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Schwa: I Was There When

Schwa: I Was There When
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  • Post #61 - April 18th, 2007, 10:03 am
    Post #61 - April 18th, 2007, 10:03 am Post #61 - April 18th, 2007, 10:03 am
    after playing phone tag w/ the Schwa team for over a month... i finally accepted a reservation for t'row. in the midst of excitement for being allowed to dine here, i greedily accepted any time slot. except i couldn't make the date. stupid me.

    so i turned down a Schwa reservation but ACTUALLY GOT THROUGH THE PHONES THIS MORNING to confirm the cancellation. that's ALMOST as good as tasting their food. i think.

    just read New City's piece on the Schwa team and came to this conclusion: bonsoiree = half the price * (Schwa - celebrity chef)
  • Post #62 - April 18th, 2007, 10:23 am
    Post #62 - April 18th, 2007, 10:23 am Post #62 - April 18th, 2007, 10:23 am
    Tony!

    Those reservations are like gold! We should have an eBay-like forum where reservations can be bought and sold. I would have been delighted to be TonyC for the night (whether you would have been so glad, who knows?).

    Jim-in-Logan-Square, his lovely SO, and I had dinner at Bonsoiree - and it was very successful (and, as you note, about half the price). It doesn't make sense to say that it was half-the-quality; these things can't be measured, but if they could be, I would say that Bonsoiree is 80% of the quality (taste and visual appeal more successful than textures), and the menu has five courses, not nine. So, do the math.

    If Chicago's culinary scene was shaped two years ago by restaurants (Alinea, Moto, Avenues) known for Molecular Cuisine/Cuisine Agape; today Chicago's culinary scene is shaped by Nouvelle Storefront, as reflected in Schwa, Sweets and Savories, and Bonsoiree in that order and along that price continuum.
  • Post #63 - April 18th, 2007, 11:20 am
    Post #63 - April 18th, 2007, 11:20 am Post #63 - April 18th, 2007, 11:20 am
    GAF wrote:Those reservations are like gold! We should have an eBay-like forum where reservations can be bought and sold.

    There is exactly such a service in New York City, called PrimeTimeTables.com. It was featured in an article in the New York Times in January (click here; subscription required) entitled "Now, for $35, an Insider’s Access to Hot Tables" by Kim Severson.
  • Post #64 - April 18th, 2007, 11:33 am
    Post #64 - April 18th, 2007, 11:33 am Post #64 - April 18th, 2007, 11:33 am
    GAF wrote:Those reservations are like gold! We should have an eBay-like forum where reservations can be bought and sold.


    Ack, Gary, please... it's already being done and it's awful. I understand there are a couple of "services" in NY that make reservations under false names and sell them. Restaurant reservations are headed in the direction of event tickets... seats only for those who are willing to (or can) pay brokers. This is not a concept that needs support.
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #65 - April 18th, 2007, 11:52 am
    Post #65 - April 18th, 2007, 11:52 am Post #65 - April 18th, 2007, 11:52 am
    Just place a " :twisted: " next to my comment above. That was my intent.
  • Post #66 - April 18th, 2007, 1:33 pm
    Post #66 - April 18th, 2007, 1:33 pm Post #66 - April 18th, 2007, 1:33 pm
    The Wall Street Journal had an article on hard to get reservations (Alinea, Schwa, Tru and Frontera were mentioned) about 3 weeks ago that also mentioned that service. I was glad to see, though, that even the hard to get reservations were not impossible to get (unlike Rao's or Graydon Carter's place in New York, Tavern Down My Nose or whatever it's called) and the management of said places were all eager to tell you how to have the best shot at getting one, thus confirming my longstanding reverse-prejudice that Chicago, even at its worst, resists the most egregious forms of coastal snobbery and oneupsmanship...
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  • Post #67 - April 18th, 2007, 3:27 pm
    Post #67 - April 18th, 2007, 3:27 pm Post #67 - April 18th, 2007, 3:27 pm
    Although I agree that Schwa does get booked up quickly, I wouldn't say reservations are hard to get. I called and asked for the "next available" slot that would fit the # in my party, and had one booked for the following Thursday. I know not everyone can fit their lives around a reservation schedule, but if you want it bad enough and can be flexible, reservations can be got with little, or no, effort. Just ask for the next available.
  • Post #68 - April 19th, 2007, 12:07 am
    Post #68 - April 19th, 2007, 12:07 am Post #68 - April 19th, 2007, 12:07 am
    I was at Schwa tonight and I'll say that the crew definitely seemed refreshed from their recent time off. We had the 10-course tasting menu and it was very delicious all the way through. It had been several months since my last visit and just about everything was new to me.

