The Chocolate Sanctuary, Gurnee, IL, Nov. 2018

Valeria and I usually save our dining out for when we are in downtown Chicago, where there is a seemingly infinite number of restaurants to choose from. However, there are some interesting restaurants in the northern suburbs even as far north as Gurnee. There you will find the Chocolate Sanctuary, one of the more upscale, though still casual, restaurants in that area. The name implies a candy shop more than a restaurant, and they do offer an outstanding selection of house made chocolates (more on those later), but it is a full service bar and restaurant that finds ways to add some cocoa or chocolate to many items on the menu.

Case in point: shortly after you are seated you will be presented with dinner rolls. Half of the rolls are traditional bread, and half are made with cocoa and small chocolate chips.

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There is also a choice of butter that had been whipped with cocoa and plain butter. Both the butter and the rolls have chocolate flavor, but neither is sweet. The butter is not sweet at all, and the chocolate rolls have just a touch of sweetness, maybe about the same as raisin bread. It is definitely more savory than sweet.

There is an extensive list of cocktails, some of which include chocolate in one form or another as an ingredient.

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Some of these drinks are undoubtedly quite sweet—chocolate liqueurs with simple syrup and other sweet ingredients. Some looked more savory. I decided to try the Sanctuary Chocolate Old Fashioned, made with Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey, Aztec Chocolate bitters, maraschino and Luxardo cherries, simple syrup, and muddled orange peel. Somehow, I forgot to take a picture of it.

I have never tried Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey, one of four flavored whiskies made by Ballentin (Original Chocolate, Bourbon Ball, Chocolate Mint, and Caramel Turtle). These bourbon-like American Whiskeys should not be confused with and are not related to the famous Ballantine’s Scotch Whisky, which is a totally different company and drink. Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey is reported to be somewhat sweet with chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon in the aromas and flavors. All of these notes were clear in the cocktail. Aztec Chocolate bitters are from Fee Brothers, which produces a number of excellent bitters that are pretty commonly used these days. It is not at all sweet, but does add a nice chocolate note to a cocktail (I’ve used this one myself). I would leave out the maraschino cherry, which adds more sweetness and no flavor to the drink and keep the far more flavorful Luxardo cherry. The orange peel adds a nice flavor to the overall mix.

This was  good cocktail. A little sweeter than I normally prefer, but not offensively so. Definitely worth a try if you are an Old Fashioned drinker.

 

Our first appetizer was chocolate-free: Bacon-Wrapped Scallops with Miso Beurre Blanc.

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Bacon-wrapped scallops (sometimes called “Angels on Horseback” because they are a variation on a classic British appetizer, bacon wrapped oysters, of the same name) are hard to mess up if you have good-quality bacon and scallops. Just don’t burn the bacon or overcook the scallops and you’re home free. These were cooked very well.

Beurre blanc is a classic French sauce made by first reducing finely chopped shallots, white wine and vinegar until almost all of the liquid evaporates, then adding some cream and finally thickening and flavoring the sauce with cold butter that is slowly whisked in to form an emulsion. The addition of miso, a traditional Japanese condiment made by fermenting soybeans with a little salt and a special fungus called koji (think of it as yeast for soybeans) and perhaps a few other ingredients. It is umami-rich and added some extra depth to the sauce.

Our other appetizer, Lollipop Chicken Wings, kept the chocolate theme with a BBQ sauce made with tawny port and cocoa.

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A little spicy, a little sweet, and very messy to eat! But licking your fingers after eating BBQ chicken is half the fun. For people more sophisticated and mature than I, the restaurant provides wet wipes to clean your hands. 

Port wines have sweet vanilla and cocoa notes, so they are a natural to use with cocoa to make this sauce. A 10-year tawny is old enough to have developed a lot of flavor, but is still relatively inexpensive, making it a good choice for sauce making. As the name suggests, they are more sweet than spicy, but not unlike many supermarket BBQ sauces. The blue cheese dressing added a nice tang.

Everything had gone quite nicely up until this point in the meal. After the appetizers, we waited for our entrées. And waited. And waited. A full 45 minutes passed before our main courses finally arrived. To their credit, both our waitress and, after a while, the manager started offering apologies for the wait, but no real explanation. Yes, it was a Saturday night and the place was busy, but not overwhelmed. The reason for the delay remains a mystery.

When our entrées finally arrived, they were good, despite the fact that our attitude was no longer the best. Valeria ordered a small filet mignon and lobster tail combination.

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The filet was medium, as ordered. The lobster tail was perhaps a little overcooked, but not enough to be a problem. The vegetables were nicely browned and tender. The demi-glace sauce (no chocolate mentioned or tasted) was good.

I ordered Chicken Marsala.

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This was not a bad dish, but not a great one, either. The chicken and the pasta were both cooked perfectly. The mushrooms and the carrots added flavor and texture. The sauce, which looked very rich and delicious, was lacking in depth and flavor. Not bad, just not as much flavor as the appearance and expectations suggested. The portion was large and I took one breast home for lunch the next day (with some additional seasoning).

So, overall the food and drink were good to very good. The biggest glitch was the long wait for the main plates. As I mentioned, there were appropriate apologies made, including a chance to pick out a small box of chocolates as a bit of compensation (I think they also did not charge us for one of our entrées.)

The free chocolates turned out to be a great thing. They were amazing! Far better than whatsome of the big name chocolatiers produce.  I can unconditionally recommend stopping here for chocolates. I will recommend the restaurant for lunch or dinner with some reservations at this point. We will try it again and hope for a more normal service experience.

The Chocolate Sanctuary
Address: 5101 Washington St, Gurnee, IL 60031
Phone: 224.944.0808
Reservations: opentable.com
Website: https://thechocolatesanctuary.com

Dress Code: Casual
Price Range: $30 and under
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
            Friday – Saturday: 11:00 am-10:00 pm
            Sunday Brunch: 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
            Sunday: 4:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Credit Cards: AMEX, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

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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 a7 III camera with a Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS Standard Zoom Lens (SEL24105G) using ambient light. Post-processing in Adobe Lightroom® and Adobe Photoshop® with Nik Collection by DxO and Skylum® Luminar® plugins. 

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