When this group of friends decided to attempt to open a fine-dining restaurant in the West Loop, the lessons they took with them from previous experiences were pretty straightforward.
"Just to be bold, make everything as flavorful as possible, make sure things work," said Noah Sandoval, executive chef of Oriole.
You might have to squint a bit to find Oriole, hidden in a non-descript building behind a loading door, but once inside, you're met with 28 seats, and a 15 course tasting menu that spans the globe. Courses are small, but jam-packed with sweet, sour, salt, crunch, acid and richness. A spring roll benefits from enoki mushroom, raw black radish, pickled young ginger and fresh herbs, plus a rhubarb gastrique. Scottish langostine is draped with juniper-cured lardo, plus orange zest, asparagus and caviar, in a two-bite masterpiece.
"If it's a steak with cipollinis and potatoes it's hard to get people to take the right bites, but if it's 15 things in a small little plate, pretty much every bite is gonna have something that tastes delicious with something else," said Sandoval.
The bowl of king crab with orange zest gel, coconut milk and cara cara oranges, with the generous spoonful of spring onion froth and poppyseeds is another stunner.
Four of the courses will concern dessert, and that's Genie Kwon's department. Her pretzel cracker with knobs of hazelnut cremeaux and funky raclette cheese mousse are balanced by intense cassis sorbet and an aromatic lavender gastrique.
"We work really closely when we're formatting the menu to ensure that people are satisfied and full but not overwhelmed or that they have to roll out of here," she said.
So despite the number of fried chicken joints, tacos and sliders in Chicago, fine-dining is certainly not dead and if you want zero pretension and maximum flavor, Oriole is the call.
In this week's "Extra Course," Steve talks to the restaurant's sommelier, who explains how he pairs drinks with a 15 course tasting menu.
661 W. Walnut St.