April 11, 2017
Chefs John Shields and Karen Urie Shields had worked at some of Chicago’s most highly regarded restaurants. They married and moved to Smyth County in rural Virginia, where they had an acclaimed fine-dining restaurant. Now they have returned to Chicago where they opened Smyth, and their more casual Loyalist downstairs, last August. On March 24, 2017, we celebrated Linda’s birthday there with Ben and Mary.
We were warmly welcomed. One side of the dining room is open to the busy kitchen with an open fire. The tables are well spaced; the ambiance is comfortable.
We ordered a bottle of Bruno Paillard “Première Cuvée” Champagne, which went well with the early seafood courses. This was followed by a bottle of 2007 Sérafin Gevrey-Chambertin.
Lovely Burgundy flavors, somewhat earthy complimenting the cuisine.
The first course was
SALTED & FROZEN RADISH, OYSTER AND SEAWEED
The oyster was glazed in a vinegar sauce that had been naturally thickened with fresh seaweed.
DUNGENESS CRAB & FOIE GRAS WITH SCRAMBLED KANI MISO
The foie gras is cut into chunks and poached. Then it is chilled and marinated in a sea salt brine. It is mixed with Dungeness crab and custardy crab innards. The chips are made from reduced dashi, adding needed crunch with a sea flavor. Luscious and excellent.
SHIMA AJI RIBS, BARBEQUED OVER HEARTH
The meat around the ribs of the same fish was lightly lacquered with a sorghum syrup barbeque sauce and quickly fire-grilled.
CARAMELIZED POTATO & SUNCHOKE WITH DRIED SCALLOP AND TROUT
A purée of caramelized potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes was topped with chips of dried scallops. We really enjoyed this.
DRIED CORN WITH SQUAB LIVER MOUSSE
Tartelettes were made from left-over dried summer corn. They were filled with a foie gras and squab liver mousse and topped with toasted corn and hickory nut miso. Despite the complexity, we were instructed to eat it in one gulp, but one could roll it around in the mouth for a while to enjoy the elegant flavors.
ROAST SQUAB, BLACK WALNUTS, GRAINS AND APPLE
Two pieces of flavorful, perfectly-cooked squab with a healthy and appropriate mixture in the middle.
BRIOCHE DOUGHNUT WITH AGED BEEF AU JUS
Spheres of brioche dough were fried in beef fat. One could make up one’s own way of eating them with the butter and rich beef juice. Very good.
PRIME RIBEYE OF BEEF, BLACK ALLIUM AND BLACK TRUFFLE
The slice of ribeye was topped with a black truffle purée. The lightly pickled onion rounds were a successful and more traditional accompaniment than those in most of the other dishes.
MILK CHOCOLATE, HUCKLEBERRY AND PRESERVED SHIITAKE MUSHROOM
The far from traditional combination of these three ingredients was very successful.
EGG YOLK SOAKED IN SALTED LICORICE WITH FROZEN YOGURT MERINGUE
The egg yolk had been slow-cured in a licorice syrup. The whites were made into a yoghurt meringue ice cream. There was a fruit sauce between them. Excellent. We were served glasses of a 1974 Rivesaltes to go with this dessert. It was like a well-aged sherry.
CARROT SORBET, PINE POLLEN, HONEY AND SOUR QUINCE CURD
Linda was served a little birthday cake, which she shared.
PÂTE DE LÉGUMES
Candied lovage and carrot tips were served in a big ceramic sphere.
As you can see, I did not remember the full composition or preparation of some of the dishes. They were served by different sous-chefs, and the chef himself, with detailed explanations which we understood and savored, but we were having too good a time for me to go beyond taking a photo or two of each. And so I do not have notes and my memory varies, but I do remember the details of some of some dishes. You can get the idea on the others from the titles and photos.
We think this was one of the best meals we have had in years. Even if a dish was complex, the flavors didn’t get lost. The chef did not rely on vinegar, citrus, too much salt, chilis: the sins of so many restaurants. He made the ingredients work together in many different ways. Much of the produce comes from a farm in Illinois with which they have a special relationship, but we were not in the best season for that.
The service, pace and ambiance were all excellent. With the tables widely spaced in the big space, the noise level was okay, although much of the music was not to my taste. We do not get to Chicago much these days, but Smyth would be a major reason to return.