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Schwa: I Was There When

Schwa: I Was There When
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  • Post #31 - October 18th, 2006, 12:39 pm
    Post #31 - October 18th, 2006, 12:39 pm Post #31 - October 18th, 2006, 12:39 pm
    we had three bottles of wine for three people and it worked out perfectly.
  • Post #32 - October 18th, 2006, 1:14 pm
    Post #32 - October 18th, 2006, 1:14 pm Post #32 - October 18th, 2006, 1:14 pm
    Hi,

    Our reservation was for 5:30. We left by 8 PM at the latest. Of course we were the earliest arrivals with fairly light duty for a while. They seem to pace new arrivals on the half hour, which means you could be there during peak capacity that may slow their pacing.

    I'm so glad I did not take the 9:30 reservation I was offered.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #33 - October 18th, 2006, 1:35 pm
    Post #33 - October 18th, 2006, 1:35 pm Post #33 - October 18th, 2006, 1:35 pm
    Thanks to everyone for such quick responses!

    I'm bringing three bottles as per their recommendation of a sparkling, a white, and a red, but there's only two of us, so I think we probably won't drink all of all three bottles. :wink: I'm bringing a cava from New Mexico, a Maconnais, and a Crozes-Hermitage. (All very affordable--hopefully very drinkable as well.) I'm very excited!

    I'll report back tomorrow.
    Anthony Bourdain on Barack Obama: "He's from Chicago, so he knows what good food is."
  • Post #34 - October 18th, 2006, 2:23 pm
    Post #34 - October 18th, 2006, 2:23 pm Post #34 - October 18th, 2006, 2:23 pm
    geli wrote:I'm bringing a cava from New Mexico

    Liz,

    I'm curious about this, as I've never heard of a cava from NM. Would you mind telling the maker and where you bought it?

    Thanks, Kristen.
  • Post #35 - October 18th, 2006, 4:36 pm
    Post #35 - October 18th, 2006, 4:36 pm Post #35 - October 18th, 2006, 4:36 pm
    The maker is most likely Gruet. I would call it sparkling wine. It is a decent sparkler with a big production and widely available (Sams and Binnys for sure) for about $12-13 a bottle. They make a few different styles (blancs de noir, demi-sec, brut). It's not the best bottle of sparkling wine around, but it's not the worst either. It is a reasonably good value.
  • Post #36 - October 18th, 2006, 7:30 pm
    Post #36 - October 18th, 2006, 7:30 pm Post #36 - October 18th, 2006, 7:30 pm
    Just so we're clear: they make Cava in Spain. They make Champagne in France. We make neither in the US ;) There are lovely sparkling wines in the US, but they are their own thing, with their own name.
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
    but it CHANGES THE WORLD for that one dog.
    American Brittany Rescue always needs foster homes. Please think about helping that one dog. http://www.americanbrittanyrescue.org
  • Post #37 - October 19th, 2006, 12:24 pm
    Post #37 - October 19th, 2006, 12:24 pm Post #37 - October 19th, 2006, 12:24 pm
    It was indeed Gruet.

    From Sam's website:
    WS 87 points - Full-bodied, flavorful, mouthfilling bubbly with layers of bold, fresh fruit flavors accented by butter and vanilla and vivid acidity


    And it's officially a "champagne-method sparkling wine". I don't know why, but "sparkling wine" sounds so cheesy to me, and I know better than to call it a champagne, so Cava was just my go-to word. :oops:

    It's one of my favorite sparkling wines in its price range. We tried to keep our wines on the inexpensive side, since we knew we'd be spending $95 for our meal alone. The Gruet was the only bottle that we drank in its entirety; we left a half of each of the red and the white for the kitchen.

    As for the meal...it was great. So many people have already posted in wonderful detail, so I'll just mention a few things. One course was beef three ways: braised, raw, and pickled. The braised beef was meltingly tender, dark, and (I think) flavored with fennel. Or anise, sometimes I can't tell the difference. (I know they told us, but I was too busy anticipating what I was going to put in my mouth next to retain any actual information.) The raw beef was tartare with a quail egg on top, and the pickled beef was tongue. I've never had tongue before, since I'm a chicken, but damn it was good. I also got to eat my dinner companion's tongue (for shame, Liz, this is a family friendly forum!) since she was even more chicken than I am. It tasted like unbelievably tender pastrami. Is this usual? Do I officially like tongue now, or just the tongue at Schwa? And on that note, do I also like sweetbreads now, or just the Sweetbreads at Schwa? Have they successfully turned me into an organ eater?

    There were several courses that have not been mentioned in this forum, along with some that have (the quail egg ravioli, the proscuitto, and the lobster), and the menu on their website is definitely out of date, so if anyone is worried about having the same meal that they had a few months ago, worry no more and getcher reservations ASAP. I will go out on a very short, sturdy limb to agree that Schwa surely can't exist for very much longer in its current incarnation.

