Guest post & restaurant review from my office mate and pal, Daniel Schiller.
Daniel Schiller is a practitioner of many trades, currently an adjunct lecturer at a university, and a social communications consultant. In particular, he enjoys working with arts organizations and companies on their social communications strategies. He lives alone with two cats.
Everything must have a starting point.
And so it does at the Dining Room at Kendall College, a Chicago institution of higher learning and training for the culinary arts. On a recent Monday evening, I joined a party of six for the featured pre-fixe five-course offering. We were fortunate to have an actual 2010 graduate of the culinary arts program joining us. He was able to offer the perspective of being a part of this exciting program. From the moment you enter, be prepared to abandon any preconceived notions about this being a live classroom. The Dining Room works like this: Back-of-the-house (kitchen) culinary arts students handle all levels of seasonal menu formation and implementation; Front-of–the-house (restaurant/guest-facing service) is comprised of a few culinary arts majors on rotation as well as the Hospitality Management majors. On this note (on a Monday at least) the guest experience was seamless. We were promptly and sincerely greeted, shown to our table, presented with our opened wine and water glasses.
First, a bit of background on the Dining Room’s guiding philosophy- they are a member of Green Chicago Restaurant Co-op. While skeptics may think this is simply ‘green washing’, I think there is substance and commitment behind this group. With the backing of many notable names in the Chicago dining/restaurant community, GCRC works to enable restaurateurs to proactively offer fresh, locally produced, seasonal ingredients. In terms of menu formation, this means you can expect to enjoy fresh, seasonal greens, local meats, and locally sourced dairy, etc. As for the vegetarians in our group, it appears this philosophy was utilized in making those selections also. All too often it seems the vegetarian option (the supposed green option) is sourced from the farthest locals, thus making it extraordinarily high-carbon. Again, not so with the Dining Room, we’ll deem them philosophically pure on this point.
So as you might expect, the menu is prepared daily, and on this given day it featured:
First Course: Salmon Tartar- well presented if not entirely local and nice segue into the Second Course.
Second Course: Spring Asparagus salad with wild mushrooms- seasonal and fresh.
Third Course (Main): Roast lamb rack with potato puree and caramelized carrots- another excellent execution of seasonal, local cuisine.
Fourth Course: Cheese course- a nice touch and something under-represented on the Chicago dining scene I feel. Although I will note I did not try the blue cheese and have to wonder about its placement on this pairing.
Fifth Course: Poached Pear with Panna Cotta- let me preface this by noting that generally I don’t do dessert. Typically, I find most desert options to be over-sweet and heavy on the palate. Not so with this offering, as it was an appropriate flavor level to compliment/supplement the meal.
Overall, I deem Dining Room very well worth the visit. I have a hunch that some in my party were motivated by thrift in attending and it is worth noting that an evening’s dining here is quite reasonable. Whatever their motivations, I know they enjoyed a very well planned and executed meal. You will find the service to be topnotch, perhaps a little fussy in some respects, but you will leave well tended and sated.
Certainly I am not the first reviewer to take notice of the Dining Room. It was featured in the 2010 Michelin Guide Chicago- to date marking the first and only culinary school to be featured. Michelin has been rating restaurants stateside for some time now- with Chicago, New York and San Francisco establishments featured. If you are looking for additional resources and reviews, you might also view Zagat Chicago 2010/11, as well as watch this footage of WTTW’s Check Please!
All told, you can expect a topnotch dining experience with the Dining Room. But note this is foremost an educational institution, so you should expect that you will be dining from a set menu. Also, as an educational institution they operate limited hours with two seatings per evening:
Dates: 4/15 to 5/14 and 5/20 to 6/18
Hours: Aside from the Monday night series- Tues to Fri 6 & 730pm seatings; Saturday 6 & 8pm
You may bring your own wine, subject to a $10 corkage or partake of the full bar. Next visit, I think I might like the staff to make the wine suggestions. All told, I would recommend you visit the Dining Room if for no other reason than to enjoy the cuisine and the experience. An added, though equally important, reason is that by visiting you support the training of a new generation of culinary artists and hospitality managers. Both are professions that actively support and enhance the vibrant cultural scene we enjoy in Chicago. If you visit, please let me know if you found my review helpful.