    I'll post more details asap but a few stand-out dishes were the sweetbreads with puree of smoked red plum, fresh plum salad, marshmallow and queso de Valdeon. Wow! Also, I'd never had lamb belly before but a crisp and tender square of it was served, along with some lamb loin cooked en sous vide. That lamb course, which was accented with root beer flavors and green curry was fantastic. Another wonderful and innovative dish really pre-delivered spring (at least in advance of spring-like weather) combining ramps, morels and fresh fava beans.

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #69 - May 1st, 2007, 10:42 pm
    Post #69 - May 1st, 2007, 10:42 pm Post #69 - May 1st, 2007, 10:42 pm
    Dined at Schwa this evening. Must say, I was a little concerned that the quail egg ravioli couldn't possibly live up to expectations -- but it exceded them. Wow. Taste and texture double whammy.

    Everything was lovely, imaginative, artistically presented, and tasty.

    One of the things that endeared the place to me was the enthusiasm of the staff -- all three of them. One could see them bustling in the kitchen, and there was real joy in their faces when, after they brought the food to the table, we exhibited our enthusiasm for the food.

    The exterior is not a place that would suggest the experience that awaits inside. Just a lovely meal, very satisfying and very creative -- a real delight.
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #70 - May 1st, 2007, 11:46 pm
    Post #70 - May 1st, 2007, 11:46 pm Post #70 - May 1st, 2007, 11:46 pm
    I agree, the enthusiasm and passion of the chefs and kitchen staff is one of the great thrills of our first dining experience at Schwa (on March 5th).

    Despite the BYOB designation, they are clearly interested in the food-wine pairings. We had brought along two bottles (a sparkling and a food-friendly white, per the many suggestions here and from the chefs when we called for the reservation) and had offered them all tastings of our bottles. For the lobster course, they brought out a glass of pinot noir they had in the back. He brushed it off as "it's just a normal pinot, but the chef thought you might like it with the lobster" and poured us each a glass. Of course, it was a fantastic pairing.

    The friendliness wasn't cloying, it was genuine, and I think they enjoyed the fact that I was taking photos of the food and that we were clearly relishing and discussing each dish in detail, asking questions, etc. In fact, at the end of our meal, they presented us with a menu signed by all four guys in the kitchen. It's displayed in my office, a great memory of a wonderful meal and proof that "I was there when..."
    "Whatever you are, be a good one." -Abraham Lincoln
  • Post #71 - May 2nd, 2007, 8:38 am
    Post #71 - May 2nd, 2007, 8:38 am Post #71 - May 2nd, 2007, 8:38 am
    Cynthia wrote:. . . Must say, I was a little concerned that the quail egg ravioli couldn't possibly live up to expectations -- but it exceded them. Wow. Taste and texture double whammy.

    I hate to say it, but --- I told you so.

    The truth is, I am envious. It's been more than a year . . .
    Man : I can't understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.
    T. S. Eliot: Ah, but you're not a poet.
  • Post #72 - May 6th, 2007, 8:38 pm
    Post #72 - May 6th, 2007, 8:38 pm Post #72 - May 6th, 2007, 8:38 pm
    I was lucky enough to get into Schwa a couple weeks back, right after the crew returned from their time off in New York. A friend had scored a Wednesday-night reservation and offered one of the seats to me. It had been about 8 months since my last visit and with the exception of the heaven-sent quail egg ravioli, the menu was entirely new to me.

    As was alluded to above, Chef Carlson along with Nathan, Blake and the rest of the crew display the kind of genuine hospitality that is a natural offshoot of loving what one does in life. They are sincere and eager to please in ways that cannot be faked. Dining at Schwa is a joy not only because the food is so good but also because its vibe is so sweet. When you sit in the dining room at Schwa, you know that you're being fed by men who take pride in what they do -- and those other 25 diners in the room are as happy to be there as you are. No one just stumbles into Schwa.

