Tuesday, August 30, 2011
After the food extravaganza that we experienced at Charlie Trotter's, it was a little hard to get psyched up for more fine dining the very next night, this time at Graham Elliot (GE). GE is the flagship restaurant of Graham Elliot Bowles (he recently dropped the "Bowles" part of his last name, all the better for branding), a local chef known for his inventive, molecular gastronomic-esque cuisine formerly at Avenues in the Palmer House Hotel and now at his own joints. He's cultivated something of a bad boy image for himself, co-judging with Gordon Ramsay on MasterChef, dressing like he belongs on the cover of a Weezer album, and exhibiting a generally-bombastic attitude on most subjects (but especially cooking and other chefs).
As one might expect, this rebelliousness is reflected in both the decor of GE and the food. I arrived a few minutes late for our 6 pm reservation and was escorted to the sparsely decorated bar area to wait for Mrs. Hackknife, where I noticed about as many tequila bottles behind the counter as I did beers. Although there was clubby-type dance music on the house sound system, the restaurant had almost a honky-tonk feel to it. When she arrived and we were finally seated, we opted to try the middle-of-the-road, 10-course tasting menu called the "experience" tasting (our server advised us that we weren't going to have enough time to do the 15-course, or "repertoire", tasting menu and still make our 8 pm performance at Second City). While waiting for our first course, we munched on a bag of GE's version of beer nuts, popcorn doused with truffle butter, black pepper, and parmesan fluff (I wasn't a huge fan of this as I thought the popcorn was too soggy, but Mrs. Hackknife liked it). First up came an amuse bouche, a consomme of compressed watermelon, mint leaf, and jalapeno oil, presented in a shot glass for easy consumption. Next up was a small plate of Wagyu beef (see the photo above), served tartare style with bearnaise yolk, asparagus salad, and pomme frites (french fries), followed by one of the restaurant's signature dishes, a deconstructed caesar salad made of gem lettuce, a white anchovy, and a brioche twinkie, which was basically a long crouton.
Our soup course bore an uncanny resemblance to a soup we'd had at Trotter's the night before, except this one had a little spiny lobster, toasted coquito (baby coconut), and a vanilla marshmallow in it along with the corn bisque, yielding a much more playful dish. We also ended up having more sweetbreads, this time as a schnitzel with napa cabbage, pickled turnip, and chanterelle ragout. A canape of duck confit, celery puree, and pine nut was amazing, as was a salmon plate with blis roe, garlic scape, and shaved fennel. One more fish course ensued (halibut with leek brandade, house bacon, and haricot vert, or green beans), followed by what was my favorite course of the night, a piece of Jidori chicken with dirty rice, country pate, and fried okra. The proceedings slipped a little when we were given bison loin with baked beans, Texas onion, and pepper salsa (not so good), but rallied upon the presentation of a palate cleanser in the form of Concord grape juice, purple essence, and soda spritzer (essentially a fancy grape soda). Our two desserts were excellent, a wild strawberry served with white balsamic vinegar, coriander arlette, fromage blanc, and a basil emulsion, and then a small piece of flourless chocolate cake with a root beer sauce, port-infused cherry, and birch caramel (accompanied on the plate by the words "Happy Anniversary", which, although not entirely inaccurate since it's coming up on 9/6, wasn't really the reason why we were here).
By all accounts, the meal was mostly delicious, artfully presented and well executed, not as high class as Trotter's, but certainly in the ballpark. I have no doubt we would have appreciated the GE experience more had we not been overwhelmed the prior night, so we owe them a return visit when our palates are a little clearer.