Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chez Moi

I really like French food but I have said this before.  When I think of French food, I think of steak frites, or escargot, pate, bouef bourgignon, and wonderful plates that look simple but are actually very complex.  They are also known as masters of sauces.  When I think of French food, tarts and sauerkraut are generally not the first thing that I think of.  They are, however, elements found in the food of Alsace-Lorain, an eastern province of France that has, depending on the war, either been part of Germany or France.  While it is right now part of France, the food there has a very strong German influence.  Chez Moi, a French restaurant in Lincoln Park that is headed by the chef of the former Bistro 110, has a menu that features the cuisine of Alsace-Lorain.  The restaurant is located on a corner which is also where the entrance is located.  When you enter, the place looks very small with a small bar and setting for about 30 people.  There is however, a second dining room that is found after walking through the kitchen staging area that is significantly larger and will seat about 60.  I was seated in the rear room.  It does have a classic bistro look to it with a lot of food and drink posters and a large wine rack by the bar and candles on the tables.  The lighting while modern, does have a classic feel to it, or at least blends well with the classic bistro elements.  All of this leads to a very relaxing and inviting space despite the fact that it is also quite loud.  For my first course, I had the Tarte aux Lardons (or Onion Tart with Bacon).  It was served on a wooden platter that looked like a cutting board and was topped with greens.  It was also larger than I expected.  With bacon and onions, this sounds like it would be fairly heavy but the opposite was true.  It was very light.  This was a very good thing considering the size of the dish.  The pastry crust was crisp, thin, and very airy.  The onions were carmelized and the bacon was chopped into small pieces and well distributed.  There was also a sour cream topping that I thought was a sour cheese. While there definitely a savory element to it, the bacon and the onions also brought a sweetness to it.  It was not what I expected of French food (which was part of the reason that I came here) but it was very good and was excited to see where this was going to go. 

For my next course, I went with Choucroute Alsacienne which is French for Alsatian sauerkraut.  I think of Sauerkraut as a classically German dish and like the German dish that I know and like, this was also dressed with sausage.  This version, unlike the German version that I know and like had several different types of meat as opposed to the one that I am generally used to.  In this case, in addition to the standard sausages, there was also Kessler Ham, Bacon, and Potatoes.  The dish was sweet, sour, very meaty.  The potatoes were cut into wedges and reminded me, with the sauce that was created from the meat and saurkraut, of German Potato Salad.  I have to say that I think that I like this better than the standard sauerkraut and sausages and it may have been my favorite dish.

For dessert, I think that I strayed away from the Alsatian fare although its still not what I would generally think of when I think of French desserts.  It was called a Gateau Breton Salidou and what it was was a Brittany Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce and Fromage Blanc Ice Cream.  In addition to the ice cream which itself was topped with a sprig of rosemary, the cake was also topped with a raspberry.  A Brittany Cake is kind of a cross between shortbread and pound cake.  It is kind of dense and is not exceptionally sweet but it was served warm and went well with the salted caramel sauce and the white cheese ice cream especially when the ice cream started to melt.  The cake itself was buttery and not something I might order by itself, but with the ice cream and caramel, it went well.

I really liked my dinner here.  The place is casual and inviting, the wait staff is friendly, and the food was good.  While the dishes were not things that I would think of as classically French.  It did broaden my ideas of what french food is and it was very acessible.  It was very good and I would easily recommend it to someone who likes French food but wanted to try something new.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Eleven City Diner

There are a lot of diners in Chicago and while there aren't as many as there used to be, there are still many Jewish delis around town.  There aren't many Jewish diners around town, however.  In the South Loop, near 11th and Wabash is the Eleven City Diner, a very good Jewish Diner.  Located in what looks like an old warehouse, it has very high ceilings and cement columns.  The decor is classic diner with a checkered tile floor and large half-round booths.  The menu was a large wall hanging on the wall in addition to the menus that were provided to us at our table.  The cuisine is classic diner fare with all-day breakfast, burgers, meatloaf, and mac and cheese.  They also have a classic soda fountain (with a soda jerk), and cold deli sandwiches.  On top of all of this, they also have a full bar.  I came during the early afternoon and while it is perfectly acceptable at a diner to have breakfast at any time, when I saw the Reuben on the menu, I knew what I had to have.  A Reuben is a classic sandwich made with Corned Beef (or pastrami here), Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese, and 1000 Island Dressing.  They serve the sandwich here open-faced and garnished with paprika.  There are still two pieces of bread, but they are on top of each other.  Even if it was served in regular sandwich style though, I am pretty sure that I still would have needed a knife and fork because it was enormous.  It was served with a pickle spear and spicy fries.

