Monday, May 26, 2014


I had said last year, after trying some truly world class restaurants in London and Paris, that I really needed to hit some of the high end restaurants in Chicago.  At that time, I had thought that Alinea was out of reach and was aiming for a few of the small and truly innovative places in town that were one step above underground supper clubs.  The places that I was aiming for were Schwa, Goosefoot, El Ideas, and Elizabeth.  Since I made that list, 42 Grams has opened and fits into the same "genre" and Elizabeth is the first of these that I managed to get a reservation for (and dine at).  Elizabeth is located in a small storefront in Lincoln Square.  There is a small sign on the door, but even with that, I wasn't sure I was going into the right place.  After I walked into the entryway and through the curtain hanging in front of the door, I saw that I was in the right place.  The space is very small with seating for 24 and the kitchen is in the dining room.  So, if you were facing in the right direction, you could see the chefs assembling the dishes.  There were 6 tables for two, and 3 tables seating four.  The tables and chairs were all mismatched, but the furniture was predominantly wood.  The floor was cement painted brown to match the wood and there were many owl figures throughout the room.  There was one shelf in the dining room that held many owls and the restaurant's Michelin Star.  There is no menu published online for Elizabeth.  Going in, I knew that the menu had a significant foraged element to it so I expected to see quite a bit of plant life, but other than that, I was going in more or less blind which I really didn't mind.  

For our first course, we were presented with several elements.  It was pretty complex but it was also beautifully presented.  The first element was a petri dish (on a wooden coaster) with Chilled Pea and Mint Gel with Turbot, Snail Roe, served with a Mint Tea "Shooter" in a Disposable Pipette.  The tea could either be added to the gel or swallowed as it was and I did both.  Everything about that dish was lightly flavored.  It had a pea and mint flavor, but it was pretty light.  The turbot, like most white fish, had a mild flavor, the snail roe was more a textural element than adding a specific flavor, and the mint tea, while it had a definite mint flavor, was definitely not overwhelming.  The second element was presented in a terrarium and while I liked it, I don't really remember all of the elements.  Everything in the terrarium was edible.  I do remember the Pickled Ramps, the Maple Cream, and the Clover, but I don't remember what the "Dirt" was made from.  I do remember that it tasted good and that it was a bit dry, but that's all I remember about it.  For the last element of the first course, we were presented more tea.  It was a Mint Tea infused with Sassafras.  I wish that I had gotten a picture of the infuser because it looked like a piece of antique lab equipment.the tea was in a round bottomed flask that, when heated with a bunsen burner flowed up the neck of the flask and emptied into an upper chamber filled with Sassafras Root.  After the tea flowed into the upper chamber, it was served into owl shaped coffee mugs where we enjoyed them.
 The next course was decidedly simpler in presentation, arriving in a single dish.  It was called Ramps and Day Lilys and had a green gel in the bottom, which was topped with 3 different cubes, one of which was a potato, Steelhead Roe, and a Clover Leaf and Flower for garnish.  It was very good even if I don't remember all details about it.   I remember the textural differences of the cubes, one was kind of creamy, one was gel-like, and one was a fried potato.  The gel was oniony and went well with the saltiness of the roe.
The next dish was a one bite wonder with what I thought, kind of a humorous presentation.  We were again brought out the wood coaster on which was placed a rock with our next course.  It was Wild Rice and Bear which we were supposed to eat in one bite from the rock without utensils.  We essentially had to wolf the bite off the rock.  It was very flavorful and very good.  There seemed to be a spice of some sort in this.  There was a savory flavor (probably from the bear) and the rice was very toothsome.
The next dish had several things going on and I really don't remember everything about it.  There were some Plant Based Noodles in an Agar Gel with Mustard and Violet Blossoms and a leaf that I am remembering (possibly incorrectly) as mint.  I remember that there were a lot of textures going on and while there were several flowers, the flavor was not overtly floral.
With our next course, we talked briefly with Chef Iliana Regan and learned that her training was in chemical engineering which may very well have explained the references to scientific equipment in the previous courses.  The next course was a longtime dream of several people that kind of became a joke because it wasn't happening.  Farming Shrimp around the Great Lakes had been talked about for years, but up until very recently, no one was able to make it happen.  Recently though, someone has successfully been able to farm shrimp in Indiana (indoors), and this is what we were served.  The Shrimp was fairly large, tempuraed, and sprinkled with raspberry powder.  The batter was light and fluffy, as tempura batter is and the shrimp was very flavorful.  The Raspberry Powder added a tartness to the dish.  It was very good, although I probably would have liked it more had the shrimp been shelled.  Shrimp shells are edible and they do add a crunch to the dish, they can be a bit difficult to eat.

