Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Wednesday, December 7

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Restaurant Mon Jan 13 2014

Classy Dining at The Octagon Mode

dsc_0380.jpg Erika Stone-Miller proves that you can be a food truck owner, novice architect, self-trained chef, and run a successful pop-up at the same time. My multitasking aptitudes are less impressive--I can listen to good music, smile at people, and consume food. And that's exactly what I did at The Octagon Mode, a communal dinner party emphasizing modern fine dining. Located in Uptown, the restaurant name pays tribute to Orson Squire Fowler, a 19th century architect whose octagonal houses were more environmentally friendly than traditional buildings.

This obscure architectural title references Erika's major in architecture, although she spent more than 20 years working front of the house in Chicago's finest restaurants, including L2O and Blackbird. When Erika temporarily closed down her ice-cream truck, Ice-Cubed, for the Chicago winter, she decided that an underground supper club would fare better than an ice-cream parlor in cold weather.

Stepping into the restaurant space reminded me of entering a classy 1920 speakeasy--a single dining table, ornate silverware, candlelit ambiance, a lone guitarist. Our refined menu included house-made meadowvale dairy milk curd, cauliflower velouté, butter poached langostino tails, and my favorite -- ménage à trois of persimmon (white pepper custard tartlet with fresh persimmon, poppyseed cake with persimmon compote, cheese ice-cream with persimmon rum swirl). Even if the food tasted horrible (and it definitely did not), the presentation alone proved astounding. Everything was so carefully crafted and arranged that I almost felt guilty shoving pieces of art into my mouth.

It helped that I liked the company of my fellow diners. All it takes is one obnoxious guest to make those smoked salmon rillettes taste like shit on toast. Before the dinner, guests were asked to submit one interesting fact about themselves, which Erika anonymously announced to the group throughout dinner. We then tried to figure out the owner of the interesting fact, which inevitably sparked fascinating (and sometimes disturbing) conversations. I met an employee from the Federal Reserve, a student proficient in nearly 50 instruments, and a few bankers (because bankers always seem to be at these underground events).

Erika plans to continue The Octagon Mode until April, when Chicago will warm up enough to defrost Ice-Cubed for business. Until then, Erika's elegant, one-person show will undoubtedly continue to impress diners from across the city.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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