Eleven City Diner is a very good diner that does very good versions of classic diner fare with a Jewish twist.  I really liked my visit here.  The service was very friendly and the food was good.  I will definitely be an option if I happen to be in the South Loop and am in the mood for diner food.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Uncommon Ground - Central Waters Beer Dinner

While Uncommon Ground has been on my radar for several years, going to Wrigleyville is not one of the first neighborhoods that I think about when I decide to go out for dinner.  When Central Waters Brewery scheduled a beer dinner there though, I decided it was time to go.  While I was familiar with the Central Waters name, and I may have even had one of there beers, I wasn't exceptionally familiar with them.  The Uncommon Ground space is actually divided into two rooms.  The room in which you enter contains a large bar, several side tables, and a small lounge area with upholstered furniture, a central table and a fire place.  Other than the furniture by the fireplace, the room is largely light wood.  The other room is also light wood (floor, walls, ceiling, and furniture) and while it is used as a performance space, it reminds me of a hunting lodge.  There are tables along both walls and a large common table in the center. A window wall looks out on Wrigleyville, and on the other side of the room is an open space where performers perform.  There is no stage, but there is a carpet to demarcate the performance area.  Also, on the walls in the performance space, are paintings for sale from local artists.  The beer dinner was held in the performance space and I was seated at the communal table in the center.  The food that they regularly serve is local and organic and they have a vegetable and herb garden on the roof of their Edgewater space.  Uncommon Ground is listed as the Greenest Restaurant in America.  Central Waters Brewery is actually a good partner for Uncommon Ground because they aim to be as sustainable as possible as well, using solar and wind power, a water treatment plant, and recycling their used mash.  When I arrived, the dinner had already started (in a matter of speaking).  While we were seated, the first course(s) were served as hors d'oeuvres.  Hors d'oeuvres are generally served during a cocktail hour with waiters walking around with a plate of them while attendees walk around with a drink.  I do understand though, while we were seated, because having a standing cocktail hour would have required more space than the restaurant had and we would be sitting for dinner in any case.  The first course was actually two hors d'oeuvres, the first were Braised Moullard Duck Ragout Tacos and the other were Crispy Wisconsin Cheese Curds served with Harvest Moon Heirloom Tomato Puree.  The hors d'oeuvres were paired with Central Waters Ouisconsing Red.  As I was seated, the waiter offered me the last "taco".  I wouldn't have called it a taco myself because the ragout was served on a flat tortilla chip.  It was a little messy to eat because there was a lot of ragout on the chip and there was no plate but it was good.  The ragout was very savory and had chunks of tender duck in it.  The chip was crunchy and remained crunchy with the ragout topping it.  It provided a good textural contrast to the ragout.  I actually had several more cheese curds than I did the "tacos", so I was more able to experience the taste.  The cheese curds had a light breading which was crispy.  The curds also seemed to be very fresh as they actually squeaked when I bit into them.  The tomato puree was thick and sweet which both contrasted and complemented the saltiness of the cheese curds.  It actually reminded me more of a jam than a puree.  The beer went well with the cheese curds.  I imagine it went well with the taco as well but I really didn't have enough of the taco to make the comparison.  The beer was a red ale which was slightly hoppy and had a light head.

