My version of a stylish Wednesday night usually means watching what comes down the catwalk on Project Runway
. Last Wednesday night Jason and I kicked it up several notches by attending a truly glamorous event for both our eyes and our palate: the Blackbird
Salon Series featuring the work of Sally Ko.
Leave it to the oh-so-inventive Blackbird to go and do something cool like host dinner parties amidst art openings. Its Salon Series has run for three years in the upstairs private dining room, with new showings appearing on a monthly basis (though the program had been on break since last spring).
Renowned chef Paul Kahan creates a five-course meal with wine pairings inspired by the artist's work, often creating new dishes that weasel their way on to the Blackbird menu. That night we would learn that the main entree, braised kobe short rib with roasted quince, would soon be a regular offering—and with good reason. The combination of the moist, salty meat with the sweet, caramelized fruit is certainly worth a return trip.
Accessible via a steep set of stairs from a separate entrance, we arrived out of breath but were immediately made to feel welcome: greeted by a hostess, unburdened of our coats, decked out with matching flutes of Champalou Vouvray Brut, and given the space to admire two large-scale Sally Ko paintings just beyond the entrance.
As a long-time friend and fan of Ko's work, I was excited to see her latest direction, fusing two styles she has previously worked in to create all-white paintings covered with explosions of matte color, a new earthy take on Pop Art.
Along with a stream of high-fashion ladies, there were also business suits and several people in jeans. Sally, at seven months pregnant, looked the most ravishing of all in a black and white ruffled number. The night felt all the more special knowing that this could be Sally's last art opening before settling into motherhood.
After a few more refills of brut, some chit-chatting and admiring the paintings, we all picked seats for the feast. Styled much like the restaurant, 40 seats made up the dining area, behind which were austere white walls outfitted with 13 more paintings by Sally.
Partial-owner Donnie Media welcomed the crowd, followed by some words by Kahan, who greeted the crowd with, "We're all here for a reason. We all hate George Bush, right?" After some laughs, he went on. "I loved Sally Ko's paintings immediately when I saw them," and later said that the evening was a chance to "talk about the art, look at the art, compare what we see in the art...That's the point of these Salon Series, and if you meet someone new, well that's great too."
The first dish to arrive, pemaquid oysters with mushrooms, looked like a signature Sally Ko painting! Broken bits of oysters arranged on the plate compared to the floating off-white symbols in the all-white paintings hanging behind us.
The second dish, a crispy walleyed pike with smoky octopus and orange, was a psychedelic explosion of flavors, much like Sally's colorful paintings are explosions of colors.
Featuring an impeccable level of service, the servers placed our wines in front us before each new dish arrived; in addition to the brut, we sampled a California white, a Chardonnay and a Syrah with the main dish.
The servers delivered the dishes in theatrical perfection, entering the room in a precise line, ready to disperse the treasured dishes. But the real beauty of this monthly event is that it's a private party open to anyone. For the price of $125 per person you can see artwork by one of Chicago's most exciting emerging artists, sample five brand new dishes by Kahan, and learn about a range of new wines. While affording a painting (Sally's run $2,000 to $3,500) may not be within reach for most of us, sampling the high life once in a while can be.