Thursday, February 10, 2011


flavors of a bloody mary

pineapple macadamia nut, char, orange lace

baked potatoe
skins, bacon cheddar, sour cream

off menu
quail egg truffle ravioli
chicken livers, honey
watermelon, violet

rye, lemon, aquavit
pork belly
butterscotch, persimmons, radicchio
beef mole, graham, marshmallow, campfire

rosewater sorbet, Hendrick's gin gelee

pretzel gougeres, cheddar, Chimay foam

celery root cake, caramelized banana, white chocolate,  celery sauce
In a word...Daring.
Simply stated...the. most. memorable. meal. of. my. life.
And I enjoyed it with the. most. memorable. man. in. my. life.

Dining at Schwa is a little like being let in on a big secret.
passion driven.
 culinary juxtaposition.

The tiny store front dining room reminded me of a communal interrogation room.
 Light bulbs hanging from strings.
black walls,
mirrored ceiling,
friendly faces all around.

I walked straight through the kitchen to use the restroom and chatted up the chefs on the way back.

I came home smelling like I had been camping with friends.

I listened to rap music all evening.

The same folks who cooked it served it.

I sipped something that instantly reminded me of a scratch and sniff sticker from my childhood collection in the best possible way.

I had many glasses of wine and had to say things like...
perfect pumpernickel puree.

 I wore jeans.

Rice and liver should always be friends.

So...I ate twelve of the most memorable dishes I've ever tasted and yes, I ate the single best thing I have ever tasted in my life.  I thought I had already done that, but it turns out I was wrong.  And yes, it contained a truffle.

Getting in won't be easy, but when you go (and you should), be ready for an experience that engages all five senses and few others you didn't even know you had.  Bring a present for Michael Carlson and his team of chefs.  They deserve it for so many reasons, but most especially for flawlessly blurring the line between patron and chef.


Bronwyn said...

Wow! Not only do you really make me FEEL the place, Melissa you are a WONDERFUL food writer! I love your prose, your descriptions, the food pictures... just WOW, and also an understated 'wow' for how subtle it all seemed :) amazing...

cliona howie said...

great post. you deserve a free meal on schwa for promotion ;)

Robert said...

Having worked in the restaurant industry all my life experience has taught me this. The 101 of any 26 seat restaurant= With only a handful of cooks simplify menu and execute it well. With main objective to turn tables quickly to maximize profit. My kitchen staff stopping to run food to tables? Ludicrous! No wine/beer license? In a 26 seat restaurant you must be joking. It would be a financial meltdown to consider otherwise. And naturally have someone answering the phone. I likely could go on and on.

Then I visited Schwa this past November and everything I've learned over the years seemed meaningless. To say I was blown away would be an understatement. Food so labor intensive you would think the kitchen staff was 3+ what it actually is. Dining room never really filled once never mind turning tables. I don't believe any of that matters to Michael Carlson. Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way" should be his theme song. And above it all I had the opportunity to speak with Chef Carlson briefly. I found him to be one of the most humble, generous and down to earth people I've ever met. I could only wish I knew him better. Schwa has ruined me for visiting any other restaurant and I can't wait to return.

On another note. I absolutely love your blog. Its informative, interesting and most of all heartwarming to read. I have it bookmarked.

Very best,

Mel said...

Robert- you made my day and I love your profile picture! I totally agree that Schwa defies all restaurant convention and boggles the sharpest of culinary minds. That place is such a gift to the food scene in Chicago. I hope you get to eat there again soon! Have you been to Alinea? Another big wow. Having eaten at both, I could taste the culinary connectivity between two great chefs. Cheers to good eating!

Robert said...

I have not been to Alinea yet but its certainly on my short list. Back when Grant Achatz first started at Trio my gut instinct told me he was one to watch. I applied for a stage and it was practically finalized when at the last hour I needed unexpected heart surgery. Very stubborn by nature "typical man" I was determined to go anyway. But my wife convinced me it was not one of my smartest decisions since I could barely get off the couch. LOL

Shortly afterward my career pretty much ended do to the heart problems and a diagnoses of MS. Regardless I'm still passionate about the business and great food.
So now my wife and I throw coins in our restaurant journey bank and we plan road trips based mostly on visiting restaurants. May sound a bit crazy but with failing health it's also about building memories for my children. I'm proud of the fact that my little girl (In Photo) who is nine is learning about great food. Plus experiencing people who are passionate about what the do is a lesson well learned. For 9 years old she has already been from ad hoc to Au Pied de Cochon and many fine restaurants in between.
My hope is one day when she is a adult she can tell her children their grandfather drove her to Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix for pizza, and stopped to see the Grand Canyon on the way back. Thomas Keller once told me at 1am in the French Laundry kitchen that it's all about building memories. I truely believe that.

On this last trip to Chicago I was not well enough to travel by car so we flew. Along with dinner at Schwa we hit Xoco for lunch and Great Lake for pizza. Don't tell anybody I said so but New York pizza has nothing on Great Lake.LOL
And as far as Schwa, I don't believe there is anything like it in the country. I just may move one day.:)


Mel said...

Robert, Your story is touching and your perspective is perfect. Your wife and daughter are surely benefit from your wisdom!

The truly odd thing about this connection is the fact that my family has planned a road trip to the French Laundry via the Grand Canyon for the coming summer. I thought it would make for the trip of a lifetime! Life is too short not to savor every moment!

PS...I am a wreck about getting the reservation at FL. I have a plan, but still...what a challenge!

Robert said...

Sounds Awesome! Try calling the French Laundry as soon as the phone lines open for best results. Also some have had good luck booking at midnight on Open Table.

Also not to be missed if you have the time is the farmers market at the Ferry Building in SF.

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