Lisa Rodriquez from Check Please had an interesting question—what would be the meal you would like to have the best if you could combine different courses from our local restaurants? It made me think of the memorable meal that Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey had in 1974, when they won an auction item contributed by American Express to Channel 13 in New York City for dinner for two with no limit on the cost, with the only requirement that the restaurant accept the American Express card. Claiborne won the auction with a bid of $300.00. They then had a meal at Chez Denis in Paris—31 courses and spectacular wines and spirits (9 wines including a Latour 1918, a Lafite-Rothschild 1947, a Mouton-Rothschild 1928, a ‘61 Petrus, a ‘29 Romanée Conti, a 1865 Calvados, and Cognac hors d’âge). This meal for 2 cost $4000.00 in 1974 dollars. I can’t even think what that dinner would cost in today’s money, or if the wines could be found at any cost. I do know this for sure, American Express never made an auction prize like this available ever again.
So, let’s forget the ridiculous and for the sake of argument, let’s rule out stellar price points. No Alinea for $190, no degustation at Spiaggia at $295 per person (not including wine). Just a pick of appetizer, salad, main course and dessert.
Now, I love sweetbreads, and will have them as an appetizer if I see them offered. My favorite were sweetbreads pan sautéed crispy and served with a port wine reduction that I had a number of years ago at Carlos. Now, I’d go for the preparation of veal sweetbreads over creamy truffle scented potatoes with a Perigord sauce from Michael’s in Winnetka. Another alternative would be Hudson River Valley Foie Gras, seared in butter, from Café Absinthe in Bucktown. However, “organ” meat is not for everyone, so how about diver sea scallops on a bed of pan roasted polenta, matched with a micro green salad with ricotta from Stained Glass in Evanston?
For salad, one of my favorites is the sautéed eggplant, tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and arugula from Rosebud. I also like Sarah’s roasted beet salad with fresh goat cheese, pear and hazelnuts from Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook. Forget most caesar salads, they can’t compare to the one I make at home, with Michael Lomonaco’s recipe that he made during his tenure as chef at “21” in New York.
For an entrée, I love rack of lamb, especially young lamb, with a coating of garlic and mustard. However, I’d certainly vote for Stained Glass’s presentation of a rack with chanterelle mushrooms and a mint pesto, or Michael’s roasted rack with black truffle potato croquettes and a mushroom ragout. One night at Marigold (the upscale Indian restaurant on Broadway north of Lawrence), they had a lamb “rib chop” special with Indian spicing that was marvelous as well. I can be easily tempted by fish, when it is fresh and simply prepared. The Red Snapper Vesuvio at Francesco’s Hole in the Wall in Northbrook is consistently excellent, and the Whitefish at Prairie Grass is another trusted source. I love Dover sole, but the cost is too prohibitive (and the chance of fraud—non North Sea sourced sole or even flounder is too great). I’ve had excellent fish at Bob Chinn’s, particularly fish flown in fresh from Hawaii, but one has to be careful to only get fish simply prepared there, as his concept of how to cook fish in a sauce is ruinous.
You noticed I didn’t mention steak. I love a great steak, especially a dry aged prime NY strip steak 2 inches thick, so tender you can cut it with a fork, perfectly seared to achieve a nice crust outside, warm center red medium rare. The question of the best steak in town is worthy of another separate discussion and should include wagu or kobi style meat as well as prime, the advantages of dry versus wet aging, and whether choice meat is a viable alternative in a steakhouse.
I think I’ll save dessert for another post. Too many choices.