Our fDSIL works at a new restaurant in Chicago, called Senza. (There are very nice pictures there of the interior, and of some of the food.) DH and I were told we should try to come on a Thursday night, and "they would take care of us." So, last night we drove up to Chicago, and found the restaurant, after finding a reasonable parking spot, and paying for 3 hours of parking. It is in Lakeview neighborhood. We invited DD1 to come with us.
The decor of the restaurant is very restful, with white furniture (picnic tables!) stone floor, and wood and burlap accents, with plants in the window. We were greeted at the door, and ushered to the best table in the house. They took our coats and asked again if we had any food allergies or if there were anything we didn't like. C sent us a little bubbly to sip on while we waited for DD1, we had arrived a little early. As soon as she got there, the fun started. We were advised to request the tasting menu, and were warned there were going to be some surprises. There were! (The tasting menu is 5 courses.)
We started with l'amuse-bouche (French for canape) of tuna and rice paper, served in a glass bowl with chop sticks. It was 2 mouthfuls, amazing flavors, but gone so quick it really left me wanting more. It was not on the menu, so I can't remember to tell you all the flavors that were included.
It did not make any difference to the flavor of anything, or what choices there were available, but Senza (which means without in Italian) is completely gluten free. When they brought the bread (with seasoned butter) I was very curious to see what it would taste like. It was very good, light with a very nice crust.
After that there was another l'amuse-bouche of pork belly with gnocchi, on a bed of chard. There was more to the dish, but again, this was not on the menu, and I do not remember all the details. It was so good! almost melting in your mouth. Again, it was just a little taste. C sent us some white wine to go with the appetizers.
Next came the soup course: Parsnip and Apple. This included lobster, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate, and celery foam. Our servers assembled the soup in front of us, and every bite was a delight. The soup itself was delicate and delicious, and the additions added a new and interesting sensation to every bite: the pomegranate was a little bit tart, the pumpkin seeds were crisp and seasoned perfectly, and the lobster was mmmm (yummy sounds).
For each course the servers cleared away all the dishes and used silverware. The only clue we would have as to what was coming next was the kind of silverware they would give us. At one point they had brought spoons, and then came, took them away, and brought a knife and fork. The chef had changed his mind!
I am not sure I am going to get the order of everything right. As you can tell, it was a little overwhelming.
Next came the Foie Gras, with quince, grilled red onion, strawberry puree, and pistachio. The foie gras was sauteed, with just a hint of a crust around the melting inside, and each piece was set on a perfect round of grilled onion. This was one of my favorite selections.
The more dishes we tasted, the more I was impressed with the chef, Noah Sandoval. There was a balance, in each plate, of sweet and tart, smooth and crunchy, savory and sweet, hot and cold, or chewy texture with foam, so it was just fascinating to take a bite.
Next there was the Halibut, with plum, maitake mushrooms, pecan, and black garlic. I think this was DD1's favorite dish. The black garlic was a sauce, not overpowering, but very good. The plum was just a little wedge of fresh fruit, and the pecan was a little crispy wafer that provided the crunch.
Next was Whitefish. This included pork belly, sashi, enoki, and tofu. Again, the pork belly was so good, salty. The tofu added the smooth texture.
Next came the Tagliatelle, with tomato, artichoke, chanterelle, and truffle. This was a pasta dish, and it was really good as well. The pasta was very tender, and artichoke is one of my favorite flavors anyhow, so this really hit the spot.
We knew there was a beef course, and we were starting to wait for it, but the next course was the salad: a small sprig of grilled lettuce, with the base wrapped in a curl of anchovy, half an olive, and Caesar dressing with balsamic vinegar pearls. Again, the contrast in flavors was wonderful. The balsamic vinegar pearls gave such a burst of flavor!
After this course, they brought the steak knives and forks, so we were pretty sure it was the beef course. There is a picture of this at the website above. There was a small piece of beef (which was fine, DD1 and I could not even finish ours) with smoked potato puree, and small "pearls" of turnip, carrot, and parsnip, with a couple of blackberries. DD1 and I felt so bad we could not finish ours, but they packed it for us. (I finished mine today, and it was still good, although not as amazing as last night.)
For the next course they brought spoons for DD1 and me, and another steak knife and fork for DH. He got the Pekin Duck, with corn, blueberry, macadamia, and prosciutto. They took pity on DD1 and me, and gave us the first (!) dessert course. It is listed in the menu as Concord Grape, but is was a grape sorbet with poached pear; again delicate flavors, very light, and delicious.
At this point, we were worried about our parking meter. We had paid for 3 hours, and the time ran out. Just to give you an example of how pampered we felt that night, C ran to the parking lot and refilled the meter for us! It took off a lot of the worry, so we were able to enjoy the rest of the evening. He snatched minutes when he was able to come and sit with us, and at one point told us the chef didn't want to stop cooking for us!
The wait staff was wonderful! Friendly, informative, and very attentive. Along with the food, they made us feel very pampered; and they made the evening even more special.
Finally, we reached the "Chocolate" course. DD1 and I had been waiting for this, and it did not disappoint. There was a square of chocolate... it wasn't mousse, it was denser than that, but it was not as dense as fudge, and it was very dark chocolate. There was a small graham cracker on top, and there were two dollops of meringue on top of that, about the size of dimes. Cute, and so tasty! Along with the chocolate was a demi-tasse cup of chicory. I had never had chicory, even though I had heard of it in history books, it too was delicious.
Then for a crowning touch we all had coffee: DH had a cup of American coffee, DD1 had a latte, and I had a decaf espresso. I love the taste of espresso, but very few places make it in decaf, they think it is all about the caffeine. It was a real treat.
Thank you so much C! and all the staff and the chef. It was a once in a life-time experience! I didn't realize you could do some of those things with food, or do those kinds of combinations. It has changed the way I think of food!