    Oh, and on a wine note: sparkling is definitely the best choice if you want only one bottle of wine; if you bring only two make the second one white, red was barely necessary, although pleasant to have. And I wouldn't advise bringing any bottle that is "big" flavor-wise or needs to be the focus of attention, as the wine is absolutely secondary to the food.
    Anthony Bourdain on Barack Obama: "He's from Chicago, so he knows what good food is."
  • Post #38 - October 19th, 2006, 12:42 pm
    Post #38 - October 19th, 2006, 12:42 pm Post #38 - October 19th, 2006, 12:42 pm
    We're headed to Schwa on December 6th. We rarely ever drink, and we will barely finish one bottle of wine between us, so what I'm really looking for right now is a suggestion for a good sparkler to bring, in the, say, $30-50 range. If you guys tell me Veuve yellow label, that's fine with me, but I'm happy to hear some other suggestions.

    Beth would probably prefer a sec or demi-sec to a brut, but I'd rather go with whatever is best :)

    Thanks!
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #39 - October 19th, 2006, 2:08 pm
    Post #39 - October 19th, 2006, 2:08 pm Post #39 - October 19th, 2006, 2:08 pm
    geli wrote:It was indeed Gruet.


    Thanks for the info. I'm a fan of the Gruet wines as well and was hoping there was another NM winery I'd been missing! You meal sounds fantastic, thanks for posting details.
  • Post #40 - October 19th, 2006, 3:31 pm
    Post #40 - October 19th, 2006, 3:31 pm Post #40 - October 19th, 2006, 3:31 pm
    gleam wrote:what I'm really looking for right now is a suggestion for a good sparkler to bring, in the, say, $30-50 range.


    I'm a big fan of pink sparklers

    One thought would be to bring a half bottle and upgrade your quality. I did this one year when my wife was pregnant, and I'm sure glad I did, because I probably wouldn't have ponied up for a full bottle of Billecart-Salmon's non-vintage rose. A half bottle can be had at $35 at Sam's, though.

    I also have really enjoyed, at a somewhat lower price point, an Australian pinkish sparkler called Taltarni. When I bought it, it had some "30th Anniversary" edition label, or some such. Don't know if that has anything to do with quality or not. I bought it at Fox and Obel, pretty sure it's also available next door at Uncorkit!, and it was about $20. Really delicious.
  • Post #41 - October 19th, 2006, 5:20 pm
    Post #41 - October 19th, 2006, 5:20 pm Post #41 - October 19th, 2006, 5:20 pm
    Aaron Deacon wrote:
    gleam wrote:what I'm really looking for right now is a suggestion for a good sparkler to bring, in the, say, $30-50 range.


    I'm a big fan of pink sparklers

    One thought would be to bring a half bottle and upgrade your quality. I did this one year when my wife was pregnant, and I'm sure glad I did, because I probably wouldn't have ponied up for a full bottle of Billecart-Salmon's non-vintage rose. A half bottle can be had at $35 at Sam's, though.


    I'm with Aaron on this for sure. At a lower price point, Nicholas Feiullette (I know I am spelling that wrong, and it's so wrong I can't google it! ) is very nice.

    Veuve Cliquot is really not a good value for what you are getting. If you like it, by all means, drink up. But do investigate others. When you taste Champagnes side by side (and check out all the tastings in Nov and Dec at all the wine shops and restaurants in town) you'll see what I mean about Veuve C.
    Leek

    SAVING ONE DOG may not change the world,
    but it CHANGES THE WORLD for that one dog.
    American Brittany Rescue always needs foster homes. Please think about helping that one dog. http://www.americanbrittanyrescue.org
  • Post #42 - October 19th, 2006, 5:59 pm
    Post #42 - October 19th, 2006, 5:59 pm Post #42 - October 19th, 2006, 5:59 pm
    And that's why I was asking for suggestions :)
    Ed Fisher
    my chicago food photos

    RIP LTH.
  • Post #43 - November 24th, 2006, 11:53 pm
    Post #43 - November 24th, 2006, 11:53 pm Post #43 - November 24th, 2006, 11:53 pm
    Schwa de Vivre - Chicago - Schwa

    10:01 Wednesday morning found me punching numbers into my cell phone, cadging a new reservation at Schwa, Chicago chef Michael Carlson's hot and intimate storefront amazement. Less than twelve hours earlier I had been finishing dessert under Carlson's command. I had been away last year when Schwa opened to squeals of delight and unaccented schwa-y sighs.

    Carlson is a graduate of the Grant Achatz school of dining as aristocratic amazement and has worked with Hester Blumenthal at England's noble Fat Duck, but Schwa has a different vision. Cooks fantasize opening a small boîte for the pleasure of a small circle of friends. And some few do. Michael Carlson is one. Schwa is a 28-seat restaurant in what some high-toned folk have labeled a "dodgy" stretch of Western Avenue (an ungentrified area of Chicago's West Town). The restaurant is situated in a pleasant-enough storefront, although sniffers might deduct points for decoration as some did for the late lamented Matsumoto (and seated by the radiator, my hot flashes were not only from the passion of the kitchen). Music piped courtesy of local white rappers, the melodic preference of the staff. Schwa's soundtrack is many leagues from Le Cirque.

    The staff consists of three cooks, a helper, and a server, although everyone, including Chef Carlson (and Sous Chef Nathan Klingbail), carried plates. With two set degustations (including the eleven course menu I selected), the staff had a firm idea of their evening tasks. With the price of the full menu at $100/person (comparable to Moto or Daniel Humm's Eleven Madison Park in New York), savings from their modest rent is not passed on. Schwa is not a restaurant that is unaware or ashamed of its skills. (Schwa doesn't have a wine list, and the corkage fee is a wildly, trippingly modest $5.00/table).

