Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Gage

While it was a restaurant that was participating in Restaurant Week, we did not order from the Restaurant Week menu when we went to The Gage. Located on Michigan Avenue across from Millennium Park, The Gage is located in a building designed by giants in Chicago architecture, Holabird & Roche and Louis Sullivan and was built for a Millinery (Hat Maker) in 1889-1890. The restaurant plays on the architectural significance of the building with a strong Art Deco style. The floors are mosaic tile and the walls are subway tile with a black, white, and green color scheme. You enter the restaurant through the lounge area which has banquettes and high tops and a long and ornate wooden bar. The dining space is actually broken into 3 areas, my favorite of which is in the kitchen which was where we were seated. As I said before, while The Gage was participating in Restaurant Week, we didn't dine from the Restaurant Week menu. It wasn't that the Restaurant Week menu didn't look good, it did, but there were things on the main menu in which we were more interested. For appetizers, my friends ordered the Boar Poutine. A spin on Canadian street food made of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. The poutine here also had stewed vegetables and a boar ragout with a boar confit. It was very rich and tasted as good as it sounds bad for you. I didn't get a picture of the dish itself but I did get a small amount on the plate showing the appetizer that I got. I got another thing that tasted as good as it is bad for you, the Scotch Egg. It is a hard boiled egg that is wrapped in sausage and then breaded and fried. It was served with two types of mustard, yellow and stone ground. The sausage was spicy and the mustard provided a nice tang to the dish.For my entree, I got a chicken sandwich but it wasn't just a chicken sandwich. It was fire roasted, rubbed with a spicy dry rub and served with blue cheese and basil on Cuban Bread. The sandwich was served with some very nice fries and house-made ketchup. I normally don't order chicken when I am out because I eat it at home frequently and it is pretty pedestrian but, having been to The Gage before, I have seen that they are very good at putting a fine dining spin on comfort food. I love basil and blue cheese, the chicken was very juicy and flavorful, and the Cuban Bread added some texture and a little sweetness to the sandwich.
I could have stopped here and been satisfied with a very good lunch but I had to at least look at the dessert menu. What I saw on the menu was something that had to be ordered, Anise Churros served with two dipping sauces.The first sauce was a Cappuccino Sauce and the other was a Chocolate Caramel. If the churros had been served without the sauces they would have been great. They were slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, covered in powdered sugar, and had a nice slight black licorice flavor provided by the anise. The sauces were a very good bonus. They were served warm and just added to the flavor of the churros.

This was a great lunch in a beautiful space. I will definitely be back if only because it also is located in an ideal spot in the Loop across from Millennium Park and very close to the Art Institute as well as any number of other tourist areas.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


