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Avenues Under Chef Curtis Duffy

Avenues Under Chef Curtis Duffy
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  • Avenues Under Chef Curtis Duffy

    Post #1 - September 28th, 2008, 4:35 pm
    Post #1 - September 28th, 2008, 4:35 pm Post #1 - September 28th, 2008, 4:35 pm
    There hasn't been a lot (or really anything I can find) about what's going on at Avenues now that Curtis Duffy has taken over from ChefGEB.

    With my family in town for the weekend I decided to book the small private room and give the restaurant a shot (if it sucked, at least it wouldn't be on my dime :D ).

    Well, it didn't suck. In fact it was pretty damn awesome, certainly different than under Chef Bowles.. The evidence of Chef Duffy's prior work at Trio and Alinea is on display for the entire meal. For some this may not necessarily be a good thing. If you didn't like Alinea than I would guess that you wouldn't like Avenues either as the style of a lot of the food is very similar. But, if you are a fan of the style of cooking at Alinea, than I would highly recommend that you go and check out what's going on at Avenues.

    We enjoyed a 9 course tasting menu (they also have a 4 course and a 15 course). I left my menu there, so I'll just give the highlights as best as I can remember:

    The first course was two different shot glasses. The first was filled with a hot asparagus soup. A parmesan cracker was placed over the opening of the shot glass. On top of the cracker was a serious pile of black truffle shavings. We were instructed to alternate taking sips of the soup and bites of the truffle covered cracker. The second shot glass was filled with white truffles from Alba (first of the season?) that had been steeped in milk to form almost a pudding. There was tapioca pearls in the pudding along with a bit of parmesan ice cream. Both were fantastic, with the asparagus soup serving as a real highlight. The white truffle pudding wasn't as strongly flavored as I would have liked, but overall the dish really worked for me.

    A couple of courses later came a wonderful scallop dish. A single seared scallop was served along side brown butter, bits of amaranth and some quail grass. There was a small deep purple sphere served next to the scallop. When pierced the sphere let out a wonderful huckleberry juice that really complimented the scallop nicely. The amaranth brought another textural element to the dish that made it a bit more interesting.

    Separating the fish from the meat was a dish of hato mugi, which I think is a type of Japanese grain (kind of like barley). It was served in a deep bowl with sorrel. A slice of melted manchego cheese was served over the grains. The dish was finished tableside, with our servers pouring manchego broth into the bowl. I liked this as a transition course but most at the table were not nuts about it.

    The highlight of our dinner was the Wagyu beef course. A small piece of Wagyu ribeye that had been cooked to a perfect medium rare on an open flame was served along side a thick puree of smoked coconut and another but of sauce made from basil (?). The beef was absolutely incredible on its own (it was very nicely salted), but was certainly elevated by both sauces. This was certainly one of the best pieces of beef I've ever had (and that was after having a 75 day dry aged ribeye at Primehouse the night before).

    Desserts were both fantastic. Our first was a banana noodle, served under a banana ice cream along with a bit of sweet curry and a crouton made from black walnut and banana. The second was a chocolate dish that blew everyone at the table away. A cylinder of malt was in the center of the plate surrounded by chunks of chocolate devil food cake, chocolate pudding, and random shavings of dark and milk chocolate. Nothing to complain about there.

    Service was dead on the whole night. We were given nice descriptions of each dish and a bit of instruction on how to eat each dish when necessary (done as unobtrusively as possible).

    Bread service was outstanding. Each savory course was paired with its own small piece of bread (ranging from a fennel/mint English muffin to a pretzel roll dusted with black lava salt to a butter roll made with goat's milk butter). Even though they weren't necessary three different "butters" were offered with the bread: salted cow's milk, goat's milk, and a nicely assertive olive oil emulsion.

    There were a few open tables last night which in my view is an absolute shame. There are some wonderful things going on at Avenues right now and they certainly deserve a lot more love than they've been getting.
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #2 - September 28th, 2008, 4:41 pm
    Post #2 - September 28th, 2008, 4:41 pm Post #2 - September 28th, 2008, 4:41 pm
    I've been so curious to hear about Avenues under Chef Duffy and I'm thrilled now having read your review. Thanks for posting . . . I can't wait to try it out.
  • Post #3 - October 14th, 2008, 3:01 pm
    Post #3 - October 14th, 2008, 3:01 pm Post #3 - October 14th, 2008, 3:01 pm
    I just discovered this, but maybe taking a page from Laurent Gras, Curtis Duffy has been keeping a blog of his own. Not only can we read about his dishes, but we can see them for ourselves, as well.

    The wagyu beef shown here looks pretty amazing. Is that, like, half fat and half meat?!

    On the other hand, I don't quite know what to make of the fact that the first picture that loads is of himself, and that it's larger in size than any shot of the food...
    best,
    dan
  • Post #4 - October 14th, 2008, 4:13 pm
    Post #4 - October 14th, 2008, 4:13 pm Post #4 - October 14th, 2008, 4:13 pm
    Jesteinf -

    Having never been and not being able to find pricing on its website, do you mind if I ask roughly how much it costs to dine there per person?

    Would like to plan a trip sometime.

    Best,
  • Post #5 - October 14th, 2008, 4:29 pm
    Post #5 - October 14th, 2008, 4:29 pm Post #5 - October 14th, 2008, 4:29 pm
    We were given a choice of 3 menus -

    Smallest (4 courses) - $85
    Mid-sized (the one we went with) - $120
    Largest (16 courses) - $150

    None of the prices shown include wine, tax or tip.
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #6 - October 14th, 2008, 11:18 pm
    Post #6 - October 14th, 2008, 11:18 pm Post #6 - October 14th, 2008, 11:18 pm
    jesteinf wrote:We were given a choice of 3 menus -

    Smallest (4 courses) - $85
    Mid-sized (the one we went with) - $120
    Largest (16 courses) - $150

    None of the prices shown include wine, tax or tip.

    That's odd. At the Chicago Gourmet event two weeks ago (the same weekend as Josh's initial post above), their booth had the menu, and the prices were $75, $115, and $145. I wonder which one is current?
  • Post #7 - October 15th, 2008, 7:43 am
    Post #7 - October 15th, 2008, 7:43 am Post #7 - October 15th, 2008, 7:43 am
    nsxtasy wrote:
    jesteinf wrote:We were given a choice of 3 menus -

    Smallest (4 courses) - $85
    Mid-sized (the one we went with) - $120
    Largest (16 courses) - $150

    None of the prices shown include wine, tax or tip.

    That's odd. At the Chicago Gourmet event two weeks ago (the same weekend as Josh's initial post above), their booth had the menu, and the prices were $75, $115, and $145. I wonder which one is current?

