Saturday, July 11, 2009

State and Lake ...

Part of me wants to tell the world about this restaurant and part of me wants to keep it a secret so I can always get a reservation.

But here I am, telling you.

State and Lake, in The Wit Hotel, located, cleverly enough, at State and Lake, is my new favorite place in the world.

I simply cannot remember the last time I was so delighted by a restaurant.

First, a word about the atmosphere: dark.

State and Lake is dark. Once you move away from the two-story windows by the entrance, it's almost cave-like – in a good way – despite the soaring ceilings. It's a great date restaurant. The bar, with its extensive collection of seltzer bottles, is central to the space. The music was a tad loud, but I asked Will, our server, if he could turn it down just a skosh, and he quickly obliged.

I instantly fell in love with the details. Details everywhere. Well-thought-out details. The water for the table arrives in what resembles an old milk bottle. Each table features a small dish of salt and a spoon, and the pepper grinder is a funky red number, though my memory is fuzzy at the moment and I'm not sure if it's meant to look like a seltzer bottle or a fire extinguisher.

Even the candle on the table was unusual.

The menus are interesting enough to offer something for everyone yet brief enough to reassure diners that the kitchen should be capable of executing everything well. I don't trust restaurants that offer too many options.

The wine list featured a cabernet sauvignon bottled specifically for the hotel, so I ordered a glass. From the moment Will set it on the table, the aroma told me I was in for a good glass of wine. And indeed, it was lovely.

Never one to hew exactly to the menu, I opted for a side order of mushrooms as my starter. Cue more details! The mushrooms arrived in the most adorable oval cast-iron mini-Dutch oven, if you will. And here I offer my one complaint about the meal: The mushrooms could have been a bit warmer. Those in the bottom of the dish were a better temperature, but those on top were tepid. Still, they were delicious. But then, I adore mushrooms.

Will asked if we'd like bread. (I was there with my mom for a pre-Goodman dinner.) We did. The butter arrived on a little rectangular white ceramic dish, just a cube, softened. The bread arrived as a little loaf in a piece of ceramic bakeware. But it wasn't baked as a loaf. It was baked as four pieces in a little loaf pan – a la cloverleaf rolls – so that each piece could be pulled away from the rest of the loaf and resembled a chubby slice of bread. Adorable!

Mom started with the evening's soup, beef barley. We fancy ourselves beef-barley soup connoisseurs and mom reported that the soup was very good, loaded with beef and barley and vegetables, as it should be.

For her entree, she opted for the summer fruit salad, a lovely combination of watermelon and peaches and goat cheese tossed in a sherry vinaigrette and topped with a chiffonade of basil. I tried a bite of the watermelon with a bit of basil and goat cheese. The watermelon was the definition of watermelon and its cool, crisp sweetness paired with the creamy goat cheese and the hit of fresh basil was outstanding. Simple ingredients, done well.

Oh, but my entree. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, it would be my mom's lasagna, but if I were to pick a second thing, it would be last night's entree: roasted leg of lamb, country cheese ravioli, and grilled broccoli rabe, all drizzled with a bit of lamb reduction.

Oh. My. God. The lamb, roasted to medium-rare perfection and sliced and plated atop a mound of the broccoli rabe, featured an exceptional crust. The broccoli rabe was cooked to exactly the right degree of crisp-tenderness.

But the country cheese ravioli. Never before have I been enchanted with ravioli. First of all, they were wee, about the size of a quarter. Each must have been filled with something like a 1/16th of a teaspoon of filling so light it was practically air.

But the pasta. How can anyone prepare pasta so delicate? And given that pasta swells with cooking, how thin must it have been before? Finished, it was practically tissue paper.

They were ethereal. They were practically memories of ravioli, so perfect and delicate they nearly dissolved on the tongue. Spectacular. I told Will I was in love with the ravioli. He said he'd tell the chef.

Will brought dessert menus, which were also appropriately brief. He recommended the devil's food cake. Mom and I never need to be coaxed into chocolate. And I still had a bit of wine.

The menu revealed that it came plated with raspberry sauce, one of Mom's all-time favorite things, and Will told us it was topped with a bit of meringue which was browned.

Really? Well, all righty, then. One dessert, two forks, please.

What arrived was not devil's food cake. What arrived may as well have been ganache, whipped and then formed into a two-layer "cake," on top of which were piped spikes of meringue that were indeed browned off almost as if toasted marshmallow. All of which sat in the middle of a plate drizzled with raspberry sauce and sprinkled with crunchy chocolaty bits and diced golden raspberries.

Mom and I managed to polish it off, but it's so insanely rich, it easily could serve four.

The check arrived when we asked for it, not before, and came tucked inside a State and Lake bi-fold business card, clipped closed with a tiny clothespin. Details! Details! Details!

Will thanked us for coming – earlier, I asked him how long they'd been open, and he said, "A month and change" – and I told him that I could not remember the last time I was delighted with a restaurant, but I was delighted with State and Lake.

Katie, the manager, came by as we were standing up, and asked us about our experience. I repeated to her what I'd just told Will, and told her that I have a friend coming into town on business in a week and that we'll be there for lunch. Katie recommended the fettucini with rock shrimp and asparagus when I return.

I may take her up on that suggestion, but only because the lamb with ravioli isn't part of the lunch menu.

Do yourself an enormous culinary favor and make your way to State and Lake. I'll probably see you there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you can moonlight as a restaurant critic. This could almost be a restaurant review in TCW -- not that they pay much.

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i miss CHICAGO!!!!! where else can you get a cheeseburger for $14


7:55 PM  
Blogger Natalie810 said...

oooo....I had read about the cleverness of the Wit, but I didn't know about the restaurant. I can't wait to try it.

11:37 AM  

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