For the second course, we had Braised Grass-Fed Beef Stuffed Calamari with Watercress and Horseradish.  This was probably my favorite dish of the night.  The calamari was breaded which was very crispy.  The horseradish was used in the breading.  It was subtle and surprising because the taste of the horseradish snuck up on me, providing the sinus clearing burn that you would expect from horseradish.  The watercress was used as a garnish which added a little bitterness.  The beef-stuffed calamari was obviously meaty, but it was also very tender and had none of the rubberiness of many fried calamaris that I have had.  The beer served with the calamari was the Glacial Trail IPA.  It had a good head and a nice hoppy taste to it and went well with the calamari.
For the main course, we were served an Organic Lamb Loin with Citrus, Fennel, and Olives.  I am generally not a huge fan of lamb because it can have a rather strong flavor.  In this case, the flavor of the lamb wasn't as strong as I have had but it was strong enough.  This was actually a good thing because all of the side ingredients were also strongly flavored.  The flavors of this dish were strong and diverse, but they all went together well.  There were a variety of citrus fruits used including tangerines, mandarin oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.  They were all sour and most provided with some bitterness which went well with the lamb.  The olives were black which are also bitter and the fennel, which was tender, provided a nice light licorice flavor.  The beer served was a Slainte Scotch Ale.  It was dark and malty bitter with some peatiness and slight chocolate notes.  The bitterness played well with the bitterness of the food.

For dessert we were served Dark Chocolate and Organic Coffee Tarts with Coffee Ice Cream.  This was paired with Peruvian Morning, a Russian Imperial Stout.  While the tart wasn't bad, with this pairing, I preferred the beer more.  The tart was bittersweet and I really liked the ice cream that was paired with it.  The tart crust however was a little on the tough side and it took some time to break through.  Once that was achieved though the chocolate-coffee part of the tart was creamy dense and pretty good.  The beer was very thick, black, and very bitter, with a slightly sweet finish and not much of a head.  It poured like a thin syrup and was very good.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  The food and beer pairings were very good, the staff was friendly, and the space was very nice.  I have been here a few times since this dinner so it has been a fast favorite.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bang Bang Pie Shop

I have a tradition every year that's based on a bad pun.  March 14th is Pi Day because March 14 is 3/14 and Pi is 3.14.  Because Pi sounds like Pie, I have to go for pie on Pi Day.  This year, I went to a pie shop that opened in my neighborhood in the last year.  Bang Bang Pie Shop started out as a food truck run by a husband wife team, Megan and Dave.  Megan baked throughout Chicago and Portland and her Great-great-grandparents owned a Pie shop near Springfield, IL and she has inherited many of their recipes.  Her husband Dave is the coffee expert, formerly owning Ipsento, and working at Star Lounge/Dark Matter Coffee.  The Bang Bang Pie Truck was very popular so they were able to open their own shop last year.  The shop is on an angled corner, so the building that they are located in is pie shaped.  The front wall is glass and the irregularly shaped dining area will seat about 20.  The order counter is directly in front of the door and the menu consists of a rotating selection of at least one fruit, cream, and chocolate pie and one pot pie (in addition to coffee and biscuits).  The sweet pies are sold by the slice or whole pies.  The pot pies are smaller than the sweet pies and are sold as whole pies.  On Pi day, they were serving about 5 sweet pies and a pot pie.  I decided to go with a slice of sweet pie and a pot pie.  For my sweet pie, I had a slice of Key Lime Pie which wasn't actually sweet, it was actually very tart, but that's how a key lime pie is supposed to be.  It was topped with a dollop of whipped cream to tone down the tartness and add a little sweetness.  The crust was a graham cracker crust which was crumbly and slightly sweet, and the pie was smooth and tart as a key lime pie should be.  While it was good, it wasn't spectacular and I have had key lime pies elsewhere that were as good.

The Pot Pie on the other hand was spectacular.  The pot pie that was being sold on the day that I went was a corned beef pot pie.  While I do like corned beef, I wasn't sure about the idea of a corned beef pot pie.  What I didn't consider was the fact that it was close to St. Patrick's Day and Corned Beef and Cabbage is a traditional St. Patrick's Day dish.  When I speared into the pie, the first thing I tasted was sauerkraut.  I was surprised but then considered the corned beef and cabbage.  Besides the corned beef which was shredded, and the sour cabbage, the filling included potatoes, carrots, and pepper.  It was dryer than I would have expected of corned beef and cabbage but it was moist enough.  The crust was also very good.  It was flaky and slightly chewy and had a good amount of black pepper so it was pretty peppery.  This tasted very good and I really enjoyed it.

