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Sable Kitchen & Bar

November 19, 2014

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that for my husband and I, the enjoyment of good eats while on vacation is just as important as the sightseeing or the relaxation or the accomplishment of whatever other goals we may have during a trip.  A trip can be savored and remembered by amazing food experiences, or can be easily forgotten just the same with bad experiences.  That’s why, for us, it’s important to do research in advance of traveling anywhere and planning our itinerary around various food experiences that we want to have.  For our trip to Chicago, we wanted to make sure to experience a wide variety of various food offerings Chicago had in store for us.  We knew we’d be enjoying deep dish pizza, but I also said to my husband that I wanted to find a night where we went out to a nice restaurant and experienced something other than pizza.  I told my husband it was his mission to pick out a good restaurant that we could dine at, just the two of us, with good food and a good atmosphere.  After a little research, my husband made a suggestion to me.  When I looked at the restaurant’s website, I knew immediately what had drawn my husband to this particular restaurant, and when I saw items on the menu that I figured I could enjoy, I decided to indulge my husband and say yes, let’s make a reservation.  All the while, I thought to myself, my husband’s going to enjoy this so much more than I will.  Boy, could I have been more wrong?

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According to the restaurant’s website, which describes it as “Classic Era Atmosphere… where the glamour of 1940’s mingles effortlessly with modern industrial touches,” Sable Kitchen & Bar is Chef Heather Terhune’s ode to classic American dishes and flavors combined with inventive and artful cocktails in a mix that she calls New American social plates.  As a recent contest on one of Bravo’s most popular shows, Top Chef Texas, this inventive, and creative chef brings her love of local ingredients, classic dishes, and social plates to the forefront as executive Chef of Sable Kitchen & Bar.  The minute you step into the restaurant you feel almost as if you’ve been transported to a modern era with sleek, clean lines, dark colors, and a modern industrial touch.  The restaurant consists of a lively, and fully-stocked bar up front with bar tables surrounding the area which then opens up in the back to a more intimate restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining available.

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Since Sable Kitchen & Bar is known for its inventive cocktails as much as it is for wonderful food, my husband perused the cocktail menu looking for something different and interesting to try.  What he decided upon was one of the restaurant’s most popular drinks, the War of the Roses.  Made with Pimm’s, Ford’s gin, Chase Elderflower, mint, fresh lime and Peychaud’s bitters, the cocktail is served with a fresh mint leaf resting atop the amber-gold frothy concoction.  My husband said that he chose the drink because he really wanted to taste the bitters, something that he’s a fan of, but says that not everyone loves.  While he thought that the drink was good, he did think that there was just a bit too much lime juice in the cocktail which overpowered the flavor of the bitters, so for him that was a little disappointing.

As mentioned, the style of the restaurant is to serve social plates, almost in the style of Spanish tapas.  You get small servings on small plates which allows you to order a variety of different plates and sample all the flavors and textures without getting too filled up on any one item.  This is the part that I knew appealed to my husband when he selected the restaurant.  After perusing through the menu, my husband and I each chose a few items that we thought sounded good and figured that would be a good start to our meal.  We’d get a bunch of plates to sample and we’d see what we liked and what we didn’t like.

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Before any of our dishes started coming to our table, we were presented with an amuse bouche courtesy of the Chef.  The amuse bouche was two small services of prosciutto wrapped fig with a balsamic reduction and crushed pistachios.  Figs and prosciutto being a classic pairing of flavors.  Fresh, flavorful figs with the slightly salty cured meat.  For me, it was the balsamic reduction that really brought the dish together and tied the sweet figs with the salty prosciutto as the reduction had just a hint of sweetness to cut through the acidity of the balsamic.  The crushed pistachios added texture and just a hint of nutty flavor to pair with the prosciutto.  Just this simple amuse bouche held great promise for the rest of the meal to come.

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The first small plate to arrive at the table, which my husband was most excited about was Wisconsin fried cheese curds with spicy ketchup glaze.  Served in an adorable mini-fryer basket, these little breaded and lightly fried Wisconsin cheese curds were fantastic.  They were perfectly fried to the ooey-gooey stage where the cheese just begins to melt.  These little one bit puppies were small enough to just pop in your mouth, but good enough that they were addictive.  Pop in one or two cheese curds and then you just wanted to devour the whole thing.  My husband, who is the biggest fan of cheese curds that I know, and talks about cheese curds constantly was in love at first sight and first bite.  I could tell, every time I grabbed a cheese curd he was staring me down, willing me to stop before he chastised me for eating his whole dish, the dish he most wanted.  I was polite, I only had a few before I told him he could have the remaining cheese curds in the basket.