    It's probably not meaningful for me to comment on the evolution of specific dishes at Schwa because I haven't dined there frequently enough to have an adequate perspective. However, this meal was quite a departure from my last meal at Schwa. The biggest difference I noticed was the resourceful and innovative pairing of sweet and savory components in some dishes. Again, this an anecdotal observation based on nothing more than my last 2 meals at Schwa.

    peas & carrots
    This was a fun dish, which was a clever departure from the peas and carrots that most of us grew up with. Here, small pieces of crunchy, Thai-style pickled carrot were served in a small bowl along with an ultra-thin sheet of pea-wasabi 'nori' that crunched first and then melted in the mouth. It was delicious and the contrast between it and the tangy carrot was wonderful.

    oysters
    This is a dish that I never would have expected at Schwa. It combined lightly-breaded and flash-fried kumamato (iirc) oysters with rich, gooey oatmeal that had been laced with Blis maple syrup and studded with plump, warm raisins. Also served with this was a raw oyster shooter in a tiny shotglass at the top corner of the plate. This seemingly wacked-out combination really worked. The oatmeal and oysters complemented each other very well and the sweet accents provided by the maple and the raisins rounded out the dish nicely. Who knew?

    fava
    This may have been my favorite dish of the entire meal. It was basically early spring on a plate; a delicious salad of fresh favas, ramps and morels served with a demitasse of warm fava soup that had been laced with black truffle. I could have had this one again and again.

    quail egg ravioli
    I'm not sure what else can be said about this spectacular and sublime dish. It's hearty and delicate all at once. The combination of ricotta, quail egg, parmigiano reggiano, brown butter and black truffle is one of the most delicious I've ever experienced.

    steelhead caviar
    This was another dish which reflected the perceived change I mentioned above and again, it was quite successful. Here, sake-cured steelhead roe was combined with pinenut puree and topped with yuzu foam and barnacles. I was surprised by how well the roe worked with the intensely earthy pine nut. Its saltiness cut through each spoonful of puree magnificently, almost like a spotlight through a dense fog. It was almost as if you needed the roe on your tongue to illuminate the depth of the nutty puree. The barnacles were chewy, briney and delicious and the yuzu accented the other components terrifically.

    halibut cheeks
    These tender cheeks, cooked en sous vide and served with dual sauces of meyer lemon and basil, over artichoke confit, were terrific. Again, the meyer lemon sauce was very sweet but it combined well with the basil which muted the sweetness a bit. Together they formed a solid background for the aromatic fish. The artichokes were tasty in their own right and provided a nice textural contrast with the cheeks.

    sweetbreads
    The best sweetbreads I've ever had were at my last Schwa meal and these were nearly as good. Here, piping hot nuggets of lightly-coated and sauteed sweetbread were served with various plum elements, including a brightly-flavored salad of fresh and juicy, ultra-thin slices and a remarkable smoked puree. These elements were grounded masterfully by a portion of pungent queso de valderon at the bottom of the bowl. I loved the way the sweetbreads combined with the smokey puree. They almost tasted like bacon nuggets when dipped in it. Wow!!

    lamb
    Strips of succulent lamb loin, cooked en sous vide, and a square of delectable, braised, crispy lamb belly, which I'd never tasted before, were served together with green curry and root beer flavors. Both lamb cuts were terrific and the house-made root beer highlighted the meat well. The lamb belly was absolutely delicious and really concentrated in rich, lamb flavor.

    cheese
    Next up was a bite of savory, humboldt fog cheesecake with grains of paradise crust and pear emulsion. HF is probably my favorite blue of all time, so I really loved this clever and delicious bite. It was delightfully odd to be eating a piece of cheesecake with the flavor of humboldt fog. And I really loved the the sweet pear emulsion in the immediate background.

    dessert
    We were served a couple of dessert plates that were novel and delicious. The first was a uniquely-sweet beet semifreddo with bacon and chocolate. These components worked well together and the normally-savory components paired up remarkably well with the sweet ones. The second dessert, warm soft-pretzels with honey-mustard, dates and tumeric ice cream was also delicious. The pretzels were perfectly tender inside and released steam when we cracked into their shells. And the honey mustard was compelling. The turmeric ice cream made me laugh at first because of the way it echoed and amplified a similar note in the honey mustard. A very fun dish.

    There was so much more to our meal and most of it had only peripherally to do with food. As I mentioned above, dining at Schwa is special. There is an immediacy to the experience that is unique -- and that immediacy adds to the excitement. But if the food weren't fantastic, none of that would matter. Schwa is an artist's studio where private performances are served and eaten nightly. It is an intensely personal experience that never feels intrusive. It's so much like being a guest at a friend's home, that you feel like you should offer to help clear the table when the meal's over. Of course, not too many of us have friends who can cook like this.