While I wasn't planning on writing about it because I wrote about it last fall. The friends I was with thought it deserved another post for Restaurant Week. As I was already taking pictures, it was easy enough to do so here is my Restaurant Week review for Vie. I mentioned before that while out in the suburbs, it is very close to a train station so it is fairly easy to get to. While I previously thought that the restaurants was a maze of rooms, it turns out that is actually laid out like a squared Q with the entrance being at the end of the tail. We were actually seated in the same dining area where I ate the last time I was here and we had the same waiter who I really liked the last time I was here. The restaurant was more crowded so it was louder and while the music was playing, we were unable to hear it at our table. The Restaurant Week menu for Vie was a four course menu with two choices for the first three courses and three for dessert (for $44). There was also a small menu of sides which, while they all looked really good, I was worried that I/we would have trouble finishing with the added course so we held off on those. As I was part of a party of five, everything on the restaurant week menu was ordered but one of the desserts. While it probably would have been nice to document all of the dishes at our table, I didn't think about it until to late. While I will mention the other choices, I only have pictures of those things that I ate. We were not served an Amuse Bouche this time and we immediately were started with our first course. I ordered a Crispy Local Pork Belly with Braised Potatoes, Sopressata, some leafy greens, and a house-cured olive vinaigrette with olives that were sliced and pitted. The pork belly was outstanding. It was nice and crispy with a sweet-salty flavor combination. The Sopressata was diced small and while it was similar to the pork belly, it helped to bring the olives and the pork belly together. The other choice for this course was the Wood-Grilled Laughing Bird Shrimp with Roasted Carrots, Pickled Oranges, Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette, and Cilantro. I did actually get to try the shrimp and it was perfectly grilled. It had a nice smokiness and a good tang from the oranges and the vinaigrette. The next course, oddly enough, was the salad course. While most of the table ordered the roasted golden beets, Werp Farm Greens, and Ricotta Biscuits with a Walnut Vinaigrette, I decided to go sample and order their house salad which included arugula and other leafy greens, fresh and marinated hearts of palm, garlic and herb vinaigrette, and Parmagiano Reggiano Cheese. I love beets and a combination of beets and cheese is an excellent flavor combination, I wanted to do something different from the table and even though a house salad is fairly standard, the house-made vinaigrette and the hearts of palm (along with the grated Parmagiano Reggiano) really made the dish.
Our next course was the entree and we had a choice of fish and chicken. The chicken being served looked really good. It was a Gunthorp Farms Chicken Combination: Breaded and Fried Breast and Braised Leg and Thigh with Braised Greens, Pickled Ramps, Local Potato Puree, and Chicken Jus. Gunthorp Farms does some really good chicken. Raising it free-range and organically really gives it some taste and the chefs at Vie can make everything taste good. I eat chicken at home so often that I generally don't order it when I go out so I ordered the fish. I ordered a Pan Roasted Whitefish with Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice, Braised Onions, Roasted Hazelnuts, and Gremolata (a chopped herb condiment with lemon zest, garlic and parsley). The whitefish was very tender and flavorful. The gold rice was cooked had a nice tangy flavor which was probably enhanced by the large number of lemons in the gremolata and the garlic and parsley were cut large to allow each piece to impart their flavor as you bit into it. It was probably one of the best fish I have ever had.By the time we got to dessert, it was generally decided that it was probably a good idea that we didn't get one of the sides despite how good they looked. All of the desserts looked really good (on paper) and I was a little disappointed that all of the choices weren't ordered but everyone was very happy with what we got. Most of us ordered the Valrhona Chocolate Mousse Bar with Soft Salted Caramel, Salted Peanuts, and Whipped Cream. This was very good and it was kind of like a deconstructed candy bar but there were a few people that had a little troule getting through the hard chocolate on the bottom of the mousse. The other choice that came to our table were the Gingerbread Donuts with Sweet Custard and Nichols Farm Warm Apple Compote. I really like gingerbread and compote so I am sure that this was very good but I liked my mousse bar. The other choice was a Seville Sour Orange Float consisting of Sour Orange Marmalade Sorbet, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Vanilla Wafers, and Soda. This also sounded really good but you can't beat good chocolate.

We all really enjoyed our dinner at Vie. The food and service were excellent and while it was a little loud, it wasn't overwhelming. Despite the fact that it does take some planning for me to come out here, I am sure it is a place that I will continue to come to.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Blackbird is a celebrated restaurant which was the first restaurant of James Beard Award winning chef, Paul Kahan. While Kahan is still the Executive Chef, David Posey is the Chef de Cuisine and handles the day to day operations. It is a very popular restaurant and it has been on my list for a long time but I finally came here when it was open for lunch for Restaurant Week. While Blackbird is normally open for lunch and they normally have a prix fixe for lunch, it is located downtown and I work in the suburbs so I really don't have a chance to come for lunch normally. It's also open for dinner but as I said, it is very popular and isn't easy to just walk in and takes some planning if I were to want to come here.

Despite the name, Blackbird is not black. As a matter of fact, it is actually very white with a glass front wall. The restaurant is long and narrow with a bar on one side and banquette seating on the other with a semi-open kitchen at the back of the restaurant. It has a very clean and simple design with white tables and chairs, a white bar, and brushed aluminum trim.

