While this might seem like an extraordinary statement to some, there is more to food than just the taste. In the words of Chad Mace, executive chef at Pomp & Circumstance, “Anyone can make a pile of mush taste good.” But before we taste food several things happen, we see it, we smell it, we feel the texture in our mouth and then, finally, we taste it. Chef Mace is acutely aware that all of these senses are at play, and finds a way to intrigue and satisfy them all.
There was thoughtful preparation in every single dish I was served at Pomp & Circumstance, starting with the beet salad. The presentation of the striped beets was delicately crafted. Served with an almond purée, burratta cheese and shoots, it was light and refreshing — an ideal starter. The accompaniments allowed the flavor of the beets to really shine.
The next dish, bacon wrapped dates, allowed me to have a small glimpse of the textural genius that was to come. The dates were stuffed with herbed goat cheese, wrapped in Applewood smoked bacon and then topped with a roasted red pepper purée. As I bit into it, I experienced the slight heat from the pepper, then the salty crunch of the bacon and the sweetness of the date, followed by the tangy creaminess of the herbed goat cheese.
The textural thoughtfulness of the dish was brilliant and I was happy to wash it down with a Pink Lady. Made with Plymoth Gin, Laird’s Applejack, grenadine, simple syrup and egg white, this drink can be described as nothing outside of happy. I could have drank them all evening – but there was more food to be had!
After the dates came the butternut squash soup. This was no ordinary soup. From the moment I had my first spoonful I knew it was created with intention. Chef Mace told me that the soup was sous-vide (short definition: a French method of cooking where food is placed into airtight bags and then placed in a water bath). However, in this instance the butternut squash soup was actually cooked in butternut squash. The velvety soup was impossible to stop eating and when I finished I was sad I didn’t have more.
While the menu gives subtle hints that the restaurant is farm-to-table, it’s not in your face and there’s a reason why. Mace shared, “I’m not doing farm-to-table to be doing farm-to-table. I’m doing it because the ingredients are better and I like the people I get to work with.” No matter the reason, it’s definitely working and you can taste it in the food.
Diver scallops are one of the most beautifully harvested ingredients in the world. Hand plucked from the ocean by professional fisherman, I thought it only fitting that Mace would select this thoughtfully sowed ingredient to match his considerate preparation. The sautéed scallops were yet another tactfully prepared composition. As I sliced through the scallop with my knife, I could tell it was perfectly cooked. It sat on a bed of braised cippolini onions and a butternut squash purée — another example of flavors and textures working together in perfect harmony. I was in utopia.
As I ate the scallops I could taste the passion that Mace puts into his food and it was addicting. As I shared this with him he told me, “We are in the hospitality business first and I have to put my guests’ needs above my own, above my staff, above my girlfriend. What we are doing here is very intimate. I am preparing food that is going inside of your body and it doesn’t get more intimate than that.” When’s the last time someone preparing your food put it in that perspective? For me, never.
To end the meal he presented me with a bevy of desserts including his homemade brownies, made with coffee grounds in the batter, cheesecake with graham cracker, and sous chef Will’s apple cobbler. While each of the desserts was delectable, I had to hand it to sous chef Will on this one. The apple cobbler, especially at this time of year, was the highlight of the dessert round. Golden brown, warm and sweet, it was bursting with apple flavor. I would order it over and over again.
And while it has never been Mace’s goal to be better than other chefs, “I don’t want to be better, I want to be different. To me different is good and that will evolve,” he’s doing one helluva job at being the best thing that has happened to Old Town in a long time.
1400 N Wells St, Chicago, IL 60610