There are incubators for all kinds of things in our town, so why not a culinary incubator? That, pretty much, describes the new U. City Loop restaurant Privado. Set up inside the former Randolfi’s, this is chef Mike Randolph’s playground for food creations. The acclaimed chef of two Half & Half restaurants and Publico (and a two-time James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef Midwest), Randolph gets to experiment with culinary boundaries here. That might not work well for most chefs, but Randolph has the talent to do it.
A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, he consistently has produced impressive fare. Privado continues that pattern, but due to the price tag and the nature of a tasting menu, it isn’t going to be for everyone. In a meat-and-potatoes town known for barbecue and fried pork steak, this is an adventure into cured, pached, saved and pressed delicacies. And just like Ravel’s Bolero, the experience unfolds in twists and turns that take hours to climax.
The payoff, however, is getting to taste remarkable dishes like fluke pressed into a terrine with foie gras, topped by leeks and velouté, and pork tenderloin wrapped with pistachio-laced pressed-pork offal in a demi-glace laced with plum. Ironically, there was a meat and potatoes course, too. It included a 2-inch medallion of rib-eye in madeira sauce, next to a lone tater tot cooked super crunchy with a casing of chopped almonds, and topped with black truffle shavings. Also in this meatier course was a superb serving of sweetbreads, also pressed into a medallion.
The meal started with an aperitif at the bar, and an amuse bouche of foie gras tortellini with cream and dried strawberry. Diners—only 16 of them, seated around two tables—are positioned in full view of the kitchen and its handful of white apron-clad maestros. Certainly part of the enjoyment was watching as the chefs reverently grated truffles, spooned out crema and fired up the culinary torch. Three servers brought out each dish in tandem, explaining what we were about to eat. Wine and cocktails were available for an additional charge.
The custom in this kind of dining journey is to start small with palate teasers like our cured hamachi with plantain served in sweet coconut sauce and topped by intensely salty Ossetra caviar. Then they progress through several fish ‘courses’—in our case, trout roe, lobster, octopus, char and fluke—each just enough to arouse taste buds, but nowhere near enough to fill the stomach. The heartier food follows at course seven or eight: pork, squab, rib-eye—each building toward satiation, but not uncomfortable fullness. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
By hour four, we were presented with our impressive finale: a two-part dessert that starts with porcini caramel poured over chocolate soufflé and ends with house-made ‘cereal’ of puffed rice, amaranth and banana purée moistened by coconut milk.
the scene | 13-course tasting menu served over four hours
the chef | Mike Randolph
the prices | $120 per person, gratuity included
the favorites | Fluke with Leeks and Foie Gras, Hamachi with Coconut and Ossetra Caviar, Chocolate Soufflé with Porcini Caramel
food • ŏ • lō • gy
ossetra caviar | One of the most costly varieties of fish roe, this comes from the Ossetra sturgeon, native to the Caspian Sea. Endangered in Russian waters, it is currently farmed in Israel.
velouté | A white sauce made with stock, eggs and cream that was identified by Auguste Escoffier as one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine
fluke | A flatfish in the flounder family found off the East Coast, mostly from Massachusetts to North Carolina
6665 Delmar Blvd. | 314.899.9221
Photos: Bill Barrett