Food is Art, Dali at iNG

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By David Hammond

All the words we use to describe works of art – balance, composition, color – can be applied to food.

Right now, and until mid-February, iNG restaurant in Chicago's Fulton Market neighborhood is preparing food inspired by Salvador Dali.

This does not mean that all the plates are designed to look like the paintings (though one is), but rather that the famous surrealist's art works inspire the preparations.

Carolyn and I were recently invited by the restaurant to have the 10-course tasting menu, and it was, like most meals we've had at iNG (and at Moto, its forerunner), very entertaining.

I've often thought that, like Dali in his later years, owner/chef Homaro Cantu has walked the aesthetic tightrope balanced between artistry and showmanship. Trained in the kitchen of Charlie Trotter and other truly excellent chefs, Cantu opened Ing, the kitchen of which is now run by fellow chef Tim Havidic.

The Dali-inspired menu included, somewhat predictably but no less amusingly, a play on Dali's "The Persistence of Memory." You know, the painting with the melting clocks. This dish proved an excellent balance of artistic interpretation and taste. The clocks were created of goat's milk cheese with clock faced printed with edible ink; the richness of the goat's milk playing against a spicy vegetable sofrito for a fine interplay of flavors.

"Premonition of Civil War" is a Dali painting that portrays a man stretched and disfigured, emblematic of the way the artist's native Spain was torn apart during the internecine conflict. The dish was a hearty chorizo-garbanzo-ham stew with a crispy chip angled across the plate that recalled the stretched, disfigured man. This course was another fine example of how a painting could be interpreted in a plate of delicious food…and the warmth and heartiness of this dish was especially welcome on a cold night.

"Atavisim at Twilight" was presented in a bone from which the marrow had been removed and re-inserted, along with oxtail, parsnip and tapenade. This was delicious, and the saltiness was fine with me, but I think I was actually more taken by the beauty of the wine pairing: Alvear Alange Ensamblaje 2009. This Spanish red (tempranillo, garnacha, syrah) was very mellow and quite flavorful even after a full flavored meal.

A 10-course meal for two, with pairings, was $210, which, as Kevin Pang of the Chicago Tribune noted, is a value.

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