Chef Owen Maass creates cover-girl food. His sous vide venison was the prettiest dish placed before me all year, his pecan raisin bread salad the second. Picture this: A white rectangular plate with a rich mahogany stripe of juniper-infused venison reduction. At either end are two blackened poblano peppers onto which are stacked thin juliennes of pale celery root, tiny half rounds of roasted yellow and red baby beets, and plump slices of venison deeply purpled from a current-cumin glaze. In the center are batons of magenta prickly pear. Tiny emerald micro greens are scattered across it all. It’s simply stunning.
Like all great chefs, Maass’s use of color, texture, and flavor make for dazzling, energetic dishes that reappear in your dreams. Recently I received an e-mail at 2 a.m., the sender flushed from dinner at Cumin. Devoid of any analytical reflection, his e-mail listed dishes with dozens of exclamation points. “Root Beer Float!!!!! Root Beer Float!!!!!” he shouted through the digisphere. I couldn’t agree more. Maass’s root beer float is the ’70s muscle car of root beer floats: house made root beer syrup with Madisono’s root beer sorbet and sassafras gelato (made expressly for Cumin). Maass is clearly having a blast, and why shouldn’t he? His plates enhance one of the coolest dining rooms in the city, are delivered by a competent (if at times mercurial) staff, and orchestrated by one very polished and charming maître d’ in Alex Mchaikhi. Cumin is ready for its close-up.
3520 Erie Ave., Hyde Park
Rank Last Year: 7
Photograph by Ryan Kurtz
Originally published in the March 2011 issue.