Blackbird (Chicago 2017)


On a recent trip to Chicago, we visited Blackbird--a one star Michelin restaurant by James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Kahan. Cameron had been to this restaurant back in 2013 (the year Kahan won his James Beard Award), and was impressed. We wanted to see if it was still worthy of all the acclaim.

We actually walked to the restaurant on a beautiful late-summer day for an early lunch. Deciding to sit outside and enjoy the light and airy patio, we picked a nice table in the corner and settled in. After viewing the wine list, we picked a bottle of Burgundy: 2009 Domaine de Croix Bourgogne. It exhibited notes of cinnamon, cardamom, black currant, white pepper, pomegranite/acai berry, with later notes of roast meat, and light notes of leather. It was a complex and tasty choice. It had a really good quality / price ratio (or QPR). For those that care about points, we thought it was a 91. Nice wine service too. We're always a sucker for the silver wine coaster at the table. Something about a crisp white tablecloth and silver. And wine, of course.

Ordering off the lunch-time tasting menu, we started with the green bean salad appetizer. There was a great contrast between the lightly charred and and the fried green beans, with richness provided by a well-made aioli. Crunch was provided by the almonds, and the pesto and sliced raw green onion gave just the right amount of acidity. The dish was fresh, and not weighed down by either the batter or the aioli. It showed us that the chef has a deft touch with balancing flavors, textures, and the heft/acidity of a dish. A real success.

Next came Blackbird's tomato soup. It was extremely rich, with lots of acidity, cut just enough by the bread, creme fraiche, and the charred onion. It gave us great pops of brightness from the charred tomatoes. It really was quite interesting and very fresh. It was unlike any tomato soup we've had. We loved the presentation with the soup poured into the bowl full of goodies at the table. Absolutely delicious, and that's coming from two people that generally are not fond of tomato soup. It was perfect for al fresco dining.

The shrimp salad came out next. It was very rich, especially with the creamed corn soup added in. Really delicious and buttery, but was still a bit one note. It really needed some spice and more textural crunch than the corn provided. If there had been raw corn mixed in, that would have helped offset the inherent richness. Not bad, but could have been much better with a little tweaking.

Our duck confit was brought to the table soon after we were finished with the shrimp. This dish was rich, fatty, tender, with had just the right mixture of gamy, earthy, and fatty components. It was well cooked, but a little on the small side. The vegetable accompaniments were beautifully grilled, but very tough and, frankly, undercooked. It also could have used a bit more acidity with additional plum slices added in. Great idea, just not quite enough of either the duck or the plum.

We had been anticipating the hangar steak, because Cameron had specifically enjoyed the dish several years ago when he came to Blackbird on a business trip. When it came out, we weren't disappointed. As easy as it is to mess up a rare steak, it really was perfectly cooked to rare. A little underseasoned (just needed a bit more salt), and could have had a sauce included to add a different flavor profile. However, we did enjoy the dichotomy of the grapes and the mushrooms added to the dish--earthy and sweet, cooked and raw, crunchy and grilled. The grapes especially did help cut the richness of the steak quite nicely. This really was a good effort, and the kitchen provided a great sear on the steak.

Desserts came next, and we led off with their chocolate option. It was sweet, carmely, and had good crunch from the crumble, and great fruit notes coming from the blackberries. Very sweet, but still very satisfying. One note, but pure unadulterated dessert. A little glass of chocolate heaven! There was no question what we were getting on this one, and it was delicious!

Blackbird's corn cake came last--a riff on a semi-savory dessert. It really offered a wonderful juxtaposition between sweet and savory. There was a great crunch element with the addition of the graham cracker crumble. And, the very enjoyable nectarine slices provided acidity that cut through the richness of both the savory cake and the sweet ice cream and crumble. This dish was extraordinarily well-balanced and we thought it was just a lovely effort! It's no lie to say that this was one of the best desserts we've had in quite some time.

Overall we were really pleased with our experience at Blackbird. Always acclaimed for its multi-course lunch, we thought Chef Kahan showed he was still master of his Michelin-starred universe. Blackbird is always a clean, modern, inviting, and delicious option. Every time we're in Chicago, you'll know where to find us for lunch.

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