It pays to have friends in high places. And in the restaurant industry, even more so. For my birthday (February 12) this year I wanted to savor the adventurous inklings of none other than Curtis Duffy in his new venture Grace. This culinary inspiration is nestled in the very hip up-and-coming West Loop neighborhood around some of my personal favorites like Blackbird and Sepia. I knew I liked his style when I tasted his edible marvels at Avenues at the Peninsula in the Gold Coast. And after learning that a friend of mine, whom I incidentally wanted to catch up with was now adding his talent to the team, I needed to go. On my actually birthday this year I took my boyfriend and headed over to Grace. More actually, he took me. What I encountered was far beyond what I expected. The menu did not come “as is” from either the flora or fauna option, but from highlights of both thanks to my friend’s exceptional service. Every dish had a sensational and creative way of making everyday flavors (like a medley of carrots) taste extraordinary, not neglecting the whole point of high-end food: enjoyment.
It started with a well thought out amuse bouche course on a sliver of a whiskey oak barrel. A beautiful pendulum that would make anyone look twice introduced the meal, and each course tasted better than the one before. My favorite dish had to be the Grilled Matsusaka Wagyu beef that came with a side of broth juice, or ‘dashi’. Finally somebody had elevated my gluttonous habit of ordering a side of juice with roast beef. The succulent meat juices enhance the impeccable texture of the protein, and at last a keen chef had declared this acceptable, or rather imperative to enjoying the full flavor spectrum of that slowly braised meat. Another standout dish consisted of nairagi, golden trout roe, pomelo, and thai basil in a frozen herb laced cup where you crush all the flavors together and the tempered combination of ingredients makes for an interesting fresh tasting deconstructed salad.
I noticed that L2O inspired much of the décor and ambience at Grace Chicago, and I’m not faulting them for this. I applaud it. After all, what’s the point of great ideas if you can’t borrow, share, and make them your own? An original addition had to be the four seasons themed lavatories, as in one exemplifying each season. I entered the winter one and the sink looked like an ice glacier. What a pleasant surprise, I thought, and an outlying attitude to look at even the tiniest of details. The service came together impeccably, with refined, and extremely comforting gestures throughout the night. The environment was not stuffy; the staff not pushy, or snobby, as some places serving food at this price point can easily be. I can always appreciate when the plating is placed directly in front of you in a synchronized manner all around the table. It’s this immaculate attention to detail that I believe will take Grace very far in the Chicago fine dining scene. Only a very few restaurants get this, and this place definitely does. Go to Grace in Chicago if you want to be wowed on a special day. And if you see my friend Tyrone around, tell him Addie sent you. He’ll take care of you, like only some people who essentially get “it” can do. And as my good friend might say (*cue Julia Child pitch *) “Bon Apetit!”