A former Schwa chef delivers audacious fine dining at Entente | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

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A former Schwa chef delivers audacious fine dining at Entente

Brian Fisher upends expectations in an unlikely spot: Lakeview.

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I approached Entente, a new "casual fine dining" restaurant from Arami owner Ty Fujimura, with a bit of trepidation. With a website featuring little more than an inscrutable, cursory menu, a reservation system that requires a credit card number, and $20-per-person penalty for no-shows, I worried it had a touch of the user-unfriendliness you might encounter trying to get a table at, say, Schwa. And that's not just because Fujimura's chef is Brian Fisher, a four-year veteran of that closet-size crucible of fuck-you fine dining. As my pals and I claimed our credit-secured four-top we looked around a restaurant empty but for a table occupied by Fujimura and his pals, laughing it up.

This is a quiet, unforgiving block for restaurants of ambition. Fujimura's Ani, kind of his Arami lite, held on here for two years. The proto-izakaya Chizakaya staggered along for a similar period of time. Neither one made ripples large enough to attract much outside attention. Foot traffic to and from the army-navy surplus and Scientology storefront doesn't pay the bills.

The gamble on Fisher, though, is promising. His a la carte menu, written in the three- and four-word ingredientese that's become the norm for restaurants wishing to project an air of clinical mystery, is tight enough that a group of a few stout eaters could tackle the whole thing as a kind of shared tasting menu. We sure did.

Pastry chef Mari Katsumura—daughter of the late namesake of Lakeview's Yoshi's Cafe and a veteran of Blackbird, Grace, and Acadia—starts things off with pair of bread courses, including a marvelously layered buttermilk biscuit, at once dense and impossibly flaky, a quenelle of piquillo-chile compound butter at the ready. Somewhat less remarkable Parker House rolls are meant to be the vehicle for pickles, mustard, and salted butter far funkier than the ribbons of country ham that come along for the ride. These would be just as well suited to dredging through the remains of courses to follow.

But first two salads upend the usual expectations for greenery of their kind. The "wedge" is a circular segment of iceberg more properly described as a bowl, its center filled with a deposit of cool, creamy green goddess dressing and its perimeter adorned with bacon, pungent Cambozola cheese, and dollops of concentrated tomato jam. The raw greens in the kale salad are tenderized with a sweet, sour, and spicy Thai-style vinaigrette to mitigate the joyless mastication usually required by them, tossed with crunchy tempura-fried ramen noodles, and mounted on a sheaf of grilled napa cabbage.

Meanwhile a generous dish of silky-smooth chicken liver is topped with a layer of Concord grape jelly dotted with squirts of pumpkin-seed butter; the overall effect when spread on slices of grilled sourdough is like an offal enthusiast's ideal PB&J.

Larger plates feature two dishes of extraordinary opulence. A nearly liquid risotto with Carolina Gold rice is punctuated with duck yolks like miniature suns set off against a creamy sky flecked with fungal black-truffle shavings. Fisher performs a comparable feat with white truffle, enriching a similarly sumptuous pile of fettuccine tossed with maitake mushrooms and crushed hazelnuts. These two plates haunt me more than any other I tried at Entente, if only because their clear potential for greatness is subverted by a palate-exhausting overuse of salt that even puts subsequent dishes at a disadvantage.

These days it takes some guts for a chef to put something as boring as a single chicken breast at the center of the plate, but Fisher somehow redeems this has-been, rendering the flesh silky and moist and its skin a crackly armor that begs to be ripped off and scarfed. The side of sausage, escarole, and flageolet beans is almost an afterthought. He performs similar wizardry on other familiar proteins. An agreeably gamy duck breast with juicy turnips and the nutty rhizomes known as crosnes gets a counterpunch from dabs of funky miso yogurt and blackberry hoisin sauce, while a roulade of crispy pork belly sits among deposits of granola and dabs of apple butter and celery root puree.

Katsumura's desserts are lovely to behold and restrained in terms of sweetness, allowing the complexity of supporting flavors to emerge. Soft cylinders of angel-food-like cheesecake play with floral lavender marshmallows; a disk of milky tres leches cake is scented with roasted green tea and given texture by crunchy poppy-seed sorghum; a sassafras profiterole is right at home with minty shiso and sour cherry.

Angie Silberberg's list of 40-some wines is devoted to minimally messed-with natural bottles, more than a dozen local beers, and cocktails such as Patty's Revenge, a sweet rummy concoction in a highball glass with a blast of bracing Branca Menta, or the What Are We Doing, with a bourbon base sent in a surprisingly effective tiki direction from tropical-flavored Red Bull. And don't sleep on the nonalcoholic house-made sodas with intriguing profiles like fig, shiitake-tarragon, and pistachio-rose-lime.

Fisher and Katsumura are performing audacious, compelling cooking of a sort that this awkward, ill-placed space hasn't seen in some time—if ever. Even if the neighborhood doesn't catch on, Entente deserves the embrace of a much wider audience.   v

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