The Menu at Oriole Chicago: Behind the Windy City’s Hottest Tasting Experience

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.”

oriole chicago

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.”

Oriole Chicago

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

Cheers to Shrimp Cocktail: 12 Takes on the Classic

Ah, the iconic shrimp cocktail. Especially popular in the 19th-century, one theory has it that the dish was served in a cocktail glass because of the ban on alcoholic drinks during the 1920’s Prohibition. Like Prohibition, the days of limp shrimp with a side glop of ketchup and a few tears of tasteless iceberg lettuce are long past. Today, the dish, which typically stars on appetizer menus, has evolved to eye-candy shrimp cocktails with sassy sauces and whimsical presentations. Here are 12 creative takes on shrimp cocktail that would make Forest Gump’s’ Bubba especially proud.

St. Elmo Steak House, Indianapolis, Indiana
Funny for a restaurant located in a landlocked state that it’s the shrimp cocktail that put this steakhouse on the map — in fact, it is the only appetizer on the menu. “People come from all over the world to have the shrimp cocktail,” says a restaurant spokeswoman. Named The World Famous St. Elmo Shrimp Cocktail, it stars four jumbo shrimp served with the restaurant’s spicy, signature cocktail sauce. The local restaurant, which opened in 1902, shares its secret for what makes its shrimp cocktail so sought-after — pssst, it’s the shaved-daily horseradish (the restaurant typically goes through 5,760 pounds of horseradish a year, or 15 to 20 pounds per day). In fact, the shrimp cocktail has been deemed one of the world’s spiciest dishes. Pssst — another secret, you can now buy a bottle of the sassy sauce for bloodies at home. Make a reservation at St. Elmo Steak House.

shrimp cocktail

Legal Harborside-Floor 2, Boston, Massachusetts
Time to chill. Legal Seafood’s flagship restaurant presents its Shrimp Cocktail in a hollow ice globe. A hole is poked in the orb so the succulent shellfish can be placed inside. The sphere eventually melts, of course — all good things must come to an end, after all. Make a reservation at Legal Harborside-Floor 2.

shrimp cocktail

Todd English’s bluezoo, Orlando, Florida
Todd English’s bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel doesn’t Mickey Mouse around. The Shrimp Cocktail Steamroller is a “deconstructed shrimp cocktail served in a glass tube that is consumed by creating a vacuum with your hand and sucking the contents into your mouth.” Note: The dish isn’t on the current menu but it is offered at the hotel’s annual food and wine festival and will likely be offered on an upcoming menu, according to a spokesperson for the restaurant. Make a reservation at Todd English’s bluezoo.

shrimpo cocktail

Coasterra, San Diego, California
Order the Cóctel de Camarón and you’ll get a California twist on the classic Mexican shrimp cocktail — fresh Mexican white shrimp tossed with avocado, chopped romaine lettuce, and housemade Baja sangrita. The dish is served in a tumbler with a guajillo chile salt rim and accented with corn tortillas and cilantro garnish. Make a reservation at Coasterra.

shrimp cocktail

Herons, Cary, North Carolina
Chef Steven Greene serves an elevated shrimp cocktail designed with chilled shrimp, mango salad, mint, and mango chili sauce. Greene sources shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico, which are quickly poached in a court bouillon (broth of mirepoix, lemon, white wine, and bay leaf.) The mango salad is a mix of diced mango tossed with picked mint leaves, picked basil leaf, cilantro, lime juice, extra virgin olive oil, and scallion. And the mango chili sauce is a bewitching blend of mango puree and a Thai chili sauce. Make a reservation at Herons.

Shrimp Cocktail

Angle-Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, Palm Beach, Florida
Josh Thomsen, the executive chef of this five-star diamond resort restaurant, along with chef du cuisine Manlee Siu present a Poached Wild Florida Shrimp Cocktail on the menu, which stars lemon caviar, beet, and horseradish sauce. First, the shrimp is butterflied and gently poached in shrimp stock. Next, the shrimp are chilled, sliced, and topped with faux lemon caviar and garnished with a tomato-free beet ketchup-horseradish sauce. Make a reservation at Angle-Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa.

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Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox: Restaurant, Music Venue + Hospitality-First ‘Gastrobrothel’

Ophelia's Electric Soapbox

Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox, in Denver, recently named one of the 100 Hottest Restaurants in America by OpenTable diners, defies most attempts at categorization. It is a restaurant and a bar first, but most nights of the week it doubles as a live music venue. When there’s no music, you may see a major sports game projected onto the space’s 22-foot screen.

To add another layer of intrigue, the restaurant is housed in a historic Victorian building from the 1890s with a sordid history: over the years, it’s been used as a bordello, an adult video store, and a peep show. As chef-owner Justin Cucci explains, he saw in the space the perfect opportunity to marry food, music, and sex in one experience.

“Normally you listen to music, and everything else is a third-hand experience: shitty beer, mediocre food, it smells,” he says. “I wanted to do something like the old-school jazz and supper clubs where you could go out on a date and experience some live music but also have great service, hospitality, and food. You can start here, and you can end here.”

