Monday, August 26, 2013


Charlie Trotter had a great restaurant while this implies that he was a great chef, it also means that he was able to recognize talent and had many talented people working under him.  One of these people was Matthias Merges, who was with Trotter for 14 years.  While I said that the people coming from Charlie Trotter's were very talented, I would not have expected a Trotter chef to open a Japanese Yakitori inspired restaurant, but that is what Merges opened with Yusho.  Yakitori is Japanese street food and most of the things served are fried.  The dishes served are smaller plates which are meant for sharing.  It was also divided into Birds, Land and Sea, Steam Buns, and Sweet.  The restaurant is small, seating about 40 people at tables and about another 20 at the high bar that runs deep into the restaurant and looks like it was built separately and placed in the restaurant fully built.  The kitchen/grill is open and sits behind the bar and beside the bar that serves alcohol.  The lights are pretty cool.  They are hanging lights with a light bulb at the end of a big heavy rope.  For my dinner, I sat at the bar and tried several dishes throughout the menu.  For my first course, I started with some Chicken Drumettes with Red Miso Sauce and Sesame Seeds.  Many people like their chicken wings spicy and drumettes are the top bones of the chicken wing.  These were not spicy but they were very good.  The miso sauce, a fermented soybean sauce, added a really savory flavor and the sesame seeds went well with the miso.  The wings, though pretty simple, were one of those dishes that you keep on coming back to, this was a great start and I was excited for my next dish.

For my next dish, I went to the Land and Sea portion of the menu with what was essentially an octopus salad.  The Octopus was a Grilled Baby Octopus and was served with Green Beans, Enoki Mushrooms, and Egg Yolk Vinaigrette.  The octopus was very tender, the green beans provided a nice crunch, and the mushrooms added a hint of earthiness.  The egg yolk vinaigrette was thick and coated everything adding some savoriness and being a vinaigrette, it also added some sour flavor.

Steam Buns are also called Bao and for my Bao, I ordered what they called a Cosmo,  I am not sure why it was called a Cosmo but it was really good.  The Cosmo was exploding out of the steam bun and contained Blood Sausage, Red Pepper, Cilantro, Bean Sprouts, and Cauliflower.  The blood sausage was spicy, the vegetables were crunchy, and the steam buns were really fluffy and slightly sweet.  It was a mix of flavors and textures and I really enjoyed it.

I had, at this time, tried something from all of the savory parts of the menu.  I could have continued to dessert, but there were still some interesting things on the menu that I wanted to try.  I had heard that the Chicken Skin was something to be had so that's where I went next.  The Chicken Skin was very crispy (as it was deep fried) and contained Japanese Mustard, Garlic, and Togarashi.  It was spicy, garlicky and crispy and kind of reminded me of spicy chicken flavored chips.  In my opinion while they were flavorful and were pretty good, they were also pretty greasy so they weren't really a favorite.

I next tried another vegetable dish.  It was called Gobo Root which we know as Burdock.  It was pickled, coated in Black Sesame Seeds, and served with Sliced Asian Pears and Plums.  I am generally not a fan of pears, and I was really unsure of what Gobo was when I ordered it but I thought it sounded interesting so I ordered it.  As the Gobo was pickled, it was a bit sour,  It was soft and hollow but had a bit of a crunch and had a flavor similar to a radish or a parsnip.  The sliced plums were juicy, the pears were crisp and crunchy, and it was all very good.

Like many Japanese restaurants, Mochi is on the dessert menu.  I have had mochi a few times vut I really have to say that I don't get it.  So while it is on the menu, it was not high on my list of things I might have wanted for dessert.  Other than the mochi, there was soft-serve ice cream, and doughnuts.  While the ice cream sounded good, I decided on the doughnuts.  The Doughnuts which were actually doughnut balls and were made with Tofu, were covered in Powdered Thai Basil and Candied Ginger, and served with Raspberry Jam.  The doughnut balls were crisp on the outside with a really fluffy interior.  The basil and ginger made for a sweet and spicy garnish and the raspberry jam made for a fruity finish.

