Okay, so I have to give Travel & Leisure the credit here. In their latest issue, they had the 50 best new US restaurants, and Perennial in Chicago was on that list. I'm so glad I took their advice.
They were incredibly accommodating, expanding our table of two to a four top so that my friend Chris' husband could join us for dessert, which is always a good sign. The place had a fresh look with an attractive layout that emphasized curves, leaving it with a softer, cozier look.
Our server was pretty good-looking, which always helps with the atmosphere. And since it had been such a long while since seeing my good friend, Chris, I wasn't paying as much attention to the food as I typically might. But impressionable the food was, so it's saying much that the flavors cut through the conversation and linger even now as I write this several days later.
We started with the Meyer Lemon Risotto, and Portabello Carpaccio Salad. Both were stellar. The risotto was wonderfully creamy and perfectly al dente with the rich parmesan cheese cut with the freshness of the lemon infused throughout. The salad was topped with a simple balsamic vinaigrette dressing that successfully brought all the elements together, including the poached garlic that was minced and sprinkled on top. Delicious.
I ordered the pork belly, and Chris ordered the sea scallops, which is their signature dish. Now, as you probably know by now, I talk about David Chang's pork belly in NYC a lot and have set that as the standard by which I evaluate all other pork belly. Thus far, I continue to try it across the country, and I continue to be disappointed. This time, the texture was far closer to my stated perfection than I had ever tasted. The pork belly was incredibly tender, and the fattiness literally melted in my mouth to create a full and luxurious mouthfeel. Yay! It was set atop a parsnip puree and mustard spaetzle on the side. I did like the combination of the elements together, but alone, the parsnip puree and spaetzle was rather flat. Then again, they performed their roles as accompaniment nicely.
Chris' sea scallops were perfectly seared, leaving the plump little guys moist and tender. It was set upon sauteed wild mushrooms and a tarragon sabayon. Sabayon - a light, creamy sauce made from egg yolk. The fusion of everything was really great, but my favorite? The braised short rib canneloni on the side. Yum!!! I love braised short rib. It just makes me so happy. That on its own almost coerced me into ordering that dish. But alas, the pork belly was calling my name.
So here's my only complaint. The table is set atop an ornate column that flares at the bottom. Too much flair. There's no room for your feet! I mean, really, it's beautiful and everything, but requires too much shifting and working around. That said, if that's the only complaint, yes - it's pretty good.