My dinner started with a Confit of Baby Octopus with Fennel, Chestnuts, Finger Lime, and Chilis. I like octopus and the confit preparation made it more tender and savory. The fennel looked like celery and added a celery crunch and licorice flavor. The chilis were lightly used but added a very nice spice to the mix. The chestnuts added a nice crunch and the finger limes with their citrus taste I thought were individual cells. It was a very good dish as could be expected from a restaurant of this caliber.My second course was also a confit. In fact, it was a confit of my favorite meat, duck, specifically, Pekin Duck. It was served with Fuyu Persimmon, Red Wine Braised Radishes, Black Beans and Sesame. The duck was good. The skin was crunchy and the meat was very tender. The persimmons were both sweet and a little spicy. The radishes added a nice crisp texture but the black beans and the sauce that were with them were ridiculous (good). While I did what I could to get everything, if I thought I could have gotten away with it, I would have licked the plate.
I was very excited for dessert. The dessert/pastry chef for Blackbird is Bryce Caron. He is a young and creative chef who combines sweet and savory into some beautiful dishes. I have a soft spot for dark chocolate (as do many people) so that is where I went. I got a Bittersweet Chocolate Creameaux with Cashews, Butternut Squash, and Bergamot (a citrus fruit that isn't as sour as lemon or bitter as grapefruit that is used for its oil). I was wondering how the butternut squash would combine with the dish. It was used as a puree that was similar in texture to the creameaux. The bergamot (oil) was used in the chocolate bird's nest presentation and the total dish was as good as I would as I would have expected.

I really liked Blackbird and am glad that I found a time when I could go even if it was just for lunch. The service was excellent as was the food. I hope I can manage one day to come for dinner.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Sepia has been on my radar for a while but I finally got around to going for dinner for Restaurant Week. Located in the West Loop and occupying the same space as an 1890 print shop, it's like walking into the past. The floor is a hexagonal Art Nouveau tile, the lights are hanging and have a classic look to them. There are many pictures from the early 20th century on the walls and there was a large studio camera from the era in the room in which I was dining and the tables were white marble. The walls and accessories were various shades of brown. Being a bit of a photo geek, I loved this space. With Restaurant Week, restaurants put out a 3 course prix fixe menu for $22 for lunch or $33 for dinner. Restaurants also have the option of putting out a 4 course menu for $44 (plus drinks, tax, and tip). While I think I would have been fine with the 3 course menu, the 4th course looked really good so I ordered the 4 course menu. Different restaurants divide their menus differently, Sepia went with two appetizers. My first appetizer was a pumpkin sformato, with sage, walnuts, and a thin slice of ciabata. I had no idea what sformato was, I thought, actually that it was a pasta. I was very wrong. Sformato is actually similar to a quiche but a little more dense. The pumpkin sformato that was presented to me was like a savory custard and was really good. It was topped with smoked walnuts and fresh sage and a thin slice of ciabata. While pumpkin can be sweet, presented with the sage and the walnuts, it tended to the squash side of things. It was really good and I could hardly wait for my next course.Even though I knew what the next course was and was really excited because of it, the first course and the atmosphere of the restaurant was so good that I would have been excited if I didn't know what I was getting. As I did know what I was getting, and it included duck, that was just a bonus. The next course was a cavatelli pasta with a duck sugo and Grana Padano. Sugo is a pasta dish with a tomato and meat based sauce with a hard cheese, in this case, Grana Padano. The pasta was perfectly cooked and slightly toothsome. The duck was chopped very finely but provided a lot of flavor. The sauce was light and flavorful but it was light enough that it allowed the other elements to shine. It was very good and I really enjoyed it.
The entree was a fig stuffed pork tenderloin with potatoes, sauerkraut, and a mustard jus. Admittedly, I didn't remember what the tenderloin was stuffed with when it came to me. I knew it was good and I could tell what everything else was but I had to look it up. It was slightly sweet in contrast to the sour of the jus and the sauerkraut.
I was a little torn when it came to dessert because both sounded good. I had a choice between a chocolate port mousse with chocolate cake, meringue, and almonds and a rose yogurt Bavarian cream with coconut cake, and dried fruit chutney. While they both sounded good, I had to go with the chocolate and I was not disappointed. The mousse was layered on top of the cake, the meringue was a little denser than I would have expected for meringue. It was good but I actually thought as I was eating it that it was a house-made marshmallow. There was a port wine reduction and the almonds were candied. This was a great finish to a great meal and I really enjoyed it.

