Food is one of the best ways to cross cultural divides and experience places without leaving home. It’s also one of the best ways to create conversation among those sharing a meal. Renaissance Hotels recently teamed up with Andrew Zimmern to create the Navigator’s Table Dinner Series to focus on the importance of dinner and conversation.
The Navigator’s Table Dinner Series is part of the Renaissance Hotel’s “business unusual” philosophy that caters to their “culturally curious” guests, along with Andrew Zimmern, who is best known for his Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods.” Together they’ve created a YouTube series where Andrew hopes to inspire diners to get out of their comfort zone and try new food.
To celebrate the second season of the Navigator’s Table Dinner Series on YouTube, several Renaissance Hotel locations around the world held a dinner inspired by the series. Each location had a unique theme.
Navigator’s Table Dinner Series at Renaissance Hotel Chicago
Here in Chicago, The Naviagator’s Table Dinner was held at Raised, The Renaissance Chicago Downtown’s third story restaurant and bar. The theme was The Five Elements: Metal, Water, Earth, Fire and Wood. Each course revolved around one of the elements. The cuisine, created by Executive Chef Daniel Perez, paired with a corresponding cocktail.
With each course, the lighting of the room changed colors and the music changed to reflect each element. We listened to a bubbling brook through the water course as blue lights lit the surrounding walls. It really changed the mood of each course and involved all our senses. It kept all my senses on their toes, listening, feeling, seeing and tasting the five elements. All the diners were served on a communal table and, with only a small handful of us, the interesting food and delicious drinks definitely got us talking!
Here is the beautiful, delicious meal we shared together.
Course #1 :: Metal
The evening started with Rabbit Rillette with pickled mustard seed, crushed huckleberries and melted leeks to top tiny toasts. Chef Daniel was inspired by the metal cans that rillette was traditionally stored in to last through the winter, hence connecting it to the metal theme.
Lightly Rusted Nail
Alongside the rillette was the Lightly Rusted Nail, created with Copper Dog Scotch, Drambuie, cherry heering, orange bitters and flamed orange oils, served in a metal cup. The fruity notes balanced the intensity and smokiness of the scotch and drambuie, while simultaneously picking up the huckleberry sweetness and richness of the rillette.
Course #2 :: Water
Sea Urchin Ceviche
Next we moved to the water. And what better representation than sea urchin that tastes like the ocean? Large chunks of Sea Urchin detailed with radish and micro cilantro laid in a spicy pool of orange agua chile and fresno dotted with dollops of avocado pudding and topped with yuca chips. There was enough spice to keep the dish interesting while not distracting from the deliciousness of the sea urchin.
The water cocktail took our tastebuds to Scandinavia. The main spirit of the Norwegian Spring cocktail was North Shore Aquavit, an herbal aperitif made from grain, mixed with cucumber, fresh lime and dill. The bartender described Aquavit as an herbal gin traditional to Scandinavia. The North Shore Distillery version is aged in new American oak barrels, with heavy flavors of caraway seed, cumin, coriander and cinnamon notes.
Course #3 :: Earth
Next, we tasted the earth through “Watercress,” a dish of beet gelee, pickled beet, lettuce ice, liquefied goat cheese, walnut powder, baby radish, baby carrot, mushroom dust and a snake crouton. Yes, the snake crouton was really snake (a python to be specific) and, as you’d guess, it really tasted like chicken (albeit much tougher). The best part of this dish was the play on textures and temperatures. Some of the beet gelee was cold (like really cold) and the lettuce ice was a shock to my senses, but contrasting with the crunchy leaves and warm goat cheese kept me excitedly guessing through every bite.
Ginger and Root
The earth cocktail followed similar suit, utilizing fresh carrot juice, fresh lime juice, coconut milk, garam masala seasoning and domain de canton ginger liqueur, called The Ginger and Root. The carrot juice was surprisingly good, even though it reminded me of a breakfast smoothie. It was thick and earthy, with a hint of kick from the garam masala, and it was excellent.
Course #4 :: Fire
Smoked Chile Rubbed Venison
It’s safe to say each dish had truly blown me away by this point and the Fire course only got better. Smoked Chile Rubbed Venison with torched pork belly, veal tongue, charred vegetables, salsify puree and dried tomato topped with parsnip chips arrived under a glass dome of smoke. Every bite was phenomenal and represented the fire theme perfectly, through intense flavors of char or smoke. It was by far my favorite course.
The American Mezcal was the only cocktail on the menu I’d previously had. (Spoiler alert: it’s one of my favorite drinks at Raised.) Not only does it feature one of my favorite whiskeys, The High West Campfire (a blend of bourbon, rye and scotch), it’s combined with fresh grapefruit and lemon juices, Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters and Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur and — get this! — served over green chartreuse flamed rosemary. Ours came with a glass of smoke to fully encompass the fire theme. It was easily the crowd favorite.
Course #5 :: Wood
Applewood Smoked White Chocolate
We finished the night with the dessert, or Wood, course: Applewood Smoked White Chocolate with maple streusel, hazelnut mousse, gold leaf and charred cinnamon bark. The Pastry Chef explained two things about our plates: 1. Everything came from a tree (hence the Wood theme) and 2. everything was edible, including the twig (actually chocolate), flowers and glass-like orb (caramelized hazelnut). Chocolatey, rich, fun and beautiful; we definitely went out on a high note.
The last cocktail was the Rampart Rambler, a barrel-aged cocktail aged in-house for 30 days while infusing with fresh vanilla beans, Hennessy VSOP Cognac, Bulleit Rye, Luxardo Maraschino, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters and tiki bitters. The end result is a smooth, slightly sweet, rustic cocktail reminiscent of an after-dinner port or sherry.
Thoughts on the Navigator’s Table Dinner Series
The Navigator’s Table dinner was by far one of the most creative, flavorful and memorable meals I’ve had in a long time. I ate things I’d never tried before (hello python!) and remembered why I love others (looking at you, sea urchin).
But most of all, the meal was a fantastic time. The Navigator’s Table dinner series is intended, above all, to create conversation and that’s exactly what it did. As with many of these small tasting menu-style dinners, by the end of the meal the strangers seated beside me were suddenly friends.
Details of the Navigator’s Table Dinner Series
In the meantime, watch The Renaissance Hotel’s Navigator Table Dinner Series with Andrew Zimmern on You Tube.