Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mable's Table - Brunch

There was a little neighborhood restaurant in Bucktown called Jane's that was located in a former bungalow.  It was very distinctive because the bungalow was painted pale blue.  I liked it and was sad when it closed.  Luckily, the location didn't stay closed for long.  It became a restaurant serving chef-driven comfort foods (similar to Jane's) called Mable's Table.  The building was painted and was changed from pale blue to off-white.  Walking into the space, it looked very similar to how it had with a large bar on the right side of the dining room that was connected to the kitchen and tables on the other side.  The walls on the inside are also brick, the floor is hardwood, and the furniture looked very rustic.  The large window in the front lets in natural light.  I am not sure if it existed when Jane's was open, but there is a second dining room connected to the first at the back of the room, near the kitchen.  This is where we dined.  Walking into this dining room, there is a second bar.  This room has some classic elements with a painted tin ceiling and the furniture using classic design, though the light not provided by the large window in the front was provided from hanging globes and the walls are mostly drywall/plaster with some wooden beams toward the front of the room.  The seating was both table and banquette seating (where we sat) with soft throw pillows sitting on the banquette.
The cocktails that Mable's Table serves are basically spins on classics.  They are different from the classics, though it is easy to see the similarity.  I ordered a drink that was a spin on a Moscow Mule, though I neglected to take note of what it was called.  It was served in a Copper Mug and used Vodka, Ginger, and Lemon, but it used sliced Ginger instead of Ginger Beer and used Cider to replace the liquid lost by not using Ginger Beer.  It had a sweet and spicy flavor from the vodka and ginger, but the cider added a bitter sweetness with an apple flavor.  It was also more dry than is a Moscow Mule, but it was very good and I would easily order it again.
While Mable's does have the usual sweet selections of French Toast and Pancakes, they are done in a cheffy way adding such things as Cheese Anglaise or Honey Butter.  They have nice selection of things on the savory side as well.  For my selection, I went with a Brunch Burrito with Scrambled Eggs, Porchetta, and Smoked Provolone that was served with Salsa and Sour Cream.  It was served with a side of what they called Hash Browns, but what I would call Home Fries.  In any case, they are Pan-Fried Sliced Potatoes.  I upgraded them to Hangover Cheesy Jalapeno Hash Browns with Jalapenos, Caramelized Onions, Melted Cheddar Cheese, and Crispy Potatoes.  It was all very good and hearty.

I really enjoyed brunch here and will have to return sometime again for brunch or dinner.  While Jane's will be missed, Mable's Table is a good replacement. 


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Fort Willow

Having gone to Ada Street many times, I have gotten to know the people that work (and have worked there) and I will frequently follow the chefs that have moved on.  Opening Chef, Zoe Schor, moved on to open her place, Split Rail, last year.  Joanna Stachon, her Sous Chef, was Executive Chef for about 3 years, but has moved on to be the Executive Chef of Anglo-Indian Pub, Pub Royale. Now, Dierdre Quinn, Chef Joanna's Sous Chef has moved on and is serving as opening chef for Fort Willow, DMK's latest venture which is located around the corner from Ada Street.  Like Ada Street, it is largely done in black on the outside and the entrance is kind of unobtrusive.  In the case of Fort Willow, while the building fronts Elston Ave., the entrance is around the corner and in an alcove in the back on Willow Street (hence the name).  There is a neon sign in the alcove pointing to the door, which is good because there is also a stairway there that leads into the unknown.  Once inside the door, you are confronted with a space that is long and narrow with a tree (made of slats) in the middle and next to the bar.  You walk by the kitchen window to get to the dining room and bar (and the tree).  The "crown" of the tree stretches over the bar and dining room.  If you are going to have a tree, a tree swing must be had, and there is one sitting next to a large standing table at the front of the dining room.  As you move past the tree, the large bar is on the left and table seating is on the right.  Seating at the bar is on two sides, opposite the tables and at the end of the bar well into the restaurant.  In the far left corner of the dining room beyond the bar is a blanket fort booth for about seven people and on the far wall is a map of the world for explorers.  As you can see, the design is full of whimsy and tries to bring people back to their childhood imagination.