    Carlson's cuisine owes much to Achatz and other culinary modernists, although Schwa not as showy as Alinea or as antic as WD-50. I was struck by Carlson's use of negative space. As with minimalism in art, the emptiness directs attention. If the food was molecular, some plates could have used a microscope (OK, a magnifying glass). The pictures tell the tale. When I arrived home after my eleven-course banquet, I prepared a snack.

    Let my phone call serve as evidence of my esteem. Michael Carlson among the most compelling and original chefs cooking today, an artist to watch. The opening of Schwa is a significant culinary event, dividing the decorator from the cook. As one who has groused at the "Disappearing Chef Syndrome," it is comforting to see Chef Carlson laboring at his stove. This is a chef who unlike some Iron Chefs doesn't need a map to find his restaurant. Should you find a hair in the soup, test for Carlson's DNA. Had not Alinea opened in 2005, Schwa is a dream personally sauteed and souffled.

    Still, the critic's code of ethics prevents me from claiming that my meal was the brightest of the year (I ate at Per Se three times; Schwa was an improvement over one of those meals). Some dishes were sublime, splendid, and spectacular, some soared, and a few were good. Throughout the meal, a diner realized that there are some luxe touches that only a capacious staff can provide. Schwa's perfection was in the combination of astonishing food in its tight sphere - the diner's faith in the craftsman's touch.

    Chef Carlson saved the worst for first. The amuse was two small candied apple balls, sprinkled with fleur de sel. The salt was startling, but the apple was more Coney Island than Midtown. Modest, but not deceptively so. I began to muse about hype.

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    Happily the salad course set things right. Chef Carlson composed an engaging salad with white anchovy, apples, celery, celery root, and Manchego cheese. With its bold flavors, subtle colors, and unassuming ingredients, it could have been an homage to Charlie Trotter. It was a dish that owed more to the new American cuisine that Trotter has been linked to than to the revolutionary fervor of molecular dishes. The salad was a blissful, bright introduction to Schwa's range.

    Image

    For soup, we were treated to a theatrical set-piece, Prosciutto Consomme with Melon and Arugula, a dish perhaps inspired by the vertical cuisine of Alfred Portole at Gotham Bar and Grill. Stacked languidly, as if 2x4s left by a casual carpenter, were two thin shaved slices of ham, one crispy and one smoked and thinly cut. The neighboring cup of bullion proffered the purest essence of ham. The fresh melon and arugula flakes were bit players in this moist and porcine drama.

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    Carlson's Quail Egg Ravioli is that rare act of inspiration that could qualify a chef for a Genius Award. My companion asked if he could skip the rest of the menu and be served a heaping bowl. The ravioli was served with ricotta, brown butter, parmigiano reggianno, and as much white truffle as Caligula would need for a month of orgies. Here was a dish that channeled Thomas Keller, while knowing how much truffle to perfume the quail egg before a defibrillator was required. Be still my beating heart! Carlson has created the most erotic recipe this side of Tampopo, lush, gooey, musky, preposterous, and very, very opulent.

    Image

    Looking at "Illinois Sturgeon Caviar with Avocado and Cauliflower," one might imagine another Keller inspiration. It wasn't quite. Serving Illinois Sturgeon Caviar might satirize our desire to eat local at all cost. This was roe that serves in a pinch. The creamy cauliflower was a more joyous match than the avocado.

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    The butter-poached lobster was a surprise, off-the-menu entry, and it was the first of Carlson's minimalist, molecular dishes. The lobster was served with sauteed gooseberries, potatoes, and Swiss chard napped with a lavender emulsion foam. The lavender brightened the shellfish with its flowery floral overtones. In the past year, I have had some remarkable lobster dishes, and this lobster can be inducted into the club. By placing pieces of the lobster on the rim of the plate, Chef Carlson engaged in frame-breaking, emphasizing how much of the plate was unused and how airy his presentation. This was another glittering combine.

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    On the printed menu Nantucket Bay Scallops were scheduled to be served with the gooseberries, lavender, and potatoes. Instead we were served scallops with white truffle (again, happily), chanterelles, and Brussel Sprouts. This was a one spoon dish (silverware that owed much to Alinea), but it was a terrifically powerful spoonful. The mushrooms, sprouts, and truffle created a dish that captured the mind of mid-November.

    Image

    Chef Carlson was surely teasing us with his composition of Sweetbreads, Rhubarb, and Humboldt Fog Cheese. In the middle of a platter was a small pile of thymus, smiling like a goiter. As if emphasizing the embodied origins, a smear of rhubarb red and foggy white flowed from the organ meat. The presentation was characteristic of the Carlson aesthetic, although the dish, tasty in each part, seemed too carefully calibrated, lacking a warm heart.

    Image

    For the main course, we were served "Beef: Raw, Pickled, and Braised." The trio of servings were petite, and their placement on a spacious plate emphasized their bulk - three bites and on to the next course. The raw was tartare with (I believe) quail egg, served on a plastic "ice cube," accompanied by squibs of sesame oil and yuzu. The yuzu was a surprising match. I have bitten my tongue on many occasions, but never had such a pickled bite. Braised short rib was served with a sweet tomatillo puree, and was delicious, if not shockingly so.

