Diner Amical with Chef Rene de Leon

Monday, October 21, 2013


Drinking and Dining Dawson Style


On October 21, 2013, more than fifty members of the Chicago Chaîne and their guests were the first patrons to experience The Dawson, the brand new eatery helmed by Chef Rene De Leon, most recently of Next Restaurant. The evening was also a fundraising event to support the Kendall College Scholarship Trust Fund, and was jointly organized among the Chicago Chaîne, owner Billy Lawless and his team (Henri, The Gage and now, The Dawson), and Kendall College. Cocktail hour began at The Dawson, a two-story, 230-seat venue. Members and guests entered through a pair of oversized wooden doors and were immediately struck by the stunning, “industrial chic” decor and its floor to roof windows. The exposed brick, reclaimed timbers and black ironwork are an homage to its neighborhood namesake, the historic 19th-century Dawson Brothers Plant. The centerpiece of each floor is a handsome wraparound bar, confirming that The Dawson will place equal emphasis on drinking and eating.

Attendees were greeted with a seasonal cocktail dubbed the Zodiac Cobbler (Scorpio edition). The drink, which incorporated Byrrh aperitif (red wine infused with quinine and herbs), Manzanilla sherry, raspberry, lemon, orange, mint and crushed ice, was as pretty as it was tasty. We also sampled the House Manhattan, created with The Dawson’s own single barrel of Old Weller Antique Bourbon (107 proof), Punt e Mes red vermouth, and Angostura bitters. Servers passed an array of appetizers that brought to mind Chicago’s diverse ethnic communities: a pork belly tostada, Asian-steamed “pigs in blankets” (Mandarin-style pork sausage wrapped in a bao with mustard sauce), and a wood-grilled squid salad crostini were all enthusiastically received. These eclectic offerings shared one thing in common: big, bold flavor profiles that creatively elevated simple ingredients. Following cocktails and appetizers at The Dawson, guests were driven in luxury buses to the Skyline Room of Kendall College for a preview of Chef Rene’s menu at The Dawson. (The Dawson team thoughtfully provided passengers with an amber glass eyedropper bottle filled with the House Manhattan for the 10-minute journey.)

Our first course was hamachi crudo topped with sour and peppery herbs, Fresno chiles and pickled shallots that paired nicely with crisp Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne. Next we were treated to two vegetarian courses. First up was Chef Rene’s take on the classic Waldorf salad with grilled radicchio, Gala apples, grapes and candied walnut emulsion, the latter component enhanced by the pecan, cinnamon, vanilla and apple notes of Vander Mill Totally Roasted Cider beer. The salad was followed by a flavorful Mughlai curry with roasted carrots, fingerling potato and fried okra. This course paired well with a 2004 Joh. Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, a tart wine with good acidity and notes of green apples, minerals and white florals.

After our vegetarian offerings, Chef Rene presented two fish courses: An escabeche of fried mackerel, pickled peppers, zucchini and red onion; and pan-seared hake accompanied by octopus agrodolce, celery root, artichoke and herbs. The bold citrus notes of the 2011 Villa Maria Estate Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand stood up to the flavorful escabeche, and a French Chardonnay—2011 Domaine Thibert Père et Fils Pouilly-Fuissé “Les Travers”—worked exceptionally well with the hake.

Our final savory course of the evening was wood-grilled New York strip steak with grilled tomato, mushrooms, spinach, horseradish and house-made steak sauce served on a wood plank. This dish was paired with the wine highlight of the evening, Château Talbot 1989—the tobacco, cedar and black fruit flavors of this Bordeaux blend enhanced every bite of the beef.

We concluded the meal with a lovely light dessert.  Citrus and juniper lemon curd was topped with almond divinity (related to nougat and meringue) and drizzled with “gin” syrup, which was paired with a beautifully balanced 2002 Alois Kracher Chardonnay TBA #2 Nouvelle Vague that exhibited passionfruit, citrus and honey on the palate.

Throughout the course of the evening Chef Rene and The Dawson’s General Manager, Clint Rogers, provided concise, thoughtful commentary on each of the courses, and Bailli Mon Roldan introduced each of the accompanying beverages. As the meal concluded, guests were treated to a short film about the relationship between the Chicago Chaîne and Kendall College, and their joint philanthropic efforts to provide financial support to aspiring student chefs through the Kendall College Scholarship Trust Fund. Maître Hôtelier Emily W. Knight, President of Kendall College, thanked attendees for supporting this worthy cause.

The evening concluded with Bailli Mon Roldan thanking Chef Rene for offering us this exciting preview of his food, and presenting a certificate to The Dawson Team. The Dawson’s vibrant bar program, unique physical space and diverse, elevated comfort food menu promises to make it a popular location for dinners among friends.


Join us as we spend an evening enjoying the culinary creativity of Chef Rene DeLeon Jr. Chef Rene is no stranger to our group, having hosted us a few times during his stints at Next and Alinea, after spending time at The French Laundry. He is highly accomplished and knew from a very young age that food was his passion.

The question, which begs to be answered, is: “What’s next after Next for Chef Rene?” Chef Rene’s vision for The Dawson is to represent iconic contemporary regional American cuisine - from Asian Steamed Pigs in a Blanket to a Waldorf salad to a variety of Fruit Cobblers. His repertoire will be approachable, but surely delicious. So come and find out.

Our evening begins after a short trolley ride from Kendall College to Dawson where we will sip Single Barrel Manhattan’s, as well as several signature cocktails. There will be a variety of passed appetizers to whet our appetite.
This dinner is collaboration between the Chicago Chaîne, Billy Lawless (Henri, The Gage, and now, The Dawson) and Chef Rene DeLeon, Jr. The proceeds from this dinner will go to the Kendall College Charitable Trust.
We are looking forward to a wonderful evening!


Reception at The Dawson – 6:30PM

Dinner at Kendall College Skyline Room – 8:00PM

Dress Code – ‘Industrial Chic” or Smart Casual, with Decorations for Members

Event Price – $165pp, all inclusive


Due to very limited parking at The Dawson, we urge everyone to park at:

Kendall College
900 N. North Branch
Chicago, IL 60642

We will provide free trolley runs as follows:

Trolley to Dawson: runs begin @ 6:00PM with last pick-up @ 6:20PM

Trolley to Kendall: runs begin @ 7:15PM with last pick-up @ 7:35PM

1. As event proceeds will go directly to the KCCT Scholarship Fund, registration will be through KCCT on line.
2. $80.00 of your event fee per person will be considered as charitable donation to the KCCT Scholarship Fund.
Expect to receive from KCCT a letter of acknowledgement reflecting the donation amount for your files.
3. To register, you need to buy tickets at the website link:
4. Enter promo code “dawsonkcct” (all lower case).
5. The transaction will appear on your statement as PayPal “KENDALLCOLL.”
6. Should you need assistance, please contact: Robin Malpass at (312) 752-2352 or at