For the cocktails, they serve drinks in House or Classic Form.  In the classic form, they have many classic cocktails like Moscow Mule, Negroni, Martini, or Whiskey Sour, presented as you would find them in any bartender book.  With the house cocktails, they take the classics and serve them with a twist.  Generally that twist is an addition of spice, though some change the liquor.  The comparisons on either side of the House-Classic Line are not completely even, but they generally try to aim for the same style of cocktail.  I am an adventurous eater (and drinker), so I decided to focus on the House side.  For my first cocktail, I went with a Traveler's Sour, which could be compared to a Whiskey Sour.  While a Whiskey Sour starts with Bourbon and adds Lemon, Egg White, and Angostura Bitters, The Traveler's Sour started with Gin and Mezcal and went with Black Peppercorns, and Midori Melon Liquor, finishing with a Blood Orange Garnish.  Admittedly, this was a stretch to compare the two, but the Traveler's Sour did have a bitter start with a sour finish and it was very good.  I am generally not a Midori drinker, but the smokiness of the Mezcal and the peppercorns was able to tie it together with everything else.
The food menu is international and is largely small plates, with each dish labeled with the country (or region) of origin.  For my starter, I went with something called Ikan Bilis, which is a popular Southeast Asian bar snack.  It consisted of Crispy Anchovies, Peanuts, Chilies, and Onion.  While I knew that there would be anchovies, I really didn't know what to expect.  It started out salty, but the anchovies had a nice crunch and while there were chilies in the mix, the heat built gradually.  This was addicting as hell and I could have easily eaten two or three bowls.  There was other food to be tried, though, so I moved on.
When I go out, I always try to at least get some green vegetables and looking at the menu, I saw something that would fulfill that requirement and looked really good.  I ordered the Charred and Chilled Broccoli with Garlic Chips, Pickled Chilies, and Spicy Peanut Sauce.  This was labeled as from Thailand.  While the broccoli used looked like American broccoli and not the Chinese Broccoli that I would expect in that area, I will give it a pass because it was really good.  It was very fresh and crisp.  The char brought out a bitter sweetness which played well with the spicy peanut sauce.  Ada Street did a chilled broccoli dish for a while which this reminded me of.  The Ada Street recipe used tahini, though, and this was more spicy.  In any case, it was very good.
On the bottom of the menu there was something called The Big Bite with the description Chef's Whim.  This very much piqued my curiosity, so I had to ask.  It was a French Onion Soup Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Short Rib Stew.  I love French onion soup and the grilled cheese sandwich was a win with Gruyere Cheese and Caramelized Onions on Texas Toast.  The Short Rib Stew that went with it was also very good, but the grilled cheese sandwich hit it out of the park.  The creativity alone was a win, turning the idea of the French Onion Soup with the Beef Sandwich on it's head, but the combination of the two was also fantastic.  They went very well together.
My second cocktail was not as much a stretch between Classic and House Cocktails.  The Classic that the House Cocktail was riffing on was a Negroni, a Gin Cocktail with Sweet Vermouth and Campari.  I imagine the House Cocktail, the Tree Fort Punch, was lower in alcohol than the original because the only liquor it used was gin, but it was very good.  In addition to the gin, it used Sencha Green Tea, and Mint.  It was bitter with an herbal and botanical flavor as Negronis do, but it was lighter than a Negroni and had a punch-like flavor.
To finish things off, I had a choice of Mochi or a Horchata Creme Brulee.  While I am a little picky about my Creme Brulees, I like a crust that sounds a noticeable crack when tapped, but I like Horchata (Cinnamon flavored Rice Milk popular in Mexico and South America) and I really don't care for Mochi, so the decision was easy.  The custard part of the creme brulee was very good and I thought that the cinnamon rice noodles added the flavor of horchata very well, I was a little disappointed with the crust and thought that it could have been bruleed more.  Despite this small disappointment, I thought that it tasted good and made for a nice ending to a very good restaurant.  I will definitely return for more adventurous tastes and will invite friends.       

