"Dining Due Diligence" has been on quite the roll lately, with three editions in the past two months. For the curious, here is my latest column, from today's Chicago Daily Law Bulletin:
Sequestered away in a sleepy corner of River North, Baume & Brix — with chefs Thomas Elliott Bowman, Ben Roche and Nate Park — creates a design-conscious space where the food vies with the decor for diners' attention.
The chic, yet industrial loft-style space might easily double for one of the designer lighting stores surrounding Merchandise Mart, given the no less than eight different fixtures we spotted.
Baume & Brix, 351 W. Hubbard St., is plagued by another "no seating until the party is complete" policy that was inconsistently and annoyingly applied, with some diners being seated right away while others were forced to languish at the bar. If you plan on visiting Baum & Brix on business, keep your fingers crossed that you make it into the former category.
Service was similarly inconsistent; the wait staff was obliging to the diners' every whim, though our table was not offered the wonderfully fragrant bread that was served to the tables surrounding us.
The trio of chefs divide the menu into contrived sections such as "explore," "summit," "conquer" and "divide," corresponding roughly to appetizers, entrees, desserts and shared desserts, respectively.
To "explore," the shrimp and grits bisque was lacking the traditional southern flavor profile that the name implies, but was brimming over with intensely concentrated corn flavor instead. The grilled octopus was perfectly cooked without a hint of chewiness, and the play on "fun-dip" created by the addition of flavor powders for dipping was novel and delicious — a rare combination.
On the less successful end of the spectrum, the "naked" lobster called to mind a breadless lobster roll, with off-putting textures as well.
Portion sizes for the entree course were somewhat miserly in scale, but what they lacked in quantity they made up in quality.
The black cod was accentuated by a slightly sweet mirin and sake marinade, and was served in a flavorful, but delicate, broth with a delightful edamame dumpling. Red curry-flavored short ribs were fork-tender and surprisingly well matched by Okinawa sweet potato puree and a vinegar-laced kale. The butterfish was also a highlight, with flesh that was especially rich and succulent.
Only the duck went astray — though cooked to the requested temperature, it was unpleasantly gamey, and the squash and barley "risotto" had a musty, earthy flavor that was not entirely pleasant.
To close out the meal, we ordered the "divide" course — a batch of baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies served with vanilla-infused milk. Because we ordered the cookies at the start of the meal, the interminable 45-minute wait for them seemed inexcusable, and when they finally arrived, they were hardly warm at all.
If you wish to linger after the meal discussing business, feel free to order this poorly paced course, but if you have other pressing matters to tackle, you are better off "conquering" your meal instead.