    If now were like any time in the last decades, one would be certain that the higher prices were the more current, because of inflationary pressures. But in the world we've lived in for the last couple of weeks, pressure to lower prices (so as not to price oneself out of business) might be stronger. It will be interesting to hear which is the case here.
  • Post #8 - November 8th, 2008, 12:58 pm
    Post #8 - November 8th, 2008, 12:58 pm Post #8 - November 8th, 2008, 12:58 pm
    We ate at Avenues last night, and overall had a nice meal, although I am not sure if I would say it was stellar. Really nothing to complain about: good service, relaxing room, food nicely prepared. Yet I didn't leave completely satisfied for some reason. I don't have the time currently to give a proper report, but I will briefly describe a few details.

    The champagne starter: They gave us a choice of 4, and the Andre Cuvee Grand Cru Brut was just exceptional - the best champagne I have ever had. Dry finish, small bubbles, apricot flavored but not cloying.

    We had the 9 course meal, which had many similarities to jesteinf's meal as detailed above (which he had a month ago). I think once they have found a true winner, they must stick with it.

    The true standout was the Wagyu beef with smoked coconut cream and basil. The meat was rare, salty, and extremely tender. The smoked coconut really played off the flavor of the meat. Give me a giant portion of this and I would eat that for dinner every night. The hato mugi (Japanese grain like barley) was also very nice, although a touch too al dente. The manchego broth was a nice accent, though (basically manchego cheese that had been steeped in water, and then discard the cheese). Another dish that echoed jesteinf's meal was the banana noodle dessert. I didn't think this worked as well as the way he felt, although loved the banana walnut "crouton" it came with. Lastly, the pretzel bread with black lava salt was just amazing. I wish you could get this bread at the usual bakeries, because it would be a big hit. Other dishes included a small portion of salmon, a somewhat liver-tasting squab, and a potato soup that just didn't work that well (too much of a mix of cold and hot).

    In regards to the prices (as mentioned here):

    jesteinf wrote:
    We were given a choice of 3 menus -

    Smallest (4 courses) - $85
    Mid-sized (the one we went with) - $120
    Largest (16 courses) - $150

    None of the prices shown include wine, tax or tip.

    That's odd. At the Chicago Gourmet event two weeks ago (the same weekend as Josh's initial post above), their booth had the menu, and the prices were $75, $115, and $145. I wonder which one is current?


    The answer is $75, $115 and $145. Looks like the economy is taking it's toll. And the restaurant, although definitely with a fair number of patrons, was far from busy on a Friday night. But I must admit that my dinner at Alinea, although in a similar style, was much more successful overall than my meal here (I had not eaten here prior to Chef Duffy's arrival, so cannot comment on a comparison in that sense).
    "My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people."

    -Orson Welles-
  • Post #9 - November 10th, 2008, 9:07 pm
    Post #9 - November 10th, 2008, 9:07 pm Post #9 - November 10th, 2008, 9:07 pm
    Ate at Avenues on Saturday. We had 1.5 bottles of wine (for 3 people) and the 15 course menu (approximately $250/person with tax and tip).

    I don't have time to post a detailed review now (I hope to soon) but I did want to let you all know that it was the single best meal I've had in Chicago and one of the few best meals of my life. With really only one exception (and I was the only one at the table who thought it was an exception), every dish was surprising, delicious, and perfect. I just can't say enough good things about the work Curtis Duffy is doing.

    Along with my wife, I went with my sister and brother-in-law who have eaten at El Bulli, French Laundry, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, etc. They agreed that it was one of the best meals they'd ever had as well.

    I ate at Avenues a few years ago (prior to the change of chef) and was a little disappointed (though I am a fan of GE's). This time, however, was a deeply memorable meal.

    Hopefully more details soon.
  • Post #10 - November 29th, 2008, 6:56 pm
    Post #10 - November 29th, 2008, 6:56 pm Post #10 - November 29th, 2008, 6:56 pm
    Hey efood - how about those details? Husband and I may be alone for Christmas Eve this year (unless you count the dog,) and are considering a stroll along Michigan Avenue followed by a splurge at Avenues. I'd love to hear more from those who've dined since Chef Duffy took over. Thanks, Lynn
  • Post #11 - November 29th, 2008, 7:44 pm
    Post #11 - November 29th, 2008, 7:44 pm Post #11 - November 29th, 2008, 7:44 pm
    LynnB wrote:Husband and I may be alone for Christmas Eve this year (unless you count the dog,) and are considering a stroll along Michigan Avenue followed by a splurge at Avenues.

    Note that Avenues has a special five-course menu planned for December 24, which you can view on the hotel website. $130/person.
  • Post #12 - May 24th, 2009, 1:13 pm
    Post #12 - May 24th, 2009, 1:13 pm Post #12 - May 24th, 2009, 1:13 pm
    After a way-too-long delay, I finally made it to chef Curtis Duffy's Avenues recently, where I had an excellent meal. First, though, let me apologize in advance for the sketchy details that are about to follow. We were a group of 3 couples who don't get together often enough and as much as the food was the centerpiece of our evening, at times, the socializing took precedence. As such, I missed descriptions of some of the details about the dishes we ate. Frankly, though, I'm not sure the minute details about each dish really matter that much. The menu flowed wonderfully, continually evoking emotions and provoking thought throughout our meal. I think that in this instance, as much as the individual parts matter (the provenance of the ingredients and the care and skill with which they are handled is exemplary), the big picture -- the journey -- is what Avenues is all about. In any case, what follows is a loosely-detailed chronicle of our meal which was -- in spite of the fact that I don't remember everything about it -- an impressive and very memorable experience . . .

    Image
    Champagnes by the glass
    A very nice selection, ranging in price from mid-$20's to low-$30's.


    Image
    Golden Osetra | traditional, untraditional
    An engaging combination of flavors in the form of an amuse. The ring of pickled ramp (at least, I think it was ramp) was a bright counterpoint to the rich caviar.


    Image
    Butters
    Goat Butter on the left, Cow butter on the right and a compound, herb-based spread in the middle (I was away from the table when these were served and I forgot to ask about them).


    Image
    Black Truffle | tapioca, parmesan, chive
    I'm guessing this is a slight nod to Alinea's Hot Potato, Cold Potato, via the inclusion of 3 similar ingredients (black truffle, parmesan, chive). These look like white truffles to me but the menu and the server both said "black" and I'm sure they're both right.


    Image
    King Crab | cucumber, steelhead roe, kalamansi
    In this stellar, dish, some of the elements reside above the platform . . .


    Image
    King Crab | cucumber, steelhead roe, kalamansi
    . . . and some reside below it. I loved this dish and thought the combination of flavors and aromas showcased the crab very well. I loved the cucumber broth and the sharp, focused bit of heat delivered by the red pepper.


    Image
    English Muffin
    I'm pretty sure this was infused with black mint (as chef Duffy's blog indicates). Overall, I enjoyed the thoughtful, distinctive bread service at Avenues but this muffin was probably my least favorite because for me, while the texture was perfect, it lacked that tanginess that I normally associate with an english muffin. Before this muffin, we enjoyed an Italian Como bread (back, left).


