One of the questions I hear from our clients: Do you use local sustainable ingredients? People in the Bay Area are hip to this concept. They see it in the local press. They see it espoused on local restaurant menus.
And, YES we do! And, we here on the west coast are not alone.
On a recent trip to the Miidwest I saw and tasted the same trend. I spent some time in Chicago, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio and found the same passion and skill that fueled the food scene in California. I also found that chefs there were looking in their own backyards and local farms to stock their pantries.
Here are a few sample virtual tastes, beginning with Chicago.
We were not able to get a dinner reservation at Blackbird on short notice, but we did squeeze in for a late lunch. Blackbird is not far from the Lake, on busy West Randolph Street,. It has a sleek almost industrial look. A vibe that says, ‘Hey, it’s happening here.’ We opted for the three course prix fixe lunch. It was about the best $22 we’ve ever spent for lunch.
My meal began with confit of octopus ( the octopus is cooked in buttermilk) with pea porridge and dill seeds garnished with a tiny salty meringue which I didn’t really understand why is was there, but it tasted good.
Then, wood-grilled sturgeon with smoked green cabbage, fried enoki mushrooms and walnuts with a smear of kkaffir lime across the plate.
The enoki mushrooms at Blackbird
My desert was Valrhona chocolate draped Pain Perdu with pistachios buttercream and candied beets. Long plate, of course. Oh my!
Longman & Eagle
This is a relaxed and easy-to-like take on a traditional Chicago bar-resaurant. Chef Jared Wentworth is passionate in his quest for local ingredients, insisting on a farm to table, “nose to tail” approach. The menu changes with what is available, sometimes daily. If you don’t have a good time here, you have serious problems.
Our server had just returned to Chicago after working in San Francisco for several years. His heart was yearning for San Francisco but his head knows that working three jobs just to make his rent in this city is a bit crazy. He can have a job and a life in Chicago.
Slagel Farm Hen eggs featured at Longman&Eagle are what eggs are supposed to taste like. Slagel meats are on the menu, too. My asparagus-rhubarb salad with a one hour Slagel egg, pickled red onions, Werp greens and shaved goat cheese makes me want to get my reservations to fly to Chicago next spring.
Oh, and they rent out rooms, too. Four rooms. I liked the one with the footed tub in the middle of the room. Now, that’s sexy.
The Purple Pig
The motto at this Near North Side Michigan Avenue restaurant is ‘Cheese, Swine & Wine’ to which I would add, Wow! It is the place to be after catching the early show at Blue Chicago, a blues club just a few blocks away on North Clark Street.
Fava beans, baby leeks and a hard cooked egg with crispy prosciutto was my starter. Standots in my memory was the cheese plate: Green Hill Camembert from Georgia, and the 2001 Viña Tondonia Reserva Rioja.
Well, the point is not to urge you to go to the airport and grab the next flight to Chicago, but to remember to be mindful of what’s on your plate, wherever you are eating. Remember to connect locally, to look beyond the same tired theme chain restaurant and seek out real local food. Your palate will thank you.
Next time, on to Cleveland and Columbus.
(Ann Walker Catering will never offer you a cookie-cutter menu. We design the menu for your event based on what you want, not what is convienent for us. We also take into consideration what is in season. We use local and organic ingredients whenever possible.)