Monday, November 18, 2013 – Friday, November 22, 2013
Our first foray into the Underground Dining
Over six nights from November 18-23, the Chicago Chaîne took its first venture into underground dining at Sous Rising Guestaurant. The week represented the Chaîne’s commitment to exploring the full range of dining experiences in Chicago – from formal to casual to underground. “I think it’s important for the Chaîne to add new formats to keep the dinners from becoming old and predictable,” commented Dame Linda Garard. “It also was a great opportunity to be in a more intimate setting with Chaîne members. We had a great time.”
The name Sous Rising refers to Chef Jake Bickelhaupt’s apprenticeship as sous chef with some of Chicago’s most prestigious restaurants, including Charlie Trotter’s, Alinea, and Schwa. (His experience at Charlie Trotter’s inspired one of the more perfect courses on the menu.) Chef Jake and wife and partner Alexa Welsh began hosting dinners from the “undisclosed location” of their apartment in May 2012. They used the term “guestaurant” to emphasize that they were welcoming guests into their home. “At the time, ‘guestaurant’ was a term used widely in Europe to describe private dining in a chef’s home,” recalled Chef Jake. “We believe we were the first to adopt the guestaurant moniker in the U.S.”
Each of the six nights was limited to ten diners: the maximum capacity of the dining room table at Jake and Alexa’s Uptown apartment. Chevalier Sam Tepper described the experience as “bringing wonderful food back to a personal level.”
Chef Jake set a playful tone from the beginning by introducing the 16-course meal with two whimsical starters. The first, dubbed “Crispy Snacks,” consisted of Vidalia onion “glass,” flax and kale chips, and crystallized Maine kelp that diners foraged from the centerpiece adorning the communal table. The second was an edible Juniper Jump cocktail in which the texture of each ingredient was transformed – into a liquid sphere, gelee cube, or freeze-dried dust – yet the flavors still evoked the refreshing namesake gin drink. Both courses were accompanied by either a 1995 or 1996 Henriot Brut Millésimé Champagne. Blending Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, this noble beverage with its notes of honey is so revered it was once the official Champagne of the House of Hapsburg.
For the next two courses, Chef Jake offered a duo of soups that each held very personal meaning. The first – a velvety, warm potato soup garnished with peas, dried tomato chips, and white sturgeon caviar (the last a special nod to the Chaîne diners) – evoked a special childhood memory. “When I was a young boy, one of my favorite snacks was a baked potato with peas and loads of rich, creamy butter,” explained Chef Jake. “The soup course is a refined representation of my childhood.” For the second “soup,” he selected a more recent memory: Thai meals enjoyed on dates with Alexa. This course encapsulated the flavors of Tom Yum soup within a spiraled coconut ribbon, eaten in a single bite.
The wine paired with the soups as well as the next two courses generated the most conversation of the week. The 2002 Domain Barmes-Buecher Hengst Alsace Grand Cru, grown in chalky, limestone-rich soil, presented a lovely golden color along with notes of spice, under-ripe peach, and crisp minerality. It was the wine’s pronounced petrol aroma, however, that produced a lively debate between those who felt such an aroma is inherent in a good Reisling and those who yearned for more fruit on the nose. Whatever your opinion, there is no arguing that a good discussion is essential to an enjoyable meal.
The next two courses celebrated the season in their ingredients and presentation. The “Corn” course featured the main ingredient in several preparations – including popcorn and a corn cake topped with corn silk – over a bed of fermented black bean cream. Diners were encouraged to break a lightly cooked egg yolk over the dish to provide a sauce. For the next course, veal sweetbreads were paired with crème fraiche, horseradish, hard cider jelly, and oxalis blossom. “This is what autumn looks and tastes like to me,” explained Chef Jake.
A shot of umeboshi soda, sipped through a bubble tea straw, provided a bridge to the menu’s Asian-influenced fish courses. The first – a perfect piece of Scottish salmon nigiri topped with trout roe, Maine phytoplankton, dashi and sea grapes – was a tribute to the chef’s late mentor, Charlie Trotter. “He was quoted as saying that his final meal would be ‘many courses of tiny, raw, and delicate seafood,’” said Chef Jake. Dame Linda Garard declared this deceptively simple dish “one of the best courses of the night. Everyone asked, ‘Can we have more?’”