The next course was another simple bite that was served on a large spoon.  The spoon was essentially a spoon that is used for eating soup in Asian dishes.  As this was essentially an Asian dish, it fit.  It was Shrimp Noodles with shrimp flavored Lo Mein noodles and a vegetable that I think was Daikon.  In any case, the noodles were chewy and had a good shrimp flavor and the daikon added some crunch to the bite.

The next dish was essentially a space to relax and think about where we have been and where we might be going.  We were brought a very nice vintage tea cup and saucer with a few baby mushrooms in the bottom of the cup.  They then came out to fill the cup with Mushroom Tea.  I like mushrooms and this had a lot of mushroom flavor as might be expected.  It was nice to slow down for a minute and sip some very good tea in some nice looking cups.
The next course kept the mushroom theme and ended up being one of my favorite dishes.  It was a Fried Maitake Mushroom with Clover and Creme Fraiche served on the side.  The mushroom itself was moist, tender, and flavorful.  The breading that helped helped maintain the mushrooms moisture was crispy and flavorful, and the Creme Fraiche added a sour element that just complemented the mushroom.
One of the design elements that I hadn't mentioned was the centerpiece on each table.  It looked like a series of white vases that were connected to each other at the widest point.  They were spherical in shape and had what appeared to be twigs coming out of the tops.  At this point, the centerpiece actually came into play.  While there were twigs in several of the openings, there was also dried carrots (orange) and Rye Sticks (the lighter brown twigs).  The carrots were chewy, sweet, and very flavorful and the rye sticks were light and crispy with a definite, but not overpowering, rye flavor.

After the centerpiece, we began to progress into our entrees.  We did not immediately proceed to heavy, meat based dishes, but instead started with some soup.  We were brought out a black bowl with grilled Fiddlehead Ferns.  Into that was added Fiddlehead and Fava Bean Soup.  The soup was very rich and savory, tasting like it was cream based, although cream was not mentioned.  The grilled fiddleheads were crisp (like fresh green beans) and had a very pronounced flavor that was pretty bitter and reminded me of asparagus.  It was a good start to the savory courses and I was excited to see (and taste) more.
From the soup, we proceeded to offal and had Spring Greens and Sweet Breads with Mashed Potatoes.  It was a very nice looking dish with the sweet breads placed on the mashed potatoes with a flower petals and leaves next to them and the sauteed greens next to the potatoes.  The imagery of the placement invoked flowers although, it was very definitely a savory dish and had little floral flavor.  The sweet breads were tender and flavorful, the potatoes were rich and buttery, and the greens were buttery and crisp with a slightly bitter finish.

From the sweetbreads, we proceeded to what was my favorite dish, Duck Stew with Homemade Sourdough.  The stew consisted of Baby Turnips and Carrots, Onions, Duck Sausage, and Duck Confit that was presented in a hollowed out Sourdough Bread Bowl.  This was savory, rich, and very definitely comfort food.  There wasn't a lot of stew broth, but there was enough to moisten the bread which made it easier to eat.  The turnips and carrots were small but flavorful, the sausage was tender, and the duck confit was excellent as it always is.  This dish was very good and was a lot of fun to eat.