    Image

    "Cheese" was another heroic single bite. A spoon of al dente risotto, tart apple and Morbier cheese (a semi-soft, ash-filled cow's milk cheese) was suffused with flavors that revealed a gustatory harmony. The apple cut through the creamy and rich rice and cheese. Like other bites, this might have been followed by a train of other bites. Just as the first sip of wine does not perfectly predict one's ultimate pleasure, one-bite tricks produce similar vexation. The first bite alerts the diner what to evaluate, compare, and combine. Dishes need time to breathe and breed.

    Image

    Our two desserts were less compelling that the main courses. I wasn't fond of the olive shortcake with olive oil ice cream and strawberry mousse. It's sweetness had an off-taste. The plate was startlingly pretty, but not divine on the tongue. Chef Carlson's chocolate brownie with pumpkin seeds was a more satisfying construction, but not filled with the possibilities of memory. It was a fine brownie. Were it permitted, I would have selected other confections.

    Image

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    Michael Carlson matters for our culinary future. He is blessed and limited in his locale. How much better he can get in his current location, and should we wish that he has a drive for improvement. Some dishes were a little off and some might have been tweaked or expanded, but the idea that we were eating food this stunningly satisfying in a little storefront on the West Side of Chicago made us brave adventurers with Carlson a bravura guide. I admit - sheepishly - that I award the idea of Schwa a solid four stars with its food at three-stars-plus. But that night I was where the action was - and where the action might not be for long. Does Chef Carlson owe us a sumptuous showplace with a corps of cooks readying an elaborate mise-en-place or does a heady gig more than suffice? I'm not taking chances. My morning-after routine is to schedule a future repast.

    Schwa
    1466 North Ashland
    Chicago (West Town)
    773-252-1466
    www.schwarestaurant.com

    http://www.vealcheeks.blogspot.com
  • Post #44 - December 15th, 2006, 10:32 am
    Post #44 - December 15th, 2006, 10:32 am Post #44 - December 15th, 2006, 10:32 am
    As a coincidence, I was at the table directly to the west of GAF this same evening. I had a similar conclusion, but different impressions of the courses. Here is an account of my experience, adapted from the entry on eatchicago.net:

    *************
    Chef Michael Carlson's Schwa is a "distilled" fine-dining restaurant. It is distilled of all of the impurities that distract from the cuisine. There is no bar, no maitre d', no large room gilded with expensive objects d'art. The space is small (seats around 26 by my count), there is no wait staff (the chefs serve the dishes). Service is comfortable and unobtrusive. Schwa is unstressed, as the name of the restaurant announces, and the lack of stress focuses the meal directly to the essence of the dinner.

    I dined with my wife and another couple on nine courses at Schwa a couple Fridays ago. (Menu choices are a degustation of three or nine courses, fixed price). The progression is impressive, using a wide array of techniques, styles, and ingredients, and running the gamut of flavors. A brief rundown of my impressions of each course--including a couple extra bites that brought the number up to eleven:

    * Candied apple with fleur de sel: A nice jumpstart for the palate. Sweet candy shell around a tart apple with a bit of salt. We were transported back to our youth and immediately started discussing selling Affy Tapples for school fundraisers.
    * Salad of white anchovy, apple, celery root puree, Manchego cheese: This was a lovely salad full of ten times the flavor you'd expect from such a simple array of ingredients. An excellent starter.
    * Prosciutto consomme with melon, raw and crispy prosciutto: Chef Carlson takes us from the simple and understated salad directly to the bold and modern with a nouveau take on the classic proscuitto and melon combination. A small cup of consomme was rich with flavor and surprisingly not too salty (tiny melon balls floated in the cup). Draped and stacked on the cup were a nice slice of raw prosicutto and a crispy version. Three entirely different experiences on one plate using the same ingredient.
    * Quail-egg ravioli with black truffle: I am not the first to praise this triumph. It is rich and luxurious and worth the price of admission alone.
    * Sturgeon roe with cauliflower puree and avocado: This followed up the ravioli nicely. Flavorful and cool, the cauliflower and avocado cut through the richness from the previous course. I have had better caviar, though.
    * Butter-poached lobster with gooseberries, Swiss chard, and lavender foam: This was one of the few dishes that didn't quite work for me. My lobster was salty to the point of killing any other flavors on the plate. Well-conceived, but not well executed.
    * Scallop with truffle, chanterelle, and Brussels sprout: This was a one-spoon course that was just perfect. Every flavor was present and they all worked well together. I love Brussels sprouts.
    * Sweetbreads with Hubmoldt Fog cheese, rhubarb: This was the course that I had the highest hopes for and it was the one that I enjoyed least. The sweetbread nuggets were tough and a bit flavorless and didn't quite work well with cheese for my taste.
    * Beef: Raw, Pickled, Braised: A three-way beef course. First, a delicious bite of rich tartare with a quail egg. Second, the pickled beef tongue was among the best things I've tasted this year. I humbly requested a half-pound of it on a slice of rye bread with mustard. Finally, a perfect hunk of braised short rib rounded out this excellent beef preparation.
    * Cheese risotto, apple: Another one-bite course that preceded dessert and re-introduced apple. It was dense, creamy and delicious.
    * Two desserts: Desserts were split across diners. I received an olive shortcake with olive oil ice cream and candied olives. It's daring to push olives so heavily in a dessert dish and while it worked rather well, I'm not sure I'd order it. The other dessert was a pumpkin dominated plate of a chocolate-pumpkin brownie and ice cream was more conventional, and more satisfying.