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Midland Brewing Company

Friends know that I like to visit local breweries.  Midland Brewing Company is in my hometown of Midland, Michigan and has been in operation since 2010.  When it first opened, it was little more than a taproom that served nothing more than beer, some of which were pretty good.  As it grew, they started canning beers for distribution and needed to employ a contract brewer to maintain demand.  They have undergone an expansion in the last couple of years, temporarily closing their brewpub/taproom, so they could expand brewing capacity and to install a kitchen so they could serve food.  They reopened the brewpub last year and it has been upgraded a lot.  The place has the look of a lodge with wooden furniture, wooden floors, and a wooden bar, referencing Midland's logging past.  There are also many logging tools hung on the walls as decoration and to further emphasize Midland's logging past.  
Having been here a few times, I have tried many of their beers and have developed a few favorites.  When I go in, I will order a flight so I can try something new as well as get back to my favorites.  Their serving tray for flights is pretty cool.  It has a chalk board on the front of the tray so it's easy to keep track of which beer is which.  For my flight, I went with favorites Lime Rock 2.0 IPA, Copper Harbor Ale, Margarita Gose, and a new and weird one I had not tried yet, the Peanut Butter Porter (whose actual name was Lumberjack Brawl Oatmeal Porter even though it also contained Peanut Butter).  All of the beers that I tried were pretty good.  The Lime Rock IPA was crisp with a citrus flavor that moderates the bitter.  The Copper Harbor is malty and has a flavor somewhere between a Red and a Golden Ale.  The Margarita Gose is light and tart with a salty finish, and the Lumberjack Brawl was rich and dark with a nice peanut butter finish.  Of the beers that I tried, my favorite fell between the Lime Rock 2.0 IPA and the Margarita Gose.
While I had been here a few times before, I had never actually eaten here.  I did look at the menu, saw the food coming out of the kitchen, and smelled the smells, and things really looked good, so I decided to stop for lunch one day when I was up there.  It does have the standard bar food: burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, and chicken wings, but it also has fish and chips, flatbreads, barbecue, a meat and cheese board, and tacos, among other good stuff.  I decided to start things off with some Fried Pickles that were served in a basket with some Spicy Aioli on the side.  The pickles had a nice crispy breading, but still retained their juicy pickleness.  The Aioli was creamy and had a nice burn to it.  It did provide a nice complement to the pickle flavor, though the pickles were also good on their own.   The basket contained a nice number of slices and even though I did share them, there was plenty for all.
There were many good things on the menu that I considered, though I decided to go light and ordered Fish Tacos.  They were done with Ancho-Rubbed Cod, Shredded Lettuce, Pineapple Pico de Gallo, and Chipotle Cream Sauce, on Flame Grilled Flour Tortillas.  Ancho Chiles are spicy, but they are one of the milder spicy chiles, so while they did add some spice to the fish, it wasn't overwhelming and added a nice burn.  The Chipotle Cream Sauce, made from smoked jalapenos added a warm and smoky spice to it.  The pineapple in the pico de gallo moderated the spice and added a nice citrus finush that went well with the cod.  There were three tacos served, which provided a nice and hearty meal.

I like the beer here at Midland Brewing Company, so I will return just for that to see what's new.  the great food just makes it easier to come here.  I will definitely have to return for the barbecue, the charcuterie, and the flatbreads.   