    Image
    English Pea | cantaloupe, elixer, lavender
    This tastes-of-spring dish was sauced tableside.


    Image
    English Pea | cantaloupe, elixer, lavender
    There were peas in many splendid forms here (flash frozen, fresh, pureed into a sauce, and shoots, too) and the accompaniments were terrific. The surfboard-looking thing was actually a frozen lavender component (milk, iirc) that deftly re-emphasized the frozen theme presented in the dish without numbing the palate.


    Image
    Faroe Island Salmon Belly | caper berry seeds, apple milk, whipped chlorophyll
    This salmon, which was plated to look like it might have crawled out of the garden, was out of this world. It was fatty, unctuous and rich. The restrained apple milk was applied tableside.


    Image
    Golden Trout | semillion verjus, hon shimeji, spruce
    On the heels of the previous course, this was one of the few dishes that I could have taken or left. For some diners, the juxtaposition of the 2 relatively similar proteins may have been interesting but since I personally loved the salmon so much more, this one didn't really resonate for me and as such, comparing them wasn't really necessary.


    Image
    Goat Butter Brioche
    Rich and buttery with a nice, subtle funk from the goat butter. This roll possessed a satisfying and atypical lightness for brioche.


    Image
    Crabapple, grass
    Tart, cool, palate-cleansing intermezzo, served on a gigantic green ice form.


    Image
    Pretzel Roll
    A great roll -- hearty and dotted with black salt.


    Image
    Rabbit Loin | charcoal, morels, nasturtium
    This was one of my favorite courses of the meal. The rabbit was succulent and moist, with a pronounced charcoal note. The morels were plump and heady with a slight, initial crunch to the bite.


    Image
    Hato Mugi | manchego, red wine, sorrel
    I loved this course, which reminded me a bit of farro. I loved the way the pungent and creamy manchego, acidic wine and bitter sorrel contrasted with each other against the rich background of the grain.


    Image
    Iberico Pork Belly | cocoa, smoked bread, miner's lettuce
    I was worried that this course might be too sweet for me but it wasn't sweet at all. The use of cocoa and smoked paprika was fantastic in bringing out the subtle notes of the tender, sticky-fatty belly. Those noodles were, I believe, made in part with cocoa and were used creatively to hold pools of sauce on the plate. This was, in a word, phenomenal.


    Image
    Waffle
    Pretty sure that this was a coconut-basil waffle, served with powdered lime-sugar. It was compelling and complex, with a series of flavors that progressed on the palate long after the bite and through the chew.


    Image
    Wagyu Beef Cheek | black sesame, sudachi, shiso and blooms
    One thing I love about this style of dining is the intense level of expert manipulation that is applied to the ingredients. In this case, however, I just didn't get it. I loved the idea of pairing the wagyu with the multiple forms of soy but in the end, I felt like the intrinsic beauty of the wagyu was just too obscured by the preparation (braised and stuffed into the cannelloni on the right).


    Image
    Carbonated Cabernet Verjus
    An effervescent shot that created a bridge between savory and sweet.


    Image
    Blood Orange | muscavado, sable, bronze fennel
    The cool, refreshing and brightly-flavored blood orange sorbet was great, as was the crumbled sable, which complemented the sorbet very well. I was worried that the olives would provide too harsh a counterpoint for me but the opposite was true. They stood out far less than I expected and didn't convey the sharpness I expected from them.


    Image
    Flight of Dessert Wines
    Being a virtual wine idiot, I appreciated this flight of dessert wines that the kitchen sent out for us. They were all Australian, which really surprised me because I didn't know how focused Australian winemakers were on these types of wines. From left to right, the wines were a LillyPilly Noble Blend, Yaluma Hand-Picked Botrytis Viognier and a Chambers Rosewood Vineyards Muscat, which was amazingly port-like. We were told that because it was made from muscat, it could not be called Port. Still, to this relatively untrained palate, it had all the characteristics of port -- nuttiness, subtle sweetness and complexity among them.

    Image
    Flavors of Chai | kumquat, milk chocolate, bergamot
    I loved this dish which showcased chai in several forms. The shard of cookie was especially tasty.


    Image
    Forelle Pear | oats, ricotta, tarragon
    This dish never really came together for me. I thought the fried coating around the pear was too heavy and a couple of the sauce elements were texturally unpleasant for me.


    Image
    Belgian Chocolate | strawberry, barolo, floral
    I am not normally a fan of chocolate and fruit together but the combination was very pleasing to me in this incarnation.


    Image
    Belgian Chocolate | strawberry, barolo, floral
    The dense, chocolatey cake wrapped in a netting of strawberry was the highlight of this dessert for me.


    Image
    Tiny Sweets (left to right) Chocolate Truffle, Sudachi Gelee, Passionfruit Marshmallow and a Blueberry Meringue (iirc)
    No, that's not muenster cheese, it's a delectable passionfruit marshmallow. After a meal this large, when you wolf down the mignardises, you know how special they are. As full as I was, these were irrestistable.


    Image
    Tiny Sweets
    A closer look at the blueberry and passionfruit tiny sweets.

    This was a great meal, which confirmed for me something I already suspected -- chef Duffy is one of the most talented and important chefs in Chicago. For years, oddly-fitting comparisons were made between Grant Achatz (Alinea), Homaro Cantu (Moto) and Graham Elliot Bowles (formerly at Avenues, now at his namesake restaurant). Frankly, those comparisons never made much sense to me because those chefs were more different than similar, in my eyes. But for me, this meal was more similar in style to Alinea than anything else I've ever eaten, even though it was still a unique culinary expression (which I may not be astute, articulate or experienced enough to express in words). Of course, having worked with chef Achatz for years (at Trio and Alinea), it's not entirely surprising that chef Duffy's style would be so similar to that of chef Achatz. Still, their voices are distinctive and quite different from each other's. If there is an avant-garde or molecular gastronomy school of cooking in Chicago, chef Duffy is a key player within it and a force that will surely further its evolution. In thinking about how Avenues relates to Alinea, I can't help but think of the famous quote by Owen Chamberlain:

    "Each generation of scientists [chefs or artists] stands upon the shoulders of those who have gone before."

    It seems to me that chef Duffy has taken up the vision, tools and techniques that he helped develop with chef Achatz and is now using them in cultivating his own profound voice. The result is a delightful culinary synaesthesia, unique from anything that came before it yet respectfully reflective of the fertile roots from which it grew.

    =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 #13 - May 24th, 2009, 4:35 pm
    Post #13 - May 24th, 2009, 4:35 pm Post #13 - May 24th, 2009, 4:35 pm
    Thanks for the great write-up Ron. I couldn't agree with you more about Duffy having a unique voice. The thing I was most worried about going in to the meal was, "would this be Alinea 2?" Duffy's style is I think what would happen if Alice Waters and Grant Achatz had a love child. His platings are so ingredient forward and filled with incredible spring garnish right now from micro-romanesco to miner's lettuce to shiso blooms etc etc. If you dropped one of his plates in the forest preserve, it would look like part of natural flora and fauna.....and yet the cuisine is still very technically very precise and informed by modern techniques.

