6/03/2013 10:00:00 AM

The Best Thing We Ate This Weekend: Dinner in the Dark at The Bristol

What happens when the power goes out at a restaurant on a Saturday during the middle of dinner service? Panic? Actually no, as we found out this weekend when a brief Bucktown blackout hit The Bristol. The power went out in about one square mile that included The Bristol, Red Door and other establishments that depend on weekend business. Dining rooms went dark around 8 PM, when as last bit of evening light faded but the humidity was still strong. Windows opened, candles were lit and we were seated for our reservation like nothing happened.

We started with cocktail, a safe bet aside from the fear of rapidly melting ice. The food menu also remained mostly intact thanks to gas burners and the capable hands of executive chef Chris Pandel. Only three dishes were removed from the menu during our dining in the dark experience, and the meal progressed exactly as it should with attentive service and carefully plated dishes - even though we could barely see them.

Dinner began with Spence Farms radishes served with rich European butter, sea salt and toast. It was a dish that could be replicated with any trip to the farmers market, but not duplicated without extra fatty butter. We followed that with the first of four house specialties - must-try dishes for any first timers as well as regulars. The raviolo is filled with a salty ricotta and creamy egg yolk that is accented with a brown butter sauce. We used signature dish number two, the dill monkey bread to soak up the extra sauce, but were careful to reserve the other half for the main attraction.

The Millers Farm roasted half chicken was cooked in such a way that the skin is crispy to the point where it almost falls off the bird, yet the meat remains tender and juicy. It was carefully sliced and placed on a bed of dill spaetzle with crunchy apple salad. We have said this before, but well-cooked chicken dish is a testament to the abilities of a chef. It is easier to make an unfamiliar dish taste appealing than to stimulate a palate with a flavor it has tasted hundreds of times before. This dish with its contrast of skin to meat showed the full potential of a roast chicken.

We finished the meal with another Bristol favorite - the basque cake, apple confit, candied cinnamon walnuts and cider sabayon. Before we left into the damp night the power was back on. Even though behind the scene the kitchen may have been scrambling, servers stumbling and diners in the dark; the tone of the room never changed when the lights were off versus when the lights were on. A lack of electricity will not stop a Chicagoan from a good meal at it certainly will not stop a restaurant.


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