It’s here, Chicago: Noah Sandoval, Genie Kwon and Aaron McManus have thrown down the fine-dining gauntlet with Oriole.
It took some time wandering through River West on an icy, blustery night before we finally found the much raved-about Oriole—from industry vets Noah Sandoval, Genie Kwon and Aaron McManus. The door in the back alley is relatively unmarked, as if the restaurant knows it’s worth seeking out. And it’s not wrong. Here is a fine diner that gets everything right, right from the start: The moment we entered, the host whisked away my jacket and replaced it with a steaming cup of sochu-laced cider. It was like she was reading my mind.
The room itself is a jaw-dropper—exposed brick gives a warm feeling, while tall wooden columns remind you that you’re in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in town. Pristine white tablecloths drape every table and napkins are folded perfectly. The first choice you’ll make when that napkin is safely in your lap is whether or not to take the $125 drink pairing with the $190 tasting menu (you should—it’s perfect); the last choice you’ll make is if you want tea or coffee when it’s all done (you want that too—you’ll want to savor every moment you can at Oriole.)
Our meal starts with a bite of Golden Osetra caviar, with a rich coconut dashi, lychee and grape to brighten the bite, which feels lavish and sets the tone for the rest of the meal. It’s served in an almost egg-shaped bowl with all the components resting inside providing an extra element of surprise. Interestingly presented dishes appear throughout. Take the puffed beef tendon—an über-fancy pork rind—topped with wagyu tartare and shaved matsutake mushroom served on a bed of wood chips for an additional note of smokiness when you bite into the crunchy puff. A beausoleil oyster topped with a consommé of Ibérico is served with a thick wooden skewer of smoked finger limes, tiny greens and ham.
Drink pairings come from the mind of sommelier Aaron McManus, ranging from light and airy whites, like a grüner veltliner to a bitter cocktail with Madeira, Cocchi Americano and Noilly Prat vermouth. Each selection is described in great detail by your server—a Belgian golden ale is paired with several carb-heavy courses (sourdough and capellini dishes) to match the yeast profile. As your meal winds down, you’ll finish with a plate of tiny desserts, including white chocolate yuzu and salted caramel chocolates and a tiny mint chocolate macaron. It’s paired with an on-the-sweeter-side moscato from the Piedmont region of Italy. We left with a parting gift of one more course for home, a coconut cream pie bundled into individual boxes.
Unlike many tasting menus, Oriole’s leaves you feeling neither too full nor too drunk when it’s done. It gets that balance, like so much else, just right. Sandoval, Kwon and McManus’s Oriole—earning two Michelin stars out of the gate—is Chicago’s next big thing in fine dining.
Atmosphere: You’ll want to dress up for this one—white tablecloths and tall ceilings give this space a feel of extravagance.
What to eat: We can’t fault a single dish, but among our favorites are the capellini, the caviar and the croissant. The croissant comes from genius pastry chef Kwon, filled with raclette, apple butter and cardamom. It will make any croissant you’ve had for breakfast pale in comparison to this creation’s flaky, buttery magic.
What to drink: If you’re already in for a meal at Oriole, it would be a shame to not go the extra step and opt for the drink pairing. McManus is an expert in his field and makes sure that every dish is perfectly complemented, running the gamut from beer, to wine, to cocktails.
Where to sit: You won’t have a choice, but every option feels intimate.
661 West Walnut Street
|Cross street:||North Union Avenue and West Walnut Street|
|Opening hours:||Tues-Sat 5:30pm-9:30pm|
|Transport:||El: Green, Pink to Clinton. Bus: 56.|
|Price:||$190 and over|
|Do you own this business?|