Ever since The Gage opened up on Michigan Avenue, across the street from the Plensa Fountains, they've had a tartare of some kind on the menu.
"It's really to showcase the quality of the meat and the different nuance each meat lends," said Chef Dirk Flanigan.
You can't just serve the bison by itself. Briny capers, and celery leaves give it some bite, while a mustard emulsion on the plate is there for richness, as is a generous shaving of three year-old Gouda cheese.
"Since bison is such a lean meat, it really adds this richness, and kind of melts on your palate," Flanigan said.
To eat, you're encouraged to mix up the tartare with the everything on the plate - including the raw quail egg - then slather it on some multi-grain bread flecked with amaranth and quinoa. Next door, at the more upscale Henri, Flanigan uses beef for his tartare, again, adding a quail egg for richness, and serving it with homemade potato chips.
In River North, the 10-year-old NAHA has always had a tartare on its menu, usually one featuring tuna.
"We sometimes do this with steak, different kinds of fish; I enjoy it with venison. A lot of times it's marinated or just served in the crudo fashion," said Chef Mark McCain.
Crudo means raw, and so McCain dices up beautiful, ruby-red ahi tuna, adding just a few ingredients.
"Something as simple as a nice marinade of olive oil and a little citrus zest is all I think it really needs. A little garnish on the plate - acoutrements - is nice, but it doesn't need a whole lot," McCain said.
But while the tuna tower is essentially unadorned - there are just a few finely-diced cucumbers in the middle of it - the garnishes go on and on: capers, peppers, red onions, kalamata olives... even a drizzle of aioli. To top it off, a hard-cooked quail egg with some salty fish roe, plus creme fraiche for richness.
So while tartare is typically a raw preparation, the protein can vary from bison to beef to tuna; and the real creativity seems to come in the garnishes always served alongside.
Great places to get tartare:
500 N Clark St
24 S Michigan Ave
1450 W Chicago Ave
59 W. Hubbard St.
Rockit Bar & Grill
22 W Hubbard