11 East Walton Street, Chicago, 60611, United States

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Chef interview

Danny Grant is head chef of RIA, the main restaurant at the excellent Elysian hotel in Chicago.

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Editor's note: this restaurant closed in July 2012.

Situated on the third floor of the modern boutique hotel Elysian, RIA is the fine dining establishment of the hotel. The head chef is now Danny Grant, formerly chef de cuisine here, who took the helm in February 2011 following the departure of previous head chef Jason McLeod. Danny has worked at restaurants such as The Gramercy Tavern in New York and Apicius in Paris, and most recently at North Pond in Chicago. The menu has an emphasis on seafood and the kitchens is known for working with an unusually large number of suppliers, including many small farms, in order to give it the range of quality of ingredients that it seeks. There were two tasting menus as well as the a la carte choices.

The extensive wine list runs to 99 pages, with around a thousand separate bins and wine storage for 20,000 bottles. As well as the expected depth in US wines and the classic regions of France, the list covers unusual territory, with wines from Greece, Slovenia and Switzerland, and even a Hungarian sparkling wine (Kiralyudvar Brut Pezsgb Henye Vineyard NV, which we tried and was very pleasant). The list was priced at a level that would make anyone from London envious. The list started at $32 and contained selections such as Brooks Riesling 2007 from Williamette Valley at $41 for a wine that you can buy in the shops for around $18, Fisher Unity Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 at $67 for a wine that retails at $44, and Shafer One Point Five Cabernet at $145 for a wine that will set you back about $70 in the shops.   At the high end of the list there are selections such as a less generously priced Gaja Darmagi 1998 at $448 compared to a retail price of $170, and Guigal Ex-Voto red at $779 for a wine you can pick up for around $303, with some older wines such as Vina Tondonia Gran Reserva 1947 at $1,666 for a wine that can be bought in a shop for $1,071. We ordered Kistler Noisetier 2008 at $138 (retail price $64) but it was our good fortune that they had run out of this so we were upgraded to a Kistler Vine Hill 2007 (which would normally have cost a not unreasonable $220 given that it retails at $95).

The dining room has several large picture windows and so has plenty of natural light, which is just as well since the decor, with the walls papered beige with a dark brown carpet, could otherwise be rather gloomy.  Tables are large and generously spaced. As we looked at the menu a plate of goujeres appeared, neatly piped and with lovely soft texture and plenty of cheese taste coming through (18/20). The cheese used was a local US cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a cow milk cheese from Uplands farm in Wisconsin, which had a faint note of sweetness. Bread was made from scratch and was a solitary choice of mini baguettes, served cold; these were very nice, the crust not too hard, the texture of the bread good (17/20).

An amuse bouche comprised cucumber jelly, cucumber shavings, marinated radish, green almonds and shallot snow with a citrus hint, topped with a gin sabayon. The cucumber was excellent, the gin flavour well controlled, and the citrus element lent balance (comfortably 17/20). This was followed by a further nibble of spinach mousse with shallots as a base, on which rested a quenelle of lightly smoked halibut mousse topped with chives and white sturgeon caviar.  This was superb, the halibut mousse smooth and with lovely depth of flavour, the spinach complementing the fish well, the caviar providing a hint of saltiness (19/20).

A starter of sheep's milk ricotta with spring vegetables was prettily presented, with good radishes, and sable Breton cookie. The white asparagus in particular did not have particularly good flavour (at least compared to white asparagus I have recently eaten in Europe), and overall this dish did not really deliver on flavour to my mind (15/20). Better was a cold dish of scallop with Hakure turnip, Spanish octopus, more white sturgeon caviar and a fumet blanc. The scallops were of good quality and were carefully cooked, the octopus was of the non-chewy variety and the light sauce worked well (18/20).

An intermediate course was Chilean turbot with asparagus stems, asparagus puree and glaze, with a little pasta, razor clams and a fish puree with olives. I found the flavour of the turbot to be rather bland compared with Mediterranean turbot, though the fish was carefully cooked and seasoned and the puree was nice (16/20).

My main course was quail stuffed with celeriac and foie gras, cooked in chicken stock. The quail was cooked pink and its flavour came through nicely, while the earthiness of the celeriac worked well as a contrast to the richness of the quail (16/20). Lobster (from Maine) with white asparagus had tender lobster, the dish also served with artichokes and red pepper (16/20).

The cheese board featured five US cheeses as well as five international cheeses; it is interesting to see the development of artisan US cheeses over the past few years. Dessert of grapefruit, praline and huckleberry with white chocolate and brown butter ice cream worked well, the grapefruit providing the acidity to cut through the richness of the rapine and chocolate (17/20).  Even better was chocolate pudding with puffed rice, banana and Maldon salt sherbet; salt and chocolate can often work well together, and here the combination was very successful, the banana adding an additional taste dimension without dominating (18/20). Coffee was reasonable rather than particularly impressive. The dessert chef here was Stephanie Prida.

Service was really top drawer. Our waiter (John David) was knowledgeable and friendly, and topping of bread, water and wine was exemplary. The restaurant manager also seemed genuinely enthusiastic. The bill was $252 (£153) per person, which seemed fair to me given the quality of the food and given that we were drinking very good wine.

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  • Sam K

    It's closed.