That expensive new dress in my closet has been insisting I take it to Blackbird all summer. When I finally did it was in good company. Nearly everyone--overtired artist types, overfed business types--turned out in black or white, which look great against Blackbird's sleek gray interior, sort of the minimalist haute diner effect. There's no art at Blackbird, save for one big sticky painting. No art, that is, until you get serious about dinner. Then there's plenty to admire.
Salad of Endives
The potatoes are all crisped up in a neat round nest, the sort of thing a fastidious blackbird might construct. Once you crack it open, you've pretty much got a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and homefries, elevated to dinner status with a fig leaf of endive.
Summer Tomato Salad
Meaty rounds of ripe red tomato, thin slices of crunchy green tomato, little taste-bombs of yellow tomato tossed with mild, dense white anchovies. This tastes like summer, all its warmth and spice and mosquito bites.
Seared Pekin Duck Breast
Fabulously deep dark duck, accompanied by the velvety indulgence of foie gras and rich nutty little lentils. No need, it seemed to me, for the grilled peach foil.
Romaine and Watercress
Caesar by another name, though a good one, and cleverly decorated with non-headache inducing brioche croutons.
Main Lobster Salad
Hard to beat a combo of beets and lobster, though just a little over-boiled and under-flavored. I can do without gelee anything. Goo, even if flecked with tarragon, remains goo.
Wood Grilled Breast of Capon
Big moist white slices fanned against a backdrop of caramel-toasty mushrooms, plump sweet peas, and pedestrian potatoes, all drizzled with vividly green and stunningly robust garlic/dill oil.
Tender tender tender, accompanied by beautifully glazed and dazed potatoes.
"Short Stack" of Corn Pancakes
"Too vegetarian" confided Eduard, waiter, sommelier, and part-owner. We took his advice and abstained.
Veal Osso Buco
I strictly avoid osso buco, with it's lump-o-calf, one-bone-can-can look. My sweetheart adamantly adheres to the one-inch rule-nothing higher. But Eduard insisted, and it was well worth bending the rules. This version came primly trimmed under a crown of lemon-zest shards. The flesh was soft and sweet, though I was utterly distracted by the adorable perfection of the gnocchi-eensy teensy crisp-tender puffs scattered like confetti. At plate level, a heavily wilted ragout reminded me of the stew my mom thickens during snowstorms, but somehow it didn't overwhelm a sultry evening.
At cappuccino hour, just before the creamy dreamy crepes, Eduard dropped off a couple tiny truffles spiked with mint. Not spearmint, peppermint, or mint extract, but the sharp green sting of a fresh mint leaf. Which is what the best dishes here achieve: simple, startling honesty. Shocking how shocking that can be.
Blackbird, 619 W. Randolph, is open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 to 2, for dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 10:30, and Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11:30. Reservations are strongly recommended for dinner. Phone:312-715-0708.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): menu.