October 04, 2006

eatin' good in the neighborhood: schwa

I have been absurdly busy lately, AND i left my digicam cable in Boston, so i have yet to write up all the good stuff from my trip to CA and beyond. So sorry for the lack of posts, y'all. But tonight I had dinner with C for the first time since July, since by some miracle we are both in chicago at the same time. I've been reading all kinds of buzz on Schwa, which is just up the street from my place, so because we both needed to watch the season premiere of Lost at 8pm (mildly disappointing, but i suspect only b/c they need to set up a whole season's worth of mindfuck in 45mins or less), we decided to get a late dinner at Schwa. Yum.

They do fixed menus of either three or nine courses. The 3 course meals appear to be standard sized portions (american style), while the 9 course is a standard haute cuisine parade of tiny plates. We went for the nine, of course, despite the appetizer course of fancy cheeses and Ur-Weisse that went along with Lost.

The entire staff is 4 guys, doing everything from booking reservations to cooking to dishwashing to waiting tables to marinating the enormous tub of beef shortribs we were eyeing from the dining room. It's a little odd when you walk in off a seedy stretch of Ashland Avenue into what looks like a shuttered storefront, and find yourself in the middle of a tiny dining room, elegantly decorated and half full of diners. It feels like having a fancy dinner in your living room, but once you get past that, I'd say that Schwa can compete with any dining room in the city.

A few of the dishes were a little over-elaborate in my opinion, with an element or two that didn't work or could just have been left out entirely (the butter-poached lobster with passion fruit puree and potatoes didn't in any way need a lavender foam, no matter how groovy a lavender foam may be -- and no matter how well the lobster and passion fruit work together, which you'd never guess, but they totally do), but as i said to C, that's pretty much picking nits that in a lesser restaurant i would totally let slide. Everything was well cooked, delicious, and inventive, and we had a fantastic meal. The service was attentive without being formal, and I definitely had the sense of being in a craftsman's workshop -- it reminded me of my brother's glassblowing studio, if you swapped out the furnace for a cooktop and ever so slightly lowered the volume on the hip hop.

I am a little goofy on wine, since we had a bottle of champagne and a bottle of burgundy, and i have to get up in 7 hours, so i am not going to go into detail about all 9 courses right this second, but let me just mention a few highlights:

turmeric ice cream with date puree
fleur de sel over all the icecreams (i am SO doing this at home)
beef tartare with asian flavors and a quail egg
yuzu syrup on the plate with the trio of beef - tartare, pickled tongue and shortrib
a tiny spoon filled with confit eggplant and pickled trimmings
quail egg ravioli with ricotta and brown butter, at once insanely rich and somehow light
perfect sweetbreads with a melted pool of humboldt fog and a bit of wine-poached rhubarb, apparently local from the market even in october
strawberry foam with berries and salty olive oil ice cream

I think probably i could live without having absolutely everything reduced to a paste or puree smeared on my plate, which is pretty much the way it is at Schwa, but since i have no shame at all i just ate everything with my hands or at the least scooped up all the smears of whatnot with a finger so as to truly appreciate every bit of them. And not one paste or smear was anything less than exquisitely delicious, so i think i forgive them their youthful extravagances. We had a lovely time, and we'll go back. Stay the course through the annoyance of having to leave voicemail to get a reservation -- it'll be worth it.

Posted by foodnerd at October 4, 2006 01:22 AM
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