Date of Last Visit: Thursday, January 20, 2011
The Victim: Kyra
The Damage: None. one sixtyblue paid. Yes. Keep reading. Estimated $175 of food/beverage consumed between the two of us. That being said, we left behind a roughly 40% tip.
The Background: If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know I don’t often accept “Invites to Review.” I just think it puts unrealistic expectations on all parties involved. (This fabulous post by my London blogging pal Cheese & Biscuits is an excellent case in point. And while not an invite-to-review, check out the PR-gone-bad on the comments on this other post.)
But there are exceptions to one’s personal rules as there are to everything in life. And the fact of the matter was that I wanted to have dinner and an old-fashioned chin-wag with my good friend Kyra, who has two little kids and a husband who just finished graduate school. The chances of us going somewhere like one sixtyblue without an invite like this were slim. Plus, I’m still feeling like the new-girl-in-town, so when the restaurant dropped me a note and asked if I wanted to come in in my guise as a Chicago restaurant blogger and check out their new seasonal menu, I said yes. Enthusiastically so.
More Background: I’ve been to one sixtyblue before. It was one of my first ever grown-up business dinners back in the late 90s. That’s how long one sixtyblue has been around. (Michael Jordan is one of the owners of one sixtyblue, giving it that certain caché.) I will always remember that dinner because the guy from my company that organized it was a real piece of work. He walked into one sixtyblue and announced “Shafer Merlot” before anyone had even taken their coats off. After this dinner, I saw him repeat this process at many a restaurant. I still laugh whenever I see Shafer Merlot on any wine list. Wherever you are former co-worker, I hope the Shafer Merlot is treating you well. (But not too well, of course.)
Kyra and I arrived late to our meal–and you know I’m never late–because of two things: Wacker Drive construction AND Hu Jintao. (You know…that guy in charge of China.) Totally didn’t realize he was in town on Thursday night until it was too late and traffic had crawled to a standstill. But I called the restaurant from the back of the cab, and they were nothing but not polite about our 15 minute delay. Upon arrival, we were shown to a nice large table and placed an order for something sparkling.
And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. And some more. I believe 17 minutes had elapsed before our drinks arrived. And the bread. With the pickle butter. one sixtyblue, apparently, is located in an old pickle factory. Nice touch. Very. But the delay in service just goes to show you…even when you’re a Chicago restaurant blogger, things can still happen.
A supremely competent and lovely bacony oyster bisque for me. ($9.) Super silky with that great salty twist of bacon. The more I reflect on this, the more I like it and want to bathe in it. My only complaint is that it could have been a tad hotter.
Kyra very kindly let me finish off her spinach salad ($9), featuring the seasonal vegetable of the month, crosnes. Crosnes (pronounced “crones”) are a member of the tuber family, and they have a jicama-like consistency. They added a nice crunch to the salad, in a very satisfyingly crunchy way.
I am easily excited by all things bone marrow, so was very pleased when this little gift arrived from the chef–as if the meal itself wasn’t enough of a gift–accompanied by a nice little salad of apple and fennel. ($10.) Sadly though, no bone marrow will ever compete with the Minetta Tavern’s bone marrow. I very diligently attempted to scrape as much marrow off the one sixty blue bone as I could, but I probably got less than a tablespoon, and not very buttery at that. The rum-raisin chocolate bread croutons were GREAT though!
I selected the pan-seared skate for my main ($26) which included israeli couscouse, harissa, roasted baby carrots, pickled crosnes, and preserved lemon brown butter. This was a gigantic portion, although perhaps just normal size for America. I did not do it justice! But it was really beautifully prepared and comforting on a cold winter’s night. (When is it not cold here in Chicago? Really?) I would order this again. And again. Normally, I don’t care much for couscous, but the larger globules of Israeli couscous made this much more enjoyable, and the lemon brown butter pulled everything together very very well. Plus the crosnes added some great texture to an otherwise pillowy dish.
Another little unexpected treat. A very sweet shot of bubble-tea-like apple cider. (Tapioca at the bottom of the glass.) A lovely surprise, and I briefly thought of inviting Chef Michael McDonald to come live with me forever so he can make me things like this when I wake up in the morning. Or go to bed at night. I have Google’d him senseless to find out how old he is and if he’s single to no avail.
Last up for me was the roulade of Wisconsin blue ($8), which included–surprise surprise–more crosnes! Candied this time. Along with dried currants and walnuts. This was a very dense, rich and festive English Christmas sort of roulade. It begged for a glass of port, but I wasn’t thinking and ordered the moscato instead.
As we left, they brought us cookies and jellies. A nice touch, that reminds me of Gauthier Soho’s little treat box. All restaurants should give their guests treats on the way out.
The Verdict: How could I NOT like one sixtyblue? Really, I thought it was all very mostly well-done and I loved the little touches like the pickle butter and the apple cider and the treats as we were leaving. (It was the even more complimentary than complimentary bone marrow that subtracts points.) It was also lovely to speak to the chef about his career and goals for one sixtyblue. Truth be told, both Kyra and I got pretty excited about this. On Monday nights in the bar, they do soup nights, where for $8, you get one of the chef’s seasonal soups served with a side of garlic bread. And on Thursday, they do something called 4-5-6, which means $4 craft beers, $5 burgers, and $6 wines. (And the burgers are from 21-day dry-aged prime ground beef from Dietzler farm in Wisconsin, where they specialize in free-range grass and corn-fed beef.) They had a really good crowd in the bar the night we were there, so I’m intrigued by the prospect of returning to check things out.
So in short, I’d say if you haven’t been to one sixtyblue in a while, you should go. It’s fun and very well done. This January 2009 review of one sixtyblue from Phil Vettel of the Chicago Tribune sums everything up more beautifully and with bigger words than an amateur blogger like me ever could do. So you should read it. And then make your reservation.