Graham Elliot’s


217 W. Huron Street
Chicago, Illinois

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Entrees around $20-30 (at time of posting) , Tasting Menu also available
Ambiance- Sophisticated fun
Cuisine- “Bistronomic” tying influence from Chef Graham Elliot Bowles’ many life experiences
Hits- Strong emphasis on plated food, great atmosphere, knowledgeable staff, creative management efforts toward environmental sustainability
Misses- I wouldn’t really call this a “miss,” per se, but the flavors are strong and bold and slap you in the face.  Be prepared!

Abandon all objectivity, ye who enter here.

I had such a great time at Graham Elliot’s that I find it hard to offer up any criticism.  Those of you at there who are tough judges need to know that upfront.

When you sit down and have popcorn placed in front of you with white truffle oil, parmesan, and fresh chive (in lieu of fill-you-up, boring, old bread), you know things are off to a good start.

“Can I have something with pop rocks in it?” I implored our good-natured waitress.  “I came all the way from New York.  I can’t leave without pop rocks.”

Oh, I got pop rocks alright.  Pop rocks crusted around a small, round foie gras lollipop.  The foie gras wasn’t the best I’ve ever tasted (it’s actually banned in Chicago and not on the menu, so I’m hoping I don’t get anyone in trouble by mentioning this), but the watermelon pop rocks nearly blew me out of my seat.  The smooth, buttery foie gras gave way to this watermelon sizzle that finished with a hint of the little salt sprinkled on top.  (I’m a big fan of the “subtle salt sprinkle,” which you can see in the picture below and seems to be the M.O. at Graham Elliot’s.)
The cocktails are also fresh and original.  No “Everyone’s-Doing-It, Sex-and-the-City” Cosmo here.  Our drinks are listed as pictured left to right below.  Erica had the citrusy and refreshing Gin Blossoms: St. Germain (a liquor made from elderflower), hibiscus gin, prosecco, and fresh lime.  Lindsay had the Papaya Express: ransom, mango sauce, orange blossom honey, and papaya.  After declining the waitress’ suggestionof the Sublime (totally my bad), I tried the Peaches and Herb: also very clean and spicy, made with Pimm’s, pisco, peach jelly, ginger beer.  The Peaches and Herb was good, but several of us opted for the Sublime in round two.  I was initially put off by my perception of aquavit, which was very mild in this cocktail.  As was, for that matter, the pisco (another liquor I normally don’t have the cajones to drink) in the Peaches and Herb. Caroline had the Sublime: a clean-tasting blend of aquavit, mango puree, passionfruit.
Of the eight available appetizers (divided on the menu into “Hot and Cold”), we each ordered one and shared two for the table.  The good chef was kind enough to send out the other two we didn’t order, so we got to sample every appetizer on the menu.  First, mine: crispy buffalo chicken with celery root (a nice twist on the traditional), buffalo sauce, roquefort star puffs, and Stella Artois foam.  It was like a favorite beer and pub app taken through the Matrix and up three levels.  The chicken was a total mind game; it looked like two chicken wings on the plate, but they were juicier and more tender than a first kiss… and -gasp!- there was no bone on the plate! It felt like a magician’s sleight of hand.  How did he do that?!?
Erica ordered the waygu beef tartare with truffle aioli, petit herbs, crisp (and not at all greasy) potato chips, and steak sauce.  The beef was diced and incredibly soft, made even earthier by the truffle oil.
Lindsay’s signature Caesar salad was made with Romaine hearts, a brioche “Twinkie” (hello creativity!), Spanish anchovy, and parmesan fluff.  Lindsay was absolutely tickled by the brioche Twinkie.
Caroline’s pan roasted scallop came with potato salad, fried sweet pickles, ham hock, and a corn bread sauce.  The sweet of the corn bread sauce and the pickles combined with the ham hock salt and the soft buttery scallop was just gently kissed by fine circlets of fresh chive.
We shared the hand-pulled mozzarella with Michigan heirloom tomatoes, mini basil (absolutely gorgeous greens), balsamic sorbet, and Spanish olive oil.  The balsamic sorbet was divine combined with the salt on the mozzarella, although the cheese was a little harder than I prefer.  Those of you who have been following this blog for awhile know how I am about fresh mozzarella, so take it was a grain of… yes, salt.

Last but not least, our unanimous favorite dish of the night, and proof-positive that sometimes the simplest dishes are the best: sweet corn bisque with a garlic marshmallow (yes, that’s right), chipotle jam, corn nuts, lime creme fraiche, and lime zest.  The dish came to us with the marshmallow, jam, and creme fraiche in place.  The bisque was poured tableside.  It was everything a dish should be: sweet, sweet corn, spice from the chipotle, citrus, cream and crunch.  The marshmallow was a microcosm of the larger dish, combining exquisitely subtle sweetness with garlic and a kiss of lime zest.
The first appetizer we didn’t order was sweetbreads with kung pao sauce, black sesame seeds, scallion puree, tender broccoli florets, thai basil, and chili.  Normally it comes with peanut brittle, which we had placed on the side due to an allergy in our party.  Erica promptly declared this her new favorite dish, and the claim was warranted.  The sweetbreads were tender compared to the crisp of the broccoli, and the kung pao sauce kung-fu-kicked my tastebuds.  The flavor profile was spot-on.  Oh, I ❤ black sesame.
The last appetizer was a tuna sashimi with cocoa nibs, whipped avocado, sliced radish, plaintains, sabayon, and a sprinkle of cilantro.  Thus far, we had found the dishes to be so strongly flavored, that we actually had difficulty sharing.  It was tough to clear the palate of one dish’s flavors in order to adequately taste another.  I mean that as observation, not as criticism, as it is a testament to the chef’s vision and personality evident in the plates: bold, fresh, and unapologetic flavors.  This tuna sashimi, was totally different.  I have no idea if it’s true or not, but I’d almost guess that the dish was conceptualized by someone else… perhaps the chef’s generous offer to feature the ideas of one of his protegees? At any rate, it was way more subtle than the other dishes: bland, buttery, soft-textured tuna sprinkled with salt and cocoa nibs shaved ever so small to give a little kick of coffee flavor… but you really had to think about it.  “I don’t get it,” Erica said, “the cocoa nibs and the tuna.”  And although I tried to get it (I really persisted in sampling this dish), she was right.  I didn’t get it.  Maybe it’s because my palate isn’t sophisticated enough.  On the other hand, maybe it doesn’t quite match the in-your-face boldness of the other dishes on the menu.

