Thurk Underground

The broth was this good!

Always on the mission for flavor combinations that I’ve never tasted, plating I’ve never seen, and ingredients I’ve never experienced, I typically don’t seek out simple food unless it’s a perfect baguette, good butter, or something of the like. However, I’m beginning to understand that I totally missed the point of what simple can be.

I met Chef Justin Behlke of Thurk through my friend, Melissa. They met on LTH forum where she offered to host one of his Underground meals at her place. He previously staged at Noma and wanted to bring simple, focused food to Chicago without all the drama of kitchen hierarchy. And so Thurk was born. After speaking to Justin, his passion and drive captured me.

Below are images from my most recent dinner a few weeks ago. Still amazed how complex everything tasted, yet how simple the ingredients were. Flakes of Alaskan maldon salt popping through the soft texture of freshly made cheese make my tastebuds squeal. Light pops of vinegar carrots cutting through the pan-fried pig face and warm pork broth caused me to close my eyes and wish the moment would never end. These pops of surprise tell me that simple can be complex with the right chef behind the plate

And let’s be honest — this is as close to Noma I am going to get for a while.

Letherbee gin and Q tonic with thyme

Letherbee gin and Q tonic with thyme

Fresh cheese, honey, and thyme

Fresh cheese, honey, and thyme

Smoked trout pie

Smoked trout pie

Cured pork belly with lacto-fermented carrot

Cured pork belly with lacto-fermented carrot

Homemade sourdough bread and homemade butter

Homemade sourdough bread and homemade butter

Young kraut, egg yolk, basil (before the mushroom tea)

Young kraut, egg yolk, basil (before the mushroom tea)

Mushroom tea pouring over the kraut and egg yolk

Mushroom tea pouring over the kraut and egg yolk

Roasted beets, smoked sour cream, and leek ash

Roasted beets, smoked sour cream, and leek ash

Cheese dumplings with root vegetables

Cheese dumplings with root vegetables

Pig's head, grated carrot (before pork broth)

Pig’s head, grated carrot (before pork broth)

Chef Justin Behlke pouring pork broth

Chef Justin Behlke pouring pork broth

Pork broth

Pork broth

20130111_220551

Pork chop with brown butter, kale chips, and beer shallots

Pork chop with brown butter, kale chips, and beer shallots

Squash butter and milk sorbet

Squash butter and milk sorbet

Beer marshmallows, burnt honey candy, and biscuit cookie with tomato jam

Beer marshmallows, burnt honey candy, and biscuit cookie with tomato jam

Sous Rising Guesterant

I started exploring Underground dinners a year ago and haven’t looked back. Creative and exciting food, fascinating dinner participants, and the warm welcoming into these chef’s homes really make it a unique experience every time.

My favorite Underground, One Sister, became Elizabeth restaurant so I sought out to get my fix elsewhere. I recently ate at Thurk Underground (post coming soon) and last night dined at Sous Rising Guesterant with Chef Jake Bickelhaupt (veteran of Alinea, Schwa, and Charlie Trotter’s). He and his wife, Alexa, host the dinners in their place in Uptown. An open kitchen leading into the dining area allowed us to see Jake plate as well as converse with him and give feedback throughout the night. Alexa did an amazing job making us feel right at home, pouring our wine and helping serve.

We booked out the entire table of 8 with our Supper Club so we didn’t have the pleasure of meeting anyone new, but Jake and Alexa genuinely seemed excited to have us. Jake’s take on American cuisine combined molecular techniques — where needed — for surprise. The flavors were inventive and bright. Execution was perfect and the presentation — stunning. I’m looking forward to seeing Jake obtain his goal of opening a small BYO restaurant and dining with him again!

**I forgot my camera at home so these photos are all taken with my camera phone. For better pictures, visit: http://www.sousrisingchicago.com/gallery.html taken by Huge Galdones.

Trout Roe: coconut cream, white chocolate, pink peppercorn, pineapple

Trout Roe: coconut cream, white chocolate, pink peppercorn, pineapple

Kiwano: gin, horned melon, rosewater, hibiscus

Kiwano: gin, horned melon, rosewater, hibiscus

Soup: fingerling potato chips, pea, milk, tomato, tendril

Soup: fingerling potato chips, pea, milk, tomato, tendril

Salad: Spanish octopus, avocado, finger lime, coconut, coast of Maine kelp

Salad: Spanish octopus, avocado, finger lime, coconut, coast of Maine kelp

Winter corn: yolk, fermented black bean, Murray River salt

Winter corn: yolk, fermented black bean, Murray River salt

20130119_202737

Kampachi: Sake cure, pomelo, carob, banana, tapioca pearls

Gnocchi: hedgehog mushroom, black truffle, broccolini, pecorino

Gnocchi: hedgehog mushroom, black truffle, broccolini, pecorino

Palate cleanser

Palate cleanser

Black Pig: Kurobuta, Okinawan, chestnut, tamarind

Black Pig: Kurobuta, Okinawan, chestnut, tamarind

Uni: maitake, Asian crouton, black garlic, burdock root, kumquat

Uni: maitake, Asian crouton, black garlic, burdock root, kumquat

Beef: mango, aged soy, nori, yuzu kosho

Beef: mango, aged soy, nori, yuzu kosho

Tart: Calamansi

Tart: Calamansi

Sweet: Shortbread, root beer, prune, orange, vanilla, honey

Sweet: Shortbread, root beer, prune, orange, vanilla, honey

Caffeine: espuma, coffeeweed, cardamom

Caffeine: espuma, coffeeweed, cardamom

Fall Diamond Menu at Elizabeth Restaurant

Expectations tend to color how we perceive experiences.  Will Ferrell movies for me are a good example:  I find my enjoyment of his movies is inversely proportional to how much I expect to like it.  Excited for Talladega Nights: blah.  Ambivalent about Step Brothers:  HIlarious!

