Oui Chef, a “so called” Chicago Spring

Last night Raul and I attended Oui Chef, “a ‘so called’ Chicago spring,” a pop-up hosted by chefs Cyndie Ha, Devin Kreller, and Stephen Huang, with a few friends and coworkers.  It was my first, with an eight course tasting menu and wine pairing I was quite enthused.  We arrived at Salero around 6:55pm, early for us, but we’d intended to get drinks beforehand and so were late by our own clocks.

After cocktails and snacks, consisting of Strawberry Caipirinhas with culantro, bahn mi, and tempura watercress with a spicy curry sauce we were seated at the large tables offset in the middle of the room.

We started the first course with a Cava, unfortunately I didn’t manage to snag a picture of that bottle, but it was lovely with the first few courses.

We began with an amuse of chèvre flan with baby golden and red beets, hazelnuts, parsley creme and roasted garlic.  It was delicate and well balanced, with the garlic adding a wonderful spicy element.  I’ll admit I’m not a beet fan, but I loved this dish.

Course two will definitely be making a few appearances in our kitchen, or our attempt at it.  “Green eggs and ham,”  A perfectly toasted brioche, crispy on the outside and fluffy inside.  Nestled in the center tarragon, parsley, and chive sheared eggs topped with crispy and raw prosciutto. I would eat them here or there, and definitely anywhere.

As we switched from Cava to a 2012 Vouvray we were presented with a bread course, an Indian lentil crisp over a bed of French style curried creme fraiche.

The third course, “L’allium” was an exploration into onions, an onion purée, charred cipollini, onion foam, chive oil, flowering chives, pickled pearl onion, and nigella seeds composed into a work of art. This was one of my favorites, I’m a sucker for onions and it was so fantastically delicious, so complex and delightfully oniony.

As the conversation and our next wine, a 2014 Godello, flowed, the fourth course “Poisson” appeared.  Swiss chard bundle, spinach wrapped swiss chard, and a juicy skate wing on a bed of orzo, surrounded with a parsley, dill, and chive fume.

Our fifth course “Quenelle” was so rich and decadent. Poached Maine lobster tail, poached asparagus, shaved asparagus, quenelle de humard (a lobster and asparagus dumpling, and massively technical, as Cyndie explained to Raul and I) with a lobster reduction sauce. This will be another culinary endeavor I will be embarking upon. Delicious!

The sixth course was my favorite.  I had nothing but high praises for every previous course, but I could have eaten every single dish off of our table and not felt the slightest bit guilty.  Our glasses were changed and a 2010 Ribera Sacra was poured.  I’ll admit, Raul and I did spend a good 5 minutes just sniffing, appreciating the nose, it was fantastic and complex, with some molasses and kettle corn notes.  I was slightly underwhelmed by the palate of the wine, until paired with the pork dish. “Porc” was our final savory dish, a sousvide pork tenderloin with a crisped pork belly, carrot puree with spring peas and shaved carrots, surrounded by a carrot sauce.  It was so juicy and amazing that I forgot to take any notes on it at all, I just sat there, taking slow bite after bite, trying to savor it for as long as I could.

As they cleared the tables we were served our final wine.  A Gorka Izagirre from Txakolina.  Our first dessert course was simple in presentation, a small strawberry with a strawberry granita and balsamic reduction, served atop a strudel garnished with basil leaves.  It was incredible, the basil brought a complexity to the butteriness and sweetness of the rest of the dish.  I’ve moved on from chocolate covered strawberries

The last course blew my mind in the same way as the pork dish. A carrot cake with carrot purée, coriander mousse, pecans, shaved carrots, and yogurt sorbet.  It was so incredible and complex, with the natural sweetness of the carrots allowed to shine through.

It was an unforgettable night, from the food and wine, to the people around us.  We met some great characters in the the Chicago food world, whether industry or just avid foodies.  I can’t wait until the team of Oui Chef announces their next pop-up.  I’ll definitely be there.

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