Typically, underground dining is all about the mystery. It’s called underground for a reason. You have to know someone who knows someone as it’s rarely advertised. With one club in particular named ‘Clandestino’ you get the idea. Eating in a strangers home with other strangers is, what else, strange. But in this case it’s more than the novel experience. It’s about the food.
Here the Chef is also the farmer/forager/gardener. Iliana hand-forages morels from a location she seriously wouldn’t talk, even remotely, about. She hand-gardens and farms greens (when
possible). She owns One Sister Inc. where in addition to ‘shrooms, she sells “pierogis, sprouts, pastas, decorative and edible flowers, berry
plants, baked goods, soups, and preserves.” Many chefs have gardens but not many depend on them for their meals. In this case it certainly seems to be a major part of her inspiration.
This all results in some seriously wild flavor combinations throughout a dynamic 12-course
tasting menu. She does her resume justice. That she can even do this in an ordinary
residential kitchen is really a feat. The best news is you can try it
for yourself. The method is simple, a group of nice folks and a
suggested donation and this email. You get an address, a time and a suggestion for what
kind of wine to bring. In this case one of Alinea’s ex-sommelier’s was a stand-in (a ringer I tell you!).
After 12 courses you see what’s important to the chef. Whimsy is a word that is used often with molecular gastronomy and tasting menus, and while there’s some of that what struck me was intensity of flavors. The dishes were very focused and while the flavor intensity was up there the subtlety of them all working together so well was special.
The details after the jump.
The first course was a bubble tea which combined hibiscus, salmon roe and white chocolate. It was certainly unusual and stayed that way, every sip seemed to randomly combine very pronounced ingredients that all seemed to come together by the end of the dish (glass?). It seemed to set the stage well for the other plates.
2nd was octopus with root beer, trumpet mushrooms and tamago, a sweet egg omelet.
Her spring course – a bud vase which held a ramp puree that sat next to a plate of small-cut vegetables. (pictured at the top)
A 4th fish course featured a large ceramic spoon which held a gel-encased bite-sized piece of hamachi. The gel was horchata-infused and served with a puree of sweet corn.
#5 – Foie Gras. Xplicit was written on the plate in a plantain puree. The surprise was that the goats cheese seemed to take on new characteristics alongside the foie gras and pickled cherry.
Sixth was shrimp with avocado and coconut on a stick with passion fruit puree.
#8 – Lamb heart was served with peas and Moroccan tea caviar.
Nine was the Chicago city flag was recreated with sous vide pork belly, tenderloin and a pork neck rillette, in a ham and cumin consomme gel, mushroom puree, smoked paprika and cumin sugar tuile, blueberry reduction and demi glace.
Then came the dessert. Ten- The pistachio cake with coriander and citrus was wonderful especially topped with kola nut ice cream and lime curd and caramel at the bottom of the bowl.
Finally, 12, a shot glass made of rose water ice held a raspberry and chocolate shooter that had tasted like a special old and elegant memory. That must have been the combination of fruit, flowers and chocolate… the way a grandmother’s house would smell (even if mine really didn’t) and you could cleanse your palate by eating the rosewater glass.
If you can’t tell, this isn’t quite the underground dining experience you thought you were ‘in-the-know’ about. I was amazed.