The following is a shortened update to my prior full review of Gather, from Summer 2013.
I’m certain everyone will be happy to know that the group at Gather is still doing a fantastic job. My most recent meal from Chef Ken Carter gave a hint at what is coming for the fall. From what I gleaned from my meal, the influences tended towards the Mediterranean and continue to evoke the San Francisco Bay Area in Chicago. I’ve briefly collected my thoughts on my meal in extension of my summer 2013 full review.
Across the midwest, October has brought a remarkable bounty of delicious, fall-harvest tomatoes. Fall-harvest tomatoes differ from spring and summer fruit in that they are slightly less juicy and sweet, but are also far less acidic, more meaty and intensely flavored. Although they’re somewhat scarce, they’re worth the indulgence. The tomatoes are served simply with a balsamic vinaigrette, house-made burrata, fresh avocado smear and dried hijiki crumble. With the vegetal flavor of the hijiki, the dish evoked autumn with much summer nostalgia. The tomatoes themselves carried the plate and were absolutely fresh and delicious.
The “grilled” octopus continues on the menu, although still not grilled, but rather browned in the pan. Lightly marinated with frisée, its served atop a rich smoked tomato aioli and hot smoked back bacon. The subtle smoke unified all of the components on the plate and the cook on the octopus was, as always, perfect.
The kitchen was kind enough to also throw together some random ingredients that came in from the farms that day, including this delicious green bean, stir-fried with paprika and paprika roasted peanuts. It was simple and exceptionally fresh.
The raviolo was stuffed with a soft duck egg yolk and ricotta, and tossed in a brown butter, white truffle sauce rounded out with sweet jalapeño and pancetta. Although all the components were quite good separately, the large size of the raviolo decidedly imbalanced the ratio of pasta-to-filling. As a result, the dish was somewhat passable. Furthermore there was nothing really to balance out all the richness, so I recommend a wine with good acid. In our case, we cheated with the nonvintage Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve.
Next we tried a departing summer preparation of steamed Price Edward Island mussels, which was served in roasted corn broth, habanero, fennel and generous garlic with house-made naan. For my palate, the dish was a bit mild and it’s ingredients under-extracted. Even so, the dish was thoughtfully prepared and balanced in flavor, however flat.
Another as yet off-menu item that the kitchen allowed us to preview was the fall update to the braised pork belly. Served with a slightly sweet browned milk sauce which complimented the roasted fingerling sweet potatoes with virtuosity. Adding a bit of texture was a spiced and caramelized oat crumble. The pork belly itself was brined then braised simply and finished in the pan. The outcome was crispy deliciousness and perfectly rendered fat. The seasoning was just salt and pepper as far as I could tell, although the kitchen coyly refused to confirm or deny anything. To me this suggests some secret to the sauce. In any event, the dish was a substantial improvement over the already quite good summer version.
Rounding out our meal was one of the final platings of the delicious Persian-inspired, bone-in pork chop, one of my favorite items on the menu. Although the Persian flavor-profile is just out of reach, as I took my final bites of the beautifully brined and grilled pork chop–served atop a light baba ganoush with a medley accompaniment of date jam, sautéed cippolini onion and flash fried okra–I vowed to duplicate the dish at home, perhaps slightly modified. Despite the generously fattened but well rendered pork chop, the dish ate relatively lightly, testament to the thoughtful preparation and technique of the kitchen.
The fruit crisp was updated for fall with apple and cinnamon ice cream. Although a tad predictable, we humble midwesterns must work with the farm products we have. Nonetheless, the dessert was as satisfying as always.
Unfortunately, Gather will be closing its gorgeous patio for the cold season; I’m pictured there, above. In any event, cheers to Chicago’s fine dining gifts and to good eating!
4539 N Lincoln Ave
Chicago, IL 60625