I always suspected something was wrong with Avenues, even though I had no real basis for that suspicion. Maybe it was because Graham Elliot Bowles was the chef there (and I do have a problem with that) or maybe its because it was in a hotel. Whatever the reason, whenever we were deciding what restaurants we want to eat at, Avenues very seldom makes an appearance in that conversation. I even had a vision of getting in an argument with the head waiter tonight about how bad everything was. However, it was Dining Out Week, and I have eaten at every other multi-course style restaurant in Chicago, so this was the final frontier and I had to go.
We walked in and got semi-lost walking around the Peninsula (so if you are keeping track, that's 3 for 3 on getting lost during Dining Out Week). Eventually one of the hotel people pointed us in the right direction and we arrived a few minutes before our reservation.
From the outside of the restaurant, Avenues looked kind of interesting. There was a long granite bar on the left that overlooked the kitchen, so you could watch the chefs in action if you had one of those seats. Along the far wall directly in front of us was a windowed wall facing out at the Water Tower. The room probably had about 18 tables total, so it was relatively small.
We sat down and were nearly instantly ambushed by our waitress Amy (who was very good) with the champagne cart. She explained the three choices of champagne, and we ended up picking a Schramsburg Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine (which I've always wanted to try). I was not particularly a fan of the champagne cart coming at me as I did feel like they were pressuring us into buying it. I would have gotten champagne either way, but I wasn't a fan of having it forced on me (sort of like health insu...ok again, I'll just stop there). The champagne was very good and had a strong taste of green apples. It went very nicely with our first three courses. Next, the sommelier, Aaron, came over and discussed the wine list with us. I was kind of disappointed that they did not have a wine pairing to go with the meal, but he recommended a Gaja Chardonnay and a Chateau Beaucastel Chateaunauf-du-Pape in half bottle format. This actually ended up being less than I expected to spend on wine, which is always a nice surprise.
So after getting all the wine choices settled, our first course came out. It was, as is common in many of these restaurants, a caviar course. This one; however, was a bit deconstructed and had all of the traditional elements, but in a one bite format served on a spoon. It had caviar, lemon, oyster, and crumbled brioche to mimic the usual toast points. This was one of the better caviar courses I have ever had, perhaps just behind the French Laundry's Oysters and Pearls. The caviar was nice and salty, and the toast and oyster was just a bit sweet. The Schramsburg wine was a nice complement with its sweet green apple taste. A very auspicious start that almost immediately broke down my skepticism of Avenues.
Following the first course that I really didn't care for came in unquestionably the best course of the night, the Ohmi Gyu (a waygu beef from Japan) with black truffles, pistachios, roasted potatoes, and white truffle. The meat was cooked sous vide to a perfect medium-rare and then seared to give it a crunchy crust. The white truffle was cooked into a creme caramel and the black truffle was shaved and placed around the plate. The combination of the meat and the white truffle creme caramel was one of the best things that I have ever eaten (and I've eaten many many great things). The red wine was not overly assertive, so this dish could have probably used something a bit stronger like a cabernet, but it was smooth and juicy and played nicely off of the extremely savory elements on the plate. I could have eaten just this and gone home, and I would have been happy. I would go back to Avenues just to eat this. They also served us a waffle instead of bread, which was interesting.
With that excellent course behind us, we moved into the two dessert courses. The first was Rasberry, thai black pepper, marscarpone, and African blue basil. The raspberry was a puree that was frozen into a log with some frozen framboise. Again, this dish exploded with Spring flavor, and I always like the idea of basil with berries. I probably should have ordered a dessert wine for dessert, but at this point I had already formulated a wild plan about drinking wine at Charlie Trotter's after Avenues (luckily that didn't come about).
Finally, we ended with a dark chocolate mousse with saffron, honey, and bergamot tea. The chocolate was extremely dense and rich. I love chocolate and it was too rich for me to eat. The saffron and honey added some interesting floral notes to it, and the tea seemed to be imperceptible. Overall, I think I liked the raspberry dessert better, but this was excellent too. We finished off, as usual with some chocolate truffles of different varieties.