Top Chef: Sprout is in Bloom

When Chicago chef Dale Levitski (La Tache, Trio Atelier) came in second to the odious (though admittedly talented) Hung Huynh during Top Chef’s third season, I felt he was robbed.

I waited anxiously for his new restaurant to open. And I waited.

Happily, the job at Sprout came along, and Levitski has been cooking there to great acclaim ever since. A cozy little place off Fullerton, it’s well worth a drive from the ‘burbs.

No Prices on Entertaining Menu
The menu is both entertaining (beautifully balanced cocktails named for Delta Burke and Linda Evans, among others) and decidedly, well, vague. A main ingredient is listed, then a few supporting elements are given second billing. No explanation, no prices. This is where the excellent service comes in quite handy.

The staff’s culinary knowledge and intimacy with the menu is amazing. Our server enthusiastically described each dish in a way that made them sound approachable—although some of the individual ingredients may seem funky or out of place, they pull together to become something special. Trust me.

The no-price mystery is solved quickly; it’s a $60 Prix Fixe menu with many choices in starters, entrees and desserts. A palate-refreshing sorbet and a cheese course are included in the five-course meal. Don’t be scared! The portions are appropriate, and you will leave feeling full, but not uncomfortably so. You can always order a la carte if you prefer.

Grilled Cheese Like You’ve Never Had
Now, the food: A perfectly seared scallop atop a red onion and fennel mélange, dotted with Green City Market grapes and micro greens, atop a jammy sauce of verjus rouge. Levitski’s “gourmet fish stick,” skate dipped in a panko batter and sauteed, served over nasturtium leaves, tiny tomatoes, legumes, and a giardiniera aioli. Those were just the starters, folks.

I don’t want to shortchange the entrees, which were delicious. Especially the medium-rare skirt steak with braised octopus, caperberries, and cilantro vinaigrette; the evening’s vegetable dish, truffled gnocchi with cauliflower puree, smoked almonds, pea shoots and Parmesan shavings; and the pan-seared lamb finished in duck fat with a deconstructed ratatouille. Wow. But I have to wax rhapsodic about the cheese course, so moving on.

Four years ago, we ate at Levitski’s Trio Atelier in Evanston, and on the menu was a grilled cheese sandwich. But this was not your average grilled cheese. I have been thinking about it since I ate it. Granted, I’m weird that way. And when the cheese course came to the table at Sprout, there it was again. I think I might have lost consciousness briefly.

I wasn’t disappointed. This rendition was aged white Cheddar with roasted tomatoes and crusty bread. Somehow, the cheese gets on the outside as well and forms a delectable crust of it’s own. Served with tapenade mustard for dipping (or licking off your fingers), it was everything to me. This is starting to sound a little like a porn movie. So on to desserts.

More yumminess
A jam jar filled with the trifle of a mad food scientist: gingersnap crust, delicately scented chamomile custard, juicy nectarines, pickled plums, candied ginger and fresh whipped cream.

And how to pass up the berries, especially accompanied by pattes de nonne (ethereal little sugared doughnuts, but the actual translation is “nun farts”!), fresh basil and Black Dog’s goat cheese gelato?

The real stunner, though, is the corn dessert, a truffled brioche bread pudding studded with sweet corn, topped with sweet corn gelato, macademia nuts, caramel, truffle crème anglaise and popcorn. You heard me. And it was amazing.

The restaurant menu changes with seasonal availability, so these specific dishes might not be available, but whatever is on the menu will be thought provoking and more importantly, delicious. In a recent conversation, I asked Levitski to describe his vision. “I don’t want anyone preaching at the table. I want to disarm people about fine dining; it should be fun. I want that to be infectious.” Mission accomplished, Chef! I can’t wait to go back.