Elske *

Elske
1350 W Randolph St,
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-1314
Website

Last year, Chicago’s West Loop welcomed the Danish-inspired restaurant, Elske. Located along W Randolph Street, this was a great addition to a neighborhood with a bustling dining scene. As one of the most awaited opening in 2016, the restaurant did not disappoint. It was voted number two in Bon Appetite Best New Restaurant in 2017, a three star review from Chicago Tribune, and most recent accolade, a Michelin star. The owners are husband and wife David and Anna Posey who both worked at the Michelin starred Blackbird in Chicago. Prior to opening Elske, David held the position of chef de cuisine at Blackbird while Anna was a pastry chef at Publican.

The restaurant’s expansive space seats about fifty guests, and has large store front windows that looks out to the street. The dining room has uncovered dark wooden communal tables, walls of exposed brick, and smooth concrete for floors. At the front is the bar area located next to the open kitchen. On a good day, an outdoor space with a fire place doubles up as an additional dining space.

Elske has an a la carte menu that is inexpensive. There are no plates over $24. In addition, an affordable $85 tasting menu is quite appealing to my pocket, which is what perpetuated my visit.

The tasting menu started with Tea of lightly smoked fruits and vegetables, which was a cup of tea infused with subtle smoked vegetables and fruits flavors. This was followed by Broccoli and amaranth fritter with spicy date jams. A single crunchy bite of grainy fritter boasts a dynamic duo of both sweet and spicy. Duck liver tart with salted ramp and buckwheat was next. The decadent tart teases nice hints of brininess with a touch of bitterness.

The meal continued with an interesting dish called, Chilled zucchini and buttermilk cream with braised pistachio, blueberries and elder, which were thinly sliced chilled zucchinis blanketed in thick cream. The cream has a mixture of sour, sweet, and nuttiness that worked superbly with the zucchini’s cold element. Roasted sturgeon with fried artichoke, caviar and lovage came afterwards. The sturgeon was roasted impeccably, it was tender and moist. The lovage sauce with caviar provided the saltiness, elevating the fish, while the fried artichoke makes fine accompaniment.

Grilled Vegas strip steak with braised dandelion greens, smoked beef and roasted marrow was the main course. The steak was scrumptious, packed with flavors, and has delightful presence of smokiness. Adding richness to the dish, was the roasted bone marrow consommé.

Frozen fennel jelly with mint followed the main dish. This concoction was a tongue soothing cube of jelly mint that helps rinse the palate off savory remnants. For dessert, Roasted peach sorbet, frozen yogurt, rose and bitter almonds was served. The peach sorbet went perfectly well with the yogurt, creating a pleasant blend of cold fruitiness and sourness. The garnished of dehydrated rose petal added texture.

Needless to say, this was quite the enjoyable meal. The dishes were creative and refined using cooking techniques that are evident of experienced chefs. The flavor combination was unique but made sense as it rightfully complemented each other.  Though the restaurant served “New American” cuisine with Danish influence, I find that the flavor profile leans more towards Nordic. The wine pairing was also decently priced at $45, and comprised of five glasses. It was mostly European wines with the exception of the red wine paired with the steak, which came from California.

Wine Pairing:

After dining at the three Michelin starred Grace the previous night, I wanted something informal and relaxing. Elske was the right place. I had an early dinner on this particular visit and was seated at the bar. The bartender that evening was genuinely friendly and conversant. When I started my meal there were a few tables occupied but as the night progressed, the dining room and bar filled up fairly quick. Despite the sudden influx of patrons at this time, the service did not falter.

There is a growing number of restaurants opening up in the past few years that offers quality food in strip down settings. From Paris to New York, this type of dining trend has been well received by the masses. In Chicago, such restaurant came in the form of Elske where I was treated with fine dining fare without the prentious atmosphere.

 

Grace ***

Grace
652 W Randolph St
Chicago IL 60661
(312) 234-9494
Website

*The restaurant abruptly closed on December 19, 2017.