    If anyone's interested, I finally found some free time and was able to record a new Hungry podcast interview with Duffy that I put up this week...

    Curtis Duffy Interview
    MJN "AKA" Michael Nagrant
    http://www.michaelnagrant.com
  • Post #14 - May 26th, 2009, 2:30 pm
    Post #14 - May 26th, 2009, 2:30 pm Post #14 - May 26th, 2009, 2:30 pm
    MJN wrote:Thanks for the great write-up Ron. I couldn't agree with you more about Duffy having a unique voice. The thing I was most worried about going in to the meal was, "would this be Alinea 2?" Duffy's style is I think what would happen if Alice Waters and Grant Achatz had a love child. His platings are so ingredient forward and filled with incredible spring garnish right now from micro-romanesco to miner's lettuce to shiso blooms etc etc. If you dropped one of his plates in the forest preserve, it would look like part of natural flora and fauna.....and yet the cuisine is still very technically very precise and informed by modern techniques.

    If anyone's interested, I finally found some free time and was able to record a new Hungry podcast interview with Duffy that I put up this week...

    Curtis Duffy Interview

    Great interview, Mike. It's hardly a surprise but still, I love how focused chef Duffy is. The level of thought that goes into each component of each dish is not only astonishing but also quite apparent on the plate and the palate. Hearing him elaborate on how he makes his choices -- and his overall process -- was illuminating and entertaining.

    =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 #15 - May 30th, 2009, 8:54 pm
    Post #15 - May 30th, 2009, 8:54 pm Post #15 - May 30th, 2009, 8:54 pm
    Excellent photo reportage there, ronnie! Thanks for that review.
    “Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”
    Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

    ulteriorepicure.wordpress.com

    My flickr account
  • Post #16 - June 14th, 2009, 7:14 am
    Post #16 - June 14th, 2009, 7:14 am Post #16 - June 14th, 2009, 7:14 am
    Ronnie, my very recent meal at Avenues was very similarly composed to yours. I agree with you on the salmon belly - I thought that was the highlight of the meal, followed by the composition of peas, cantaloupe and lavender. Right up there would also be the truffle dish (menu said black truffle, but one of the service staff told me it was white truffle, so who knows) and the wagyu beef.

    I really loved the wagyu beef dish. I thought the flavor of the beef really stood out, and although I liked the black sesame served with the dish (the dark mound in Ronnie's picture), I'm not sure I ever really figured out how it worked with the beef. But the dish I expected to love the most - the pork belly - disappointed me. I actually found the flavors and texture of the dish to be so one dimensional and the chocolate pasta on the plate was almost impossible to pick up.

    The waffle, with basil and coconut, was quite the revelation. If you've become as bored with waffles as I have over the years, this is the waffle for you. Also, my favorite dessert was the Flavors of Chai which Ronnie mentioned.

    Some dishes/concepts didn't work so well for me. First, there were six dessert parts (including a palate cleanser and tiny sweets). I love sweets, and yet even I found this to be overload. I also was not so impressed by the blood orange component, but more disappointing was a mango and pineapple dessert which was way too sweet.

    But don't get me wrong. I thought this was an excellent dinner and Avenues certainly merits consideration when discussing where to go for high end dining in Chicago. Where it fits with L.20, Tru and the like I don't really care to rate, although my first choice of places would undoubtedly be Alinea.
  • Post #17 - November 28th, 2009, 11:49 pm
    Post #17 - November 28th, 2009, 11:49 pm Post #17 - November 28th, 2009, 11:49 pm
    Hi, has anyone recently dined at the Chef's Bar? How was the experience?
  • Post #18 - August 26th, 2010, 11:56 am
    Post #18 - August 26th, 2010, 11:56 am Post #18 - August 26th, 2010, 11:56 am
    On the Avenues – Avenues

    I had not dined at Avenues in the years since Graham Elliott Bowles decamped for Graham Elliott, and as I will leave Chicago for a year, the time had arrived (or even long passed). I was a fan of GEB’s zany cuisine, and I worried that the magic could not be sustained. But I was wrong. In fact, if anything, Chef Curtis Duffy cuisine is uber-magical if not quite as charmingly goofy.

    I selected the eight-course garden (vegetable) chef’s menu served at the kitchen bar: switching out a tofu dish and a chocolate dessert, neither of which sit well with me. My short ribs were the only meat of the evening, but surely a splendid protein.

    Time prevents a full recitation, but my dishes were:

    1) Heirloom tomatoes with golden watermelon, elixir, and garden herbs

    Image
    Avenues, Chicago, August 2010 - Heirloom tomatoes with golden watermelon, elixir, and garden herbs by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    2) Sweet corn with charred husk, finger limes, and coriander blooms

    Image
    Avenues, Chicago, August 2010 - Sweet corn with charred husk, finger limes, and coriander blooms by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    3) Grains, seeds and nuts: Amaranth veil, puffed sunflower seeds

    Image
    Avenues, Chicago, August 2010 - Grains, seeds and nuts: Amaranth veil, puffed sunflower seeds by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    4) Acquerello risotto, black figs, chanterelle, and oxalis

    Image
    Avenues, Chicago, August 2010 - Acquerello risotto, black figs, chanterelle, and oxalis by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    5) Beef short ribs with lime, pinenuts, and cilantro flowers

    Image
    Avenues, Chicago, August 2010 - Beef short ribs with lime, pinenuts, and cilantro flowers by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    6) Chilled passion fruit with tapioca, rose, and lemon balm

    Image
    Avenues, Chicago, August 2010 - Chilled passion fruit with tapioca, rose, and lemon balm by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    7) Spring cucumber, olio verde jam, Buddha’s hand, and African blue basil

    Image
    Avenues, Chicago, August 2010 - Spring cucumber, olio verde jam, Buddha’s hand, and African blue basil by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    8 ) Strawberry ice with Thai black pepper, mascarpone, and opal basil blossoms

    Image
    Avenues, Chicago, August 2010 - Strawberry ice with Thai black pepper, mascarpone, and opal basil blossoms by garyalanfine, on Flickr

    Over the years I have become less enamored by those deconstructed dishes in which chefs place an array of disorganized (if prettily arranged) “things” on the plate, and let diners “have at it.” They often seem lacking in a conception of combination. They can be lovely but thoughtless. Chef Duffy is notably thoughtful, high praise indeed. The dish most characteristic of the strains of modern cuisine was most notably true of the first appetizer that was an appealing array of heirloom cherry tomatoes, watermelon, and herbs, although not a dish in which the ingredients truly locked together. Dishes can be deconstructed, but can they be reconstructed again? Still, there was no dish that I did not enjoy (I didn’t care for my cocktail, a Thai Kick Boxer, which was a soupy mess of basil, coconut water, and not much alcohol).