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #73 - May 6th, 2007, 9:29 pm
    Post #73 - May 6th, 2007, 9:29 pm Post #73 - May 6th, 2007, 9:29 pm
    What a great report!
    I did not know that humboldt fog had a blue cheese. I really like the goat cheese but will be on the look out for the blue.
  • Post #74 - May 6th, 2007, 9:57 pm
    Post #74 - May 6th, 2007, 9:57 pm Post #74 - May 6th, 2007, 9:57 pm
    mhill95149 wrote:What a great report!
    I did not know that humboldt fog had a blue cheese. I really like the goat cheese but will be on the look out for the blue.

    Actually, don't quote me on that. I think it was just standard HF, which I tend to count erroneuouly as blue because of the line of ash and the ripe pungency.

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #75 - May 6th, 2007, 11:25 pm
    Post #75 - May 6th, 2007, 11:25 pm Post #75 - May 6th, 2007, 11:25 pm
    So what's the price on a meal here? They don't seem to have them online and everyone talks about them being a good value compared with its competitors but no one ever lists the prices.

    How hard is it to get reservations. I'd consider it for our Tuesday night dinner, resulting in three meals in a row of a type of fine dining impossible to score in Portland, two of which would be molecular grammography, given their names.
  • Post #76 - May 6th, 2007, 11:27 pm
    Post #76 - May 6th, 2007, 11:27 pm Post #76 - May 6th, 2007, 11:27 pm
    Very difficult to get reservations. You might get lucky calling for a cancellation, but in general they're fully booked 1-2 months in advance.

    The larger tasting menu is $100, and it's BYOB.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #77 - May 6th, 2007, 11:31 pm
    Post #77 - May 6th, 2007, 11:31 pm Post #77 - May 6th, 2007, 11:31 pm
    The price has gone up to $105 for the "big" menu, as they identified it on the bill. And there is a $5 per table corkage fee, if you take wine.
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #78 - May 6th, 2007, 11:49 pm
    Post #78 - May 6th, 2007, 11:49 pm Post #78 - May 6th, 2007, 11:49 pm
    So is there an option besides the "big" menu?
  • Post #79 - May 6th, 2007, 11:55 pm
    Post #79 - May 6th, 2007, 11:55 pm Post #79 - May 6th, 2007, 11:55 pm
    Funny... I never had difficulty making reservations, provided I wasn't picky about what night we went. It is my experience, however, that they're horrible about returning messages. My advice would be to call every day in the neighborhood of 2-3 until somebody happens to pick up. Worked for me.
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #80 - May 7th, 2007, 9:35 am
    Post #80 - May 7th, 2007, 9:35 am Post #80 - May 7th, 2007, 9:35 am
    I had the ten-course meal on Saturday and was very pleased. After reading all the glowing reviews, I was almost expecting to be disappointed.

    I had the same menu that ronnie_suburban posted about, except that the oysters were said to be kusshi oysters, and not kumamoto. They were my favorite dish, with most of the others tied for second. =)

    I posted pictures of dishes here.

    One slightly disappointing aspect is that some items on the smaller menu are not included in the ten-course menu. For example, I would have liked to try the sunchoke soup and sablefish, which were only options on the four-course menu. I guess that just gives me an excuse to come back soon!

    I called today to make a reservation for mid-June and it looks like they are keeping a waiting list for Friday and Saturdays. They also said that they are only open on select Saturdays. I was able to get a late Monday reservation.

    There are two meal options: the four-course meal is $55 and the ten-course meal is $105. Also, corkage is $2.50 per person (so $10 for our party of 4).

    One other practical note I would add is to leave time for parking. There is no valet parking, and the neighborhood has permit parking. I ended up parking about 3 blocks away on a Saturday night.
  • Post #81 - May 7th, 2007, 2:13 pm
    Post #81 - May 7th, 2007, 2:13 pm Post #81 - May 7th, 2007, 2:13 pm
    mepp wrote:I had the same menu that ronnie_suburban posted about, except that the oysters were said to be kusshi oysters, and not kumamoto. They were my favorite dish, with most of the others tied for second. =)

    Yes, that definitely rings a bell. Thanks for the clarification.

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #82 - May 7th, 2007, 5:24 pm
    Post #82 - May 7th, 2007, 5:24 pm Post #82 - May 7th, 2007, 5:24 pm
    One more annoying question: does everyone in a party have to order the same meal?
  • Post #83 - May 7th, 2007, 5:30 pm
    Post #83 - May 7th, 2007, 5:30 pm Post #83 - May 7th, 2007, 5:30 pm
    They strongly request it, although I'm not 100% sure that it's a firm rule.
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #84 - May 7th, 2007, 5:32 pm
    Post #84 - May 7th, 2007, 5:32 pm Post #84 - May 7th, 2007, 5:32 pm
    extramsg wrote:One more annoying question: does everyone in a party have to order the same meal?