I really liked my dinner here.  The dishes are very creative and while they are outside most people's comfort boxes, they are still very approachable.  They make it easy to expand your horizon.  I will very definitely return.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Bristol - Brunch

About six years ago, a trend started in the restaurant industry called the gastropub.  These places were relatively small with a long bar and a good beer and cocktail list like many neighborhood bar and grills.  Unlike your neighborhood bar and grill however, these places had a really good food menu, frequently featuring things like charcuterie that were made by hand and took some time to make.  The Bristol was one of the first of these places and essentially set the standard.  When it opened, there were two large communal tables in the center of the room that, in addition to the long bar, consisted of most of the seating.  The back wall consisted of a chalkboard, on which, the frequently changing dinner menu was written (Paper menus are also provided for diners).  The tables are still in the center of the room, but they have since been divided into four tops which could be pushed together for larger parties..  I have been here for dinner and really enjoyed it but it has been a few years and never for brunch so I decided it was time for a visit.  I was seated at one of the butcher block tables that provided the seating along the walls.  We started out with a Basque Cake, a cake from the Basque region of France and Spain with a crispy crust and a very fluffy interior, that was served with fresh peaches and a Buttermilk Sabayon (custard).  This was really good.  The outer crusty layer was very cookie-like and the interior was fluffy and sweet.  The peaches were sliced were at the peak of ripeness that were sweet, tart, and slightly crisp.  The buttermilk sabayon was sweet and sour and fluffy and with the peaches provided a good counterpoint to the cake.

For my main course, I had Chilaquiles.  There are many restaurants in the area that serve what they call chilaquiles but are actually Tex-Mex Migas.  Both dishes use fried tortilla chips salsa and eggs but the focus on chilaquiles is on the chips and salsa and with migas, the focus is on the eggs which are frequently scrambled.  The Bristol's Chilaquiles were really chilaquiles.  The tortilla chips were crispy and slightly salty when they were not sitting in the medium spicy green salsa.  The chips and salsa were topped with onions, cilantro, pork belly, and queso fresco, topped with a semi-hard fried egg, and garnished with fresh lime.  The pork belly was very tender and easily pulled apart.  The cilantro and onions were very fresh, flavorful, and crisp and the egg was a good finish to the dish.

As I said before, I had really enjoyed coming here for dinner.  I see now that I have waited too long before coming for brunch.  This was really good and I will have to return. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Smoke Daddy

While I had had several examples of their food, I had made a point of not actually going to Smoke Daddy until a certain friend was able to go with me.  Smoke Daddy is located relatively close to where I live so it wouldn't have been difficult to go to but there are enough other restaurants around that I felt that I was missing little.  I had had both the pulled pork and brisket elsewhere so I thought I had an idea of their style.  The restaurant has a small storefront near the heart of Wicker Park with a nice sized patio.  The interior is decidedly retro with colors and design that remind me of a 50s diner.  The place is bright and friendly looking inside but because it was a nice summer day, we decided to take advantage of that and sit in the patio area.  We all actually ordered the same thing, The Taste of the Daddy which came with a choice of ribs, two pulled meats, and two sides.  The rib choices we baby backs, spare ribs, and rib tips and the pulled meats offered a choice of brisket, chicken, or pork.  The sides were a collection of the standard sides found at barbecue joints.  With my sampler, I went with the Baby Back Ribs, Brisket, and Pulled Pork with Mac and Cheese and Corn Bread as sides.  As I said, I had already tried the pulled pork and brisket before and I knew that I liked those so in the unlikely event that I didn't like the ribs, I knew that I was going to like something.  The pulled pork and the brisket were served on top of slices of white bread and the ribs were served on top of that.  The mac and cheese and corned bread were also served on the same platter.  The mac and cheese was rich and cheesy and the cornbread was sweet.  There were three barbecue sauces available: sweet,  (Western) Carolina-style (tangy), and Smoke Daddy standard.  They were not really necessary though because the meats were pre-sauced.  I like sauce on my meat and the sauce used is very good but I generally prefer a dry rub and being able to add the sauce on my own.  The pulled pork used the Carolina-style sauce and the brisket and ribs used the standard sauce which was a ketchup based sauce that was slightly spicy with a slightly sweet finish.  Each of these sauces was really good with the meats they were served with.  Of the three meats, I preferred the pulled pork.  All of the meats were tender but the Carolina sauce worked best with the pulled pork.  The pulled pork was very good, shredded well, and the sauce went extremely well with it.  The brisket was good and it worked well with the sauce it was served with but I have had better.  The ribs also were tender and pulled apart fairly easily but I have had better sauces and better ribs.  What I will say is that there was definitely plenty of food and I ended up taking a box home.