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Loyalist - Restaurant Week

Last year a combination Gastropub/Fine Dining Restaurant opened last year in the West Loop.  Headed by Husband and Wife Team, John and Karen Urie Shields, who met while working at Charlie Trotter's, Smyth and The Loyalist got a lot of buzz after opening.  Smyth, the fine dining half, is located upstairs, and The Loyalist is located in the basement.  Although they are both very different experiences, I was very interested in visiting both, Smyth because it's a fine dining restaurant which is like experiencing art, and The Loyalist, which looked to have some very good bar food.  In fact, The Loyalist was noted by Bon Appetit to have one of the best Cheeseburgers in the country this year.  Unfortunately, both restaurant and bar operate using Tock, an electronic reservation system that frequently makes it difficult to book odd numbered parties.  I understand the logic, an odd numbered party leaves an open seat which can't be booked and makes it that much harder to make a profit, but it does make it difficult for those people that like dining solo.  Luckily, The Loyalist decided to participate in Restaurant Week this year and I have an easier time finding someone to dine with during this festival of food, so it was a given that I would go.  The building in which Smyth & The Loyalist are located is kind of a non-descript office building.  Entering the building, you encounter a landing with stairs leading downstairs for The Loyalist and Upstairs for Smyth.  Going downstairs we enteres a space that was like a partially finished basement.  The floor was cement, the walls were black, and the lights were hanging.  The furniture was wood and steel and had a bit of a Colonial bent to it.  We were seated and we began perusing the menu.  The restaurant week menu was small, but it did select items from the regular menu.  The cocktail menu was pretty extensive and adventurous so it took some time to decide what I might be interested in.  I decided to start things off with Buddha's Little Finger, a cocktail with Genever (a Juniper flavored liquor that is the national liquor of The Netherlands and a predecessor to London Dry Gin), Italicus (an Italian liqueur using bergamot and with a citrus and floral flavor), Buddha's Hand (a hand shaped citrus fruit that is all rind and no fruit and is used in cocktails for it's citrus flavor), Lemon, and Egg White.  It had a nice creamy head, a citrus and floral flavor, and was a nice start to a relaxing evening.
For the Restaurant Week menu, there were two choices each for entree and dessert with a salad served for the first course.  We decided to order one of everything and add an additional salad off of the regular menu, so we could each experience as much of the menu as possible.  The Salad that came as part of the Restaurant Week menu was a Bibb Salad served Family Style.  It started with Bibb Lettuce leaves with Watermelon Radish, Walnuts, Dill, Green Goddess Dressing, and Fromage Blanc.  The vegetables were very crisp and fresh and the lettuce was served as whole leaves.  It was very good and flavorful, but I had a little trouble with the lettuce, because it became stuck in my head at a young age that you don't cut lettuce.  I realize as an adult, that while you might not want to cut the lettuce before service (to prevent bruising), the diner would be perfectly within his rights to cut the lettuce.  While the Bibb Salad was good, I liked our additional salad better.  It was a Beet and Endive Salad with Smoked Salmon, and Caramelized Mandarins.  It had a variety of flavors and textures and it was easier for me to eat.  The beets were bittersweet and cubed, and the salmon was served between the beets and endive leaves which were served on top.  While I knew that it was there, it was hidden under the endives, and it was a surprise to find and taste it.
For our entrees we were very happy to see the Cheeseburger on the menu.  If it had not been, we would have had to have ordered it off the regular menu.  Leaving without trying it was not an option.  The burger on the Cheeseburger was a mixture of Short Rib, Chuck, and Ground Bacon.  It was griddle fried (which results in crispy edges) and presented on a Sesame Seed Bun with American Cheese, House Made Pickles, and Onions prepared three ways:  Charred, Pickled, and Raw.  It was presented with a Jus and Onion Infused Mayo on the side as well as some perfect fries that tasted like they were double fried.  It lives up to the hype and is one of the best burgers that I have ever had.  Our other course was Fusilli with Short Rib and Tripe Bolognese, Goat Cheese, and Parsley.  The pasta was simple and had a nice flavor, and was presented perfectly Al Dente.  It was good, but it really couldn't compete with the cheeseburger.
