“This is just something we’ve been messing around with,” says Leonard Hollander, one of Arbor’s chef-partners, as he serves orange sorbet in a martini glass with a candied orange peel and pours Evil Twin Molotov Cocktail, an Imperial IPA, over it. Shocking and—once your brain catches up with your tongue—dynamic. What Hollander considers an experiment could be another chef’s opus.
Arbor is not for everyone. Reservations are granted “via text, call, email, or spontaneous conversation,” and meals are customized for each diner. Its location in a minimalist glassed-in room on the second floor of the Green Exchange building feels odd. You may be put off by stories Hollander and partner Chad Little tell about the unorthodox wine pairings, the herbs from the courtyard garden, or the happiness of the bees in the rooftop apiary. But the ever-evolving five-course Midwestern omakase is unlike anything in Chicago.
It might offer a lovely pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed oil, pear strips, and pickled matsutake mushrooms that provide vinegary jolts of flavor with the slightest pressure from your teeth. Or a mesmerizing play on tacos, with fatty white tuna, pickled lotus roots, avocado purée, and corn “gravel” encased in giant paper-thin radish slices. Heck, some nights, a plump buckwheat gnocco atop crispy brisket with an oozy soft-boiled egg and porcini cream registers as the most modest dish. You might finish with a stunning pot de crème incorporating dozens of elements, including 70 percent Colombian dark chocolate, passion fruit panna cotta, tonka bean whipped cream, 50-day-old strawberries, strawberry preserves, and candied sunflower petals.
It’s all striking and original and just this side of weird. the tastes interlock in unexpected ways that often lead to questions. Which Hollander and Little, of course, are thrilled to answer.