Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Grace, Chicago

Grace, Chicago, 5/9/2017 (9-Course, $235 excl. Taxes & Grat.), American Progressive, Michelin 3-Star

Chef Curtis Duffy interned in Alinea, another Michelin 3-Star restaurant in Chicago, before he established Grace in the “thoughtfully progressive” style with every dish displaying individuality, located in West Loop of Chicago. I was not able to make a reservation at Alinea because its unfriendly and biased reservation policy toward “single”, one-person booking. The receptionist at Alinea acknowledge that 2 out of 3 menus do not accept “single” reservation and the one menu which accepts “single” would take one reservation/per evening at 8pm seating only.

There were 2 types of menu, Flora (highlights vegetables) and Fauna (focuses on seafood and protein.) I chose Fauna menu.

Amuse Bouche – 2 Courses

I). An irregularly-shaped platform made of bee wax was used to present 4 items of amuse bouche.

1). Cotton candy was used as a holder for house-made granola and dry blueberry. Black powdered-leek were sprinkled on top of cotton candy and a piece of basil covered the top. During this trip, I found out Chefs in Chicago like to include grains in cooking. Its house-made granola tasted well with cotton candy. 

2). Dried beets (larger thin red sheet) used as a place holder, with Umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums) in the center with chamomile emulsion and tarragon.

3). Jamón Ibérico is a gourmet specialty made exclusively from black-hoof pigs fed mainly by acorn from century old oak trees, imbuing ham with delicate and unique flavor that that thrills the senses. It is one of the Spain’s most highly prized delicacies. It was served with chick pea and butter cream.  

 4). A bite-size of panisse with fava beans and Myer lemon cream.

II). Guinea Hen, Ramp, Radish, Chive Blossom - It was brought to the table with tightly sealed foil on the top. As it settled on the table, my server lifted the sealed foil to let out Applewood smoke. Under the foil, it was coconut and lemongrass cream. Inside the glass bowl, there were radish, pickled radish, white chive flower, crispy panko, boned roasted guinea hen, scallion, ramp, green cream (from green onion) and coconut and lemongrass cream like what under the foil. This is a very sophisticated dish with many ingredients and different methods of infusing flavor. It was my 2nd favorite dish in this meal.

1st Course – White Asparagus, Burgundy Oxalis

Mid-May is the season for white asparagus, my favorite vegetable. Burgundy oxalis was often used for its burgundy foliage and white/yellow flower. White asparagus was poached and served with fingerling potato, topped with Osetra caviar. Scallion oil (green dot) was served on the side and julienned scallion and chive were placed on top of caviar. White asparagus was cooked differently from how it was done at Boka.

2nd Course – Alaskan King Crab, Sudachi, Cucumber, Lemon Mint

This has been Chef Duffy’s signature dish. Crab meat was served in cucumber dice and cucumber juice in the bowl. Organic trout roes were served on top of crab meat. In addition, sudachi (Japanese lime) cream (yellow) and coconut lemongrass cream (white) and Fresno red pepper curls and lemon-mint leaves were also contributing to the flavor. On the very top, the bowl was sealed by a thin slice of transparent candy sheet. Once it was served, guest had to break open the candied sheet before reaching into the bowl. Using sudachi’s more zestier aroma and flavor in this dish was certainly a seamless choice for a perfect signature dish.

Three types of bread were served – Semolina with fennel, roasted potato with dill, Hawaiian pretzel with sea salt. Each of them were two-bite size, accompanied by 7 different flavors of butter - original, red basil, parsley, tarragon, dill, chive, mint.

3rd Course – Bay Scallops, White Poppy, Romaine, Nasturtium

Slightly poached scallop was placed on top of shallot and onion marmalade. In addition, red nasturtium, scallion, green lettuce leaves, romaine lettuce, flower, pickled onion and shallot were served along with white poppy seed milk. On the very top, there was a thin layer of dashi sheet, jello made of dashi broth (made by heating kelp, fermented and preserved tuna, or shitake in hot water.) It was a quite interesting dish that Chef Duffy used dashi flavor to enhance scallop’s seafood flavor, on the other hand he used other ingredients to neutralized seafood flavor.

4th Course – Red Kuri Squash, Duck, Chocolate, Sunflower Sprout

Duck confit was served with brioche, sun flower seed powder, chocolate, sun flower seed chip, sprout, apple, and duck fat de-hydrated. Apple and squash soup was served lastly at the table. French prepare duck confit with a long process of curing, poaching at low temperature for 4-10 hours, and then preserved in duck fat to get the rich taste. I did not know this was duck confit, as it differed from the authentic French style, until the server pointed it out.

5th Course – Pork, Gnudi, Porcini, Spinach

Braised pork cheek to the extent, it almost melted in your mouth. It was accompanied by gnudi, made of semolina and ricotta cheese instead of potato, with excellent texture. On the side, there were spinach ball, crispy red cabbage, tropical spinach, diced pancetta and the very tasty fennel coriander sauce. I cook pork shoulder almost in a similar way except that I used a bit of anise star while chef Duffy did not.

