Friday, October 1, 2010


Last Friday I was invited to a special event put on by Olive Oils from Spain at Vermillion. It started with an olive oil tasting which was quite the experience in itself. However intriguing and tasty the olive oils were, I kind of felt like I was sweating out oil all day long afterward. Anyways, after the tasting the executive chef Maneet Chauhan prepared a four course meal for us highlighting some of the olive oils from the tasting.

Vermillion is a Latin American and Indian fusion restaurant on Hubbard and State in the middle of River North. I'd say the dress is business casual. I forgot about this when I was getting dressed in the morning and didn't have a chance to change before the lunch. Either way, I showed up 10 minutes late in a t-shirt and jeans while most of the other guys were in business suits. Basically, I'm a schmuck.

Since we had a private event I didn't have to wait around or make a reservation. There's a decent amount of seating, but I'm pretty sure since it's a trendier place that you'll need reservations at on at a busier time. The servers were excellent, making sure to plate the food in the proper order and keep our drinks full. The owner even pulled my chain by pretending pictures weren't allowed and confiscating my camera (I got it back after 10 seconds, but it was clearly a chance to pick on the gullible young guy).

We had a special menu and a special event, so price wasn't an issue in this case, but in general this place is kind of pricey. The larger entrees run close to $30, and the tapas menu is mostly $12. It's definitely fine dining though and you get what you pay for.

The Food
It's not every day that the executive chef comes out and explains each dish to me. Usually I kind of poke and prod to guess what each ingredient is, but this time I had a contender for the Next Iron Chef telling me what I had in front of me. The first course was Crispy Naan covered in Anchovies with a shooter of Horchata. It came with a variety of tomatoes, olives, and queso fresco. There was plenty of salt and acid in the dish, and it was a nice way to refresh my taste buds after all of the olive oil tasting. I'm a fan of anchovies on most anything too, so this was a great way to start. The Horchata was like drinking a fantastic keer (Indian rice pudding and one of my buddy Supreet's favorite dishes).

The Crispy Naan

 The Horchata

The second course was a Trio of Oysters (one with Mango dressing, one with Basil Chimichurri, and one with Portuguese Coconut Sauce. I've always thought that oysters weren't that big a deal and had trouble getting past the sliminess factor. Still, I could appreciate the dressings which were well balanced and delicious.

 The Oyster Trio

The third course was Seared Tuna rubbed with Garam Masala served over a Cucumber Ceviche. The tuna was cooked perfectly, and the flavorful Indian crust was a nice touch. It was well balanced with the acidity of the cucumbers too. The olive oil shined through well in the dressing for the ceviche.

 The Garam Masala Rubbed Tuna

For dessert we had an Olive Oil Opus that included Olive Oil Cake, Olive Oil Ice Cream, Olive Oil Sugar, Fig Olive Oil Confit, and Candied Olives. You may think this was a bit ridiculous, but each dish portrayed a different use of olive oil. None of the flavors were overpowering, and the versatility was impressive. My favorite thing on the plate was the smallest, the candied olives.

 The Olive Oil Opus

The Olive Oil Cake and Ice Cream

After the original olive oil tasting, I thought I'd had enough to last me a lifetime. At first I was dreading a four course menu featuring these oils, but I was blown away. The dishes were extremely refined and expressed an incredibly creative mix of flavors between the two key cuisines. I don't think it would be fair to give a Pearl rating in this case because it wasn't anywhere near a normal dining out experience. Still, I'd say that the talents in the kitchen and the warm, trendy atmosphere at Vermillion make it somewhere you've got to try for a fun night out.

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