Dessert was another winner.  We were presented with a couple of Macaroons with a Chocolate Mousse Brulee on top.  There were two served, so there was no worry of dividing them.  They were crispy and sweet with a nice smooth and creamy mousse topping that had been touched by fire crisping the outside and making it a little sweeter.  While these were good, I liked our other dessert better even though it was a little tricky to divide.  It was a large and very delicate cream puff with Hazelnut Praline topping, lots of Whipped Cream filling, and Toasted Hickory Nuts.  It was sweet, delicate, nutty, but also very much a mess.  I think that I did consider eating it with my hands, if I had, I would have ended up wearing as much as I ate.  Both desserts were very good and made for a perfect ending.  I decided to pair them with another cocktail.  The Lonesome Dove, a Gin Cocktail with Gentian, Lavender, Lemongrass, Lime Bitters, and garnished with a sprig of Sage.  It was tart and floral and was a contrast to the sweet desserts.  Everything was very good and I would be happy to return either here or to go upstairs to Smyth, for some fine dining.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Tasting Collective Dinner at Quiote

I really enjoyed the first Tasting Collective Dinner that I went to at Split Rail, but I was very familiar with the restaurant and the chef.  The next dinner that came up was at a location to which I had been (when it was Letitzia's Fiore), but I had not been to since it had become Mexican Restaurant, Quiote.  I had tried the food of Chef Dan Salls at Pop Ups, benefits, and other events, and had been pretty underwhelmed, but I had never been to his restaurant.  I had noticed that the restaurant was very popular, so I had to wonder if I had just picked the wrong dishes, so I decided to actually try it out.  I also invited my friend, Rich, to accompany me.  The restaurant is small and narrow and is divided into two dining rooms.  A small bar/counter area is in the back of the front dining room it looks over the preparation area and into the brick oven.  We sat here and were able to watch courses being prepared and were able to talk to the staff.  Like the first dinner, we were given a menu which was also a critique sheet and a separate menu for drinks which were offered on a cash only basis.  There were some interesting cocktails on the list, but I decided to take it easy and just stuck with beer, namely a Warpigs Lazurite IPA.  It was bitter, citrusy, and I imagined that it should go well with the flavors of the Mexican food.
We started out with Crab Tostadas with Uni, Mustard Seeds, Hot Sauce, and Microgreens presented in a pan of Dried Corn.  The Tostadas were small, but were full of flavor and texture.  THe tortilla chips were crisp.  The crab was tender and full of flavor and the mustard and hot sauce provided a nice burn.  It was a nice start and it began bringing my opinion around.
After the Tostadas came a Hamachi Crudo with Burnt Chile, Grapefruit, and Sunchoke.  While not precisely Mexican, it was very good.  The hamachi was very tender and flavorful in in a sour and spicy broth that was similar to ceviche.  The grapefruit was very juicy and had a texture similar to the hamachi and the sunchokes, a root vegetable that comes from the root of a sunflower, was served as crispy chips.  It was very fresh tasting, spicy, tart, and very tender with a crisp crunch from the sunchokes.  
After the appetizers came the salad/vegetable dishes.  We started with an Avocado Salad with Brussels Sprouts, Apples, Quinoa, Tomatillo, and Cotija Cheese.  The salad was fresh and crisp from the brussels sprouts and the apples,the quinoa provided some nutty crispiness, and the avocado gave the salad some creaminess.  The tomatillo provided some tartness and the salad was finished with a lot of Cotija cheese. 
The next course was widely thought of as the best dish served for dinner.  It was a Roast Cabbage served with Pepitas, Serrano Peppers, and Burned Sourdough.  The cabbage was roasted in the brick oven until the outside was burned and the inside was tender.  The burnt sourdough was combined with the Serrano peppers to make a sauce that was char sweet and spicy and the pepitas adding a nutty flavor.  It was apparently a very dish to make, but it was very good and well liked.
