Sunday, July 18, 2010

My Dinner at Chataigne

The saying basically goes that eating a meal at a culinary school’s café is like getting a free haircut from the students at the local beauty school.  I want to be offended by that comment (I mean, c’mon!  This is the last ‘class’ taught before our externship… we oughtta be better than that by now!).  But if my dinner at Chataigne was any indication, I’m gonna have a pretty tough time with that argument.

Chataigne, which means, um, a sweet chestnut (?!), is the student-run café here at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago.  They’re open for breakfast from 8am to 9am, lunch is from noon to 1pm, and dinner service starts between 7:30pm and 8pm.  I’m stuck working the dreaded day job, so I take classes at night, which leaves me no time whatsoever to sample the school’s restaurant.  Luckily, both our evening instructors (one for Hospitality Management and the other for Psych) are fans of the idea of taking their students to the café for ‘class.’  Our psyche instructor met us there at 7:30 last Thursday evening for dinner.

We were impressed with the ambience and the service, although the food delivery itself was quite slow.  Our five-course meal took a bit over an hour and a half to finish.  Since there was only one other group in the restaurant that evening, bringing the total patrons to around twenty, it shouldn’t have taken that long.

We were started off with an amuse bouche of a duck breast canapé, coated in sweet onions and draped across a crostini.  The onions were cloyingly sweet and made the whole thing rather heavy-handed.  The fact that the crostini was hard as a brick didn’t help.  Next came an under-seasoned chilled potato and roasted garlic soup.  The soup had potential, but being chilled meant they needed to be pretty liberal with the seasoning, and it just didn’t quite come together.

The second course, though, was the star of the show as far as we were concerned.  Below is the ricotta salata and summer squash strudel with tomato coulis (forgive the nastiness of the pics, I was using a cheap camera phone in a pretty dim restaurant!).

The combination of sweet, almost tart ricotta salata, savory summer squash and tangy tomato coulis was a knockout.  This is one we could’ve certainly had second helpings of.  Third course was a mixed green salad with bacon and apple.

The combination of flavors was good, and the vinaigrette was perfect.  This set the stage for our main course, which was a choice between spice-rubbed pork tenderloin with eggplant jam, pommes anna and carrot puree, or sautéed sablefish with an herb salsa verde and panzanella salad.

I wanted to try them both, but settled on the pork tenderloin, which I thought was a little overdone.  The eggplant jam and carrot puree were both decent accompaniments, though the pommes anna was a bit on the mild side.  Overall the dish was solid enough.  The folks who had the sablefish said it was good, not over- or under-done.  But they were tré disappointed in the panzanella salad.  I took a bite: it was like a weak, flavorless salsa mixed with soggy bread cubes.

Our last course was a choice of desserts, and I had the coconut rice pudding with a raspberry coulis.  Good thing that coulis was there ‘cause the rice pudding, I’m afraid, left an awful lot to be desired.

Would we go there again?  Absolutely, and not just because it was “free” (there’s a “suggested donation” for students of the school).  From what we’re told, the menu changes all the time as the students are experimenting with different styles of cuisine.  We should get at least one more chance to go to Chataigne in the next couple of weeks when our other instructor plans on taking us, and maybe we’ll have to “miss” class one of these nights to try it out yet again.

Overall it was a decent experience, and as a student whose restaurant rotation starts about four months from now (Gasp!  Is it nearly that time already?), it was a good introduction to what will be expected of us down the road

Here is a link to the Urbanspoon restaurant review page:

Châtaigne on Urbanspoon

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