Chicago Underground Dining: One Sister Underground

Sunday, January 23, 2011

For Steve's birthday this year I really wanted to think outside the box and incorporate a surprise or two, partly because I wanted to earn awesome wife points this year and mostly because he is awesome and deserves fun surprises. I've been following the underground dining scene in Chicago for awhile now, and really wanted to take part in one of these dinners.

Many of the dining clubs are super duper secret, and somewhat unapproachable. I get it, they want to maintain this elite, secretive vibe. Then I happened across One Sister Inc. Chef Iliana Regan holds underground dinners in her home, and when I emailed her to see about doing a dinner for Steve's birthday, she was all about it. I quickly got three other couples on board and we were all set for our private dinner for last Friday. All I knew was that we would be served 13 courses and we needed to bring a lot of wine!

Surprises were the theme of the evening: I had pulled off surprising Steve with an underground dining experience with a group of close friends to enjoy the dinner with us and the entire menu was a complete surprise - each and every course was playful, exciting and beautifully prepared and presented.

Let's get on to the food, shall we? (thank you to Rob for taking pictures throughout the evening!)

Course 1: Flavors of Hendricks Gin: pine, cucumber, rosewater

Think gin and bubble tea. Light, refreshing and a fun way to start.

Course 2: Blue Point Oyster: horseradish, sake, banana

Oysters make me nervous, as I've only had them once and the texture freaks me out. This oyster was amazing; all of the flavors balanced each other out, and the crispy (and delicious!) banana chip on top was a perfectly edible utensil for scooping that baby into your mouth. Love.

Course 3: Fancy Pierogi: white truffle, mascarpone, Yukon gold potato

Chef Regan makes pierogis and sells them at farmer's markets and stores around the city. If you happen across her pierogis, BUY THEM. This pierogi was hands down amazing and I would have eaten a whole, huge bowl of them if given the opportunity.

Course 4: Gumbo: smoked octopus, andouille shrimp sausage, necessary accompaniments

A deconstructed gumbo. This picture was taken before the chef poured a tasty, hot broth into the bowl. What is that cylinder, you ask? Frozen tomato water. As soon as the broth hit the bowl, the cylinder broke apart and was an icy compliment to the dish. Don't even get me started on the andouille shrimp sausage...yum.

Course 5: Pot Du Feu: winter veggies

Veggies included a purple potato, a carrot, a radish and another potato. In the center was a spaghetti squash basket with a scoop of carrot ice cream. That was definitely the star of the plate.

Course 6: Surf and Turf: scallop, duck, curry

As we sat in the dining room, I could smell the scallops and I got happy. After we were served I learned about the happy combination of scallops and duck jerky. And right in the middle of the plate was a tomato marmalade. Since I finally love tomatoes (only took 28 years for that to happen), I was all over the marmalade!

Course 7: Mad Hatter's Tea Party/Mcok Turtle Soup: foraged mushrooms, pecan, cocao, chamomile

We were served delicate little cups and saucers (not pictured) that were filled with a rich mushroom tea. I hate mushrooms and tea, but this tea was more of a rich broth and the mushroom flavor was warm and welcoming.

After the tea, we were served a mushroom gelee with coco and a mushroom ice cream sandwiched between little pecan shortbreads. Never in my life would I think I would enjoy a mushroom course this much! Maybe I'll start eating mushrooms in 2011?!

Course 8: Ice Cream Cone: bacon, black pepper, Koval whiskey

Unlike other bacon desserts where the bacon overwhelms everything, this bacon ice cream was subtle and was complemented nicely by the Koval whiskey caramel. The black better cone was a nice, savory addition.

Course 9: Lamb Tartare: almonds, egg yolk

So far in this dinner, I had been served two things that I do not eat - oysters and mushrooms. Tartare is yet another on the "no" list for me. I didn't even think twice while devouring this dish. I had no clue that tartare could be so, well, tasty. The tartare was topped with almond pink pepper gnocchi. Perfect.

Course 10: Red Wine Short Ribs and 19th Century: black trumpet blood pudding, mushrooms, grapes, truffle marshmallow

One of the favorite dishes at the table. The short rib was perfect, I think the blood pudding was just as good (something else I'd never had), and yes, you red correctly - truffle marshmallow. Heaven on a plate!

Course 12: Nachos

Tasty little bite - tortilla puff with an aged cheddar and jalapeno foam. I could have eaten many, many more of these.

Course 13: Gobstopper: peanut butter and jelly

At the end of the dinner, I think the gobstopper was the most talked about course. I don't even know how to describe it...a peanut butter shell, a bread layer underneath, and a concord grape filling.

Here's a shot of the inside to give you a better idea. But really, you just need to hit up one of these dinners and hope that you're lucky enough to be served a gobstopper of your own!

Lucky Number 13: Earth: beets, chocolate, dandelion

These beets were paired with a dandelion custard and a chocolate sauce. I struggle with beets because they definitely are the epitome of "earth." Steve loves them, so as soon as I saw this dish come out, I knew he'd be thrilled. I finished every last bite of this dessert, but beets are still on my "not sure what to think about you" list.

There were so many things I loved about this was fine dining but still very approachable. The dinner wasn't as protein heavy as other tasting menus I've done, which means you didn't walk away from 13 courses feeling overwhelmingly full. We had a friend with us who could not have gluten and Chef Regan modified courses for her as needed. And finally, it was a fun, exciting and personal dining experience that you can't get anywhere else.

All I need is another excuse to go back "underground" and experience Chef Regan's exquisite food!


melinda said...

Totally intrigued by this! Now I'm wondering if any of the foodies have founded these in Durham . .. off to google it!

MayLove said...

The food is so TINY! Were you full by the end?

Laura said...

Melinda, if you find an underground dinner by you, DO IT! So fun :)

@MayLove: with tasting menus the portions are generally smaller because otherwise you'd be stuffed halfway through. With 13 courses I was pleasantly full after this dinner! However, I have done tasting menus where they are so protein heavy and rich that you feel really stuffed. This dinner was just perfect.

BigAppleNosh said...

OMG This sounds AMAZING!!! I would love to do something like this!

Katie said...

Ohhhh my gosh!

1- what an awesome surprise for Steve - you definitely are an awesome wife! 100 points for you!

2- everything on the menu looks so gorgeous, and so unique! I want one of those nachos...mmmm

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