Grace aims to revive Chicago's fine-dining scene

February 1, 2013 9:02:02 PM PST
Chicago's fine-dining scene has been slowly shrinking the past few years.

A new restaurant in the West Loop is hoping to reverse that trend by opening what it hopes will become another world-class destination.

Over the past few years, the city's top hotels have shuttered their dining rooms, while chefs like Charlie Trotter's have closed up for good.

A local chef with a strong pedigree, including time at Alinea and The Peninsula, is hoping to revive fine-dining one meticulous plate at a time.

The kitchen is as quietly intense as the dining room is serene.

The young cooks at Grace, which is barely recognizable outside of its address on the front door, at a frenetic, yet controlled pace, turning out two, nine-course menus; one with meat, one without.

"Grace for us is really refinement, elegance, it's a sense of gentleness," said Chef and Owner Curtis Duffy.

Duffy says the approach is simple: ingredients first, technique second.

"It's somewhat spontaneous for us, we don't want to do the same things over and over and over, but we need it to be familiar for the guest and we also need it to be exciting," he said.

Like all dishes, the emphasis is on just four or five flavors, but they might appear in more than a dozen preparations. An early course on the veg menu features carrots. Next to a pistachio puree, comes a roasted carrot, then a gelatin sheet made from carrot juice; a bit of passionfruit and more heirloom carrots, some pickled, some caramelized. There are sliced, raw carrots, tiny carrot tops and chives, then a rich knob of whipped marscarpone cheese.

It's counterpart, on the "fauna" menu, might feature a small piece of Japanese wagyu beef, surrounded by salsify root in various forms: pureed, roasted and dried.

"We also serve on it with a side of dashi, which is a traditional Japanese stock made from kombu and katsuobushi," said Duffy.

Duffy says he hasn't stopped using modern tools to change the form of the ingredients, but promises to keep them in check.

"So we do use those modern techniques of liquid nitrogen and doing some agar approaches to some of the liquids to control the viscosity of things but it's done in a very respectful way and it's done in a very conscious way," he said.

Both menus at grace cost $185 each and that doesn't include wine.