May 8, 2012

Epicurious Entertains Chicago

Location: Chicago
Cost: $60

I randomly stumbled upon a Bloomspot email blast advertising coupons for Epicurious Entertains Chicago a few weeks ago, and in my infinite wisdom moved onto the next email before doubling back and going "whaaaaaaaaat?"  Epicurious coming to town, bringing their expertise in entertaining and cookin' up dinner with three of Chicago's best chefs?  Nuff said, sign me up.

Epicurious has actually already Entertained New York, but we know they were much more interested this Chicago event, as evidenced by the exclusive 2-day event they held in Chicago compared to 5 days in NYC.  Here in Chicago, they held a number of events including a BBQ lunch, didactic sessions on entertaining, and stuff with kids, but the crown jewel of the weekend was Dinner with Chicago's Top Chefs.

This dinner was an all-inclusive event including cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, and a three-course meal designed by three of Chicago's most amazing chefs: Art Smith of Table Fifty-Two, Dale Levitski from Season 3 of Top Chef and currently executive chef of Sprout, and Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate.  I know, right?  I'm not sure why Epicurious had to sell discount tickets on Bloomspot, because I totally would have paid full price.

I went with my girlfriend, and we made a date of it, drumming up my upcoming graduation as an excuse to dress up and celebrate with top-shelf drinks and incredible food.  Not to mention it was the first actual grown-up event of this kind I've ever been to!

This photo doesn't do it justice, but suffice it to say that we brought down the average age of the place by a statistically significant number when we showed up.  No matter, because the alcohol was flowing, and people looked like they were having a good time.  The specialty drinks being served up by the bartenders were surprisingly good; the Veev Spa Cooler with lime juice, honey, cucumber, & mint stole the show, with second place going to the St. Germain Cocktail with champagne, St. Germain, and soda.

I loved Epicurious' decor; they went with a classy farmhouse dinner look, bringing in long coarsely finished dark wooden tables, seating guests family style.  Fresh white tulips and smartly potted herbs like parsley, basil, and mint served as the centerpieces, which I thought accented the overall look of the dinner setting perfectly.

But enough about the pre-dinner entertainment.  Onto the good stuff.

The first course was Art Smith's spring pea puree with poached lobster, smoked-cumin salt, mint, & a pea tendril salad.  Served cold, the puree was immediately one of the best soups I have ever had.  The pea puree had perfect texture and seasoning, tasting like soup while maintaining a slight grittiness, reminding me of its roots ever so delicately.  And the poached lobster!  Absolutely tender and light, it complemented the taste of the puree perfectly.  The pea tendril salad added a nice crunch to the bite.  Honestly, the soup could have been a meal on its own (don't tell, but I also had the bowl that was given to the empty seat next to me), but serving as the first course, it was a great introduction to the flavors and textures of the rest of the meal.

The main course was a cut of Kobe beef tenderloin, cooked just right (medium-rare), served with sturgeon caviar (Dale's play on "steak & eggs") on top of potato kugelis, dill baby beets, and fennel.  Surprisingly, it was also served cool, which was definitely different.  It was the first time I'd ever been served a cool steak, but oh my goodness was it so good.

The kobe beef tenderloin was sooooooo deliciously buttery, with each bite of the visibly marbled steak pushing me further and further into foodbliss.  Like my girlfriend said, "if I could eat this for the rest of my life, I'd be willing to die early."  So's that good.

I've never had caviar before, so I wasn't really sure what to expect.  But I definitely liked it!  It was buttery on its own terms, with a saltiness that was a little overpowering on its own but great when paired with a bite of the steak and potato kugelis, which tasted a little like semi-sweet mashed potatoes.  The beets were crunchy, sweet, and offered a nice counterpoint to the deliciously fatty and starchy other half of the plate.

Dessert was Mindy Segal's take on a cheesecake, using cream cheese and creme fraiche, anise hyssop, and topped with rhubarb and strawberries.  Like the rest of the meal, it was surprisingly light, with the "cheesecake" portion of the dessert tasting like an airy tart more than a heavy cheesecake.  The soul of the dish, however, was in that yellow syrup you see in the photo above.  I can't describe it any better than to call it cheesecake essence, because that was exactly what it was.  It was so fun - you could dip anything into that sauce, and it would inexorably taste like cheesecake!  Indeed, I had such a good time playing with the cheesecake essence that I forgot what the rhubarb and strawberries actually tasted like...oops.

If you couldn't tell by now, I had an amazing time eating, drinking, and enjoying the company of others who loved food just as much as I do.  For providing the (amazing) food and drink while I provided the fun, Epicurious Entertains Chicago earns 5 Cherries.


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