    Since Schwa is BYOB, a unique feature for a this style of restaurant, we brought an array of wines including a cava, a red burgundy, and a half-bottle of sauternes. (I was fortunate enough to be dining with a generous wine-collector friend who was responsible for bringing some of these very good wines.).

    You may read the course descriptions above and be a bit turned off by the fact that I was disappointed by a couple courses. In spite of these minor quibbles, I left extraordinarily impressed by Chef Carlson and his staff.

    If you know me, you'll know that I am not generally intrigued by the fine-dining landscape of Chicago. As I read more about Schwa before dining there, it captured my interest in a way that other restaurants have not. In the same way that hearing an excellent musician in a small club is more exciting to the music-lover than the same musician in an arena concert, Schwa's intimacy and ease of enjoyment are just as exciting for food-lovers.

    In creating Schwa, Chef Carlson has created a venue that shows us his main concern is on the plate rather than on the publicity, decor, or marketing. His restaurant follows his main priorities with confidence, and success is following (He will even be closing the restaurant on Saturday nights starting in 2007 to spend more time with his new child--how's that for priorities!).

    If you are (or are not) intrigued by the fine-dining landscape in this city, you should call Schwa today and get the next available reservation (it may be two months away). It is rare to experience a chef with this type of talent and passion cooking in such a small, unadulterated environment. This is a experience that will not be available forever.

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #45 - January 10th, 2007, 2:09 pm
    Post #45 - January 10th, 2007, 2:09 pm Post #45 - January 10th, 2007, 2:09 pm
    My wife and I ate at Schwa last night. This will not be a full review (and my camera ran out of batteries at the start), however my reactions were quite similar - and as happy - as the first time. The menu evolves and so many of the dishes were recognizable even as they are slowly altered in light of the season and the availability of ingredients.

    Once again the weakness was dessert, where Michael Carlson doesn't want to treat us sweetly. Diners receive two desserts to split. In our case cardamon ice cream on a slightly soggy pretzel spoon with little dabs of mustard, and an olive oil ice cream with strawberry mousse, quite similar to my November meal. Both looked appealing, but were more curiosities than closing plates. Given that the desserts in November were similarly disappointing, I take Chef Carlson's desire not to present more traditional flavors to be part of his philosophy.

    However, the rest of the meal was splendid - ranging from remarkable to exceptionally good. The Quail Egg Ravioli, with freshly shaved white truffle was as elegant and aromatic as it had been: a true signature dish.

    Also notable was Artic Char Caviar with quince and celery root puree, covered with a pink peppercorn sugar tuile. It was a riff on Creme Brulee and it was splendid - and perhaps it counted as our dessert.

    The amuse (a dish that disappointed me in November) was remarkable. A golden beet truffle in chocolate powder with a shot of beet red soup with white chocolate foam. Complex and evocative. A brilliant start.

    The trio of beef dishes were slightly different from the trio in November. The pickled beef was stellar; the braised beef, very fine, with its sweet potato puree. The tartare and quail egg, with a yuzu smear, was fine as raw meat.

    The rabbit with pomegrantate, turnips, and queso de valdeon (a Spanish blue cheese) was a bit off balance, given the dominance of the cheese, but bites that weren't too blue, were astonishing.

    Other dishes included:

    Eggplant with white anchovies, red pepper foam, and san simon cheese. A symphony of textures, flavors, and colors.

    Sunchoke soup with crispy sunchoke chips and bits of blood orange and allspice. Perhaps the soup was just a touch heavy in texture, but a very worthy combination of tastes.

    Nantucket Bay Scallops with Brussel Sprouts, Parsnip puree, Chanterelles. Visually not as arresting as some other plates, but packed with flavor.

    A spoonful of Morbier chess risotto (last time with apples, tonight I believe with savory). Not exactly a palette cleanser, but a special break before dessert.

    With the exception of the desserts, the meal was exceptional. The Quail Egg Ravioli was fantastic. The Arctic Char Caviar and the Beet Amuse were the other two dishes that I will long remember. The Eggplant appetizer, the Scallops and Chanterelles, and the bite of Pickled Meat were close behind.

    Most startling - and impressive - was the fact that the call to confirm my reservation was made by Chef Carlson himself. I won't sit by the phone expecting a call from Chef Batali.
  • Post #46 - January 25th, 2007, 9:58 am
    Post #46 - January 25th, 2007, 9:58 am Post #46 - January 25th, 2007, 9:58 am
    I think "Schwaow!" might just be my new favorite exclamation for transcendentally excellent food. I went last night with three people, and the entire evening was flawless, start to finish.

