I had a really enjoyable meal at Quince a couple weeks back. In fact, it's one I've been thinking about quite a bit since I had it. We were there on a Wednesday night; the night after a Stone Brewery dinner. I mention this because while some of the dishes in our 'ordered-in-advance' tasting menu came from Quince's regular menu, some were improvisations and riffs that incorporated ingredients that had been brought in for the brewery dinner with already exsiting menu items. Using my terrible memory, the printed menus I was given and a couple of on-line menus, I've tried to recapitulate the menu but some of the descriptions that follow might not be complete or entirely accurate . . .
It's always a treat to start out with house-baked bread and really, not enough places offer it. This was crusty, light and tasty.
Iberico-Serano Ham | green and white asparagus, young garlic, pistachio, egg
A great combination with the egg, ham-wrapped asparagus bundles and braised pistachios, which were almost meaty.
Lobster | Yukon Gold potato blini, caviar, herb cake, crab, Kaffir lime
A very well-executed pairing of luxury ingredients, including the dueling roes.
Chef Motto's chopstick set
This very cool set, which I think chef purchased in Korea, was delivered to the table in advance of our next course.
Spicy Chicken Spring Roll
I couldn't find this on any of the menus I referenced and I forgot the description that was given to us at the meal but it was really tasty, with moist, ground chicken that was pretty darned spicy. It could not have been cooked more perfectly. The wrapper was light and crispy.
Wild Alaskan Halibut | farro, peppers, roe, mushroom, winter broth
I'm pretty sure that this halibut preparation is actually on Quince's current menu (in a slightly different form) with salmon instead of halibut. I thought the fish was really nicely cooked. It flaked easily into moist pieces. The broth, farro and other components were terrific and would have made a great dish on their own.
Spicy Lamb Ravioli | Serrano ham, olive, basil, hazelnut, lavender
I absolutely loved this course. The lamb filling was essentially merguez and it brought some heat. The other elements, especially the broth, were intensely flavored and very enjoyable.
Pork Belly | daikon, mustard, cippolini, black garlic, bee pollen, floral tea, frisee
Supremely crispy on the outside and tender and unctuous in the interior, this nugget of belly was pure delight. The pollen provided a really interesting flavor note, which lingered long into the aftertaste.
Beef | bacon, cippolini, potato, horseradish, mushroom, spring peas, garlic, spinach and foie gras torchon
This crazy and awesome dish was just entirely over the top. When it arrived at the table, the first thing I said to my dining companion was that it didn't even need the beef. Sure enough, later on we were told that the tenderloin wasn't something that was normally on the menu but that it was in the house because of the previous night's dinner. I'm pretty sure the same is true of the foie. In any event, this plate was terrific. Not only was the beef tasty and cooked very nicely, but the slices of torchon added an additional level of compelling richness to the dish. The "bacon package" was actually a cippolini onion that had been cooked until sweet and soft, and filled with a mixture of potato puree and horseradish and then wrapped in bacon. That alone, along with the taut and crispy fresh peas, would have made for a substantial and successful course but I loved how this plate was built to pure excess mode.
Vanilla Mascarpone Cheesecake | lemon sabayon, pistachios, blackberry sorbet
A great and refreshing first dessert. The cheesecake was dense enough to satisfy but wasn't overly heavy. The tart and sweet sorbet complemented it perfectly.
Chocolate Crêpes | dark chocolate, white chocolate, candied lime zest, raspberry, chocolate ice cream
After the previous course, I was thinking that a little bit of chocolate would be a perfect end to the meal. Almost as soon as I thought it, this plate arrived and completely delivered on my "need" for chocolate. These tender and flavorful chocolate crepes, filled with white and dark chocolate, were sensational. I think the ice cream may have been another add-on. This really scratched the itch.
Mignardise - Chocolate Chip Cookies and Cold Vanilla Milk
Ok, so we weren't quite done. This little "final" dessert was brought out. The cookies were delicious and the ice cold vanilla milk was a great accompaniment. I was extremely full and didn't finish either but it wasn't because they weren't great.
At the end of the meal we received 2 additional surprises. First, even though I knew that I wouldn't be paying (my friend was taking care of the bill to pay me back for another recent meal at which I treated), it turns out that our entire meal was comped. My friend does some occasional work for The Homestead (the hotel in which Quince is located). From time to time, he told me, they discount his tabs but he'd never had them take care of the entire bill. We didn't know exactly what to do and asked if we could pay. We were told that the "comp order" came from the top and that it was non-negotiable. So, we left a tip equal to about 50% of what the bill would have been and hoped it would be enough. I want to stress that I absolutely loved this meal and would have come here and written about it regardless of what we were charged. I felt no obligation to report other than that of wanting to share what I thought was a great dining experience -- the best one I can remember ever having at Quince...and I've had some great meals at Quince.
The second surprise was that chef Motto wasn't even in the house on this night. Our entire meal was prepared by Sous Chef Josef Dugolenski, who can really throw down. I am of the firm belief that a great chef doesn't need to be in the kitchen for that kitchen to turn out truly representative food. A great chef is a leader whose team can complete their mission with or without him or her. This is certainly the case at Quince, especially, it seems, with Mr. Dugolenski in the kitchen. Now clearly, many of the dishes we enjoyed were of chef Motto's creation but the execution of those dishes -- and the improvisations on them -- were all from the hand and mind of Mr. Dogulenski, and I'm delighted to have experienced his imagination so intimately and intensely on this particular night.
It had been a while since I'd been to Quince. The friend with whom I shared this meal had told me in advance that Quince was really doing some great things these days. He couldn't have been more accurate and I look forward to getting back there asap.
Quince (at the Homestead)
1625 Hinman Ave
Evanston, IL 60201