Blackbird

619 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60661(312) 715-0708blackbirdrestaurant.com

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The first thing that struck me when I entered Blackbird was that the décor is very white without a morsel of black to be found anywhere, ironically. The other thing I noticed is that while the service is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, they are also unbelievably slow, to the point of distraction, taking 40 minutes just to take our order and that was only because I flagged him down. Not even bread or drinks came in this time. And once they did, our waiter dripped the wine all over the table and down the sides of the glass EVERY time he poured it. It was so bad I think I’ve seen less dribbling in the United Center!

Fortunately the wine was good (what was left of it after he dripped most of it on the table) and the Port of Call cocktail is just awesome and it comes with significantly less dripping, unless it’s self-inflicted. Also, I do want to mention that the wine list has some solid, affordable options and the bread was warm and yummy, served with a curried butter.

It was from that point on that Blackbird soared, from a tasty amuse bouche to a trio of incredible appetizers that resoundingly affirmed that this chef de cuisine got game!

The most creative of the three would be the panzanella salad made with sweetbreads and sweet bread. A fun play on words and ingredients, using Hawaiian bread as a sweet counterweight to the savory glands. As was the raspberry vinaigrette. But as good as it was, it was actually the weakest of the three, best by the turnip and foie gras soup. So creamy and rich you should have to pay luxury tax on every spoonful. And my favorite of the three, the endive salad, believe it or not. Served in a stunning bird’s nest (pictured) with a poached egg, crispy potato, basil, pancetta and dijon. Relatively simple, but positively brilliant.

Both entrees I tried were exceptional as well. Completely apples and oranges, but each superb in their own right. The halibut is perfectly cooked and artfully accompanied by peekytoe crab and gooseberries. It was also somehow both decadent (duck fat) and light at the same time. Whereas the beef striploin was a full on savory-palooza, cooked to perfection and surrounded by a wonderful chanterelle moat with additions of quince, horseradish and crispy polenta planks. Masterful!

The only miss of the night was the carrot cake, and by miss I actually mean that it was good, but in comparison to the complimentary eclair and the white chocolate bar I would skip it, because that complimentary duo beats the cream cheese out of that cake 10 times out of 10, and I’ve a HUGE carrot cake fan, so this is saying a lot.

What’s also saying a lot is that not since the Purple Pig have I had a meal this good in Chicago. Granted I haven’t been to Alinea yet, so stay tuned.

4 teeth

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Juniper

575 Warburton Ave. Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706 • (914) 478-2542 •  juniperhastings.com

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I have to say that I’m a little surprised that Juniper has held on as long as it has. Sure, its cute little dining room and friendly staff make for a pleasant first 15 minutes, but after that, the wheels start coming off compared to the likes of The Cookery, Twisted Oak or Wolfert’s Roost, all of which handily beat Juniper when it comes to food in the River Towns. It’s a shame too, because after hearing fellow foodies rave about it, I got my hopes up, not realizing they were raving on a curve. Ya know how it is, it’s “suburbs-good.” Well, I beg to differ.

I had the brisket burger, which sounded too good to be true, and unfortunately it was too eh to be good. Wifey had the special mushroom soup which was the best thing of the night and the hanger steak, which sagged below the low-set bar of my brisket burger. But even worse than a mediocre meal is having to wait 45 minutes for it to arrive with no bread or anything to tide us over. This, topped with the fact that they don’t even serve alcohol made me even more cantankerous than I already am, having to run across the street to a wine store and buy a bottle. Fortunately I had plenty of time. 😉

For dessert, we cut our losses and didn’t even order it, not that we were dieting, but because I didn’t want to have to run back across the street for port. Plus, it probably wouldn’t have been worth another 45 minutes anyways.

2 teeth