Saturday, July 23, 2011
There is no comparison between the food a restaurant/chef serves at a benefit or the Taste of Chicago and the food that is actually served in the restaurant. I had tried the food of Vermilion outside of the restaurant and had been positively underwhelmed. Vermilion serves a Latin-Indian fusion and even before going into it the first time, I was a bit skeptical because the only thing that I could think of that Latin cuisine had in common with Indian food is that they both could be pretty spicy and they both use a lot of cilantro. If you stretch things, you could argue that naan is similar to a tortilla. I was willing to try it again because Maneet Chauhan, the executive chef is very talented and has competed on Iron Chef America, The Next Iron Chef, and Chopped. The meal that I went to Vermilion for was a combination of those experiences so I gave her/them the benefit of the doubt. The meal was a ten course (or five because the courses were served in pairs). The first three plates were set as was the dessert. The 4th plate needs explanation which I will do when I get there. I ordered my drink, which they called a mango mint mojito. What it actually was was a caipirinha which is similar to a mojito, but is Brazilian and uses cachaça instead of rum.
The first course eliminated any trepidation I had about going there. As I said the courses were served in pairs. The first two courses were essentially vegetable dishes. On the left was a roll of jicama stuffed with orange on which was placed a Spanish Boquerone which is an olive marinated anchovy. On the right was what was called a crab-watermelon steak with a basil citrus vinaigrette. What it was was a block of watermelon on which was topped crab chunks with a basil citrus vinaigrette. It was also sitting on a bit of gazpacho. The jicama and anchovy weren't bad but the watermelon and crab were great. I wouldn't have thought that watermelon, crab, and gazpacho would have gone together but they worked incredibly well together. I finished the plate which they took away and we ran into a slight hiccup. There was a pause of about 10 minutes between the time that they took the plate away and the time they brought the next plate so I did a little looking around the restaurant.
Vermilion is a shade of red and the restaurant was trimmed in a bright red with the main colors being black and white. The ceilings are high and the tables were far enough apart to actually move around them. The bar is on one side of the restaurant opposite the main entrance toward the front of the restaurant. The place was pretty busy so it was a bit loud. While there was music playing in the background, I couldn't really hear it because of conversation noise from where I was sitting in the front. There was also an outdoor seating area that because of the heat of the day, wasn't really being used. After waiting for a while, my second plate showed up and it also looked pretty good. On the left was a fish taco using papadum and set on a curried yogurt sauce. I have to say that I was unaware of what papadum was and had to look it up but I have to say that it worked very well as a replacement for a corn tortilla and the curried yogurt sauce went well with it. On the right side, was what was called a Naan Tandoor Sandwich. What it was was a piece of naan placed on some mint sauce. On top of the naan was a slice of cucumber on top of which was a pile of pulled tandoor chicken. This was also a joy to taste.
The third plate was the fail of the dinner. While neither course was bad as such, they didn't compare to the rest of the dinner. On the left was what was called Potato 3 Ways and while I could figure out two ways, I am not sure what the third way was. What it was was a ravioli made of potato filled with goat cheese and topped with a sweet potato sauce. It wasn't bad and the sweet potato sauce was pretty good but the ravioli was made from what felt like raw potatoes. While it didn't taste bad, ravioli isn't supposed to crunch. The course on the right side reminded me of the tastings I had had in other places. It was called a kabab dog and was essentially a skinless chicken sausage with bacon and feta cheese on a skewer. While it wasn't bad, it was positively underwhelming. The bacon and sausage were very understated and the major flavor was roasted chicken. The chicken was pretty good but the course as a whole was pretty boring.
The fourth plating was the mystery basket and was essentially the diner's choice. The diner was given a table divided into proteins, spices, and sides and the diner was to choose two from each section. There were about ten choices in each section with a pretty good variety and while it was possible to possibly come up with some odd combinations, I think most diners wouldn't want to risk their meal. While the diner makes the choices, he really has no idea how the chef is going to combine them. My choices? I chose New York Strip and scallops for my proteins, chipotle and tomatillos for my spices, and mango rice and sweet potatoes for my sides. The plating that came out was the two spiced proteins and the two sides. I got mango rice, scallops topped with blue corn tortilla chips and tomatillo sauce and chipotle spiced strip steak and really spicy sweet poptatoes. The mango rice tasted good but their really wasn't anything done with it. The scallops were very tender and went well with the chips and tomatillo sauce, the strip steak was medium well which is a little more done than I generally like but it was a very good piece of meat which was spiced well and the sweet potatoes which really surprised me. The initial taste was of a boiled sweet potato that tasted pretty good but the pepper hit quickly and did require a drink to clear my mouth. This was a fun plating and while the results weren't exceptionally exotic, they were done very well.After all of this came the dessert courses which, while they were both very good, one rose well above the other (in my opinion). I was presented with avocado beignets with a wild berry reduction sauce. When I saw this on the menu I wasn't sure how this was going to work. I wasn't worried about the wild berry reduction or a beignet with the sauce. My question was how an avocado was going to work as a beignet. It worked very well and this was one of my favorite courses of the dinner. The other dessert was a chocolate coffee doughnut frittata. It was a chocolate and coffee flavored frittata topped with powdered sugar. It was served with whipped creme and a slightly sweet chocolate mole sauce. It also was very good but as I said, I liked the beignets better.
Vermilion has changed my mind. The service was fantastic even with the hiccup between the first and second plate and the Latin and Indian flavors can go together well. While this is not a new favorite, it is very good and I would have no problem recommending it to others.