Thursday, September 06, 2012
Four Seasons Hotel
120 East Delaware Place
Maître Hôtelier Michele Grosso* GM, Chef Rôtisseur Kevin Hickey* Executive Chef We will discover the new space and dining concepts of this leading hotel.
Layers of Local Flavor and Loads of Fun at Allium Dîner Amicale
The Chicago Chapter of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs opened its 2012/2013 season with a “Dîner Amicale” created by Chef Rôtisseur Kevin Hickey, Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Chicago and its new restaurant, Allium. As members and guests were whisked to the seventh floor of the Four Seasons on Thursday, an elevator advertisement fortuitously explained the name and culinary concept behind our destination: “al.li.um (noun) (1) Latin for onion, the plant for which Chicago was originally named; (2) a new American Restaurant & Bar showcasing layers of local flavors.” Memories of past Chaîne events at the now shuttered Seasons Restaurant faded over the course of a wonderful evening, as Allium’s food and beverage program proved to be the perfect venue for a casual gathering of members to renew our camaraderie after the summer break.
Chicago has whole-heartedly embraced the restaurant phenomenon that seems to be sweeping the world—menus rooted in regional, farm-to-table fare. Like many such restaurants, Allium lists its local farming partners on its menu, including a nod to Dave Odd, the restaurant’s “forager,” who supplied some of the unusual wild berries and other ingredients that we would see later on the menu. What distinguishes Chef Hickey’s local cuisine, however, is that this 7th-generation South Side Chicagoan embraces his culinary experiences with the city’s numerous ethnic communities and uses their big, bold flavor profiles to elevate beautiful local products. How local? Many of the vegetables on Chef Hickey’s highly personal menu came right from his backyard or gardens at the Four Seasons. This Chicago-centric philosophy isn’t exclusive to Allium’s cuisine; the beverage program employs house-made mixers and syrups and premium liquors, many of which are created regionally. Chef Hickey has even collaborated with local breweries to create beers that pair perfectly with his cuisine.
Sixty-six members of the Chicago Chaîne and their guests stepped off the elevators and were welcomed at a convivial reception that celebrated Chicago and its ethnic diversity. Traditional food carts and slide shows of Chicago neighborhoods set the theme for a uniquely lighthearted cocktail hour. What could possibly be more local than a Chicago-style hot dog? It may sound like plebian fare, but Chef Hickey has created an all-beef red hot so flavorful and juicy that it deserves to be presented under a cloche instead of on a cart. (During dinner, Chef Hickey reported that an average of two hot dogs per guest were consumed during the reception!) We also thoroughly enjoyed Chef Hickey’s nod to Chicago’s ethnic communities: Pilsen, the heart of the city’s Mexican-American community, inspired tamales with a luxurious twist—duck confit and foie gras filling; and Chinatown’s dim sum tradition was represented by lobster and truffle shumai. Beer hawkers passed trays of regionally brewed artisan beers—Matilda from Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery; Gumball Head from Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana; and Third Coast Beer and Hopslam from Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan—all of which were perfect accompaniments to the elevated street food.
For the next phase of our evening, we sat at two very long communal tables that rapidly filled with waves of Allium’s “small plate” offerings, served family-style: bison tartar topped with a perfectly cooked 62 ºC egg and crunchy waffle chips with spicy Goose Island Sofie beer mustard on the side; Naked Cowboy oysters, simply topped with locally grown pickled radishes; the Jackson Pollack-inspired cheese lavosh, which was quickly and gleefully dismantled from its trapeze into edible shards by the diners; and miso deviled eggs topped with crunchy chicken “chicharrons.” Chef Hickey noted with amusement the recent resurgence in deviled eggs as a restaurant offering, saying that he never would have guessed the cover of Good Housekeeping from 1971 would be a “hot” trend in 2012! This round of delectable morsels was accompanied by Allium’s Gin n’ Juice cocktail: a tart blend of gin (Bilberry Black Hearts Gin from Three Oaks’ Journeyman Distillery in Michigan), rose simple syrup, grapefruit juice and house-made bitters.
The regional cuisine theme permeated the next wave of small plates, as well. One of the most delicious was Chef Hickey’s tribute to the allium genus—a tarte tatin made with a sweet and smoky onion that was cooked sous vide in butter for 24 hours and perched atop a crust filled with savory handcrafted goat cheese from Nordic Creamery in southwestern Wisconsin. Disappearing equally quickly from the serving dishes was the game bird sausage (a succulent blend of squab, quail and duck with a healthy dose of foie gras), grits sourced from Three Sisters Garden in Kankakee, Illinois, and those wild foraged berries; and decadent bacon n’ onion buns, inspired by a Polish bakery on the Southside of Chicago. The excellent beverage pairing with these small plates: Allium’s take on a Manhattan cocktail with rye from the Few Distillery in Evanston, Illinois, Carpano Antica vermouth, house-made bitters and candied orange rind. This cocktail is actually made at Allium and housed “on tap” in an oak barrel, which lends more layers of flavor to the drink as it ages behind the bar.
