The décor, food and wine all make me want to check into The Boarding House. Alpana Singh, The Boarding House’s proprietor, is best known as the former host of Check, Please!. However, she is also a Master Sommelier and former Director of Wine and Spirits for Lettuce Entertain You Restaurants. Opening in late 2011, The Boarding House has undergone shake-ups in the kitchen, as well as its share of criticism. However, each time that I have visited, I have never been disappointed.
Upon entering The Boarding House, a statement chandelier comprised of more than 10,000 wine glasses soars effortlessly above a large rectangular bar. Highboy tables surround the room for those looking for a drink or bite off the separate bar menu. The restaurant’s second floor is reserved for private parties. For those heading to the main dining room, an elevator lifts patrons to the third floor. Analogous to the wine glass chandelier on the first floor, the dining room features over 4,000 green glass wine bottles strung from the ceiling. The dark hardwood floors, exposed beams and two-story windows surrounding the room offer a taste of how the space previously appeared as a real boarding house.
Servers are armed with thoughtful recommendations and a sommelier is ready to offer guidance about or tastings of any wines on the menu. On one visit, I discovered Cedar Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon, which remains a favorite to this day. As far as the menu goes, vegetarians will be sated with the beets & goat cheese salad which gains a brightness from the candied zest, in addition to a sublime beluga lentils entrée which sits atop a flavorful hot chili harissa sauce – one of the best vegetarian entrees that I have enjoyed in a while. For pescetarians, the braised octopus was perfectly cooked, and the Scottish salmon with stone ground grits melted in my mouth. The Berkshire pork chop over mascarpone grits would please any carnivore.
Ms. Singh is ever-present in her restaurant, overseeing operations and gaining feedback from diners. Her willingness to listen to patrons and evolve the quality of the food and dining experience sets her apart from many other establishments helmed by culinary “celebrities.” As a result, The Boarding House should be up and running for many years to come.
Photos: Tim Hiatt, Eater Chicago