Each year, Chicago restaurants participate in Restaurant Week wherein participants offer a fixed-price tasting menu of signature dishes to entice the Chicago-land area to try something new. COD’s very own Waterleaf offered up a menu in the spirit of the Chicago tradition, and as such I gladly went to taste – for the first time – what that kitchen is up to. I should preface this review by explaining that through the years I have become a total foodie, exploring Chicago’s restaurant world one reservation at a time, gradually obsessing over celebrity chefs, logging an innumerable hours of food television and even traveling to Las Vegas and New Orleans to taste some of the industry’s best. I had heard about the fine dining aspect of the college’s on-campus restaurant and found the Restaurant Week Menu the perfect opportunity to try some of Waterleaf’s fare.
I arrived on the last day of the $30 fix-price menu, excited to give this a try, especially given the menu had an overhaul in December with the arrival of new Executive Chef, Nadia Eilkian. Kevin, my warm and eager server, brought out a one bite, palate kick-starter (amuse-bouche) of Coppa ham and cranberry relish on buttered toast; a classic salty-sweet combination.
The first course was a potato leek soup with dill butter and crostini. The soup’s consistency was thin, but velvety; the melted dill butter added a needed punch of flavor. A nice flavor layering effect made the dish a strong opening course.
The main entrée came to my table perfectly on time, as I finished the soup course. I chose the Osso Bucco (braised veal shank) with potato puree and mirepoix. I hoped this dish would be tender and satisfying and it delivered on the latter. By the end of this course I was quite full as the portion size was gratuitous! Granted the veal was perfectly cooked, it lacked seasoning for my taste. The mirepoix treatment was traditional: the onions, celery and carrots were cooked nicely and still had a nice bite to them, a welcome texture to an otherwise soft meal.
Dessert offered a tasting of three homemade sorbets, the yummiest of which had to be the white peach flavor. Combined with the raspberry coulis it lay upon, the flavor was bold and clean. Next was a champagne flavor, which showcased an expert hand in its consistency but was sadly tasteless. The last of the trio was the least successful: a pear, red wine flavor. Thankfully I tried this one last because it overpowered my palate and left anything after it tasting of cinnamon and clove. The initial bite was of a bold red wine flavor, however when the icy solid began to melt, the spices lingered, making me feel like I just got a mouthful of sand. The dessert course was successful in taking away the heaviness felt after the soup and main. Sorbet is always a clean, crisp finish to a meal.
I left Waterleaf feeling as if I did have a decent meal, just not an inspired one. There was nothing surprising or interesting about the flavor combinations. It was a traditional meal that was lacking in creativity, but satisfying nonetheless. The rustic and dense veal dish served well as an introduction to a menu offering comfort food, which is fine for most, but I enjoy more of fresh approach – an edge – to my food. Perhaps if I had chosen the pan-roasted sturgeon I would feel differently. I can tell you that I do want to return to try the chef’s strawberry cast-iron pancake – that sounds like a delicious, fluffy party.