On January 20, a fortunate group of Chicago foodies braved the frigid, snowy weather to attend the first Chef’s Table event of 2014. III Forks put together an extraordinary event, one that is sure to be remembered as one of the most awesome Chef’s Table events of the past several years.
This was the first time our Chef's Table event has returned to a venue, and it's for a very good reason. Our first Chef's Table at III Forks is one of the most talked-about events we've hosted. Now they've got a new chef, and we were thrilled to introduce his inspirational and creative dishes. Chef William "Billy" Caruso created a phenomenal selection that showcased his favorites. Not only was the food out of this world, but the drinks were paired to match the elevated cuisine. This event is sure to be talked about as much (or more) than the first.
Guests were greeted with a selection of creative craft cocktails including:
One of the most extraordinary components of the evening, however, was the wine pairing. They chose two intriguing French wines and allowed us to experiment with pairing both of them with the courses throughout the evening. The two premium vintages were a 1996 Domaine de Forges “Charmes-Chambertin” (Grand Cru France) for the red and a 1996 Domaine Gagnard-Delagrange “Morgeot” Chassagne Montrachet (1er Cru France) for the white – both wines that have aged spectacularly well and complimented the inventive cuisine. Speaking of cuisine, the evening’s star was clearly Chef Billy Caruso whose passion for food clearly shone forth in this superb menu.
We began the evening with a small starter of Wild Striped Bass Crudo (Toasted Cashews, Micro Ruby Radish, Muscat Grapes, Lemon Oil). This first course was light and refreshing, almost a way to cleanse the palate from the cocktails before diving into the more substantial courses. It paired extremely well with the Genever Fizz, but even better with the lovely and complex aged Chardonnay.
The second course was a curious, but ultimately superior combination - Coriander Cured Pork Belly & Crispy Baby Spanish Octopus with Papas Bravas and Mint Salsa Verde. Chef Billy Caruso explained the long but effective process of curing the pork belly for this one. His attention to detail clearly shines through, and the layered flavors of the pork were surprisingly perfect with the charred octopus. The mint salsa verde added another superb layer of flavor to augment this complex but enjoyable dish. Both the red and white wines worked well, and even the smoky mescal cocktail paired well with this one.
Chef Caruso followed this up with a “side” dish offering of Fried Brussels Sprouts (Duck Confit, Granny Smith Apple, Orange Rosemary Aioli) served “bar style” in a parchment paper cone (just as it will likely be served on III Forks’ inviting rooftop deck in the summer). One of my companions noted, “I hate Brussels sprouts . . . but I love these!” Either for a side or for a nice “bar bite” I highly recommend this dish. The aioli was lovely, but to be honest, the Brussels sprouts needed nothing more than that tasty duck confit. They were tender, juicy, and tremendously enjoyable – also an excellent pairing with the Chardonnay.
We next sampled the Seared Diver Scallop with Bourbon Bacon Jam and Radish Salad. The bacon jam would be worth ordering all on its own, but adding it to the scallop created an unbelievable flavor combination. As anyone who has read my reviews can attest, I am a fan of bacon in all forms. This was one of the most satisfying bacon preparations I have had in quite some time. The bourbon bacon jam with the rich scallops was almost decadent in its flavor. Both red and white wines, again, worked extremely well with this one.
Moving in the heartier fare for which III Forks has long been famous, we were treated to Honey Serrano Glazed Wild Boar Ribs. Originally, Chef Caruso was planning to serve a side with these but he (quite intelligently) opted to just serve each of us a rib alone. For many of us, this was our favorite moment of the evening - succulent, sweet but with a hint of heat, tender and remarkably tender. I have rarely seen so many people sucking the meat off of bones! Even the daintiest eater will finally just give in and pick these up to get every last morsel off the bone. They were that good!
More meat? Of course! The Strauss Lamb Lollipop with Pickled Red Onion Jam, Hooks Cheddar Potato Croquette came next. Hooks is a wonderful Wisconsin cheese, and the croquettes were an excellent accompaniment to the densely flavorful lamb. Someone at my table remarked that they generally don’t like lamb, but this changed their mind. Chef Caruso excels at his preparation of the various meats on the menu, and this lamb lollipop was tender, medium rare, and lightly seasoned so as to allow the flavor of the lamb to shine through. This was the first course that I felt was an absolutely perfect pairing with the aged Pinot Noir. In fact, the “perfect pairing” for me is one in which both the food and wine are elevated by the partnership. If you want to experience that, I highly suggest ordering this lamb and the 1996 Domaine de Forges “Charmes-Chambertin”.
We concluded this unbelievable feast with a sample of Charred Prime Rib Eye with King’s Butter (Black Truffle, Black Garlic, Foie Gras Compound Butter). The prime rib was fork-tender, juicy, prepared perfectly medium rare – and the combination of truffle, garlic, and foie gras is something that must be experienced to be believed. Amazing!
III Forks is located at 180 North Field Boulevard just north of the intersection of Upper Randolph and Field. You can contact them at (312) 938-4303, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit their website, follow them on Twitter, or like them on Facebook.
Chef's Table Events bring foodies together in an exclusive, intimate setting. Each restaurant we visit takes care to show off its best, and each experience is exquisite, unique and is an ideal way to explore Chicagoland's culinary scene without spending a fortune.
Photos by Donna Binbek Photography