As I have said, this was a great dinner and I really enjoyed it. The food and service were excellent but I like the atmosphere so much that I will have to go back just for that.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Brand BBQ Market

Not all barbecue places are created equally and some do do things much better than others. Brand BBQ Market opened in my neighborhood a couple of years ago and after my first try, I have to say that while the place looked nice and rustic, I was really unimpressed with their food. When I first went there, I noticed that they have a wide variety of meats that they barbecue and an even bigger variety of sauces. There are seven sauces on the menu that vary widely in flavor from the Classic, a sweet and aromatic tomato based sauce, to the Bourbon Mustard, a mixture of bourbon, mustard and brown sugar, to Sweet Southern Peach, a mixture of Southern Comfort and peaches. The meats include pork (of course), brisket, smokey links, duck and venison. I have tried several sandwiches and while they aren't bad, they also aren't exceptional. What they do do exceptionally well is their burnt ends mac and cheese which I have eaten every time since I have discovered it. There have been a few things that I haven't tried including the ribs and pulled duck (surprisingly) so I decided to try these out. I ordered the pulled duck sampler as an appetizer. As I have said before, I really like duck and this duck was good. It was tender and it tasted good but it was light on the smoke. The meat was unsauced so you could use whatever sauce that you thought might work best. The Signature sauce, which is a mixture of vinegar, brown sugar and cayenne or the Brandy Cherry were recommended but for me, I thought the Bourbon Mustard worked best.As I have been eating baby back ribs when I go to different barbecue joints, that is what I ordered. They came with cornbread, coleslaw, and one side. As I said earlier, the burnt end mac and cheese is exceptional so that was what I ordered. The mac and cheese was great as always, the cornbread was good. It was a sweeter type of cornbread so for those people that like there cornbread on the savory side, it might not be for them. The coleslaw was made with red cabbage and had a light sauce. It's a little different but it is pretty good. The ribs were dry rubbed and tasted pretty good but were also light on the smoke and a knife was required to separate the bones. I tried the different sauces with each rib and decided that I liked the Smoky Spicy, Classic sauce combined with Chipotle peppers, the Bourbon Mustard, and the Brandy Cherry. While being able to choose a sauce to go with your meat, I think I prefer barbecue that is smoked well and has fewer but very well made sauces.

While Brand is not my favorite barbecue place, the service is good and the burnt end mac and cheese is great. I will be coming back if for nothing else than to have more of that mac and cheese.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


Marcel Duchamp was a french artist associated with the Surrealist and Dadaist movements. His work frequently took mundane objects and images and twisted them slightly. Examples include an image of the Mona Lisa on which he put a mustache and goatee and an image in which a unicycle is set on a bar stool. The restaurant Duchamp tries to take Duchamp's spirit and apply it to a restaurant taking fairly straightforward dishes and adding a twist. The space shares some of that energy. The room has several wooden and blockish tables with clear plastic chairs. The front of the room is painted a dark green, the middle has an antique brick wall and old windows, and the back was done in hardwood. There are several small shadowboxes hanging on the walls with representations of Duchamp's work. The menu is kind of eclectic with some Spanish, French, and Italian influences but was a little surprising was seeing the burger on the menu among the other items that might be considered fine dining dishes so this was to be my main course. I started out with grilled octopus. There were three octopi on the plate and the were served with a side salad containing watermelon radishes, olives, chickpeas, blood oranges, and arugula and a romesco sauce underneath. The octopus was well grilled and and the side salad provided textural variety with some crunch and chew with the various elements. The blood orange provided some color to match with the romesco sauce with a touch of sweetness. It was a nice start.
Duchamp is actually on their second chef. While the menu of the first chef was a little more eclectic, it still had the burger on the menu and Duchamp was recognized for their burgers. The first chef has since left to open the Butcher and the Burger and while the new chef has changed the menu somewhat, but the burger has remained on the menu. The burger on this menu contained a nice thick burger cooked medium-rare and served with the standard lettuce and tomato but the cheese used was havarti. I like havarti but I wouldn't normally think of using it on a burger. The bun was also very good. It was very crusty with a nice soft interior. It actually worked pretty well. The semi-soft cheese was buttery and slightly sweet with a slight tartness to it. Ketchup and mayo were served on the side. They were both house-made. The "ketchup" was a tomato remoulade, a aioli based sauce with tomatoes, capers, and garlic, and the mayo was a house-made truffle mayo. While they might have been good for the burger, they were also good for the Romano shoestring potatoes that were served on the side. For dessert, I went with something light, an apple cider sorbet. It was served with Granny Smith Apples. It was light, tart, cidery and good and the Granny Smith apples provided a nice complement and a variety of texture.

