Today marks a milestone in my burgeoning side-career as a writer: after nearly three years of chronicling my life here at "The State I Am In" as a hobby, I've started writing a restaurant review column for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. It's not a paying gig, and I'm sharing the byline with my dad, though I do all the writing, but it's a good way to grow a portfolio as a freelance writer. There's an old saying floating around the internet that says, "The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life." If that's true, then perhaps I'm on the right track by taking on this new monthly column.
I'm grateful to my dad for linking me up with this opportunity, and for financing the tasting dinners necessary to write these reviews. The article is behind a pay wall at the paper's website, but here's the text of the first edition of "Dining Due Dilligence" (clever legal tie-in with the title, eh?):
On the surface, Henri, the elegant French eatery from restaurateur Billy Lawless, lives up to the legacy of its namesake, Louis Henri Sullivan. The attention to detail is impeccable, from the bus boys ironing the table linens in situ prior to laying out the flatware to the room temperature butter served to accompany perfectly crisp, individually-sized baguettes. Such scrupulous care seems more impressive in the dining room's beautifully appointed space, which features elaborate crown moldings reproduced from Sullivan's originals, deep chocolate-colored velvet walls and striking seafoam green accents.When it comes to service, however, the attention to detail begins to falter. Timing seems to be Henri's biggest problem. Dirty dishes lingered on the table long after each course had been completed and the lulls between courses became maddening at times.
In the same vein, Henri's inconsistencies play out in its food. The meal starts strong with an array of appetizers. The pheasant consommé, though overly salty, featured an intriguing garnish of red grapes that surprised the palate and played harmoniously with the poultry. The pissaladière held the most promise, but fell flat with its chewy, insufficiently rendered (albeit house-cured) bacon. Instead, the tender escargot emerged as one of the favorites.
The entrée course brought a similarly uneven range of dishes. A game special of venison was dry, but the accompanying cocoa nib and pomegranate garnishes were on-point. The veal chop was well-seasoned, but it arrived rather undercooked despite a request for medium doneness. Buckwheat crepes featuring a mushroom filling felt like an afterthought, designed to mollify vegetarian diners. Oddly, the most delicious item to grace the table was a garnish — the duck confit, wrapped in an herbaceous pastry crust, was designed to complement the seared duck breast, but instead overshadowed it.
If you still have an appetite for dessert, the almond financier stands out for its authentic nut flavor — none of the abhorrent artificial almond flavor that dominates so many almond-themed desserts was detected.
The atmosphere alone at Henri would be perfect for impressing an important business client, but you would do well to request a four-person table if you wish your conversation to remain private. Be sure you come for dinner when you don't have to make it to the office for any afternoon meetings.
Visit Henri at 18 S. Michigan Ave., or henrichicago.com.