Though he isn’t on National TV (aside from an appearance on Top Chef Season 4) Chicago’s Paul Kahan has legions of followers that flock to his restaurants Blackbird, Avec, and The Publican. Instead of coming because they saw him on the Food Network (like so many places these days) people love Kahan’s restaurants because of the food.
I first heard of Kahan in an old interview Michael Nagrant did on his Hungry Magazine podcast. (It was Nagrant’s podcast that also introduced me to Graham Elliot Bowles while he was racking up accolades at Avenues.) Ever since I heard that interview I have been hoping to dine at Blackbird. Well last week I was in Chicago and finally had the opportunity to head over there for lunch.
I was dining solo so I called ahead and reserved a spot at the bar. I ordered a Goose Island Matilda Belgian ale and perused the menu. While I really wanted to try the duck tartare and the pork belly sandwich, that $22 menu was calling my name so decided on three dishes from the list of available options. There were two appetizer, two entree, and two dessert options to select from. You could also substitute your appetizer course with the soup of the day, which was a butternut squash bisque. I ordered that along with a grilled sturgeon dish and a grape sorbet.
They brought out two slices of bread with some great butter that had been sprinkled with some spices, salt, and rosemary. Shortly after I finished the bread the soup arrived. The butternut squash soup was creamy but as my server told me when I asked about it, there is no cream in the dish. That texture is the result of cashews that had been blended with the soup. They added creaminess as well as a great nutty flavor to compliment the nutty tasting squash. It was flawless. The soup was poured at the table (or in my case the bar) over two pieces of smoked white tuna and some herbs, and some crunchy bits of something (I cannot remember what they were) Each spoonful revealed new flavors combinations. The smoked white tuna was simply incredible. Still raw like sashimi, it had been cold smoked to the point of having the perfect amount of smoke while still retaining the freshness you come to expect with raw fish. Seriously this may have been the best bowl of soup I have ever eaten.
The second course was Wood-grilled California sturgeon with zucchini, pickled red onions, zucchini bread and candied olives. It was another home run. I had never tried sturgeon so I was very excited for this. The sturgeon was perfectly cooked and seasoned and had the distinct flavor only achieved from wood grilling. It was moist and flaky and so tender that it almost melted in my mouth. Thin strips of zucchini sat atop the sturgeon. Tiny croutons of bright green zucchini bread were mixed in with the dish and there was a nice white sauce tying everything together. The candied olives added a little more salt, bitterness, and crunch to the dish. All I can say about this course was “wow.”
I was initially unenthused with the two options for dessert which included a concord grape sorbet or a warm spice bread with candied carrots, pickled gold raisins, and saffron ice cream. I decided on the concord grape sorbet because it was somewhat warm outside and figured it would be a refreshing way to end my meal. It was. The sorbet was bursting with concord grape flavor and it sat atop some crunchy candied peanuts. After one bite I had my “a-ha!” moment when I realized I was pretty much eating a reinterpreted version of Peanut Butter & Jelly. Every bite reminded me of a my childhood lunchtime favorite. Another killer dish.
Seriously this lunch at Blackbird was out of this world and at 22 bucks you’d have to be insane to not check it out if you are in Chicago. They offer a $100 tasting menu at dinner which, given the excellence of this three course lunch I had, may also be quite a deal.
Service was friendly and attentive. Everyone there seemed genuinely excited to talk about the food. Blackbird is located at 619 W. Randolph in Chicago, IL, 60661. Their phone number is 312-715-0708 and their website is www.blackbirdrestaurant.com.