I like Duchamp. It provides a nice variety to the standard bistro fare and the burger is still really good. It's a lot of fun and I will be back.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Smokey Bear's BBQ House

When I think of the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago, I generally think of Korean food or possibly German. What I definitely don't think of is barbecue (unless it is Korean bbq). Having said that, I decided to go to a byob BBQ joint located up there, Smokey Bear's BBQ House, to see what it was about. The first thing that I noticed was that it used a lot of red and orange in it's color scheme. While there is a lot of finished wood on the counter and with the trim, the place is pretty no-frills as are many barbecue places. You generally don't go to a barbecue place expecting white tablecloths and waiters. The place had the very nice smell of smoking meat when I walked in and country music was playing in the background. There was a flat screen television hanging on the wall at the end of the banquette seating that was showing college basketball (the MSU-OSU game when I was there which I was interested in).

Looking at the menu, besides the expected ribs, they had a large number of smoked meat sandwiches, brisket, pulled pork, links, and chicken, and mixtures thereof. They seemed to sell several sandwiches while I was there and they looked both good and enormous so I may have to come back to try one or two (or three). As I have been ordering baby back ribs when I have been going to barbecue joints that is what I ordered here. I ordered a platter which came with two sides in addition to the coleslaw. My ribs were done in kind of a Memphis style with a dry rub and side sauce. While it had a nice smokiness to it, the ends were kind of tough and it took a little work to pull them apart. The meat was better toward the middle of the rack, it wasn't as tough and there was more meat to be had. While I do use the sauce on the side, I tend to go on the light side so I can actually taste the meat and the rub. The sauce was nice. It was the way I like it, thick and a little spicy with a little bit of sweetness and tartness at the end. The coleslaw was interesting and pretty good. It used the typical things that you would find in a coleslaw, mostly cabbage with some carrots and onions, but instead of the usual cream based sauce it used a cider vinegar sauce which brought a nice brightness and tartness to it. My sides were mac and cheese which while fairly standard for barbecue places, was pretty good. The pasta were small shells and the cheese was pretty thick and cheddary. The other side was something different. It was something that they called bear paws which didn't actually contain (nor did I really expect it to) any bear. What they were were mashed potato patties with cheddar cheese and jalapeno that were deep fried. They were nice and crispy and really good as are most things that are deep fried. They were good by themselves but also tasted really good with the sauce.

While the ribs that I had here were not the best, they weren't terrible and I did finish them. While I probably won't order them again, it will be more that I want to try something else than how bad they are. Despite their toughness , they did taste good. I really liked the coleslaw and the bear paws and coming back, I will really have to try some of their sandwiches.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Epic Burger

Sometimes you just want a burger. While I have been going out to some pretty good restaurants, there is something to be said for a good burger. Friends of mine have told me many times that I should try out Epic Burger but I resisted for a while because it was a chain. I finally broke down and tried it out and saw that it deserves a mention as well. While it is a chain, it is a local chain with 6 locations and it operate similarly to Chipotle in that their food is made from animals that have been naturally raised with no hormones or antibiotics, and the eggs are from cage free and organically raised chickens. The menu is small but what they sell is very good. The burger (that I ordered) comes with lettuce, tomato, pickle, epic sauce, and grilled or raw onions. I also added bacon and Wisconsin Blue Cheese and had it on a whole wheat bun. The burger was flat and grilled to the point that it became crispy around the edges. While I normally have my burgers medium or medium rare, there is something to be said for these thin, crispy-edged burgers. The fries were fried skin on and were pretty good. There are also some really nice looking smoothies on the menu.

