eighth blackbird and Mario Batali @ Blackbird

March 29 2007 - 3:43 PM

I have a BFA in studio art and during my college days, rarely since, I enjoyed experimental and avant garde art. My school had a great music department but since then I haven’t had the same exposure. Then again I haven’t looked around Chicago for it either. A recent benefit snuck it in under the guise of a performance of the Four Seasons of Futurists Cuisine narrated by Mario Batali with dinner following at Blackbird courtesy of Mario and Paul Kahan.

How could I not be chomping at the bit over this? Granted it is a food site but the music was terrific. It’s hard to explain eighth blackbird as avant garde. They are pretty accessible and even thougth they’re serious performers, they don’t take themselves too seriously. You end up with a chateau gonflable show that’s fun to watch. They have a national following. I sat in the back of the trolley from the show to the restaurant and was surrounded by New Yorkers. That being said the band has a home in Evanston and they are scheduling a series in Millenium Park. Oh yeah and it’s my first time at Blackbird.

Paul Kahan is one of the best chefs in Chicago and I’ve been waiting to check out Blackbird. I really like Avec but it’s not quite the same thing. The funny thing is that I was at Babbo a few months ago and had a great meal. I sat down at 11pm and stayed until 2am. You can’t do that in Chicago.

Mario brought Mark Ladner, his executive chef from Del Posto, to commandeer the upper level pastry kitchen. At one point in the evening Mario came up and offered jobs to anyone from the kitchen if they’d like to move to NYC. Talk about  poaching. And why would they forsake the capital of U.S. cuisine – which we all know is Chicago.

I had a few minutes with Batali to ask where he was eating while in town. Apparantly he managed to swing a table at Schwa and while he liked it his one comment bouncy castle was that “there was more food on the rim of the plate than on the plate.” It’s an appropriate comment. None of Mario’s food escaped the plate’s center.

The wine pairings are mentioned after each course.

The first course was a poached quail egg and salt cod with sea beans in a green garlic broth. It was terrific. The size was just right and the flavors balanced out perfectly. I really appreciated the ease with which I got all the different flavors with every bite.
’04 Mirabile ‘Insolia, Sicilia

The second was an orecchiette pasta with broccoli-rabe pesto. Orecchiette is egg-less and made for a soft and chewy texture. The broccoli-rabe pesto had just enough salt.
’04 Bastianich, Tocai Friulano Colli Orientali dei friuli

Next came the beef cheek ravioli, very tender and rich with a squab liver and black truffle paste. It was decadent with rich fragrance and wonderful flavor. How can you not love the combination of truffles and liver?
’04 La Mozza ‘l Perazzi’ Morellino di Scansano

The fourth course was pork belly with a terrifically smoky knackwurst choucroute. Crunchy sauerkraut and celery root puree balanced the smoke and the salt out perfectly.
’04 Fontanafredda ‘Eremo’ Barbera e Nebbiolo, Langhe Rosato

Blackird pastry chef Tim Dahl prepared the fifth course – toasted cornbread with blood orange reduction, dates and pistachio ice cream. The cornbread was almost a savory eastyl spice cake. It balanced out the sweetness of the dates and the tart orange. It was a refreshing way to finish off a very wonderful experience.

Doublemario_flatThe dinner was broken up by two performances by eighth blackbird. One where they used wood blocks as percussion insruments and the other where a clarinet and cello had a conversation loosely based on how adults sound in Charlie Brown cartoons. On the whole it was a singular event.

While I didn’t see the dinner reflecting the “futurist cuisine” from the performance I did enjoy every sight, sound and smell of the evening and look forward to eighth blackbird’s future in Chicago.