Food and Wine, Oh Yeah!
By Caroline Clough in Food on Nov 17, 2006 4:51PM
The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art hosted Food & Wine magazine's eighth annual Entertaining Showcase this past Wednesday. Chicagoist is sure that there were members of the Chicago social elite in attendance, though we couldn't tell you who they were, what they looked like or what made them so gosh darned elite. This ignorance didn't stop us from enjoying, nay, revelling in the many tasty treats offered to us by some of the best chefs in town or the copious number of wines we were encouraged to sip.
After checking our coats and taking a small bag of fresh parmesan potato chips from one of the many servers wandering about, we made our way up the MCA's curving staircase. At the top of the stairs we were faced with a long hallway lined with tables, bright lights and many (many, many) well-dressed people politely queuing, jostling and jockeying for the chance to try bite-sized samples prepared by chefs from restaurants including Alinea, Avenues, Mas, Moto and Spring. Chicagoist won't lie to you, we were definitely overwhelmed — moreso when we realized that it wasn't just one long aisle of tables, but three. And in addition to the indoor space, the event spilled out into a heated tent-type structure that housed even more wine and restaurant tables.
But enough about the atmosphere. What really matters is the food, and there was plenty of it. There were at least twenty restaurants represented in the showcase, and Chicagoist managed to try most all of their offerings.
Alinea's presentation (below) was, as usual, dramatic and appealing. Their offering was extremely thin bacon wrapped in butterscotch. We have never been to Alinea, but we bought, perhaps too much, into its hype, and because of this their treat (though definitely flavorful) wasn't as fantastic as we expected.
Our favorite item of the night was the quail egg ravioli with truffle shavings provided by Schwa Restaurant. It reminded of us of just how much (a whole heck of a lot) we love the taste of truffles. Paired with the quail egg (a surprise wrapped up in pasta) was just amazing; seriously, we tried to go back and get another one, but they had run out.
Another favorite was Avenues' smoked vichysoisse with chive marshmallow. We wondered what, exactly, the ratio of soup to marshmallow would be in a full serving of the dish, and then decided that any ratio would work, it was that tasty.
Of course, we can't (or won't) tell you every single thing we tasted, but among our other favorites were 312 Chicago's lamb tortellini with truffles, Blackbird's smoked (or perhaps it was cured?) salmon with persimmon yogurt, and Vie's duck with cracklins. Also notable were Del Toro's skewered meat and cheese in pork consomme, Scylla's seared tuna with olive salad, and MK's chocolate bundt cake with peppermint shake. Chicagoist was definitely surprised by the number of smoked, cured or otherwise cold salmon dishes on display (at least five). We couldn't help wondering how pissed the respective chefs were about this turn of events, especially since a number of these dishes were being served right next to one another. At the third salmon table we approached we overheard a woman sigh and say "more salmon?" then walk away without taking a bite. That couldn't have felt very good for the chef.
Not everything made us want seconds. Moto's "transmogrified" blinis, though prepared in a novel way (dry ice, it seemed), lacked any compelling flavor. Butter's signature martini was a disappointment, especially after waiting ten minutes to get it. Trotter's To Go's "jellies," though interesting in appearance and flavor combination (basil and chocolate, apple and wasabi, etc.), also didn't quite do it for us.
If you happen to be flush with cash next year, around this time, you should check this event out. A percentage of the proceeds goes to Second Harvest, the food is excellent, and you (more than likely) will come away with a gift bag. And who doesn't love a gift bag?
Vichysoisse photograph courtesy of Laura Oppenheimer.