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“Fall” into Room 21
I think I’m in love with Fred Ramos. OK, maybe not love, but a really serious infatuation.
Last week I went to Room 21 to check out their new fall menu. I hadn’t eaten there before, but I had heard sketchy reviews saying their first chef had been a bit overwhelmed by the size of the place. He left amicably, and was quickly replaced with Mr. Ramos, whose resume includes the acclaimed Printer’s Row. Since it was my first dining experience (I’d been in the gorgeous garden a couple of times) I didn’t have anything to compare it to. As far as Room 21 went, I was a blank wall, so to speak.
I’d invited a friend to check it out with me. We purposely arrived early for the reservation so I could sit at the bar first. I asked the bartender what the house specialty was, and he poured me a “Sex in the South Loop”. Of course.
Once we were ready, the hostess seated us near the kitchen and next to a wall. I was afraid our location would be loud and our table would be small. I was wrong. In fact, we were impressed with the acoustics of the room, as well as the choices for the background music. Even though there were several people in the restaurant, we didn’t need to shout to have a conversation.
Although we’d both been anticipating the Prime Kansas City Strip all day, we elected the tasting menu. I was there, after all, to check out the new items.
They started us off with a charcuterie plate which included duck prosciutto and fennel salami. It was great, but part of me was wishing we’d ordered individually because I really wanted to try the steamed mussels with chorizo. For the next course we had two salads: beets with blueberries and walnuts and greens, and frisee with a dijon dressing and smithfield ham and cheddar. We both thought the latter was the best. The flavor was unexpected and very midwestern.
Then we had butternut squash ravioli with sage and cinnamon and butter. More midwestern goodness. At the time I thought it was almost sweet enough to be considered dessert, but later I would “squash” that thought. (Sorry – couldn’t resist)
After that he was served the seared scallops and beef short rib, and I received the pan seared salmon with white polenta cake and wild mushroom and truffle broth.
I took one bite and felt so sorry for my poor mother, who can’t eat salmon. He took one bite and I was afraid I was going to have to fight him to share. Halfway through we both reluctantly switched.
Our conversation had pretty much ceased at this point. We’d basically degenerated to onomatopoeia. In between courses we could come up with actual phrases, but when there was food in front of us we were limited to “mmm”, “wow”, “oh” and again, “mmm.”
By this time I’d eaten more than I usually do in a day, but I really didn’t care. Next was Filet Oscar for me, and Colorado lamb for him, although we switched again halfway through. We both agreed the lamb was better. I was impressed with both the crab and the Bearnaise on the Oscar. The crab actually seemed fresh, not canned, and the Bearnaise was definitely not from a powder base. But the filet was a bit stringy. The lamb, however, was excellent. It was flavorful without being gamey and was fork tender, and the Yukon Gold mashed potatoes were sweet and creamy.
I was full; he was full. Did that stop us from getting a cheese course? Heck no! For one thing, I was on a cheese theme last week. Mr. Ramos himself discussed the offerings with us. We had a Sardinian sheep’s milk (Marq’s favorite) and a buffalo mozzarella imported from Italy. My favorite was the tangy creamy Wisconsin bleu. They were served with candied walnuts and sliced Asian pear.
At this point we’d commented on how wonderful everything was, and how each course seemed to surpass the next. And then came dessert. A trio of temptation. Except all I can really remember is the hazelnut creme brulee.
Holy schmoly. I took one bite and my eyes rolled back into my head and my toes curled. Forget the silly martini. THIS was “Sex in the South Loop.”
Room 21’s decor is Jerry Kleiner-over-the-top, and too much has been written about it for me to contribute anything new. For me, the ultimate testament to Fred Ramos’ menu is that I had to force myself to observe the decor. Additionally, whenever I eat out I notice the experiences other diners are having, but that night I was so wrapped up in what was right in front of me I had to remind myself to look around.
Obviously the service was good. I’m picky enough about it that it would have been a distraction if there were issues. Instead, everyone was attentive and complementary to the experience.
Enough distractions. I need to get back to contemplating my new love, hazelnut creme brulee, I mean Fred Ramos, I mean hazelnut……
2210 S Wabash