Female. Lives in United States/Illinois/Chicago, speaks English. My interests are Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking/Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.
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United States, Illinois, Chicago, English, Female, Food, Restaurants, Cooking, Baking, Travel, Dining Out, Raising Children.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Chef's 7-Course Tasting Menu at Vermilion

It’s a rare thing when two completely unrelated people recommend the same restaurant to us in the same week. It’s even more unique when both people ask if you like a certain kind of cuisine and then say it’s ok if you don’t, you have to try this restaurant. This is what happened with Vermilion.

Last week, I was out with the Lima Bean and someone mentioned that they had an amazing dinner out recently. My ears immediately perked up and the person started by saying, “Do you like Indian food?” Indian isn't my thing and I told her that. She said “Well, you still should try Vermilion. It’s like Indian, Asian, South American fusion and the flavors are unbelievable. Even if you don’t like Indian, you will love this place.” She had strong confidence in her recommendation so I was intrigued.

A few days later a colleague of Win’s recommended Vermilion out of the blue. Said he loved it and asked if we liked Indian food. Win said he did and I didn’t, but the colleague was still sure we’d love the place. Another very strong recommendation, despite my less than enthusiastic feelings for a lot of Indian cuisine.

So with two hearty recommendations in hand, we had to try Vermilion. I am so thrilled that we did. Vermilion’s fusion cuisine brings together flavors that are delicious, absolutely unique, and often unexpected. And as our friends mentioned, you don’t have to love Indian food to love Vermilion, although much of the menu is heavily Indian influenced.

Vermilion is modern, with a trendy yet comfortable aesthetic. The walls are lined with interesting art. Our server conveyed huge pride in the place and raved to us about the chef’s abilities from the minute we sat down. You could tell from minute one that he fully expected us to love what we had for dinner and that he had supreme confidence in the chef’s ability to please. Nice feeling to convey.

As we perused the menu and sipped drinks (a Vermilion Sol cocktail for me and a Kingfisher beer for Win), we thought it would be fun to start with an order of naan. As you can see from the photo above, the naan came with four dipping sauces. One was a cucumber sauce, another a sweet chutney, the third a spicy and chunky vegetable salsa, and finally a milder yogurt sauce. All of them were excellent, but our two favorites were the cucumber sauce and the sweet chutney. You’ll also notice the amuse bouche on a small plate behind the naan. The amuse was a cucumber with an amazing swirl of what I think was minted cream on top. Hard to describe, but absolutely delicious.

After spending a great deal of time thinking about our dinner options, Win went out on a limb and suggested that we order the Chef’s Seven Course Tasting Menu. At Vermilion, the tasting menu includes an array of dishes customized by the chef and is only made available if all parties at the table will be ordering it. I was game, so we placed the order and waited to see what would turn up.

Our first course was a collection of four tapas which included steamed mussels simmered in a coconut-cilantro broth, bajian acaraje which was a traditional Brazilian bean croquette studded with a stuffed Spanish olive, a mysore lamb chop served over a minty red onion salad, and five spice scallops served in a spicy, fruit salsa. I couldn’t believe the luck on this selection, as the mussels and the bean croquettes were things I was seriously considering off the a la carte menu. Win is a huge lamb chop fan, so that made his day. All four of these tapas were outstanding. Fresh, bold flavors all cooked perfectly.

After that very successful first course, a bowl of red pepper soup was served to each of us, accompanied by some naan. This soup was rich, creamy and seasoned somehow differently than one would expect. Different in a very good way.

Next came a salad. This was a salad of spring greens with some stuffed grapes as accents. There was very little dressing on the salad and our waiter mentioned to us that he thought the dressing had some sort of onion paste in it. This was the only portion of our meal that disappointed us. The salad was rather flat and whatever dressing it had just didn’t hit us right. The flavor was perhaps too oniony or just not seasoned in a way that worked for us. So the salad course didn’t impress us, but more good things were to come.

After the salad, we were presented with Plantain Crusted Fish with Aloo Gobi. This was tilapia crusted with plantain, served on a bed of spicy potato and cauliflower and accompanied by a curry sauce. Even I, the non-fan of most Indian food, loved this curry sauce dish. The fish was moist and tender and the plantain coating gave it a nice crunch. The curry sauce was outstanding and it took the fish to a new level.

At this point, we were so happy and full we couldn’t believe that we had more courses to go. So we were pleased to see the waiter bring us a champagne sorbet for our next course. This sorbet was amazing. Packed with champagne flavor, it soothed our very active taste buds and prepared our mouths for the next course.

Tandoori skirt steak was our next dish. This steak was served in a classic Indian marinade over sautéed garlic spinach. It was surrounded by plantain chips. This steak was mouthwatering. Win loves red meat, but he often shies away from skirt steak because so many restaurants overcook it. This steak was perfectly cooked, and as our waiter said, it was so tender that we didn’t need steak knives. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the classic Indian flavoring of this steak was what made it so unique and delicious. The spinach was outstanding too and a nice accompaniment to the meat. We loved the plantain chips, but they were spiced with red pepper or something incredibly hot so we had to eat them more cautiously.

So to review, we have had naan, a huge appetizer sampler, soup, salad, fish, sorbet, and steak. We’re so full and satisfied but we know there is one more course on the way. Can we manage to eat it? Of course we can, when it’s desserts as decadent as these. We were served two dessert plates. One included some molten chocolate cake creation that was warm, rich and so, so chocolaty. On that same plate, opposite the chocolate wonder, was a heaping pile of fresh berries topped with the most potent berry sorbet I have ever had. This sorbet absolutely popped in your mouth with the essence of fresh, ripe berries. The second dessert was a coconut rice pudding topped with dried fruits. As luck would have it, these two desserts suited Win and me perfectly. Win’s a chocolate guy and probably would have ordered that chocolate cake off the menu, had he been given the choice. I’m a die hard rice pudding fan and when given the chance to experience a new, unique pudding I am all for that. So needless to say we were thrilled with these high-quality, well-prepared desserts.

It’s important to note the portions of these dishes. Look how generous Vermilion is with their tasting menu portions. As you can see from the photos, we had a sizable appetizer, a regular size bowl of soup, a large piece of fish, a whole portion of steak, and ample desserts. We’ve all been to places where the tasting menu includes seven tiny, tiny, tiny things and you leave with a stomach as empty as your wallet. Vermilion’s tasting menu portions were almost too large and we had to pace ourselves to make sure that we didn’t overeat on any one course and risk filling up before getting to sample the full spectrum. The tasting menu costs $65.00 per person, and given all the outstanding food you receive we left feeling like this was an incredible value.

Dinner at Vermilion was magnificent. The flavors that come out of that kitchen are a true fusion of Indian and Latin tastes and they are often completely unexpected but so pleasing to the palate. With the exception of the salad that we didn’t like, every dish that came out was unique and delicious. And as our friends both said, you don’t have to love Indian to love Vermilion.

10 W. Hubbard Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Telephone: 312-527-4060