From the bucket to the sprout

I swear, I had the beginnings of a terrific blog post all drafted and ready. All I had to do was add some images of album covers and it was all set.

Last night I was supposed to be seeing Barry Manilow in concert at the Chicago Theatre, performing from his 2011 concept album 15 Minutes. Barry’s been a bucket-list item for me since I imprinted on him at the age of 12, he wasn’t getting any younger, and I wasn’t getting any closer to Las Vegas. So I was excited to hear my husband had gotten us tickets to his sold-out Friday night show, even though it made for a super-hectic Friday of work, classes, an eye exam, picking up the kids from school, and rushing them to their grandparents’ house before switching cars and driving (him) / riding (me) to downtown Chicago. Also on the agenda was brunch at Rick Bayless’s restaurant Xoco the next morning. We’re big Top Chef fans and although he’s eaten at two other Top Chef restaurants (run by Harold Dieterle, winner of Season 1, and Wylie Defresne, Top Chef Master), this would be my first Top Chef meal.

But at about noon on Friday, he texted me with the news that Barry was still not recovered from recent hip surgery, and the show was cancelled. And then another text: we couldn’t get out of the hotel reservation, so we were going to take the trip anyway and have dinner at a Top Chef restaurant.

The hotel, Sax, was literally next door to the House of Blues. Which we didn’t enter, have a drink at, or hear anyone play at. Next slide, please!

The unvisited House of Blues

With the Jetta safely valet-parked somewhere in Chicago, and trying not to think of Cameron’s dad’s Ferrari, we took a cab a little ways north to Sprout, which is run by Season Three Top Cheffer Dale Levitski. Now, I was being a happy little tourist taking pictures outside, but I wasn’t about to take any pictures of the restaurant interior, the menus, or the food — although I was tempted to do so at certain points in the meal.

I was going to try to link you to the menus at the Sprout website, but they are not the same menus we saw last night. I have a feeling they change very frequently. Instead, you’ll have to trust my descriptions as I, in turn, will have to trust my memory. (Buckle up.)

Before dinner I had a cocktail that was basically a lime fizz with ginger. It was served with a tiny wedge of lime on the glass and had a very dry finish.

For dinner you could order a la carte from the menu or choose, as we did, the prix fixe. We chose an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert from the menu and would also receive a soup course and a cheese course along the way.

The appetizer I chose was a curried shrimp, which was cooked to perfection on a square of puff pastry and accompanied with a mildly sweet sauce the color of butternut squash, sprinkled with pistachios, and next to a small salad of baby turnip greens, radishes, and dark cherries. It was amazing, and our server indicated that things would only get better from there.

Oh, yes — I was also having a lovely glass of wine with dinner. I usually prefer a white wine on the sweet side, but having picked spicy shrimp to start with and a game meat as the center of my meal, I ended up with a full-bodied red wine that would go pretty well with everything. I do not by any means have an expert palate (though I was, um, coached in the drinking arts by a pair of sophisticated drinkers who shall remain un-named), so when the server described Wine One as “all right” and Wine Two as something that would “provide better structure for my meal,” I decided to trust his authority and didn’t regret it.

Next came the soup course, a tiny taste of a butternut-and-something soup garnished with baby greens and served in a small white cylinder of a “bowl.” The total volume of soup, velvety on the tongue, couldn’t have been two tablespoons, which was good because it was terribly rich, and having any more would have ruined my appetite for the….

Venison, crusted with black pepper, with rustic mashed potatoes and a dark-cherry-and-something demiglaze. I have never had venison before, but tonight seemed the night to try it. The slices appeared rare in the middle, but were actually cooked perfectly and just melted in my mouth. And the wine was perfect with it, strong enough to handle the black pepper (which I barely noticed) yet add some sweetness.

It was around this time that Chef Dale (actually, Executive Chef Dale) came out of the kitchen to talk with the Annoying Couple at the table next to ours. They had been a little too loud all evening, casually dismissive of almost everything on their plates, and basically a pair of local nitwits for whom requesting an audience with the chef was standard operating procedure. Dale stood between our tables and chatted amiably with them, so close to me that I could have goosed him. (I didn’t.) I guess part of a chef’s image is the ability to interact politely with anybody who wants to interact with you, and Dale does that very well. When he was done with them, Brendan caught his eye, and Dale asked about our meal, so we chatted him up for a couple of minutes, asking a bit about behind-the-scenes Top Chef stuff (judges’ table can last up to FOUR HOURS) and trying to spend more time than that in praising his food to high heaven.

Dale retreated to the kitchen, and our cheese course came out. I was expecting a plate with cheese on it, but what we got was a “grilled cheese sandwich” that was more like a wedge of a quesadilla, with aged Wisconsin white cheddar and thin slices of roasted apple inside. This is the only item I ordered that is pictured on the Sprout website; go to the Gallery and click once on “back” to see it.

Then it was time for dessert, and I had picked “chocolate.” (Why would I not?) I remember a chocolate mousse with shaved chocolate, and some creme anglaise, and a very very rich dark-chocolate-and-something sauce beneath it all, but my stomach was filling and now my memory is fading. Everything was wonderful, and I don’t remember sharing a bit of it. I did make a bit of a mistake with this course by not finishing my wine before I started eating it — it was a clash. I remedied that as soon as I could (bottoms up!), and enjoyed the chocolate very much. We finished with a cup of coffee (sweetened with raw-sugar cubes and can’t-say-“lightened” with some thickness of cream) and cabbed it back to the hotel.

Gene Siskel Film Center

On Saturday morning we took a walk around the area before heading back to Milwaukee to get the kids. We went down State Street and passed the Chicago Theatre, which did NOT list Barry Manilow on the marquee. We saw the Gene Siskel Film center (miss you, Gene). We wandered around a bit, then saw something very familiar — a huge Picasso sculpture I’ve seen dozens of times in The Blues Brothers, and a signal that we were at Richard J. Daley Plaza and “on set” for the culminating scenes of The Blues Brothers. I was a very happy little tourist here, and scurried around to find just the right angles for my pictures. They’re also in a Facebook photo album titled “Blues Brothers Walking Tour.

Chicago Theatre

National Radio Hall of Fame

Does anybody know whose these fellows are, on the side of the Cook County Municipal Building? Boy, would I like to tag them on Facebook.

Mystery Man 1

Mystery Man 2

All in all, it was a fun trip even though I didn’t get to see Barry (yet). Chicago itself was my eye candy, from architecture to cuisine to walking through scenes from one of my favorite movies.

So. Resolution update? A little knitting, great work in my classes (I was even the first to turn in my Astronomy homework online), no getting rid of anything, and I don’t dare step on a scale after eating and drinking as I did. I didn’t even tell you about the espresso/Tia Maria/vodka cocktail I had this morning with a three-egg spinach and feta omelet, with perfect hash browns and wheat toast on the side. That omelet might feed me at every breakfast for a week!

Published in: on February 4, 2012 at 10:27 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Crap. Now I’m hungry. But it sounds like you had a wonderful time!

  2. OMG – it sounds like a FABULOUS time! 🙂 Sorry you didn’t get to see Barry though.

  3. The statues are by Leon Hermant and are called “Labor on Water” and “Labor on Land”

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