New Space, No Problem: Entente is Exceptional
What do you think of when you hear the word “Entente”? To me, it sounds like the name of a friendly dance between partners; in reality, the word means “a diplomatic understanding.” In the restaurant world, it means “exceptional cuisine.”
Entente the restaurant recently moved from a barren stretch of road in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood to a sleepy corner in River North a few weeks ago. The restaurant said it wanted more foot traffic, more business, and a bigger canvas for chef Brian Fisher to work in. The latter point is certainly on display, with the former two much more in doubt.
My dining companions and I arrived for dinner an hour into service time (6:00) and found… a completely empty restaurant, complete with music, too much staff, and a palpable excitement for the evening’s first guests. Entente remained mostly empty until about 7:00, which is either an indicator that its new location won’t solve the foot traffic issues, or simply that an early Monday night dinner will be dead anywhere.
But beyond the awkward nature of an empty space Entente shines, and is a destination in its own right. Background music included select hits from Chance the Rapper and the popular YouTube series Binging with Babish, and the decor is largely the same as the former space (disclosure: I did not dine at the original Entente). The tables have simple, jet-black tops that are inconspicuous at first but serve as an excellent canvas for the meal to come.
As we looked over our menus, our server explained that Entente really has two menus: the one we were holding in front of us, and a “secret menu” of sorts that did not overlap with the written one. The secret menu contains 8 different and unique dishes and courses. Further, we wouldn’t be told what was on the secret menu unless we ordered it, and even then we would only learn as the courses were delivered. We ordered from the published menu.
Bread service was a given, and although it wasn’t necessarily baked to impress, the butter it came with is certainly notable to mention here. We ordered an additional eight courses: Liver, Anson Mills Carolina Gold, Berkshire Pork, Slagel Farms Shortrib, Long Island Duck, Humboldt Fog, Chocolate, and Thai Iced Tea. To say Entente impressed would be a horrible understatement; to say that it shined wouldn’t do it justice. Entente threw the culinary equivalent of a perfect game.
The Liver was seasoned like an Old Fashioned cocktail (their words, not mine), and contained Angostura, rye, and orange nibs. It was not, thankfully, uncannily like the cocktail, which tends to backfire. But it did have wonderful Old Fashioned undertones that complimented the smokey flavor of the liver itself.
The Anson Mills Carolina Gold was essentially an upscale risotto dish. Three (very rich) egg yolks, cheese, and shaved truffles sat atop the rice, and we were instructed to mix everything together; the result was a risotto that felt more like oats than rice, and is should not be missed. Next was the Berkshire pork, which although not immediately clear, was presented as a “breakfast for dinner” dish with sausage pucks, potatoes, blueberries, and an egg yolk wrapped in a puff pastry.
The meal really hit its stride with the second half of dishes: the shortrib, duck, and the desserts. The shortrib was served with more traditional Asian flavors and was incredibly, buttery soft. Serving it with chopsticks was a bold move (especially considering the chopsticks were set well before we knew what to expect), but Entente pulled it off. Finally, to cap off the entrees, was the Long Island Duck. The duck itself was straightforward (crispy skin, surprisingly undercooked meat), but it came with a pho consomme on the side that had deep, developed flavors that paired well with the plate. On the plate were also two spring rolls that, despite their traditional appearance and base flavors, came with a kick of mint that underscored their freshness and expert preparation. The duck ultimately may have been the best dish of the night, if not for coming out slightly on the underdone side.
All three desserts were excellent and worth ordering, but I will highlight two in particular that stood out. The Humboldt Fog with figs, caviar and goat cheese ice cream was spectacular. The ice cream was quite literally a dairy-goat cheese mashup that was intense and creamy; I would buy a pint if it was commercially available. Lastly, the Thai Iced Tea stood out both for its uniqueness (who in Chicago is making a dessert like that?) and its execution: pucks of iced tea flavored ice cream buried under Dippin’ Dots-like vanilla balls. Imagine taking bubble tea and making a dessert out of it, because that is exactly what Entente did.
Entente is one of a rare breed of restaurants in Chicago. It knows exactly what it is, what it wants to be, and how it wants to get there. The restaurant already has one Michelin star for its efforts. Do not be surprised if it earns another sooner rather than later.
Left to right: Berkshire Pork, Thai Iced Tea, Chocolate, Humboldt Fog, Long Island Duck, Anson Mills Carolina Gold, Liver
Stars: Four (out of four)
Price: $$$ (out of four)
Style: New American, Midwest, contemporary
Atmosphere: Industrial, soft, refined
700 N. Sedgwick Street
Chicago, IL 60654
Star guide: one - poor, not worth time or money; two - mediocre, worth a visit on occasion; three - very good yet with issues; four - exceptional quality
Price guide: $ - cheap; $$ - affordable; $$$ - special occasion; $$$$ - rare opportunity