Sunday, June 7, 2015

Intro - C. J. Jacobson

Most restaurants of note will vary their menus based on season.  Some restaurants take it further by changing themes several times a year.  In a more extreme example, Next Restaurant completely changes its concept about three times a year.  Following along the same lines, the popular restaurant group Let Us Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) has introduced Intro, a restaurant that introduces diners to a new chef and his concept, changing both menu and restaurant details every two or three months.  For their first chef, they brought in California native and Top Chef Alum, CJ Jacobson.  Chef Jacobson's cuisine could be described as rustic refined.  He focuses on local, seasonal, and foraged products, to create something that you would expect to find in a fine dining restaurant.  The restaurant itself is kind of hidden, with the entrance in the lobby of a condo building on Lincoln Park West behind a large wooden door.  The dining room space is pretty open so it leaves a lot ov room for individual variations from chef to chef.  Mon Ami Gabi, another Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, is located in the same building, although it is visible from the outside, so it can be used for navigation purposes.  Intro uses a prepaid reservation system that varies based on the time you book your dinner, for most dinners.  They do save a few seats for online reservations, but because you are not prepaying, the price will be the maximum price offered in the prepaid system.  Tax and service charge (tip) are included in the prepay, so it is possible to go and not to have to pay anymore on the night of the dinner (if you do not drink).  This was not the case for me as I did start out with a cocktail.  My cocktail was called a Fir Mule and was similar to a Moscow Mule.  It used Absolut Vodka and Ginger Beer like a Moscow Mule, except that instead of Lime, it used Douglas Fir Syrup and it was not served in a copper mug.  The drink surprised me as to how green it was.  It did taste good though.  It doesn't have the sour finish of a Moscow Mule.  The Fir Syrup went well with the ginger and brought out an herbal flavor instead.
Before our first official course, we were served an Amuse Bouche which consisted of a savory Panna Cotta, two Granitas (a frozen ice dessert from Sicily made from fruit juice with a coarser texture than is typical for Sorbet), and topped with Trout Roe.  On paper, this doesn't look, to me, like it should work, but the saltiness of the roe and the savory panna cotta actually go well with the sweet and sour from the granitas, and the many different textures helped as well.
For our first official course, we were served a dish in a large semicircular bowl that was kind of a cross between a salad and a ceviche.  This very nice looking dish contained Fluke, Avocado, Radishes, and Douglas Fir Tips in another very green broth.  I have to imagine the green in this case was a combination of the fir and the avocado.  It was very all very tender and flavorful and I enjoyed it a lot.
We took a break of sorts after our first course when our bread course arrived.  It was fairly simple as far as a bread course is concerned, consisting of only one type of bread, Sourdough and Butter.  Having said that, the bread and butter were both housemade and were very good.  The bread had a nice thick crust with a soft interior and was broken into several pieces to more easily get a piece that was easy to handle.  The butter was very soft sweet and salty and had a good sprinkling of chives for flavor.
Our next course was primarily a vegetable course, consisting of very fresh Asparagus, Celery, and Pepitas (fried sunflower seeds), with what was essentially a Hollandaise Sauce with Bacon.  There There were also a few things not listed in the course description that I think were fried Cauliflower.  The vegetables were very crisp, the cauliflower was crunchy, the pepitas provided a nutty crunch, and the Hollandaise provided a complementary flavor and bacon improves the flavor of everything.
In a normal fine dining course progression, after the salad comes the vegetable, fish, and meat, finishing with dessert.  This menu more or less continued to follow the standard course progression with the fish course coming next.  I say more or less, because while we were served the fish course, there was still a fair emphasis on the vegetables served with the fish.  We were served Poached Halibut with English Peas and Pea Shoots, and Maitake and Shiitake Mushrooms.  I really like halibut.  When it is prepared well, as it was here, it is tender and flaky with a mild flavorthat can pair well with a wide variety of vegetabes.  The mushrooms and peas provided a lot of flavor to this dish and went well with the halibut.
The final savory course was a couple of slices of Medium Rare Prime New York Strip served with Escarole, Aronia Berries (Chokeberries), and Jus.  The escarole, a leaf lettuce, was served both as a sauteed leaf and a puree, and the chokeberries were chopped and presented with the escarole.  By itself, the greens were a bit bitter (and astringent with the aronia berries), but they paired well with the steak.

Dessert was different, but good.  It consisted of Kombucha (fermented sweetened black or green tea), Juniper Snow, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate Cubes, and Sunflower Shoots.  The kombucha had a bittersweet herbal flavor and the juniper snow brought back the pine tree theme.  Chocolate is chocolate and it tasted good, but with the sunflower shoots, the kombucha. and the juniper, the bitter was emphasized.  While it was good, it went more towards flavors complementary to the savory side of things than a typical dessert does.
To finish things off, we were given crisp chocolate twigs.  They were sweet and crispy like a KitKat Bar, but with the twig form brought things back to the natural side of things that all of these dishes featured.  I enjoyed my dinner here and look forward to seeing what the next incarnations of Intro might be.

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