Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer Seasonal Slam at Two Restaurant and Bar

While the listed price is obviously higher than any given item on most restaurant menus, if you break it down per dish and drink basis, it is in the same price range, if not slightly better.  It also allows for the possibility of letting the chef get away from the standard menu somewhat and may allow him to explore his creativity.  It also allows for the possibility of the diner to get a pretty good idea of the restaurant theme, whether the chef sticks to the menu or not. 
I attended an event called a Summer Seasonal Slam at Two Restaurant and Bar recently which was a spin on an Iron Chef type-competition.  Two restaurants, in this case, Two and Acadia, were given three ingredients to work with and had to come up with a food course and a drink for each ingredient.  Diners were to vote on the better of each pairs and drinks and dishes and a winner was announced at the end.  Two is a small restaurant and bar on Grand Ave. on the border of Westtown and the West Loop.  Despite the fact that the entire place is done in black, it actually has kind of a friendly neighborhood vibe.  The entrance is into the bar area which has some tables besides the bar.  The event was done in the main dining room which was in a separate room, next to the bar.  The tables were arranged into three communal tables, I have to imagine which was for ease of service.  When everyone was seated, we were welcomed and the rules were explained.  We were told the three ingredients that the chefs and bartenders would be using and were basically told that we could decide which was the better drink and dish however we wanted to.  Our first ingredient was Corn and the drinks were first to show up.  For Drink A, we were served Smoked Corn, Achiote infused Ocho Plata Blanco (Tequila), Fresh Corn, Popcorn Syrup, Champagne Vinegar, Cilantro Kix, and Coconut Milk Foam for Drink B, we were served Caorunn Gin, King's Ginger, Midori, Roasted Corn Puree, Sweet Corn Ice Cream, Sarsparilla Bitters with a Canteloupe Garnish which wrapped the Sweet Corn Ice Cream.  I am generally a gin guy and am very picky with my tequila so it would be easy to think that I would have picked Drink A, but I am also not a fan of Midori or canteloupe, and the corn ice cream made for a rather heavy drink so I had to go for Drink A which was savory, spicy, and actually reminded me of camping.
For the corn dishes, Dish A had Pork Belly, Corn, Maine Blueberries, Masa and Cilantro and for Dish B, we were served Smoked Pig Cheek, Corn 4 Ways, and Smoked Pork Jus.
As far as presentation was concerned, I liked Dish A better.  It had a cleaner look and it looked more artfully arranged as opposed to the calculated mess that Dish B presented.  While presentation is important though, ultimately, what is most important is how the dish tasted and in the case of these two dishes, I liked Dish B better.  While I liked the presentation of the pork belly better, I found the corn, blueberries, and cilantro a bit dry.  With Dish B, it made sense to try everything together (although I also did try things separately).  The pork cheek was smoked and pulled, had a very nice porky flavor and went well with the corn and jus.
 The second ingredient challenge was cherries and again, the drinks came out first.  The first, Drink A, was Angel's Envy Bourbon, Cherry Juice, House-Made Cherry Shrub (a vinegar-based syrup), Casoni 1814 (an Italian apertif), and Stiegl Radler.  The bourbon in this was obvious, but it also had sour and cherry flavors and a light carbonation from the Stiegl Radler.
Drink B consisted of Tart, Rainier, and Bing infused Letherbee Gin Cherries, Lemon Peel, Quinine Elixer, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime, and Ginger Tonic.  This was sweeter, although still with a tart finish and reminded me of a Gin and Tonic with Cherries.  Both of these drinks were pretty good, but I preferred the Gin and Tonic flavor to the Bourbon and went with Drink B.  
For the Cherry dishes we started with a dish that was almost empty being brought out.  It had no cherries and instead contained King Crab, Pork Marrow Powder, and Bourbon Maple Bubbles.  This was obviously not finished so I waited on it.
The first completed dish to arrive at our tables was Dish B, which was a very nicely composed dish with Cherry Smoked Duck Ham, Cherries, Mushroom Panna Cotta, Rye, and Mache (Lamb's Lettuce).  This was a very good dish with very strong and distinct flavors and varied textures and it would have been hard to beat without even trying the second dish.
Dish A was completed with a Cherry Gazpacho which was very good and flavorful and went well with the Crab and Bourbon Maple Bubbles, it also paired well with Drink A.  While I liked the dish and the pairing, it couldn't beat the duck ham and I went with Dish B.
The third ingredient that the chefs and bartenders had to work with was Basil which, while I like it, I have to think because of it's strong and distinct flavor was probably the most difficult ingredient to work with.  For our Drink A, we started with Next Star Vodka with Sweet, Thai, Pineapple, and Red  Basils, Juniper, Genepy des Alps (an apertif similar to Absinthe), Luxardo Maraschino, and a Citrus, Basil, Cucumber, CH Distillery Key Gin Cube.  By the time I got this drink, I was definitely feeling the previous four drinks.  It was very flavorful and despite the fact that vodka was the base liquor, it had a lot of gin flavor on top of the herbal flavors from the basils.
Our last drink, Drink B (basil) Rapidly Infused Basil Tito's Vodka, Cucumber, Fresh Lemon Juice, Green tea Simple Syrup, and Grapefruit Bitters.  With this drink, we were hit with a cucumber start, a basil flavor, and a grapefruit finish, all of which I like and I really like Tito's Vodka, but I thought Drink A was done better.
Our basil dishes started with Scallop, Edward's Country Ham, Parisian Gnocchi, Basil, Lemon Ricotta, Radishes, and Sugar Snap Peas.  This was also a thoughtfully composed and flavorful dish and I really liked the gnocchi and the flavor combinations.
With Dish B, though, it also was well composed and flavorful with a variety of textures.  It started with Basil Poached Yellow Fin Tuna, Grilled Shishito Puree, Summer Ratatouille, and Basil Chips.  This was a good dish and I really liked the accompaniments that went with the tuna, but in the end, I liked the Scallop better than the Tuna, so I had to go with Dish A. 

While I did vote and a winner was chosen (Acadia in both the kitchen and in the bar), it was not revealed to us which restaurant was responsible for which dish.  While I can guess for some of the dishes (even though I have not officially dined at either restaurant, I have had tastings of their food at various benefits), I do not know for certain how I voted in regard to which restaurant I voted for for each drink and dish.  In any case, despite the fact that I left a little more drunk than I like to get on a night before a day that I have to work, I did have a lot of fun and look forward to going to both restaurants sometime in the future.


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