Monday, February 2, 2015

Hub 51 - Green Flash Beer Dinner

One of the biggest restaurant groups in the Chicago area is Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.  Started in 1971 with R.J. Grunts, they presently run over 60 restaurants, in Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, Minnesota, and Nevada, with a wide variety of styles and price points.  The common points for most of the restaurants is a flair for the theatrical and a good value.  This can even be said of their high end restaurants such as Everest and Tru which while expensive provide very high quality cuisine presented in an artistic manner with excellent service.  There are many people involved in the running of the company, but the one name that consistently comes to the forefront is Rich Melman, the founder.  The company opens new restaurants by forming partnerships with those that are interested in starting a new concept.  In recent years, he has brought his children into the company as partners and the first concept that sons RJ and Jerrod presented was Hub 51.  While I have gone to and liked several of LEYE's concepts, I have pointedly avoided those restaurants run by the younger Melmans.  This is because they seem to be aiming to create places that are about the scene first.  This is not to say that the food might not be good, but I do not like the vibe of exclusivity that seems to draw those with an oversized sense of entitlement to the place.  Hub 51 has also been accused of being without focus.  Having said that, I do like beer dinners, and Hub 51 was hosting Green Flash Brewery for a beer dinner, so I decided to swallow my attitude and try it out.  The dinner itself was in Hub 51's private lounge Sub 51, so I only briefly saw the restaurant dining room.  What I did see though, did not dissuade me from my initial thoughts.  The dining room which was light colored and open was crowded and loud.  I had to walk through the dining room to find the stairs to the lower level leading me to Sub 51.  As opposed to the light colors upstairs, Sub 51 is done in black with chrome accents.  The leather seats were gray and lifted up to provide a space for coats and bags.  There was an island in the middle of the room with banquette seating on either side.  There was also bench seating along the walls and a bar opposite the entrance.  I was welcomed and handed a beer when I arrived and was shown my place setting which was in a chrome picture frame on one side of one of the banquettes.  As it turned out, I was going to be sitting with the beer distributor and the brewery guy which I was fine with because it provides for interesting conversation and gives me a view behind the curtain, so to speak.

We started dinner out with our beer and passed appetizers.  We were first presented with first Ahi Tacos on Corn Tortillas with lettuce and a Spicy Tartar Sauce and were then presented with Green Curry Chicken Satay.  The dishes were simple, but they tasted good.  They both had a nice bit of spice to them, but they weren't just spicy, they were pretty flavorful and the size and simplicity of the dishes made it easy to walk around and talk to people.  After we had drank and socialized a little, we were seated so our dinner could start.

The dinner was listed as a three course meal (plus passed appetizers) but the food was served family style and there were at least a couple of dishes per course, so in actuality, it was closer to a six course meal with much more food than people could eat.  For the first course, we were served Spinach Salad with Orange, Fennel, and Pistachios and a Smoked Ham plate with Cilantro, Peppers, and Olives.  The spinach salad was very fresh and the oranges provided some brightness both in color and taste, but what really made it was the pistachios.  The Ham was light and buttery with a smoky flavor that almost seemed like Prosciutto.  We were provided with some very fresh bread on which to eat the ham, and the peppers and cilantro to garnish it with.  The olives were also very fresh and unpitted, which I think I prefer to canned and pitted olives.  They are less salty and their flavor is somewhat muted when compared to canned olives.
 For our entree we were served something pretty simple and something pretty complex.  The simple dish was Grilled and Skewered Shrimp with Quinoa and Brussels Sprouts.  The shrimp was perfectly cooked and served atop the quinoa and brussels sprouts.  The brussels sprouts were caramelized and the quinoa had a nice nutty flavor which went with the sweetness of the shrimp.

The second part of our entree was supposed to be a Lettuce wrap that we built ourselves using lettuce (of course), Smoked Pork Shoulder which we self pulled, Kimchi, Cilantro, Rice, and Korean Chili Paste.  While I did use all of the ingredients, it didn't end up as a lettuce wrap.  Everything about this was really good and while I did eat everything together, I didn't see the point in trying to eat it with my hands.  The pork was tender, smoky, flavorful, and pulled easily.  The kimchi was crisp and spicy, the rice was perfectly cooked and helped cut the spice of the kimchi and the chili paste and the cilantro provided a nice garnish.
Dessert was simple, classic and very good.  We were served a Double Chocolate Brownie, Salted Caramel Ice Cream, and Salted Caramel.  The brownie was served warm and the ice cream was cold (obviously) and they provided both the sweet/salty and warm/cold contrast that works so well together.  I enjoyed my meal here.  The food was good, my company was interesting, and the space was interesting.  While I would come back for another beer dinner, after looking at the scattered menu and seeing what is was like in the main dining room, I am not sure that I would return otherwise.

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