Our first meat dish started with pork, specifically Pork Belly.  Bacon comes from pork belly, although it is salt cured, smoked, and sliced more thinly than pork belly generally is.  The pork belly was served with Apples, Escarole, Jalapeno, and Queso Fresco.  The greens were crisp with some apple tartness, and a little queso fresco.  The jalapeno was thinly sliced and mixed with the greens adding a little spice.  The pork belly itself was crisp and tender with a good pork flavor.  The greens provided a nice counterpoint to the meaty flavor of the pork belly.
The next dish was another relatively simple dish that was prepared simply and very well and was a favorite.  We were served a bowl of Clams and Mussels with Crispy Rice, Pasilla Peppers, Grilled Orange. and Mint. The dish might have been fairly simple, but it was also kind of messy and it was good to have an extra bowl in which to discard the shells.
Our final savory dish was a Mexican classic, Pollo en Mole.  There are numerous moles, many that have numerous ingredients and take many hours to prepare.  This mole had something on the order of 27 ingredients and took a day to make and had a nice complex, bitter and spicy flavor, but did not use Cacao as many Moles do.  It was also served with Roasted Carrots and Granola which added a nutty and earthy flavor.  The chicken was well roasted, tender, and went well with the mole, carrots, and granola.
Being served nine courses, we will have numerous of each type of dish.  We were served two desserts, the first generally being a favorite of mine, Tres Leches Cake.  This version, served with Dulce de Leche, Burnt Cinnamon and topped with Whipped Cream, continued the streak.  It was desnse, soft, sweet, and very creamy, and very good.
The last dessert, served with coffee to finish the meal, while not bad, almost felt like an afterthought.  We were served Churros, Bananas, Banana Ice Cream, and Piloncillo (Mexican Raw Sugar).  It was sweet and had a nice banana flavor.  The coffee went well with the dish and made for a good finish.  I think that my biggest problem was the fact the churros were just one bite.  If the churros were emphasized a little more and were a little bigger, I think I might have liked it a little more.  Despite this complaint, this was a very good dinner, both as the food presented and the presentation itself.  I will continue to participate in Tasting Collective events and I will definitely return to Quiote for more very good Mexican food.             

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Barrio - Restaurant Week

I love Chicago Restaurant Week.  It allows me to visit old favorites and try out new places at a price point less than I would normally pay.  In recent years, most of the restaurants that I have visited have been return trips, but I still visit the occasional new place.  One of the new places was Barrio, a Mexican place that is part of the DineAmic Group, the same group that runs Siena Tavern.  Like Siena Tavern, Barrio is run by a celebrity chef, another Top Chef Alum, Katsuji Tanabe.  I was a little baffled as to how a Japanese Chef came to be cooking Mexican food.  I have little issue with authenticity and am more concerned with whether the food at an individual restaurant tastes good.  A good chef should be able to cook just about anything well, I just think that some chefs are more comfortable with some styles of food than others.  I discovered later that Chef Tanabe had a Mexican mother and was raised in Mexico City, so it made a little more sense that he might gravitate toward Mexican food.  Located in the same building as Siena Tavern, Barrio has similar design elements.  It has both a modern and industrial look with references to Mexican style and some Japanese elements thrown in.  The dining room is large and open, but is also divided into several spaces with different styles.  The bar is separated from the main dining area with a screen and is large and oval with inlaid wood designs that reminded me of a combination of Mexican desert and Alice in Wonderland.  Both the Food and Liquor Menus are printed on single sheets of poster board about 11x17 inches in size and the Restaurant Week Menu came on another long and narrow sheet.  While there were several things on the main menu that looked good, I decided to reduce my choices and focus just on the Restaurant Week Menu to limit my choices.  In many cases, the Restaurant Week Menu is kind of a Best Of type of menu so I thought that it would give me some variety and an idea of what might be good.  The liquor menu had cocktails on the top divided between Traditional Cocktails and those made with Tequila and Mezcal, with beer and wine down menu.  I decided to start things off with a Mezcal based cocktail called Smoke Show, which started with Union Mezcal, continued with Ancho Reyes, a spicy liqueur using Ancho Chiles, Pur Likor, a German pear liqueur, Lime, and was garnished with a Dried Pear.  The drink was smoky and spicy with a fruity flavor and a tart finish.  I liked the taste of the cocktail even though I am generally not a fan of pears.  While I did like the flavor of the cocktail, I really didn't care for the dried pear garnish.  My issue with pears is not the flavor, but the texture, and the drying of the pear emphasized the grittiness that I dislike.