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The next dish that came to the table was my absolute favorite dish of the night.  To me, seeing this dish on the menu didn’t completely convince me that it was something we should order, but my husband and I had both heard that this was a terrific dish not to be missed.  Figuring that so many other people couldn’t be that wrong, we decided to try the bacon jam with brie cheese and toasted baguette.  Boy, I would have been annoyed, knowing what I know now, if we hadn’t ordered this dish.  Generally, I’m not a fan of onion marmalade or bacon jam or all those weird sauce-y things that people make from food.  Why can’t I just have the bacon, why does it need to be bacon jam?  But in this case?  This bacon jab was out-of-this-world-amazing.  I have no idea how it was made or what was in it, but it was finger-licking delicious.  My husband and I couldn’t get enough of it and were piling it on high on the toasted baguettes.  Served in a small cast iron skillet, the bacon jab with the melted brie on top with some watercress as garnish had the consistency of a thick jam or paste that you scooped up and smeared all over the baguette.  It had the flavor of sweet, salty goodness.  You could definitely taste the bacon, but there was so much more, there was a tangy, acidity tomato flavor and a sweet sugar flavor which all helped to balance out the salty bacon flavor.  It was one of the most perfect appetizers, or rather social plates, dishes I’ve ever had.

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Tuna tartare tostadas was my selection for our next dish.  Made with spicy tomato salsa and meyer lemon crema I was a little concerned that these might be a little spicy, but I didn’t have to worry.  Made on small homemade tostada shells and topped with fresh tuna tartare with just a little tomato salsa and a dollop of crema and served with a wedge of lime these were perfect one bite wonders.  The freshness of the tuna with the crunch of the tostada shell and the acidity of the spicy tomato salsa combined with the lime juice and the punch and creaminess of the crema made for a mouth-watering bite.  Too bad each plate only came with two servings, meaning only one for me and one for my husband.  Shame.

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One of the seasonal items on the menu the day we dined at Sable Kitchen & Bar was scallop ceviche.  Having enjoyed some fine fresh scallop dishes at other nice restaurants we’ve been to, my husband and I decided to give the scallop ceviche dish a whirl.  As the menu described it, the dish was made with fresh scallops, jalapeno, fresh peaches and served with homemade tortilla chips.  I was interested in how the combination of fresh scallops would work with fresh peaches.  I knew that the peach juice would help to tenderize the fresh scallops and I’m sure the jalapenos were meant to give it a slight kick.  I was a bit surprised that my husband even wanted to try this dish since I know that peaches aren’t something he particularly likes.  The ceviche was fantastic.  Using the homemade tortilla chips as a “spoon” of sorts to scoop out the ceviche was the perfect combination.  The crunchy, crispy tortilla chip with the incredibly tender, soft and flavorful scallop with the hint of citrus from the fresh peaches and just the slight touch of heat from the jalapeno made for a heady combination.  I never realized how incredibly tender the fresh scallops could be and served in this type of a presentation, they were perfect.

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Next up came baked mac-n-cheese.  If you know anything about my husband, you know how much he likes his cheese and mac ‘n cheese is a dish we always seem to come back to.  At Sable Kitchen & Bar, the baked mac-n-cheese is served in single serving cast iron pot and made using a combination of cheddar cheese, Gruyere, cream cheese and taleggio.  The whole thing is baked and then topped with some crunchy bread crumbs for added texture.  The combination of the 4 cheeses was interesting.  The cream cheese to added creaminess to the dish was something new for me.  And the taleggio was definitely different.  Taleggio has a distinctive aroma, at least to me, and not really the most pleasant.  That’s the one thing that hit me when the mac-n-cheese was brought to the table, the aroma of it, solely due to the use of taleggio cheese.  But the aroma of the cheese is much more pungent than the flavor of it, which is a good thing.  The dish may bombard your nostrils, but it coats your tastebuds.  The mac-n-cheese was definitely creamy and thick and rich and wonderfully delicious.  I probably would have preferred for it to be baked a little bit more so that it had a more burnt top and the cheese was a bit more burnt rather than everything being so soft, but the taste was wonderful.

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Finally, we ordered 2 more items that were a little heavier and heartier, but still just small plates.  The first was short rib sliders made with a root beer glaze and crispy onions.  The short ribs were incredibly tender, like fall-apart-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful.  The root beer glaze added that bit of sugar and caramelization to sweeten the tender short ribs.  The lightly toasted brioche bun and the addition of crispy onions as opposed to caramelized onions was the perfect contrast of texture and flavor for these 3-4 bite sliders.  The sliders were just the right size to whet your appetite as to how delicious and flavorful they were, but small enough that you weren’t going to get full off of them.

