggia. So, it was just good.

VALUE: 4

I was lucky in that my good friend paid for all of us, but I did of course look at the menu prices when ordering. I would say this is a pretty good value for a one star restaurant. I would definitely go here again rather than one of the more expensive tasting menu style restaurants. You can have a good meal, great wine, and an overall good experience here for slightly less than $100 per person.

OVERALL: 4

I would recommend a visit if you’re a foodie and/or if you want to impress a client without being pretentious or spending too much. I will put this restaurant below fellow one star restaurants Takashi and Graham Elliott, but above Boka, Alinia (2 stars), and Blackbird. And I would definitely recommend it above Sepia and Sixteen.

Dine here. You will have a good experience.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

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Or visit me online at http://www.alswharton.com/in

 

#Foodie Review: Avenues at The Peninsula Chicago

Avenues at The Peninsula

108 E Superior St | Chicago, IL 60611

Overall Verdict:

This place is fantastic, well deserving of the recognition from Michelin. And, it is now taking the first place slot in my list of Michelin restaurants in Chicago. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it and will likely go back next season.

UPDATE 10/6/2011
Avenues is now CLOSED for some mysterious renovation. (Read about Avenues closing here)

Long Version:

Continuing on my Michelin star restaurant quest and admitting up front that this review is biased based on comparison to the other Michelin star restaurants at which I have dined. See all reviews of the list here
http://bit.ly/nGR9Vc

Most relevant comparisons: L20 (taste and appearance of the food); Boka (boring bland decor); Ria (Service and friendliness of the staff; though NOT for the sommolier who was friendly but NOWHERE NEAR Dan from Ria).

Food: 5

The food here was amazing. I had the Vegetarian Tasting Menu at $115 while another friend had the largely seafood based Tasting Menu @ $125 each. A few items were on both menus. Highlights include my favorite the Cauliflower with swiss chard and black cardamom; along with the unique vegan treat “Grain, Seeds, Nuts”. The two meat eaters at the table this evening enjoyed the Alaskan King Crab (“Amazing!”) but were less impressed by the Wagyu Beef Ribeye. EVERYONE loved the chocolate dessert (2nd of 2) while the Sheep’s Milk dessert on the vegetarian menu seemed to beat out the frozen like a rock Coconut concoction on the regular menu.

Decor: 4

YAWN!!!! This place really does look like someone said “what should we do with that random space?” and they decided to put in a restaurant. For pure aesthetics, I would give this place a 3, because really it is NOTHING SPECIAL. However, due to the quiet, good ambiance, and ease of parking and dining, I bumped it up a bit.

Service: 5

Where L2O #failed miserably, this place got it perfect. The servings came out in a timely and well-organized manner. Our glasses were always filled, and there was never (like Topolo) a moment where our table had no food. Friendly and attentive but not overbearing. I felt the staff here were working on the same team and actually liked working together. And the kitchen staff looked like they enjoyed what they were doing as well. Where L2O was a bit depressing, this place was upbeat.

The Kitchen Team

Value: 4

Pricing of this place is more like Boka and the Tasting Menu is pretty steep. However, unlike L2O, you do not feel pressured to do a wine paired tasting so you can choose a nice bottle of wine that can go with all courses and keep your bill relatively reasonable. Somehow, we were full, happy, and had great service for $225 each versus $350 each at L2O. Still not as good a value as Takashi and much more pricey than Sepia, but this is the place you would want to splurge on rather than L2O.

Overall: 5

I’m going out of a limb and giving this place a 5. I think that the food is great, service spectacular and the boring decor does not matter as much when you are comfortable and satisfied. Compared to the other Michelin starred restaurants, this place comes out of top thus far. Therefore, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it and will likely go back next season for a new Tasting Menu.

In relationship with #foodies,

Adam

Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

For more reviews, go to my yelp profile here or find me on TripAdvisor with username ALSWharton.

Follow me on Twitter 
Connect with me on Linked In 
“Like” me on Facebook
Or visit me online at http://www.alswharton.com/in

Adam Stanley