If Oriole were a person instead of a restaurant, it would be an impeccably dressed date who showed up at your house with a great bottle of wine and a thoughtful gift for your dog. In fact, if Oriole weren’t so approachable and considerate, you might even think it was out of your league. Instead, this place manages to feel unpretentious while serving one of the best and most well-thought-out meals currently available in Chicago.
It’s obvious from the beginning that Oriole is very into you. Starting with the fact that a host greets you outside the restaurant as you walk up. That might sound like something out of Westworld, but really it just gives you the impression that they’re genuinely glad you’re here. Plus, it’s helpful, since the entrance is actually kind of hard to find. Inside, you’ll find a cocktail waiting for you, and you can drink that as they take you through a non-functional freight elevator into the 28-seat dining room.
The dining room itself is low-key, with only very basic decoration and a visible kitchen in the back. But like the denim jacket your date is wearing that looks normal but cost $800, don’t let the casual facade fool you. Dinner here is definitely a special occasion (it costs $195 for a 13-course meal). The menu changes, but you can count on a minimalist style of cooking that’s confident without putting on too much of a show. In fact, you probably won’t even realize just how much is going on with each dish until you read the menu given to you at the end. For example, early courses of raw sea bream and uni nigiri look like simple pieces of sashimi and sushi, but their seasonings make them spectacular. Another course - a raw oyster with some pork consomme - is served next to a small crispy breadstick wrapped in jamon with tiny dollops of egg yolk and quince. Constructing it must be like playing Operation, but it also tastes like they shrank the world’s best charcuterie plate.
Not all the dishes are as dollhouse-y, and the perfectly-spaced-out courses become more substantial as things progress. Like the capellini with a yeasty butter sauce that’s topped with truffles shaved tableside by the chef. It’s relatively simple, and also one of the best pasta dishes we’ve ever had. The dessert courses are excellent, too, with dishes like a sweet/savory lemon souffle that has warm cheese poured over it tableside. And the whole meal has the perfect ending: four tiny sweets that you can (and should) take your time eating before you need to get back to the real world.
The truth is, when you spend this much money on a meal, good food is the bare minimum of what you should expect. What makes a place like Oriole exceptional is how it handles the details - like welcoming but not overbearing service, seamlessly timed courses, tableside finishing touches, and parting gifts (in this case, coffee beans and house-cultured butter). The food here is fantastic, but all these other things really round out the experience. As soon as you leave, you’ll wonder how soon you can see each other again.
We’re mentioning the bread you get at the beginning of your meal for one reason: it comes with a lot of house-cultured butter that’s so good you’ll want to take it home with you. Don’t worry - they’ve anticipated this, and you’ll get some on the way out.
A generous serving of caviar sitting on a piece of cured kampachi in a creamy dill and saffron sauce. It’s salty, rich, and and a tasty start to the meal.
Some of the courses are served at the same time, like the raw madai (sea bream) and uni nigiri (more on that below). This fish is topped with pieces of sweet and salty dried kelp, a seasoning we now want to apply to everything.
We were instructed to eat the nigiri after the madai. It’s a straightforward presentation - just uni on top of brown rice wrapped in nori. It’s topped with soy and yuzu kosho (a citrus and chile paste) that goes perfectly with the richness of the uni.
The raw oyster is served in a ceramic oyster shell, in a small amount of pork consomme, and topped with herbs and some lime. It’s so good you’ll be sad it only takes two seconds to eat.
This is basically a miniature charcuterie plate (served with the oyster course), and it’s wonderful. Jamon is wrapped around a crispy breadstick, with dots of egg yolk, quince, and walnuts. Every bite is perfect.
The langoustine comes in its shell on a pile of wood chips, with a lemon egg sauce that complements the sweetness of the seafood. And no, you don’t eat the wood chips. We asked so you don’t have to.
A simple dish that’s perfectly executed and delicious. The fish is seared, served with a small amount of brown butter sauce, and topped with peas, fennel, and herbs.
Oriole knows that after eating all that seafood, what you need is pasta in a butter sauce topped with a sh*tload of truffles. The truffles are shaved on top tableside, and if you not-so-secretly think truffles are overrated, this dish might change your mind.
This is a delicious plate of food. The meat is served with grilled little gem lettuce topped with shiso and puffed rice, plus a beef reduction.
This is the course that gets you ready for dessert. It’s a sweet and tart citrus sorbet served with cherries.
This souffle is warm and lemony, and served in a cute copper pot. A small amount of creamy cheese gets poured over it, turning it into a delicious dessert/cheese course hybrid.
The souffle straddles the line between sweet and savory, but this is a full-on sweet dessert, complete with blackberries and a rich chocolate ice cream.
The meal ends with four tiny sweet bites: a pineapple cream puff, a bon bon, a huckleberry donut, and a coffee tart. Make sure to get some coffee, and drag this course out for as long as possible. You’ll be sad when it’s over.