Esmé Chicago


***** (5 stars)

Esme is as much into the artistry of presenting food as the actual flavors. That is not to say that the food isn't great; it is. But each course is accompanied by a description of who made the very beautiful dishes it is served on. You probably don't care. We certainly didn't. But they were beautiful.

There are also descriptions of the artist who created the paintings currently on display, and the sculptures that accompany some courses. You probably don't care about those either. We didn't.

But it's fine. If that's their passion; props to them for sharing it. I'd be less forgiving if the food wasn't both breathtakingly lovely (all of it) and very tasty (most of it).

But then there is the wine. Problems with the wine abound, and threaten to ruin what would otherwise be a Michelin quality meal. The first problem began before we even arrived. The on-line winelist is missing the page for white wines. Since the current summer menu features mostly fish, this is a rather big problem. Fortunately, when we arrived we discovered the real wine list contains that missing page, and we ordered a nice white to accompany the meal.

The second problem was that it seemed as if they had never served a bottle of wine before. Not only was the wine not ready because it hadn't been chilled, once it was served, it was as if the glasses were invisible. No one ever refilled our glasses, and at one point one of them, when emptied, was actually cleared from the table. We finally resorted to putting the bottle on the table so we could serve ourselves. I realize that the emphasis here is on wines by the glass, and a pairing flight, but come on.

Speaking of the pairing flight, one of us had that, too. And not just the regular flight, but the "reserve" flight. I can't imagine what was reserve about it, other than the $250 price. Not only were the wines mostly pedestrian, they were, with two exceptions, laughably, colossally poorly matched to the food. The white bottle we ordered literally went better with every course.

So how can I give a restaurant five stars with such ludicrous wine service? Because the food is beautiful and delicious. Just order a bottle of wine you know, or pay the corkage fee to bring your own, and you will have a much better experience.

One final suggestion: at the end of the meal we received the obligatory menu describing our courses. At least we think we did. There was almost no relationship to the descriptions we'd heard through our servers' masks. Please stop making these trendy. And please just hand them out at the start. We know you want us to focus on the food, but with such complex dishes, and masked servers, it helps to have a reference to understand the ingredients of the dish as we're eating it. Plus, it would be the perfect place to list who made each dish, for those who care.

Esmé Chicago
2200 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614