Along with New York City and San Francisco, Chicago is hailed as one of dining capital in the US. The city has a total of 25 Michelin starred restaurants sprinkled throughout. At the epicenter is the neighborhood of West Loop. With an abundance of great places to eat and drink, the neighborhood’s culinary excellence is anchored by the three Michelin starred, Grace.

Grace was opened in 2012 by co-owners head chef Curtis Duffy and GM/sommelier Michael Muser. At that time, it was by far the most ambitious and most anticipated restaurant openings in Chicago, as well as in the country. The restaurant was immediately awarded two Michelin stars after a few month of opening. A year later in 2013, Grace was elevated to three stars, a status it has maintained ever since. The restaurant has since received other accolades in such a short span, adding merits such as the four-star review from the Chicago-Tribune, Forbes Five Stars and AAA Five Diamonds.

Chef Curtis Duffy can easily boast a robust kitchen experience working in some of Chicago’s top restaurants. He once worked with the late Charlie Trotter at his eponymous restaurant before moving on to Trio, cooking alongside Chicago’s most decorated chef, Grant Achatz. In 2004, he was recruited by Chef Achatz as the opening sous-chef of the critically acclaimed Alinea. After a few years there, he took on the head chef position at Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel where he also met his future business partner Michael Muser. At Avenues, Chef Duffy cooking reportoire was awarded two Michelin stars.

The restaurant resides along the strip of W. Randolph Street where some of Chicago’s best dining venues are also located. Grace unassuming façade of rusted steel with glass doors opens directly to the hostess table. A short hallway leads to a muted and windowless dining room with tones of neutral colors. It is dimly lit by hanging decanter lights and the floors are cover in thick carpets, which helps dampen the noise. In the dining room are identical oversize round table draped in grey cloth, cream leather chairs, handsome blond wood panel walls, and a glass enclosed kitchen. The columns in the middle are nicely incorporated with its modern interior.

Fauna:

There were only two dining option at Grace, the vegetable centric “Flora,” and the meat and seafood “Fauna,” which were both priced at $235. I had the latter which began with an array of small bites on a plate made from beeswax. Consisting of Iberian ham, beets, chickpea and yuzu gummy, these small bites were a very good start to this meal.

For the first course, GUINEA HEN-ramp, radish, chive blossom was presented in a yogurt glass cup sealed in foil, and when opened it releases an enticing smoky aroma. I was instructed to lick the other side of the lid which was spread with a zesty coconut cream. The glass was stuffed with guinea hen pate infused with a wonderful smokiness in company of radish, ramps, scallions and coconut cream.

ALASKAN KING CRAB-sudachi, cucumber, lemon mint was next. Served on a martini tumbler glass, it has a crystalized sugar in the middle separating the ingredients. At the bottom of the glass are pieces of delicious crab meat in cumber juice. Breaking the crystalized sugar mixes all the ingredients, creating a fantastic balance of flavors. There was also a distinct peppery note that blended perfectly.

Third course was the BAY SCALLOPS-white poppy, romaine, nasturtium. Meaty scallops were ultra-fresh and sweet. Rich milky sauce from white poppy seeds elevated the scallops by providing an extra layer of flavor. That was followed by an extra dish from the Flora menu, CARROT-green strawberry, hazelnut, amaranth. This vegetarian plate has so much going on. It has an earthiness coming from the carrot, some nuttiness from the hazel nuts, citric features from the orange sauce, and a refreshing acidity from green strawberries. Yet, they all managed to come together in harmony.

The meal proceeded with PORK- gnudi, porcini, spinach. The nicely braised pork was topped with crispy red cabbage and spinach. A piece of gnudi on the side was a pleasant accompaniment to this dish. Afterward the SQUAB-beet, fig, endive was served. The flavorful squab meat was extra tender, moist with a beautiful pink middle. And, complementing it was a vibrant thick beets puree with a honey like sweetness.

For the main course, MIYAZAKI BEEF – grains, hon shimeji, kaffir lime was a pure luxury. Miyazaki beef is one the finest on the planet and it was cooked impeccably here. Each bite melts eloquently in the mouth like a cotton candy. There are hints of nutty and citrus element in the background that paired accordingly with the beef.