    I particularly admired the sweet corn dish, a mix of fascinating flavors and textures – an upside down icy bowl. I was particularly impressed with the range of temperatures that were embedded in that single dish with the multiple textures of corn and the appealing lime and coriander. It was surely not the most beautiful dish of the evening, but the best conceptualized and most memorable.

    The mix of grains, seeds, and nuts – a tribute to sunflower seeds and amaranth - was also an astonishingly delightful dish with its lovely mixture of textures and tastes (including, as I recall, raisins). It was served at the right time, in the right place, and was still fully unexpected in its joy and its terroir.

    The third dish that I especially loved was the spring cucumber dessert which was herbal and sweet in equal measures. This was perhaps the most beautiful dish of the evening (although the strawberry and the risotto came close). The cucumber plate succeeded in every way that I could imagine a dessert to work. It was a triumph. Desserts often are anticlimaxes. This magnificent sweet was a star.

    It was because of this trio that the dinner itself was a triumph. The dinner had no missteps (aside from the cocktail). Service was graceful and congenial (although sitting on high stools at the bar made service a bit difficult for a few height-challenged staff. Even though we sat at the kitchen bar, the food was not served by the cooks from the front (a la Minibar or Momofuku Ko), but from behind, a slightly awkward arrangement. I assume that the rationale was that the chefs were cooking for the entire restaurant and not simply for the eight of us at the bar.

    Of all of the high-end restaurants in Chicago, setting aside Alinea (for Achatz’s genius) and Schwa (for Carlson’s commitment), there is no local restaurant that is comparable to Avenues for providing truly remarkable food. For travelers who select their hotel based upon cuisine, the only choice is the Peninsula. I loved Avenues under Bowles, thinking that it could not be improved. I waited too long to discover that I was wrong.

    Avenues
    The Peninsula Hotel
    108 E. Superior Street
    Chicago
    312-337-2888

    Vealcheeks
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #19 - August 26th, 2010, 12:05 pm
    Post #19 - August 26th, 2010, 12:05 pm Post #19 - August 26th, 2010, 12:05 pm
    I had the pleasure of joining GAF for this meal and it was truly special. I had the non-vegetarian tasting and I think I enjoyed my menu every bit as much as Gary enjoyed his.

    This was my third meal at Avenues under Chef Duffy and it's been at the same high level each time. This restaurant doesn't get nearly the attention it deserves.
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #20 - August 26th, 2010, 12:53 pm
    Post #20 - August 26th, 2010, 12:53 pm Post #20 - August 26th, 2010, 12:53 pm
    jesteinf wrote:I had the pleasure of joining GAF for this meal.

    On first reading, I thought you were saying that you
    joined the former chef (GEB) for a visit. Seems like
    that would be particularly interesting (not to take
    anything away from GAF).
  • Post #21 - September 2nd, 2010, 11:25 am
    Post #21 - September 2nd, 2010, 11:25 am Post #21 - September 2nd, 2010, 11:25 am
    jesteinf wrote:I had the non-vegetarian tasting and I think I enjoyed my menu every bit as much as Gary enjoyed his.


    Joel, what did you have, exactly? I had a very promising meal at Avenues in June of '09 and have been mentally planning a return this fall.
  • Post #22 - September 2nd, 2010, 12:17 pm
    Post #22 - September 2nd, 2010, 12:17 pm Post #22 - September 2nd, 2010, 12:17 pm
    chezbrad wrote:
    jesteinf wrote:I had the non-vegetarian tasting and I think I enjoyed my menu every bit as much as Gary enjoyed his.


    Joel, what did you have, exactly? I had a very promising meal at Avenues in June of '09 and have been mentally planning a return this fall.


    They gave me a menu to take home, but I got rid of it, and everything was far to elaborate for me to try to give you the menu from memory. There was a salmon dish, a crab, lamb, short-ribs, the grain dish that GAF posted about, and dessert.

    The style and quality of all of the dishes were right in line with my other 2 meals at Avenues under Duffy, so I would definitely recommend a return trip.

    Hope that helps,
    Josh (aka, apparently, Joel)
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #23 - September 2nd, 2010, 9:48 pm
    Post #23 - September 2nd, 2010, 9:48 pm Post #23 - September 2nd, 2010, 9:48 pm
    I've already made two trips to Avenues this year, once in April for the spring menu and another one in July for the summer menu, and I just have to say the food, service, wine, the total experience were incomparable. I agree that Avenues under Chef Duffy is heads above of many of the other fine dining restaurants in the city except for Alinea. His food is so thoughtful and delicate, and each plate so beautifully composed. His food is complex, but feels and tastes so effortless. Highlights of both meals included his signature dish of the king crab and steelhead roe with kalamansi (both meals), a perfectly grilled piece of wagyu beef with shortrib, black truffles, and pistachio flan (summer), a luscious faroe island salmon belly with apple milk and an intriguing whipped chlorophyll (spring). One of my July dining companions had that beautifully realized sweet corn "soup" that GAF mentioned, and I had a taste of it. I have to agree it's quite memorable.
  • Post #24 - September 6th, 2010, 5:50 pm
    Post #24 - September 6th, 2010, 5:50 pm Post #24 - September 6th, 2010, 5:50 pm
    We celebrated our anniversary on Saturday night at the kitchen bar at Avenues. We had not been to Avenues since GEB left and the recent posts on this thread inspired us to go back and see how Chef Duffy's menu compared. Overall, it was excellent - the service, the menu, and the experience of sitting at the kitchen bar were an outstanding combination.

    trio of butters - goat's milk w/black himalayan salt; meyer lemon and first press olive oil; herby spread - to accompany the bread service. the first one was a manchego cheese/whole wheat roll. really delicious!
    Image

    1st course - alaskan king crab, wild steelhead roe, kalamansi, lemon mint, red chilie, cucumber broth
    Image

    the cucumber broth and crab are inside the bowl. atop them is a very thin disc of sugar and many of the elements are sitting right on top of the disc. it's sort of like the idea of breaking into the sugar crust of a crème brûlée. crisp, clean, refreshing, generous chunks of crab and the crunch of the sugar disc was a nice textural element.
    Image

