Short Story: You should go there soon and get the seasonal tasting menu.
Long Story: Perennial is one of the restaurants on the recently released Michelin Bib Gourmand list of good restaurants to try, so Sara and I headed there earlier this week. The restaurant is in Old Town (right near Fleet Feet, runners!), near the Lincoln Park Zoo. I'd been eyeing it for a while- particularly the outdoor eating area- but never had the chance to go. It's inclusion on the bib gourmand list was just the extra push I needed to get me in the door.
And I'm definitely glad I walked in! It is very cute inside at night. Nice glassware, flatware, good lighting w/ fun white ash trees (or lookalikes) in the middle of the dining room. Lots of windows. They already had their holiday lights out, which was cozy. I couldn't find a picture online of the inside at night, so I'll have to make due with this one taken during the day. (Note: Like most places, I think the ambiance would not be as good before sunset.) I think it still shows the feel of the place. Coincidentally, the table in the foreground of the picture is exactly where Sara and I sat!
So, 'A' for ambiance (pun intended, a groaner, I know). Moving on to the food. To be honest I didn't spend a ton of time looking at the wine list because we thought we were going to make it a 1 glass of wine each kind of night (we've since learned this is silly- we always end up getting 2 glasses each making a full bottle more economical and fun!). So I got a glass (ahem, 2 glasses) of the Plungerhead Zinfandel which was just fine.
Ordering was easy because we went for the seasonal tasting menu. The waiter informed us that they did a "sweet corn" themed tasting menu in late summer and it was so popular they've decided to do it each season. In general, I really enjoy eating seasonal foods. Seasonal foods always taste delicious because they are at their most fresh. Also, one of the benefits of living in the Mid-West is experiencing all 4 seasons to the fullest, and eating seasonally really adds to the festivity and tradition of each season. I really look forward to foods--> heavy warm soups in the winter (and always an excellent steak on New Years), fresh fruits and salads in the spring, very serious farmers market produce in late summer (esp rhubarb!) and pumpkin and squash in the fall. This is a long winded way of saying it was a no-brainer to get the seasonal squash 4 course, prix fixe menu.
Here's the play-by-play:
(Apropos of nothing, I just poured myself a glass of petite syrah. Don't you just love the 'blip, blip, blip' noise wine makes as you pour from a bottle to a glass?)
We started with....
"poached delicata squash, mushrooms, cabbage slaw, dill, sweet and sour reduction"
You can see Sara to the right w/ this pretty dish. SOO good. Think it was my favorite. The squash was delicious but so were the mushrooms. And the cabbage slaw was out of this world! I LOVE dishes were even the garnishes are "mmmmm" inducing.
"pumpkin ravioli, brown butter, sage, sherry vinegar, goat cheese"
Well, you really can't go wrong with any of that. It was as good as it sounds. It was great, it was appropriate to include in the menu because who doesn't love pumpkin ravioli, but I don't give extra points to the chef for this because, let's face it, most people can make something delicious out of those ingredients.
"wild sturgeon, butternut squash bread pudding, concord grape syrup, butternut puree"
They actually had to sub in some other fish for the sturgeon, but the waiter appropriately came and asked us if this was okay before any of our food arrived. Fish was perfectly prepared. While we were there, I could not for the life of me figure out what the soft rectangles of deliciousness were on the side of the plate. (One suggestion for all tasting menu places- give us a copy of the menu so we can see what we are eating while we are eating it!) Now I see it was the butternut squash bread pudding. OUT OF THIS WORLD good.
"red kuri squash cake, rum, pecans, spiced icing, butter pecan ice cream"
Good and good. Don't have much else to say.
So 'A' in the food department as well. In the interest of full disclosure, there were a couple service-type things they could improve on. Our waiter did a great job of explaining the menu and making suggestions but was very slow to acknowledge us in the beginning. The servers were friendly but failed to remind us of the contents of each dish when they brought them out. This is especially important, I feel, when you order the tasting menu- you want to know what you are "tasting" for goodness sake!
Overall though, great place, great food and you better believe I'll be going back when their winter tasting menu starts!
(PS: For those who aren't yet convinced, Perennial was listed in Travel & Leisure's "Top 50 New Restaurants in America".)