A few weeks ago I had the most amazing opportunity to taste Zest's new menu and interview Chef Kurt Mittelberger. Zest is the Intercontinental Hotel's delicious restaurant located at 505 N. Michigan Avenue. I also had the chance to sample some outstanding wine, chocolate, and cheese from their bar downstairs called Eno.
I have a confession...I am not a big fan of chocolate, in fact I don't really enjoy it very much at all. But I had the most amazing raspberry balsamic chocolate at Eno that completely changed my mind. Because I'm not a big fan of chocolate, I'm a huge fan of fruit desserts, one which is fresh strawberries with a balsamic reduction sauce. This chocolate reminded me exactly of that and more. I don't know chocolate well, but I do know that is was the perfect combination of flavors that wasn't overpowering. I also tried a salted caramel chocolate made by local chocolatier Sweet Margy.
The wine was also outstanding. We got to sample a lot of rose wines, which are my absolute favorite, all the way from Germany to California. My favorite was the Spanish Cava and the Boomtown Pinot Gris.
Next we were escorted upstairs to a private dinner for bloggers and their guests, which included a four-course meal complete with wine pairings. At the actual restaurant you can purchase this for only $41. First we had a delicious Cesar salad and then an amazing flight of soups that included a cream of chicken, tomato and French onion. Then came either halibut or veal. I had the halibut and my partner in crime, Andrew, had the veal. Normally I wouldn't eat veal, it's an animal lover thing, but I just had to try this one. I was so glad that I did, it was amazing and the perfect combination of different flavors! This combination of flavors is a term Chef Mittelberger calls umami. Umami is a Japanse term defined as "savoriness". Dessert was a warm apple tart. Being a fan of fruity desserts I was very pleased. I could barely finish it all!! Overall it was an outstanding meal!
The next day I had the chance to speak with the Chef Kurt Mittelberger, who has been around the world and back. His most amazing feat in my opinion was opening The Chairman's Club, a business club in Kuwait for the son of the king. He has served the likes of Prince Charles, Colin Powell, the Queen Noor-Royal House of Saudia Arabia, as the executive chef for three years. He said the hardest part was reworking all the recipes to not include alcohol, as it is illegal there. Chef Mittelberger said he resorted to making very, very strong reductions of high-class vinegars, non-alcoholic red wine, and higher quality grape juice.
Before Chef Mittelberger took the job as the head chef at the Intercontinental's Zest he worked for two and a half years as the sous chef at the Hyatt. He thought about leaving Chicago, but when the Zest job opened up he jumped on it. Chef Mittelberger considers Chicago one of the three biggest "foodie" cities in the U.S. next to New York and San Francisco. One of the reason's he loves working at Zest was the fact that he got total freedom redesigning the menu which isn't the case with a lot of chain hotels. A lot of the dishes lean towards the Mediterranean-side, as that is currently what the public is looking for, something a little bit healthier and something that combines a lot of different flavors.
Overall Zest is an excellent restaurant that combines decent prices with fine dining. Most entrees are around $20, and give a chance to sample a fancy meal you might not otherwise get a chance to try on a budget. If you have some extra time...and a sweet tooth I highly recommend the chocolate, cheese and wine downstairs at Eno for a happy hour treat!