Saturday, May 23, 2009

Don't You Wish You Lived In Chicago?

Last night was my quarterly girls night out (GNO) with some friends I've known since college. For each of our seasonal dinners, we head into the city from our respective workplaces and meet up somewhere with good food and good drinks.

Someone -- and I don't remember who, but unfortunately it was't me -- had the inspired choice of one sixtyblue. It's not our traditional Loop or near the Loop choice, as it was at Randolph and Ogden, but I am so going back there again.

We'll start with the cocktails. While I tried all of these, it doesn't mean I actually ordered them all. I only had three. And I took the train into the city and home.

The Spring Fling and the Veev Southside were really unique drinks that weren't overly sweet, so you could drink them during dinner. The Spring Fling was really fun with both kumquats and mustard greens. I was a little iffy on the mustard greens at first, but they were just crushed for flavor like the mint in a mojito.

The Pom Paradise was quite dangerous. It was really sweet with a lovely undercurrent of pineapple. And it didn't taste like there was any alcohol in it whatsoever. That is a dangerous combination though. And the Velveteen Rabbit? It sounds a little iffy with carrot juice and ginger and such, but it was a really unique and spicy drink that worked well with our main courses.

Speaking of food, it was delicious. The portions weren't huge, but we all left very full. We shared appetizers, and we happily could have just ordered more and been happy.

I didn't eat the foie gras or the gulf shrimp because those just aren't my things, but the smoked king salmon served on a bed of hashbrowns and the herbed ricotta dumplings were heavenly. I ended up being the rude one and using some of the delicious, hot sourdough bread to sop up the cream sauce leftover from the most tender, moist dumplings I've ever tasted. You wouldn't expect hash browns to be the base for smoked salmon, but it actually worked well. I'm thinking the chef has something for hash browns in general, as the foie gras also came served on a round of hash browns, and we had hash browns with a garnish of carmelized onions as one of our shared sides.

It was quite difficult to decide on the entrees, as well. The table next to us was served the bison ravioli, which immediately decided two of my friends. I would never have dreamed of bison as a filling for ravioli, but one of my friends shared. It was a little drier than I'd expected, for some reason, but it was rather flavorful, and the cream sauce kept it from being too dry.

I finally decided on the seared yellowfin. It was served with shaved hearts of palm, fresh wasabi cream and some other flavorful accompaniments. Although I was slightly disappointed by the presentation, as it was large chunks strewn across the plate which made it slightly difficult to cut into appropriate bite-sized pieces to eat. The grilled salmon my last friend ordered was done to perfection, and the English peas worked really well with the Scottish salmon (we were joking that they'd be feuding by the time the food arrived on our table).

We somehow managed to save room for some dessert, and it was difficult to decide between the brown butter carrot cake, the chocolate souffle tart, tres leches, and more. We decided on the sticky toffee date cake and the trio of sorbets.

While we waited for them to arrive, the server brought a dessert amuse bouche. I love those. This one had mini tapioca balls in the bottom of the glass, strawberry compote, and some raspberry ice scoop on top. That was such a clean way to refresh after our dinner, and we all drank them quickly. One friend wasn't a fan of the tapioca balls, but if you like bubble tea, you'd be content with this as a treat.

Then our desserts arrived. After my first taste of the cake, I questioned my decision to share the desserts and not keep one for myself. It was served also cut into three chunks, which I thought was odd, but it was sweet and moist and had a unique bite. The toasted coconut ice cream and bits of honey granola garnish added a nice complement to the cake.

While we all loved the toffee date cake, the sorbets didn't go over quite as well with my friends. There were three flavors served on little shortbread cookies. I preferred the sorbet to the cookies, but one of my friends finally scraped the sorbet off the cookie to just munch on the cookie. Unfortunately, I can't tell you what flavor the sorbets were, as no one told us when the desserts were served to us - one of the few service mistakes we had. I was the only one who enjoyed the very sour one, that we decided was lemon. The orange sorbet, I was told was quite good, although that disappeared before I had the opportunity to taste it. The third one we think may have been guava or papaya. It was much less flavorful than the others, and it was also the only thing left on the plate when we left.