We finished our savory courses with Spring Lamb Belly and Golden Beets served with a berry jam and a sour cream on the side.  I was actually a little leery of this because I had had lamb belly elsewhere and the flavor was stronger than I really liked.  I shouldn't have worried because, like everything else, it was prepared perfectly.  There was a definite lamb flavor to the belly, but it wasn't exceptionally strong.  Texturally, it was similar to pork belly that hasn't been cured to bacon.  The golden beets were light, sweet, and crisp and tied the belly to the sour cream.  The jam reminded me of huckleberry and had a sweet, fruity flavor with a tart finish that went well with the lamb belly.
Our next course was essentially another intermezzo between our savory and sweet courses and again made reference to Chef Iliana's scientific background.  We were brought out a barkless tree branch that had five holes drilled in it to mount test tubes.  All of the test tubes had liquid in them and they were interspersed between green sprouts and pink flowers.  The liquid in which the pink flowers was floating was Kombucha, a fermented tea, and it was what we were to drink.  We were also given white and black straws to drink it with but I actually forgot about the straw initially and poured it into my mouth.  I did use the straw afterward to recover the flower from the test tube.  The drink was sweet, slightly effervescent, and had a very slight tea flavor.

The first of our desserts looked like breakfast.  I really don't remember most of what it consisted of, but I do know that it wasn't what it looked like.  The dish was called Froot Loops and that was, in a matter of speaking, what was in the bowl.  The cereal rings were not colored like Froot Loops, but they did taste good especially with the Cashew Milk that they were served with.  They were sweet and crunchy with a slightly tart finish.  With the froot loops was served a light and crispy biscuit, some whipped butter, and an egg that wasn't an egg.  Texturally, the egg was like a hard fried egg with a hard yolk, but it was perfect.  There were no fry marks or imperfections.  It did taste good even if it wasn't an egg.
The next dessert was much more identifiable and I actually liked it better than breakfast.  It consisted of Juniper, Sunchokes, and Rhubarb.  The rhubarb was obvious, being thinly sliced and placed on top, the juniper was presented in a cake, and the sunchoke was formed like a semisoft cheese.  The dish was sweet, sour, and bitter with a lot of varied textures and a cream served on the side.  It was very good and a joy to eat.
For our final official course, we were presented with a plate of cookies.  They were Chocolate and Almond Cookies that were rounded on top and looked like mushroom tops which was significant because they were presented on a plate with mushrooms painted on it.  The cookies were sweet and very chocolaty with an almond finish.  They had a crisp exterior with a moist interior and were very good.
I called the last course the last official course because after we had paid our bill, we were presented with menus and another cookie.  This cookie was wrapped for the possibility of taking it with you, but after everything else was so good, this cookie didn't make it out the door.  It was a Peanut Butter and Jam Cookie and like everything else. it was great.  

During my dinner here, I noticed several themes that were repeated several times.  These were owls, scientific equipment, and mushrooms.  There was also the over-arching theme of nature being everywhere, but that was kind of obvious.  It was very cool to see how any of these themes would be presented from course to course.  I really enjoyed my dinner here and would recommend it to anyone who would like to explore Chicago's high end dining scene.  It's amazingly creative, and with one of the most affordable prices for restaurants of this caliber, is a good gateway.       


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mindy's Hot Chocolate - Brunch