    Yes. When I went, my friend and I had already decided to do the bigger tour. There was another table of 5 people with women openly discussing what to do. I later asked the waiter how did they pace the meal if someone has 5-courses and the other has 10-courses? He said that is why the whole table has to be on the same page. The bells-and-whistles stuff like the quail's egg ravioli are on the 10-course.

    BTW - I know earlier you commented you were planning to go to Alinea, did you get reservations? I was there on Saturday night. I hope to post about it in the next day or so, so avoid my post if you want to maintain some element of surprise.

    Enjoy your visit.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
    Facebook, Twitter, Greater Midwest Foodways, Road Food 2012: Podcast
  • Post #85 - May 7th, 2007, 6:32 pm
    Post #85 - May 7th, 2007, 6:32 pm Post #85 - May 7th, 2007, 6:32 pm
    Cathy2 wrote:
    BTW - I know earlier you commented you were planning to go to Alinea, did you get reservations? I was there on Saturday night. I hope to post about it in the next day or so, so avoid my post if you want to maintain some element of surprise.


    When you post on Alinea can you make some comparisons between it and Schwa? I know Alinea is much more expensive, but are the two in terms of food quality comprable?
  • Post #86 - May 7th, 2007, 7:22 pm
    Post #86 - May 7th, 2007, 7:22 pm Post #86 - May 7th, 2007, 7:22 pm
    pugsley wrote:
    Cathy2 wrote:
    BTW - I know earlier you commented you were planning to go to Alinea, did you get reservations? I was there on Saturday night. I hope to post about it in the next day or so, so avoid my post if you want to maintain some element of surprise.


    When you post on Alinea can you make some comparisons between it and Schwa? I know Alinea is much more expensive, but are the two in terms of food quality comprable?


    I would say that the food quality is comparable (I like the food at Alinea more, but not that much more), but the two restaurants are completely different experiences (service, atmosphere, etc). In fact, I don't think they could be any more different.
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #87 - May 7th, 2007, 7:32 pm
    Post #87 - May 7th, 2007, 7:32 pm Post #87 - May 7th, 2007, 7:32 pm
    HI,

    I have to agree with jsteinf that Alinea and Schwa are different dining experiences. I know there is one person who posts here who has been to both in the last week.

    Regards,
    CAthy
  • Post #88 - May 7th, 2007, 7:39 pm
    Post #88 - May 7th, 2007, 7:39 pm Post #88 - May 7th, 2007, 7:39 pm
    I agree. The quality is superlative at Schwa, with just as many sustainably grown or organic items as on the Alinea menu. I, too, prefer Alinea, but I loved Schwa. The enthusiasm and dedication of the chefs is probably fairly parallel -- though it's more evident at Schwa, because the chef and cooks serve you, and you can see their faces light up when you rave. But the differences are significant: blaring rap music vs. quiet, cooks dashing out vs. ultra-polished service with myriad waiters and a sommelier at hand, hip vs. elegant. Both experiences are huge fun, but they are different. Also, regarding the food, the word that kept coming to mind is that the food at Schwa is "softer." There is a gentleness to it. At Schwa, the music is louder, but the food is quieter. At Alinea, the food shouts.

    I'd say try both. They're both outstanding. Alinea is better, but the comparison reminds me of something Pierre Pollin (original owner of Le Titi de Paris) once said to me, "I may be second best, but being second to Le Français is not a bad place to be."
    "All great change in America begins at the dinner table." Ronald Reagan

    http://midwestmaize.wordpress.com
  • Post #89 - June 5th, 2007, 12:47 pm
    Post #89 - June 5th, 2007, 12:47 pm Post #89 - June 5th, 2007, 12:47 pm
    For folks interested in going to Schwa in the next couple of months - I talked to them today and they said they are fully booked through June and will be closed all of July.
  • Post #90 - June 5th, 2007, 2:04 pm
    Post #90 - June 5th, 2007, 2:04 pm Post #90 - June 5th, 2007, 2:04 pm
    I just heard that Nathan left Schwa. Does anyone know if this is true? I sure hope it is not. If so, anyone know where he went? Please tell me this is not the beginning of the end for my favorite restaurant.

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