Ladies Who Brunch

Jumping Through Hoops: SCHWA Worth the Wait by disastercouch
September 18, 2011, 6:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Not the first time, and not the last

SCHWA: legendary restaurant or urban legend?  Through a connection at work, we were able to secure a notoriously rare reservation at Michael Carlson’s storefront restaurant in Wicker Park/Bucktown (and not the nice part with strollers; the real part, with the K-Mart).   When we arrived, what we saw was the sign to the left — we had been warned to expect this, however, so we were unphased.  We left our card under the door and went on to a perfectly delicious meal at nearby Taxim.  We were surprised when Seth from SCHWA called me that same night and offered to have me back for dinner anytime.

Honestly, we did not expect the restaurant to be open when we returned on Thursday either.  Rumours had been swirling — Carlson and crew had moved to LA, Carlson was in rehab and the restaurant was closed indefinitely, Carlson was recovering from knee surgery and strung out on painkillers.  Even though the restaurant had called twice to confirm our reservation, it was not until we pushed the door open and exchanged the crisp September air on Ashland Ave. for the cozy, cooly lit confines of Schwa that we were certain a meal was forthcoming.  And what a meal it was.


First, let’s dispense with formalities — that’s certainly how SCHWA does it.  There is no service, per se, no waiter who takes your order or caters to your every urbane need.  You are greeted at the door by a cheerful, slightly tipsy Seth Carlson, the chef’s brother, he asks if you are allergic to anything, and then they feed you.  The same three guys who are cooking the food in the semi-open kitchen, holding the back door open with their foot so the immersion blender doesn’t make too much noise in the dining room, are the guys who bring out each course, briefly describe the flavors and give a quick instruction on how to eat — “ONE BITE, NO FORK!”.  Seth provides new silverware with each course, keeps water topped off, and constantly checks to make sure you are enjoying yourself — before confidently asserting towards the end of the meal that yeah, he knows his brother can cook.  And that’s pretty much it — four or five guys, drinking, maybe doing some whip-its, and cooking insanely good food, then sharing it with you.

Here’s what we ate.   The menu advertised 9 courses but with little extras here and there it was more like 12.  There is no need for commentary; this was easily one of the best meals of my life, every single dish was good and several were mind-blowing.

Amuse: Gooseberry, leaves still attached, dipped in yogurt, anise hysop foam

Peekytoe Crab Salad, pink peppercorns, guava gel, shaved white asparagus

Potato soup, crispy potato skins, chive puree, bacon, sour cream <—–inspired, according to chef Josh, by the Wendy’s potato bar

Quail egg ravioli, white truffle, parmesan

Tortelloni, creamy cheese filling, crab apple, celery-black truffle broth

Fish Roe, fried in a zeppole or beignet, violet foam, and passionfruit jello made with more fish roe — this was the least appetizing course on the menu, but ended up being my favorite, with the high degree of difficulty and insane creativity

Hamachi sashimi, sweet maple cream, ground Creminelli calabrese salami, ginger <—- a completely bizarre flavor combination, this kept getting better and better the more we ate, truly memorable

Rabbit loin, rabbit rillette, savory bread pudding, strawberry jam, honey <—– served in a small bowl, set inside a large bowl.  The large bowl was filled with fresh picked mint, and Seth poured steaming hot water over the mint at the table, creating an incredible aroma.  The mint mingled with the potent strawberry was the perfect kiss goodbye to summer.

Intermezzo: Turmeric Ice Cream with Mustard Caramel

Lamb eye of loin cooked sous vide, cashew puree, pickled blueberries, and blueberry sauce

Pretzel gougeres filled with warm Chimay cheese

dessert 1: Cherry-covered chocolate <——how the fuck did they do this?

dessert 2: Whiskey and Dr. Pepper — whiskey ice cream, Dr. Pepper gummies, orange gastrique, and a side of Dr. Pepper <——– Seth approaches the table with two glasses and a can of Dr. Pepper and asks, “Do you know what chef’s two favorite flavors are?  Cocaine and hookers.  But his third and fourth favorite flavors are whiskey and Dr. Pepper.”


The meal was really on another level, words don’t do it justice and it’s just not the environment you would take pictures in.  We most impressed by the use of fruit throughout; every single dish had a sweet component, be it guava, strawberry, blueberry, passionfruit, or maple, that really tied the whole meal together and set off every other component.

After the disappointment of our first reservation being canceled and the uncertainty of whether we would ever get to dine here, in the end SCHWA was more than worth the effort and the wait.  So keep trying to snag that reso!  Good luck.