Sorry, here it is....
What a perfect evening. I really had no idea what a treat I was in for when we left the house. I was really looking forward to Le Lan, which is one of the newer restaurants in Chicago (it has been a while since we have gone out). Our group consisted of myself, my wife Colleen and our friend Logan. For those of you who don't know, Logan was responsible for, "A Day In the Life of An American Culinary Student" online journal that is part of www.cheftalk.com.
I highly recommend checking it out.
Initially when Logan contacted me, he wanted to go to Tru. Colleen and I had already been there with Mezzaluna a while back and said it was too pricey ($300 a couple). After some emails, we opted for Le Lan, which was recently voted the best new restaurant in Chicago by Chicago Magazine. Without further ado, here are the details. We had a 6:30 reservation which is a bit earlier than I like to eat, but it was all that was available. The restaurant is small but I did not feel the tables were cramped. It is a nice looking restaurant - simple in decor, but it works well."
When we received the menus I had already previewed the dishes online at the Le Lan website (http://www.lelanrestaurant.com/
), but I was having a very difficult time trying to figure out all of the flavor combinations. Somehow I thought that when we actually got to Le Lan things would make more sense and I would know what I wanted, but it didn't. To be honest with you I am just not all that familiar with Thai food and this is a French/Thai restaurant (the efforts of Roland Liccioni of Le Francais and Arun Sampanthavivat of Aruns).
After going over the menu (which is not large 2 soups, 3 salads, 5 apps, and 8 entrees) I finally settled on having the Spicy Kabosha with Crispy Crab Rangoon soup for my starter. Logan started off with the Roquefort Sorbet Baby Mixed Greens, Haricot Verts, Green Apple, Toasted Nuts which we were both eager to try the sorbet. My soup was simple, and very good a little spicy for me but hey it is Thai. Logan's salad was just a salad nothing special but the Roquefort sorbet was very interesting, a neat twist and good flavor I thought.
Next up was our appetizers which were all excellent. Colleen had the Duo of Vietnamese Spring Rolls Cold ~ Slow Roasted Pork, Shrimp, Sweet Spicy Shallots Warm ~Veal, Chicken, Vermicelli, Four Pepper Vinaigrette which had excellent flavors and textures throughout, it was beautifully presented as well. Logan had the Chili Poached Dumpling with Carrot Ginger Espuma, Pork with Jalapeno Essence, Sesame Sunchoke Chips which he said was good, not great. Lastly I had the Banh Cuon Gunthorp Farms Organic Pork, Vietnamese Herbs, Nuoc Cham, which I enjoyed but wished the portion would of been a bit bigger. Excellent flavors but not enough pork. In case your wondering, yes we all shared and tried each others dishes.
Finally we came to the entrees and I have to say Logan was the most daring as he ordered the Smoked Squab with Spice Bread Puree, Wild Mushrooms, Olive Chocolate Tuile, and Anchovy Accented Port Wine which ended up being the show stopper of the night. Absolutely magnificent and totally unexpected by all of us. In Logan's words he could of had two of them for dinner. The sauce worked especially well I thought in that it was a good contrast of sweet and salty and yet perfectly balanced. The olive chocolate tuile was novel but there wasn't much flavor of the olive so it was simply ok. Colleen had the Asian Spiced Beef Tenderloin Chinese Long Beans, Pankoed Bok Choy, White Quinoa, and a Star Anise Red Wine Sauce which was the biggest portion out of anything we ordered all night. The tenderloin was nicely cooked, but it was not nearly as interesting as the squab. The bok choy was interesting and very tasty. As for me? After much back and forth through the choices I finally went with the Curried Skate Wing with Basted Cauliflower, Wild Mushroom Puree, Pomme Maxim, Horseradish Emulsion. I have always enjoyed skate wing, but generally prefer more simply preparations (grilled with lemon and capers). I thought I would give this a try as I like both curry and skate and had never had the two together. The dish was wonderfull and I especially liked the Pomme Maxim which was a very thin flat potato preparation placed on top of the skate. I thought the sauce was also quite good and not too overpowering with the horseradish.
At this point all of us felt very satisfied and ended up going back and forth about what we should do for desserts. The desserts were looking good at Le Lan, but it was early and we were still ready for more adventure. We paid the check hooped into my Scion xB and headed for Blackbird which in retrospect was an insane notion on a Saturday night. The only good thing about going to Blackbird for desserts was we got an excellent parking spot and Logan pointed out that I was a little George Costanza like in how I was going on and on about what a great parking space we found. Needless to say we arrived at Blackbird and it was beyond packed it was crowded. We ended up standing around the bar for about 15 minutes watching the action, used the bathroom, and finally decided to leave. What happened next was the highpoint of the evening for all of us.
After getting our sense of direction we decided to take a chance and head to Tru to see if we could finally get some desserts. We made our way into Tru where we were greeted and asked if we would like jackets? I had forgotten that Tru required a jacket so Logan and I had no choice but to take our chances with the house jackets. Logan is a pretty big guy, and I was almost in tears when he put on the jacket and the sleeves came up to his elbows. My jacket was not quite as bad just a little tight in the shoulders which was acceptable for a quick dessert. Our host seated us at the bar and we received the royal treatment even though we were just having desserts and coffee.
First they set up small white table cloths for each of us (napkins) and silverware after which we were served a small amuse of fresh ricotta and cherries which was a tasty starter. For dessert I had the panna cotta with stawberries, and balsamic glaze, Colleen had chocolate creme brulee with chocolate ganash ice cream
, and Logan had the walnut carmel bread pudding with ice cream
. All of them were outstanding, but again Logan picked the best one as we all agreed that Logan's was outstanding.
After our desserts I had a brandy and they brought out what I will call the candy cart. The cart was filled with all kinds of house made candies from pistachio brittle and cayanne flavored gingersnaps to vanilla lolipops and you simple choose what you want. Logan asked if they have many people who ask for one of each (There must of been 15-20 different kinds) to which our server politely replied "We tend to frown upon that sir". Regardless Logan took one of everything except the lolipops. If that was not enough on our way out they handed each of us a little package that contained two tiny canelles which were very chewy and looked like little bunt cakes. In the end it cost us about $80.00 for dessert for the three of us which is about half of what we paid at Le Lan.
It was a fantastic evening with great company and great food. I would give Le Lan a try it and if you want some fun and don't want the big bill of a full meal at Tru just go for desserts with a couple friends you will have a great time.
Incidentally Logan's jacket had to be cut from his body because it was so tight. (just kidding).