I have been to Mindy's Hot Chocolate several times, and have really liked what I had, but I have neither been since Mindy Segal won her James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef, nor have I ever been for brunch, so I thought it was a good choice for my monthly brunch trip.  Very shortly after Mindy Segal won her James Beard Award, she closed the restaurant for a few weeks to do some redesign work.  Walking in, I tried to notice what had changed.  The first things that I noticed were that the sign had changed.  It is now a rusted steel sign with the long, thin letters that were ground through the sign invoking the look of dripping chocolate.  The front of the restaurant was a glass window wall that was framed to fold in several sections and open to the street.  Inside, the layout has remained the same with the bar to the right and the kitchen in the back so it wasn't a radical redesign.  The colors have changed, the room used to be brown on brown but is know an off-white with a brown trim.  Some of the seating has been changed as well.  There was some low lounge seating near the front of the restaurant where there is now a communal table that would seat 10.  The brunch menu frequently changes based on what is seasonal.  The standard omelettes, skillets, French Toast, and skillets are there, but what is used in them changes based on what is in season.  There is also coffee, juice, cocktails, and the Hot Chocolate for which the restaurant is named.  There were seven hot chocolates on the list ranging from light to dark.  I went with a mixture called Half & Half which was actually kind of like a Caffè Mocha.  It was half Espresso and half Dark Hot Chocolate and it was very good.  It was hot (of course) and pretty bitter from the Espresso and the 72% French Chocolate but it was also pretty rich and had a sweet finish.  There was also a Housemade Marshmallow that was served with it that was a world better than any marshmallow you will find in a grocery store.  While I generally split my brunch between sweet and savory, I figured that the hot chocolate, which everyone ordered was sufficient to fulfill the sweet side.  Mindy Segal creates some amazing sweets but there is also some very good savory food here, so we had to plan for that.

For my savory side, I went with some thing that seemed to have a vaguely Asian twist to it.  I had the Brunch Fried Rice which came with Hanger Steak, Broccolini, Green Eyes, Pea Shoots, English Peas, Carrots, a Fried Egg, and, of course, the Rice.  I tried it and it had a very fresh and green flavor.  It wasn't bad as it was, but it was much better after having added some Sriracha.  I really liked brunch here, but I think the dinner (and dessert) is better here.  I was going to grab a bag of cookies to go as well but I forgot.  It just means that I will have to return, but this is not a problem.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

La Sirena Clandestina

I first encountered the cooking of John Manion at the Goose Island Brew Pub in Goose Island.  The former chef of the popular (and now shuttered) Humboldt Park restaurant Mas was going through a stint as a Ronin and was brought in to spice up the menu.  He didn't stay long, but he did elevate the food from standard bar and grill food.  He then was the starting chef at the now closed Branch 27.  It was a pretty good restaurant when he was there and he was able to incorporate more of his ideas, but it seemed that he wanted a restaurant of his own where he would be able to explore more of his ideas on modern Latin cuisine.  He has achieved this with La Sirena Clandestina his restaurant in the River West neighborhood.  Located across the street from a few of the hottest places in town (Moto, Ing, Next, and The Aviary) it's pretty low key.  The building is pretty non-descript.  There is a large tinted window for the front wall and part of one side with a large glass door at the front.  There isn't much art hanging on the wall. but the walls are a bright turquoise so that helps somewhat.  The ceiling is unfinished and the kitchen is large and open.  Despite being fairly non-descript, it is very popular.  When I came there, all of the tables were booked until 10 pm, and the only seats were at the bar.  I don't mind sitting at the bar because it gives me more to look at.  The bar has a pretty extensive liquor collection and the bartenders looked pretty skilled at their jobs.  The cocktails leaned on the Brazilian/Caribbean side and the cocktail that I ordered fell into that category.  I ordered a drink called the Brazilianaire and while I don't remember all that it contained, it did have Cachaça, Rum, and Angostura Bitters, and was garnished with mint leaves.  It was sweet, bitter, and had a lot of botanical flavors and I really enjoyed it.
When looking over the food menu, I saw that they had Empanadas and I knew that that was going to have to be part of my meal.  Empanadas are savory hand pies and remind me of the Hispanic version of pasties.  I had had this restaurant's version of empanadas previously at a benefit that I had attended and I really liked them, so I knew actually getting one at the restaurant was a no lose situation.  The restaurant always offers a meat and a vegetable empanada with various fillings based on the season.  I ordered the Meat Empanada which contained Chicken, Pork, Black Beans, Peppers, and a Meat Gravy.  It was spicy, meaty, savory, and very hot.  I did enjoy it, but I did burn my fingers several times when I was trying to eat it. 
 For my other appetizer, I ordered something that I had never seen at another restaurant.  I knew that it was something that people ate, but it was also going to be a little bit of a challenge.  I ordered Skewered Chicken Hearts with Ramps and Limes which was served with a dipping sauce on the side.  As hearts are an organ meat that can be expected to have a lot of blood, I expected a bit of an irony flavor.  It did have that but it wasn't overwhelming.  They actually didn't taste too bad, the ramps (wild onions) and limes helped, but they were kind of tough.  The side sauce was a Scotch, citrus, habanero sauce.  It was flavorful, spicy, a little boozy, and went well together with the hearts.  I liked the flavor of everything, but given the toughness of the hearts, I'm not sure I would order it again.

