Slideshow: Underground Dining: Border Oak Celebrates 'American Midland Cuisine' in Chicago

Small Window
Small Window

Asparagus, quail egg, ricotta, greens, shallot vinaigrette

Chef Leven described this as a small window into spring and the ingredients really spoke for themselves. I was thrilled with how perfectly the small quail egg was poached. The yolk was thick and creamy but not runny.

Winter Larder
Winter Larder

Boar terrine, carnitas rillette style, black garlic mostarda, wild watercress, pickled hop shoots, crostini

This course was inspired by making the most of winter leftovers, like preserved meats. Chef Leven would come out before each course to explain his inspiration and allow us to ask any questions we might have.

Big Water
Big Water

Cured and smoked whitefish, whitefish roe, sour cream, dill, green garlic aioli, pea tendrils, braised leeks

A very pretty course of whitefish three ways. I preferred the smoked to the cured whitefish, but it was great to taste them side by side.

Smelt Run
Smelt Run

Crispy smelts, cured cabbage, fermented fava beans, smoked sausage

This was my favorite course of the night for its flavors and textures. The spicy cabbage was specked with bits of sausage, and I could have easily eaten several more fish.

Spring Shower
Spring Shower

Arugula, asparagus, lime, chrysanthemum, sage flowers

This light intermezzo was served not before dessert, but before two more meat courses. The jelly was fairly flavorless but did a great job cleansing our palates after the spicy smelts.

Leap of faith
Leap of faith

From left to right: braised radish, octopus tentacle, buffalo heart

The octopus tentacle was technically overcooked, but with such a small portion I actually like the charred outside and slightly chewier meat. Bison heart was sliced thin and only lightly seasoned so we could taste the meat, which was like a very lean cut of beef.

Petit Fours
Petit Fours

Clockwise from top left: a strawberry marshmallow covered in strawberry coulis, chocolate truffle, cucumber slush, rhubarb cooked in colonial spices

These were tasty little bites, but the chocolate truffle was my favorite. It was like those truffles Whole Foods sells a million boxes of during the holiday season, but better. I'm not ashamed to admit I snuck a few extra from the kitchen after dinner. #sorrynotsorry