a review of Murder Mystery, Siera Hyte’s Restaurant at Egg
There was no ATM in the restaurant but it didn’t matter because the food was a gift.
Our server was the artist, Siera Hyte, which made me feel important. Though the staff was small, the collaborative effort to keep the food coming made me feel as welcome as I would at a restaurant with traditional table service. The artist and two gallerists kept warm biscuits coming at a regular pace. I’d guess that there were 30 or 40 guests in Egg at a time, each being taken care of at their own leisure at the front table.
Puppies Puppies and Forrest Nash run Egg, which that night was a restaurant but a gallery and artist’s studio otherwise. It doesn’t have open hours, so RSVPing was all-important.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that there wasn’t furniture: there were couch cushions, three tables and two chairs in the establishment, but their purpose wasn’t for seating. The food was served on disposable white plates without utensils. Guests, scattered around the room, ate from their plates while looking on at the art and fellow guests. Since I wasn’t sure how sophisticated an artist’s restaurant would be, I found the finger food refreshingly casual. Hyte wanted to present dishes with perfect execution, so my imagination ran toward the prevalent abstract expressionist plating in contemporary fine dining.
Each plate featured three satisfying elements: a small square biscuit, perfectly balanced in its moisture and fluffiness; homemade honey butter that left nothing to be desired; and a sweet, yet slightly tart persimmon jam. There was only one biscuit for each guest so there must have been over fifty total. One finger-licking bite was enough to make me forget the onset of winter weather. My Southern spirit felt reanimated by the artful layers of the biscuit and delightful condiments – not over-burdened by excess flavors and desperate ingredient combinations that commonly plague contemporary dining. Hyte’s decision to select a private chef from the new Chicago eatery, MFK, was wise. Advised by her partner Joseph Gleeson, an executive chef, these biscuits would be the best. The expert chef’s creation didn’t go overboard, a quality of modesty paired with Hyte’s sparse and clean installation.
To steady the palate with a bit of acidity and spice, mulled wine was offered. The pairing wasn’t as perfect as the dish’s flavor profile alone but washed back the butter gracefully nonetheless. Hyte’s spiced wine made its availability more tender than the typical line up of wine bottle offerings at many gallery openings.
Once I devoured my biscuit, the objects beyond the serving table came into view. “First we eat. Then we do everything else,” echoed the MFK business cards.
Cut clear open with precision, smaller-than-life couch cushions oozed green and white stuffing. Like the little square biscuits, the rectangles and squares of velvet-encased fluff were adorable and savory at the same time. I knew I couldn’t sit on the cushions, but they were placed about as far apart as chairs would be from tables in a cafe.
Handsome gold and silver keys were everywhere, in and on jewelry cases (often also velvety) or placed among the cushions. Some seemed architectural in their positioning, jutting out at an angle from a closed ring box or balanced on a conduit along the wall. Their poise could be likened to ants fearlessly walking out on a thin branch. It’s obvious that they were not meant to be used, especially not in the restaurant. In fact, I was told that each one of them had been miscut by a key maker and collected by the artist.
The keys were cut once, though without the same ideal execution as the food. They are the cancelled senior prom. Still, I think of them with nostalgia.
As the short-lived biscuits kept baking and the smell of butter kept wafting through the room, I felt distracted from solving the questions I came up with. Why were the cushions cut open? What new value was being conferred upon the keys? Was this a message to appreciate the non-functioning and to find value in errors, even while consuming an indulgent treat? Was the previous installation at Egg, Darren Bader’s eggs that should be cooked in the guest’s mouth, a restaurant as well?
Let’s be clear, this wasn’t a typical restaurant. I knew not to expect so because Hyte conceptualized it as a place where a dish would only be served perfectly and for one night only. Every restaurant wants to boast that its food is perfect, but at Egg the fare triumphs for a single evening. Perhaps this is meant to exempt a patron’s goal to have the same great dish another foodie recommended. Your dish is your first kiss.
Many restaurants I’ve visited have had artwork hanging on the walls, but the art here was mostly on the floor and there was a gray folding table. It reminded me of a flea market. Even Hyte’s poems were written on the floor, adjacent to the seams between the square tiles. If I tried reading them fluidly, I’d feel like I was in a maze, turning ninety degrees to find another fragment next to a spilling cushion and handful of keys. The text could have described the restaurant front room’s “big glass windows” that perhaps “a hummingbird flies into” at some point.
Would I recommend this restaurant to others? Yes, for those adventurous foodies who appreciate when a simple dish is done right. A dish modestly presented and doesn’t cost you, yet can not be guaranteed the previously reviewed course. The dish will be at its peak, leaving you wistful for another taste like your first.
This is Brook Sinkinson Withrow’s first restaurant review and second review for Chicago Artist Writers. All images courtesy Egg.