Of course, this is very true for dining.  I’m often scared to return to a restaurant that I tried a few years ago and loved.  So much of the experience comes not just from the food, but also the ambiance, the company, and the diner’s past experiences.  I think people tend to remember places more by the whole experience than a pure objective critique of the food.  It could be the first time I had (and loved) sweetbreads (and realized there was nothing “sweet” or “bread” about them) or a fantastic wait staff.  On the return visit if it doesn’t live up to my romanticized memory, I leave somewhat disappointed.

How does this all relate to Elizabeth Restaurant? My last One Sister dinner was one of the best meals I’ve ever had (Re: Spring Menu).  Obviously I was quite excited to see what Chef Iliana Regan would do with a full kitchen and a staff to work with, but as our reservation drew near, it struck me that there was a chance the menu wouldn’t live up to my high expectations (Re:  Mind Blowing).  After all, it is a pretty ambitious project: three 10-20 course tasting menus with no overlapping dishes and they were only a few weeks into service.

I had the pleasure of eating the Diamond menu, the longest menu of the three offered. From start to finish, the magical presence of Mother Nature mixed with creativity peppered with molecular techniques kept my mouth happy and my taste buds jumping for joy with anticipation for the next course.

Chef Regan, once again, succeeded in crafting many courses that were truly mind-blowing.  A few standout courses:

–Foraged matsutake mushrooms and juniper powder on top of cinnamon custard. The textures and flavors were unlike anything I had experienced before — anywhere.
–Loup de mer with apple cider gelee and sunchoke puree. I used my finger to get every bit of this dish.
–Hamachi with fermented leek and fish sauce caramel. This dish packs a giant flavor punch. Plate licking good.

Service is a highlight I rarely discuss, but the staff does a great job of welcoming and pampering you from beginning to end. It’s fine dining service in a casual environment. Wine pairings are also not to be missed. Scott Noorman has a passion for wine and it shows.

I’m happy to say that the transition from One Sister, Inc. to Elizabeth Restaurant seems flawless for Chef Regan. Again, I was a huge fan of the underground dinners she once held in her home and the food hasn’t let down at her newest “home” in Lincoln Square. Dishes on each menu change all the time — below were the courses served the night I went. Next month I am going to the Deer menu so I’ll be sure to post my experience of that menu as well. Looking forward to it more than words can say!

Apple Pie and American Caviar -- salty and sweet

Apple Pie and American Caviar — salty and sweet

Pumpkin Experiment -- Pumpkin gelee with cocoa nib consomme.

Pumpkin Experiment — Pumpkin gelee with cocoa nib consomme.

Serious about the details

Serious about the details

Arugula Salad Sponge with goat cheese ice cream and sunflower ice cream along with various herbs and honeys

Arugula Salad Sponge with goat cheese ice cream and sunflower ice cream along with various herbs and honeys

Round Pancake with homemade goat cheese and malt vinegar powder

Round Pancake with homemade goat cheese and malt vinegar powder

Terrarium: Brioche crumbs with pickled blackberry, lemon, and greek yogurt

Terrarium — Brioche crumbs with pickled blackberry, lemon, and greek yogurt

Foraged matsutake mushrooms and juniper powder on top of cinnamon custard

Foraged matsutake mushrooms and juniper powder on top of cinnamon custard

Oatmeal dashi

Oatmeal dashi

Loup de mer with apple cider gelee and sunchoke puree. I used my finger to get every bit of this dish.

Loup de mer with apple cider gelee and sunchoke puree.

Shrimp Noodles -- buttery and umami

Shrimp Noodles — buttery and umami

Oyster and Nasturtium (kumamoto oyster).

Oyster and Nasturtium (kumamoto oyster)

Brioche curl with lobster and duck liver sauce

Brioche curl with lobster and duck liver sauce

Hand Course -- salty goodness

Hand Course — salty goodness

Hamachi with fermented leek and fish sauce caramel. This dish packs a giant flavor punch. Plate licking good.

Hamachi with fermented leek and fish sauce caramel.

Duck Pho in owl mug

Duck Pho in owl mug

Iliana pouring the pho from a cute tea pot

Iliana pouring the pho from a cute tea pot

Heart with celery ribbons and pickled onion. The celery was outrageously flavorful.

Heart with celery ribbons and pickled onion. The celery was outrageously flavorful.

Deer bresaola with carrot top pesto

Deer bresaola with carrot top pesto

Dry Aged Ribeye with tongue -- this meat was ridiculous

Dry Aged Ribeye with tongue — this meat was ridiculous

Feta and herbs

Feta and herbs

Bacon ice cream with koval caramel in a homemade cone

Bacon ice cream with koval caramel in a homemade cone

Scott Norman muddling in the drunk trunk.

Scott Noorman muddling in the drunk trunk.

Related articles: Tickets for Elizabeth restaurant now on sale (chicagoreader.com)