Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Monarch - Brunch

There are many places in Chicago where you can have brunch, some are better known than others and some are actually pretty unexpected and surprising.  My monthly brunch pick this month was at The Monarch in Wicker Park.  From the outside, it looks like your average bar and a bar is the first thing that you see when you walk in.  There are several TVs behind the bar.  Beyond the bar are several high top tables and with a high banquette and high chairs for seating.  There are several posters throughout the room featuring giants of American screen and song.  There are posters of John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee, Marilyn Monroe, and William Shatner among others.  The food served here is bar food with an upscale twist.  We started out with a large order of Fries with Truffle Mayonnaise and ketchup.  The fries weren't fried like frites, but they were pretty good, especially with the truffle mayo.  The fries were crispy and well salted and the mayonnaise had a good truffle flavor.  It was a good start that everyone enjoyed.  I ordered a cocktail as I was waiting for my main dish.  The cocktails were spins on standard brunch cocktails; bloody marys, mimosas, and corpse reviver #1.  I ordered a Bloody Mary called a Vlad the Impaler which used House Infused Black Pepper Vodka, Tomato Juice, and Spices, and garnished with a Hot Pepper, an Olive, and a Lemon.
 For my main course, I ordered a Blue Crab Cake Benedict with Poached Eggs, English Muffins, and Hollandaise Sauce.  The crab cakes were well cooked with a crisp outside, a tender inside, and a distinct crab flavor.  the eggs were perfectly poached in the shape of a quennelle and were well peppered.  The English muffins were both crisp and airy and the Hollandaise sauce was a great combination of egg and butter with a lemony finish.

Brunch was very good and we all enjoyed it.  While the menu was pretty simple, what was there was very good and it is a good consideration for a future brunch.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Greenbush Beer Dinner at Bread & Wine

I have been to Bread & Wine a few times and I really like it.  They do simple, seasonal American food very well, so when I found out that they would be pairing with Greenbush Brewery for a beer dinner with their seasonal beers, I dived at the opportunity.  They would be serving four courses with four beers.  I have had a few Greenbush Beers (but not the ones that were being served) and I thought they would make a good pairing with Bread & Wine's food.  As I have mentioned before, the restaurant is located in a former laundromat.  The washers and dryers are no longer there and have been replaced with an open kitchen with counter seating, a bar, a small grocery selling a small selection of gourmet foods and wine, and several tables.  When I arrived, I was seated at the bar at a space with my own name which I thought very classy.  I was also offered a Greenbush Closure which was not actually part of the menu, but was offered on the house, so I decided to try it.  It was a good smooth American Pale Ale and it was a good starter.

The beginning of the dinner started with Steak Tartare with an Egg Yolk, Mustard, and Toast Points.  It was served with Greenbush Jadis, which is a Winter White Ale.  The tartare was fairly simple but it was pretty good.  The tartare was roughly chopped, mixed with garlic and onions, and topped with the yolk and pepper.  The mustard was a country dijon and the toast was like a baguette.  I wouldn't have expected a white ale to go with red meat, but the simplicity of the tartare and the mustard helped to tie things together.
For the next course, we were served a White Trumpet and Leek Risotto topped with Frisee and served with Greenbush Ursus Winter Olde Ale.  This was a perfect risotto.  The rice was al dente, the sauce was thick, there were a lot of mushrooms, and the leeks added a good oniony flavor.  The frisee was very fresh and added a good vegetal flavor.  The beer was a darker ale that fell between a pale ale and a porter and had a slight maple flavor to it.  This was actually an interesting pairing.  I would expect the risotto to pair well with a white ale but it the maple flavor actually helped to tie everything together.
For the main course, we were served a Lamb Loin with Sweet Potato Puree and Apples and served with Greenbush Mammoth Weizenbock.  The lamb was very tender and a little sweet which paired with the sweet potato puree.  The apples used were Granny Smiths, which while pretty tart, do have a little sweetness which was brought out by the lamb and the sweet potatoes.  The weizenbock, a wheat bock, is a dark beer with a wheat character.  It is actually pretty sweet so it went well with the food.
Dessert was interesting.  It was called Goat Cheese Churros with Caramel Sauce.  It was served with Apathy Oatmeal Stout.  Churros are generally piped and fried Mexican pastries that are hollow and filled with custard, jam, or caramel.  These pastries did not look like normal churros and instead of having the filling piped in, they were sliced and filled like a sandwich.  While it didn't really look like a churro, the pastry was slightly crisp on the outside and were very airy as churros normally are.  The goat cheese filling was sweet with a light tartness and a bit of a goaty flavor.  The oatmeal stout had a bold flavor with flavors of chocolate, coffee, and caramel which paired well with the caramel on the churros.

