This morning, as I sit on my couch, stomach still in a comfortable place from the night before, I think about how to explain last night's experience. It's important to use the term experience over meal, because my time at Sprout proved to be so much more. It was a night of surprise and discovery, but most importantly, reminded me how dinner can be more than a meal, but a shared experience.
To begin, Sprout is now run by the dream team of executive chef Dale Levitski, sous chef Sara Nguyen, and GM Tofer Kristofer. Chef Dale is no stranger to great Chicago venues, and was a finalist in season three of Top Chef on Bravo, where Sara also competed. In short, despite his talent, Dale has become the Terry Gilliam of the culinary world. But just as success, after a long battle, has finally come to Gilliam with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Dale's time has arrived with Sprout, in an inviting 40 seat restaurant in Lincoln Park.
In this coverage, there will be no pictures of food, and minimal spoilers. I want your first experience to be as much like mine as possible. When reading the seemingly simple menu, all that is stated is a main ingredient, with a few supporting actors. No hints of cooking techniques or assembly are given. For example, my favorite entree, is listed as 'Quail blood orange, roots, foie gras.' This is where the adventure begins.
Waiting between courses, I found the ambiance to be soothing, yet invigorating as the table speculated of what was to come--first time I've heard 'Let Go' since Garden State. This excitement was something I had not felt, or shared with others at a restaurant for a long time. I'm accustomed to the excitement of waiting for a favorite dish, but I can't remember the last time I've seen something completely original, and without warning.
After forking my hand once, I realized just how difficult it was to focus on my plate, because I wanted to know so badly what was being consumed across from me. Everyone was staring at everyone else's plates, in great anticipation of a rotation.
The octopus, a result of one of the most original processes I've heard--and I fear to recite due to a crude butchering--was immediately reordered after devouring. I wanted to do the same with the foie gras, and really, everything else. Seeing the quail accompanied with a foie gras hollandaise--life changing.
The staff is knowledgeable and friendly (made some great new friends)--but if I had to be picky, I'd say that the hostess is a bad sign of the economy remaining in its current slump. The entire staff has done an incredible job of opening (eg the menu being written in one day), and in defying the seemingly insurmountable.
Plan on going often, as the menu changes seasonally. It's a great gateway restaurant to turn regular folk into foodie fanatics, or to please your most hardcore friends. If you need another for your party, contact me. Seriously. Hit the e-mail button over to the right.