Made our way to Butter in the Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. Formerly of Le Francais, Mango’s, La Broche in Madrid, and the French Laundry in Napa Valley, the chef, Ryan Poli was expected to have some chops.
This meal was really a celebration of spring.
They started out with upscale bar food, a pre amuse if you will of Truffled Popcorn with the freshest early spring chives, hand cut fresh potato chips with herbs and sea salt, and Oyster crackers in a sprinkling of salt and dill. The popcorn was a hit, totally redolent with truffle, and the sweet freshness of spring chives.
We accompanied these courses with a Moet and Chandon Brut Imperial Rose. Very sweet…they definitely kicked in a bit of dosage with the red wine grapes. It was not a demi sec, but had a very overt sweetness.
The amuse was chilled pear/parsnip soup with a dollop of olive oil. While I didn’t taste any pear, it had a nice milky sweetness with a hint of pepper. Very clean, but not particulary memorable.
We had the chilled english pea soup. Whereas most folks prepare this with no stock, or maybe a light chicken stock..the Butter version was infused with a shellfish stock, and a chopped scallop salad. The peas and the fish stock worked together well. Sweetness of the sea with the rich spring bounty of land.
As an afficionado of the Cafe Le Coq sweetbreads, I was hoping for something similar, guessing Stephen Chiappetti the chef at Le Coq and Mango’s had imbued Poli with the skills to prepare succulent sweetbreads. Indeed, the special appetizer of the evening was another ode to spring. The dish, a veal stock based sauce full of tender sweetbreads, roasted morels and asparagus tips did not disappoint. Totally savory. Really not fair, I mean you put me near Foie or sweetbreads, or other preps of fine organ meat and the other apps will never get ordered.
We had the roasted monkfish on a bed of lentils with sweet butternut squash puree and fresh roasted ramps. The puree was clearly a nod to Thomas Keller’s influence. The puree was so smooth, clearly it passed through a tamis or sieve about 10 times. It was a focus on the natural sweetness of the squash without any overt butter, cream, or seasoning influences. The ramps were sweet and mild. The monkfish was tender and ample.
We also had the sauteed halibut with trumpet royal mushrooms, roasted pearl onions, oxtail ravioli, accompanied with a taragon sabayon. The anise notes from the tarragon paired nicely with the halibut. The fish was perfectly seared to a crunch on the outside with a super flaky interior. The oxtail ravioli was clearly a food of love. Perfect tender melt in your mouth braise with hints of rich stock and red wine. The perfect compliment to the sweet onions and earthy mushroom…almost like a mini fillet preparation.
A viognier that was really dry and with overt alcohol notes. Not very good.
A domaine cherrier sancerre that was outstanding, super fruity, pear and grapefruit aromas wafted from the glass.
We closed it out with a carrot cake piped with a fresh cream cheese frosting roof (indeed the frosting was cantilevered “Falling Water” style over the cake sides) and accompanied by roasted pecans and caramelized crackle candy, as well as a Lemon Sabayon Citrus tart.
The carrot cake was moist, glistening as if dipped in icing. The cream cheese frosting was rich and smooth, great contrast to the crunch of the nuts and candy.
The tart crust was light and flaky, and in fact much superior to the tart crust I had at Bittersweet bakery a few weeks back. The sabayon was topped with big fat blackberry at the height of ripeness. My only criticism was that the sabayon seemed less smooth than I would expect.
Dessert was accompanied by some fine complimentary Kona coffee.
Butter also has a raw bar which looked interesting. It had a bunch of the usual suspects, oysters, etc, but also some interesting stuff like baby lobster and caviar. We didn’t taste at all, but next time.
Finally, service was very cordial, not over the top. The servers were young, still getting their bearings on food descriptions, but all in all, pretty good.
Our only real criticism is that some of the dishes were were definitely riding the edge of saltiness.
Also, the menu had a bit of the mission statement, something like avoiding all the “lattitude with attitude” and bringing affordable fine dining to the people. It was affordable if you are a junior partner at one of chicagos finest law firms. Entrees were around 30 bucks and apps around 10-16, with 10 dollar desserts.
In the end, a great start for the restaurant, and we look forward to going back.
Note: Since this review, Butter was named one of the best new restaurants by Esquire magazine in 2005.
Butter is located at 130 S. Green St. in Chicago. 5:30-10 Monday through Wednesday, 5:30-11 Thursday through Saturday. Phone is 312-666-9813