Bang Bang Pie Shop makes some very goods pies and I will certainly return for more.  As it is in my neighborhood, it doesn't take a long trip so it won't take a special day like Pi Day to return.  

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Celebrity Chef Michael Symon is a rock star.  He is an Iron Chef, one of the hosts of the TV show, The Stew, and a James Beard Award Winner.  He is also very much a Cleveland guy where he has three restaurants.  While he is very busy in Cleveland with his restaurants and New York with his TV shows, he decided, a couple of years ago, to open up another restaurant in Detroit, Roast.  Having seen his ideas in food on various TV shows, I was very interested in going.  He is very into nose-to-tail cooking and while his cooking is mostly accessible to most people, in many cases, he will add a twist.  I had the opportunity to visit (and eat) there on a recent visit to Detroit.  Located in the Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, in downtown Detroit, it is a large space, seating about 200 people.  The space is divided into three areas, the bar/lounge, the main dining area which is located outside the open kitchen, and the private/overflow dining area.  The space is open, with dark walls and furniture, but with glass walls and dividers and white tablecloths.  As I said, the kitchen is open with a rotisserie/grill at the front so diners can see what whole animal was being cooked.  When we were there, there was a pig rotating in the grill.  While the menus were printed, the bar/cocktail menu was on an iPad which was kind of neat and pretty convenient because they have a pretty extensive beer and wine list which doesn't require a book sized menu.  Before I went, I had heard raves about their Fried Brussels Sprouts side so it was a given that that was one of the sides that we would be getting.  In addition, we also got Spinach and Feta Au Gratin and Sweet Potatoes and Pecans.  Our sides actually arrived before our appetizers so we started with them.  As I was told, the brussels sprouts were amazing.  All of the sides were very good but the brussels sprouts require a special acknowledgement.  They were shredded and browned and were very tender.  They did have the cabbage flavor that should be expected of a member of the cabbage family but they were salty and also had a caramelized flavor.  They were very, very good.  The spinach and feta au gratin was also good.  I am generally not a huge fan of cooked spinach as it very easily takes on a soggy texture.  This did not and in fact paired very well with the feta cheese.  The Sweet Potatoes and Pecans were tender and sweet and may have had a maple syrup sauce.  They were very good but they weren't anything that I haven't had elsewhere.

As I mentioned, the food at Roast was nose to tail cooking and there were many examples of offal to be found throughout the menu.   There were a couple of examples in our appetizers which we also shared.  The most blatant were the Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with Cauliflower, Roasted Grapes, and Hazelnuts.  Sweetbreads, despite their name, are neither bread or particularly sweet.  They are actually an animal's thymus gland.  I had had them before and do like them but to try to ease other members of our party into it, our waitress said that they are like veal nuggets, which they were.  They were breaded and fried like nuggets.  The grapes and hazelnuts provided a nice counterpoint to the meat with the grapes adding a little sweetness and the hazelnuts providing a nutty crunch.  I liked them as I expected that I would but I was happy to see the that the more timid members of our party enjoyed them as well.

Offal also showed up in another of our appetizers, the Beef Cheek Pierogies which were served with Horseradish and Mushrooms.  The pierogies were soft potato dumplings and the beef cheek filling was shredded and sweet.  The mushrooms used were of wilder varieties like Trumpets and Shiitakes and added a savory flavor to the dish.  While the horseradish did what horseradish does and provided a nice sinus-clearing burn.

Our other appetizer was Stuffed Peppers with Pork Sausage, Feta Cheese, and Yia Yia Sauce.  The pepper was very tender, the sausage was spicy, and the Feta provided a nice goaty garnish.  Offal did not overtly appear in this dish but sausage is frequently made with bits and pieces that are left over and can't be used elsewhere.  This will include offal of various types.

