Recommendation: The Dearborn

GIRLS WEEKEND!!! That’s right, my very own Cooking Mama came to the Windy City for food, drinks, some quality mother-daughter time, oh and a little Billy Crystal, but no big deal, right?! And naturally, when the mom comes to town, there will be some serious partaking in food and beverages—and I quote on Saturday Morning over breakfast and menu perusing: “I already know what we’re ordering at dinner.”  But that’s what my family does when we get together. We eat and drink and talk, and when we travel together, we usually maneuver our way through the day from one food event to the next, inserting all the other good stuff you do when you travel in between. So naturally, I can pretty much pinpoint the origins of my own personal food obsession, and of course, we munched our way all around the city during her visit!

I could talk about all the places we went to (Tiny Lounge, Kanela, Atwood), but the one place that totally took the cake was The Dearborn. I won’t lie, my mom likes the finer things in life, and I had heard some GREAT things about this place from folks in the food industries or from my other foodie inclined friends, and given its very close proximity to the Chicago Theatre, I mean, no brainer!

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Initial Observations: It was bigger than I thought it would be, but the space was used to its full potential, including as many tables as they could without cramping their diners. We were lucky in being at a corner wall booth (perfect for people watching) and were able to completely converse and enjoy our meal comfortably without having to also enjoy our neighbors conversation on the side. Oh, and by “converse comfortably” I also mean that the music was for mood only, not for creating additional noise. The whole vibe had that inherent industrial tone that Chicago still keeps at the center of its heart, but without the fluff. Industrial chic is what I’m going to call it, and I was definitely a fan!

 

But enough about the space, let’s talk food! Venison tartare – The meat was tender, which was a huge surprise given how gamey it can be, and was seasoned just right. I also really liked the contrast of textures with the fried oyster and shallots, which enhanced the earthy qualities that venison holds naturally. The only thing I would note is that the watercress, while providing that extra hit of peppery goodness that I crave in most things I eat, was just a little cumbersome to eat without cutting it down a little. Otherwise, a really lovely dish, and definitely shareable between two people!

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The steamed mussels were HUGE!!! I mean, they were the biggest mussels I have EVER seen or eaten! The picture below should give you a good idea of how enormous these things were! Half a toast point! HALF A TOAST POINT! And, dare I say it after I went on and on about Senate’s mussels only a couple posts ago…I think these have become the new favorites for me. But they definitely earned the right to be placed so in my books!

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And while those mussels certainly shocked me and my mom both, it was the sauce—a little charmoula-esque, but I think it was the ‘njuda that really did it for me, adding a richer flavor to the sauce that a tomato based wine sauce might—that stole the show, and I mean, as it should! If you’re going to have mussels, the sauce better be so good that you ask for more bread to sop it up with…though we did cheat a little and used the bread that we didn’t need for the tartare to do the deliciously dirty deed of sauce sipping. (Frankly, I don’t think the tartare needed so much bread, since it was almost good enough on its own, but we were very glad for them in this case.) And the mussels were spectacularly cleaned as far as cleaning mussels can go! A little grit is to be expected, but in this dish, absolutely minimal, which was refreshing.

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Moving on to salad course! And yes, I’m aware we ordered a lot, but between two people, this was totally doable (and we had skipped lunch, which made us very hungry)! Mom had set her eyes on the Ancient Grains and Asian Greens Salad, which she thinks should have had more grains, but still, this salad was fresh, crisp and crunchy (which I categorize as two different textural profiles), and not over dressed, which is a key thing for me! The not-a-downside downside was its size. IT’S HUGE, which is delightful and daunting at the same time. This could have been a meal on it’s own, but if you share it, which I highly recommend, it’s hearty without filling you up, but it’s also very take-home-able (which is what we ended up doing).

Then came the awesome part (at least, in my opinion): The Surf ‘N’ Turf. Now, here’s the thing, this isn’t actually on the physical menu anymore, but online, it was still shown as an option, and the thing about my mom is she LOVES foie gras. So of course, that’s what she wanted even before we walked through the door, but this is one of the other reasons I really, really like this place. They did it any way just for her, and sure, her immediate disappointment in hearing it wasn’t available might have been a factor, but I appreciate and will always remember a restaurant that goes above and beyond for their diners. And boy did they go above and beyond. The day boat scallops were HUGE (I have NEVER seen scallops this big ever), and perfectly cooked, and the foie gras (of which I gave the majority of to my mom) was crisp on the top, but tender on the inside! Everything was seasoned well, and the mousse was just the perfect hint of sweet & tart, just heaven on a fork, plus the radicchio and watercress salad provided a refreshing break from all the richness going on.

For dessert, we had two of Courtney’s Macarons and a coffee because, with all that food in our belly, the food coma was starting to kick in. I have zero photographs of these delicious little bites, and I’m going to blame it on the coma I was experiencing, but the Passion Fruit was delightfully tart, and the macarons themselves were soft, but with that nice chew in the middle, and a nice glossy finish on the top. (Side Note: I may or may not be addicted to the Great British Baking Show on Netflix, which may or may not be a little macaron crazy in Season 2, so I’ve been remembering a lot of what they’re looking for in a macaron, which I think I need to try and make.) And the birthday cake was just a lot of fun in your mouth, covered in sprinkles and, I believe, a white chocolate glaze, which was done very well!

Overall, an incredible meal and the experience was definitely one I’m sure to never forget! HIGHLY recommend this place for anyone needing a fun night on the town!

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