The second seafood course featured uni on brioche, topped with a sea bean and seasoned with yuzu and Bluegrass-aged soy. Both dishes were paired with a 2005 Bordeaux Blanc from Château Carbonnieux Pessac-Léognan, a vineyard with a history dating to the 13th century. Grown in the region’s famous Garonnaise gravel, this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon presented a nose of citrus and flavors of honey and both dried and preserved fruit.
A small bite of tamarind taffy, served on a eucalyptus branch, provided another bridge to the final savory courses of menu. The “Foliage” course featured Burgundy black truffles and Matsutake mushrooms. “This course is my memory of walking in the woods in Wisconsin,” explained Chef Jake. “I love the smell of damp, cool fall air.” The braised wild boar belly of the next course elicited memories of his grandmother and Sunday meals with the family. Garnished with pumpernickel rye, savory trail mix, parsnip butter and jus, the wild boar paired beautifully with the 1996 Grand Cru Clos de Vougeot from Domaine Jacques Prieur. Complex and assertive, the wine presented a deep garnet color along with the aromas and flavors of berries, dark fruits and a hint of spice.
The four dessert courses each focused on a principal sense of taste: the tart flavors of Kalamansi and lemon encapsulated in a liquid sphere; the sweet flavors of chocolate, orange and maple syrup (“a play on the Old Fashioned cocktails so popular in Wisconsin supper clubs”); the saltiness of pecorino cheese, presented three ways; and finally the bitter flavors of chicory and cardamom in a gravity-defying mousse. Paired with each was an amazingly versatile 20 Year Tawny Port from Taylor Fladgate. Fully matured in seasoned oaked casks, this port’s nose was opulent with complex spicy, nutty aromas and rich flavors of dried fruits and just enough sweetness.
Throughout the evening, guests wondered at the sophisticated dishes coming out of Jake and Alexa’s tiny apartment kitchen. “Jake is on par with many of the better chefs cooking in Chicago,” added Dame Garard, who was dining at Sous Rising for the second time. “The food is extremely elevated.”
The Chicago dining scene might have lost Chef Jake’s unique talent if the couple had not changed their minds about moving back to Alexa’s hometown of Austin, Texas. “We were actually scheduled to leave in June 2013,” recalled Alexa. In a twist of fate, two future Chaîne members helped convince Jake and Alexa to stay. “It was based on their words of encouragement and excitement for what we were doing that we decided to commit to Chicago. And that’s why we’re still here.”
That commitment will be taken to the next level when Jake and Alexa launch their new restaurant, 42 Grams, in January 2014. Indeed, the Chicago Chaîne event marked the final scheduled service for Sous Rising. “It was great to end our run with uber-foodies who really appreciate nuances like course timing, plating, and flavor profiles,” said Jake. “We’re grateful to Mon for taking a huge risk by bringing the Chaîne ‘underground’ for an unprecedented week-long series!”
“They went the extra mile to allow us to dine here,” said Bailli Mon Roldan in a pre-dinner toast to Jake and Alexa. “They have shut down their underground restaurant and decided to go above ground.” Chef Jake took some early arrivals on a tour of the 42 Grams space, which is being built out on the ground floor below Jake and Alexa’s apartment. “We’re going downstairs to go above ground,” quipped Alexa.
And why “42 Grams”? “The name is a riff on the idea that the soul weighs 21 grams,” explained Alexa. “42 grams represents what Jake and I both bring to the space. I’ll be in the front of the house greeting all of our guests and welcoming them into what we consider an extension of our home.”
“It’s based on the premise that we’re going to give you all of our heart and soul,” said Jake. “We’re going to give everybody everything we’ve got every night.”
Chef Jake honed his craft at some of Chicago’s most highly regarded establishments such as Charlie Trotter’s, Alinea and Schwa. The evening will feature an 18-course menu, paired with fine wines from our cellar that will complement Chef Jake’s delicious and imaginative creations. For a sampling, please view this 4-minute video portrait of one of his menus: https://vimeo.com/73354358
Due to the very limited dining space, we will host 1 dinner per evening consisting of 10 members for 5 consecutive nights, with option to add a 6th night on Saturday. To assist in the scheduling, please give us your 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices for dining dates when responding to the invite. We will do our best to accommodate your preferences.
The “guestaurant” is on the third floor of a walk-up. Please keep this in mind when making your plans. There is plenty of on-street parking, taxis, Uber and the Red Line. We will release the exact address along with your confirmation.
We are looking forward to a wonderful evening!