    Most of the current menu has already been described in detail (the beet amuse, the OMG quail egg ravioli, etc.), so I'll only add what might help future diners: the wines we brought worked very, very well. We started with a Duval Leroy NV Brut Champagne, my friend brought a delicious, food-perfect Chablis (I forget the producer, but will add it when I find out), and we finished with a 2005 Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir. Superb.

    As an aside, I read yesterday's NYTimes piece snarking about chefs and restaurants getting uppity with tasting menus and music selection and treating diners like they should be honored to even get a reservation ("You May Kiss the Chef's Napkin Ring"). I found myself kind of agreeing, and laughed my ass off at Bruni's review of Graydon Carter's Waverly Inn. In light of how far in the wrong direction a restaurant and chef can go(hello, Gordon Ramsey), last night's meal, at a restaurant where it's so clear that the chef and kitchen crew are totally devoted to the food and the diners who truly appreciate it, was a revelation.
  • Post #47 - January 25th, 2007, 10:24 am
    Post #47 - January 25th, 2007, 10:24 am Post #47 - January 25th, 2007, 10:24 am
    I am waiting until the next iteration of the GNR restaurant awards. I think we have a finalist. Schwaow!
  • Post #48 - January 25th, 2007, 11:54 am
    Post #48 - January 25th, 2007, 11:54 am Post #48 - January 25th, 2007, 11:54 am
    Not sure what ccrush was laughing at- Bruni's wit or Bruni's writing. (Check out the brunidigest website for madcap hilarity.)
    Anyway, I really like Schwa's overall concept, and clearly those guys work their asses off and have gobs of integrity with zero attitude. Unfortunately, I found that only half of the food worked.
    The risotto substance on the spoon, at least when I had it, was weak in flavor and texture. The beet chocolate-bacon truffle thingy was silly, with the beet juice topped with white chocolate foam having little beet juice flavor. The eggplant dish was a confusing circus of microscopic components with no cohesive focus. Desserts were goofy and unsatisfying. Turmeric ice cream was mouth drying. Drinking the rosewater with raspberry sorbet was like kissing a 98 year old woman with good oral hygiene. (Okay, I hate rosewater.) The things that worked, worked very well-quail egg ravioli, Asian shortribs, tongue and tartare, rabbit confit &sous vide, scallop and chanterelles. Service was amazing-ya gotta love these guys, it is a very special Chicago place. But from where I'm standing it would be best to lay off some of the micro-dot components that can't be tasted, and to not let attempts at shock value rule over compatible flavors.
    I love animals...they're delicious!
  • Post #49 - January 25th, 2007, 12:13 pm
    Post #49 - January 25th, 2007, 12:13 pm Post #49 - January 25th, 2007, 12:13 pm
    Stewed Coot, I'll clarify RE: Frank Bruni. I'm not a fan of his reviews at all, but to have the Chief Wanker feebly skewering Big Chief Wanker (Carter) in a way that makes them both look like a-holes was pretty sweet. Agreed?

    I'll also kind of agree with you on the beet amuse. It was my least favorite, and I love-love-love beets, no matter how many times someone makes fun of how played-out beet and goat cheese salads are.

    As for the other failed stuff you pointed out...I think that's part of the reason I'm so glad we stuck to the three-course menu. I know we missed out on a few things, but Chef was kind enough to hook us up with a round of the quail egg ravioli (so we basically got four courses), and we all walked out of there dizzy with satisfaction. I've had larger tasting menus that left me uncomfortably stuffed. Plus, with the three-course, I think you get the best 'distilled' version of the menu--more substance, less foo-foo.

    That said, I will still be making a reservation to go back for the nine-course.
  • Post #50 - January 25th, 2007, 1:58 pm
    Post #50 - January 25th, 2007, 1:58 pm Post #50 - January 25th, 2007, 1:58 pm
    Crrush,

    I have to get my hands on that review-I was just speaking of Bruni in general.
    Anyway,I truly hope (and believe) that , at least for some of the items that failed for me, better versions have been and will continue to be executed by the kitchen.
    One of the many factors that made the ravioli kick major ass was the inclusion of shaved white truffle instead of truffle oil, which is all too often splashed on with reckless abandon yielding a kerosene-like effect. Perhaps we should think about a quail-egg ravioli eating contest since everyone adores them so. Could the average person eat more sliders or ravis in a sitting? Ya gotta wonder...
    I love animals...they're delicious!
  • Post #51 - January 25th, 2007, 2:11 pm
    Post #51 - January 25th, 2007, 2:11 pm Post #51 - January 25th, 2007, 2:11 pm
    stewed coot wrote:Could the average person eat more sliders or ravis in a sitting? Ya gotta wonder...


    I'd like to find out, myself. Sign me up.

