Matt left it up to me to decide where to go for our one fancy meal in Chicago. Oh dear. So many options and places to try in so little time! Friends had suggested Sepia, a chic restaurant in an old printing studio, and of course there was Alinea (sigh). I finally decided on Blackbird, which I had heard many good things about through the years.
I went, admittedly, with low expectations. When we pulled up in a cab, I saw the white table cloths and was kinda worried-- was it too stuffy? Should we just go to Avec, Blackbird's more casual, sister restaurant just two doors down, instead? Was that more our vibe that night? But we headed in, despite my indecisiveness (as I age, I'm becoming more indecisive. It's so annoying!).
But let me tell you, Blackbird defied any doubt from my mind, the moment we sat down. The staff were all so kind! People in Chicago are all just super gentile to begin with, but even at such a fancy restaurant, they were all just down to earth and unpretentious. Living in NYC for so long, I've become so jaded by snobby service. This experience was like a breath of fresh air. I adored our server, who was friendly and informative and so accommodating.
Here is our meal. It was over a month ago, but I still remember how fantastic everything was.
Started with the Cannes Artist (clever!), a gin cocktail with lavender and lemon and grapefruit.
Amuse bouche. I believe this was parmesan foam (?) and crisp bacon.
We ordered everything a la carte, and shared all the dishes-- four appetizers, one entree. I tend to believe that appetizers are always better at fancy restaurants, which is why I'm all about ordering as many as possible (as many as my eating partner will allow, that is. Ha). Since starting my new career as a server/bartender, I've learned the beauty of "coursing out" your meal. It really allows for a spaced out, leisurely meal.
Maryland soft shell crab with edamame and soy caramel. This was fried to perfection.
Wood grilled octopus with pickled ramps, miners lettuce, malted cream and candied red onions.
Time for wine.
SWEETBREADS! Fried and paired with kohlrabi, candied kumquats and black pepper jam.
Foie gras with charred green garlic, black garlic, almonds, shrimp salt.
Grilled wagyu flatiron and warm bone marrow with pickled cippolini onions, caraway crumble, chickweed, and pomegranate molasses.
Azuki baba with rhubarb, St. Germain, mint and forbidden rice sherbet.
Mint julep to round out the meal. It was the day before Derby Day, what can I say? It was mandatory.
The restaurant itself is very minimal. The crowd was bustling and having fun all around.
It poured that night.
We were some of the last customers in the restaurant, after being there for about three hours. Our cute waitress talked to us for a while, suggesting a bunch of other places we should go in the city. She wrote them all down on a postcard, and even drew us a little map, which is the top photo that Matt took. The gal was so fantastic, I wish I remembered her name. Awesome staff, in general.
Blackbird, thank you for a memorable meal and evening!
619 W. Randolph
Chicago, IL 60661
Top photo by Matt K.