As restaurants across the country feel the impact of COVID-19, Chicago’s most tenured restaurant critic has been relegated to writing an occasional news story instead of his customary reviews. But the Tribune’s Phil Vettel made an exception for Ever, the $5 million restaurant that opened in July from “internationally known” chef Curtis Duffy. In a review published on Wednesday, Vettel, in his first review in months, gives Ever — and its $285 menu — a full four stars.
Vettel writes “in normal times, I rarely award star ratings on just one visit. These are not normal times.” His unorthodox review shares that “Ever is everything I expected, and I expected a lot. In another time, under other circumstances, Ever would be the restaurant Chicago’s dining world would be talking about.”
Those words extend to Vettel’s own publication. Beyond an opening date announcement, the Tribune’s coverage has been sparse. Beyond the pandemic, editorial furloughs affected all beats, including how it covers restaurants. The Ever review was the paper’s first review since mid-March.
That coverage void was noted by other food writers. Last month, Fooditor’s Michael Gebert published his own observations on the restaurant. Like Vettel, Gebert expressed how writers under normal conditions would have been in a rush to book a reservation and share their experiences. The pandemic and anti-racist protests changed that mindset.
Vettel altogether avoids mentioning how the protests could shape diners’ perceptions. He does note in his opening graph that it may be “insensitive to write about a top-dollar dinner in the midst of such tough economic times.” The line harkened back to the anger from some restaurant workers in response to Alinea’s infamous coronavirus canape.
At Grace, Duffy and longtime collaborator Michael Muser earned a full three-star rating from Michelin during its five years along Randolph Street in West Loop. After Grace closed in December 2017, they waited for non-compete agreement made with their former boss (Grace owner Michael Olszewski) to expire before opening Ever.
At Grace, Duffy offered two tasting menus, including a popular meat-free option that many preferred over the carnivorous choice. Duffy says he scaled down for the pandemic at Ever, and is only offering an omnivore option. Vettel didn’t consider that a loss, writing that Ever’s 10-course menu feels like Duffy combined the spirit of Grace’s two menus.
The first course — a bowl of cucumber gelee with the word “Ever” stenciled in thickened coconut milk — “is an absolute show-stopper” for Vettel, who also touts the Maine scallop and Florida mango.
One of Ever’s defining design features is a room near the entrance where dehydrated food hangs from the ceiling. It looks like an art installation and provides diners a preview of the ingredients Duffy and his crew will use to cook dinner. Vettel describes some of those items, including “thin coins of squash with papaya” “sprinkled with a Vietnamese-inspired vinaigrette” and “a chewy, gummy yuzu ball ... reminiscent of a pate a fruit that ordinarily would conclude a dinner.”
There’s one detail that Vettel shares at the end, about the car valet service. He notes the valet covered the car’s door handles and steering wheel with paper, “delivering my car quite possibly cleaner than it was when I arrived.”
- Review: Can a $285, 10-course tasting menu succeed during the coronavirus pandemic? Ever, the latest from chef Curtis Duffy, rises to the challenge [Tribune]
- Long-anticipated Ever restaurant sets opening date; reservations through September are selling quickly [Tribune]
- I Dined Inside a Fancy Restaurant — And Lived To Tell The Tale [Fooditor]