The first thing you have to do once you arrive at Saddle Room is decide what kind of evening you’re looking for.
During the winter season, the hotspot is the lounge seating around a four-sided, stone fireplace. The guests who gather there stick mostly to drinks and apps. The main dining room and bar areas are awash in a upscale rustic vibe constructed from reclaimed wood from Wisconsin barns, reclaimed bowling alleys as the tables, a floor made from recycled tires, and full-size horse saddles mounted on walls. The back dining room is restricted to adults and smaller parties only, keeping the atmosphere intimate and easily conversational. Even deeper into the building you’ll find a wine bar with a tapas menu and an expanded wine list.
On the other side of the building is their fully functional and licensed off track betting parlor for participating in international horse races. That space also acts as the ultimate sports bars, giant flat screen TVs cover the walls displaying a cavalcade of sports in progress. But now that summer’s arrived, the 240 seat outdoor patio will be the place to be, whether for lunch in the welcome sun or for evening cocktails around the outdoor fireplace.
We chose the main dining room and started with the Meat Board off of the appetizer menu. All of the meats are extremely fresh and cured in house. The board consisted of housemade smoked pork tenderloin bacon with orange marmalade; a very tasty breaded Scotch egg, fried, but without any greasiness, paired with grainy maple mustard; and smoky duck bacon with house made pickles, pickled onions, and sun dried tomato moustarda. The board is served with crisp toasted points of fruit and nut bread. We loved trying the meats on their own and then in all the different combinations of ingredients on the plate.
The Apple & Cheese salad further reinforced Saddle Room’s determination to do things a little differently. A lemon shallot vinaigrette hits the taste buds first with a burst of citrus flavor followed by the bright crunch of shredded red and green apples and a lovely sharpness from aged Spanish manchego cheese and chives.
This salad’s robust range of flavors and resolute lightness were the perfect palate cleanser before the highlight of the night. Aly’s Little Lamb Pappardelle is practically a mission statement from Chef AlyseMarie. A list of seemingly disparate ingredients on the menu tends to keep the less adventurous diners at bay, but her ability to unify them into a delicious and deeply satisfying pasta dish is undeniable. Wide, thick pappardelle noodles, like the grownup version of fettuccine, are the hearty base layer for mixture of Mediterranean flavors, from housemade lamb chorizo sausage; Mexican flavors, from cilantro pesto, green mole, and queso fresco; and a touch of vinegary acidity from sweet pickled gold raisins and blueberries. It’s super savory and completely distinctive.
One of their most popular entrees hinges on the tender and mild flavor of thyme and sea salt marinated Maple Leaf Farm duck breast. This tantalizing preparation allows the meat to take on the much more assertive flavor of blueberry relish and blueberry gastrique; the oaky, woody flavor of fried, blackened Brussels sprouts leaves, and a German potato salad vinaigrette bite from warm, seared potato shingles.
For dessert, the Root Beer Cookies somehow manage to provide the essence of root beer in cookie form. It’s actually very bizarre. These warm, fresh-from the-oven cookies actually convince your mouth that you’re experiencing the bubbly effervescence of a carbonated beverage. They’re delivered on a pool of root beer syrup, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and are topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s a root beer float on a plate. A special kind of dessert sorcery.
Each of the dishes we tried had its own personality and unique spin and we didn’t even try a fraction of the menu.
It’s going to take many visits to the many different environments within Saddle Room before we really understand the breadth and scope they’re capable of.
We’re looking forward to many visits to come.
Saddle Room is located at 2559 Pratum Avenue in Hoffman Estates, 847-645-7500, thesaddleroomrestaurant.com.