I did enjoy my meal here.  There was plenty of food and it was all pretty good.  While all of the food was good, the pulled pork was something special and I will definitely enjoy it again.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Longman & Eagle

While I have been to Longman & Eagle several times, I have been there for lunch, brunch, and cocktails, I have never been for dinner.  As it has one of the best whiskey lists in the city and it has a Michelin Star besides, I knew that I was going to have to go one evening.  That evening arrived recently.  While I like the rustic interior, it was a beautiful evening and they have a nice patio so I decided to sit outside.  The menu is divided into Bar Snacks, Small Plates, and Large Plates, many of which are great for sharing.  I ordered something from each section.  For my first plate, my Bar Snack, I ordered the Pheasant Pate, Sourdough Tartines, Pickles (pickled vegetables), and Mustard.  I like pate and I like pheasant but I had never had them together so other than being good, I was unsure what it was going to be like.  This tasted like pate but it had a flavor that was a little more gamy.  I ate the pate like an open faced sandwich, spreading the mustard  on the sourdough and the pate on top of that.  The vegetables used in the pickle were carrots, cauliflower, and peppers and I ate that between bites of pate sandwiches.  As one might expect with the sourdough bread, the mustard, and the pickles, the dish was pretty sour but the sour went well with the pate.

For my appetizer, I got Blue Crab Ravioli with Black Truffles, Fava Beans, Chanterelle Mushrooms, Tomatoes, and Baby Greens, in a Tomato Consomme.  The blue crab was finely shredded and filled the perfectly cooked ravioli shells.  The shells were a firm "al dente" and again reminded  me that most pasta prepared at home is overcooked.  The pasta was topped with thinly sliced black truffles.  Truffles have a distinctly pungent flavor and while the flavor was there, it was much more subtle than I would have expected.  There were a couple of different types of cherry tomatoes, fava beans, and microgreens, which were all very fresh.  The tomatoes and the fava beans were sliced in half which made their flavor more immediate.  While this would have been good on it's own, when it was presented, a tomato consomm√©, which was very clear, was poured over it.  While the presentation/performance was kind of neat, I really didn't expect much from the consomm√© and actually expected it to be kind of bland given that it was very clear.  I was happily wrong on that point.  The consomm√© was warm and had the taste of fresh salted tomatoes which finished the dish well.

I was a little surprised by my entree, mainly because I misread the menu.  I was not disappointed because I liked all of the elements of the dish but it wasn't exactly what I expected.  The dish was a Monkfish Osso Bucco with Clams, Broccoli Rabe, Cremini Mushrooms, and many elements of corn: kernels, silk, and powdered.  When I think of osso bucco, I think of a steak, usually veal, with a cross cut bone showing the marrow hole.  I was expecting to get this in addition to the monkfish and clams.  I was not expecting the monkfish to be the meat surrounding the large bone.  I like monkfish, I was just not aware that there is anywhere on that fish that you would be able to find a bone that big and solid.  The clams, mushrooms, and broccoli rabe went together well with each other and the fish and while the corn kernels were good, the silk and powder were just odd.

