Sunday, March 25, 2012

Foodbuzz 24x24: Grant Achatz' Exclusive Speakeasy, The Office

The Office is the invitation-only 14-seat speakeasy behind a locked door underneath The Aviary. For this last Chicago trip, my friends suggested that I just try to ask for a reservation for The Office. I did, hoping that the fact that they link to my review of The Aviary's Kitchen Table might hold some sway. I guess it must have since they replied back with a reservation at 6pm on a Saturday!!!

At 6pm there was already a line for The Aviary. We went to the doorman and told him we had a reservation at The Office. Soon, they led us inside, down the stairs to an unmarked door in the basement. Just like a speakeasy should be, it's a quiet, small room with leather chairs and sofas. There was one bartender for about 14-15 customers when the room is full.

The Office

I've read about the cocktails and the food at The Office, but their leather bound menu actually also features an extensive collection of whisky, wine, and beers.
The Office
Our friendly waitress suggested that we start with something "light and effervescent" like a sparkling wine or beer. Since we actually have never had quite a few beers on their list, we took up her suggestion. The service is quite personal here and she went through what we might want with each of us, also asking us what we do and where we're from. You certainly won't get this level of service upstairs at The Aviary.

The Aviary had tweeted about Mikkeller beers being the best in the world, so I wanted to try one. I went with one of their lightest, the Mikkeller American Dream Pils, Lochristi-Hijfte, Belgium ($12). One of the others ordered the Evil Twin Brewing Williamsberg Hipster.
I mentioned that both of those beers had very similar aroma and the waitress told us that the Mikkeller and Evil Twin brewers are actually brothers (we liked the good twin better).

We also tried the Allagash Odyssey; Allagash never disappoints - and we enjoyed embarking on this oak cask-aged beer journey.

Unlike The Aviary, the cocktails at The Office tends towards the more classical. Each cocktail features one type of spirit, which is what you would tell your waitress when you order. Yes, the cocktails are $20 each but with the quality, ambiance, and personal service we'll take it (ok, maybe not every weekend).

The first one we tried was the Cognac, tonka, quassia, smoked black pepper, vanilla bean (note the ice, hand carved into a sphere).

The food menu is succinct. Foie gras terrine. Beef tartar. But this is Achatz after all. Despite the price we had to try the Foie gras terrine w black truffle and chive ($65)
Foie Gras Terrine
served with kumquat preserves, brioches toast, frisee

Even for five of us, the $65 foie gras terrine went a long way. There was definitely a lot of foie gras - it took us three plates of brioche toast to finish it! The terrine also seems to get even better and smoother as time goes because of the change in temperature. It was very addicting at the end (yes, I killed the last of it).

My cocktail order was the waitress' current favorite: Wheat whiskey, mango, mace, chamomile, cilantro
Wheat Whiskey
The cocktail is on the sweeter side but it was really good. There was only a hint of cilantro, just enough make it refreshing.

We wanted to try more food but opted for something lighter: Vegetable bourguignon ($20)
Vegetable Bourguignon
The bourguignon was very rich and flavorful despite containing only root vegetables and mushrooms (must be all the wine and butter!). The vegetables were also very crispy. We had some foie left so we tried combining the two. It worked well!

More cocktails: Tequila, grapefruit, lapsang, horseradish, Ginger, Hawaiian sea salt - very salty and smoky aroma
Oh, it's also Mad Men season premiere weekend, so we planned on going to The Office in Mad Men fashion. 

The Office cocktails
There were plenty more cocktails going around the table. LAOCFoodie ordered the Rye, Szechuan, smoked malt, demerara, cinchona, grapefruit. The rye cocktail was made with Rittenhouse rye. He said that it was not as spicy as you would think, despite the ingredients and surprisingly refreshing.

We all also liked the wheated bourbon, cigar, allspice, pomegranate, maple, Meyer lemon. To quote Windattack, it was "like drinking bourbon without the burn."

As I mentioned, The Office had an extensive list of whisky, including a Elijah Craig 12yr Aviary Barrel 1st Edition ($22) - yes an Aviary (and The Office) exclusive. This bourbon smells sweet but very hot/spicy.

Our last cocktail: Rum, parsnip, nutmeg, ginger ale
Rum parsnip
This was one of the more unusual because of the parsnip, which surprisingly works here. It wasn't as strange as I thought it might be and actually grounds the other flavors because of its bitterness and earthiness. Some of us said it smelled like play-doh.
(After so many beers and cocktails, the conversation turned to "Smells like Plato? The Greek philosopher?" )

We kept talking about the Ice Cream Sundae ($25 for 2) even before we arrived, so we had to order it. The waitress asked us if we wanted it for four people and we said no, just two thanks. We're glad we did! She brought out a beautiful glass lazy susan that was probably as big as half our table, filled with all kinds of goodies. Toppings for the Sundae. This was for two people??
Sundae toppings
Heath bars, oreos, gummi bears, banana, peanuts, pineapple cake, whipped cream and cherries.
The vanilla ice cream came in two silver chalices, three scoops each.
Ice Cream Sundae
The sundae for two was more than enough for the five of us.

MikkellerThe waitress asked if we'd want her to pair our sundae with a dark beer to share. Oh, why not ...
She brought out a bottle of the Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel to share, which I was eyeing anyway. Great beer, but very rich and heavy, with a strong coffee aroma. It's called the Weasel because apparently it was made with weasel poop coffee beans. Maybe they meant civet / kopi luwak?

At the end, she brought out small tasters of Jean Luc Pasquet cognac to end the night. To my surprise, the cognac smells quite sweet and tasted a bit so.
The Office experience is completely different than the theatrical Aviary. The Office is relaxed and intimate, where you can hold a conversation with a group of friends while partaking in interesting and high quality drinks and food with a friendly and attentive service.

The Office
953 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607


Lori Lynn

This is fabulous Fiona! Any suggestions as to how we can get an invitation?

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