OK. Graham Elliot. This restaurant is run by Graham Elliot Bowles, who appeared on the first two seasons of Top Chef Masters. It also just received its first Micheline Star. Its also the kind of place you can goto in jeans and a t-shirt and not feel like a jackass. Theres an interesting mix of 90s punk and modern hipster music playing. What Im getting at here is that for the quality and style of food they're pushing out here - the setting is not the norm. And I love it. It can be weird eating dinner by yourself, even more so when you have a lavish tasting menu. Being in an uncomfortable, stuffy dining room only adds to that. At Graham Elliot, I was totally relaxed and at ease. I also had one of the best servers I have ever had - Robbie. If youre there, request him. You wont regret it.
I want to apologize ahead of time for the photographs - the camera is new to me and Im not really used to doing it in a restaurant so I tried to be discreet. Hopefully the quality will get better as time goes on.
Popcorn (bread) Service:
So instead of bread at Graham Elliot, you get popcorn. I read a bit about it before I went and its a little unclear to me if the popcorn toppings change or if they are always the same. Mine was topped with cracked black pepper, parmesan, and truffle oil. The popcorn itself was a *little* stale but it didn't bother me much because it was delicious. I doubt I will ever have plain popcorn again.
I started off with a cocktail - I was a bit torn between a few and my server recommended the Christmas Manhattan (Black maple hill burbon, orchard cherry, great lakes xmas ale, cardamom demerara, cherry-vanilla bitters). My grandfather used to make me Manhattans every time I would go see him and he would make them with burbon and add a splash of the cherry juice. This tasted pretty much exactly like his Manhattans and I loved it. The photo I took of the glass looked worse than the beet salad photo below, so you'll understand why Im not bothering posting it.
Course 1:Roasted beet/homemade ricotta/fried prosciutto - While you might not think it from the photo - this course was beautifully composed. When it comes down to it, it was just a beet salad but it was delicious. A wonderful blend of texturs and flavors, just the right amount of acid. The prosciutto chip was really yummy
Deconstructed caesar salad - Made up of gem lettuce, anchovy, brioche twinkie, and parmesan fluff. Tasted just like a good caesar salad. The twinkie was awesome and very pleasing texturally. Playful without being silly.
Butternut bisque/coconut milk/curry marshmallow/cabbage/toasted pepito - Garnishes were presented dry with the broth/soup poured table side. I was instructed to let the marshmallow melt fully into the soup. It was great...curried butternut bisque. Velvety smooth. If I was forced to complain about something it would be the garnishes were a bit al dente for me, but barely so.
Cheddar risotto/pheasant bratwurst/green apple/beer gel - This is the type of playfulness that Moto is desperately trying to achieve, and failing at doing so. Beautifully presented, wonderfully balanced - taking pedestrian flavors and dishes and elevating them to fine dining. The risotto, a riff of mac and cheese, was great. The bratwurst were fantastic. The beer gel made sense with everything rather than just being there to say hey look what we did. Awesome, awesome, awesome.
Sea scallop/braised endive/salsify gnocchi/persimmon puree/persimmon chip - Right before this dish arrived, my server came over and poured me a glass of some Sardinian wine, saying it pairs so well with this course I had to have it. Awesome. The scallops were perfectly seared and wonderfully tender inside. Im kind of weird with scallops - one day I will love them and the next day I hate them. This day I loved them. All the accompaniments were great EXCEPT the persimmon chip, which was chewy and sticky the way a sugardaddy is.
Arctic char/mustard spaetzle/pickled beet/pumpernickel dust/dill coulis/caraway vinaigrette - All I wrote down for this course was 'awesome all around'. I really liked the spaetzle. I know Im reaching for description here but...pretty much all I wrote for every course was 'AWESOME', 'AMAZING', 'REALLY GREAT'...so...well you get the point
Heritage chicken/roasted chestnut/cranberry marmalade - Before this course came out my server asked me if I wanted anything else to drink, and I said in a sort of indecisive way, 'I think Im all set'. He then asked me if I would say no if he brought something out - and I said I wouldn't. So....he brought me a cocktail for this course...that I dont think was on the menu, and I cant recall what exactly was in it aside from some beer and some cranberry something. It was nice, in a negroni kind of way. It went really well with the dish. What I wrote about the dish was 'everything rules except the chestnut'. Im not a huge fan of chestnuts...they have a bizarre mouth feel.
Wagyu beef/potato confit/autumn root/powdered foie/truffle consomme - Robbie, my server, brought another glass of wine to pair with this course. All I know was it was red and it was good. And the food was as good as it sounds. Perfectly seared flat iron, wonderfully earthy flavors. It was served in one of those wide, shallow bowls that can double as a plate. This made it a little tricky to spoon up all of the truffle consomme.
Pistachio pudding/sour cherry sorbet/blood orange gel/cocoa nib/sugar tuile - This was a really great dessert. The pudding was velvety smooth with a wonderfully soft pistachio flavor. The sorbet was awesome and really countered the soft pistachio flavor. The tuile and cocoa nibs added great texture.
Indoor s'mores - graham cracker/milk chocolate foam/dark chocolate ganache/house made marshmallows/peanut butter gelato/sea salt - This was unfortunately my least favorite dish of the night. It was most certainly s'mores, but I felt that it was a bit too rich for the last course. Everything was delicious, especially the peanut butter gelato.
I wont soon forget my dinner at Graham Elliot. Every dish was delicious, playful and sophisticated while maintaining its integrity. The two wines and cocktail that my server brought to my table were complimentary, which I was shocked by. Rarely have I seen front of the house service that was so into the food they were delivering. Robbie was obviously passionate about not only impeccable service, but the nuances of the food and drinks and flavors and how they worked together. If you're looking for a place to eat in Chicago, you could certainly do worse than Graham Elliot.