Monday, March 23, 2015 –
652 West Randolph Street
|Reception||6:30 pm, Champagne only|
|Seating / Dinner||7:00 pm, promptly|
|Event Price||$465.00 per person, all-inclusive|
|Dress Code||Black tie; decorations for members|
|Parking||Valet & metered street parking available|
On March 23, 2015, sixty-two Chaîne Chicago members and guests returned to Grace Restaurant for a black-tie evening savoring the finest food and wine with hosts Chef/Owner Curtis Duffy and GM/Partner Michael Muser. Their dream was realized last November when Michelin awarded Grace three stars for its thoughtfully progressive American cuisine, one of only a dozen U.S. restaurants to receive the ultimate culinary honor. Chaîne Chicago last dined at Grace in March 2013, barely three months after opening its doors, and members were exhilarated to experience the evolution of this elegant refined dining establishment.
During the Champagne reception, many members ventured downstairs by special invitation to the chic wine cellar and staff lounge where a movie starring Chef Curtis was playing. For Grace had premiered the prior week to great acclaim at the prestigious SXSW Film Festival. Members were engrossed in the compelling story that Variety magazine called, “A slick and insightful documentary about a master chef and his pursuit of excellence—and a path away from his past.” Guests learned about Chef Curtis’ tumultuous childhood in Columbus, Ohio, and how he would discover his life’s passion while cooking in a high school home economics class. After moving to Chicago, he worked for Charlie Trotter before becoming a Grant Achatz protégé, first at Trio and then as his Chef de Cuisine at Alinea until 2008. Chef Curtis next moved to Avenues in Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel, where he served as Executive Chef until mid-2011, earning two Michelin stars along the way. After spending an agonizing eighteen months turning an industrial space into a stunning contemporary kitchen and dining room, Grace opened in December 2012 to unanimous critical acclaim.
Inspired by Chef Curtis’ story, attendees reconvened in the luxurious, James Beard Award-winning dining room. Walls veneered in honey-colored wood, impossibly comfortable beige leather chairs and oversized tables draped in thick taupe linens created a neutral canvas for his dazzlingly complex culinary works of art. Not only did the dining room personify grace, this oasis of calm extended into the enormous white and stainless steel kitchen that diners viewed through an expansive movie-screen-like window.
Chef Curtis designed a stellar 11-course dinner showcasing highlights from his vegetable-centric “Flora” and protein-focused “Fauna” tasting menus. Extraordinary wines from the Chicago Chaîne cellar elevated the harmonious flavors and textures of each graceful course, served simultaneously to guests by superstar servers with the polished warmth that is a hallmark of Grace.
The meal commenced with a unique canapé presented atop a hollow log. A half-pipe-shaped teff grain cracker was filled with creamy fava bean purée and topped by distinctive tidbits, one for each of four bites: Cinco Jotas (5J) Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, a sliver of pickled pearl onion topped with an Egyptian star flower, a gummy made with smoked paprika and tarragon, and preserved Meyer lemon and lemon balm. These diverse starting bites paired beautifully with the same sparkler poured at the reception. Champagne Simon-Selosse Cuvée Prestige Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV was a full-bodied Chardonnay that delighted diners with its golden hue, magnificent notes of fruits and spices and a lasting finish.
Following the creative canapé, diners enjoyed two amuse-bouches. First, a quenelle of frozen salted milk rested upon dehydrated, crumbled Sicilian black olives accompanied by fresh blood orange segments, puréed blood orange, emulsified black olive sauce and a garden of citrusy herbs that included lemon basil, lemon verbena and pink-tipped parsley. Second, servers presented small jars sealed with golden foil, reminiscent of a French glass yogurt container. In a witty bit of showmanship, diners were asked to peel back the lid and lick the dab of yuzu gel on the underside before digging into the applewood smoke-filled vessel that held a mixture of poached trout, pickled mushrooms, lychee gelée, chive and a dollop of osetra caviar that provided welcome briny pop. Perhaps the greatest dry Riesling in the world paired perfectly with these amuse-bouches. Domaine Trimbach Clos Sainte Hune 2000 was rich and phenomenally complex, with focused ripe fruit, an incredible aftertaste of minerals, remarkable finesse and great structure.
Our next course was Chef Curtis’ signature dish at Avenues, which he has refined and reintroduced at Grace in the last year. The course was presented in short tumbler, its top covered by a neutral-sugar tuile that serves as a foundation for a colorful composition of orange Danish trout roe, red Fresno chili pepper spirals, green lemon mint leaves and dollops of golden marigold cream and white lemon mint cream. Diners were instructed to shatter the decorated disc and mix it into the citrus-poached Alaskan king crab chunks bathing in a refreshing cucumber-kalamansi soup below, creating a gorgeous blend of color, floral fragrances, textures and bright flavors that heightened all senses and the anticipation for the forthcoming courses.
Two green courses followed that revealed Chef Curtis’ reverence for fresh vegetables and herbs. First up was a Beausoleil oyster from New Brunswick accompanied by salsify, pomelo, maitake mushroom, and a variety of seaweeds with different textures and colors (waiwaiole, red and green limu). From the “Flora” menu, attendees were served broccoli that was cooked, smoked and cut in different ways with Meyer lemon, marscapone and miner’s lettuce, capturing an exciting balance of intriguing new flavors and textures using a familiar ingredient. Two of the world’s finest Chenin Blancs were served with the crab and these two courses. Domaine des Baumard Savennieres “Trie Speciale” 2007, produced in a tiny vineyard Loire River’s north bank, had stunning concentration and intense minerality with perfumed notes of honey, pear, melon and nuts. Ken Forrester “The FMC” Stellenbosch 2006 was a rich, elegant wine with crisp acidity that had honey, peach and apricot notes, hints of toasted nuts, floral aromas and a long spice-driven finish.
