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Re-visiting Spring in the Summer
August 11, 2005 | 7 Comments

Over three years ago now, pre-dating this website, I first ate at Spring and it quickly became one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago. In that time-span, I have only been there a couple of times (there are a lot of places to eat out there!), but I finally re-visited Spring late last week. There has always been a distinct completeness to the dining experience there. From the decor to the menu to the ingredients to the preparation to the service, everything comes together quite well for a price that's considerably south of "jaw-dropping". I was anxious to see if that feeling would still be there.

We were greeted warmly for our reservation (we even found a parking spot on North Ave on a Friday night, allowing us to redirect our valet money to the wine list) and escorted to our table after a short wait at the bar. Some nights I willingly fall for the restaurant-trick of having me wait at the bar just long enough to buy a round of $12 cocktails, but this night was not one of them. The dining room atmosphere is as comfortable as I remember. When the room is full, there is a high-energy level, but the serene decor keeps it very muted. The tables are set up so that you don't really have a view of too many other people, lending to a sense of privacy in the middle of a full dining room.

After a spicy spring-roll amuse, we started off our meal with a few kumamoto oysters from Washington state. As a bivalve-lover, I know full well that this is not the ideal time of year to enjoy oysters, but I had full confidence in the fact that Spring wouldn't be serving them if they didn't pass muster. They were as delicate, sweet, and delicious as I expect kumamotos to be. My only complaint is that they were pre-garnished with mignonette in the kitchen. I generally like a mixture of garnished and un-garnished oysters.

Ms. EC's appetizer was the finest dish of the evening. A chilled celery soup with lobster and potatoes. The celery flavor was alarmingly bright and the sweet lobster meat and soft potatoes added a comforting balance. My appetizer of Burgundy escargots with baba ganouj, confit tomatoes, and parsley-garlic emulsion was interesting but lacked the flavor composition that I expected of an appetizer with so many ingredients. It was an impressive preparation, but something was missing.

Generally, at restaurants of this caliber, you are not served entree portions that you are unable to finish. In fact, I would have bet the price of my meal that both of us would have been able to finish everything that we were served. I ordered the "seafood hot pot", a Thai-flavored bouillabaisse and Ms. EC ordered the seared tuna with braised pork belly. Neither of us were able to finish our entrees. My dish was one of the most extraordinary displays of seafood on one plate that I have ever seen: large chunks of at least four kinds of fish, mussels, manilla clams, a sizeable section of lobster tail, a beautiful giant shrimp, and multiple scallops as large as the palm of my hand. The Thai-flavored broth was simple and mild and two toast triangles topped the bowl. Nothing in this bowl disappointed me, but I'm not sure I'd order it again since it seemed like a deviation from the types of dishes I tend to look for from Spring. If you're enticed by dishes like bouillabaisse or cioppino, this is the dish for you.

There are woefully few restaurants in Chicago that take seafood as seriously as they do at Spring. I'm impressed, but not surprised by the fact that they're still filling tables. Since Shawn McClain finished his tenure at Trio (which has since undergone a major makeover), he created Spring, opened the acclaimed Green Zebra, replaced himself as the chef de cuisine at Spring, and begun work on his latest project, Custom House. He is developing a dining-empire in Chicago without compromising quality or creativity. Sometimes it feels like we live in a city that's completely focused on the new hot-spot on the block. It's nice to be reminded that just the opposite is true: Former hot-spots like Spring can keep going strong.

After finishing our bottle of wine, we decided to skip dessert and headed to Caffe Gelato on Division for some powerfully-flavored pistachio gelato and people-watching from the sidewalk seating.

Check out Spring at 2039 W. North Ave., 773-395-7100, www.springrestaurant.net and Caffe Gelato at 2034 West Division, 773-227-7333.

Posted 09:51 AM
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