    2d course - faroe island salmon, brandade, pommery mustard, fennel blossom. and the foamy green stuff was an absinthe foam; makes sense given the other fennel elements (fennel frond, shaved fennel).
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    3d course - also described upthread - grains, seeds, nuts; amaranth veil, sultana, puffed sunflower seeds. broth poured tableside
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    4th course - elysian lamb loin, hibiscus, sweet curry, nasturtium, soybeans, eggplant confit. smoked paprika gastrique poured tableside. lamb was on the chewy side, but all the accompaniments worked really well together. the gastrique was incredible.
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    last of the bread service - coconut-basil waffle, served with powdered lime-sugar. this, along with the first roll, were my faves. my husband loved the pretzel roll as well.
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    5th course - Braised Short Ribs, Broccoli, Asian Pear, Potatoes, and Lime. the waiter commented that all parts of the broccoli are used in the dish. As Chef Duffy describes on his blog: "Beef short ribs are cured with assorted Asian spices, then braised in coconut milk. The braising liquid is then reduced and used as the glaze. Braised short ribs, redolent of warm spices, as well as two preparations of potatoes provide an element of comfort and warmth; the vibrant flavors of Asian pear and lime subtly impart an element of unfamiliarity in this new summer dish."
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    a duo of australian dessert wines, compliments of the house. both were very good. Yalumba Botrytis Viognier on the left, Yalumba Antique Tawny on the right. loved the tawny.
    Image

    6th course - passion fruit, tapioca, rose, lemon balm
    Image

    7th course - "Strawberry"Tube," Crispy Yogurt Sponge, Basil, Mascarpone, Opal Basil Blossoms. this was my favorite of the dessert courses - loved the strawberry-basil combo.

    chef duffy describes it this way [again, from his blog, but slightly edited b/c the blog post was about the raspberry version from earlier in the summer]: "The tube consists of frozen strawberry purées and a creamy Chambord filling. After a thin layer of purée is spread onto a piece of acetate, we draw a toothed pastry comb over it to remove all but parallel lines. The purée is flat frozen. Once frozen and slightly thawed to achieve some pliability, squares are cut out and rolled into tubes displaying swirling spirals on the outside. We then fill the tube cavity with the Chambord filling (Chambord, vodka, dextrose, half and half). The alcohol in the filling prevents it from being frozen solid allowing the shell to remain semi-hollow. This enables the shell to be tapped open with a spoon effortlessly, releasing the creamy filling to flow and blend into the other elements in the dish."
    Image

    8th course - ocumare chocolate, brown butter, chamomile, stevia. liquid nitrogen is combined with the choc mousse and added to the plate tableside.
    Image

    the chunk of choc mouse is broken apart tableside by the waiter armed with a big spoon
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    the dish as finally presented. for me, this was a lot of style and had cool entertainment factor, but it was not my favorite dish. the textures didn't work for me.
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    bonus course for couples celebrating their anniversary: a chocolate box, filled with dulce de leche.
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    dulce de leche inside
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    we loved sitting at the kitchen table - it was really fun! highly recommend asking for this seating when you make your reservation.
    Image

    for more pics on the plating and the views from the kitchen table, see my fb album here:
    http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2 ... a56ca6cf5e

    shyne
  • Post #25 - February 8th, 2011, 7:39 am
    Post #25 - February 8th, 2011, 7:39 am Post #25 - February 8th, 2011, 7:39 am
    We'll make this simple: save your nickels and get yourselves down to Avenues. Now. If you haven't been since Curtis Duffy took over, you owe it to yourself to eat there.

    The Lovely Dining Companion and I tried to get a reservation in mid-January for our anniversary only to find the restaurant closed for "winter break." Instead, we decided to go between our anniversary and Valentine's Day, thus avoiding the craziness of eating out on that day. L:DC has wanted to try Avenues under Duffy for some time and, while not quite as eager as she, I was curious. Once again her culinary radar proved superior to mine. In a nutshell, we had a really wonderful dinner and look forward to returning when the menu changes to reflect another season.

    The evening was not without mishaps. Most significantly, after we were seated, our server rolled up the champagne cart and asked if we'd like to start with a little aperitif. I asked if they had any non-alcoholic drinks since LDC doesn't drink alcohol. They offered the usual array of juices, etc. (Parenthetical note: Nacional 27 is extraordinary in this regard. When we were first seated there, they offered, among other things, a very impressive "mixed drink" menu of non-alcoholic drinks. We thought it a brilliant idea then and we still do. But no one else seems to have any interest in doing that. Frankly, much as I enjoy drinking alcohol, there are many times I'd be very happy to start with a non-alcoholic mixed drink). Then, to respond to the server's query, I said that I would decide on a drink when I had a better idea of what I would be eating. He seemed a little non-plussed and we soon found out why. Between our silverware lay a paper "placemat" with a large color photograph of completely unidentifiable (and unidentified) food; on the reverse, an eight-course tasting menu. We were shortly thereafter informed that that was what the restaurant was serving. If you want to eat at Avenues tonight, this is what's for dinner. Period.

    I have no issue with a restaurant doing that so long as I know about it. But I am frankly angry to have it sprung on me. We had made this reservation many weeks in advance. Now, reservation made, you're eagerly anticipating the meal--the website offers both a regular tasting menu and a vegetarian tasting menu as well as a la carte offerings. You're seated and now, for the very first time, you are told "This is what you are having." No, you have no choice (except, I suppose, in the event of food allergies). It seems that Chef Duffy is in the midst of preparing his spring menu and, at his edict, the restaurant was serving only the regular tasting menu all week. If Duffy wants to do this and has the power to do so (which he quite clearly does), how can the restaurant assume that every diner who enters will accept that choice? How likely are alternative plans at that point? "Never mind, we'll just get last-second reservations at [fill in the blank]." What irks me is the presumption and the lack of thoughtfulness. In the event, we were both fine with the menu, but I can quite easily imagine other circumstances.

    That hiccup aside, the meal began with what was labeled "Caviar, traditional, untraditional." The spoon was more in the nature of an amuse and I began to take notes so that I could recall all of the components of the dish: a tiny poached egg, on one side of which rested a Meyer lemon gel dome with filled with brioche, and along the other side sat a teaspoon of osetra caviar. A single chive sat atop a tiny red onion ring which crowned the egg. The whole sat in a miniature pool of clarified butter, garnished with toasted brioche crumbs. As Jose (our server) explained, all of the traditional accompaniments deconstructed and re-constructed. Jose insisted the egg was a chicken egg: LDC and I simply don't believe it. It was too tiny--the size of your thumbnail at best. Never mind. For two non-caviar fans, it was a wonderfully complex, tasty introduction to what followed. As I learned after a while, taking notes on all the various components was possible but pointless. Duffy adds--in some instances, quite a number of things--and merely listing them might be informative but would miss the forest for the trees. The key, we learned, was to appreciate how it all came together. And here is where we think Duffy is brilliant: he has the knack--or the genius--to know what works and how to put it together. We have had tasting menus where too many things came together on a plate that didn't quite manage to add up to more than the sum of the parts. In almost every instance, Duffy's gift is to add a few or a lot of components while keeping each in perfect balance and all combining to provide a dish much greater than the sum of its parts.

