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Sixteen's latest menu charts the course of modern fine dining

Amy Cavanaugh
Written by
Amy Cavanaugh

When new fine dining restaurants involve 8-person seatings (42 Grams), serving plates to your fellow diners (El Ideas) or bringing your own booze (Goosefoot, 42 Grams and El Ideas), it can be jarring when a Champagne cart is the very first thing offered to you. At Sixteen, that cart signals that you’re in for a rather luxurious evening (dinner for two with wine pairings clocks in at around $1,000, about the same price as Alinea). The recent move to ticketing has helped fine dining restaurants downplay how much you’re spending, since paying two months before you dine lessens the sting at the end of the meal. But Sixteen doesn’t let you forget it—the menu (which is printed on Jenga pieces) includes the price and remains on the table throughout the evening. What else would you expect from a restaurant in the Trump Tower?

Sixteen has changed since Time Out reviewed the restaurant when it opened in 2008. Namely, Thomas Lents (Everest) took over for Frank Brunacci in 2012 and earned the restaurant two Michelin stars. Under Lents, Sixteen does seasonal tasting menus, each centered on a theme, like last year's Chicago History menu. But despite the restaurant retaining some trappings of fine dining, Lents realizes that the style is changing, and the current menu, Food in Progress, Modern Fine Dining: Moving Forward with Respect to the Past, explores the influences and techniques that have impacted how we eat.

The menu opens with little bites, including marinated cuttlefish slices with beets, seaweed and roe, that are inspired by Nordic cuisine. From there, it’s a langoustine that reflects “The Remains of a Spanish Movement: Flavors Left from a Technical Movement" and nods to innovative Spanish restaurants and techniques, like dehydration. Then it’s onward to “The Importance of Flora: Vegetables Reclaim a Central Part,” which celebrates chefs’ recent emphasis on vegetable dishes, with a cipollini onion bathing in butter with bacon, and a vegetable salad served inside an artichoke, along with cheese and fermented garlic.

The rest of the menu covers other trends and movements we’ve seen quite a bit, like nose-to-tail dining and fusion, but it’s not until the final course, “A Blurred Line Between Savory and Sweet: In Defense of the Pastry Chef,” when our server said that some kitchens cut the pastry chef position to have savory chefs do desserts, that the dish’s connection to the theme was explained. Aya Fukai proves that there’s still a need for pastry skills with her take on a lemon tart, a sunny dish with diplomat cream, citrus segments and tangles of fennel. I wished our servers explained the menu’s intellectual decisions, because it’s clear that there’s more to understand about each dish than the flavors alone can tell us.

But regardless, this food is fantastic. The deviled kidneys, served as part of the nose-to-tail course, are like a funky chili, capped with parsley foam, and served in a hollowed-out bone. The onion dish arrives at the table with a waft of the greatest of all food smells—onions cooking in butter—and tastes even better. Slices of scallop are layered with black truffle and soak in a beautifully rich scallop dashi in a scallop shell. In all, it’s a 10-course meal with 18 different dishes and zero misses.

The service was noticeably more relaxed than on my last visit to Sixteen a few years ago, and at one point, a keg was brought to the table to pour a glass of Moody Tongue Steeped Emperor's Lemon Saison, which was paired with veal sweetbreads and lettuce veloute. It’s a hint that perhaps Sixteen, as a restaurant, is evolving as well.

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