I really liked Epic Burger and even though it is a chain, it seems to be operated ethically and it's a restaurant that I can feel good about coming to again.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Trattoria #10

A friend of mine went to Trattoria #10 recently and liked it.  He recommended it to me because they were doing a beer and charcuterie tasting and he thought that it would be right up my alley. It did sound pretty cool to me so I decided to go. I did really enjoy it. I will first say that when I went, it was a little difficult to find. The street side profile is just a little wider than the door because the restaurant exists in the basement. The tasting was set up like a cocktail party with two tables where people were serving beer (There were 9 Italian craft brews), and two tables serving a wide variety of charcuterie and cheese including proscuitto, capicola, bacon, finochietta, summer sausage, two blue cheeses, fontina, and a sharp cheddar. While there were stools at the bar, most of the tables and chairs had been cleared to allow people to move around and socialize. The dining area looked to be one large room with several side rooms. All I saw was the main room so that is all I can talk about. The room has pillars and arches similar to a catacomb and the wall art depicts the Italian countryside. The food, the event, and the space were all very good so when I was called and invited to try their actual menu, I jumped at the chance. My reservation was at 6:30 which usually means that the space will be mostly empty when I arrive but will fill up as I am dining. I was a little surprised when I arrived to see a full house until I remembered that the restaurant is within a couple of blocks of several theatres. While the dining area was full, my service was excellent.

The menu is divided into appetizers, cold appetizers, ravioli and pasta and risotti (which are served as either appetizers or entrees), and secondi (main entrees). While I did consider ordering something from every section, I wasn't sure if I would be able to eat everything so I didn't order a secondi, going instead for two appetizers and an entree size portion of pasta. I also was planning on having dessert but I was going to have to finish dinner first before thinking about it. My first course was the beef carpaccio which was served with spinach, pancetta, red onions, mushrooms, french fried onions, Parmiagiana Reggiano, and garlic-thyme vinaigrette. It was very colorful, tender, and flavorful, with the various components going very well together. While the various parts could be eaten separately, it was so much better when eaten together.My second course was the polenta. While I had never had polenta before, I knew that it was essentially boiled cornmeal. The polenta that I was served was formed into a couple of wedge cakes and served with house made sausage, carmelized onions, rapini, Parmesan, garlic and demi-glace. It was very good, the flavor was very savory, but the texture of the polenta reminded me of something. It wasn't until later that I realized that it reminded me of tamale masa. Of course tamale masa is also boiled corn meal so that shouldn't be a surprise.
People that know my eating habits might think that I chose my pasta dish solely because of the meat that it was served with. While admittedly it was a factor, it wasn't the whole decision. I chose it when I was thinking about the possibility of ordering a secondi and thinking about the flow of the meal. I ordered the farfalle pasta with duck confit, asparagus, pearl onions, mushrooms, and pine nuts. I have to say that this was probably the best pasta that I have had in quite a while and this is just considering the pasta. It was cooked perfectly. It was toothsome and had a slightly salty flavor. The duck and vegetables just added to it. The sauce was minimal consisting primarily of the pasta water but the dish really didn't need it.
This had been a very good meal and I could have stopped there but I like to at least look at the dessert menu before ruling it out. There are many very good Italian desserts so I wasn't going to leave without at least looking. Having said that, I knew that I was going to have to go a little light because I was starting to feel full. I ordered a pistachio semi-freddo (Italian for half frozen) with a sweet red wine sauce and an anise seed wafer. I am not sure what the semi-freddo was made of. It was cold and had a lot of pistachios but it seemed softer than ice cream. If I had to guess, I would assume it was a custard. The wine sauce both added color and a sweet tartness to the entire thing and the anise seed cookie was very light and added the slight licorice flavor that anise provides.

I really enjoyed my meal here and will be glad to come again. The food is very fresh and I think I have found my new favorite Italian place.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