The entree, like the empanada, was a repeat for me.  I ordered the Moqueca, the Brazilian Seafood Stew containing Fish, Shrimp, Mussels, Cashews, and Coconut Broth and Cilantro Risotto.  I had previously had it on the menu at Branch 27 and I really liked it there.  I figured since it was the same chef , that it would be similar.  This is a very good and flavorful dish, but it is also very hands on, and is not for people who are a little leery of getting dirty.  Fingers are necessary in order to remove the mussels from their shells, the shrimp meat had the tail on it, and it also contained the shrimp heads.  There really wasn't much in the shrimp heads, and it did require a little bit of work to get what little meat was in them.  I imagine that they were added to flavor the stew and you really wouldn't miss much just throwing them out.
Dessert felt very much like a fusion dish.  I had a Flourless Chocolate Cake that was topped with Cachaça Glaze and Creme Anglaise.  I don't really think of flourless chocolate cake as a Latin dish (nor is Creme Anglaise) but Cachaça is the national drink of Brazil.  The glaze went together well with the cake so it did bring the dish back to Brazil somewhat.  It was sweet and dense and the glaze and creme played together well with each other and the cake.  It was a very nice finish to a very good meal and I will definitely try to return because I liked most of my meal and the atmosphere of the restaurant.   

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Cafe Absinthe

I first noticed the sign for Cafe Absinthe shortly after I moved to Chicago.  It was a few years after I noticed it, that I went for the first time.  It was a good thing though, that I had heard beforehand that the entrance was kind of secret because I may have never figured out how to enter.  While there is a sign for the restaurant on the road where it has its address, and there is actually a door there, it isn't a door that you can actually enter.  There is also a sign for the restaurant on a side street on the side of the building and the entrance is in the alley that runs behind the building that empties onto the side street.  There is a tavern that is on the corner that is actually connected to Cafe Absinthe through three doors inside, but they are employee doors and you cannot go from the tavern to the restaurant or vice versa.  Even though it is located in a high traffic area, it is actually kind of quiet and low key.  The alley entrance may very well be a part of that.  Inside, the space is very open with a high unfinished ceiling, brick walls (one with a faded wall ad for Pernod), candle light, and an open kitchen.  The tables are not squeezed together, so you can have your own conversation and move around the room if you need to.  They also no longer have their own web presence (There is no website for the restaurant although they do exist on sites such as yelp and menupages and you can make a reservation with OpenTable).  As the restaurant is French, the featured beverage is wine and while they don't have a long wine list, it does a good job at covering many bases.  The menu is a fairly standard French bistro menu.  There aren't really any surprises here, but what they do, they do well.  I started out with the Cheese Plate.  I was very surprised at how big it was.  It came with three goat cheeses: a ricotta style, a semi-soft , and a washed Cheddar style.  I unfortunately do not remember the names of the cheeses but they were all very good.  Also on the plate were a pile of Cornichons and Olives (Green and Kalamata), a thinly sliced Granny Smith Apple, Quince Paste, Date Apricot Chutney, and enough Grilled Bread to enjoy with everything.  Everything was very good and it was kind of fun trying the different elements of the dish together to see what I liked best (The semi-soft cheese with the quince paste on the grilled bread and a cornichon to finish).
For my entree, I went with the Grilled Halibut in a Velouté Sauce with Tomatoes and Greens.  The fish was tender and perfectly cooked, the greens (and tomatoes) were fresh and flavorful, and the sauce was light and buttery and complemented the fish very well.  The only complaint was my own fault, I chose my wine before I really knew what I was going to order and I ordered a red burgundy (bourgogne) that while it tasted good, didn't really go with the food that I had ordered.
The dessert that Cafe is known for is a Chocolate Lava Cake with a Grand Marnier Sauce.  I have had that before and really liked it but one of my fellow diners was ordering it so I decided to try something else.  I got a Rum-Soaked Brioche Bread Pudding with White Chocolate and Coconut Ice Cream, Cocoa Nibs, Caramel, Raspberries, and Mint. This was also very good.  The bread pudding was a little more dense than other bread puddings I have had and it had a sweet and slightly boozy flavor.  The white chocolate and coconut ice cream went well with the bread pudding and kind of gave it a tropical drink flavor.  The cocoa nibs added some bitterness, the raspberries added a little tart, and the mint added mint.

