Tuesday evening. I remember slowly drifting towards the glass doors of Grace. Apprehension, exhilaration, great anticipation.
It took me back to March 2012 when I passed through the revolving doors of Eleven Madison Park. One captivating lunch at EMP cultivated my appetite for the inexhaustible knowledge of fine dining. It’s just as sweet, time after time. A recent trip to Grace in Chicago transported me once again, as I contemplated enchanting plates of vegetables.
Grace offers two menus: Flora and Fauna. The Flora menu takes vegetables that we see on a daily basis to inconceivable heights. The Fauna menu delights tastes buds with shimming cuts of squab and Miyazaki beef.
Amuse Bouche from Left to Right: Plum Soda with Chia Seeds, Alaskan Crab with Encapsulated Butter, Black Pepper Shell with Osetra Caviar
The bite of crab and butter and plum soda were a friendly introduction to the start of dinner. However, my unfamiliarity with creations like the black pepper shell began to concern me. I began to hope that the elements of molecular gastronomy did not preside over taste. My worries swiftly melted away as I traveled through the flora and fauna menu.
During the summertime, I preach my affection for corn. At Grace, an intense concentration of sweet corn puree is served with its shoots and scoops of char roe. If corn puree was always this good, I may never have to chew ever again. This dish overshadowed the much more restrained plate of oysters with blueberries, sea bean, and lavender from the fauna menu.
The celebration of the summer season flowed throughout the course of the meal. The flora menu featured a mellifluous barrage of sweet peas in different textures while the fauna portion highlighted the prominence of heirlooms. One bite ignited a succulent blast of tomatoes.
As the images of the Grace’s Poached Quince dessert began to drift away, photos of the squab began to rise throughout the web. The tender squab was paired with the tangy and mildly bitter taste of sorrel and green strawberries. Delightful.
A gorgeous plate of beets arrived on the flora menu. Although the presentation was stunning, I found the beet dish too convoluted and demanding. From the beet noodle to black garlic to apple and tarragon, I found myself at sea, lost without a reference point to turn to.
The flora menu is nonetheless the star of the show. A soup of white asparagus really blew me away. The warmth from grilled scallions and glass noodles swarmed my taste buds. The crispy artichoke from the fauna menu was also captivating. The sweet floral aroma of curry and dandelion is an absolute treat.
Then came the beef! There are pictures of the Miyazaki beef at its raw stage that roam around Chef Curtis Duffy’s Twitter feed. Each layer is an intense marbling that allures the eyes of hungry carnivores. At Grace, the dish is paired with chanterelle mushrooms and compressed watermelon. Meat Candy.
There are also Australian black truffles on the Flora menu. Although I usually refrain from summer truffles for its inability to compete with black truffles in the wintertime, Grace’s sweet pairing of Australian black truffles with caramel and chive blossoms was memorable.
The smell of mushrooms began to fill the air. The maitake alongside the juicy notes of daikon, coffee, and fresh scallions provided a rich spoonful of savory memories. And then the sweet lamb from the fauna menu! The combination of rich, hearty, soft lamb with robust kale and herbaceous parsley root really filled my heart with content.
Along came a flood of desserts. Of the 9 courses on Grace’s two tasting selections, the pastry team is responsible for a third of both menus. Based on Chef Duffy’s time as a chef at Trio, I’m certain that the desserts at Grace will not play second fiddle to the other components of the meal. Pastry Chef, Bobby Schaffer oversees this portion of the menu.
The fauna menu featured an abundance of ripe berries and the flora menu presented a refreshing change of pace with kalamansi and Asian pear. With fruits like these, the summer season is indeed the sweetest.
Next, the flora menu highlighted rhubarb with toasted brioche and lemon balm and the fauna menu featured peaches veiled in a sweet shell, waiting to be cracked to open up a sweet combination of black sugar, lemon verbena and licorice. The soft texture from the silky brioche and the crunchy shell from the peaches offered two beautifully different textural contrasts.
Lastly, a presentation of coconut ended the three hour dinner. The aromatic notes of young coconut and the tart and sweet notes of lime and huckleberries, and the invigorating taste of basil put me in a spell. Then the bowl of chocolate with hazelnuts and cherries from the end of the flora menu! I was mesmerized.
Grace may be one of the most important restaurants in Chicago right now. It all comes together from the mastermind of Chef Curtis Duffy and his Chef de Cuisine, Nicholas Romero. Grace is closed on Sundays and Mondays, but Chef Curtis says that he never stops working.
His pursuit to become one of the greatest restaurants in the world is heartfelt. Although Chef Curtis looked fatigued during our brief meeting, the look in his eyes indicated that his desire to push harder and earn three Michelin stars was more than just a dream. This was his opportunity.
This restaurant is more than capable of earning three stars. Ultimately, consistency will be the root to its success as the New York Michelin report revealed when it knocked a restaurant from two to zero stars in the 2014 guide.
Grace not only nourished my voracious hunger for great fine dining, but it also consistently delivered friendly memories with Midwestern warmth and hospitality. I have tremendous faith that Grace will prevail.