    Image Image
    Alaskan King Crab

    No course proved that better than the first, our (both of us) hands-down favorite of the entire evening. The menu describes it as "Alaskan King Crab, golden brook trout roe, kalamansi, lemon mint." All that and more. The conceit is to present it in a deep martini glass with what appears to be a sheet of ice across the top. Beneath, in the well of the glass, the crab and other ingredients await. Atop the ice, a series of dots and dashes. You can see in the less-than-impressive photograph the exquisite composition. Instructed to break the shell with our soup spoons, mix everything together and enjoy, we did so. As we shattered the thin sheet at the top and the apparent beauty of the dish, we discovered a hidden sweetness to the entire course: the sheet atop (some of) the ingredients wasn't ice at all, but sugar. And precisely the right amount of sugar to balance the sour and the acid of the kalamansi.

    For all our eating out--and we have meals of this caliber fairly infrequently--I can probably count the dishes I have enjoyed like this on the fingers of one hand. At Alinea, at Trotters, at Les Nomades. But they are (fortunately) rare; rare enough to make the truly superb dishes stand out. To be the kind of dish you'll remember for a long, long time. The dish was divine; I cannot think of any other way to describe it. Every single ingredient in the glass was perfectly chosen, perfectly proportioned, beautifully presented and simply exquisite to see and eat.

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    Faroe Island salmon

    Hard act to follow. But even though the next course wasn't in the stratosphere--in our perceptions, anyway--it was also top-notch. It was a very mild Faroe Island salmon with a couple squirts of black cod brandade, Pommery mustard, etc. etc. I dispense with itemization. Once again the presentation was exquisite. Once again the flavors matched and melded perfectly. If it wasn't the heavenly supernova of the previous course, it was nonetheless the match of almost anything else I've ever had in Chicago. In discussing the composition with Jose between courses, he pointed out something I think I felt but hadn't consciously realized: we had fennel in all its glory from pollen to plant. Plus an absinthe foam (including a tiny touch of spinach for color), a thread of tapioca "tempura" and black olive puree.

    This would probably be the place to note that the pacing was deliberate, careful, and exactly right. Though it might be considered a tad slow by some, we found it ideal. The room is kept relatively dark, with islands of light at each table. There is far more than ample room between tables and so, even were the room to be completely occupied, I suspect it would be a fairly quiet place. We ate there the Saturday evening before the Super Bowl and, at most, no more than ten tables were ever occupied at once. The restaurant specifies that jackets are "recommended" for men and I am old enough (and old-fashioned enough) to take that recommendation seriously. I was pleased, frankly, to see that almost every other male diner honored the request as well, though there was the inevitable table of twenty-somethings who feel that jeans are apparently de rigueur for any evening out.

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    "Grains, Seeds, Nuts"

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow instructed us that "Into each life, a little rain must fall." Indeed. From the ethereal heights to the, um, quotidian. The next course took us to California. In the 1980s. I've rarely had a course that felt so determinedly "good for you." By this point I had stopped taking notes; suffice to say, it contained barley, amaranth, quinoa, and many other assorted grains, nuts, and undoubtedly healthy things. And, sad to say, it tasted like it. It was a jarring departure in many ways. At the time, it seemed out of place; looking back the next day, it seems just as out of place. Given the success of almost every other course, I defer unhesitatingly to Chef Duffy but I can say that for both of us this course was the single unqualified failure. As LDC pointed out at the time, this is the kind of food she eats all the time, orders in restaurants from time to time, and quite enjoys. And she didn't. It was simply too much, too assertively "what it was." And while the components all worked, there was a savory (as opposed to sweet) element that we each found somewhat off-putting. Perhaps it's the fault of breakfast in this country. What I mean by that is that many of us are accustomed to having grains/nuts/seeds for breakfast and that almost inevitably means sugar or syrup or sweetener of some type: oatmeal with brown sugar, slightly sweetened muesli or granola, and so on. To have a savory broth poured over the same ingredients was "wrong" on some level. And we simply didn't enjoy it. (Yes, we know: amaranth, quinoa, etc., can and often are components in savory dishes; I'm merely trying, here, to understand why this dish fell so flat for us.)

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    Hamachi

    Hamachi was the next course; I'm so used to it as sushi that it was a pleasant change-of-pace to have it cooked! The menu announces that it will be accompanied by lardo, yuzu, and purslane. The menu did not mention the cardamom-scented (and -flavored) marshmallow running the length of the plate, the sweet glazed carrots, or the carrot "froth" (Jose never uttered the word "foam") or the swiss chard underneath the fish. The yuzu was present as a "marinade" for the tapioca balls, but I'll confess in retrospect to have completely missed the lardo. I was, frankly, so taken with how the whole dish worked that I simply didn't miss it. The presentation--as impressive as it was for every course--was exceptional. I enjoyed this dish immensely; it was probably my favorite dish of the evening after the crab. The marshmallow continued a theme of sweetness; I found it always present, whether as the disk in the crab course or even if only the slightest hint (such as in the quinoa in the previous dish).

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    Sous vide short rib

    LDC pronounced the next course--the short-rib--her favorite (after the crab course). Sous vide, Jose informed us: deep, rich, beefy flavor. Tiny new potatoes, potato "strings," and more. I personally didn't get the line or the pine nuts and I think the acid would have helped me enjoy the course a bit more. Still, even an old-school carnivore like my Dad would have appreciated the meat-and-potatoes approach of this course.

    Time for a brief summary of bread service: butter with Hawaiian sea salt, olive oil emulsified with Meyer lemon, and an herb paste were presented with a flourish. At irregular intervals, we were presented with three warm, freshly baked breads: a bolillo, a pretzel bread, and then--surprise of surprises, a quarter of a whole-grain waffle. I enjoyed each a little less than what preceded, though LDC was taken with all of them. I'm torn between wishing we had more bread available and appreciating the limited amount, since it meant I couldn't fill up on bread, something I'm usually a little too weak-willed to avoid. The butter was excellent; I enjoyed the olive oil more than LDC, and neither of us particularly cared for the herb paste. There was one ingredient in it we both found odd, if not more. I thought, at one point, to ask about it but decided I didn't really want to know that much, and so let the issue go.

    Image
    Sudachi

    Sudachi is a Japanese citrus fruit. I can't imagine where they dug up these serving sticks; Jose gave us a long and detailed explanation of the creation of the orbs themselves--solid shells dipped in white chocolate and filled with what I have to imagine is sudachi juice. The instructions were simple: take the ball in your fingers, pop it in your mouth, make sure your lips are closed, and bite down. A lot of liquid in those little balls! And the taste is citrusy but with an unusual depth of flavor to palates accustomed only to lemon or lime. Deeper, more flavorful, and more complex than yuzu, sweetened with a bit of powdered sugar sprinkled on the top. An absolute winner of a palate cleanser. Neither LDC nor I tasted any togarashi of any kind (togarashi is a Japanese seven-spice blend that usually includes ginger, poppy (or hemp) seeds, Szechwan pepper flakes, dried orange peel, white and black sesame seeds, and nori); neither of us missed it, either (we don't think).