    The Bruni review: http://events.nytimes.com/2007/01/24/dining/reviews/24rest.html?ref=dining. Enjoy.
  • Post #52 - January 25th, 2007, 2:18 pm
    Post #52 - January 25th, 2007, 2:18 pm Post #52 - January 25th, 2007, 2:18 pm
    Well, say what you want about this new innest-of-in-crowds place (Waverly Inn, I mean), but I'll give them credit for something rare in this life:

    Frank Bruni wrote:the bartenders stand on their toes and peek over the front row of revelers to try to take drink orders from the bleachers
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
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  • Post #53 - January 25th, 2007, 3:34 pm
    Post #53 - January 25th, 2007, 3:34 pm Post #53 - January 25th, 2007, 3:34 pm
    I revisited recently, and the beet amuse didn't do it for me either (despite, like crrush, my fanatical devotion to beets). But the arctic char caviar rocked my world.
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #54 - January 26th, 2007, 1:54 am
    Post #54 - January 26th, 2007, 1:54 am Post #54 - January 26th, 2007, 1:54 am
    We finally have reservations at Schwa, for March 5th. When I called during the first week of January to book a table for anytime during my husband's birthday week, I was surprised to learn that they are no longer doing the Tues-Saturday dinner service, but have instead decided to serve Monday-Friday, taking the entire weekend "off." This worked out great for me since Husband's birthday is actually Monday, March 5!

    The reservations call was a fun start to the entire experience, as I got to chat with one of the chefs about the "concept." He asked me if I knew about the tasting menu format, the BYOB policy, etc. and after he figured out that I was anticipating the complete dining experience, said that it was actually shocking how many people "just want to get a reservation" and have little idea of what the restaurant is about. When I asked the chef (I'm not positive which one, but I believe it was Nathan) about the schedule change, and whether that was a quality-of-life move, he said they are doing it "just to mix things up a bit."

    Did anybody else find the schedule change interesting? I couldn't find any notes about it in this thread.
    "Whatever you are, be a good one." -Abraham Lincoln
  • Post #55 - January 26th, 2007, 8:05 am
    Post #55 - January 26th, 2007, 8:05 am Post #55 - January 26th, 2007, 8:05 am
    The chef(Carlson) was interviewed somewhere and stated that he wants to spend more time with his daughter and girlfriend-so quality of life it is.
    I love animals...they're delicious!
  • Post #56 - January 26th, 2007, 8:36 am
    Post #56 - January 26th, 2007, 8:36 am Post #56 - January 26th, 2007, 8:36 am
    Oops-I might have read it here-see eatchicago thread above.
    Crrush-thanks for the Bruni article-I also read the "Kiss the chef's napkin ring" article, and have run into these issues more than I care to relate. To echo your point: the skeleton crew at Schwa could easily give service lessons to some of the over-staffed, self-important glitter domes.
    (Bruni may be an easy target, but if you can cut through the cloying cutesy-ness there are often solid observations lurking underneath.)
    I love animals...they're delicious!
  • Post #57 - January 29th, 2007, 10:37 am
    Post #57 - January 29th, 2007, 10:37 am Post #57 - January 29th, 2007, 10:37 am
    crrush wrote:
    stewed coot wrote:Could the average person eat more sliders or ravis in a sitting? Ya gotta wonder...


    I'd like to find out, myself. Sign me up.


    I doubt I could survive that much excitement.
    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 #58 - February 23rd, 2007, 2:44 pm
    Post #58 - February 23rd, 2007, 2:44 pm Post #58 - February 23rd, 2007, 2:44 pm
    I think Schwa is open again on Saturdays. I called today and made a reservation for Saturday March 10.
  • Post #59 - February 23rd, 2007, 3:34 pm
    Post #59 - February 23rd, 2007, 3:34 pm Post #59 - February 23rd, 2007, 3:34 pm
    I finally made it to Schwa last night for my sister's birthday. The meal was well worth the 3+ month wait for a table (and we still couldn't there on my sister's actual birthday).

    My general impressions: The 9-course menu included some of the most imaginative dishes I have ever tasted (though about half more pleasing in concept than reality--see below). I had a problem with feeling utterly PARCHED from the beet amuse basically until the rosewater sorbet. Most of the dishes tasted overly salty, and I (typically a conscientiously well-hydrated person) was just extremely thirsty throughout the meal. I'm trying to convince myself that it was just my body chemistry last night, but my mom and sister agreed that, for example, the chestnut soup was almost too salty to consume. I'm trying to figure it out...

    Beyond taste, I was also intrigued by the plating, the little surprises of flavor in cheeses and sauces on the rims, outer edges of plates (even beyond and distinct from the smears and flavors covering most of the dishes' surface area). My spatial experience with Carlson's food was much more interesting than what I had with Alinea's custom dishes last June. I had read here all about the wonders produced by Schwa's small staff, but I still stopped and gawked in the kitchen on my way to and from the bathroom. They were all extremely friendly.

    For most of our meal (we had an 8:00 seating), the dining room was louder than I expected it to be, and, on a few occasions, I found myself yelling to be heard across the table. I think voices can escalate (esp with a group of, say, six people) over 3+ hours of wine. I would have liked to be able to hear the music better--Mr. Lif was an excellent choice of soundtrack for Carlson's food. It would also have been nice to have just a little more light in the dining room, if only to make picture-taking easier.

    From my run-down below, I think it might seem that my experience at Schwa was mediocre, but there were enough "perfects" for me to highly recommend Schwa to anyone serious about food. Given my restaurant strategic plan and budget constraints, I'm not sure that I would go out of my way to return to Schwa, but it is securely in my top 10 life food experiences.

    Run down by dish (often seconding, thirding, fourthing what has already been said here):

    Beet amuse: Didn’t do much for me; no magic. I thought besides the bacon ganache of the truffle that there was supposed to be bacon in the beets. I think I maybe tasted the bacon dusting that was supposed to be on the rim of the shot glass, but that was it. I would have liked to have tasted more bacon against the white chocolate.

