May 8, 2010 - I have to admit, I was beginning to feel a bit like a power player. For the second night in a row, the Executive Chef joined us at our table to say hello. We figure it's Cheryl’s unabashed promotion of her website (cucina.grandinetti.org) which is facilitating the visits-but it could also be the universally friendly service we have received since touching down in the Windy City.
While the table side stop from MK's Executive Chef, Erick Williams, was a real treat, it was the food his kitchen served which really made the evening.
I had made our reservations at MK with a bit of hand-wringing -Chicago has many great restaurants and I really wanted to choose something special. I had narrowed the decision down to MK and North Pond, a former warming shack on the lake at Lincoln Park, after my visit to www.epicurious.com to read their Chicago restaurant reviews and my quick glance at the two menus. The opportunity to choose from an a la carte menu (and the pommes frites with truffle cream!) led me to pick MK. We were not disappointed.
The meal opened with a small tasting of cured wild salmon paired with golden raisins, chopped pistachios, mini-frisee, and a light dressing of pistachio oil, lemon, and sea salt. This three bite amuse bouche set the tone for the entire evening of beautifully prepared food and timely service.
With any new restaurant I really want to try as many dishes as possible. Luckily, Cheryl and Maria agree with this philosophy so we decided to have a round of shared appetizers, followed by a salad course, and then our entrees. We started with pan seared potato gnocchi, prawns, and the fries I mentioned earlier.
The potato gnocchi were pan seared creating a slightly chewy texture, which paired nicely with the artichoke slivers. The dish was topped with a fried egg -the broken yolk combined nicely with parmigiano reggiano cheese to sauce the gnocchi. Egg-topped dishes appear to be "all the rage" in Chicago as almost every menu featured an item topped with a fried egg.
The prawns were delicious, big, and sweet with a nice crunch on the outside. We also enjoyed the spring pea and pea shoot salad which lined the plate although I noticed it was hard to eat a bite with all of the components together. We devoured the shrimp first and then slowly ate the pea salad.
Our last starter was the aforementioned pommes frites with truffle cream. I have a particular weakness for truffles, and the cream sauce had a strong truffle flavor. The fries were good but it was the sauce that made the dish.
We then transitioned with a salad and soup course. Maria and I each had a simple arugula salad with fennel, pine nuts, and lemony vinaigrette. The salad was topped with a wedge of Humboldt Fog goat cheese.
Cheryl had the lobster and pea soup which our waiter took care to note was served at room temperature. It was a bright vibrant green color and the flavor matched.
For entrees, we took cues from the wait staff and I think we chose well. Cheryl had a lovely rabbit duo - a leg and loin from Michigan’s Swan Creek Farm. It was paired with a parley root galette, which resembled a really fancy potato pancake. Fava beans and roasted carrots completed the flavor profile.
As a Midwesterner, I tend to lean to meat dishes as a normal course and was not steered wrong with the veal t-bone. The meat was juicy with a nice crust—a real solid entrée. It was served with broccolini and peppercorn pan sauce. My only quibble with the dish, the plating was very simple compared with my companion’s plates.
Maria had the tuna with mashed potatoes, shitake mushrooms and a red wine sauce. I was really impressed with how well the pairings went with the tuna because I don’t believe I have ever had fish paired with mashed potatoes. For all of the entrees we chose to have the meats cooked to the chef's recommended temperature. A slight miss - the tuna was not as rare as Maria had hoped (or as rare as the tuna that was delivered to tables nearby).
As you can imagine, we weren’t very hungry for dessert after so many great courses. I don't have a huge sweet tooth and I always suggest sharing dessert because it's my least favorite part of the meal, however, at MK, the pastry chef has assembled a beautiful list of desserts. The list read more like an appetizer menu with great care taken to really create cohesive innovative dishes rather than just tossing a piece of cake on a plate.
Cheryl’s ice cream and cookie plate was really amazing—dulce de leche, caramelized honey, and carrot cake ice cream flavors and a variety of small cookies. Cheryl really liked the bite sized peanut butter cookie!
I had the brioche sugar donuts with chocolate accompaniments and dulce de leche ice cream.
Maria’s rhubarb plate complete with a rhubarb tart, anise-flavored sabayon cream, and a rhubarb soda was the most inventive and beautiful.
With regard to the wine, we thought the glasses used to serve wine by the glass were disappointing--many establishments provide inferior glasses when a bottle is not ordered. However, our wait staff was very happy to accommodate our request for better glassware when we ordered our second glasses of wine. I also thought given the quality, creativity, and care that went into the food, the restaurant could have offered a more robust wine by the glass list. Many diners are opting to try different styles of wine throughout their meal rather than ordering an entire bottle. Unfortunately, many restaurants have not upgraded their menus to account for this.
Our meal ended with one last treat - with our bill, the staff presented a small plate of shortbread cookies, strawberry gelees and cocoa nib brittle.