    Image
    Ocumare chocolate

    The last course was the only other "miss," though I enjoyed it more than LDC. Ganache extruded into threads and wrapped around itself and the other ingredients, including huckleberries, a section of bitter orange and a scoop of intensely flavored chamomile sorbet. This time, we both felt that Duffy's reach exceeded his grasp--too much going on and it didn't all come together for either of us. Though nothing fought with anything else, the course suffered by comparison with the success of the other offerings. The chocolate was dark, intense, and terribly rich. The acid in the orange and the intensity of the sorbet both helped, but there was just too much there. The course is listed as "Ocumare Chocolate" which is a Venezuelan artisanal variety apparently (the internet lists primarily 70% cacao levels). The mignardises picked up on this, offering a progression of chocolates increasing in intensity from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica. I, who rarely have this problem, had to admit to chocolate overload. After the generous portion of the last course, the mignardises were over the top. And just not the right finish. For us.

    One aside: there was an older couple (early 70s, I'd guess) seated close to us who were clearly enjoying themselves. The wife engaged the server after each course, quizzing him and discussing the food with animation and relish. At the end of their meal, the server asked if they would like to meet Chef Duffy. Of course! We recognize that not all chefs are interested, or eager, to meet their diners, but we were more than a little surprised that a server would offer to introduce a diner given that Duffy showed little willingness to even acknowledge their presence. From our vantage point, he managed to crack the thinnest of smiles but engaged in zero conversation, hardly acknowledging their presence. It's one thing to ask to speak with the chef unbidden. But if the server proffers the invitation, one would like to think that the chef could suffer through this ritual for thirty seconds. We add this note because there may be those, like the poster above (and, indeed, us when Graham Eliot Bowles was in the kitchen), who are eager to sit at the kitchen table and look forward to engaging the chef. Our single data point suggests that that Duffy may not be your man.

    I am surprised that Avenues under Curtis Duffy doesn't get more attention on this board. There are plenty of chefs with the ability to deconstruct a dish into its components and present them separately and attractively on a plate. There are few with the ability to understand that doing so is not the end but merely the beginning, and even fewer with the gift of being able to reconstruct the dish in a way that challenges, edifies, and delights. Duffy is one of the very few who can do that and more. Deconstruction is only the start with him, as it should be. Reconstruction is his gift: he re-conceptualizes the way in which an ingredient or component appears in or contributes to a dish; he also pulls apart a dish not because he can do so but in order to understand what makes it work. And taking license to add new ingredients that would never come to mind for most of us, he adds those ingredients, showing how they can highlight or accent the familiar to make it fresh and new in a way we hadn't thought possible. But more than that, he has the gift to do so in a way that is as stunning to the palate as it is to the eye and the mind.

    If you take away only one message from our recap, let it be this: for anyone the least bit curious about what's happening at Avenues, we strongly urge you to go. The meal was one of the best we've had in Chicago.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #26 - February 8th, 2011, 8:57 am
    Post #26 - February 8th, 2011, 8:57 am Post #26 - February 8th, 2011, 8:57 am
    Gypsy Boy - Thanks for the great review and pictures. I'm heading to Avenues at the end of March and was curious as to whether or not I would be served the winter menu (as posted above) or a new version, but it sounds like Chef Duffy is already underway with some overhauls. Still, the way you were presented the menu was very strange. If I'm picturing it correctly, you were given a menu with only one tasting option and pictures the corresponded with each course? I think the picture thing gets me the most, as I like to be surprised at at I'm going to eat, at least in terms of presentation. Did they give any clue as to when the "new" menu would be ready? Also, I noticed that your meal had only 7 courses, whereas the tasting menu online had eight. Did you receive any price discount on the meal?

    Also, did your LDC get some non-alcoholic drinks? I'm not a big alcohol drinker myself and was curious as to what they had to offer, even if it was juices. Again, thanks the great review, and I'll be sure to post my take in at the end of March.
  • Post #27 - February 8th, 2011, 10:21 am
    Post #27 - February 8th, 2011, 10:21 am Post #27 - February 8th, 2011, 10:21 am
    Actually, we had eight courses. They counted the caviar as the first course; since it was a single, small spoon, we thought of it as an amuse. But eight courses.

    When we were seated, there was an 8-1/2 x 11 sheet of paper already waiting for us between our silver. It was a large photograph of a single course (which appears, in retrospect, to be of the chocolate/liquid nitrogen course that shyne reviewed, above, but that we were not served. I could be wrong but it was a bad photograph--in my humble estimation--and not labeled in any way) and on the reverse was the tasting menu. I think that photo was chosen simply because it is something the kitchen is particularly proud of, but in fact I have no idea why that particular course is pictured. We were simply informed that the "regular" tasting menu that was printed was "it" for the evening; anyone dining at Avenues that evening (and, I gathered, the entire week) would have the same thing.

    As I suggested in my post, the excuse, er, explanation, was that the chef is in the middle of preparing his new/spring menu and apparently needed to focus on that and couldn't be "distracted" with anything other than the ordinary tasting menu. (I gather that the spring menu in development but we didn't ask when it was likely to debut.) How or why that means that the kitchen can't offer its normal vegetarian tasting menu or the a la carte service is beyond me, but it was carefully explained that this was the chef's edict.

    Finally, no. LDC did not get a non-alcoholic drink. Or, more precisely, she ordered a 7-Up (and got a Sprite or some such thing). (I think, but don't recall for certain, that they could manage to get us juice(s) if we so wished. We didn't pursue that option.) My thought in asking was that perhaps a place as nice as Avenues would have a menu, a la Nacional 27, with wonderful, thoughtful, non-alcoholic concoctions. Sort of like a special drinks menu but solely for non-alcoholic drinks. It was such a brilliant idea at Nacional 27 that we are always surprised that more places don't do it.)
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #28 - February 8th, 2011, 10:28 am
    Post #28 - February 8th, 2011, 10:28 am Post #28 - February 8th, 2011, 10:28 am
    I don't think Avenues has ever offered an a la carte option under Duffy (maybe not even under Bowles). When I went last there were 2 tasting menus offered.

    If you were to go to Alinea there would be only one menu. They're more than willing to adjust to any dietary restrictions.
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #29 - February 8th, 2011, 10:37 am
    Post #29 - February 8th, 2011, 10:37 am Post #29 - February 8th, 2011, 10:37 am
    Charlie Trotter's has a non-alcoholic beverage pairing - thoughtfully prepared juices. Most were very good (I think that we had five non-alcoholic libations - although I preferred the wines, but it was nice to have the choice.
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #30 - February 8th, 2011, 10:40 am
    Post #30 - February 8th, 2011, 10:40 am Post #30 - February 8th, 2011, 10:40 am
    jesteinf wrote:I don't think Avenues has ever offered an a la carte option under Duffy....


    If that's the case, someone needs to fix their website posthaste. The first thing that comes up when one clicks on "menu" for Avenues at the Peninsula website is a complete "A la carte" dinner menu clearly dated "December 2010."
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)

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