I’m sure Dale Levitski would prefer I not make this review about Top Chef. But I have some things to get off my chest: (1) Carla Hall. Girl was robbed. (2) Robin Leventhal. She had no business there. (3) Gale Simmons. I mean, really?
Finally, there’s the question that’s been asked by reality-show watchers everywhere: How are we really supposed to know if the food is any good? You need only go out to a restaurant once to experience a dish that sounds great on the menu, looks great on the plate but tastes as if it traveled from factory to freezer to microwave before landing on your plate. What assurances do we have that the food on Top Chef isn’t the same way (or vice versa)? What are we supposed to do—trust the judges? (Please see point No. 3 above.)
With this question being on so many people’s minds, the chefs who appear on TC face a unique dilemma. When they cook for the public, they’re not simply cooking to feed their customers. They’re cooking to maintain—and in some cases, defend—their uncontrollably outsized reputations.
Under pressure like that, I half expected Levitski to be putting out safe food at Sprout, the random restaurant he unexpectedly took over a few months ago. I figured he’d want to aim toward the middle and put out meals that evoked across-the-board nods, a collective “he’s not bad.” What I found instead is a chef who challenged me repeatedly. When I ordered the “licorice” (everything on Sprout’s menu is named for its primary ingredient), I thought I was ordering just a green salad, the licorice coming from the sliced fennel that was tossed in. But then a server arrived with a stick of licorice root and started shaving it over my plate. Every bite that licorice touched was elevated to a level of complexity the salad—any salad, really—would be hard-pressed to achieve on its own. And on the night I chose the restaurant’s $60 prix fixe, I never expected the cheese course to arrive as a grilled cheese sandwich crusted in Parmesan and stuffed with apples. Or, for that matter, to be happy it came that way.
There were also some unhappy surprises, but those were relatively minor. A nicely cooked slab of Wagyu beef arrived on brandade, a terribly salty sub-in for more traditional starches. And speaking of starches, no word better describes the rabbit dish than starchy, because even though the rabbit itself stood out for its unctuousness, it was no match for the doughy mouthfeel of the perogi it was encased in.
Still, the unhappiest surprise happened when I decided one night to order à la carte. Where the prix fixe seemed unusually fair (the three courses were fortified with that cheese course, which included the most adorable glass of wine in the city, and a delicious intermezzo of sorbet), the à la carte prices are just insane. I loved my short ribs, which arrived with decadent dumplings that were both impossibly crispy and deliriously truffley. But for $37, a boy can get his hair done. And Barneys has T-shirts on sale for less than the $35 I spent on a beautifully cooked piece of sturgeon here—so guess where I’ll spend my money next?
Actually, I’m not above spending money here—I’ll just spend it on the prix fixe instead, where I’ll get my money’s worth and dessert while I’m at it. I’ll skip the butternut-squash doughnuts, as nice as they were. And I’ll skip the chocolate, despite how deep and spicy the flavor of the dark hot chocolate ran. Instead, I’ll get the pineapple, which Levitski paired with a pancake, chocolate and goat cheese. It was the most curious dessert I had here, the one I kept on eating not because I liked it, but because it captivated me, kept me wanting more. And just think: There was a time when I assumed Mr. Levitski could only achieve that on television.
|Venue name:||Sprout (CLOSED)||Contact:|
1417 W Fullerton Ave
|Cross street:||between Southport and Janssen Aves|
|Opening hours:||Dinner (closed Sun, Mon)|
|Transport:||El stop:Brown,Purple (rush hrs),Red to Fullerton. Bus info:9,11,74.|
|Price:||Average entree: $25|
|Do you own this business?|