Birth of the West Loop

When Chicago food enthusiasts think of the West Loop, they typically will name drop hot places like Next Restaurant, Girl & the Goat, or Vera. Some might be inclined to talk about spots that aren’t even open yet (think Little Goat, Grace, and belly q). But at the end of the day, there’s really one place that started the West Loop block party: Blackbird. Yes, Paul Kahan‘s fifteen year old restaurant was on Randolph before it was cool to be on Randolph. But what sets Blackbird apart is its ability to consistently produce flawless  farm-to-table menus. For fifteen years, Blackbird has somehow managed to marry luxury and comfort in a single dining experience.

A one-star Michelin Rated restaurant, Blackbird dishes out some of the most beautiful food in the city. Chef de Cuisine David Posey has been working his magic for around two years, and it’s obvious through his culinary pedigree (Trio, Alinea) and knowledge of ingredients (he work at Whole Foods to get a better understanding to learn about seasonality) that he knows what he’s doing in the kitchen.

My one true regret going to Blackbird is not doing the tasting menu. I was young and foolish…and didn’t want to do it by myself (the fiancee didn’t really want twelve courses). *Sigh* Oh well, there’s always next time. But regret aside, our dining experience was truly Michelin worthy. As mentioned, the menu changes often, think seasonally, so every time you go to Blackbird, you will find new and exciting things to try. On the evening that we dined, I ordered elk (first time!) and the future-wifey ordered a grilled sturgeon. The elk, cooked rare to medium-rare, was very lean and quite gamey. To complement the strong flavors, the elk is served with a few greens and blackberries. The sturgeon, a meatier fish, was paired with watermelon and loose leaves. Both dishes were tastefully developed, and eloquently plated.

A Michelin restaurant should also have top notch desserts, and yes, Blackbird has it. Chef Bryce Caron has returned to 619 Randolph with masterful creations. Imagine: a (dense) deconstructed sponge cake with raspberries, caraway custard, and buttermilk ice cream. Drooling yet? Well how about a chestnut mousse, with persimmons, caramel, and Perigord truffles? Yeah. Wipe your face a little bit.

So what else could an internationally acclaimed chef do to follow up such a success? Oh yeah, open up a casual it-spot next door (avec: post to follow), a seafood and swine joint a couple blocks away (The Publican: post to follow), a cell phone-free lounge (The Violet Hour), a taqueria in Wicker Park (Big Star), and a butcher shop across the street from, you guessed it, the swine joint (Publican Quality Meats: opening soon). Not too bad, right?

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