Awestruck and mind-blown, Bruce Sherman's North Pond is unbelievably creative and technical. The flavor combinations created from seasonal ingredients are truly reflective of the master craft and research taken to create such mind tingling dishes. The degustation experience left us in tears of joy as we were bombarded with the superbly executed dishes, one after another.
Gus and I made the wintry trek to Lincoln Park for an anniversary meal that left an impression like no other restaurants in Chicago. This place found the formula to shine above all other upscale restaurants within the city. Execution, ingredients, taste, service, and ambiance, the restaurant has perfected a degustation experience reminiscence of 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants in Europe.
Arrival & First Impression
North Pond is situated in the middle of Lincoln Park's north end and thee restaurant is almost hidden from the streets that wraps around Lincoln Park. It could be a little bit confusing on your first time here but look out for signage which should get you on the right trail to the restaurant. However, the slightly hidden location gave the establishment an exclusivity and a differentiator from the rest of the city restaurants.
Per the namesake, a large pond sits in front of the restaurant where I would imagine diners could enjoy immersing themselves in the summery nature landscape with the sunlight shimmering on the pond against the deep blue sky. On a summer day, the restaurant seems like it be the perfect respite place while in the winter it's like a cabin house in the middle of nowhere. Inside, the woody interior reminded us of a classy log cabin that you can find in mountain resort towns. The hosts welcomed us warmly and got us situated at a table top in perfect view of the open kitchen.
The menu surprisingly had a variety of dishes. As the emphasis of the restaurant is the creative use of greens and plant base ingredients, we noted the many type of vegetables listed on the menu as a component of each dish. The way that each dish is named and presented here is quite unique and interesting. The featured protein would be highlighted with a starring vegetable. However, most of these dishes have more than handful of other flora to complete the canvas. We also took note of the cooking technique or preparation style listed for each dish as they were italicized and some were definitely drawn from the Chef's extensive french training.
Incorporating the personal touch is what North Pond truly exemplifies as a fine dining restaurant. A custom printed menu with our celebratory remark noted at the top of the menu was an amusing touch that we didn't expect. We asked to take the printed menu home with us and our waiter happily informed us that they'll have it packaged and presented to us at the end of the meal for convenience.
Since this was our Anniversary dinner, we opted for the Chef's five course tasting menu. At $95 per guest, leaving it to the Chef to curate our one star Michelin dining experience sounded like the optimal plan for the evening.
Drink selection appears to also be inspired by seasonal ingredients highlighting wintry drink favorites such as clove, orange, and ginger. Luckily the choice was limited because all the cocktails seemed delicious. We ended up selecting the Rum, Apple and the Calvados, Ginger. Both were pleasant, although on the sweeter end. However, they have an extensive wine list if you would prefer the classic libations.
5 course tasting menu accompanied with multiple palate cleansers. Bread and butter provided before the 1st course begins.
1: Foei Gras, Cranberry
2: Scallop, Lemon
3: Cauliflower, Cashew
Palate Cleanser: Soup with Avocado Macaron
4: Venison, Potato
Palate Cleanser: Berry sorbet with coconut flakes and rice crispy
5: Chocolate, Passion
Ending treat: Chocolate bon bons
Each dish was very much a work of art. There are many elements on each dish that worked together in unexpected ways like a painted canvas. We had one heck of a time discussing about each course and dissecting the flavor profile and cooking method. Every time a dish is presented, the staff carefully articulate details of the dish. And when we have questions about the dish, answers were produced immediately. The staff really knows the dishes inside out as we asked pretty tough questions.
One distinct style that we've notice is how the Chef does a multi-dimensional play of texture and flavor, specifically of a mushy and a crunchy element, while enlightening the diner with interesting contrasting flavors from his ingredient choice in one dish. For example, the Cauliflower, Cashew had the cashew butter base with another puree element and then you have the crispy falafel and pomegranate seeds. When eaten together, it's like an explosion of texture and flavor. Genius!
The degustation experience came with multiple surprises of palate cleansers that were a standout themselves. The best part is not knowing what the Chef has in store for the day. Conversing with our waiter, we discovered that the Chef changes his entire menu weekly and sometimes daily, reflecting the fresh ingredients obtained of the period. If this was a mom and pop restaurant that does simple cooking, that's one thing. However, the level of the dishes presented and the technique utilized here speaks to the talent of the Chef where sophisticated dishes can be crafted and implemented at such rapid speed. Fine dining restaurants often change their menu seasonally. Knowing this, we were again impressed at the culinary caliber demonstrated at North Pond. The confidence level to execute such operation and ingenuity takes dedication and a different level of talent.
The latin style soup with avocado corn macaron was delectable. Who would've thought of using corn flour to create macarons. The whipped avocado was intense in flavor and dense in texture. It was like eating an avocado taco but with an interesting chewey texture from the macaron.
The venison was the highlight of the meal. I could almost give up beef if venison were to taste like this if we were cook it ourselves. It was a treat to savor venison cooked with such perfection and the peppery sauce complimented the meat elegantly.
Sure to satisfy any sweet tooth, the well executed desserts at North Pond is a lengthy ordeal as part of the tasting menu experience. Composed of three courses, a pre-dessert, main dessert, and finally a small nibble to accompany digestive drinks or tea. All well orchestrated in terms of descending flavor profile. First, the palate cleanser dessert was intentionally tart and tasteful, neutralizing our taste-bud in order for us to appreciate the main dessert.
Next, the Chocolate, Passion was a deconstructed eton mess which hosted a number of components, notice the continued emphasis on contrasting texture. There's the crunchy note of the chocolate crumble and the thin cookies, then there's the sorbet and the angel cake balancing the dish. For the finale as we enjoyed the digestive drink, chocolate bon bons were brought out and a nice touch of Happy Anniversary was decorated on the plate. Another personal touch that brought us to smile even though our dining experience was sadly ending.
We really felt like we were whisk away to Europe once again to enjoy the intricately prepared 2 and 3 Michelin stars degustation experience. We almost canceled our Sunday evening reservation because of winter storm Mateo, but boy, were we so glad that we didn't. Bruce Sherman's North Pond is a 1 star Michelin recipient and a James Beard Award winner. However, the various creative dishes and the attentive service blew us away, leaving us to ponder as to why don't they have a 2nd star? If you've tried all 3 different stars of Michelin rankings, you'll know North Pond is a solid contender for 2 stars.
"Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors - it's how you combine them that sets you apart." - Wolfgang Puck
Two home cooks creating and tasting dishes from our lovely city of Chicago. Follow our world wide adventure as we discover ingredients, dishes, recipes, and the foodie way of life.
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