I recently made a quick weekend getaway trip to Chicago with my girlfriend to explore the city and check out some restaurants in the Windy City. Chicago has always had a special place in my culinary journey where I have seen some of the best and most innovative dining places. There is a ton of creative energy in this city; in other words, it’s not just about deep dish pizzas here. One place that definitely intrigued me when I was coming up with a list of places to visit was Arbor, an unassuming café inside the Green Exchange in Logan Square neighborhood that turns into a restaurant at night serving what they call “Midwestern omakase” where you can customize your meal depending on the number of courses as well as the prices. I’ll first say this: my experience at Arbor was not perfect for two reasons. First, I’m all for casual vibe when having a dinner, but there was zero sense of hospitality. No one greeted us or directed us to one of the tables when we entered the space (in fact, I didn’t see any single person who even pretends to be a maître d). Second, and more damaging, was the wine pairing. Neither of us are really into wines of natural, organic or biodynamic varieties and the sole wine options available to pair with the food was just horrific. I still remember the dread on my girlfriend’s face after she sipped a glass of red that tasted like it was a mixture of San Pellegrino and grape juice. These shortcomings were quite unfortunate because otherwise the food at Arbor was really good.
We ordered the five-course option at $75 per person. The Midwestern omakase is only available on Thursday and Friday nights. I saw a lot of emphasis on foraging and affinity to environment in the tasting menu, and such emphasis led to a lot of unexpected surprises, such as the naturally fermented rye bread with black sesame seeds that kicked off the meal, offering a very pleasant start along with two types of butters (one with elderflower sugar and the other with sea salt) and caramelized rhubarb. What particularly stood out about the meal at Arbor was the clean flavor of each dish. I haven’t quite seen an awesome corn chowder like the one that the kitchen put together, where corn fritters, pickled sweet corn and popcorn grits combined to create wonderful complexity of flavor and texture. Pickled shrimp with masala yogurt and heirloom tomatoes that you can eat with black cumin papadum was quite solid, as was the duck confit on top of roasted sorghum, tart cherries and shaved fennel.
The best savory course, however, belonged to crispy skin ivory trout. Not only was the trout more or less perfectly cooked with very nice balance of seasoning, but the combination of the fish with various forms of zucchini, especially, the zucchini ratatouille, was absolutely sensational. The moment when a piece of trout with a scoop of zucchini ratatouille entered my mouth was pure bliss! The two desserts that came at the end of the tasting menu were also successful, drawing influences from all over the world. Tart yogurt panna cotta with strawberry confit and stout reduced cheery worked together quite well with brown butter crumble and dark chocolate brownie for delightful contrast in flavor, and saffron kheer with pineapple pickled raisins, marshmallow dust and brown butter crumble complemented nicely with the healthy-tasting black rice horchata. At the end of the meal, we both walked away satisfied with the food, and had to keep pondering what would’ve happened to our experience had the wine pairings been more up to the level of the Midwestern omakase.
The reservation system at Arbor is a bit peculiar; you text a number on their website with your desired party number and time. The response rate was reasonably fast, though, and I had no problem getting a reservation two weeks in advance. I will spare no more words on the wine pairing; suffice to say that I recommend bringing a bottle on your own (didn’t ask about if and how much they charge for corkage fees). I liked the nature-friendly café décor of the space but the vibe overall was a little bizarre and it didn’t help that there was a large, very loud party next to our table. If you’re looking at the overall experience, Arbor has a lot to desire. Strictly in terms of food, which is the predominant factor in my restaurant reviews, it is a worthwhile destination to visit Logan Square for.
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.0/10
Address: 2545 W. Diversey Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647
Telephone: (312) 866-0795