Friday afternoon found Keith and me in almost the same place as the night before, but instead of being at 615 West Randolph, we were at 619. And instead of sitting inside Avec‘s slick wood-paneled walls, we sat by Blackbird‘s sleek floor-to-ceiling glass window overlooking the street.
Blackbird is owned and operated by the same team behind Avec, but the parallels between the two restaurants mainly end there. Both spots share an attention to detail, but it’s clear even from the sidewalk that Blackbird is Avec’s more sophisticated older sister. While Avec is all edgy hard angles, Blackbird’s interior could only be described as, well, sexy. It’s almost as if each surface craves human contact, particularly the soft gray banquettes.
Sexy or not, lunch is definitely the more economical way to experience Blackbird, where the dinner entrées average out at $32.50; the restaurant offers two different prix fixe menus alongside its à la carte choices. You can select three courses from a set menu for $22.00, or spend $15.00 on a sandwich and a salad; for an additional five dollars, you can even get a glass of Blackbird’s featured wine.
Regardless of the special lunch deals, I ordered off of the regular lunch menu, mostly because one of the appetizers sounded too good to pass up: duck tartare with dried strawberries, A1 and tater tots ($14.00).
First of all, isn’t this the prettiest plate? Second, a clarification: the A1 smears each encased dollops of strawberry preserves, and were dotted with crumbled up bits of dehydrated strawberries. It was not mixed with the tartare, which was probably the most surprising thing I’d eaten in a long time. The first bite I took brought Asian flavors to mind — mostly sesame, specifically — but after that all I could think about was its marvelous texture and delicate taste. In fact, I soon realized that I was sliding smaller and smaller amounts onto my fork, to make the tartare last that much longer. When my plate was scraped clean, I asked for more detail on the tartare, and learned this: the following parts of the duck are roasted at a low temperature for four hours, then bound together with a housemade mayonnaise — breast, skin, and heart. Now, eating heart didn’t and doesn’t bother me at all, but I did say to Keith that I found it interesting that this particular ingredient hadn’t been listed on the menu. Should it have been? Or is Keith right in saying that the sort of person who doesn’t mind eating a duck tartare probably wouldn’t mind eating heart?
But back to my dish…
I should take a second to say that the tater tots were fantastic. Not too long ago, Keith and I ate at Cambridge’s Garden at the Cellar with our friend Melissa; the three of us discussed the restaurant’s tater tots. They’re like deep-friend balls of mashed potatoes, I had said, to which Keith had replied, Isn’t that what all tater tots are? Melissa and I tried to explain that sometimes tater tots are made of shredded potato, which is exactly how Blackbird makes theirs. Crunchily, saltily, perfectly so.
For my main, I chose the croque-madame, a grilled ham and Fontina sandwich topped with a fried egg and served alongside a substantial pile of pommes frites ($11.00). I’m always so torn as to what to do with the egg on a croque-madame; I don’t know if it’s “proper” to break the yolk and let it soak messily into the toast, but that’s how I like it. While the sandwich itself was very nice indeed, I almost felt sorry for it, as it had to follow as incredible an opening number as the tartare. Personally I’m very familiar with having to play second fiddle, so in that regard I’m sympathetic to the croque-madame, charming as she is, but at the same time I don’t know if anything on the menu could compare to my starter, I really don’t.
There’s a thoroughness at Blackbird that’s lovely to behold; Keith had a gorgeous little baby spinach salad with morels and white asparagus ($12.00) that was so beautifully composed that I wish I had a photograph of it to share with you. Since I haven’t, I’ll just hope that those of you who can do drop by Blackbird. Take advantage of the lunch menu, and pretend I’m there with you, praising each plate set in front of us.
619 West Randolph Street
Chicago, Illinois 60661