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Catering to opera-goers hungry before show, Lyric’s restaurant, bistro take it up an octave

Submitted by on Jan 19, 2018 – 4:59 pm

Around Town: Pedersen Room, Florian Bistro update their in-house dining options for ticket-holders at the Lyric Opera
By Nancy Malitz
  • If the restaurant’s service is slow and there’s no time for coffee to counteract the drinks…
  • If the weather’s bad, the traffic’s worse, and the parking line’s a mile long…
  • If there’s a crush at the ticket window…
  • Worst of all, if you miss that curtain…

Let me count the ways a highly anticipated Big Ticket Event can go bad from the start.

Considering how successful its in-house restaurant is, it’s no surprise the Lyric Opera of Chicago has added a three-course $39 prix-fixe white-tablecloth venue and a more casual bistro-style dining venue that is managed by Jewell Events Catering. It makes me wonder if they used restaurant pos systems or other powerful technology to succeed so well!

Lyric’s onsite restaurants are equally – and fiercely – dedicated to the principle that Yes, you absolutely will make curtain, and Yes, you can come back to your table at intermission for coffee, dessert, and the rest of the wine. It would not come as a shock if they revealed that they had worked with a restaurant management consultant in order to help them finesse their goals and how they were going to go about achieving them to provide such an experience to those looking to combine their visit to the opera with dinner.

The Lyric’s street-level Sarah and Peer Pedersen Room has a prix-fixe menu that changes slightly with each new production, when a featured chef from the Chicago area is invited to suggest a single entrée in the spirit of the particular show at hand, among five or six other entrée options.

Through Jan. 27, Puccini’s “Turandot” is in the opera house. It’s the story of a Tartar prince in love with an icy princess in Old Peking, and thus the Pedersen Room is favored with a handsome beef noodle dish with spicy wagyu beef, togarashi (a pepper), rice noodles and fried egg, devised by three chefs from Saigon Sisters.

Coming soon is a new featured chef to inaugurate a dish for Bellini’s “I Puritani,” which is an Italian opera set in 17th-century England during civil war, with a mad scene for the heroine and a happy ending! I did not want to presume to guess how that will translate into a featured entrée, because the restaurant’s obviously having some fun with this idea, so I asked for an update and Lyric came through with the 411: Chef Federico Comacchio from Coco Pazzo is designing a braised lamb dish — Agnello al Chianti. In the bel canto spirit, I suppose.

Each of the courses in the Pedersen Room’s prix-fixe deal includes several options (see a sample menu here). I recommend the curried carrot soup, which goes down like velvet, and the appetizer of marinated grilled quail; neither is the sort of thing you toss off easily at home.

The wine list, with input from master sommelier Alpana Singh (of The Boarding House, Seven Lions and Terra & Vine), includes hearty red discoveries such as Gouguenheim RSV Malbec from Argentina ($56 a bottle), along with an array of prudent by-the-glass values starting at $11.

And the desserts are yet another feast. There’s a classic fancy opera cake roulade, an apple pastry, a cheesecake, even a “Freud chocolate hazelnut royal.” (I’m assuming this means general director Anthony Freud, not Sigmund, although the mousse and caramelized concoction does look rather guilt-inducing.)

There’s another restaurant option, too:

The Florian Opera Bistro is the more casual eatery and bar on the third floor. It runs like a ribbon along Wacker Drive, and it is strictly la carte with a full range of entrée salads ($17), savory tarts ($15 – one has fontina, wild mushroom and asparagus), a sandwich trio ($16 – good for sharing) and a cheese plate ($11). The same wine list and lavish desserts from the Pedersen Room are available here, too, as you can see from the sample menu..

True to its narrow purpose, the Lyric Opera requires that you be a ticket-holder to eat at these restaurants; you come through the same lobby ticket gate as for the opera itself. Although walk-ins are welcome at the Bistro, reservations are a good idea – and at the Pedersen Room they are strictly required. This bit involves jumping through some hoops, because, unlike restaurants, the Lyric’s restaurants are not always open.

So, if you’re not already connected with the Lyric online – which is to say, if you can’t already sign on to the website with a password – then the best thing is to call (312) 827-5600 ahead of time, during business hours, to secure a table.

Further, although the situation’s a bit freer at the Bistro, the Pedersen Room does only two seatings per show. Typically, this means 11:30 a.m. for a matinee and 4:45 for an evening opera. Still, it’s always wise to check. One of the operas earlier this season, Wagner’s “Die Walküre,” started quite early because it was five hours long.

The Pederson Room’s first seating is timed to allow extra wandering in the lobby, perhaps to take some snapshots (and snapchats) or to enjoy a pre-opera talk from an elite spot in the auditorium area down front, a few steps from the orchestra pit and the celebrated golden fire curtain.

The second restaurant seating (typically 12:45 at matinees, 6:15 at night) gets one through an entire meal in time for the opera – or through all but dessert, should returning to cap things off at intermission seem the more leisurely way to go.

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