Prior to dessert, the BLOOD ORANGE- vanilla, tangerine lace was the palate cleanser. The chilled blood orange yields a soothing citrus tang with a nice touch of vanilla cream. Dessert was HUCKLEBERRY- honey, fenugreek, basil, huckleberry ice cream has a nice sweet sourness while other components provide an interesting peppery and minty combination. This was refreshing and fruity at the same time. Next was the CASHEW- cocoa, crème fraîche, Hoja Santa, which was a plate of chocolaty pleasure. The chocolate came in mouse, jelly and cake form and the hoja santa was featured as a sorbet, cream drops and leaves. The assortments of rich chocolate sweetness, herbal essence and savory tartness were put wonderfully together. Lastly a green sphere served on wooden rocker pops with chilled honey dew liquid inside the mouth. It was a refreshing finish to this meal.

The “Fauna” was a terrific tasting menu that showcased the restaurant’s ability and the technical cooking prowess. Using quality and luxurious ingredients sourced both globally and locally, the kitchen creates food that is complex and light. They were able to successfully marry different elements on the plate to create a unique myriad of taste. Every dish was artfully conceived, full of colors and pleasing to look at. Additionally, the $125 wine pairing comprise of nine glasses of predominantly European wines were perfectly designed to add an enriching after taste with every course.

There is a hushed atmosphere in dining room. It is so quiet that you can hear the pin drop, and even the staff spoke in low clear tone. The service was formal throughout my meal, but managed to loosen up from time to time. They handled each table flawlessly and were significantly in tune with one another. Their attention to detail and awareness was incomparable. Providing an exceptional dining experience to each guest was expertly performed by the staff.

Wine Pairing:

Chicago dining has gotten better throughout the years, the city was voted as Bon Appetite best restaurant city in 2016. At the top spot are the three Michelin starred Alinea and Grace. Though Alinea gets majority of the praise, Grace on the other hand has been making a name for itself since opening in 2013. My visit at this restaurant was outstanding in every aspect. The food and the service were equally magnificent, a true tale sign of what greatness represents.

The documentary “For Grace” chronicled the process of opening the restaurant and the challenges that Chef Duffy and Mr. Muser had to face. In the opening scene, Chef Duffy talks about his goal to make Grace as one of best the restaurant in the country. Along with Mr. Muser they had achieved that goal in such a short time. Grace rightfully sits among the great restaurants in the US.

Restaurant Initiale

Dining Room

Restaurant Initiale
54 Rue Saint-Pierre
Quebec, QC G1K 3Z9
Canada
+1 418-694-1818
Official Site

In the French speaking Canadian province of Quebec, Montreal, their excellent restaurants from fine dining to casual bistro and talented chefs tend to get all the gastro praises. The province’s capital of Quebec City on the other hand, with its European charm, feels like a little brother that doesn’t get enough credit. The city has an outstanding gastronomic scene that is anchored by Restaurant Initiale. Guide books and food blogs recommend and also recognize this as the best restaurant in Quebec City. A member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux, one of only two restaurants here to be awarded the CAA/AAA five diamond and is considered amongst the top dining venues in all of Canada.

Restaurant

In charge of the kitchen is French born chef, Yvan Lebraun from Cancale, Brittany who moved to Quebec in 1986 while the dining room is handled by Rolande Leclerc. The co-owners worked together at Hilton Quebec prior to Restaurant Initiale. They first opened the restaurant in 1990 before relocating to its current location in 1998 below the old city and away from all the hordes of tourists. The building that the restaurant is housed in was once bank; it was then transformed with neutral tones designed with a contemporary elegant interior. Its dining room has large windows, brown carpet that covers the whole space, and tables with neatly pressed coverings are positioned with enough space from each other along with sizable cream leather seats. The dimmed lights with very soft music provide an intimate setting. A relaxing lounge upon entering is where pre and post drinks are held and is often used as additional seating on busy nights.

