Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Finest Binge: Bon Soiree

A couple of weeks before my trip to New York, Shin Thompson of Bon Soiree tweeted that he needed a creative night out for Valentine's Day and would offer up a 5 course dinner for two as reward for the best idea.  He liked mine, so it only seemed right to fit it into the week of great meals.  We upgraded to 9 courses and set the reservation for a few days after we arrived back in Chicago.  After the highlights in New York & with the anticipation of el Bulli at Next (the night after Bon Soiree), we didn't spend a lot of time discussing or building up the night out in Logan Square.  In the back of my mind I knew it had a chance to stand shoulder to shoulder with other great meals of the week, but didn't mention that until the cab ride; I wanted us both to come in without expectations (though I'd been a couple of times previously).

The small, clean dining room is always welcoming.  Even though the room was less than half full when we arrived, the music & staff gave it an upbeat feel.  We picked a table & our waiter came by to open the wine I'd brought (Lallement Champagne & an 08 Rivers-Marie Summa Old Vines Pinot Noir, both were delicious).  Courses started coming:  "Consumer Advisory" sashimi, a seafood stew, and a wagyu short rib all brought "oh, wow" with their presentations & smiles with their flavor.

Three of the next four courses were plates of multiple components, built from a focus ingredient (shellfish, duck, lamb).  The scallop & crab motoyaki, duck roulade with pork belly, and lamb loin were highlights--all were among some of the best dishes of the week--and almost everything was great (one exception: a lamb sausage that was a bit dry).  While each plate centered on a single ingredient type, it seemed a bit odd to have both warm and cool pieces on the shellfish plate; similarly, the duck roulade & tongues could have justified separate plates.  Shin could have easily stretched this menu to 15+ courses.  Not a negative, but at minimum, interesting that so many unique bites were worked into the meal.

The last couple of courses were both fantastic.  Cheese with a "candied gooseberry ornament" was a delicious contrast of textures, bitterness, and sweetness.  Then came dessert: "8 presentations of chocolate."  A perfect, fun plate that took us a bit of time to work through and discuss--it was interactive and educational to compare the various forms & flavors.  Chocolate spaghetti was my favorite, but all were delicious & fun.

An incredibly humble Chef Shin came out front to chat with us.  He seemed to take little pleasure when we told him that his performance equaled or bettered the New York meals we had recently enjoyed.  His only reply was, "those are great restaurants, I'm glad you liked your meal here."  That soft-spoken humility belied the confident, creative, well-executed food we had just experienced, but it fit the restaurant's simple decor, BYO beginnings, and off-beat location.  Bon Soiree clearly reflects Shin's personality, showcases his wealth of culinary talent, and should be considered among Chicago's best restaurants.

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