It had been a while since I had been to Cafe Absinthe and it was somewhat comforting to see that things had remained largely the same.  I enjoyed my meal here.  The food and service were good and I really like the space.  I hope that I can return in the future and be comforted again.   

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gilt Bar

My birthday was recently and it has become a tradition for me to treat myself to something special for my birthday (if not precisely on my birthday).  This year, I went to Gilt Bar.  Located across the street from Merchandise Mart and located by Chicago's first bike lane, it still doesn't appear to be in an area with a lot of foot traffic.  Having said that, it still seems to be enormously popular.  I went during the week at an early time and it was still pretty busy.  I walked into a very dark room which shouldn't have surprised me because the exterior is black.  The interior was lit by Edison lamps and the walls, chairs,  and banquettes were mostly black.  Looking at the walls and ceiling, it appeared that they were weathered and some of the black was faded.  The menu consisted of classic dishes and cocktails so I'm going to guess that they were going for a vintage feel in a vintage space.  I decided to start things off with a classic cocktail, a Gin Daisy.  This drink is floral, sour, and an early incarnation of the Cosmopolitan.  I do however think that I like this better than a Cosmo.  There was a lot on the menu that looked interesting, ordering the drink first gave me time to decide what I wanted to eat. 
 I started my meal off with Steak Tenderloin Tartare with Poached Egg Yolk, Mustard, and Toast Points.  The meat was ground coarsely and well-peppered.  With many steak tartares, the yolk is raw.  While this makes it easy to spread the yolk through the ground steak,  it also can be a little on the slimy side.  I preferred the poached yolk which while not hard, was definitely harder than it normal.  The toast was slightly charred and was good to eat with the steak tartare and egg.  I like steak tartare and this was a very good version.
My next course, a vegetable course, was Roasted Broccoli with Pecorino Cheese, Red Pepper, and Lemon.  This was very good.  The broccoli was very fresh and crisp, with a little char on the florets.  It was also very lemony with a lemon wedge included to add more lemon juice it desired and the Pecorino added a cheesy flavor that tied everything together.
For my entree, I went with Roasted Pork Belly, Pickled Shallots, and Lentils.  The pork belly was fatty as might be expected and really, really good.  It was all very good and flavorful and I really enjoyed it.
With the size of the courses, I was slightly full when I got to dessert.  I still wanted dessert, but I decided to stay a little on the lighter side (if not necessarily light).  I went with an Apple Cake with Caramel, Short Bread, and Vanilla Ice Cream.  It was simple, classic, sweet, and a nice finish to a very good dinner.  I enjoyed my dinner there, and the service was good, although I might have  preferred a seat where I didn't have the possibility of becoming involved in someone else's life.   

