That chef Paul Kahan is a titan in the Chicago dining scene is nothing new. Neither is the $25 prix fixe lunch he offers at Blackbird every weekday from 11:30am-2pm. So why is it every time I go it isn’t packed? Dry-aged beef tartare appetizer, duck confit entree, and orange blossom ricotta dessert with chai tea ice cream at a Michelin-starred restaurant for $25? There should be a line out the door.
—Nicholas Photinos, cellist, eighth blackbird (Music 45)
Best of Chicago 2015
Not usually in the fine-dining repertoire but more in the realm of unusual cold cuts that remind us of that van scene in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” head cheese is actually pretty damn good if prepared properly. Count on Blackbird and Avec owner Paul Kahan to serve up some delicious mystery meat at his latest critically acclaimed hot spot, The Publican. Served as a part of the charcuterie plate alongside pork pie, country terrine, Morteau sausage, pickles and mustards, the thinly sliced creation tastes smooth and smoky, nicely complemented by a piece of grilled artisan bread.
845 West Fulton Market
Best of Chicago 2009
Curtis Duffy, Avenues
Technically, Duffy has been at the helm since mid-2008, but his brand of naturalistic, organic-looking (his plates look like dioramas of forest scenes), restrained molecular gastronomy didn’t really hit its laser-sharp groove until this year. Duffy’s food is the perfect introduction for the Blackbird or Chez Panisse disciple who wants to dip a toe in the contemporary food movement.
108 East Superior
Elaina Vazquez of Boutique Bites Catering, boutiquebites.com
Best of Chicago 2009
Audiophile Chef Paul Kahan blew the décor budget on personal high-end stereo equipment and a hot crate of rare vinyl; They wanted to make sure Alderman Joe Moore had no plans to urge a city council legislative ban of pork products; In an effort to keep it real, INS refused to issue work visas to the proposed team of Belgian monks the restaurant team hoped to lock in the basement of Blackbird to make the house beer.
Best of Chicago 2008
Featuring a runny, poached duck egg shrouded in curry-perfumed hollandaise nested on a bed of sweet, spiced braised greens with a side of sherry and mustard-cured pork belly, C-House’s single best dish is basically what you’d get if an Eggs Benedict had a head-on collision with a soul-food buffet.
166 E. Superior
619 W. Randolph
Best of Chicago 2008
Haven’t these stories been written again and again since the 1970s? The institutional memory of magazines isn’t what it once was, or maybe all the editors who knew what kind of palate this city has have retired or passed on to the Italian beef stand in the sky; a September Gourmet piece on prime taquerias came with a condescending note that Chicago food was finally coming into its own! (Tell Kamehachi at 40, Charlie Trotter’s at 20 and Blackbird at 11.) Savorier is Saveur’s October issue, the first devoted entirely to a single city: Chicago’s grand “gustatory landscape.” Along with the foodie slick’s customary drool-inducing photography, the magazine’s a treat of neat pieces, starting with a sweet, short bio of Rich Melman, who’s been partnered in 130 restaurants in 65 years, written by former Playboy editor Jonathan Black. “We’re restaurateurs,” Melman says, “Not brain surgeons.” And how long has Melman not been doing brain surgery? Thirty-six years. All the news that’s fit to eat! Peter Sagal confesses to being part of Chicago’s foie gras underground; but why go on? The issue’s only five bucks: the plumpest amuse-bouche of the month.
Best of Chicago 2007
With its austere interior, you may think as you look into Blackbird from the sidewalk on Randolph Street: Theater. You may think: pretentious. But when the room fills with diners and your table fills with plates of chef Paul Kahan’s precise, aromatic American cuisine, you will think: Ummmmmmm. The Zen worked on your palate comes at a reasonable price as well, unlike all too many of Chicago’s most honored and/or hyped eateries.
619 West Randolph (312)715-0708
Best of Chicago 2002