Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chicago Chef Battle 2011

One would expect that a benefit featuring 5 executive chefs using 5 Goose Island Beers (each chef used a different beer) to incorporate into a dish for service and with free beer, coffee, and Goose Island Sodas (and a DJ) would be pretty expensive. It, however, only cost $15 and for that, attendees were able to try each chefs dishes at least once, could drink as much as they wanted and were able to vote for their favorite dish. Now I will grant, that the event was held in the loading dock of Goose Island Brewery and the dishes were served on plastic plates with plastic silverware and the chefs were donating there time so there virtually was no overhead. It was also a benefit for WBEZ, the local NPR station, so they try to keep things open for as many people as possible. There were a lot of attendees so the attendance cost could be kept down and they would still raise a lot of money but for the individual, it was a great deal. We were able to try some good dishes and have some good beer without it costing much. I can also say that I have found some new places that I would like to try some time. Now I will grant that some of the dishes were better than others but none of them were really bad and all of them had something to say for them.

As I said, there were a lot of people there so the lines were long. A few times I jumped into a line without knowing what I was going for but it really didn't matter because I wanted to try everything. The first dish that I tried was a Seafood Steampot with a spicy tomato and Pere Jacques broth. It had mussels, shrimp, and potatoes and was made by Chris Curren of Blue 13. Blue 13 has been on my list of places to visit for a while so I was excited to try his stuff. While the broth was nice and spicy, and the seafood was well cooked, the dish was kind of simple and doesn't really match up with the stuff that's listed on the Blue 13 menu. I was a bit underwhelmed but I still want to eventually go to Blue 13.The next long line that I got into led me to Heather Terhune of Sable. Sable has also been on my list so I was happy to see that's where I ended up. It is supposed to be a gastro-lounge that actually pays attention to both food and drink. They were serving 312 beer and apple cider braised pork shoulder sliders with a celery root-apple slaw which while a little simpler than what might be found on their menu, is in the same ballpark. The pork was pulled and was nicely juicy. The slaw matched well with the braised meat and was pretty good but there was more to try.
Next was Carlos Ysaguirre from Acre. I was not sure if I had ever heard of Acre and I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a Matilda Braised Berkshire Pork Belly Tacos with Green Acres Pickled Peppers and Napa Cabbage, Henry's Farm Daikon and Carrots, and Hoisin Sauce. I looked at the menu of Acre and it seems to be seasonal and pretty wide ranging. The taco is also on the menu so it is no surprise that this was really good. The meat was really juicy and the vegetables seemed really fresh and had a nice crunch. At this point, this was my favorite dish and I have found another restaurant to add to my list but there were two more dishes to try.
I had heard of Mana Food Bar and knew it was a vegetarian restaurant. While I don't have anything against vegetarian restaurants as such (I love the Green Zebra), what I saw of the menu looked pretty boring to me. Jill Barron, Executive Chef of Mana Food Bar was serving a Goose Island Sofie Beer Cheese Tamale with mole poblano and pickled radishes. I like tamales and I like cheese so I had hope. While it wasn't terrible, it also wasn't something that I would go out and order on my own. The mole was good and the radishes were nice and crunchy but the cheese had soaked into the masa of the tamale so it was all one texture. While it didn't taste bad, it was pretty boring and it didn't convince me that Mana was a place that I had to (or even really wanted to) try. Carlos Ysaguirre was safe so far.
The last dish I had to try was from Leonard Hollander of Marion Street Cheese Market. I had been to the cheese market and to the cafe and it was pretty good but not much more than a cheese market and sandwich shop although a good cheese market and sandwich shop. They have recently opened a bistro but I haven't been there yet. I know what bistro fare is and like it but didn't know exactly what to expect. What I got was a Harvest Ale Braised Goat with Fall Squash Cider Puree, Verjus Pickled Apples, and Smoked Pecans. The goat was good and juicy and the pickled apples had a nice tartness and crunch but what made this was the squash. This was my favorite dish as it was for many other people and this was the winning dish and tells me that I also have to return to Marion Street Cheese Market to try their bistro.

This was a lot of fun and while the location wasn't much and it was crowded for a while, I did get to try some really good stuff and let me kinow that there were a couple more places that I need to try.

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