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Our final dish was hoisin glazed pork belly sliders.  Served with picked daikon, carrots, cilantro and sriracha.  I admit I was a bit worried about this dish because I don’t like sriracha at all.  I know that it’s all the rage these days, but it’s definitely not for me.  I was afraid that the sriracha would be mixed into the vegetables as a sort of sauce for a slaw, and if that was the case, I had told my husband that these pork belly sliders would be his as I wouldn’t touch it.  Luckily for me, the sirarcha was just spread lightly across the bottom of the brioche bun and I could scrap it off and still enjoy my slider.  Sitting atop the sriracha was the picked daikon, carrots and cilantro and atop that was a big chunk of hoisin glazed pork belly.  I loved the vegetables as pickled daikon with the combination of carrots and cilantro go so well together.  The crunch and tang of the picked daikon with the freshness of cilantro, which I love, and the crunchy carrots is perfect.  And to put those vegetables together with pork is just a terrific combination.  The pork belly was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  The hoisin glazing was terrific and provided just the amount of sweet and tangy flavor for the wonderfully fatty pork belly.  What a terrific meal full of a bunch of different flavors and textures and ingredients.  A little bit of this, a little bit of that, this is exactly the type of restaurant that my husband was looking for.

When it came time for dessert, we were both kind of torn.  The meal we had was filling, but we didn’t want to pass up the chance for dessert.  So, we said that we’d split a dessert so we could get something.  But, once we looked at the dessert menu, the decision to split a dessert was thrown out the window entirely as we both immediately spotted something we each wanted, and it wasn’t the same dessert.  Since we were on vacation, we decided to throw caution to the wind and go ahead and each order our own dessert.

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My husband chose a dessert called a creamsicle pavlova.  It is definitely a dessert that is true to form for him.  I’ve seen him order and enjoy pavlovas before and I know that the citrusy flavor of a creamsicle is something my husband really enjoys.  At Sable Kitchen & Bar, the creamsicle pavlova is made with tangerine curd, baked meringue, orange gelee and whipped cream.  If you don’t know what a pavlova is, essentially it’s a meringue dessert that’s baked so it’s crispy on the outside and then filled with something soft and light, like whipped cream.  My husband was really impressed with this dessert.  While it looked large, because it was meringue-based, it was really light and airy and not at all heavy.  The flavors of the tangerine curd and the orange gelee were perfect, light and with a citrus touch without being too tangy.  It really did taste like a deconstructed creamsicle, especially when you combined the curd with the meringue, you could almost get the sensation of biting into a popsicle.  Needless to say, my husband devoured his dessert instantaneously.

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For my dessert, I ordered the dark chocolate soufflé cake.  Ok, I’m a sucker for anything that has the word soufflé in it.  While this wasn’t a true soufflé, all the you need to do is have the word soufflé and I’m there.  Though, it helps that the dessert also had chocolate in it.  Made with peanut butter sauce and served with salted caramel ice cream, the dessert kind of reminded me of a model of plants in a galaxy.  The dark chocolate soufflé cake being the sun in the center, and the scoop of salted caramel ice cream being a planet rotating around the sun with these rings circling the sun.  The dessert itself was fantastic.  The soufflé cake was nice and light with a warm chocolate ganache filling inside.  The dark chocolate was a perfect contrast to the peanut butter sauce on the plate and the crushed peanuts on the plate.  It gave the dessert a slight peanut flavor, but not overwhelming, which is more my style.  I’m not a huge fan of salted anything ice cream, but in this case, the saltiness in the salted caramel ice cream was minimal and actually complimented the slight salty flavor of the crushed peanuts and the peanut butter sauce, and also helped to offset some of the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  I was full by the time dessert came around, and was afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to finish my dessert, but I needn’t worry as the dessert was just too good to not finish.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when my husband and I walked into Sable Kitchen & Bar.  I figured that this would be a restaurant that my husband would enjoy more than I would.  Small plates, with dishes made from local and seasonal products, and a creative drink menu with drinks named after some famous literary works, definitely more to my husband’s style, than my picky food style.  By the time we finished our meal, I don’t know who enjoyed it more, myself or my husband.  This great restaurant really surprised me with its unique take on classic foods, the shareable social plates, and the great, relaxed atmosphere.  Sable Kitchen & Bar wasn’t necessarily the fancy, romantic restaurant I was hoping my husband would pick out for us when I told him to find us a good place for just the two of us in Chicago.  I was hoping for a more low-key, romantic restaurant.  The irony in all of this was that Sable Kitchen & Bar was exactly what I needed and my husband and I agree that it turned out to be the best dining experience for us during our long weekend in Chicago.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2014 9:09 am

    We are the same when it comes to traveling…good restaurants are what can make the trip special. I haven’t been to Chicago in years but this would definitely be a restaurant I’d want to visit if I was in the city.

  2. November 19, 2014 10:30 am

    One thing: I’m pretty sure MY husband is the biggest fan of cheese curds in the entire universe.

    • November 19, 2014 10:34 am

      I don’t know about that. My husband obsesses over cheese curds and can’t get enough. I bet mine can out-eat yours 🙂

  3. November 20, 2014 6:18 am

    I think that is a contest neither one of us would care to ever see. Mostly because we wouldn’t get any cheese curds for ourselves.

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