Diners were then offered a pair of wonderful meat courses. Lamb was served two ways—roasted loin and pickled tounge—accompanied by smoked paprika gastrique, artichoke hearts, white anchovy crisps, and a salad of frisée, nasturtium and oxalis. The next course starred humble pig tail that had been braised in aromatic vegetable stock for five hours, pulled off the bone and rolled into a ball, then dusted in rice flour and rolled in Massago Arare (small pearls of crispy Japanese rice) before being fried. The pork sphere became the centerpiece of yet another gorgeous abstract composition, which included thin slices of cauliflower pickled in Citron Champagne vinegar, purée of caramelized cauliflower, succulent oxalis and red ribbon sorrel, two wine sauces, and a crunchy fried pork rind seasoned with lemon zest that added acid and texture to the dish. Domaine des Perdrix Echézeaux Grand Cru 1996 heightened enjoyment of these hearty dishes—the full-bodied Burgundy displayed classic notes of earth, ripe fruit and mushrooms, good acidity, with powerful weight and concentration.
If the Alaskan King Crab course became Chef Curtis’ defining course at Avenues, arguably his signature dish at Grace has become his A5 Waygu beef imported from Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture. This iteration played on a deconstructed Thai beef salad with delectably marbled beef presented in two states—pan-seared chunks and shaved raw—amidst a garden of Asian herbs (Thai basil, cilantro and Vietnamese coriander), puffed spring roll paper, caramelized and puréed peanuts, and romaine lettuce reduced into marmalade, accompanied by a lemony tom yum broth that cut through the rich, melt-in-your mouth meat. This stand-out offering was paired with Grand Vin de Léoville du Marquis de Las Cases 1996 that had been decanted from a rare six-liter Impériale bottle, hailing from one of the top producers in St.-Julien in one of the finest mature vintages available today. The beef paired extremely well with this wine, which was elegant, complex and seamless, showcasing cassis, cherry, toast and mineral notes with sweet and nicely integrated tannins.
After the first several courses, a progression of breads was also served throughout the meal. The four-course tasting began with fennel, anise and coriander seed English muffins, then pretzel pain d’epi, oat rolls, and finally a savory whole-grain waffle with citrus and raisins. Cow’s milk butter and house-made herb butter accompanied the bread tasting.
Dinner transitioned into sweet offerings with a decadent truffle ice cream and dulce de leche milkshake shooter topped with a Périgord truffle slice sprinkled with Murray River salt, a pleasing juxtaposition of sweet and salty. A magical dessert proved to be the showstopper finale. Fresh pear juice was injected into an inflated balloon and rolled in liquid nitrogen to create a milky orb that was placed on a pear purée seasoned with star anise, all spice and cinnamon surrounding a crumbled blonde brownie. Diners cracked open the sphere to reveal a mélange of pear foam, raw pear, slow-braised caramel pears and balm leaves. This glorious conclusion deserved something special, and Château d’Yquem, arguably Bordeaux’s single greatest wine, was up to the task. This mature 1995 Sauternes exhibited notes of honeysuckle, orange, vanilla and toasty oak that complemented the fabulous flavors of Chef Curtis’ molecular masterpiece, among the finest pairings of the night.
As the evening concluded, Vice Echanson Manfred Raiser, who was instrumental in selecting and decanting the wines, gave insightful oenophilic commentary. Bailli Mon Roldan thanked the Grace family before he presented a commemorative Chaîne plaque to Chef Curtis and bottle of the extraordinary Clos Sainte Hune Riesling to Michael Muser. This dynamic duo had the passion to reach for the stars, and in doing so changed the culinary landscape in Chicago and beyond. Chaîne Chicago was thrilled to partake in this heavenly gastronomic tour de force, surely among the finest events in bailliage history!
Dear Confrères and Consœurs,
Chaîne Chicago is thrilled to return to Grace Restaurant with hosts Chef Curtis Duffy and GM Michael Muser. Our members rejoiced when this mecca to refined dining was awarded three Michelin stars last November, acknowledging what we already knew to be true: Grace is one of the finest places to dine in the entire world!
We last dined at Grace on March 11, 2013, barely three months after it opened its doors. Since then, it has steadily ascended the zenith of fine dining collecting accolades and tributes en route. The latest is the acceptance to the prestigious 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival of For Grace, a documentary about Chef Curtis and his restaurant, This insightful documentary will be playing during our convivial Champagne reception at the Staff’s Lounge (beneath the restaurant) before guests are seated simultaneously for dinner service. Of course, our hosts will be delighted to answer questions about the film and the cuisine.
The special menu will showcase highlights of Chef Curtis’s thoughtfully progressive cuisine from both his Flora and Fauna menus. We dug deep into our cellar to select extraordinary wines that demonstrate respect for Grace’s high culinary art and heighten the beauty of each dish. Expect the grandest of grand crus!
There is immense pleasure as an organization—rather than as individuals—to dine together with like-minded enthusiasts for the first time at a three-star Michelin restaurant. Only 60 Chaîne Chicago members and guests will have the opportunity to experience the world-class cuisine of Grace paired with amazing wines from our Chaîne cellar. Seating is very limited. Please sign up now! Contact Vice-Chargée de Missions Beth A. Lang (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Mon Y. Roldan