Monday, March 22, 2004
Maître Hôtelier Maria Rasumich-Zec & Chef Terry Crandall
The Peninsula Chicago & Its Fruits of the Sea
The Chicago Chapter was lured from the orderly world above the waves down into the grottoes of the underworld, where the realm of dreams and wizardry reigned for one complete evening. During the reception we were ‘part of the fishes’ as plasma screens displayed aquamarine images of coral reefs. Deep glass-topped tables housed swimming fish; lobsters languished in shallower waters surrounding the Dim Sum station, and exquisite hors d’oeuvres were sampled with a Mailly Grand Cru Millésime 1990 from the Montagne de Reims - the backbone of Champagne made with the Pinot Noir grape.
Throughout the ten courses that followed in “Avenues”, the Peninsula Chicago had decided upon a fish-only experience. We witnessed a display of calm and organized teamwork – each person knowing perfectly his responsibility. General Manager, Maître Hôtelier Maria Razumich-Zec had surrounded herself with a kind of regency – those imaginative professionals who understand culinary bravado, artfully constructed menus and nimble management.
There was a culinary preciseness to the dinner starting with a delicate, paper-thin Langoustine Carpaccio, moving through to an Ahi Tuna Tartar that exhibited a freshness indicating that it had barely lost consciousness before being served. A Domaine Jacques Prieur Montrachet Grand Cru 1995 accompanied an unusual velouté d’artichaut exhibiting all the classic signs of a typical burgundy and had received 99 points out of 100 from Wine Spectator. The Hudson Valley Foie Gras satisfied those carnivores with surfacing withdrawal symptoms and was deftly followed by live sea scallops redressing the imbalance! New Zealand John Dory with its black and white truffle reduction brought an international slant and was paired with another 1995 – this time a Domaine Jacques Prieur Meursault, Clos de Mazeray. At this point in the dinner, “Avenues” had reached a certain state of Zen and transcended effortlessly into a sheep’s milk cheese course with a 1986 Cune Rioja Vina Real Gran Reserva, followed by a pre-dessert “beignet” quintessentially paired with a Domaine du Mas Blanc Banyuls Rimage La Coume 2001. The artfully presented mignardises embodied this elegant dinner as chocolate trees with fragile branches were placed on the tables. Raspberries and sweet things clung flimsily to each branch and we plucked them off with careful precision.
Accolades were vigorous as we were introduced to Colm O’Callaghan, Director of the Hotel, Catering Director Gregory Hyder, The Quiet Man, F & B Director Jonathan Crook, and the two fine chefs responsible for it all – Executive Chef Terry Crandall and “Avenues” Chef de Cuisine David Hayden who introduced him team. There had been a merging of the traditional and cutting edge aspects of high art cuisine. Explaining to the diner/spectator through the dishes placed before us, Chef Hayden proffered his culinary wisdom. We now have proof that this branch of the culinary elite in Chicago has committed itself to provoking the palate and the senses.