For entrees, Erica had the wild king salmon with potato pancake, tiny beets, micro arugula, and mustard vinaigrette.  I’m not a fan of salmon (even when fresh, I still find it too fishy), but this salmon had that incredible, oyster-like, nothin’-but-salt-water taste.
Lindsay had bison skirt steak served medium-rare with baked beans, an onion ring, thinly sliced cabbage cole slaw, and root beer barbeque sauce.  I thought bison skirt steak was an incredibly ballsy thing to put on the menu.  Skirt steak is tough, and bison skirt steak is tougher. The result was very tender (for skirt steak), chewy, but tasty.  The girls raved about the root beer barbeque sauce.  The cole slaw/onion ring presentation was whimsical and tongue-in-cheek, and it was flavored with celery root or dill.  Loved it.
Caroline had miso-grilled lobster with soba noodles, bok choy, edamame puree (with a hint of wasabi), pickled shitake mushrooms, and citrusy yuzu bubbles.  Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my EpiPen to Chicago, so I didn’t get to taste this one.
Finally, my entree: a deconstructed lamb gyro.  The lamb was cooked sous-vide and medium-rare on a flat rectangle of pita bread with crumbled feta, pickled cucumber, pickled compressed watermelon strips, tomato, mint yogurt, basil, sumac powder, and lamb jus.  Thank God my fiance wasn’t around; if I kissed him, my tzatiki breath would’ve knocked him sprawling.  That said, the tzatiki nearly sent me sprawling.  If I were alone, I would’ve licked the plate.  It was that good.  And anything prepared sous-vide tastes incredible…


We decided to order all four desserts and rotate the plates clockwise.

First up- untraditional strawberry shortcake.  This dish was two hunks of buttery pound cake, strawberries fresher than a teenager talking back, strawberry sherbert, whipped creme, and strands of strawberry gel.  Once again, our hazelnut component was served on the side to avoid an allergic reaction.

I’m going to admit it… I’m pretty critical of chocolate cake on a dessert menu.  I mean, how many different ways are there to do chocolate cake? Chocolate cake is chocolate cake, right? Wrong… if you’re Chef Graham Elliot.  Now this is a chocolate cake: crunchy meringue, a scoop of plain ice milk, cocoa syrup, salted ganache (oh my God!), and a line of angostura bitter yogurt to drag your spoon through and tie together the whole thing like an immaculately-cornered package from Tiffany’s.


On to Erica’s favorite: homemade sesame halva (shortbread) with prickly pear jam, banana gelato, fresh banana slices, and salted caramel.
Finally, a blackberry panna cotta with Michigan blueberries, almond streusel, a very strong lemon balm component, and buttermilk sorbet (my favorite part of the dish).
In an effort to respect the chef’s emphasis on food, I’ve done the same in this piece.  Although the decor is modern and masculine, it’s also cozy.  The chef’s philosophy is to serve 4-star cuisine without the stuffiness and pretention of linens and elaborate floral arrangements, so -there- I’ve given it a mere sentence.
Servers are friendly and knowledgeable, and you don’t feel like one of the Clampetts asking what “St. Germain” is.  Our waitress endured, with the patience of a saint, our million and five questions.  My friends particularly enjoyed the music, which is rumored to be hand-selected by the chef, everything from the Eurythmics to Morrissey, Madonna’s “Lucky Star” and songs you’ll recognize from Say Anything.

Graham Elliot was friendly and personable; he visited our table and allowed us into the kitchen, explaining his set-up… and his tattoos.  The chef separates stations as food is divvied up  on the menu: into “hot,” “cold,” “land,” and “sea.”  One cook handles each station, rather than having a morning and afternoon chef, so that s/he can master and “really own” it, bringing a consistency to plating.  When a cook has mastered a station, s/he is rotated.  The chef’s thinking is that this set-up creates “chefs not cooks.”

Although the restaurant isn’t based on local foods, it does highlight variety from the best the world has to offer, a philosophy consistent with the chef’s multi-state upbringing as a Navy brat.  He assured us that the restaurant seeks to reduce its carbon footprint in other ways, like through decreased laundry and linens.  Servers and back-up staff alike wear the same GE-monogrammed t-shirts.

Graham Elliot’s showed us a great time.  If you find yourself in Chicago, do yourself a favor.  Ask the chef about his tattoos.  🙂


One Response to “Graham Elliot’s”

  1. […] Flavor Profiles Just another weblog « Graham Elliot’s […]

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