Classy, cozy, friendly, the All American Club diner in the heart of Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood brings back the Art Deco timeline with a sophisticated modern touch. As part of the BOKA group's portfolio of restaurants, the reputation placed the establishment with high expectations which were successfully met through out our dining experience, from the individual staff interactions to the execution of the re-envisioned classic dishes and the artistry in the cocktails. Join me, your host Jenny, as I explore one of the swankiest restaurant in Chicago.
Arrival and First Impression
Somerset is situated within the Viceroy hotel and occupies two floors. The entrance is accessible from State street where a center pathway leads to the main door. When the weather is warmer, the front space turns into patio seating which should be perfect for people watching. Keep in mind there are two entrance, one for the hotel, the other for Somerset and Devereaux (hotel's rooftop bar). Entering the restaurant, you will find yourself in an Art Deco inspired interior which is decorated with various hues of blue and shiny brass accents.
The first time we visited the restaurant, we were immediately impressed at the architecture style and the interior design. Shades of blue can be seen throughout the place from the wallpapers to the dining chairs. The emphasis on the color scheme went as far as the staff's fashionable baby blue blazers.
The main bar is located on the ground floor and a partition wall right behind the bar separates the more intimate dining area where the kitchen can be seen. Stairs on the right will take you up to the second dining area on the mezzanine floor and in the rear a dedicated elevator to the rooftop bar, Devereaux.
It definitely has the feel of a posh hotel restaurant. The bar stools, the tufted booth seats, the rounded edges, and the metallic nuances were just enough to give the establishment a unique sense of identity rather than just another Great Gatsby theme restaurant.
Diners that we observed were well dressed so I would advise business casual or dressy casual attire if you don't want to look out of place. However, we've been here for Sunday brunch and I would say leggings and tennis shoes were acceptable for a winding down day.
Reservation is recommended for Friday and Saturday evenings, that is, if you don't want to wait hours for a table. We didn't have a reservation when we went on a Friday evening, but the host kindly told us that the open bar seating was an option, first come first serve. First floor bar was jam packed so we walked up to the mezzanine floor and luckily got our bar seats on the first try.
The menu is simple and colorful while standard choice of proteins were presented. Chef Lee Wolen's creative touch is apparent throughout the varied list of ingredients and it sparked our curiosity on what the flavor combination from these ingredients will result. The menu had the traditional element of an American restaurant like the roasted chicken and the cheeseburger, but it also had novelty touches like shitake mushroom in a beef tartare that makes you go, "like what? really? together?" In a good way I suppose.
Sitting at the bar on the mezzanine floor, we got a great view of the neatly arranged cocktail garnishes and a first class service from David, the bartender, and his bar assistant which I didn't catch his name. The team was attentive in servicing our food items despite being quite busy with the Friday evening cocktail orders, and even the Manager made her rounds chatting with us to ensure that quality service was delivered.
Gus had a Gold Coast Martini which uses Jenever, a traditional liqueur of the Netherlands. Intrigued by the liqueur, David entertained us with his knowledge by explaining the history. He further demonstrated his passion for the cocktail arts, dexterously mixing concoctions away while we watch in awe.
I love a lightly sweetened grapefruit base cocktail but the drinks menu had limited selection. David was flexible with my preference and created a custom cocktail.
Supper For Two
whole roasted chicken | polenta | garlic sausage | delicata squash
selection of four | cherry walnut bread | quince
With an empty stomach, we opted for a heavy Supper For Two which featured a whole roasted chicken stuffed with garlic sausage in between the chicken's skin. Our bartender, David, took the order and set the bar counter with the signature blue plate settings. Bread and butter was served, and there was something special about the bread. The clustered three dinner rolls had the round appearance of a normal dinner roll, but the texture was airy and a light seasoning of something that was reminiscence of seaweed powder sprinkled on top of the rolls cultivated our appetite for the main course.
We skipped appetizer and went straight into the main course. The whole roasted chicken came in a large silver platter. A simple and classic presentation. The chicken was portioned into different parts, separating the white meat and the dark meat. We salivated over the charred chicken skin which glistens against the light, noting the skillfully formed crispy layer.
Dressed green salad leaves garnished the roasted chicken, contrasting against the brown and enhanced the visual appeal. An au jus accompanied the dish, composed of the chicken's rendered juice in a thick sauce which was full of umami flavor.
For the sides, sherry vinegar pan-fried squash stole the show. The polenta was a bit of a downer but everything was outstanding that one shortcoming could be overlooked.
The roasted chicken was extraordinary moist, yet its skin was extraordinary crispy. We were curious how this marvel was achieved and we had the opportunity to chat with Kelly, the restaurant manager of the evening. We were told that the chicken is soaked in brine for four days which allows it to stay moist while roasting. In addition, a layer of garlic sausage was pumped in between the chicken's skin and the meat. The technique helps to enhance the flavor for both the chicken meat and the chicken skin as well as creating a condition for the skin to crisp. Not only that, we learned that the delicious delicata squash was marinaded in sherry vinegar and quickly pan-fried in high heat to achieve the optimal texture.
The restaurant source some of its ingredients from Rare Tea Cellar, which is a high end rare ingredient purveyor that started off with importing tea and now expands into the realm of food ingredients. The skill and the technicality that goes into crafting the dishes are far beyond our level. From our experience, we felt that there's thought and calculation that goes into selecting what ingredient works and how to maximize each ingredient's flavor by leveraging cooking techniques. Basically, sign of a good chef.
Dessert wasn't too hard to choose. There is a handful of selection but they were quite heavy so we went for the refreshing mango-passion fruit sorbet. For three dollar a scoop, the quality and the quantity of the sorbet was a deal. The satisfaction was comparable to ice cream at Jeni's (one of our favorite ice cream store in Chicago). I can imagine coming here any day in the summer, taking a seat at one of the more casual bar stool on the first floor to enjoy a scoop or two.
Finally to wrap our indulgence, we turned French and finished with a cheese plate. Display and arrangement of the board was plain but I liked the printed restaurant name on the lining paper. Customization of plate ware with the restaurant's identity imprinted is always a nice touch if not overly excessive. The cheese portion was perfect considering this is supposed to be a last course. Additionally, the pickled carrot was tart and delicious while the quince was sweet providing the contrast.
The service was smooth and we enjoyed the different interactions we had with the staff. Food was served in between each course with spare time to digest and to enjoy the cocktails. Noise volume was not an issue despite all the tables in the restaurant being filled. I think it's the high ceiling and the open floor plan that mellows out the acoustic so diners can have comfortable conversations. The chairs are by far some of the most comfortable dining chairs, and believe it or not, it is an important aspect of a dining experience.
Our time at Somerset was an exchange of energy and feeling. The staffs were enthusiastically engaging and they commanded expertise of their craft like no other. Clearly demonstrating their passion for the culinary arts and customer service by tackling some of our curious questions. The professionalism here is truly a standard that is hard to beat.
The complete package of a good dining experience is an art that not many restaurateurs can proficiently construct and consistently deliver. Although the concept of an upscale diner was truly of a mysterious novelty, it's the talent, the people, that generated the feel good vibe bringing everything together into a wholesome elevated picture, enhanced by the beautifully designed dining room and the colorful visuals from all the touch points. Somerset is an eye candy, with comfortable chairs and comfortable people. It is a sophisticated restaurant with food that has the comfort element, yet flavors and cooking techniques that are exemplified of Chef Lee Wolen's expertise. We've been here three times already and it seems like this is going to be our new neighborhood favorite.
"The art of dining well is no slight art, the pleasure, not a slight pleasure." - Michel de Montaigne
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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