Dining Room

There are different set menu options for both lunch and dinner to go along with a la carte, but to get the full experience of Chef Lebrun the tasting menu was my choice. For aperitif, I was offered the “Initiale”, an in house concoction named after the restaurant made from bubbly wine with a slice of orange peel resembling a kir royal.

Degustation:

A light and refreshing amuse-bouche of chilled beet root, cantaloupe, and radish started the tasting. This was then followed by another amuse of mushrooms with quail eggs, salmon roe on top of potato almond cream which had a sensational earthiness. For the first course I was served scallops lamelles, oxalis and horse radish with marinated lobster, verjus and cameline, pousses de mme Allison. It had an enthralling floral essence and distinct notes that suited the sliced raw scallop. An added item on the plate was the chopped marinated lobster filling on half circled crispy rolls creating a superb first dish. Next was the dice of halibut and caviar de British Columbia with leeks and potato, dried yolk powder, and lemon confit. The delicate clean tasting piece of halibut was topped with caviar providing a touch of saltiness while the creamy sauce gave it some richness.

For the third course, I was served Royale d’ail nouveau and breast of pigeon-petits pois, concentrated juice buckwheat and galette. Flavorful tender pigeon breast meat with a vivid pink middle was intensified with the boldness of the buckwheat juice. While the heavy cream custard prevented the juice from overpowering the rest. An accompaniment on the side of the plate was a pastry rolled up with chopped pigeon meat stuffing, showing the versatility of the meat and the creativity of the chef.

Seared Foie-Gras

Continuing on, a seared foie gras-cauliflower purée, blueberries, chanterelles and duck juice. The foie gras was seared perfectly giving the outer layer a beautiful seared texture while keeping the inside buttery. Complimenting this was creamy cauliflower puree and a strong duck juice sauce. The dish also had nice undertones of sour and sweet. Then came the veal loin -fried medaillon, roasted tomatoes and green olives condiments and almonds. An excellent course where the veal was impeccably prepared and succulent. As complex as this dish may seem with all of these elements on one plate the chef was able to make it work in harmony.

Veal

A cheese course of Tomme sheep de Kamouraska-vegetal tartare-fruits & vegetables, oil of anis-hysope and pourpier that is made locally from the region had a defined nuttiness. The toast with spread and tartare of fruits and vegetables supplemented the cheese and can be eaten together or individually.

Cheese Course

Dessert courses began with the eggnog buttermilk and lemon thyme-Langue de chat and fleur de sel. The light eggnog with a pastry stick coated in chocolate and a sugary cookie at the bottom of the bowl was a beautiful combination of sweet and savory while also slowly acclimating the palate for a sweeter course. Gourmandise-entremet lemon and pistachios biscuit, raspberries and rose sorbet. It was more refreshing than sweet. A chilled sensation from the rose sorbet while also maintaining a citric fruitiness from the rest. Then finally the Mignardise, sweet pastry with blueberry adding saccharine richness ended the meal

At CAN 139 (at the time of my visit but has gone up to CAN 149) this was the most expensive tasting menu in Quebec, but with a strong US exchange rate this is a bargain and well worth it as I was treated with a fine multi-course meal by Chef Lebraun while showcasing the bounty of the region and its artisans. Most, if not all, of the ingredients were sourced locally and within Canada. He uses high quality ingredients prepared with meticulous and intricate combinations to create a contemporary French-Canadian cuisine. Each plate had multiple features that managed to complement one another to produce well balance flavors. There was a CAN 119 wine pairing arranged by Isabelle, the sommelier, that I opted out of and instead I gave her my price range that she was able to work with. It was a wonderful pairing that was spot on and interesting, especially when she paired one of the desserts with a sparkling rose that cut down the sweetness and gave it an additional taste.

Wine Pairing:

On the weekend evening of my visit the dining room was full of locals and tourists. Rolande assured that each guest was serviced to the utmost and that they were given a top notch dining experience. The staff was proficient, pleasant, and engaging. She visited every table often and even assisted in serving the food. Her hospitality from the time I spoke to her over the phone for my reservation and until my visit was unparalleled.

