Thursday, April 08, 2010

Of Spring and Sprout--Dale Levitski Comes Into His Own

Possums, as you know only too well, we love nothing better than saying, “We told you so.” And possums, we told you so, and we’ll tell you again—Dale Levitski, of Top Chef: Miami, wuz robbed!

These aren’t just the ravings of a tottering-on-Louboutins fan. We have the evidence to prove it. Well, actually, we ate the evidence, but there is nothing we’d like better than to go in search of more at Sprout, the new Chicago restaurant headed by Dale. The meal we ate there was among the most delicious and stimulating we have had in years, and even though it’s been a couple of months since our visit, we think about that meal all the time.

From the fabulous, “crowdsourced” décor to the ultra-accommodating staff, I knew a mere six steps into Sprout, located in Lincoln Park, that we were in for an exceptional dining experience. The setting is relaxed luxury, and lives up to Sprout’s own philosophy of offering “upscale dining with a relax-your-shoulders vibe.”

The Executive Chef of Sprout is Amuse-Biatch favorite Dale Levitski, and while still in its infancy, Sprout has the feel of a well-honed, long-running operation. Sprout’s Sous Chef is the talented Sara Nguyen, also of Top Chef fame. Sara is as gracious and welcoming as she appeared on screen, and the best thing is that, together, she and Dale have the same culinary chemistry and rhythm they exhibited while dancing on the balcony in Miami during Top Chef.

While Sprout’s menu is geared toward an organic-focused $60 prix fixe tasting menu, including intermezzi, à la carte items are available as well. My dining companion and I both opted for the prix fixe menu. My first course was a cooked-to-perfection scallop, surrounded by freeze-dried corn, parsnip, and popcorn. This was a toothsome dish composed of a witty series of pairings, the texture and color of the caramelized scallop picked up by the parsnip, the sweetness of the scallop picked up by the corn, with crunch added by the popcorn. For her first course, my dining companion, a vegetarian, chose a pear salad featuring watercress, goat cheese, peppermint and shaved licorice root. It was an exquisitely composed plate of food, both visually and flavor-wise. (Indeed, the great thing was that my dining companion was able to find a superb vegetarian dish for every course.) In case we had any doubts, the first course announced loud and clear that we were in the hands of someone who is absolutely on his game.

For the main course, I selected the Wagyu beef. Set atop pillowy, rich brandade and haricots verts, with a garlic drizzle, the beef was luscious and vibrant. When presented with the opportunity, I could not resist sampling two additional courses. First there was chilled octopus served with white bean puree and arugula—the octopus perfectly cooked, and perfectly complemented by the richness of the puree and the slight bitterness of the arugula. Dale has a real talent for mixing not only flavors, but textures. There was also a course of veal cheek, which was richness and opulence distilled. We also had a tasting of gnocchi à la Parisienne, French-style gnocchi that are made with choux pastry rather than potatoes, which were new to me and which made me curse all the years I had gone without trying them.

In between the courses, the intermezzi included a shaved ice of passion fruit and Riesling, at once bracing and seductive. Speaking of which, the white bean butter served with the bread is nothing short of creamy crack.

My dessert course was called “lemon.” There are no words. The combination of the lemon curd, goat cheese mousse and sour cherry, while surprisingly new to me, rendered me speechless—a difficult thing—and is now one of my favorites. My dining companion opted for creamy melted chocolate with a dunk-worthy cookie.

The cheese course was witty and the ne plus ultra of comfort food, the cheese melted and sandwiched between two crêpe-like crisps, the perfect end to a truly memorable meal.

As reported elsewhere, Dale went through a great deal of difficulty and sorrow in his personal life in the period between Top Chef and the opening of Sprout, but you wouldn’t know it from the polished, effortless cooking. Or maybe you would. Perhaps food this joyous, this focused, this representative of earthly delight, could only come from a man who has emerged from a dark night of the soul. Sprout could not be more aptly named, and we are all the beneficiaries of those tender shoots. Speaking of which, the new spring menu should now be in place, so get thee to Lincoln Park, possums. Dale may have been robbed, but don’t rob yourselves of an extraordinary dining experience.


1417 West Fullerton Avenue

Chicago, IL 60614-2011

(773) 348-0706

Find them online:

Sprout can also be found on Facebook and Twitter @SproutChi


Anonymous said...

so happy you are back!

Anonymous said...

Oh! WHY did I read that review so soon before lunch. I'm hungry and can't wait to visit Chicago and make time to dine at Sprout! I'm so happy for Dale. Way to go!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, you're back! Top Chef just isn't the same without you.