Saturday, January 5, 2013


While there is something to be said for being on Top Chef, unless you win, it doesn't help a lot other than name recognition.  This was especially true in the early seasons of the show.  Dale Levitski finished in second in the third season of Top Chef.  While he was fairly well known in the Chicago scene, having worked at Blackbird in it's early days and replacing Grant Achatz at Trio, when it came to finding money to open his own place, it wasn't happening.  When Sprout opened about 5 years ago, it was trying to do a completely organic menu including a $100 veal chop.  This didn't play exceptionally well and it struggled for about two years before they hired Levitski, who was working Front of the House at Sola at the time.  When he started, he decided to go with a 3 course Prix Fixe menu for $60 which he used to introduce people to his food.  While the menu is still divided in three parts, the names are a bit ambiguous and it's a little difficult to tell what might be appetizer, entree, and dessert.  There is also a 10 course tasting menu which I went for becaause I figured that it would give me an opportunity to try more of his dishes.  While I waited for my first dish, I looked at the dining room which was actually divided into two rooms.  Both rooms were fairly small and could seat about 30 people each.  The room that I was in looked like it was a patio at one time.  The walls and floor were white stone and the ceiling was pyramidal with a skylight at the peak.  The furniture was wood topped with a black metal frame and there was a repeating theme of a stylized sprout on the menus and on the wall art.  When my first dish arrived, the Amuse Bouche, I thought it looked cool but I wasn't exactly sure how I was supposed to eat it.  It was a Rabbit Rillette on a large spoon (like a pate) topped with Red Borage, sitting on a Mustard Creme Fraiche, and served with Basil Powder.  All of the individual pieces tasted good and many of the pieces tasted good together but I was never able to get everything together.  While I liked the artistry of this, it did make me a little nervous for the rest of the meal.

The next dish though, helped to allay my fears.  It was the soup course and while it had much of the artistry of the amuse bouche, it was easier to figure out how to eat.  It was a peppery Potato Soup with Microgreens stuck to the side of the bowl with Creme Fraiche, and Olive Oil Croutons that were hidden in the Greens.  This was excellent.  The soup was creamy and peppery, the microgreens added a fresh vegetal flavor, the croutons were a surprise crunch, and the creme fraiche provided a nice tartness to finish the taste.

The next dish was the fish course.  It had a lot of elements and it was kind of busy but every element was very good.  It was a Striped Sea Bass fried skin-on, Edamame Greens, Malted Brown Butter, Faro, French Fried Ramps, and Pork Belly, and was garnished with radish slices.  This was another one of those dishes where I was puzzled where to start.  The fish was well fried.  It had a nice crust and was very tender.  The French Fried Ramps and Pork Belly was set opposite the fish and was also very good.  The other elements were very delicate.  They did taste good by themselves but they worked better as an accompaniment to the fish or pork belly.

After the fish came a dish that was based on Bouef Bourgignon.  The beef was a Braised Beef Cheek that was fork tender.  It was served with Carrots Two Ways, as Roasted Baby Carrots and as Carrot Chips, and with a little Creme Fraiche to fill out the taste.  This was amazing.  As I said, the beef was fork tender, but it was also very flavorful.  The roasted baby carrots were tender, of course, and the carrot chips had a nice crunch to them, but the chips were surprisingly flavorful as well.

After four dishes, while I had liked the look of every dish, I had only completely liked every other dish.  If the trend was going to continue, I should have expected a dish that was beautiful with elements that tasted really good but did not, in the end, come completely together.  This dish broke the trend and it was in fact, one of my favorites.  It was Filet Mignon with Fried Shallots, Grilled Bok Choy, and Worcestershire Barbecue Sauce.  It was a high end spin on Texas barbecue.  The shallots were everything that you might expect in good onion rings.  They were crunchy and salty on the outside and soft and oniony on the inside.  The filet mignon was cooked medium rare and was very tender and juicy and the bok choy maintained it's fresh crispness while adding a nice grilled smokiness to it.

I am not sure the order made sense to me but the next course was a salad.  I am sure many people would have liked this salad because all of the elements were fresh and crisp and the dish was very flavorful.  The green in this salad was Bibb Lettuce, it was topped with Macadamia Chips, and Fennel, served with Asian Pear, and sprinkled with Licorice Root.  The creamy vinaigrette was served on the side and while I am sure it was very tasty, I don't remember what it had in it.  Every part of this salad was fresh and crisp and the licorice root provided a nice spice to the dish but as I really don't care for pears, I have to call this a fail.

The next dish was a very creative cheese course.  There was a wedge of Goat Cheese in the center framed by Candied Walnuts and Figs, which was all set with a Golden Squash Puree.  It was a simple dish that was artfully presented.  It presented both sweet and savory both of which paired well with the cheese.

Generally with multi-course meals, there is a palate cleanser served between the entree and the dessert.  Sometimes it is counted as a course, sometimes it is not.  Many times it is a sorbet.  In the case of Sprout, a palate cleanser was served between the last entree and dessert and as everything that was brought to the diner was counted as a dish in the 10 course meal, this counted as a dish.  The palate cleanser was a Grapefruit Sorbet topped with Red Flower Petals of some sort and paired with a Sauternes.  There are many things I could say about this.  It was made well but there really wasn't any element of this that I liked.  I like grapefruit but for whatever reason, the grapefruit flavor was too strong.  The flavor of the flower petals did go with the sorbet but I didn't like the way it felt.  The Sauternes was very sweet.  Sauternes are supposed to be very sweet but for me, it was too sweet.  I understood the idea of the dish but I didn't care for the execution.

The dessert was beautiful.  It was a Chocolate Tart Shell filled with Mascarpone Powder and topped with a Graham Cracker Cookie and Chocolate Ribbon.  There was a smear of Housemade Caramel off to the side.  It actually kind of reminded me of a S'more.  Together everything was very good although with the mascarpone powder, you did have to be a little careful.  At one point, it felt like I had swallowed some dust and I started coughing a little.  It tasted good but it was also a little irritating.

The last course was the equivalent of the after dinner mint.  It was a Financier Cake and a Grapefruit Gellee served with a sprig of fresh mint.  It was a simple presentation for a couple of simple bites which were prepared perfectly.  The Financier was light, spongy and buttery, with a nice almond flavor.  The gelee had a nice grapefruit flavor (as opposed to the sorbet) and while it wasn't quite as firm as a gummy candy might be, it did kind of remind me of that..  It was a nice and simple end to a very complex meal.

While I didn't like every dish that was presented to me at Sprout, I will say that part of that was my own personal preference and not the execution of the dish.  I found the dishes very creative and visually stimulating even if they didn't completely come together on the palate.  There are other dishes that I saw on the menu that I thought sounded interesting so I may very well come back.                 


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