Even though I limited myself to the Restaurant Week Menu, I still had a bit of trouble making decisions as to what I wanted.  There were four items to choose from for the appetizer, four for main course, and a couple for dessert, and there wasn't anything that I could eliminate outright.  For my opening course I had a choice of Burrata (which isn't Mexican, but still looked good), Queso Fundido, Roasted Sweet Potato Guacamole, and Grilled Octopus.  I finally decided on the Grilled Octopus which was served with Crispy Papas (Potatoes), Agave-Jalapeno, and Roasted Tomato Mayo.  The octopus was meaty, the potatoes were large and had a nice crispy and salty exterior with a nice and firm interior, the agave-jalapeno sauce added some nice spice, and the roasted tomato mayo finished the dish off with a nice savory flavor.
For my main course, I had a choice of Forest Mushroom Tacos, Chicken Al Pastor Tacos, Diver Scallop, and Tamarind Beef Short Rib.  While everything here looked really good, I was able to limit my choices because I had had the Forest Mushroom Tacos at First Bites Bash, and while undoubtedly different, I had had Short Rib at Untitled.  I finally made my decision for the Chicken Al Pastor Tacos because I had already started with seafood with what turned out to be some very good grilled octopus.  The Chicken Al Pastor Tacos were served Deconstructed with Achiote Marinated Chicken, Pickled Onions, Avocado Rice, Crispy Kale, Agave Salsa Verde, Morita (Chipotle) Salsa, and Housemade Blue Corn Tortillas.  Everything was really good and went well together.  Because it was sent out deconstructed, I could put the tacos together in whatever combinations and whatever order I wanted.  My favorite construct was with rice on the bottom with chicken, onions, kale, and the morita salsa.  My only complaint is that I ran out of tortillas before I ran out of stuff to put in them.  It was okay though, because I just combined what was left and at it as it was off the plate.
Before I had my dessert, I decided to order another cocktail, this time from the Traditional list.  As I like Gin, I decided to try out their gin cocktail.  Called the Whispering Eve, it was kind of a spin on a Negroni, with Plymouth Gin, Combier Peche de Vigne (a peach liqueur with peaches grown in wine country, the Loire Valley), Campari, Lemon, and Thai Basil.  Negronis are pretty bitter, but the Combier Peche de Vigne added a little sweetness, and the Thai Basil added an Asian twist to it.  I generally have to prepare myself for a Negroni because it is so bitter.  The liqueur and the Thai basil moderated the bitterness and made it easier to drink.  That said, I did prefer the first cocktail better.
To finish things off, I had a choice between Churros and a Cocoa Taco.  I like both and both sounded good, so I just randomly decided to go with the Cocoa Taco.  Built in a Waffle Cone-style Taco Shell, It also had Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Brownie Crumble, Coconut Crema, Guajillo Caramel, and Coconut Toffee.  It was sweet and chewy, with a lot of textures and a very nice finish to a very good dinner.  I really enjoyed the food and drink here.  While things were spins on Classic Mexican cuisine, dishes were updated and made a little more modern and seasonal.  The staff was very friendly and knowledgeable, and willing to answer all of my  many questions.  I will definitely have to return for dinner, and also possibly for brunch.                    