Restaurant Initiale is an outstanding restaurant, the cuisine identifies with Chef Lebrauns and the sublime hospitality by Rolande provided an unparalleled dining experience. It is the apex restaurant of Quebec City’s dining. And, just like every city in the world that has at least one or two restaurants that represent their city, Quebecers can proudly call Restaurant Initiale as their own.

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Andre’s

DSCN64400

Andre’s
@The Monte Carlo Resort & Casino
3770 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
(702) 798-7151
Official Site

Las Vegas is not only just about gambling and shows any longer. It’s fast becoming a dining destination with celebrity chefs and well known foreign chefs having outposts in Sin City. Prior to all the culinary big wigs coming, French chef Andre Rochat had already solidified his reputation in the city’s gastronomy. He brought fine dining to Las Vegas becoming its very first home grown celebrity chef. His now closed restaurant Andre’s in downtown was the most celebrated restaurant in Vegas and the only Michelin starred venue that wasn’t inside a casino. Currently, he has two restaurants; Michelin starred Alize’s on top of the Palms and Andre’s at the Monte Carlo.

Andre's

Andre’s at the Monte Carlo, a contemporary French restaurant, is situated in the front of the casino gaming floor and close to a food court. A modest façade gives a deceitful impression of a bar rather than a restaurant. A beautiful bar in front leading to a windowless dining room with turquoise blue and gold tones. The opulent space has thick carpet, oversized booth seats, walls festooned with mirrors, and tables covered in double white linen. The chandeliers are adorned with circular coverings for soft lighting adding to the hushed and romantic atmosphere of the dining room

Dining Room

Dining Room

There are several dining options available at this restaurant. A five course and seven course tasting menu priced at $110 and $135 as well as a pricey a la carte where the main dish averages at $40 and appetizers at $20. On my visit I had the seven course menu.

The meal began with a tasty amuse of chicken liver on toast and pumpkin puree. Beef Carpaccio was the first course, paper thin sliced beef served with cauliflower mousse, baby arugula, and caraway crackers Wild mushroom soup with port wine crème followed, a simple creamy dish with a superb earthy flavor. Pumpkin risotto with shaved Brussels sprouts and red wine jus was next. The risotto was buttery and the shaved Brussels sprouts added a slight bitterness to the dish.

Tasting Menu:

Amuse-Bouche Beef Carpaccio Wild Mushroom Soup Pumpkin Risotto

The succeeding course of sweet bread blanquette with brunoise of vegetables, black truffle and puff pastry had an excellent offal taste combined with the rich brunoise of vegetables and truffles. Afterwards, was the main course of a perfectly pan seared duck breast in cherry gastrique and duck jus for a nice touch of sweetness. It was accompanied by a savory spiced duck and butternut squash croquettes and caramelized endives.

Sweet Bread Pan Seared Duck

For dessert poached seckel pear with oatmeal streusel served with a cabernet sorbet. A nice fruity soft texture that was complimented very well with the refreshing sorbet. Finally, the grand marnier sobayon was the sugary ending to the tasting menu.

Poached Seckel Pear Grand Marnier Sabayon

A pleasant meal, each dish was straight forward yet polished. The kitchen doesn’t experiment with textures or flavors but the skills and precise execution of quality ingredients was at the highest level.

Andre’s has an extensive wine inventory that has gained accolades throughout the years. So vast is it that guests are presented with an iPad for the wine listing. The restaurant also owns one of the largest collections of cognac in the world. With my meal I requested the $95 wine pairing that consisted of wonderful wines mainly from Northern California and France.

Wine Pairing:

Wine Pairing

The proficient staff was approachable and attentive to each of the guest needs. The service provided was outstanding, matching the food that it served, making Andre’s one of the finest restaurant.

In Las Vegas dining options are no longer limited to the buffets that once ruled every hotel on the strip along with mediocre food. One can eat very well here. Having Andre’s, and others of its kindin Las Vegas establishes the city for gourmand to visit.

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