In 2021, visiting Adorn Bar & Restaurant (in the Four Seasons, at 120 E. Delaware Pl.) were among the high points in what was a year of turbulence, to say the least.
A recent visit, however, involved what is sometimes the most dreaded of changes: the presentation of new menu items.
In this case, I needn't have worried: Tweaking the menu and adding new influences, my latest experience at Adorn may have even surpassed what I had last yearand it instantly catapults this restaurant to the top tier of my favorite spots that I've visited this year (and that's with the majority of 2022 to go).
By the way, I have something important to note: Adorn is in a most elegant settingbut it'll be the least intimidating top-rated experience you'll have. Yes, you'll see diners who sport Guccibut you'll probably find just as many people donning jeans or even sportswear. I told James Beard Award-winning Chef Jonathon Sawyer, "All money is green, after all"and he heartily agreed (although, these days, the currency is more plastic).
Even though there were plenty of new items on the menu, my friend and I started with an "oldie" but goodie: bread with edible candle service. This divine course (which only costs $12, and is probably worth much more) consists of an aged beef-suet candle that is spread of various breads as it melts. Whenever I describe this to someone, that person's jaw tends to drop. This dish, as they say, is worth the price of admission by itself.
However, many other wonders await in the menu that has many Japanese influencesand they're all wonderfully complex in terms of tastes and textures. The first course consisted of kale and goma salad with avocado, edamame and sesame-fried nori; and carrot-cooked carrots. I'd had the second dish before, but Sawyer has elevated it with yogurt, molasses, orange zest and hawaij spice.
The second course consisted of delightful saffron-curried mussels with golden curry and crispy potato. There's also oxtail a la Chitarra, complete with Morrocan spiced olives and charred tomato pomodoro. However, the third course was the most impressive, by a hair. The Fred Flintstone beef "short rib" (and you have to love that name!) consists, naturally, of a quite sizable cut of extremely tender beef with flavor accentuated by a pastrami spice rub, while the wonderfully flaky sable fish came with what I called "turnip four ways," including braised turnip tops. Last (but certainly not least), Chef Brian Rodriguezwho has his own share of accoladesmade an indelible impression with a sumptuous lamb shoulder confit and soccorat; the dish takes the classic Mediterranean spring combination of lamb and artichokes and builds on it, with a perfectly crispy socarrat that holds a soft and fluffy inside, made in a timbal, topped with artichoke and Jerusalem artichoke soubise, and fatty lamb shoulder.
Pastry Chef nominee Juan Gutierrez (who is participating in Dancing with Chicago Celebrities on Friday, March 25, to help raise funds to battle breast cancer) has been nominated for a 2022 Jean Banchet Awardand it's instantly easy to see why. While the appealing Open Sesame features a sesame ball with black sesame praline and rice ice cream, the PB & Jam It is the real show-stoppera divinely decorated olio of peanut mousse, roasted grape sorbet and toasted Wonder bread ice cream.
In fact, Adorn pretty much sports an All-Star team. Mixologist Slava Borisov has also received honors and he certainly impressed my dining companion and meeven when I gave him various tests just to shake things a bit. We were more than impressed with the prepared drinks, especially the Pop Star, which comes on a board in three forms: a glass with Belvedere, St. Germain and passionfruit; a champagne chaser; and a spoonful of passionfruit pearls. However, I challenged Borisov to make a few items, including a pineapple-juice mocktail, a horchata-based drink and a classica grasshopper, which my friend seems to have trouble finding in Chicago (although I hear Wisconsin is the place to find great ones). Borisov more than excelled every time, even coming to our table to personally grate nutmeg into the horchata-based concoction. And that grasshopper (which I tasted) was sublime.
I'm telling you: Run, don't walk, to Adorn. Your taste buds will be challenged and pleasuredand you can actually leave the Balenciaga at home.
See www.adornrestaurant.com .
Note: This visit was arranged.