Three Stars for Jonah from Chicago Tribune!

September 26, 2016

Jonah Reider is hot. Not Grant Achatz hot or Corey Feldman hot, but he's having a moment and making the most of it. You might want to get in on this. Reider became famous last year for Pith, the four-seat pop-up restaurant he operated out of his student-housing place at Columbia University. Ruth Reichl praised him; Stephen Colbert had him on "The Late Show." And now he's cooking at Intro, in a one-month residency that runs through Oct. 15. Considering some of the chefs who interned at Intro previously — C.J. Jacobson, Erik Anderson, Jessica Largey — this is heady stuff. "This is the nicest kitchen I've ever worked in, hands down," Reider says, in a significant understatement. There are two ways to sample Reider's food. His dishes are offered on Intro's main a la carte menu, or you can book a table at the 10-seat private dining room for a $95 eight-course progression. The latter is the way to go, if you can; seating is limited, but Intro just made available some additional tables for the remainder of Reider's run. Reider looks even younger than his 22 years, especially when he's greeting guests, clad in a collarless shirt and brim-askew baseball cap. But he's an instantly likable presence; he comes off eager, shy and a bit deferential, more like a guy making the most of an amazing opportunity, rather than someone who might be the Next Big Thing. "I know how ridiculous it is for a young and inexperienced chef to have such (presence) in a kitchen," he says. "I'm still learning." Here's what he has learned already. Reider shows a good sense of flavor balance; his dishes (keeping in mind I've had the eight-course progression only once) are unfailingly harmonious. His presentations are beautiful. And the young chef understands restraint; you wouldn't call his food minimalist, but there seems to be little wasted effort. Reider's food bears little resemblance to his dorm-room creations of last year, though the heirloom-tomato salad course is pretty close. Then, Reider offered tomato slices with smoked salt, lemon juice and fennel seed; now, Reider has access to a vacuum device that draws the salt and lemon deep into a halved tomato, which is then adorned with flowers and herbs and accented with walnut oil. But while he acknowledges its importance to his current opportunity, Reider would love to leave the "dorm-room chef" sobriquet behind. I think he's well on that path. The meal begins with a bracing glass of soda made with turmeric, ginger and grapefruit (gin optional, and on the night I visited, nobody passed up the alcohol). Tastebuds awakened, a couple of playful nibbles appear: oyster, accented with red currant and black peppercorn, and a half-moon of phyllo pastry filled with goat cheese and red chard, dusted with charred and dehydrated chard leaves and a drop of peppered chard juice. Then things get a bit more serious with raw, thinly sliced scallops dressed with lemon and espelette pepper and a touch of osetra caviar, followed by harissa-coated carrots alongside a soft pile of ricotta mixed with marcona almonds and preserved lemon. The venison tartare is a superior creation. The diced meat is tossed with a reduced jus of black trumpet mushrooms, along with juniper berries; it's formed into a disk that's crowned with fried and salted black trumpets, tiny cubes of compressed quince and anise leaves. The mushroom reduction adds a wonderful umami undercurrent to the venison, and the crisped mushrooms add so much texture, your attention completely misses the fact that there is no accompanying bread. Leg-thigh of confit duck isn't a remarkable creation, save for the preternaturally crispy and precisely salted skin and the surfeit of chanterelle mushrooms. On the side, a hot plum sauce infused with Earl Gray tea (a nifty fillip that Reider credits to sous-chef Omri Silberstein) gives the duck a subtle complement, and a colorful salad of puffed wild rice, mustard greens and sliced plums very nearly steals the spotlight. Dessert is a bit of a communal course; a whole berry galette, sized for the table, is presented and sliced tableside, served with cardamom ice cream. The galette itself is asymmetrical and simple, deliberately flawed to evoke a sense of family dining, and it's an effective touch. For all that, I liked the pre-dessert, an off-menu bonus, even better: sweet-cream panna cotta drizzled with tart apple-cider caramel, with figs and gooseberries strewn on top. Wine pairings, an optional $45, are perfect matches and well worth including. I would make time to visit Intro while Reider's still around; it might prove useful some day to be able to say you had his food back then. pvettel@chicagotribune.com