Thursday, December 9, 2010

End of Spring

Before I begin this latest posting, I received a shot across the bow from my doctor yesterday - apparently, having a food blog (or perhaps more specifically, the act of gathering suitable material for the food blog) may be somewhat hazardous to your health. After my annual physical earlier this week, the good doc informed me that I've experienced a sizable bump-up in my cholesterol from my last physical in 2009 - 183 to 200, which isn't necessarily a concern per se (200 is right at the borderline between good and marginal); however, he wasn't crazy about the trend, so moving forward I'll have to enact some basic austerity measures to make sure that I'll be around to annoy you with my culinary blogging for many years to come. This means more exercise (and fewer excuses), more vegetables, smaller portions, etc., but I've no intention whatsoever of completely curtailing my explorations of the food megasphere, just acting more monkish during those in-between times.

Now that we've got that out of the way, here's today's post. Last month, I got word that one of the more heralded restaurants in town over the past decade (by the name of Spring) was slated to close after New Year's Eve this year. Chef Shawn McClain opened the restaurant in 2001 and racked up a large number of accolades for his seafood-with-an-Asian-flair menu. He later went on to open Green Zebra (widely regarded as the best vegetarian joint in Chicago), Custom House (one of our many steakhouses), and Sage (a joint partnership in Las Vegas at the new Aria CityCenter). In the meantime, things began going south with his financial partners at Spring, and with the lease expiring at the close of 2010, he announced that the time was right to close up shop and move on. Fortunately for us (the diners), he decided to keep serving up through the end of the year a sort-of "greatest hits" selection of dishes from the past decade to end on a high note. Having never had the pleasure of dining there, it was an easy sell to Mrs. Hackknife to snag us a reservation a few short weeks before Spring disappeared from the local dining scene.

We arrived for our reservation at 6pm this past Sunday night and found the place nearly deserted except for the waitstaff - other than us, there was one guy at the bar and one couple seated in the restaurant. I remember sitting alone at our table (Mrs. Hackknife went to powder her nose) looking at the elegant, yet empty restaurant, listening to the somewhat-morose electronica on the soundsystem, and I couldn't shake the feeling that the setting was very funeral-ish (if that's not a word, I think I just invented it). Fortunately, other diners began to show and the place filled up rather rapidly (also livening up the vibe quite a bit). We decided to do the wine pairing with the greatest-hits prix fixe menu, putting the total price for the 4-course meal at $85/head (a pretty good deal for fine dining in Bucktown). The waiter brought our an amuse bouche to get us going - a ceramic spoon filled with tuna tartare and hazelnut in a parsley pesto sauce. This was very good; however, the crunchy flatbread with white bean/olive oil spread that appeared afterwards wasn't so great in my opinion. That would prove to be the only sour note of the meal as we then began to receive our main courses.

First up for me was a potato and seared scallop "ravioli" (in quotes because the ingredients were molded together in the shape of a ravioli filling without a pasta covering) with mushroom-black truffle reduction (yes, I did eat most of the mushrooms and no, I didn't grimace) paired with a glass of Cava (i.e., Spanish sparkling wine) - it was delicious, and so was Mrs. Hackknife's tuna sashimi. Our second course was also a big hit: kabocha squash and apple soup w/pickled ginger and croquettes (paired with a Pinot Gris) for me and lemongrass and coconut soup (paired with a St. Urban Hof off-dry Riesling) for my lovely wife. If it were socially acceptable for me to lick the bowl, I would have done so. Third up for me was an amazing black bean-glazed cod filet (see photo above) with a scallion and peekytoe crab pancake in a carrot-sesame sauce (paired with the same Riesling as Mrs. Hackknife's soup). My wife was also very happy with her Icelandic halibut on top of parmesan risotto with winter truffle and braised white asparagus. Starting to feel severe diner's remorse for not having eaten here earlier in the decade, we closed out the meal with a white chocolate dome on peppermint bark and chocolate creameux (I looked up "creameux" and it appears to be nothing more than a snooty dessert term) paired with a nice Moscato d'Asti from Italy and a five-spice panna cotta in an apple cider gelee with a spiced brioche doughnut paired with a Rhone red blend.

As this outstanding culinary journey concluded with the arrival of the check, there was no overcoming the steely glare across the table from Mrs. Hackknife, as in "Why did you bring me here for the first time only three weeks before they close?" and "How on Earth are we ever going to make arrangements to eat here 6 more times before Dec. 31?". Alas, our best (yeah, only) option might be to check out Mr. McClain's other restaurants before they vanish into the mists of time.....

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