After 19 years, West Loop's Blackbird restaurant still feels new

Sunday, December 4, 2016
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Hungry Hound food reporter Steve Dolinsky checked out Blackbird in Chicago's West Loop.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Most restaurants are happy to make it to five years. Ten years is a major accomplishment.

In Chicago's West Loop neighborhood, the Blackbird restaurant is a real pioneer, celebrating its 19th anniversary this month.

And even more impressive is that it still feels new.

The cool, modernist interior is still just as polished and minimal as the glass facade at Blackbird. There have been several cooks here over the past 19 years, but Ryan Pfeiffer says the transition from line cook to Chef de Cuisine has been a smooth one.

"It made it pretty easy for me, all I had to do is uphold the same standard. I didn't necessarily have to make a name for myself," he said.

That standard is always local, always innovative, but not pretentious or stuffy.

"It's kind of like a melting pot of everybody's ideas and experiences together," said Pfeiffer.

Sturgeon has always been on the menu in some form; currently, it's wood-grilled, set over a crisp potato pancake, then topped with a smoked butter pudding and some osetra caviar. On the side, barely charred grapes and a grape-almond salad

A quail appetizer appears petite, the result of a lot of meticulous work.

"We take all the bones out of it, and then we essentially put a forcemeat or sausage inside of it," said Pfeiffer.

It's 'nduja, a spicy, spreadable Calabrian sausage that the company's Publican Quality Meats makes for them.

"So it stays moist, it still has its skin but it's bone-free so it's just easy for people to eat," he said.

Lamb is another typical entree. But rather than a hulking leg, like most places, the leaner saddle.

"We just render it in a cast-iron pan skin-on...almost Middle Eastern flavors, so there's a falafel made from eggplant, there's some marinated kale, some charred kale with cumin and then we make a cream from feta cheese that we season with fermented cucumber vinegar," said Pfeiffer.

Nineteen years and it still feels brand new. You credit the kitchen of course, but you can't underestimate the importance of the front-of-the-house staff as well.

EXTRA COURSE: Blackbird's pastry chef talks about her creative spin on a classic -- carrot cake


619 W. Randolph St., Chicago

(312) 715-0708