There are very few things that will get me to head to the downtown Chicago area after a long day at camp:
1. A Cubs game
2. A great concert
3. A great meal
That’s about it. After-work traffic is a nightmare, and it’s almost a guarantee that it’s going to be a late night, which is a bad combination with an early morning! d
To say that a great meal led me and Lizz downtown after a busy Wednesday at the zoo (Numbers post to come soon, maybe!) would be an understatement. But allow me to rewind: almost two years ago, my sister Leigh got hired as the assistant pastry chef for the Sofitel Chicago Hotel. After enjoying a weekend stay, a few glorious meals, and countless beautiful desserts, I sang praises of her skills and the restaurant.
A mere two weeks ago, she was promoted to executive pastry chef, and I couldn’t be more proud! It always makes me so happy to see people I love doing what they love. When she invited me to come try her new menu, the exhaustion of a camp day faded from my mind and I grabbed Lizz to head downtown for a meal and dessert.
Leigh came out to say hello, introduced us to our hilarious server for the evening, and then the food began to arrive. A glass of wine, a choice of bread, and then the amuse bouche: marinated apricot with candied lemon, balsamic, and honey creme fraiche
Next, the soup and salad, which Lizz and I shared. First, a creamy gazpacho with basil sorbet and foam
And, quite possibly the prettiest salad either of us have ever eaten: watermelon and tomato with avocado cream, balsamic caviar, frisee, and onion
Our entrees arrived soon after. I went a little adventurous with the rabbit:
From the menu description: carrot puree, mustard sabayon, fava beans, melted leeks
Lizz went with the prime ribeye with japanese eggplant, local potato, black truffle jus, blue cheese espuma and baby carrots.
Both of these dishes were beyond delicious, and had combinations of flavors that were delicious and unexpected. Leigh had warned us to not eat too much because we were literally going to be trying her entire new menu. Once the table was cleared, the desserts started arriving, each with a special delivery and description from the chef herself.
The first came out with a “little table side action”… a small carafe half-full of small melon pearls were mixed with cantaloupe consommé, which was to be added to the first plate:
This first dessert was puffed tapioca, angel food cake, minted melon, mascarpone sorbet, and the cantaloupe consommé. The flavors were fresh, and simple, and the variety of textures ensured that the entire dish was interesting. Lizz and I decided to add a bit of the cantaloupe consommé and melon pearls, and, as Leigh suggested, enjoy the rest of it as a beverage.
While this was in front of me, Lizz had another plate altogether:
This was raspberry mousse, raspberries, sesame sponge cake, aloe cubes, aloe sorbet, and a raspberry gelee, with black sesame. We traded plates halfway through, and I will say that the aloe and aloe sorbet were among the most surprising flavors of the evening. I thought I’d hate it. I thought it would taste like sunscreen. But, much to my surprise, it was quite the contrary. The aloe is nearly indescribable, and meshed extremely well with the tartness of the raspberry and the toasted flavors in the sesame sponge.
Our plates were cleared, new silverware was placed, and Lizz and I received new desserts, this time, both the same.
This was a white peach bavois (the cake part), blackberry gelee, blackberry sorbet, gingered peaches, micro basil, and basil oil… oh, and “crunchies” (the very technical pastry term). Again, some of the flavors were exactly as I thought they’d be: blackberry in three ways, peaches and ginger… but the basil helped to tie the entire dessert together.
Since Lizz doesn’t like blueberries (I don’t get it either), we only got one of the next plates.
This is Leigh’s take on elotes, the traditional mexican grilled corn with chile and mayonnaise. Obviously, this isn’t grilled corn, but the implication is definitely there. Mesquite sponge cakes, aerated chocolate, freeze-dried corn, corn cream, horchata ice cream, feuillatine, and cinnamon blueberries. This is the dessert that I can’t get out of my head. The combination of flavors was definitely reminiscent of the savory dish I so love. Where the savory dish is spicy, this one had the tartness of blueberry along with the bite of cinnamon, smokiness of mesquite, and of course, corn. I think I could eat it every day…
Finally, the richest of the rich chocolate desserts arrived:
This was chocolate and hazelnut to the extreme. Baked chocolate mousse topped with chocolate, hazelnut mousse-filled chocolate domes, a hazelnut mousse filled chocolate ball, cocoa nibs, salted caramel, and moscato ice cream. When I want a chocolate dessert, this is the thing that I want. The chocolates all tasted somewhat different, some more bitter than others, but as with all the others, the flavors melded together perfectly.
Extremely full and blissed out from all the amazing desserts, Lizz and I followed Leigh on a tour behind the scenes of the hotel. Giant ovens, mixers, and lots of bustling chef action made me truly appreciate the insanity that my sister goes through on a daily basis.
The incredible desserts made me realize two things:
1. My sister is incredibly talented and good at her job. The way these dishes came together was beyond anything I could ever fathom.
2. I’m even more proud of Leigh than I thought I was!
Thank you Leigh for an evening of desserts I’ll never forget, and for the privilege of being the first outside person to taste your soon-to-be famous menu. I love you!