Genus Chenopodium: goosefoot

Before I read about everything that is Chicago food culture, my go-to reference for “good” restaurants, like many others, was the Zagat Restaurant Guide. For years, the top restaurant in that book was Les Nomades. The man at the reigns of this classic French restaurant was chef Chris Nugent. This talented young chef took this classic French restaurant to the top of the Zagat ratings (ahead of some little known restaurant named Alinea), four-star reviews, along with countless other accolades…and then he left.

But for what?

goosefoot

Located in Lincoln Square, goosefoot is hidden on a block of grocery stores, pizza restaurants, and sandwich shops. Who would have expected a fine dining restaurant to rest on this busy street? Chef and Mrs. Nugent, that’s who.

This quaint byob is currently serving some the finest cuisine in the city. The menus are crated based on seasonality, and chef Nugent said he shops for ingredients every morning, “so some things are on the menu one day and are modified or completely off the next.” A trendy approach to menus, as many other chefs are doing similarly.

Upon arriving, we are greeted by chef’s wife, Nina, who takes our wine and begins explaining the menu. One note to highlight: the menu is plantable. That is, she suggested putting it into a pot and watering it when we got home. Curious and intriguing, however the menu lies in a drawer instead. What came after the explanation and poured wine was a series of perfectly executed dishes.

In three words, the menu was light, sophisticated, and non-pretentious. Our meal started with a scallop dish, highlighted by lobster, licorice root and curry. The scallop was cooked perfectly, and the curry accented the seafood nicely. This dish set the tone for the evening, and showed that chef Nugent was not playing around.

lobster / scallop / licorice root / curry

Other notable dishes included a corn and potato soup with truffle essence. Absolutely delicious, with my only critique coming at the amount of salt (a little too much). The arctic char served with maitake, english peas, and espelette was plentiful in portion size, and was as exquisite as it was beautifully plated. Nugent also served a duck breast with beluga lentils, ginger and compressed apple, an interesting combination of flavors.

DSC01952duck breast / beluga lentil / ginger / compressed applegoosefoot / trumpet royalsarctic char / maitake / english pea / espelette

The meal concluded with a few desserts, introducing the chocolatier in chef Nugent. Pumpkin, coffee bean, and citrus were the center of attention for one dessert. With my dislike for pumpkin, I tried the dessert and wound up eating it all. A second dessert focused on hazelnut, various chocolates, caramel and coconut. Eloquently plated, and masterfully executed, this was the perfect way to end the meal.

pumpkin / coffee / cassia / citrushazelnut / chocolate / caramel corn / coconut

Chef Nugent showed us the kitchen, which is as narrow as a hallway, and explained that with goosefoot, he is now able to do everything he wants with his cooking. He explained that his past experiences (Les Nomades, Prairie, MK) taught him to refine his palate, and to focus on producing a sophisticated dish.

As we sat finishing our wine, we had an open discussion about our experience. Much of the table agreed that this was up there in top meals, and that Nugent deserved (at least) one Michelin star*. It is amazing, really, that a thirty-four seat restaurant take out the juggernaut known as Next to hold the title of Best New Restaurant 2012. But you know what? Chef Nugent deserves it.

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*We dined prior to the Michelin Guide’s release.

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Michelin Star Worthy

Chicago certainly has no dearth of fine dining options available. While we may not stack up to the New Yorks or Paris’ of the world, we definitely have our fair share of Michelin star restaurants (say, Blackbird). On a recent outing to Sepia, I was reminded of just how fortunate we are to have so many great places to choose from.

Located in the West Loop, just a block away from Blackbird and avec, Sepia is a contemporary American restaurant headed by chef Andrew Zimmerman that has been awarded a Michelin star the past two years. The place itself is small but very comfortable, with only one dining room adorned by racks of wine on the wall. The front of the house also contains a bar area for those stopping in for drinks.

Having never tried sweetbreads, I was intrigued when I saw them on the menu. After listening to a spirited recommendation from the server, I was sold—sweetbreads to start. They were soft and silky, fried and crispy. The thought of eating thymus gland may be off-putting to some, but truthfully the taste is not exceedingly radical from anything we normally eat and I think most people would have little reservations eating them if they didn’t know what they were.

For main courses, I had the flat iron steak while the rest of my table had the sturgeon and apple braised pork shank. My steak was cooked perfectly to medium rare (as all steaks should be), and was accompanied by some mushrooms and fingerling potatoes, as well as some coffee grounds on top. The mix of flavors ended up working well together and the coffee changed things up enough to keep it interesting. There was also a Bearnaise sauce to go alongside it but I completely forgot all about it until the end. As for the sturgeon, the fish was cooked nicely, but that’s about all I can say since it takes a lot for a fish dish to stand out for me. My mother seemed to enjoy it though. The pork shank was fall-off-the-bone tender and had a sweet apple-y flavor.

Capping the meal off was an amazing dessert, a flourless chocolate cake with bitter chocolate mousse and stout ice cream. If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll be in heaven. And if you’re not a chocolate lover, you’d still be floored by how good this thing was. Paired with the stout ice cream, which was phenomenal on its own, just pushed it into some sort of dessert nirvana.

Seriously it was that good, and the perfect end to a meal that served as a reminder that Chicago’s fine dining scene takes a backseat to no one.