We asked Justin all about the unique experience at Ophelia’s and how he delivers on expectations for his many diverse guests. Here’s how he pulls it off. Continue Reading

Well Done: The Best Steakhouse Sides You Need to Try

National Steakhouse Month isn’t just about the meats (and the subsequent meat sweats). Juicy cuts may get all the glory, but steakhouses from coast to coast have been beefing up their menus with a variety of stellar sides that may have you re-evaluating ordering the same old porterhouse. From poutine tater tots to lobster mac ‘n’ cheese with a bacon crust, here are some of the best steakhouse sides that eat like a meal and others sure to complement your Father’s Day dinner perfectly — or just make a great bar snack.

David Burke Kitchen-The Garden, New York, New York
From housemade ricotta with pickled strawberries and crostini to foie gras and duck pate with fried dates, black pepper, port jelly and grilled bread, David Burke’s sides and “Table Shares” are just as inventive as the space — a horticulturist’s haven with an outdoor bar and garden seating for 130 in the heart of the city. But there is no side more universally appealing than the candied bacon — thick-cut slabs sliced in-house and slowly baked with constant basting. The result is a layering of spicy, smoky, and sweet flavors and a melt-in-your-mouth texture, served just as whimsically as the surroundings: hanging on a clothesline with a rosemary branch below so herbal aromas enhance the dish. Make a reservation at David Burke Kitchen-The Garden.

The best steakhouse sides

Roka Akor, Scottsdale, Arizona
It’s all about seasonality and spice at Roka Akor, where chef Ce Bian is known for bringing the heat — quite literally. The Japanese steakhouse prepares proteins on a 12-foot robata grill using mesquite charcoal and almond wood at temperatures of up to 1,900 degrees and serves them up with sides of Japanese-inspired marinades and sauces. Sides change seasonally, but one of Bian’s faves is the sweet corn with butter and soy, inspired by a farm supplier’s visit to the Scottsdale location (Roka Akor has other locations in San Francisco, Chicago, and Skokie, Illinois). “As we were preparing dozens of side dishes to put on the menu, we found that this grilled side dish is just simply amazing. Corn is sweet, so we add a little acid in the form of ponzu, which lends a bit of citrus and a little richness from the butter,” he explains. “We top it off with Japanese seven spices to make a balanced side dish.” The corn is such a hit some guests even stop by to order a few cobs with a beer in the bar, he says. Make a reservation at Roka Akor.

The Best Steakhouse Sides

Prime & Provisions, Chicago, Illinois
Owner David Rekhson says quality and seasonality are the hallmarks of Prime & Provisions. “We’re the only all-natural, no hormones, no antibiotics sourcing natural, organic, and local in Chicago,” he says. But when it comes to the roasted purple cauliflower with pistachio and parmesan, it’s all about the three C’s: color, cream, and crunch. The popular side makes its way to most tables at this new Loop hotspot and is also sourced with organic produce and dairy. Like your sides extra smoky? Prime & Provisions features a secluded area mean for cigar lovers with a choice of a dozen stogies. Make a reservation at Prime & Provisions.

The Best Steakhouse Sides

The Palm, Boston, Massachusetts
It may be lobster season at The Palm, but forget the shells — their new popular side of Nova Scotia lobster mac ‘n’ cheese features ziti instead, topped with an indulgent bacon crust. The view of the sexy Seaport District from the newly renovated patio is enough to inspire an order alone, but the topping really pushes it over the edge of buzzworthiness, and it’s already one of the top sellers on The Palm’s seasonal three-course Summer Lobster Menu for 2 for You. Chef Karen Mitchell says she “encourages guests to expect the unexpected,” and the mac ‘n’ cheese “truly surprises and delights, reinventing the comfort-food staple and elevating the fresh flavors of The Palm’s signature lobster. It’s not something you’d expect on a steakhouse menu, so guests are really excited.” The limited-time addition to The Palm’s steak and Italian lineup is also part of a seasonal entertainment series, including Friday night music trivia on the patio with a chance to win gift cards to try some other signature sides, such as asparagus fritti with lemon garlic butter and goat cheese whipped potatoes. Make a reservation at The Palm.

The Best Steakhouse Sides

Swift & Sons, Chicago, Illinois
Creamed spinach may be a standard on most steakhouse menus, but that doesn’t mean his version has to be standard says Swift & Sons chef Chris Pandel. “We are not reinventing the wheel; rather, we’re trying to make the best wheel we can,” he said. “Creamed spinach is a must have for a steakhouse experience, but we wanted to make sure the spinach didn’t get lost among the rich sauce that accompanies it.” Shocking and blanching the leaves and leaving the greens intact and combining them with vin blanc and roasted mushrooms with porcini aioli and croutons makes for a multi-textured side that’s bright, firm, and still maintains the original flavor of the veg without being a watery snooze. Make a reservation at Swift & Sons.

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