When our bill arrived, they also delivered some take home goodies. We were povided with fresh caramels that didn't make it out of the restaurant. And by fresh, I mean still slightly warm and oh so gooey and buttery. We also received a little chocolate cake like thing. Again, I'm not sure what it is as no one told us and mine is uneaten as yet, but they look delicious.

I was very happy that I had chosen to wear black, as just about all the patrons in the restaurant were also wearing black. However, I was happy I wasn't wearing all black so that I wasn't mistaken for the wait staff.

The front bar was hopping. When we were waiting for the rest of our party to arrive, I was a little concerned that it was going to be another loud dinner (like the Gage Cafe we ate at for winter), but the dj (and yes, there was a dj in a cute little glass booth) was only spinning records for the front bar. Once we were brought back into the main part of the restaurant, it was much quieter. No one lost a voice this time around.

We sat at a table in front of the kitchen, which had pluses and minuses. One of my friends didn't like looking into the open kitchen, but I always enjoy watching the preparations of food. Then again, I like to cook! Because we were in the row of tables closest to the kitchen, we were sometimes served from behind our banquette. This was awkward, as the servers had to stretch over the back of the bench to our table, and it was too far a reach for them to do naturally. I would recommend changing that for future patrons.

Aside from that, the service was fairly attentive without being overbearing -- with the few exceptions already noted. It was disappointing that our server wasn't with us each time. We had to tell those who delivered our food which dish went to which person. I would have expected better of a restaurant this caliber. No one ever explained dishes as they were set in front of us, except for the amuse bouche. I always like hearing about my choices again, especially when they're somewhat unusual, and I may not remember what exacty I ordered.

It was a wonderful meal, and I'll happily return there again. Even more of a pleasure was receiving our bill. Even with our drinks, the meal wasn't nearly as expensive as we'd expected it to be. It wasn't like a meal out at McDonalds or Chili's, but it was still less than we were fearing.

So ... if anyone is interested in enjoying a meal that focuses on local and organic foods, let me know. I'm happy to return to one sixtyblue to round out a dinner party!


Melisa with one S May 23, 2009 at 7:20 PM  


And fresh caramels? ooh, my mouth is watering! :)

I might have to "drag" you there one day. :)

Melisa with one S May 23, 2009 at 8:07 PM  

I've got an award waiting for you at my place! xoxo

septembermom May 24, 2009 at 4:01 PM  

So much fun! Glad that you weren't mistaken as a waitress. But think of the tips you could have made? Wish I could hang out with you guys. You seem to know how to have a nice time together!

Ryan Ashley Scott May 24, 2009 at 10:52 PM  

Ooooohhh, YUM! It sounds wonderful, and such a perfect girl's night out. If I ever get to Chicago, I'd love to check this place out.

anymommy May 24, 2009 at 11:10 PM  

Oh my. I want to go. Right now. Thanks for this delightful look at Chicago cuisine - even if I am going to bed insanely jealous.

H F W May 25, 2009 at 4:02 PM  

Ohhh! That sounds sooo good. I'll have to suggest that for our next GNO ... after I've had the baby, though, so I can have a yummy drink.

Great review! Thanks.

Michelle May 25, 2009 at 9:34 PM  

Melisa - Name that date and time :) And thanks!

septembermom - I don't think tips are worth the pain that waitresses go through! At least not at this stage in my life. And yeah, we know how to have fun. We're debating going to Al Hambra Palace in the fall (summer is outdoor seating by the river restaurant) and then stopping at the ummm adult type store next door ;)

RAS - Oh, definitely check it out. TRU is still my all time favorite Chicago restaurant, but this is a fraction of the price.

anymommy - Sorry, and you're pregnant, too. Oops. Make your hubby take you!

Hyacynth - It makes for a great GNO. And while they do have nonalcoholic drinks, it's worth it to wait until after baby :)

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