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Dinner Lab - Nose to Tail

Most of the time when I write about a restaurant, I will start out talking about the design of the place where I am dining because atmosphere can be very important.  When you are participating in an underground dinner party however, while atmosphere is still important, it is important in a different way.  I participated in an underground dinner club recently called Dinner Lab.  While I have participated in things that were called underground dinner parties before, they were held in a restaurant, and while the food served wasn't normally on the menu, it wasn't terribly different from dining at a restaurant that I have never been to before.  The dinner served by Dinner Lab was very definitely not in a restaurant.  In fact, the building used was formerly a factory.  Admittedly, someone had previously rehabbed the space into a loft and had been living in it so many of the necessities needed to hold a dinner party were there already.  For the diners, the only thing that they needed to bring in were tables and chairs.
 The space was large and open with a bar, a large kitchen, and a large skylight.  THey brought in 12 large communal tables and hung a string of hanging lights.  The walls were old brick, the floor was hardwood, and the ceiling was unfinished.  It was a very nice space that felt unfinished for a restaurant, but would be great for a large dinner party.
 The dinner that they were doing was a nose-to-tail dinner.  That is, they were going to build a menu featuring parts from an entire animal, in this case, a pig.  The pre-published menu had 5 courses, but when I arrived, they were serving passed appetizers.  Talking to the chef before dinner, he said that after preparing the pig for dinner, there was a lot of meat left, so they decided to do a few appetizers.  The first of these was a Pate which was served in a jar with Ground Peanuts and Strawberry Jam and served with White Bread on which to eat it.  It was like a more savory and open-faced peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
For the other appetizer we had either a PBR braised Belly or Shoulder with Mustard and Micro-Arugula on a skewer.  It was very good, tender, and flavorful.  There was a lot of fat so I am more apt to believe that it was belly than shoulder, but in any case, it was pretty good.  There were a lot of skewers so it might have been that there were both belly and shoulder be passed around and what I got was belly.
After the appetizers were passed around several times, it appeared that everyone was there and had their drinks so we found seats at one of the large communal tables.  We sat at the end closest to the kitchen so we could better watch what was going on.  For our first course, we were served what was essentially a meaty salad.  It featured Porchetta (a cured meat made from a pig's face), Arugula, Pickled Watermelon Rind, and a Rambo Radish.  The vegetables were crisp and fresh tasting with a little bite from the radish and a little pepperiness from the arugula.  The porchetta was tender and juicy and very flavorful as good pork is and it gave me confidence in the progression of the meal.
The next course was essentially a soup course.  It was Confit Pork Belly Rillette with Garbanzo Beans, Chervil, and Bone Broth.  With the garbanzo beans and the spices used, it very definitely had a North African flavor to it.  The rillette was rough ground as rillettes are and had a definite bacon flavor which added to the savoriness of the broth and garbanzos.
We then went to the first of our entrees which was a porky spin on Vitello Tonnato, a cold sliced veal served with tuna flavored mayonnaise.  This dish used Thinly-Sliced Olive Oil-Poached Pork Shoulder served with a Tuna Aioli, Watercress, and Lard Bread.  The pork was very tender and light, and it was served cool.  The tuna aioli, which was served on the side, was also light and added a tuna flavor.  The lard bread was dense and kind of heavy, but was good bread and provided a good counterpoint to the lightness of the pork shoulder.  
The second entree was decidedly heavier both in flavor and in feel.  We were served a Hickory Smoked Pork Leg with Green Onion Pesto and Olive Oil Potato.  Ham comes from a pork leg and I was kind of expecting this to taste like ham but I am guessing because of the preparation and the fact that it was not cured, it tasted more like a smoked pork chop.  The mashed potatoes and the pesto added some strong flavors that complemented the smokiness of the leg.
With the previous dishes we had had head, belly, shoulder, leg, and innards (with the pate).  For the dessert we had the skin.  The skin was deep fried to make Chicharrons, rolled in Powdered Sugar, and served with with Peanut Butter, Guajillo and Arbol Chiles in a Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Tuille and Brandied Cherries.  I liked every part of this but the pork.  I am not a fan of popcorn, and texturally, that's what the chicharrons reminded me of.  This was a flavorful dish with a lot of variety and if the chicharrons had been a little more crunchy, it would have been great.  In any case, overall dinner was a lot of  fun and I would definitely attend another diner held by Dinner Lab.