    Eggplant with white anchovy: I need a few more days to think about this dish. I’ve eaten eggplant in a few other dishes I ate this week, so my first reaction to it at Schwa was, “This preparation is definitely better than mine.” The pairing of eggplant with the anchovy didn’t leave an impression on me. I was intrigued by the notion of candied olives (more re: the preparation and making them crunchy rather than the resulting taste). Apparently, after the boiling in 2:1 sugar water, the olives are baked in a warm oven overnight.

    Chesnut soup with prosciutto and pesimmon: I couldn’t discern the chestnut in the soup because of its overwhelming saltiness. I love prosciutto, but, again, I was overwhelmed by salt. The persimmon shavings were perfect; I wish there had been more to cleanse my palette.

    Quail egg ravioli (aka OMG quail egg ravioli): Perfect. I didn’t think the pasta was too thick at all. I’d eagerly participate in a OMG QER-eating contest. I kept forgetting to ask: how do they get the yolk in the pasta?

    Arctic char caviar with quince, celery root: I thought the quince was too overpowering--the dish was too sweet. I was charmed by the pink-peppercorn-sucre crème-brulee effect on top but only by the effect and act of using my spoon to break it.

    Lobster with brussel sprouts, parsnips, mushrooms: I wasn’t impressed by the quality of the lobster; it didn’t seem as flavorful as it could've been. However, I thought the brussel sprouts were an excellent accompaniment (in flavor) as well as the hedgehog mushrooms (in texture and flavor).

    Rabbit with pomegranate and queso de valedon: I don’t appreciate rabbit because I rarely eat it (or, I rarely eat it because I don’t appreciate it; I think having seen Polanski’s Repulsion doesn't help). Again, it tasted very salty. I wish there had been more pomegranate seeds.

    Beef, raw, pickled, braised: I was really full by this point in the meal, especially given how much water I’d been drinking because of the saltiness. The “raw” didn’t leave an impression; the pickled with the onion was good but not spectacular; and the braised with the butternut squash foam was perfectly executed, but I think I was too full to appreciate it.

    Morbier risotto with peach chips: The lobster risotto I had at Sweet & Savories last Saturday set a new risotto standard for me. Schwa’s risotto didn’t even come close. I usually like morbier, but Schwa’s was milder than I’m accustomed to. This dish didn’t cleanse my palette at all. The rice was almost undercooked (more than al dente). I didn’t taste any peach.

    Rosewater sorbet with raspberry sauce: My favorite dish of the entire evening. The sorbet blew me away. I think it’s the best palette cleanser I’ve ever had.

    Soft pretzels w/ mustard and tumeric ice cream: My first reaction after tasting the ice cream was, “Bad idea.” Then I went back for a second spoonful, and it struck me as brilliant and delicious. The flavor was complex and gave me a lot to think about. I wish there had been more. I also loved the idea of the soft pretzels, but after a few bites, I still thought they were under-done and that the dough just didn’t taste quite right (NY hot dog cart pretzels are my frame of reference).

    Brownies with (1) crème fraîche (2) butternut squash ice cream with hazelnut and pie crust dusting: Perfect. The brownies were not dry nor too moist. (I get creeped out by brownies that are too moist.) In texture, Schwa's definitely rival Le Pain Quotidien's Belgian brownie--my favorite. I liked the butternut squash ice cream as much as the tumeric ice cream. My mom didn’t eat her dessert, so I ate four brownies and their respective toppings.

    Did I mention that at the beef course I was so full that the skin on my stomach hurt? Yes, and then I ate four brownies.
  • Post #60 - March 29th, 2007, 11:12 am
    Post #60 - March 29th, 2007, 11:12 am Post #60 - March 29th, 2007, 11:12 am
    In case anyone missed it, Lisa Shames wrote a great piece about Michael Carlson and Schwa, which appeared in the March 27 edition of NewCity Chicago:

    Carlson has the experience to run with the culinary alchemists, having worked with England's Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck and Achatz at Trio. Yet he also has his feet firmly planted in the traditional style of straightforward Italian cuisine, influenced by his time spent at Chicago's Spiaggia with chef Paul Bartolotta, and in restaurants in Italy. It's this combination of culinary techniques from two opposite sides of the spectrum that's getting Schwa's food noticed.

    While Schwa's three-course and nine-course menus change--look for an oysters and oatmeal dish to make an appearance soon ("It sounds weird, but they really go together well," Carlson says)--one ingredient is a given: fat. "Fat carries flavor really well," he says. Which brings us back to those popular ravioli that have been on the menu since day one. "What isn't there to like about it?" he says. "It's butter, eggs and great cheese. It's basically fat on fat on fat."

    With all the attention it's received, some have predicted that Schwa might trade in some of its funky charm for the big bucks in the not-so-distant future. And while Carlson does admit that they have had some offers, he has no plans to sell out. "Ideally, we would like it if we could find a bigger space. But to be able to do it ourselves, so we would be able to stay with what we have here because we are happy doing it." He adds, "We are working like a hundred hours [a week] and it doesn't feel like anything."

    The Sultan of Schwa

    =R=
    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

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