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Hopewell Brewing Monday Dinner with Wood

 I have been to Hopewell Brewing's Monday Night Dinner several times.  The brewery invites friends who are chefs at pretty good restaurants around town to prepare a private dinner at the brewery where the brewery will provide the beer.  It's like the beer dinners that are done at many restaurants except in this case, it is the brewery that is the host and the restaurant that is the guest.  In this case, the brewery invited Wood to do dinner there.  I have been to Wood for brunch and for a benefit dinner and I have had bites of their food at other benefits, but I have never been for dinner.  With the tastes I have had of their food, I do know that it's very good, and they are on my list for dinner sometime.  As was typical we started out with First Lager, their first beer (surprisingly).  I have mentioned in the past that the pub space is kind of plain, a friend actually used the word sterile, though I don't know if I would go that far.  There is a window into the brewing area in the back of the pub looking at three large vessels, one with googly eyes.
In past dinners, the beers were paired with the courses.  For this dinner, things were a little looser.  We were given four beer tickets to choose our own beers and to make our own pairings, and while many restaurants served four course meals (family style), the guys from Wood served more than 4 items.  Some, it could be argued, could be paired together to make a single course, but where exactly one course ended and the next would then begin is kind of unclear.We started out with Foie Gras Biscuits served with Honey Butter and Braised Collard Greens with Spanish Morcilla (Blood) Sausage.  The muffins were very good, though where the foie gras may have been used is unclear.  my only thought is that because it has a very high fat content, it at least partially substituted for the butter that would normally be used.  They were light and fluffy and tasted good with the honey butter.  As far as the collard greens are concerned, I am generally not a fan of greens of that type because, to me, the leaves are too stiff and they frequently have a strong flavor.  With the Morcilla Sausage, though, the fat tenderized the greens and provided some very nice flavor.  My first beer with dinner was the Side Salad Grisette (a low alcohol Belgian style, similar to a saison, with a mildly tart and funky flavor) which was very good and went well with the greens.
Our next set of courses, we were served Hoppin' John with Sausage, Marinated Fingerling Potatoes, and I had a Take Care Biere de Miel.  Hoppin' John is a Low Country Southern dish featuring Black Eyed Peas and Rice.  Wood is generally, a French inflected restaurant, though this dinner seemed largely Southern, I'm not sure how that decision was made, but it was good.  I'm not sure what the sausage was but it was tender and peppery and the Hoppin' John was tender and flavorful.  The potatoes were perfectly tender and seemed to be prepared with a lot of greens which enhanced the flavor.  I had had Take Care before and knew that I liked it.  A biere de miel is another Belgian style similar to a saison, but using honey.  It isn't exceptionally sweet, but has a nice head and a good malty character.
Our main course was pork, specifically, a Braised Pork Saddle taken from a whole pig that was carved just before service.  It was incredibly tender, sweet, and very flavorful.  There was also a Carolina Mustard Style Barbecue Sauce that was served on the side, but the pork was so good, that I never got around to trying it with the barbecue sauce or even the barbecue sauce on it's own, for that matter.
 After the pork, we arrived at dessert and as with many desserts, it was paired with a dark beer by the brewery.  We were served Hopewell Deluxe, an Imperial Coffee Stout made with Metric Coffee and served out of bombers as opposed to the other beers that were on tap.  It was very full bodied and had a great coffee flavor and it did go well with the Snickerdoodle Cookies and the Apple Crisp that we were served for dessert.  The cookies were soft and had the slightest tart flavor, and the Apple Crisp was fried apples topped with biscuit dough.  It was good, but I prefer my crisps with a granola topping.  After finishing dessert, I had only used two beer tickets of the four that I was given so I decided to finish with a fruity beer.  Ya Filthy Animal is a Tart Red Ale brewed with Spices, Black Currants, and Plums modeled after the mulled wines that are served in the winter time.  It was a very good finish to a very good dinner.  I enjoyed myself,the food, and the beer.  I will most certainly return at least for a beer to Hopewell, and Wood will move up on my places to go for dinner.