There were many things on the menu that looked good and interesting in the entree and steak departments including veal heart but I decided that as this is primarily a steak house, I should try their steaks at least for the first time.  In that case, I ordered a Medium-Rare House Aged New York Strip with Roasted Marrow, Pickles, and Horseradish.  As I would have expected, the steak was cooked and spiced well.  It also had a very nice crust.  I really enjoy sharing with other people but I was given a bit of a hard time because I didn't share much of the marrow.  The problem was that if I had shared the meat jam, I wouldn't have had enough for myself.  It was very good but I wish that there was a little more.  The pickles served were pickles in the generic term in that I am not sure that there were any pickled cucumbers, what most people, including me, think of when I think of pickles.  There were many thinly sliced pickled vegetables including onions, peppers, carrots, and carrots and the pickle used was sweet, similar to that used with gherkins.  I did like it and it probably went better with the freshly ground horseradish than would a dill pickle. 

For my dessert, I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture so I had to do a web search and found another image from Degusting Diary which I am using.  The dessert was called Beer and Pretzels and it used Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Ice Cream with Chocolate Covered Pretzels and Caramel Foam.  This was very good and a fitting end to a great meal.  The porter ice cream was subtle with coffee and chocolate flavors which went well with the chocolate covered pretzels.  The pretzels were actually like chocolate covered Combos.  They were salty and crunchy and had a coating of very good chocolate.  The caramel foam was also salted which tied everything together and while it was beer and pretzels, it was also a very good ice cream sundae with sweet, salty, and some bitterness.

This was a very good meal which was also a lot of fun.  While it isn't a place I could visit every week, I will certainly be back.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes

When you think about food in different cities, different places will evoke different things.  Memphis evokes barbecue, Traverse City evokes Cherries, Boston evokes Clam Chowdah, and Chicago evokes Pizza.  The foods that people think of when they think of different cities are not all inclusive, of course, and there are some very good dishes that can be found in different areas that don't necessarily fit their locations.  For example, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone that would think of crepes when they think of Detroit.  There is, however, a very good creperie, Good Girls Go to Paris Crepes, which is located in Midtown Detroit located near Detroit Institute of Arts and Wayne State University.  We were going to the DIA, it was morning, it was close, and I was hungry so we decided to stop here.  The restaurant is kind of small, seating about 40 people, but the tables were far enough apart that it wasn't really claustrophobic.  The street front was a window wall which helped light the interior which was done in black.  The ceilings were high and unfinished and the walls were decorated with French New Wave Movie Posters.  On the menu were all manner of crepes (and a side salad).  Beverages included Intelligencia Coffee and San Pellegrino.  The crepes were divided (roughly) into sweet and savory and were all named after women.  We ordered three crepes, one savory, one sweet, and one that could have gone either way.

For our savory crepe, we had the Annette, which contained Nova Lox, Spinach, Tomatoes, Brie, and Herbs de Provence.  The crepe was light, delicate, and slightly crisp.  The Nova Lox, or Nova Scotia Salmon was tender and had a light flavor.  The spinach, tomatoes, and Brie went together well with the salmon and the Herbs de Provence provided a spicy herbal flavor that added depth.  I really enjoyed it. 

The sweet crepe was called the Melinda and it was essentially a Key Lime Pie.  It contained cream cheese, limes, and brown sugar.  The crepe was topped with powdered sugar and was served with more fresh limes.  It was sweet, creamy, tart, and very delicate.  It wasn't as tart as a regular key lime pie was but it did have the fresh limes that were served with it.

The other crepe was listed as a savory crepe but it did have elements of sweetness to it and it could have gone either way.  It was called the Wendy and it contained Blue Cheese, Cherries, Walnuts, Spinach, and was topped with a Raspberry Vinaigrette.  It was sweet, tart, tangy, delicate, and some bitterness from the spinach and the blue cheese.  Of the three crepes that we had, I chose two of them, the Annette (Nova Lox and Brie), and the Melinda (Key Lime Pie).  My favorite crepe though, was the Wendy.

This place was fun, casual, and did some very good crepes.  The service was friendly, and the place was nice.  My one complaint was small and was actually with the crepes.  I prefer my crepes rolled and these were folded.  This however, will not prevent me from coming here again, given the opportunity.