Someone take the salt away from the chefs at Bellemore. That was the inescapable conclusion after a 4 course dinner and drinks evening there recently: salt, salt everywhere and not a hint of sweet.
Bellemore is the brainchild of Jimmy Papadopoulos, once the head chef at Sam & Harry’s in Schaumburg, then the opening chef at recently-shuttered (and Michelin-recognized) Bohemian House in River North. After a tasting demonstration for the Boka Group, Papadopoulos was offered the opportunity to partner with them and take the helm at Bellemore, which opened in late 2017. By all accounts, Bellemore is Papadopoulos’ personal culinary playground.
The restaurant itself is pretty and highly unique — a fingerprint of the chef’s personality not found in most establishments — and yet also odd and unusual. Cold marble, warm woods, and scene lighting tend to mix well. But odd decor and off-putting (slightly unsettling) murals of wide-eyed owls serve as distracting counter points. The highlight of the restaurant is bar area and kitchen: the bar is sleek yet cozy, and the open kitchen is surrounded by books and trinkets that lend it a homey edge among the stronger elements.
The food, however, follows the disjointed nature of the decor. The fall salad starter, with red endives, port-marinated pears, gorgonzola cheese, toasted walnuts, ground cherries, and seeded rye, was wonderfully presented and expertly crafted. The dish fit well with the description and felt like it belonged to the early and unseasonably warm October evening it was served. But the salt in it was noticeable in every bite, save for the pears.
The next dish was the standout of the evening. The spaghetti chitarra with Maine lobster, garlic, parsley, lemon, and mint was almost more of a chowder than a pasta, in the best possible way. Garlicky cream with a lobster base worked well with larger lobster bits sprinkled into the pasta, and the portion size worked well either to split (which I did), or to eat as an entree for yourself. The bowl it came in was oddly large which made the pasta look minuscule, but digging into it confirmed it belongs in the mains section. The spaghetti chitarra was the only dish — including dessert — that did not go overboard with sodium.
Lastly, the 40-day dry aged Angus strip steak with short rib, veal sweetbreads, turnip, carrot, and potato puree was good. It was not great, and it was not terrible, but as the second most expensive item on the menu ($44) it did not live up to the price. The steak was good (and perfectly cooked), the short rib was a nice addition in the middle of the dish, the sweetbreads were as crispy as advertised, and the potato puree was as Midwestern as it gets. But nothing in the dish stood out, and it felt more like standard New American fare than anything special. And of course, as with the other plates, the salt was extremely forward.
Dessert consisted of grapefruit sorbet, which was refreshing. The sorbet was accompanied with salty tapioca which added an odd savory element to an otherwise great dessert.
Do you notice a theme here? To paraphrase Coleridge: Salt, salt everywhere and how the dish did stink. Salt, salt everywhere and not a hint of sweet. Indeed, the most frustrating part of Bellemore was how every dish — every single one — was so salt-forward that it hijacked the other components on the plate. Once the salt was noticed, and it was noticed early, it became impossible to overlook. And the disappointing thing is that the plates would have been much, much better with even one less pinch of salt. Unfortunately, they all fell just on the other side of that line.
Bellemore describes itself as “New American Classic,” a simple but meaningless phrase that betrays the disjointed nature of everything going on inside. Odd, off-putting decor and sodium heavy dishes did not make up for the wonderful (truly) presentations or excellent service. If by “New American Classic” Bellemore means “Staple Fine Dining,” they have found their sweet spot. But if they are trying to be as intriguing, inventive, and inviting as they claim to be they have a long way to go.
Left to right: The bar (photo via Bellemore), angus strip steak, fall salad.
Stars: Two (out of four)
Price: $$$ (out of four)
Style: New American
Atmosphere: Cold with warm undertones, open, odd
564 W. Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60661
Star guide: one - poor, not worth time or money; two - mediocre, worth a visit on occasion; three - very good yet with issues; four - exceptional quality
Price guide: $ - cheap; $$ - affordable; $$$ - special occasion; $$$$ - rare opportunity