Jun

14

We’re proud to feature Nemo Lacessit, a Chicago boulevardier and bon vivant. Nemo periodically reviews notable New York, London and Chicago restaurants for the edification of DailySpec readers. 

Copperblue, Chicago
580 East Illinois Street
312-527-1200

Sometimes one stumbles on a small gem. Not a big gem, not a brazenly daring gem, nothing to turn the knock the lights out but a small, reserved, tightly bound, exquisitely grown gem. Copperblue is such a gem. Tucked away at the base of Lake Point Tower in Chicago (the only building jutting to the east of Lake Shore Drive) this petit-boite serves up culinary masterpieces without pomp and circumstance.

 The style is a cross of French-Mediterranean (done the right way, which means French, Italian, Spanish, with hints of Arabesque) in well-crafted dishes by two up-and-coming chefs. Chef-owner Michael Tsonton and Chef de cuisine Victor Newgren's 50 seat intimate restaurant present a whimsical balance of presentation, appealing colors and rainbow tastes. The menu is divided into "work" and "play" — the former are humble and down-to-earth while the latter emphasizes whimsicality and fun. I had the seven course chef's tasting menu which started with braised lamb and red lentil brik, goat cheese, and curry vinaigrette, then moved to pan-roasted diver scallops, aromatic "18" carrot soup and organic olive oil. For the next few plates I had viognier-braised farm rabbit, English peas, mushrooms, spring onion, parpardelle in natural "thumper" jus. Sprinkled between these plates were two cheese courses that actually made sense; spread out between the entree so as to suggest and stimulate but not overwhelm.

On my trips to Spain and the south of France I learned that true Mediterranean cuisine loves rice, specially saffron rice as can be found on a paella. Copperblue has a variation on this with their saffron seafood risotto, "paella" lobster, shrimp, baby clams and mussels in a lobster broth. The specialty of the house is their "organic duck two ways" duck leg spice "ras el hanout", roasted duck breast with "Don Cherry" trumpet mushrooms and fresh chick peas.

The wine list is selective and reflects the ambiance of the restaurant. There is the mandatory 2000 Chateau Latour (Haut Brion), 2003 Maison Champy Vosne Romanee Les Beaux (1ere Cru), but better yet some Italian 2004 Bruni Morellino di Scansano, which goes well with everything.

The restaurateurs should really be in bigger space with more commanding presences, but they're having fun, making people happy, and keeping it simple, relaxed, and simply fabulous. This is perfect venue for a relaxed up-scale dinner without all the drama.

Jan

12

We’re proud to feature Nemo Lacessit, a Chicago boulevardier and bon vivant. Nemo will periodically review notable New York, London and Chicago restaurants for the edification of DailySpec readers.

Tru Restaurant - 676 N. St. Clair Street, Chicago, IL 312-202-0001

James Bond lives here; he always has and always will. Some restaurants try to be all things to everyone; sometimes it works, but many times it turns out to be nothing more than an overpriced meal with stuffy waiters. Not here, never here. You sense it in Tru, starting from the dialing of the last three digits of the phone number (001), to the nondescript entrance (no signs anywhere, just darkened majestic doors next to a brass square foot plaque with the TRU logo on marble), to the quiet light-bending anteroom with a single cobalt blue statuette of a female nude. You're here, but so is Bond. 

Whisked away to your table that has been memorized by the maitre d', you find yourself in a dining room with high ceilings and curtained windows (little light gets in, nothing gets out). White drapes taper to rich blue velvet banquettes, all floating off a rough black European mosaic tile and charcoal carpet. In one corner you might find the chairman of an exchange that recently merged with another exchange; in another you might find the scion of a Broadway theater mogul, here in town with his mistress, and along the back walls the moneyed crowd with their enhanced physiques, new hair, new tans, and fine jewelry. Tru is razor sharp in etiquette and makes no apologies for it; there are maitres d', majordomos, head waiters, assistant waiters, apprentices, busboys, apprentice busboys (a little like The Remains of the Day meets Gordon Gecko) and then there is caviar and Dom. 

