CHICAGO - The team behind restaurants such as Boka and Momotaro have opened Somerset, their latest project next to the gleaming new Viceroy Hotel in Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood.
Somerset has an All-American menu, but two dishes in particular stood out.
Lee Wolen takes liberties with classic American dishes. Beef tartar is one example.
"A traditional tartar, a lot of times you'll have the mayonnaise, lemon juice and worcestershire sauce, so we kind of wanted to mimic the flavors of a tartar," said Wolen.
So instead, he uses beets. Giant beets, actually, slow-roasted for an hour. He slices them into discs, then smokes them, by adding soaked wood chips to hot charcoals, and placing them all in the oven together for another hour.
"To me it tastes like barbecued chicken," he said.
Meanwhile, some of the plain roasted beets are pureed into a silky sauce. The smoked ones are broken up and placed into a food processor, where they're pulsed until shredded. The puree is combined with the shredded, along with chives, salt and olive oil. On the plate, the beets are topped with sunflower seeds that have been toasted with olive oil and lemon zest; cumin-infused yogurt is drizzled over the top, then he shreds on a generous amount of goat gouda. They're served with homemade flatbreads.
"I don't want to say pita, because it would be a knock to pita. It's just a simple flatbread," said Wolen.
The dish is remarkable.
"The smokiness creates the meatiness of it. The sunflower seeds are earthy and salty. The cheese is creamy and extra salty. Yogurt adds fat. We didn't really add much fat to the actual tartar, so I think when you mix it, you get the yogurt and the cheese, you get the acid from the yogurt," he said.
Another star on the menu is the whole roasted chicken. Wolen places D'Artagnan birds into a brine for 24 hours.
"Just to penetrate all the way to the bone," said Wolen.
Next day he separates the skin from the meat, then pipes in a sausage of chicken thigh and fat, dill, roasted garlic, tarragon and lemon zest. He trusses the bird, then gives it a full body massage of butter, before roasting it for a good hour. Cut-up and served with a pair of seasonal side dishes, it could feed four easily. He says the butter certainly helps.
"And it adds a lot of meatiness, and also helps the skin brown," he said.
Now chicken is not very polarizing. If you like it, you'll love the version here at Somerset. Beets are a different story. Let me just assure you, if you have any hesitation about beets, this version is the best I've ever had.
EXTRA COURSE: Somerset's autumn desserts
Extra Course: Somerset's autumn desserts
1112 N. State St., Chicago