Saturday, February 8, 2014


Several years ago, my brother, when visiting Chicago, had lunch at the Atwood Cafe and loved it.  At the time, the Executive Chef was Heather Terhune.  She was one of the first chefs in Chicago to promote local and seasonal cuisine in Chicago and she was on my radar.  Shortly after my brother dined at the Atwood, she went to open Sable which immediately went on my to dine on list.  It has been now open for several years and while several friends have been there and really liked it, I had not yet made it.  Admittedly, Chef Terhune's stint on Top Chef, where she was portrayed as a bit of a bully, did not help.  The restaurant remained on my list, but was pushed back for other places.  Finally, after seeing them on lists as one of the best cocktail bars in the country in addition to having good food, I decided it was time to go.  Sable is located in The Loop and operates as the restaurant/cocktail lounge for boutique hotel, Hotel Palomar.  The main entrance is on State St. and Illinois St., a very high traffic area.  The hosts station is in the center of the space dividing the lounge and dining areas.  This can be a little confusing for diners entering directly into the Sable space because the entrance is directly into the bar which you then have to walk through to get to the host's station.  There is a second entrance across from the host's station but you have to walk through the hotel to enter from there.  The space is long and narrow, with with one wall a window looking out onto State St.  The colors are black, gray, and silver, similar to the animal sable.  I don't know that the restaurant was named for the animal, but it does seem to fit.  The bar, which is long and classic looking, parallels the window.  The host station is on the outer wall and sits across from the hotel entrance and is flanked by a leather bench sitting in front of a televised fireplace and a decorative table containing what looks like specialized scientific glassware.  I am going to guess the glassware is there as a reference to their high-end cocktail lounge.  The dining area is flanked on one side by the window and on the other by the open kitchen.  The space is divided by a half-wall with banquette seating on either side.  I entered through the bar and was a little confused because I didn't immediately see the host station to check in.  I did find it soon enough and was quickly seated at a two top next to the window.  As this place is noted for it's cocktails and the cocktail menu is several pages long, I felt obligated to try one.  Their cocktail menu is very creative and covers everything from the classics to new and different.  It is divided by the main liquor used and their were two pages of whiskey drinks.  I decided to go with something using an old spirit similar to gin.  The drink was called Damn the Torpedoes.  It contained Bols Genever, a Pumpkin Cordial, Lemon, and Egg White.  It also seemed to have Pumpkin Spice in it (Allspice, Cinnamon, and Nutmeg).  This was both floral and spicy and kind of reminded me of pumpkin pie (with whipped cream).  It was light and I really liked it.  I ordered my dinner when my drink arrived and began enjoying my drink while waiting for my appetizer.
 I was a little unsure of what I wanted for an appetizer when I ordered (there were several things that looked good) so I went with my waiter's recommendation.  I ordered Veal Meatballs with a Gorgonzola-Walnut Cream Sauce.  The waiter told me that it was very good and rich.  I believed him on the good, but I was a little skeptical on the rich part.  While veal is fattier than most beef, I wouldn't really consider it that rich.  What I didn't consider was that cheese sauce (like Gorgonzola) can be very rich.  The meatballs were tender and flavorful, the sauce was flavorful and very rich, and it all went together well.
 My next course was a salad and while it was largely green, it contained no lettuce and was kind of savory.  It was a Brussels Sprout and Farm Apple Salad with Pecorino Romano Cheese, Smoked Almonds, Pork Belly Croutons, and a Brown Butter Vinaigrette.  This was much lighter than the appetizer and actually helped revive me somewhat.  The brussels sprouts and apples were fresh and crisp, there was a lot of Pecorino Romano and the Pork Belly Croutons were a bonus.  They were crispy and bacon flavored and reminded me of  what you might get if you combined bacon bits and croutons.
 For my entree, I went with something that I didn't really expect to see on the menu of a restaurant that specializes in American comfort food.  Having said that, American cuisine takes elements from all over the world and twists and combines them into something that is both convenient and works.  I got a Rojo Pozole with Pork Belly, Hominy, Cilantro, and an Ancho Chili-Pork Broth.
It was accompanied by a tray of add-ins which included Red Onions, Crispy Tortilla Strips, and Avocado and Lime.  I didn't consider why they would have made the diner build their own pozole but not everyone likes raw onions, if the tortilla strips were added to the pozole in the kitchen they might be soggy by the time they reached the diner, as would the avocado.  It also allowed diners to less of an item if that is what they desired.  I liked it all so it all went in.  The pozole was spicy and porky with crunchy bits with some richness provided by the avocado.  It tasted very good and the only thing I might have wished for was more hominy.

While Sable has a pretty good dessert menu, when looking over it, I knew immediately what I wanted.  I ordered the Dark Chocolate Souffle Cake with Chocolate and Peanut Butter Sauce, Peanuts, and Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  This was very good.  The cake was moist and rich and with the different flavors in the dish it was like a deconstructed Snickers Bar.  I really enjoyed it and it was a filling finish to a very good meal.  While I can't say that I like the layout of the space.  The wait staff was friendly and professional and were happy to answer my questions and the food and drink were very good.  I may very well consider returning.

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