Thursday, October 11, 2007

Spring (in Fall)

Since I was a very bad food blogger and neglected to take my camera with me to my lovely birthday dinner at the cozy La Petite Folie by school in Hyde Park on Friday, this is my very first restaurant post (!). A partner from the Firm I worked at this past summer was in town giving a lecture at the Law School. As a result, those of us that had worked there last summer were treated to a very nice meal at Spring on North Ave just west of Milwaukee. A few others from the class the partner had taught joined us, so we were seated in the front room of the restaurant and ordered off of the restaurant's private party menu. The restaurant itself has a very warm feel - the space used to house a Turkish bathhouse, and there is water and steam damage on the walls paying homage to this past. The restaurant is slightly subterranean, which is only an issue from this front room, since from there, if you are easily distracted (as I tend to be), you have to deal with the glares of passers-by as they look down from the street and into your plate. The Blue Line El stops about half a block away, but I heard it rumbling by only once during my two and a half hour meal. The service was friendly and accommodating. One in our party had a severe fish allergy, and the kitchen adapted several of the dishes accordingly. When I called with a couple of questions about the menu, they were answered happily.

Spring's website describes their cuisine as "New American with a strong Asian influence." The menu changes seasonally. Chef Shawn McClain was the named the 2006 James Beard Award Best Chef Midwest, so I went in expecting great things. For the most part, I was not disappointed.

The meal started with a rather good, if uninventive, amuse bouche: a tuna spring roll with a spicy chili sauce:

I could taste each individual component, and they all tasted fresh. The chili sauce did not overwhelm the freshness of the flavors, since its spiciness hit at the very end of the bite.

Next was a Lemongrass-Coconut Soup with Cellophane Noodles, Thai Chili and Kaffir Lime:

I enjoyed this very much, despite the fact that I tend to shy away from creamy soups. I really enjoy Thai coconut curries, and this reminded me very much of one of those, since coconut milk has a very strong taste and texture and tends to dominate any dish in which it is a major ingredient. The cellophane noodles were impossible to catch with my spoon (and my fork), and chopsticks would have been greatly appreciated. I found their absence rather odd; since the restaurant has prominent Asian influences throughout their food, I thought that the option of chopsticks would have at least been presented to me. There was a spicy undercurrent in the soup from the Thai chili, but it was softened by the coconut. I didn't really pick up much of a citrus taste though; some increased acidity might have been a nice way to balance out the creaminess from the soup. Overall though, I did enjoy it, though the portion was far too large - if I had finished that bowl, I would not have stood a chance against the cod.

Oh, the Cod. It was Black Cod with Parmesan-Potato Gnocchi, Maine Lobster Curry and Corainder Pesto:

The cod was seared to perfection. The pieces slid off without effort and the fish was incredibly moist. The cod yearned for chopsticks, each piece falling off the whole in a perfectly portioned bite, and it felt a little cruel to stick my fork into it. It was incredibly delicate - much more deserving of a gentle, painless journey into my mouth. The gnocchi was very good, not heavy in the least.

The meal ended with an Autumn Raspberry Sorbet with Chilled Jasmine Tea, Black Mission Figs and Citrus Almond Biscotti

This was my least favorite dish of the evening. The jasmine tea was poured on top of the sorbet, figs and biscotti tableside, and I think the taste of the jasmine was what threw me off a bit. It was good, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't great. The jasmine tea made the biscotti pretty soggy, and I made the mistake of saving them for last. The crumbled pieces of biscotti held their texture nicely though, and I enjoyed the crunch paired with the sorbet.

The other dessert option was a Chocolate Mousse Cake with Olive Oil Ice Milk. I'm not a huge chocolate person, but I was quite intrigued by the olive oil ice milk. I have heard people rave about the olive oil gelato at Otto in New York, and I figured this had to be pretty close. I loved it. The nuttiness of the olive oil came right through and the temperature of the ice milk allowed it to echo nicely once it was gone.

After dessert I ordered Green Tea, which had a potent jasmine fragrance and was quite delicious. I think it was jasmine at least- it reminded me greatly of what was poured over my sorbet. I didn't account for how heavily caffeinated the tea was, and I paid for that the rest of the night.

I don't know if my experience would have changed had I been the one footing the bill, and not the Firm. I might have been a bit more critical if I knew what each item cost. Since it was a private party menu though, the prices were not disclosed. What I do know however, is that I would gladly return to Spring for an opportunity to peruse the entire menu. I might opt for the salad with spicy popcorn to start, or lose dessert completely for a second appetizer. Either way, I'll be back.

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