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'A' for Ardent
Food, wine pair perfectly with restaurant's intimate setting

By JEANETTE HURT
Photos by Dan Bishop

May 2014

Chef Justin Carlisle’s Ardent restaurant opened last fall and is already receiving critical acclaim. Ardent is one of 30 new restaurants in the country to be named a semifinalist for a prestigious James Beard Award, which will be announced in early May.

The East Side restaurant’s exterior is casually unassuming; only an etched "A" in the glass indicates its presence from Farwell Street. Inside, the restaurant is warmly modern, with taupe walls accented by silver antlers and an exposed wooden beamed ceiling. During my first visit, beautifully woven blankets hung on the back of chairs to diffuse winter’s long reach.

With just 20 seats and a tiny kitchen — in view through a window and from the bar — the intimacy and the immediacy of Carlisle’s extraordinary cuisine is readily apparent. In fact, because Carlisle has such a small staff, he also will be the one serving you some of your dishes. "I want (my guests) to know who I am, and I want them to feel like we’re sharing this time together," Carlisle says.

Ardent’s menu is small — only a dozen or so items — and it’s not organized by appetizers, salads, etc. Instead, dominant flavors or ingredients are highlighted, though there is little description. For example: "Milk: Pain Au Lait, Muenster cheese, cultured butter" is all you get to know up front about this dish. The $5 bread plate offers few hints. It is presented on an elongated wood platter with a delicate, light-as-air roll crafted by Rocket Baby Bakery and house-made butter from the milk of Edelweiss Townhall Creamery’s grass-fed farms and a house-made fresh creamy cheese. "It’s the best $5 you’ll ever spend," I overheard a waiter tell another customer; I couldn’t agree more.

The way Ardent’s menu is organized, you can order one or two items, everything on the menu or a chef’s tasting of eight dishes. I chose the chef’s tasting, at $80, with wine pairings for each course at $40.

My tasting began with "Escargot: Parsley, Garlic," paired with the 2011 The Furst Pinot Gris. A row of escargot was prettily arranged under a house-made crisp of parsley.

Next came the aforementioned "Milk," which was paired with a 2011 Stefan Breuer Riesling, followed by "Beef Tartar: Bone Marrow, Deviled Egg," paired with a 2012 Schild Estate Grenache blend. The beef comes from Carlisle’s family farm in Sparta. The dish was so silky, so decadently smooth, yet tender and fatty. It was topped with just a crunch of fresh chervil, and the red blend was perfectly matched.

For the next dish, the cheese from Pleasant Ridge Reserve came in warm spheres, and it was topped with shaved black truffle and cured fish roe. It was paired with a 2011 Purple Hands Pinot Noir.

Roasted mushroom, with leeks and pickled shallots were paired with a 2012 Tres Exilios Malbec. The blend of mushrooms was exquisite. Pork belly, with braised celery, almonds and vanilla squash came paired with a 2009 Los 800 Priorat; it tasted like pork candy.

"Beef: Turnip, Turnip Greens, Steak Sauce," paired with 2011 Annabella Cabernet Sauvignon was no ordinary beef, and it was no ordinary turnip or turnip greens. The beef came rare, after being aged 90 days, and it was so succulent, with the cab accentuating each bite.

I didn’t want this culinary show to end. But end it did, and with a flourish. The dessert, "Chocolate: Smoked Marshmallow, Cherry, Tainori," paired with a 2012 Scagliola Moscato. Tainori is a special 64-percent dark blend chocolate from Valrhona grown on a single plantation in the Dominican Republic. The dessert was up to the chocolate’s exclusive origins. A swirl of chocolate mousse arcs across the plate, studded with chocolate branches and marshmallow clouds.

And when the bill came, it arrived with delicate chocolate-caramel-salted macaroons from Rocket Baby. A heavenly ending to a divine dining experience.

Ardent

1751 N. Farwell Ave.
(414) 897-7022
www.ardentmke.com





 

This story ran in the May 2014 issue of: