Thursday, May 19, 2011

When Food Goes Incognito

Chicago: the Windy City, City of Broad Shoulders, Meat Packer to the World and home to the Chicago Bulls.  Chicago is known for its steaks.  Fresh from America's heartland, the Western Plains and Texas, ranchers have driven their best beef to Chicago for well over a century.  So where did I go to dinner the last time I visited?

McCormick and Schmick's, one of our country's best-known seafood restaurant, beckoned me to it's interior one evening last week.  After a long day's work, and a brisk walk through a chilly mist, I turned into the door of the first restaurant I reached.  Why did I stay?

First of all, it was warm inside and it was raw and cold outside.  No instant motivation to return to the early evening temperatures awaiting me outside.

Second, even though the restaurant was fairly large, it was sectioned into reasonable spaces, so there was no section that looked overwhelmingly large and over-populated.  It would feel good to sit down and experience a meal here.

And Third:  the smells and sights.  The aroma of butter, bread, subtle spices and succulent seafood dishes would welcome in anyone.  Tonight, I needed no extra urging to find a seat and open the menu. 

Let's start with the wine.  I chose a delightful Chardonnay from the Chalone Vineyard in California:  Alluring aromas reminiscent of pineapple and vanilla assaulted my nose with delightful instensity. Full flavors of creamy, toasty oak spice and toasted almond left me with a lingering rich feeling post-sipping. It had a very long, elegant, almost nutty finish.  Served slightly chilled, it was a beautiful way to end my workday, and begin my evening.  

My love affair with the menu then began.  McCormick and Schmick's boasts they are committed to culinary excellence, using only the freshest ingredients, locally grown when possible, and regional chef-inspired creations.  Well, hasn't that become the new normal for any upscale restaurant?  And honestly, what Chicago-born chefs are "inspired" by seafood?  I was about to find out.

I was torn between the Wild Sea Scallops (delicious and light) and the Skatewing from Florida.  Have to admit, I'd never heard of a skatewing before now.  As I usually do, when I can't decide, I asked the waitress - "which do you recommend?"  And she answered as though she read the cue cards, "they're both my favorites."  Everyone knows what they like about sea scallops, so I asked her to describe the skatewing.  "It's mild and buttery," she said.  Hmmmmm. 

According to the menu, the wild Sea Scallops came from New Bedford, MA, accompanied by potatoe cakes and creamed spinach.  It almost felt like they might have been our northeastern neighbors at some time, and suddenly it sounded heavier, more food than I could consume.  The mysterious Skatewing came from plain old FL, no town mentioned.  Paired with a wilted spinach side (more commonly known as sauteed spinach), a roasted wild mushroom ragout and pesto butter - this was the dinner for me.

Never afraid to admit my ignorance, I asked the waitress what kind of a fish category the skatefish might fall into:  mild like a whitefish, more like a rich grouper, or maybe salmon?  It was at that point the look on her face changed from bright, cheery and helpful, to something that resembled "uh oh, how do I explain this?"

So let me allow you to feast on this image of the oh so lovely, oh so mouthwatering meal that I ended up ordering.  The succulent skatefish, cozily nestled with the earthy mushroom ragout, sauteed spinach, and pesto butter.

The waitress, Cheryl, attempted to explain what she knew of the skatefish.  She elegantly extended her arms out from her waist and languidly flapped them up and down.  I knew right away to what she referred.  Some may have thought she was mimicking the wing extension of a Blue Heron or some other large bird.  But no, turns out the Skatewing is not really a fish at all.  It was the fins of a ray.  Aghast!  I've caught a manta ray or two and always released them.  I almost felt as though she were telling me I'd be taking a bite out of Bambi's mother.  After a slow, deep breath, I ordered the skatewing anyway.  It just sounded too tantalizing to pass up.
And you know what?  It was unbelievable.  Mild, slightly sweet, enhanced by the pesto butter, it was a truly beautiful combination.  I would recommend it to anyone.

But I have to admit, I don't like it when food goes incognito.  Let me know what I'm eating please, I can make my own choices.

And, after doing some research on the skatewing (more closely related to the shark than to a fish), I have to tell you, I will never order it again.  Apparently, the skatewing is slow to mature, which means it is slow to reproduce and is susceptible to overfishing as a result.  So in a way, it was like eating Bambi's mother.  And even though I said I'd recommend it to anyone, actually, I'd recommend that we return it to the sea, same as I did when I caught one off the coast of Georgia.  And let's take it off the menus of any place that doesn't border an ocean.

If you're still not convinced, and you think I'm just saying this because I'm some sort of treehugger (or whatever the current terminology is), oh, think again my friend.  What looks so lovely on the plate above, began life in the sea looking like the critter below.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your mouth watering,tantalizing and thorough review! Sounds like I'll be ordering the sea scallops,potato cakes and yum...creamed spinach.