The crisp and razor sharp Blackbird is well known as one of Chicago’s top dining spots. Opened in 1997 by a small group of talented and ambitious restaurateurs, this class establishment has since garnered numerous world-renowned awards including the James Beard Award for its sleek minimalist design, as well as the legendary Michelin star. Today, the excellent team, led by executive chef Paul Kahan and mixologist Lynn House are out to bring bold conventions and a redesign of fine cuisine.
I’ve been to hundreds of restaurants. Sometimes you get weary of the same conventions and templates that boggle down local American cuisine. But every now and then, once in a blue moon, you have a meal that is more than a bite to eat. It is, in every sense of the word, an experience. And it belongs in a category all of its own.
For me, Blackbird is an experience.
The food is exceptional, every item on the menu is masterfully crafted; a brand new take on the ingredient for me. This isn’t the same ingredients and the same dishes you’re used to. The amuse-bouche was an expertly grilled halibut with a citrus sauce, and it’s just the beginning of the flavor. The appetizers are creative, well-crafted and delicious. Poached shrimp with beets, chanterelles, nutmeg and purslane. The purslane give a floral aroma to the shrimp, while chanterelles add a light flavor to the dish. It’s exceptional.
The main courses are similarly breathtaking in complexity and execution. How about a chicory glazed lamb loin with turnup, meyer lemon, escarole and a pine nut hollandaise? It’s delightful, the flavors are strong and the dish isn’t overly filling. Better still is the duck breast, which is a bit simpler with its asparagus and sourdough and topped with herbs. In spite of the relatively simple execution of she dish, it’s enhanced that deep, savory flavor that makes duck so delicious.
My favorite course here though, has got to be desert. The milk chocolate pudding is a tasty and simply sweet dish served with caramelized milk ice cream, peaches and a crumble. An alternative, a savory option I really loved was the sheep’s milk. It’s accentuated with a few strawberries, sourdough and a little basil and it’s a fantastic option for a savory desert.
So the cocktails deserve a mention, too. They’re in-house creations with a similarly masterful execution of the ingredients. My personal favorite is the Blackbird Orange, whose exact composition is Murphy Law Riesling, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, Imbue Vermouth, Orange Juice, and Bitters. The end result is a citrus and slightly sweet drink that goes well with appetizers. The Moonraker, in spite of a core ingredient of Absinthe, has a light taste somewhat like licorice. Rosalind’s Kiss indeed has the light parting snap of a kiss; it’s got a lemon taste and only a hint of the flavor of the North Shore Aquavit and Roi Rene Rouge. Absolutely brilliant drinks.
The service here is the epitome of professionalism; the wait staff seems excellently trained at getting food prepared quickly, though I will say they seemed a little slow on the delivery to tables at times. I was also sorely disappointed when we waited for 15 minutes in spite of making a reservation, but that was the product of slow patrons, not a fault of the restaurant. In fact, they gave us champagne for our trouble.
Really and truly, Blackbird was an entirely unique dining experience and in a category of its own. This place is beyond good cuisine, it’s a work of art. The staff is crisp and professional, and effortlessly takes you along the journey. So much does this place impress me, that I consider it well deserving of its accolades, and at a level surpassing all others for good cuisine.