Excellent Meals for around $20: Blackbird

This is the first post in a series on top restaurants in Chicago which offer meals for around $20.

I realize that for many people (including myself), $20 is an amount of money which requires some amount of consideration before spending.  Which is why I’m all about maximizing deliciousness per dollar.  Some of the restaurants in this series will admittedly cost $10-15 more than your standard Hyde Park fare, but I promise that if you love food, the experience will totally be worth it.  (And if you need someone to go with, I’d be happy to accompany you.)

The first restaurant I’d like to mention is Blackbird.  Blackbird is located on Randolph off the Clinton Green Line stop (it’s also right next to Avec, another well-known restaurant I highly recommend).  Monday through Friday from 11:30-2, Blackbird offers a $22 lunch prix fixe  which includes an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert.

The last time I ate there (some months ago), I had the prix fixe and was not disappointed.  My selections were:

  • Ahi tuna tartare with smoked buttercream, capers, and puffed rice
  • Duck confit with blackberry sauce and house sausage
  • Hazelnut dacquoise with apricot sorbet

For $22(!)

I was not expecting much of the tartare, since it usually strikes me as an uninspired appetizer offering.  I chose it over the grilled baby octopus salad and the soup of the day.

I am not exaggerating when I say it was the best tartare of my life and I talked about it months afterward.  The tuna was so fresh and accompanying elements were so well-balanced that I could not stop eating it.  I actually wanted to take the plate with me into a separate room so I could savor it in private.  It’s not often I come close to losing my composure over food in nice restaurants.  (Though I probably do this more than most people.)

The confit was tasty.  In my experience, duck confit is usually a safe bet.  The high fat levels of dark duck meat preserved in fat make it difficult to do wrong, except in the tragic case of overcooking.  I enjoyed this course.

The dacquoise was refreshing and understated.  Desserts are hard to do at nice restaurants (forthcoming post on this), but I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the interplay between the components on the plate.  There was the hazelnut dacquoise (a thin slice of layered cake), apricot sorbet, espresso granita, and a sort of caramel crisp.  (I may be misremembering.)

The entire meal was well balanced, thoughtful, and refined.  The decor was pleasantly modern, but the interior of the restaurant was a little too crowded to be perfectly comfortable.  Our waiter was knowledgeable and professional, but lacking in warmth and familiarity.  Overall a good lunch experience, perfect for starting a day of shopping or indulging whims in the Loop.

Why is it worth it?  Blackbird is one of the top restaurants in Chicago.  Last November, it was one of the 23 restaurants in Chicago to receive Michelin stars.  The dinner tasting menu is 5x more expensive than the lunch prix fixe ($110).  The prix fixe is an affordable luxury and a great way to sample excellent food for a reasonable price.

Lunch at Blackbird – $22

Four stars:

Blackbird on Randolph

Restaurant Website

Eatings tips: the rest of the lunch menu is fairly affordable as well.
Blackbird is part of a restaurant group which also runs Avec (next door), The Publican (a restaurant centered around beer and pork), and the Violet Hour (one of the most popular places to get a cocktail in Chicago).  If anyone would like to run the gauntlet by going to all of these in one day, he or she should find a way to contact me.

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2 Comments on “Excellent Meals for around $20: Blackbird”

  1. Alex says:

    Interesting post. Do you prefer Blackbird to Avec?

    • thajuicer says:

      I actually prefer Avec to Blackbird, but for non-food related reasons. The food at both is comparable, so which I would prefer depends on how I’m feeling. I do think the atmosphere at Avec is more conducive to good conversation. Blackbird feels a little claustrophobic because of the closely packed tables. I also think the way the lights are installed in the ceiling rather than hanging overhead exaggerates the height of the restaurant. But I haven’t been back to Avec since it reopened, so I should do that sometime soon.

      I’m glad you liked my post!
      🙂


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