Phil Vettel reviews BLVD

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CHICAGO -- BLVD, with its drab exterior and vowel-free signage isn’t impressive from the outside. But the interior is retro-Hollywood glamour, from the sweeping staircase and lounge to the chandeliered dining room with spacious booths and Art Deco accents.

Executive chef Johnny Besch captures that feeling of Hollywood’s golden age without being restricted by it. His shrimp cocktail, for example, is a modern deconstruction that re-creates the classic flavors by means of a horseradish panna cotta, spiced-tomato gastrique, lemon confit and, of course, hefty, meaty prawns.

Mussels in beer broth rises above the ordinary with the addition of Calabrian chile oil and nuggets of house-made, wild-boar chorizo sausage. And I was wowed by the cauliflower dish, an array of heirloom cauliflower accented by a Thai-inspired broth, yogurt-honey base and pickled Fresno chilies. It’s a very complex dish, but the flavors work together brilliantly.

Main courses are very solid. The prettiest is the halibut, served with a slightly spicy kimchi broth and topped with a long sourdough wafer the chef calls an “umami butter crouton.” Salmon over lardons-studded lentils gets a surf-and-turf accent from a sauce fortified with chicken liver, while a port-and-fig sauce supports crispy-skin duck breast alongside duck-stuffed cabbage packets.

The Holiday hot-fudge brownie sundae is an orgy of four ice creams, hot fudge, brownie bites, chocolate pretzel shards and more; you’ll need four people to polish off this one. And who could resist these malted milkshakes? There are two, served in miniature milk bottles that arrive in their own milk-man carrier.

I give BLVD, 817 West Lake Street, two stars. The era of opulent dining rooms may be over, but places like BLVD remind us of how grand they once were.

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