Review: Band of Bohemia rightfully acknowledged by Michelin Guide
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April 6, 2017
April 6, 2017
Walking alongside the Ravenswood Metra tracks, I began to wonder if Google Maps had failed me. As I passed a vague and nondescript warehouse-like building, a red neon light caught my eye. Then, the name appeared illuminated above in white paint and I realized I arrived at Band of Bohemia. I quickly recognized that this isn’t your typical Ravenswood spot.
Band of Bohemia received their first Michelin star Oct. 28 after opening in fall of 2015. For those unfamiliar with the Michelin Guide, in Chicago only 19 restaurants found themselves with one star, five restaurants with two stars and two restaurants with three stars for the 2017 Guide.
A Michelin star guarantees an experience, which is exactly what Band of Bohemia delivers. Imagine walking into your cool worldly aunt’s living room, surrounded by elephant printed drapery, leather upholstered barstools and a wallpaper you’ll grow to love. The swanky yet approachable atmosphere sets the tone for the meal, in an entirely inviting way.
Executive Chef Matt Dubois told me his role “involves hiring, training, writing all the recipes, developing the menus and quality control, which is all pretty standard.”
While being the Executive Chef means delegating many responsibilities to ensure a successful kitchen, for Dubois it also entails maintaining relationships.
“I still do all the ordering, just because I enjoy it and I’m the one who does inventory. Some of the people [purveyors] I’ve worked with for years and years across different restaurants and places,” said Dubois.
For upper management, a star was always in sight. “It had obviously been talked about before we even opened. It was like ‘Hey you know, if we could get it, that’d be great’,” said Dubois. “Craig [Sindelar, Co-Founder & Director of Operations], coming from three Michelin star restaurants in Chicago and three Michelin star restaurants in Spain, it’s kind of all he knows.”
The space itself is wide open, and when I arrived at 8:30 on a Saturday night, every table was filled. The most unique of the seating was the chef’s table area. With a direct view of the kitchen, you feel like you’re part of the show. In a way, the kitchen and dining area are “one.”
The menu is almost in a bound book form, which makes it feel as if it’s a narrative of the given season. The categories are simple, with appetizers, small plates and entrees being the only three. At first glance, there are limited options. Yet, each component in a given dish is unique and near perfect.
While few things are listed on a dish description, “every tiny little thing has to be perfect and nothing can miss the mark,” said Dubois. “There’s no room for error.”
Of course being the over-eating-achiever that I am, I decided to try a dish from each section.
I started off with the smoked white sturgeon. The sturgeon itself was “bacon-cured”, retaining the classic salt level of bacon while having a clean finish. This was accompanied by toasted sourdough that was thin, and presented the perfect amount of chew. Spread on the bread was a surprisingly rich egg yolk, which was also shaved on top. A tart raspberry puree cut the richness and salt of both the egg yolk and sturgeon. It was at this moment when I began to realize every element in Dubois’ dishes were meaningfully added.
Then came the duck confit raviolo. With the added sage oil, a yin-yang of both flavors and colors embodied the dish. An unexpected aspect of this dish were the walnuts. A seemingly simple addition, they added a necessary textural difference and distinct nuttiness.
A dish I’ve dreamt about since consumption was the steak. The mushrooms, which Dubois later told me were, “confited for six hours in beef fat, garlic and shallots. Then, are picked up in a pan to get crispy.” Seriously, the mushrooms were exactly what you want a mushroom to taste like, earthy but not overwhelmingly so. The immensely pure flavors of the mushroom really captures this notion that Dubois emphasizes of each addition to a dish needing to be perfect.
One of the most noteworthy dishes was the foie schnitzel. As a major lover of any form of schnitzel -pork, chicken, you name it- this was one I was instantly drawn to. The foie gras was fried, as implied by the schnitzel title. It was paired with an apple-onion jam and a rye spaetzle, a combination of flavors that brought a level of acidity to the heavenly foie. Dubois said that it was his take on the classic “liver and onions”. After finishing, I was in a state of near euphoria. A great sadness overwhelmed me when I finished the last bite.
At first I was hesitant to order a dessert, apprehensive that all the wonderful flavors I just indulged in would be lost. Yet, the honey cake was a delightful surprise. The candied ginger ice cream alongside the cake was crisp and refreshing.
Oddly, the last distinctive and memorable moment of the night was receiving the check. In this instance, it was inserted between pages of an actual novel!
Though Dubois said “year one of opening a restaurant is the hardest thing I’ve done,” his and his team’s efforts have proven successful. Part of the success surrounds his approach in being the Executive Chef. “It’s the thousand-foot view; you have to be removed from everything so that you can keep your eyes on everything,” Dubois said. From the unique ambience to the confited mushrooms, Band of Bohemia rightfully deserves its star.