Graham Elliot – Chicago

Labor Day weekend 2009. I run my own business and hadn’t had a vacation in two years. The “Real Pirates” exhibit was at the Chicago Field Museum, K and I had a place to stay and we procured reservations at the very hot Graham Elliot. To say that I was excited about this trip would be a very serious understatement.

We’d seen chef Graham Elliot Bowles compete in the first season of Top Chef Masters and his quirky food (some of his creations include lobster corn dogs and brioche Twinkie croutons) was intriguing. After dining there, we can officially report that his namesake restaurant Graham Elliot was amazing.

Because it was our first trip together, I felt like it needed some commemoration. I called ahead to the restaurant and asked if they could have the chef sign a menu for K. The staff kindly obliged and the chef very generously signed and personalized a menu. K has the keepsake from the evening framed on his wall. It’s a fun reminder of our awesome meal.

We went with the tasting menu and munched on truffle popcorn while waiting for the first course — white tuna sashimi. I’m a Minnesotan and raw fish makes me nervous. I have a deeply embedded (and genetic) feeling that if I’m paying big bucks in a restaurant, you’d better at least cook my food. When I have ignored this voice in my head, I have been treated to some of the freshest, most delicious fish. The white tuna sashimi was buttery and smooth and the micro greens that accompanied it were perfectly crisp and refreshing.

The we got a big bowl, empty except for a big marshmallow and some Corn Nuts. Yes, Corn Nuts. The teeth shattering snack you buy at a gas station while on a long car trip. The server (in an non-theatric manner I highly appreciated) poured a sweet corn bisque into the bowl and the house made garlic marshmallow slowly melted into the soup. Holy bisque was this good! Rich, creamy soup meets a sweet and garlicky ribbon with the salty crunch of the Corn Nuts. And, as my dentist can attest, no teeth were harmed because the Corn Nuts softened a bit in the liquid.

Our third course was a bison steak with a root beer barbeque sauce. The bison (which can be really tough when overcooked) was perfectly seared and you could definitely taste the bittersweet root beer in the barbeque sauce, but to great and  uncommon effect.

Dessert was a sampling of three small chocolate bits and bites and each contained everything you want in chocolate — creamy, bitter, milky and throat-tickling without being too sweet.

The atmosphere at Graham Elliot was modern, but relaxed. The staff absolutely went out of their way to accommodate my crazy special request and were gracious and knowledgeable. The food was amazing and creative. I am only sorry it was too nice an establishment for me to feel comfortable licking the plate.

We will absolutely be back during our next visit to Chicago and would highly recommend you visit when you’re in the area. Who knows, your next meal could include Pop Rocks and truffle bubbles!

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