You would think that after all of this food, I would be too full for dessert.  While I was satisfied and could have walked away, I am never one to turn down dessert and in this case, I was very happy that I went for it because it was a thing of beauty and it tasted as good as it looked.  My dessert was a  Pralined Pecan Terrine with Caramel & Bourbon, Espresso, Honey Foam, Chocolate, Malted Ice Cream, and Bourbon Panna Cotta.  The terrine was to me like a firm multi-layered custard and was served with some pecan brittle.  It had a layer of chocolate on one side and bourboned caramel on the other.  The interior layers combined pecans with espresso and honey foam.  The malted ice cream was sitting on some powdered malt and was very good.  While the bourbon panna cotta was a little thinner than I expect for a good panna cotta, it tasted good.  The bourbon was subtle but it was definitely there and it went well with the other stronger flavors within the terrine.  It was also garnished with cinnamon which was a good finish.

I really enjoyed my meal here and was glad I finally made it for dinner.  The waiter was friendly and able to answer my questions well and it was nice to sit out on the patio on a beautiful evening and enjoy some really good food.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Perennial Virant - Brunch

The first few times I met Chef Paul Virant were at chef demos at Green City Market.  At the time, he had a restaurant, Vie, in Western Springs.  I liked what he had to show and it was pretty good so I eventually made my way out to Western Springs for dinner.  I really enjoyed it and have been back a few times since then.  Virant has since opened a sister restaurant in the city called Perennial Virant.  There are a lot of restaurants in Chicago to try out so it has taken me a little time to get there.  I decided to make my first foray a brunch with friends.  As I was familiar with Chef Virant's cooking and had been to Vie a few times, I was confident that we would all like what they had to offer.  The restaurant is located at the edge of the Old Town Triangle just outside Lincoln Park in Hotel Lincoln.  There is a large patio but we sat inside, next to one of the large windows.  The space is large, open, and modern looking with several hanging plants.  The lighting was provided by a combination of hanging lights and track lighting and the large windows that were were on three sides of the dining room.  The entrance of the restaurant was in the center of the restaurant with a large bar and several tables to the left and a large dining room with several large tables to the right.  We were seated at a table to the right of the door and next to the window.  We started out as we often do at brunch with some pastries for the table.  We got a Sticky Bun with Vanilla Toffee and  Toasted Pecans and their Housemade Doughnut which came with Strawberry and White Chocolate Frosting and Fresh Raspberries.  They were both very good and sweet but the general consensus was that the sticky bun was better than the doughnut.  The bun was fluffy with a slight toffee crust, a lot of sticky, toffee syrup, and the nice crunchy toasted pecans.  With the doughnut, the fruit was very fresh and flavorful and there was a good layer of sweet icing.  The doughnut tasted good but it was a fry cake that was a little on the crusty side.

There were many thing on the brunch menu that looked good but luckily, things were made a little easier by friends who ordered things that I was interested in (the Sturgeon Potato Salad and the Corned Beef Hash).  I ordered the Biscuits and Gravy with Two Eggs Sunnyside Up.  In addition, I ordered some Homefries as a side which were served with Brunkow Cheese Curds.  The Biscuits and Gravy were really good.  The biscuits were a little small but fluffy and flavorful and the gravy was made with Gunthorp Farms Chicken Sausage i.e. chicken with actual flavor.  The eggs that were served with the biscuits and gravy just added to the dish.  They were perfectly cooked and tasted very good.  The homefries were well fried and the cheese curds were very fresh.  I expect a good and fresh cheese curd to squeak when I bite into it.  These curds squeaked when I stuck my fork into them.  While the fries were good, I think that I might have liked them more with gravy (which would have then made it a poutine).

As expected, I really enjoyed my meal here.  The space looked nice, the service was friendly, and the food, as expected, was very good.  I would gladly return here and know now that I will have to return for dinner sometime.