MK – 868 N Franklin Street, Chicago, IL
I grew up in the suburbs, but left for the northeast in high school. College and med school kept me out east until 2003 when I moved back for residency. I distinctly remember shortly after moving back having two nice dinners with my family – the second was at the now-closed Crofton on Wells, the first was at MK Chicago, Michael Kornick’s original outpost before he began his DMK empire. I distinctly remember sitting upstairs, being impressed by the room and food. Of course, I didn’t have a blog then, so I can’t remember for the life of me what I ate.
Fast forward nearly 11 years – I had been to a dinner event there, but really hadn’t dined there again until this week – Sara had bought a Gilt City voucher for a custom-built four course meal. The gist of the voucher is that you answer a questionnaire about your likes, dislikes, etc and they build a menu for you – being easy, we essentially told them to do what they wanted and walked in to see what the kitchen drummed up for us.
The menu starts with an amuse bouche – a slice of peppery salami, served with cornichons and white asparagus atop a fava bean puree. A bunch of subtle flavors dominated by the pop of the salami, this was a good way to start the meal.
The first course was pretty impressive. A duet of tartares – on the left, a salmon tartare served with salmon roe and topped with a creme fraiche that had a hint of citrus to balance the saltiness of the roe. The tartare itself was perfectly chopped and textured and beautifully presented. On the right, a tuna tartare topped with a “crust’ of finely chopped celery remoulade with a side of finely chopped Moroccan olives. The salt from the olives was a bit overpowering, but the tuna mixed with the celery was a perfect combination of flavors and textures.
Next up are some perfectly seared diver scallops. The bed is a nest of shaved spaghetti squash mixed with earthy, flavorful hen of the woods mushrooms and finely chopped pistachios. The scallops were lightly salted, nicely seared and cooked to a good tenderness. I’m a big fan of spaghetti squash and it worked well with the pistachio flavored vinaigrette.
From sea to land we go, a small portion of sliced bison ribeye – cooked on the perfect rarer side of medium rare. The bison itself didn’t have a huge gamey flavor, and lacked a deep beefy flavor in general. The salsify gratin was interesting, but didn’t do much for me. There was also a smorgasbord of sauces, a fairly mild broccoli rabe pesto and a robust sherry sauce. I think one or the other would work well here, but both together seemed like overkill. A good dish, but maybe a bit too much going on.
A meal at MK is not complete without trying Michael Kornick’s pommes frites – just a bit thicker than ideal for me but perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside, soft but well cooked in the middle. And the truffle cream served with may be one of the best dipping sauces for fries ever – a medium thick consistency dashed with a perfect amount of truffle to give it that distinct truffle flavor without being overpowering.
So we move on to dessert – and we get two! The first, affectionately named the pineapple express, was a nicely flavored brown butter tart with hints of pineapple topped with fresh sliced pineapple dotted with dashes of chiles and jalapenos to give it just a bit of a subtle kick. The lime-coconut sorbet was awesomingly refreshing and balanced out the dish nicely.
The second dessert, called “you’re killing me s’mores” had almost all my favorite dessert elements – a perfectly scattered mixture of textures, flavors, and temperatures. In the middle, a rich piece of dark chocolate ganache, surrounding by decadent torched marshmallows, served just at room temperature and contrasted by the rich graham cracker ice cream. The chopped peanuts that are sprinkled throughout the dish are subtle, and maybe a bit unnecessary but don’t detract from the dish either.
I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I went light on the wine pairings – so using the voucher wasn’t a phenomenal deal, but we definitely feel like we got our money’s worth. I walked out pleasantly full and stuffed, but with enough energy to walk home afterwards. MK executes well – they may suffer from overindulging in the number of ingredients on certain dishes, but for the most part, dishes are well executed and artfully presented. The fries in themselves are almost worth a return trip, and are up there with the best fries I’ve had in the city. . Service was friendly, helpful, and just laid back enough to make it comfortable – a tough balance to find at a fine dining restaurant. One of the sous chefs came out to talk to us during the meal – also a nice touch.
At the very least, I don’t think it will be another 11 years before my next trip.