Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Boka, Chicago

Boka, Chicago, 5/8/2017 (8-Course, $120 excl. Taxes & Grat.), American Progressive, Michelin 1-Star 

I stayed in Chicago for a week to enjoy its fine dining and fine arts. I arrived on a Monday with very limited opportunities for fine dining choices. For some strange reasons, most of the Michelin 3-Star and 2-Star restaurants are off on Sundays and Mondays or Mondays and Tuesday. I chose Boka because of its vicinity to the hotel.

Boka offered an eight-course tasting menu. I started with Amuse Bouche.

1). Kumamoto Oyster, Togarashi, Celery 

Kumamoto oysters are native to the southern islands of Japan. Kumamoto oysters grow very slowly and have a rich taste that feels like eating real butter for the 1st time in your mouth. In addition, the meat filled the shell pretty full. These days, they are mainly produced in Puget Sound and Willapa Bay in the northwestern part of US. The size was not large, but the meat was rich, smooth and fresh. Served with Japanese chili oil, and finely diced celery, it was ideal for opening your palette.

2). Pumpernickle Pain Perdu, Horseradish

 Maple syrup marinated trout roe sat on top of pumpernickel bread to balance the salty taste of fish roe. Then, fresh grated horseradish and chive were placed on top of trout roe to provide the whole item with a more sophisticated taste.

3). Crispy Cod Skin, Smoked Eel, Black Garlic

There was creamy black garlic ayoli at the very bottom, topped with finely grounded crispy cod skin. House made smoked eel was placed on top of cod skin which is then covered by a thin layer of daikon and a micro green for decoration. 

The three items of amuse bouche were awesome. I love good amuse bouche which usually indicated the chef’s style and to be finalized product in progress.

Breads were served, including freshly baked pretzel bread with caraway seeds and salt, and whole wheat bread. Butter was served with lemon zest. Both bread and lemon zest made pleasant appetizing aroma.

1st Course – Scallop Crudo, Almond Milk, Horseradish

This was a quasi-sashimi style scallop. However, the flavoring was different. This dish was served with almond milk, nori oil (soaking nori in oil for a long time to extract nori flavor). My favorite ingredient was the tiny pale pinky balls squeezed out of finger lime. These tiny balls had such a pungent flavor of citrus, pepper, and a bit of wasabi-like flavor, really hit the spot. It was an excellently well-balanced and pleasantly presented dish.

2nd Course – White Asparagus, Sorrel, Potato, Dried Scallop

Mid-May is the season for white asparagus, my favorite vegetable. This dish is roasted white asparagus with potato (in round shape) in sorrel sauce with sorrel cover. Up to this moment, this could be a very tasty dish already. But, the chef delivered more inspiration, chef made powdered fried potato and powdered smoked dried scallop. These dried powders were dusted on top of asparagus and then decorated with celery leaves. Asian people like to use dried shrimp or dried scallop to enhance the taste of vegetable or rice. I love this chef’s creativity of using dried scallop to bring out a different perspective of taste.

3rd Course – Shaved Foie Gras, Cashews, rhubarb, Celery Root

I saw a lot of shaved light brown flakes when this dish was served. It was shaved foir gras, foie gras was frozen and shaved in a special machine. Shaved foie gras was sprinkled with cinnamon powder and covering rhubarb, cashews bit and celery roots underneath. Since foie gras was shaved into thin flakes, the temperature was low otherwise flakes would be softened. Therefore, to enjoy the full flavor, you should let it stay in your mouth for a few seconds until flavors from all the ingredients were fully integrated at above freeze point temperature. This was the 1st time that I taste frozen shaved foie gras and I was satisfied with the taste.

4th Course – Roasted Octopus, Kumquart, Fennel

1st job was to prepare nori-flavored butter by soaking nori in butter. Then, brushed nori-flavored butter on octopus before roasting octopus. This dish was served with fennel in 3 flavors – roasted fennel, fresh fennel, and fennel purée. It also served dill and kumquart on the side to complement octopus’ enhanced seafood flavor.

5th Course – Olive Oil Poached Cod, Maitake, Peas

Cod filet was prepared en sous vide, therefore, tender and medium in the center. Cod was served with crispy shallot, shallot, sorrel and sorrel fumé (less airy than foam). In addition, there were fresh baby peas, maitake mushroom and mushroom jam (sautéed and glazed with a bit sugary appearance) which did the wonderful job of complementing the fish and bring out a sophiscated overall taste.

6th Course – Roasted Lamb Loin, Beets, Gem Lettuce, Yogurt

Lamb was supplied by Colorado Farm. The dish had various parts of a lamb – loin, neck and tongue. On the side, there were gem lettuce, beet, cooked lamb juice and lamb yogurt (white round shape) which tasted milder than goat cheese.

7th Course – Black Sesame, Strawberry, Puffed Grains, Tonka

This is a course considered a palette cleanser. It included black sesame ice cream, strawberry compote, crumbles (in light brown color) and tonka beans.  

Tonka beans look like an elongated raisin or a hard, skinny date. The taste of Tonka Bean is linked strongly with its scents like vanilla, almond, cherry and cinnamon. Chefs are craving for its spicy and fruity aroma which can be used in both savory and sweet applications. Tonka beans are usually shaved, a preparation to release its pungent aroma and subtle flavor. Unfortunately, all foods that contain the chemical compound coumarin are considered by the FDA to be "adulterated" and have technically been illegal since 1954. Tonka beans are a major source of coumarin, therefore, not available in US in the past. This year, tonka beans seem to be in fashion. Internet has changed the accessibility and availability of many things in the world. Because of its taboo status in the past, creative chefs are eager to play with it.

8th Course – Dark Milk Chocolate, Earl Grey, Sudachi, Black Lime

It included Earl Grey ice cream, dark chocolate ice cream, sudachi jam and some mint leaves on the side. Sudachi is a sour Japanese citrus, not eaten as fruit but used as a food flavoring in place of lemon or lime. It has a zestier flavor and aroma than lemon or lime. I have always liked its taste. The desert would have been more complete if a piece of cake or pastry had been included. However, the inclusion of Sudachi did make the taste and flavoring more interesting.

Petit Four – It had five items. They were all cute and delightfully luscious.

Passion fruit tea cake – bite-size yellow cake with passion-fruit flavor
Chocolate and chia truffle – taste less rich than ordinary truffle
Chocolate and almond dacquoise – with a bit of almond-flavored liquor taste
Chocolate with pistachio and dry fruits – pineapple, raspberry and apricot
Mango jelly candy – very refreshing, I would love to have a few more pieces

Boka’s savory dishes were extraordinarily above average of the Michelin 1-Star restaurants’ quality. I really enjoyed my 1st fine dining in Chicago.

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