The 13th of 15 courses to arrive at the table of fine-dining West Loop newcomer Oriole is “Gianduja.” Named for a milk chocolate composed of 30% hazelnuts, it is technically a cheese course that’s meant to be picked up and eaten in one or two bites. It vaguely resembles a cheese board — a thin pretzel lavash dolloped with hazelnut chocolate cremeux, Raclette cheese, and black currant sorbet with fragrant nasturtium and dots of lavender gastrique. And in a previous version, it was. But, like everything on the menu at this imaginative restaurant from executive chef/owner Noah Sandoval (of the now-shuttered Senza) and pastry chef-partner Genie Kwon (Boka, Eleven Madison Park), it evolved.
“(The Gianduja) is a pretty big evolution from how we first presented the cheese course, literally, on a wood board,” says Kwon. “But we kind of took that philosophy of taking things with really delicious flavors on their own, making them taste as much like themselves as possible, then combining, re-hashing, and improving them. The guest gets all these flavors in one bite that holds together miraculously.”
It was a group effort — involving discussions weighing whether to combine the cheese and chocolate courses and how to make the Raclette taste more Raclette-y (salt!), plus plenty of tinkering from sous chef-baker John Gorr (Publican Quality Meats) to create an edible ledge out of flatbread.
But collaboration and constant fine-tuning are the pillars of this intimate, 28-seat restaurant and its $175 tasting menu. For the four friends behind Oriole — Sandoval, Kwon, general manager Cara Sandoval (Sandoval’s wife), and sous chef Tim Flores — it represents the realization of Sandoval’s longtime dream for a restaurant with “as many courses as it takes” to fulfill and stretch the team creatively, while also simply “making guests happy.”
“It’s food we’re excited about, that we would want to eat,” he says.
Like other tasting menus, there are crescendos — like the salty, acidic steelhead trout capped with smoked roe and served with artichoke-marjoram broth. Seasons play a part in what appears on the plate, too, though Sandoval notes, “You’d never see me change the entire menu for spring or fall — that scares me.”
There are also plenty of seeming miscalculations that make total sense in actuality. For instance, the house sourdough arrives smack dab in the middle of the meal — “to bring your palate back down a bit” between a brightly acidic Alaskan king crab course and that smoky, salty trout. Creamy, umami-rich uni is followed by even more decadent foie gras. But for Sandoval, who cut his teeth dazzling diners at Michelin-starred (and undetectable for many) gluten-free Senza, it’s as much about how things flow together as what constitutes them individually.Continue Reading