As we moved into the tasting menu, it was time to explore the Chicago Chaîne’s impressive wine cellar. Caviste Simeon “Mon” Roldan threw us a curveball, however, telling us that, contrary to usual procedure, the tasting would be blind, and he invited members to address the group with their guesses on what they were drinking. Several brave members did take up the challenge, while the rest of us focused intently at our wine glasses to avoid being called upon! Perhaps the most memorable lesson was the 2006 Adrian Fog “Numbers” Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast that was poured alongside a 36-year old Burgundian Pinot Noir from Maison Leroy Auxey-Duresses. While many guessed the varietal and the respective regions, volunteers ventured 1990s vintages for the latter, so it was quite a shock to discover that this astonishingly youthful wine had “1976” on the label.
Another cellar surprise tested our knowledge of a wine-growing region not known primarily for its table wines. Prats & Symington’s Chryseia has been a pioneer in the resurgence of non-fortified wines from Portugal’s Douro region. The 2007 vintage, a 50/50 blend Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes, had depth without heaviness, and body without much tannin. Few, if any, guessed the origin of this wine, but when Mon revealed “Portugal,” the taste of port grapes was profoundly evident. The aroma of smoky bacon with hints of earth and dark chocolate brought out the complex flavors of mole-style sauce that dressed the rustic bison short rib entrée. These ribs were first cured and then cooked low and slow for 12 hours in a sophisticated oven designed to keep the meat moist while retaining a firm but tender texture. The dramatic Flinstone-sized portion was smothered with fragrant Australian winter truffle shavings and the beautiful plate was finished with dots of a molecularly manipulated chimichurri sauce and garnished with fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes and flash-fried kale, both from Chef Hickey’s backyard vegetable garden.
Other offerings from the individually served “big plates” tasting menu also showcased Allium’s local and regional emphasis. The squab cooked in Eastern European spices with confit dumplings and red cabbage played homage to Chicago’s influential Polish and Lithuanian communities. The Ewe Bloom cheese from Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery in Springfield, Illinois was truly something special for turophiles: this soft-ripened sheep milk cheese had a very delicate and crinkly white mold rind with a tangy and grassy flavor that invoked memories of a great Italian Robiola. And although the wild Alaskan halibut offering was obviously not sourced from the Midwest, the accompanying squash blossom (stuffed with a langoustine and made into a fritter) was grown locally and the corn, cultivated at Three Sisters Garden in Kankakee, Illinois, was made into hominy in-house and incorporated into a bright Mexican pozole-style sauce.
The meal concluded with an incredible array of house-made small desserts. Chef Hickey believes firmly that dessert should be fun, and Scott Gerkin, the executive pastry chef at Allium, clearly agrees. The cookies, candies and cupcakes were creatively presented on a multi-tiered serving tray, and somehow all the diners found room for just a few more bites. The favorite dessert seemed to be the jaw-droppingly delicious miso-butterscotch milkshake; the sweet, salty, creamy umami explosion was genius. Also worthy of special mention were the bright red macaroons, filled with cream frosting and an heirloom cherry tomato jelly sourced from—you guessed it—Chef Hickey’s own backyard.
After Bailli Jane Tracy acknowledged and thanked Chef Hickey and Four Seasons General Manager Michele Grosso, we departed. As we stepped onto the Four Seasons elevators with their Allium ads, we were again reminded that onions, garlics, chives, and leeks have played a pivotal role in cuisine worldwide. As Chicago grew with immigrants from around the world, those international flavors traveled here and can still be sampled in the ethnic communities throughout our great city. Under Chef Hickey’s thoughtful leadership in the kitchen, the Four Seasons Chicago and its new Allium restaurant are introducing guests from around the globe to our melting pot of culinary influences while at the same time promoting regional, farm-to-table fare. The Chicago Chaîne was delighted to experience this Chicago-centric philosophy at a most successful season-opening event!
We will open our 2012/2013 season with a Chaîne “Diner Amicale”. Chapters of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs across the world often get together for these more informal gatherings – the aim of which is to encourage camaraderie, work hand in hand with our professional member establishments, and to showcase new and unique concepts in culinary excellence. The atmosphere is more casual, invariably one of renewal with members meeting up after – as in our case – the summer months. Chef Rôtisseur Kevin Hickey, Four Seasons Executive Chef, has put together a menu that reflects the philosophy and new thinking of dining well in today’s world – recognizing that we are in a different time and undergoing vibrant metamorphosis in the culinary world.
February 2012 saw the début of the new, approachable ALLIUM restaurant, and our menu will reflect the strong identity espoused by Chef Hickey rooted in regional, farm-to-table fare. It will be unique and will incorporate yet-to-be offered dishes to the general public. The beverage program of Allium embraces American artisan producers of ales, spirits, cocktails and of course wines.
The Chicago Chaîne is no stranger to the Four Seasons Chicago and we have always been most fortunate to be so well represented within the management of the Four Seasons Hotels. General Manager Michele Grosso and his highly accomplished team will be our host.
The evening will start with an animated reception followed by a very inspiring and modern dinner. Join us for our second Dîner Amical that will propel us forward into a memorable beginning of our Fall Season! Space is limited to 60 so please sign up early!
Jane - Bailli