Tru is known for its caviar staircase, an eight-step curved glass and mirror staircase sprinkled with caviar and its accoutrements. Chef Rick Tramonto takes you on a colorful palette of sophisticated culinary delights with a decidedly Cubist slant (most plates are square, rectangular, or some other variation of bounded geometry). Your dinner will consist of intermittent voyages from the water (as in Japanese Sashimi-Grade Fish with Complementary Garnishes), to the land (as in Elysian Fields Lamb, Coffee Lemon, Cardamom, Butternut Squash), to the air (as in Pheasant Consomme, Chestnuts, Butternut Squash), and finally to the cheeses. For desserts, pastry chef Gale Gand (she has a show on Food TV called "Sweet Dreams") brings out a dessert cart fit for a Tahitian Prince; this is like Richie Rich's version of the Good Humor truck. 

And though you might not see James Bond here, you know that he was here, scooping up the (now) illegal Beluga caviar or (now) illegal fois gras, sipping Dom Perignon '95 ('95 was better than '98, but it is $1,200/bottle). Stay long enough at Tru and birthday parties in Sardinia, $9,000 shower curtains, and interior decorators for private jets become de rigeur. For business types, this is your spot — if your company can handle it. An intimate dinner for four will easily breach most public companies' T&E limits. Attendance at this fine institution is mandatory at least every 18-24 months; but so is a viewing of any James Bond movie.

Dec

6

We’re proud to welcome Nemo Lacessit, a Chicago boulevardier and bon vivant. Nemo will periodically review notable New York, London and Chicago restaurants for the edification of DailySpec readers.

My Credo: Food and restaurants have nothing in common; if you’re looking for one you won’t find it with the other. If you seek food as sustenance you have no business in a restaurant — go to the grocery story, fast food joint, buy something and eat it. The language of restaurants can be used to accentuate life. Among many things restaurants can be sensual, strict, joyous, pragmatic, irreverent, as well as conformist. They can provide a source of importance escapism and giving us pause from our daily life. My attempt here is not to review restaurants in the neo-classical way but to leave the reader with the theme of the establishment against the backdrop of its cuisine.

DeLaCosta (312-464-1700) 465 E. Illinois Street, Chicago

If one were lucky enough to date a Brazilian supermodel the first dinner would have to be here. Chef Douglas Rodriguez (who neither knows me nor I him, but I decided to drop his name in a vain attempt to gain gastric legitimacy) must have a “sexiness ratio” for waitresses as part of his business plan. The 12,000 sq. ft., three-sectioned rectangle consists of two ceviche bars, a solarium and private cabanas (each with its own bar and bartender). The idea is Vegas plus Miami lounge with a restaurant sprinkled in the middle; all set on Brazilian tigerwood flooring with marble/glass separations. A little like Ian Schrager meets Giselle Bundchen on their way to Victoria’s Secrets.

Cocktails are irreverent by design: mojitos, sangrias and martinis are the staples, followed by variations on the same themes. On the higher end are various champagnes and pinots that have made their way to “Latin fusion” restaurants everywhere. Again I revert to the Brazilian supermodel’s basic needs: fruity expensive liquor, small portions of “unique” foods, and sexy ambiance. The food is mostly tapas-like and ceviche, with more substantial fish plates (oil poached halibut and adobo rubbed tuna) as well some meat dishes found in the southern provinces of Brazil/Argentina.

If you had a bad day, DeLaCosta is where you want to be afterwards. In town, but wanting to get away from Chicago’s meat & potatoes centric fare, this will give your palate a change. For business types, leave the ties behind and have a caipirinha and a mojito, smile at the waitress (yes, they smile back!) and don’t spoil the mood by talking about whatever it is you think you do. This is not the best business/power dinner spot in town. You can eat a full meal at this restaurant but what’s the point? You are really there for the ambiance. And what a wonderful one it is.

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