A Spectacle of Fall Flavors at Sixteen Restaurant
Sitting down to dinner at Sixteen recently, on the first evening of their new fall menu, I was greeted with a "menu" that reminded me of the spell book in Hocus Pocus. Not many restaurants can tug on such heartstrings. But Sixteen is not just any restaurant. Under the direction of executive chef Thomas Lents and pastry chef Patrick Fahy, Sixteen tells elaborate, whimsical stories throughout the seasons as the restaurant undergoes complete menu changes four times a year. Each season features a completely different theme and menu design, an undertaking that certainly merits accolades of the highest degree. The new fall menu tells the "story" of fall via intricate novel-sized books individually illustrated, designed, and written. As guests flip through the book, they read about the philosophy of the menu and learn where their meal will guide them. Such thoughtfulness and rigorous attention to detail bodes well for the meal that follows, and Sixteen may very well be serving some of the most invigorating and awe-inducing fall fare in Chicago.
(A sampling of fall dishes at Sixteen. Photo: Sixteen)
It takes a truly special restaurant to remind me of various Disney moves throughout my meal. With its unique brand of refined whimsy, Sixteen touches diners deep within, eliciting different emotional responses with each complex plate, each crafty place setting. As a waiter bedecked my place mat with twigs, acorns, leaves, and a mini haystack, I felt like Bambi in the forest, while my neighbors' nautically themed place mats recalled mental images of The Little Mermaid. A spoonful of oat-based pumpkin porridge made me feel like Goldilocks, and a plate of apples and turbot from the Normandy coast had me playing the Ratatouille rat in my head. It's a magical feat to dazzle diners in such wonderful ways, and trust me when I say that Disney references are about as high as it gets for compliments from me.
The fall menu at Sixteen is categorized as a "feast for autumn," available in different tasting menu durations. If you really want to experience fall at its absolute finest, spring (seasonal pun!) for the 12-course tasting menu. Tables select whether they'd like to revel in the "bounty of the sea" or the "bounty of the plains." It's like a choose-your-own-adventure book, and I'm obsessed with it. Sea-faring items include uni with fluke and soy, razor clams with leeks and sorrel, and scallop served in-shell with truffle and coral. The land route offers couscous with sage, celeriac with egg and Iberico ham, and a root vegetable terrine enriched with truffles. From here, dishes get communal, shifting to heartier plates such as roasted squab and foie gras with wild rice, mushrooms, and Jupiter grapes; rack of lamb with fondant potato, and pepper jus; and a marvelously crispy porchetta with a glistening skin that crackles like peanut brittle. A pre-dessert popcorn truffle toes the line between savory and sweet, before guests move on to fall holiday-themed dessert plates. Again, diners select between a Dia de Los Muertos or a Halloween dessert. The former is a medley of black Mission fig, hoja santa, espresso, and candied pumpkin pie, while the latter features banana, caramelized white chocolate, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and spiced orange. It's basically a gourmet trick-or-treat basket melded into one stunning finale.