Sunday, February 13, 2011


So im about elbow deep in petite fours at school. We have been cranking them out, as they say. Madeleines, plain macarons, pistachio white chocolate macarons, chocolate earl grey macarons, opera cake, chouquettes, salambos paris brest(s), apple tarts, chocolate espresso tarts, blueberry tarts, and so and on. There are pictures somewhere, but not here. I promise, I will eventually remember to take some pictures. Were coming up on exams, which will prove to be interesting. 3 days of practicals! Fun stuff.

This upcoming weekend is the start of Chicago Restaurant Week. The list was..nice, but there were only so many places I really wanted to go. I will be hitting up Cafe Spiaggia, The Gage, Naha, and the Seasons. I also made a reservation for the March 1 grand opening of Homaro Cantu's new place, iNG. As far as I can tell, the restaurant will be in a soft opening stage from 2/14 - 2/28 and 3/1 is its official grand opening. Heres hoping I will enjoy it more than I enjoyed Moto.

So a week after my first dinner at Henri, I returned to have more of their incredible cassoulet. Please take a look at my earlier post about the meal, it was truly incredible. The entire week between my first meal there and this one I spent dreaming about their cassoulet. After a few days I couldn't take it any more and made a reservation for the following Monday (the cassoulet is only offered on Monday's).

I feel that I should say that word of my post about my dinner at Henri had travelled to the restaurant and Catherine Gilmore-Lawless, the owner, had contacted me to thank me. I cant really explain how kind it is to have someone involved in a restaurant seek out some totally insignificant, wannabe food writer just to say thank you for writing a positive review...but it really meat a lot to me. I mentioned to Catherine that I had made a reservation to come back to the restaurant and she invited me to tour their kitchen. Again, an incredibly kind gesture. Being a...'budding' chef..its always exciting to see the intricacies of any operation, and its just...weird outright asking a restaurant to go tour their kitchen. So of course I jumped at the opportunity and upon arriving at the restaurant I was lead downstairs to their kitchen. Its hard to describe the layout of a kitchen in any way that is exciting to read, especially without the aid of pictures..but it was a great experience. Everyone I met in the back of the house (and the entire restaurant) was incredibly gracious and welcoming and didn't seem the least bit off put by some strange kid touring their kitchen. I have had the pleasure of working in kitchens that people wanted to tour and I've seen some chefs be kind of...annoyed to go through the motions...but the staff here is proud of their facilities and excited to show it off.

Back in the dining room, I found out that Megan was once again going to be my waitress for the evening. After being beyond happy with her knowledge of the menu and warm, professional service; I trusted her to guide me - more or less - through my dinner. The poultry/game special sounded incredible; though I don't remember what it was - some Texan game bird. This only sticks out because each time Ive gone to Henri I knew I wanted the cassoulet but have been seriously tempted by their daily specials. It took me a bit to decide between this dish & the cassoulet...and ultimately I went with the cassoulet. Next time (and there will be a next time!) I will definitely try something other than cassoulet!

I started with a Linch Pin cocktail, made with Pineau de Charentes, Farmers Gin, and orange peel. This was refreshing and delicious.

Next up, I had crudo of Hawaiian Tuna, with local mache, crisp shiitake, and salted pineapple:

This was a beautifully refreshing crudo. The acidity of the pineapple dressing was very nice with the tuna and not overly salty as the description may lead you to believe. The crisp shiitake added a wonderfully textural contrast as well as a really wonderful flavor. Ive had quite a bit of raw tuna apps in the past year or so; so I wouldn't have had this dish if Megan had not suggested it. In the end, I'm glad she did because it was great.
As I have already rambled on and on about; I had the cassoulet for my entree. Not much else to say here that I haven't already said. Ive now dined at the majority of the micheline star restaurants in Chicago, including Alinea - the best restaurant in North America; and I still stand by my statement that this cassoulet is the best single dish I have had in Chicago. If youre reading this and in Chicago...go make a reservation already!

With my entree, I enjoyed a stellar glass of 2008 L'angevin chardonnay. This was sent to my table. I could speculate why, but its not important really - it was extremely generous of the restaurant and I cannot thank them (specifically Terry McNeese) enough for it. Im not really a wine guy, never have all tastes more or less so the same to me. Its a little embarrassing admitting that, being someone who's entire career will be guided by my palate...but its just the way it is for me. Maybe I don't drink the stuff often enough to compare and contrast. Who knows. Either way, occasionally I'll have a glass thats really great and I can recognize that. This was one of those glasses.

I ended the meal with their dark chocolate tart (on Terry's recommendation from the last time I was there...sorry for the blurry photo!):

This is a pretty standard tart done extremely well. It had just enough caramel layered beneath a velvety smooth ganache...topped with a just sweet enough chantilly that it didn't take away from the bitter notes from the dark chocolate. I know how hard it is to achieve this sort of balance in flavors and difficult it is to pull of the classics and make them stand out...and they've done this repeatedly at Henri. And frankly..they do with everything that they do...from their amazingly generous, kind, and welcoming service to all of their detail is too small. This is what separates the good from the great. And Henri is truly a great restaurant.

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