As you might be able to tell, while I do have some restaurant favorites, I like to try places that I haven't been to. I also like to try dishes that I have never tried before even if they contain things that I don't particularly like. To that end, I did both by going to the new neighborhood Wine Bar, Telegraph. This could have potentially ended up badly but it would have been my own fault. Before I talk about the food though, I will talk about the restaurant. It is located right on Logan Square and has a glass front wall. While there are lights in the restaurant, they are dim, vintage, hanging lights and don't really put out much light. The fact that the floor, bar, and furniture are black doesn't help. It seems that a lot of the light in the room comes from the street lights in the square which is convenient because it is a pretty small space with tables seating 20 and the bar seating 15. On the walls, are several vintage photographs ( or photographic prints) showing images from Chicago around the turn of the 20th century. As I mentioned, this is a Wine Bar but it is kind of unusual because the wines that they serve are not your typical wines. There were no American wines and only a few French wines served by the glass. The wines are from the rest of Europe including wines from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, and Hungary. The wine that I had was a Simcic, Rebula, Goriska Brda from Slovenia. It was a dry white with flavors of pumpkin and sesame. When I was drinking my wine, my challenging dinner started to arrive. My appetizer was a Berkshire Farm Pork Loin Tartine with Whipped Feta Cheese, Seedling Farms Bosc Pears, and a Juniper Vinaigrette. It really looked good when it came out but I am not a big fan of pears so I wasn't sure. The pork was thinly sliced and tender, the whipped goat cheese was creamy and added a nice tartness to it. The bread on which everything was served was grilled and pretty thick. The juniper vinaigrette was light but it did add a nice juniper flavor to it and it was obvios that the pears were very fresh. It all tasted good but admittedly, I was not crazy about the texture of the pears but I will not blame the chef because I knew that I really didn't like pears. Other than the texture of the pears, it was pretty good and it got me ready for my next challenge.My entree contained sweetbreads, specifically veal sweetbreads that were breaded and fried crispy. With the crispy veal sweetbreads were sunchokes, leeks, and a cherry puree. I had never had sweetbreads before and the idea of eating organ meat (specifically thymus glands) made me a little leary. I figured though, that anything deep fried is good so i decided to try it out. It was all good. The sweetbreads actually reminded me of KFC. They were both crispy and chewy and the minerally flavor that you might expect from organ meats was actually pretty mild. The vegetables were a good match and the cherry puree actually had whole cherries. It was actually a lot better than I expected.
Dessert was easy. There really wasn't anything on the menu that was really that challenging and it all looked pretty good. I decided to go with a variation on a favorite. I got a Sunflower Seed and Coconut Cheesecake with Lemon Curd, Whipped Cream, and Toasted Brown Sugar that was paired with a 1/2 pour of Mort Subite Blanche Lambic. I really like cheesecake and with the pairing, I was tasting a lot of pumpkin, lemon, and peaches. The toasted brown sugar added kind of a pumpkin pie flavor and what goes with pumpkin pie but whipped cream. It was very good and it was a good way to end the meal.

Even though the room was dark, I did enjoy the place. The people were friendly, the wine and food were unusual, and it's close to where I live so it gives me another pretty good choice when I want to dine in the neighborhood.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Prairie Moon

While there are a lot of good restaurants in Evanston and I do like the town, I don't really head up that way that often because even though it is an immediate suburb of Chicago, it's a bit of an ordeal to get there considering it's location. In any case, I happened to be in Evanston on a weekend afternoon and we decided to go to Prairie Moon for lunch. I had never been there before but for whatever reason, when I thought of Prairie Moon, I thought of a place that was very green. By this, I mean that it serves a lot of fresh and seasonal fare. I was correct in that but the decor was also light green and blue. The color scheme actually reminded me of Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). The ceilings are very high and unfinished. The floor and furniture are wood, the windows are very large, and there are hanging lights so the space is bright (in the daytime). Prairie Moon has a very good beer list and the food they serve reminds me of a combination of the Gulf Coast and the Midwest. They serve a lot of seafood, steaks, and vegetarian cuisine, with some good looking burgers and some Mexican fare thrown in for good measure. It all looked good and it was actually a little hard to decide what I wanted but I hadn't had a good etoufee in a while so I ordered the Gulf Shrimp and Crawfish Etoufee. I hadn't had it before so I wasn't sure that it was good but I was hoping. When it came out, I was excited for the first bite because it smelled and looked great. It tasted as good as it looked. Besides the shrimp and crawfish of which, there was a lot, it also had celery, onions, and green peppers in a dark brown and medium spicy roux. It was served over white rice.

I really enjoyed lunch here, the food, beer, and service were all very good and I would be happy to come here again when I find myself in Evanston.