The Albert, Chicago, November 2017

We visited The Albert in the EMC2 Hotel for the first time just over a month ago. The experience was a mixed one, and you can read my review here. Most of the food was delicious, but the way it was served could have been improved in some cases. The cocktails were good, but the cocktail menu was an organizational and grammatical mess. The wine list advertised Château Lynch Bages, but the bottle was actually a third bottling of regional wines from the château owner. I discussed most of these things with a friendly waiter and a clueless manager (always in a nice way, which I find to be more effective than anger or other negative approaches). The restaurant hadn’t been open long, so we decided to go back after enough time had passed to clean up some of the unevenness. Alas, in this case, the time had not healed the wounds.

The drink menu was unchanged, still weirdly organized and rife with inconsistencies and errors that you can read about in my previous article.

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There had been a few changes in the menu, but many items remained from our previous visit. (That’s not a problem. Few restaurants overhaul their entire menu every month and the dishes we tasted were largely delicious.)

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The interior was as eclectic and interesting as ever. (It’s actually one of the main reasons my wife wanted to go back.)

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Our first starter had been on the previous menu, but we didn’t try it then, so we did this time.

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This was excellent. The octopus was perfectly cooked, tender and delicious. Octopus does not have a lot of flavor; harissa was a great choice to spice it up.

Harissa is a condiment that comes from Tunisia and can be used to spice up everything from your breakfast eggs to your lunch sandwich to your fish or steak dinner at night. It is a garlicky, spicy, paste that has a base of a variety of chilis, roasted or fresh, to which lots of garlic and a variety of herbs and spices can be added, with everything mixed to a smooth paste in olive (or another) oil.

One of the most important chilis in the mixture is the Baklouti pepper, which is not common the the US. If you grow vegetables at all, it is not hard to grow the Baklouti and the seeds are readily available. However, this is the kind of recipe that allows you to mix and match ingredients depending on what you have available, how spicy you like things, etc. Here are two recipes for harissa, one based on fresh chilis and one based on dry.

 

 

The second recipe from the UK gives some measurements in milliliters and grams. For those of you who don’t speak metric, just divide by 30 to get ounces (fluid or dry) and you’ll be close enough. 

Don’t feel like making your own? There is a good chance you will find at least one brand of harissa in your grocery store. If not, you can order from Amazon in a handy tube if you don’t think you will use much or in a jar if you want more.

 

You also might want to try several brands to find one that combines the right amount of heat, garlic, and spice for your taste.

The roasted Shishito peppers added flavor and texture to the plate. These peppers are generally very mild, but about one out of every 10 has a higher capsaicin content than the rest (capsaicin is the chemical that makes hot peppers hot). They are never as hot as, for example, a jalapeño, but the spicier ones can take you by surprise.

Our second appetizer was one that we had on our first visit: Roasted Sweetbreads with Green Curry, Maple Syrup, and Sweet Potato.

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The dish was every bit as delicious as the last time, and it suffered from the same problem: it was served with no spoon or bread to use up of all of the wonderful curry sauce.

There were three of us on this visit, so we had one more starter to sample: pumpkins soup.

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No complaints here! A perfect November soup. The sweet apples combined beautifully with pumpkin to make a smooth, rich soup. The hibiscus flowers added some color and an herbal note, while the pepitas (toasted seeds from certain varieties of pumpkin that have seeds with no hard hulls around them) added a nice crunch. 

Our first entrée was a variation on one that appeared on the previous menu, but which we didn’t try: sea trout.

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If the “Fjord Sea Trout” name is accurate (and, as I have explained, I have reason to suspect the accuracy of anything on the menus here), it is probably from the fjords around Norway, which yield an abundance of flavorful fish and other seafood. This was perfectly pan fried to medium with a crisp skin. Dill is great with fish (and appropriate for fish from Scandinavia, where dill is very popular). It appeared to have been incorporated in the creme fraîche (a slightly thicker, slightly more sour type of sour cream) and was perfect with the trout. The beets added color, flavor, and a touch of sweetness.

Next enteée: a classic fall dish: stuffed acorn squash.

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Pick up any food magazine in the fall and you will likely find a recipe for stuffed acorn squash. Cut them in half and let your imagination go. Carnivores stuff them with sausage, ground beef or other ground meats, usually well-seasoned with fall herbs and spices. Vegetarians pack them with nuts and other vegetables, as was done here. The squash was perfectly tender and all of the other ingredients gave plenty of complementary flavors and textures.

The third and final entrée was also a repeat from our first visit: Berkshire Pork Ribeye.

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It was, as far as I could tell, identical to the last time, which is to say the pork was outstanding, the diced kohlrabi and plums a nice side, but what appears to be a purée of kohlrabi leaves and stems still rather off-putting, at least to my palate.

Oh, the wine list still listed the “Château Lynch Bages” that is not the Château wine at all. As I said before, that, to me, is nothing short of fraud.

So what to do with The Albert? We (especially my wife) love the ambience. Service was good, though not exceptional. Most of the food was delicious, but the way some of the dishes are served still needs more thought. The problems with the cocktail and wine lists were unchanged. Some of the things that bothered me may not bother you at all, so you may enjoy it much more than I did.

In the end, we decided that it would be a while before we returned. In the restaurant business, chefs change, beverage managers change, and concepts change fairly often. We are hopeful that the problems with the cocktail and wine list and the execution of some of the dishes will be cleaned up eventually. If so, The Albert will be a very good restaurant. Time will tell.

The Albert (In EMC2 Hotel)
Address: 228 E Ontario St Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: (312) 471-3883
Reservations: opentable.com
Website: https://thealbertchicago.com
Dress Code: Smart Casual
Price Range: $31–$50
Hours: Sun–Wed, 11:00 am–10:00 pm
            Thu–Sat 11:00 am–11:00 pm
Credit Cards: AMEX, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

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The Albert in EMC2 Hotel

The author is a member of the Amazon Affiliate program but otherwise has no affiliation with any of the businesses or products described in this article.

All images were taken with a Sony Alpha a6500 camera and a Sony-Zeiss SEL1670Z Vario-Tessar T E 16-70mm (24-105mm full frame equivalent) F/4 ZA OSS lens or Sony 35mm (52mm full frame equivalent) F/1.8 E-Mount Lens using ambient light. Post-processing in Adobe Lightroom® and Adobe Photoshop® with Nik/Google and Skylum® Luminar® plugins. 

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