Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ripasso vs. Schwa Chef Battle: We Ate Brains and Tongue...And it was OK

A couple weeks ago our friends got wind of an event down in Chicago at a restaurant where their son used to work. They have become good friends with chef/owner. It was a cook-off between Ripasso's chef Theo Gabriel and Schwa's chef/owner Michael Carlton. The event was limited to 30 people and the proceeds were to benefit the Chicago Wapiti RFC Youth Rugby Program.

Quick background. Ripasso is a great Italian restaurant in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood. For a short time they have created an alter-ego for the restaurant called Red Headed Stepchild. For a few weeks they featured some Irish fare in addition to their Italian food. Schwa is a well-known restaurant in Chicago with an outstanding reputation. We've not eaten at Schwa and have heard from many that reservations are extremely difficult to come by. This should make for a fun evening.

The four of us arrived right on time and were seated at a 6 top with another couple. The staff was all decked out in rugby gear. It was explained to us that both chefs would make a course within the same theme. At the end of the night we'd vote for best execution and the losing chef would get a tattoo picked by the winner. We also learned that it was open bar.


Here are the menus. We'll present the food in the order in which it was served and the menu it is from. Note that these are iphone pictures so they are not up to our usual mediocre standards.

Theo's Menu (Ripasso)

Michael's Menu (Schwa)


So first up was a welcome drink called Malort Jamison Sour (Ripasso). Dave never heard of Malort before, but apparently it's some liquor made in Chicago that's quite nasty. Mixed with the Jameson and sour - pretty tasty.

Next up was the Steelhead Roe (Schwa). This was served family style. On the plate were round circles of rye bread topped with roe and herbs served over a mustard base sauce. Flavors worked well but we all thought the rye got too soggy and should have been toasted.

Insalata with Sweetbread and a Malort dressing was next (Ripasso). We were all thinking "good - get the brains out of the way early". This was actually tolerable. The dressing and the addition of morels was nice.

Next up was a real crowd pleaser at our table. Panzella (Schwa) was sort of like a parmesan bread pudding served with a parmesan sauce that was grainy and cold tomato gelato. Each ingredient on its own was very good, but combined it was amazing.

Sformato with Lobster and Green Almonds came next (Ripasso). Not much to hate here - lobster, creamy sauce, on a starchy base. Theo explained that green almonds are only available for a limited time and they were one of his favorite ingredients.

Next up was some corned beef (Schwa). Corned beef is not a favorite of ours. We usually go out of our way to avoid. Now take that concept and apply it to cow's tongue. Yep - corned cow's tongue. It was actually tender and didn't necessarily have the full-on corned beef taste.

The next dish also came from Schwa. This was a deconstructed Reuben served in shot glasses. One glass had dehydrated items like kraut and meat - it looked like potpurri. The other glass had warm corned beef consommé. We didn't like this - not sure anyone at our table did.

Time for some more corned beef (Ripasso). This time the beef was your more traditional corned beef, but it was served with a brussel kraut tortellini. Liked the pasta, not the beef.

Gnocchi was our next dish (Schwa). This version was based on the flavors of sheperd's pie. Very herbal. Good dish. The flash is reflecting off Dave's martian green iphone case - the colors were a bit more natural in real life.

Our final entree was a ham shank (Ripasso). This was a big hunk of meat served family style with some pasta sides. A little salty for most of our tastes. Also, we were getting full at this point.

Now onto desserts: We started with Michael's Parsnip Bread Pudding. All components were pretty delicious - except the yeast ice cream. Interesting concept - just wish he went with vanilla. The toasted marshmallow sauce certainly made up for it.

Next we got a panna cotta featuring more malort and green almonds (Ripasso). This is when Dave found out he liked pane cotta. Nice taste and decent texture.

Final dessert was another bread pudding (Ripasso). This was served family style and was served with a good helping of huckleberry sauce.

At the end of the evening they drew numbers for door prizes. Dave and our friend Bill checked out the table early and found wine, hats, and shirts. So they counseled the rest of the group to just pick wines. Holly got to pick third and she took a wine. What had transpired since the scouting mission was the addition of gift certificates to each restaurant written on postage-stamp sized paper. Unfortunately she missed a high-value prize. Oh well, the wine was very good.

Our votes for the winner were tallied and Theo was declared the winner. Michael was going to get a tattoo of the Red Headed Stepchild logo. After dinner we went to Black Rock for the after-party and had a couple of beers. Nice beer list here. Also worth noting, before heading to the restaurant we also visited two other good beer bars: Jake Melnick's and Galway Arms.

Overall we had a fun day out in the city and enjoyed watching two great chefs face-off and show their creativity.


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