6th Course – Miyazaki Beef, Grains, Hon Shimeji, Kaffir Lime

Miyazaki beef from the Miyazaki prefecture of Japan is a “A5 Wagyu”. Ever since I had Kobe beef in Japan 13 years ago, I have been longing for a real or quasi Kobe in US. I had it in Grace finally. It was melt in your mouth type, served with basil and coconut, grain purée made of black and white barley, basil leaves, dill, coriander seed (in the middle), hon-shimeji mushrooms and black garlic cream. Beef was perfect, on quality and flavor. It was quite interesting that Chef Duffy cut the beef, not vertically or splitting horizontally, but diagonally which enabled a different way of tasting flavor and texture. This course, without of doubt, was my favorite dish for the evening. Whenever I think of Kobe beef, my mouth would start watering.

There are some grades for WAGYU beef, and A5 is the highest grade given only to the finest beef. It is famous for its smooth velvety texture, juicy flavor, delicate but rich taste. Its appearance looks marbling, tiny pieces of fat finely distributed. Marbling is never too rich, it almost melts in your mouth. The marbling is also the evidence that cattle have been specially raised in the vast lush wilderness using carefully selected feed (corn and rice straw), pure water and clean air.

Beef is classified into four categories, Japanese black cattle comprised the largest number of 4 breeds. Its deliciousness consists of the following factors: the taste and flavor that spread out in the mouth, and the smooth texture. The standards of grading beef consist of yield grade and quality grade. “A” of “A5” means the yield grade and “5” of “A5” means quality grade.

I was fortunate to have A5 again on 5/11/17 at Oriole, Chicago. Chef at Oriole prepared A5 Wagyu in another interesting way.

7th Course – Blood Orange, Vanilla, Fennel

This is the palette cleanser before the real desert was served. Main component was refreshing blood orange ice with vanilla cream on the side and fennel leaves on top.

8th Course – Huckleberry, Honey, Fenugreek, Basil

Fenugreek cake (green) was served on top of huckleberry ice cream (red), huckleberries were on the side. Meringue, accented with pepper and fenugreek seeds, was sitting on top of ice cream for decoration. Fenugreek is an annual plant with leaves consisting of 3 small obovate to oblong leaflets, brought into cultivation in the Near East. Fenugreek is used as an herb (leaves), spice (seeds smelt and taste somewhat like maple syrup) and vegetables (leaves and sprouts). It is similar to clover that is native to the Mediterranean region, southern Europe and Western Asia. However, fenugreek has high content of coumarin-like compounds and may interfere with the activity and dosing of anticoagulants. It is important to inform the restaurant if you have any special health issues (allergy or pregnancy) as some of the ingredients used in the meal may have side effect.

9th Course – Cashew, Cocoa, Crème Fraiche, Hoja Santa

Hoja Santa is an aromatic herb with a heart-shaped, velvety leaf which grows in Mesoamerica (Northern S. America to Mexico, southeastern Florida and California.) The name Hoja Santa means “sacred leaf”. The complex flavor of Hoja Santa is not so easily described; it has been compared to eucalyptus, licorice, anise, nutmeg, mint, tarragon and black pepper. The arrival of internet era has provided chefs with accessibility and availability of more varieties of spices and ingredients for more creativity and experiment. While some of the chefs started using “Tonka”, chef Duffy also used Fenugreek and Hoja Santa to advance his creativity and experiment.

This desert included chocolate mousse (elongated shape), chocolate jell (round shape), chocolate curls and pieces of chocolate cake. On the side, Hoja Santa was presented in 3 different forms – drop (sitting under cashew), leaves and cream (on top of chocolate jell.) This is quite an intricate combination yielding a sophisticated taste.

Petit Four – a little yellow ball

It was a showmanship of the latest molecular gastronomy by using cocoa butter into the spherification process (by dipping sodium alginate into calcium lactate.) Since coca butter contains mainly fat which turns hard in cold temperature and melts in warm temperature. This cute little yellow ball was filled with apple cider and dipped into nitrogen at below “0” temperature before serving. I have watched it thru out the dinner from where I was sitting. The yellow ball was placed on a long wooden spoon to avoid direct human contact. The server suggested to put the whole piece into my mouth and closed my mouth fully. After a few second, I could feel the bursting of apple cider coming out of the shell. It was a pleasant experience.

Dining in Grace is a phenomenal culinary experience. I sat at the table closest to the open kitchen (with glass wall), therefore, was able to observe most of the activities there. The restaurant had an “expeditor” just to make sure the flow of orders was timely. In addition, Chef/owner Duffy was in the kitchen a few times to ensure works were done properly with desired quality.   

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