Today’s dining customer, whether arriving in twos or as part of a large group, wants plenty of atmosphere served up with their dining experience, and Chicago’s BLVD, helmed by globally trained Executive Chef Johnny Besch, plates up plenty of panache to accompany its inspired yet accessible cuisine.
Walking into the two-story West Loop restaurant, which opened in June 2017, one gets a vibe of sparkling Golden Age Hollywood glamor, with its Art Deco design and luxurious banquettes, circular interior booths and shimmering chandeliers.
“It [harkens to the] 1950s—Sunset Boulevard, lots of Art Deco chandeliers and gold,” Besch said of the design. “And with the food, we’re thinking about what kind of food the American public was being exposed to post-World War II, with people coming back from the different theaters of World War II—the South Pacific, Europe, North Africa. Not that that defines what our food is, but we’re definitely trying to tip our hats to those different international cuisines and put our own little modern twist on things but still kind of play into some of the classics.”
Menu highlights include such classics as Caesar salad, a deconstructed shrimp cocktail, house-made pastas, whole roasted fish and a 22 oz. ribeye with bone marrow butter that is among the finest I’ve ever tasted, to options at the high and low ends of the price spectrum, such as a BLVD Burger De Luxe and the indulgent Seafood Tower and caviar service.
It’s the freshness of the ingredients that really matters to Besch, who learned his craft from culinary luminaries such as French legend Alain Ducasse.
“Something I learned from Ducasse was ‘60 percent ingredients/40 percent technique,’ Besch said. “Through beautiful ingredients come exceptional results, minimally processed. When you have something as beautiful as caviar you don’t have to do anything—just pop it open and eat it. Or with our oysters, I have a really strong working relationship with Travis Oja from Netarts Bay in Oregon.”
Besch’s resume reads like a travelogue, having worked at top restaurants in such far-flung destinations as Chicago; the Pacific Northwest; with Ducasse at W Retreat & Spa in Puerto Rico; traveling through Central America to learn Latin American ingredients and cooking techniques; and operating his own venue in Cape Cod, Mass., before heading back home to steer BLVD.
With a cast of crew members that include Executive Sous Chef Mark Kasper and Sous Chef William Hanson, Besch also handles the group dining experience, including venue options such as the Champagne Room (max. cap. 50, dining; 75, reception), with an elegant atmosphere adorned by enticing bottles of premier bubbly, The Lounge (35, dining; 50, reception) or a full buyout for up to 250.
“We can do anything on the menu, basically—we’re not confined,” Besch said. “A lot of places will have a banquet menu; we created a menu that translates both through an a la carte menu or dining service to group gatherings.”
In the end, it’s all about making the dining experience something to savor with all of the senses.
“In the ’40s and ’50s, people went out for special occasions, they didn’t stay at home,” Besch said. “Seeing that shift in the way people are eating and the style of service that we offer definitely melds back into that—that celebration of going out to eat being an event and not just a place to go put food in your mouth.”