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Signature Room at the 95th
Chef Pat Sheerin of the Signature Room delivered in grand fashion with Berkshire pork tenderloin wrapped with Becker Lane pork belly, topped with sauce tonnato and crispy caper along with olive oil fried bread, bronze fennel, parsley, and bay radish.
Old Town Social
Chef Jared Van Camp always has about 18 different types of charcuterie on the menu at Old Town Social. Rather than bring any of those, he made a spectacularly rich chicken galantine that I would have bet and lost money on my belief it had some pork fat. The 100% chicken delight was served on a fantastic buttery, flaky and crispy biscuit.
There was a short break between the morning and afternoon sessions and I got in line for L2O a good half hour before it opened. My efforts paid off in that I avoided an even longer wait and I was one of the first to try a heavily seasoned "Tandoori" shrimp that was balanced wonderfully by a green tomato and coconut curry sauce along with pickled onion and mango.
Mercat a la Planxa
Mercat a la Planxa's Chef de Cuisine J. Michael Fiorello arrived at Millenium Park at 3 a.m. to start smoking his Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms lamb covered in a Catalan dry rub. On its own, the lamb would have been one of the best plates I had, but with the heirloom potato salad and the meaty hen of the woods mushrooms, it was in the top two or three.
Picolo Sogno B
The next time I have something that is not amazing from Piccolo Sogno, it will be a first. The Green Acres Farms squash ravioli with walnut and sage was about as good as vegetarian pasta gets.
On one hand, Chef Stephen Wambach of Epic took a risk by serving salad at an event like Chicago Gourmet. On the other, when you marinate exquisite end of the season heirloom tomatoes in ginger juice and pair it with organic seedless watermelon and French feta and top it with micro greens, the only risk is that people like me are going to take more plates than I deserved.
Chef Perry Hendrix seems to have settled in nicely at Custom House and his braised short rib sitting on cauliflower purée was melt-in-your-mouth meaty deliciousness that got a nice bit of sweet tang from excellent housemade tomato jam.
Spring delivered great flavors and multiple degrees of crunchiness with its Thai-dressed salad of shrimp, pumpkin panna cotta, shaved brussels sprouts, and almonds.
While it may not photograph as well as items on a plate, 160 Blue's little cup of spicy jumbo lump crab with gala apples and melon topped with pesto foam and micro basil held one of my two or three favorite bites at the event.
Cafe des Architectes
Cafe des Architectes made my favorite dessert of the event. The rich chocolate tart with caramel foam and spiced pears was exceptional.
Sous Chef Nathan Sears of Vie reminded all of Chicago that the trip to Western Springs is worth it with his beef liver mousse topped with hen of the woods mushrooms and a grape mostarda that provided a light sweet tang to balance the meatiness of the dish.
Oceanique kept things simple and delicious with a perfectly seared scallop and a beautiful hunk of lobster and served them with yuzu marmalade.
I was well past stuffed at the end of the second day when I got a hold of these roasted veal sweetbreads with cipollini onions and shitake mushrooms on a bed of cream spinach from Chicago Firehouse. Despite my fullness and the food's richness, I absolutely loved everything about it.
For the second consecutive year, New York-based Mercadito surprised me by delivering the best Mexican bite at Chicago Gourmet. This year it was a basic carnitas taco creatively topped with a tangy spicy cole slaw and crushed peanuts.
Les Nomades was not in either dessert pavilion but that didn't stop Chef Chris Nugent from delivering on three different desserts. The almond based macarons were superb as were the dark chocolates filled with Cinderella pumpkin ganache, but the simple and refreshing chilled fruit soup blew me away.
Province delivered some excellent seared Dietzler Farms seared flank steak along with a squash and potato salad starring vegetables from Indiana's Green Acres Farm, all of which is topped with a steak sauce. Not complex, really delicious.
The smoked sirloin with pickled chanterelle mushrooms and champagne grapes on a small pool of celery root puree seamlessly blended four distinct textures and flavors into one great small plate.
Deca Restaurant + Bar
Deca's soft and rich duck rillettes and light crisp celery root remoulade made for an excellent mix of flavor and texture.
Markethouse's Schlagel Farms shortrib bread pudding with butter-poached lobster and a foam-like eggless Béarnaise was a fantastic mix of flavors and textures.
Black Dog Gelato
The ice cream arrived late and ran out early, but those lucky enough to time it right got some excellent, albeit slightly too hard vanilla bean gelato from Black Dog Gelato topped with a concord grape and anise sauce along with crushed sunflowers.