This was a very good dinner.  The food was simple but very good, the beers were very good, and the pairings were interesting.  The service was very good and I really liked the fact that I had a personalized place setting.  In addition to all of this, the owner and head brewer of Greenbush Brewery was there to talk about his beers, which he did with every diner.  Bread & Wine does some good food which I have stated already, Greenbush is very inventive, and if I have an opportunity to try either again, I will defininitely take the opportunity.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


I like to eat out (as can obviously be inferred by this blog) but sometimes, I forget places that are relatively close to where I live, especially if I don't ride by them every day.  About three years ago, a Japanese/Korean restaurant called Gosu opened up and while I was interested, it wasn't a place I immediately thought about when I wanted to go out for dinner.  The word Gosu is a Korean word that means someone of exceptional skill.  This is something that you would hope when you go to a restaurant of any kind and it was something that I hoped was true when I went there.  I recently had a craving for Korean food so I decided that it was a good time to try it out. The restaurant has a modern Asian look and as it was approaching Christmas, there was also a lot of lights and Christmas decorations.  There are a couple of semi-private booths on either side of the door, a banquette on the right side of the front of the restaurant with several 4 top tables filling the space.  Beyond the banquette is a half-round sushi bar with a set of tables on the left side of the dining room filling the space.  The color scheme was pastel with a lot of pink and light blue.  I was seated at the banquette near the sushi bar.  I ordered an appetizer, entree, and dessert, but as I was eating in a Korean Restaurant, I was also served a salad and soup.  The salad was a rather standard house salad with lettuce, radishes, onions and a soy dressing.  There really was nothing special about the salad but as it was part of the meal, I include it for completeness.

The soup was a little better.  It was a Miso soup with Tofu and Green Onions.  Miso is generally a salty broth (made from soy) that is generally pretty simple.  The green onions did provide a little crunch and an oniony flavor when they were bitten into.  The tofu was a nice surprise.  Tofu generally doesn't have a taste of it's own and will take the flavor of what it's cooked with.  With the miso soup, it intensified the miso flavor and added a textural element.

I ordered my appetizer simply for the name.  There was a slight description so I knew that it wasn't actually what it was called, but the name was too much to pass up.  The dish was called "Monkey Brain" and it was about the right size and interior color.  It was a Deep Fried Avocado filled with Spicy Tuna, Crab, and Spicy Mayo.  It was really good!  Frying the avocado made a crunchy crust while leaving the avocado creamy.  The crab and tuna were fresh and flavorful and the spicy mayo added some good spiciness.

For my entree, I got Bi-bim-bap, a Korean dish which literally translates to mixed rice.  It is a dish of cooked rice topped with mixed vegetables which usually include carrots, radishes, spinach, and onions, beef, and a fried egg.  It is also served with a pepper sauce like Sriracha on the side so you can add as little or as much as you would like.  It is usually is cooked and served in a stone bowl (as was this).  The ingredients are separate when served in the dish but are generally mixed together before eating.  This was served with three Kimchis, the standard fermented cabbage, fermented daikon radish, and spicy pickles.  It was all very good and because the hot sauce was served on the side, I was able to give it the right spiciness.

My dessert was not a standard Asian dessert as such but it was something that I have seen in several Asian restaurants and I am not a huge fan of the standard, Japanese dessert, Mochi.  I had a Ginger Lemon Cheesecake, which while it is not really Asian, it does have Asian flavors and it was pretty good.

I really liked Gosu and can see that they do have a chef of exceptional ability.  Now that I have been here, I will remember it when I have a craving for Korean food, this place will definitely fit the bill.        

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Frontier - Brunch

I had been to Frontier a few times and really liked their style.  They have a very rustic look and feature a lot of wild game in their dishes.  They also have a fireplace which was actually a key component in my choosing them for one of my monthly brunch spots.  It was a cold day when we went which would have made a fireplace great.  Unfortunately, we were seated at a table where, while we could see the fireplace, we were not in the same room and could not feel the fireplace.  The room that we were in was warm enough but the fireplace would have made it perfect.  The Executive Chef at Frontier, Brian Jupiter, is originally from New Orleans so many dishes on the menu will have a Cajun spin to them, if not being Cajun outright.  We started out with one of those dishes that could very well have come from New Orleans, the Beignets, which were served with Apple Jam.  As with many beignets that I have had, they were covered in powdered sugar.  The amount of powdered sugar used for these beignets though, was kind of funny.  It was like we were being served a plate of powdered sugar with the beignets and apple jam served as a side.  If you didn't want to get powdered sugar all over the place, you kind of had to be careful.  After getting past the powdered sugar, the beignets were very good.  They were light and fluffy with a lot of air pockets and side and a crust that had a slight crispness to it.  The Apple Jam that was served with it seemed very fresh and sweet with a slightly tart finish and went very well with the beignets.

There were several things on the brunch menu that really interested me including the Bananas Foster French Toast which one of my friends got and looked absolutely amazing but I decided on a biscuit sandwich with potatoes.  Served on a cutting board, this was something special.  The biscuit was very rustic.  It was very crusty and uneven which provided a nice crunch to start things off with a soft interior like a baguette.  It was filled with a Ham Hock, Fried Pork Belly, a Fried Egg, and Jalapeno Jam.  I was a little disappointed that there was no cheese but there was enough to the sandwich to keep my taste buds occupied that the disappointment didn't last for long.  The pork belly and the ham hock provided a lot of porky goodness and the jalapeno jam gave it a spicy and tart finish which played well with the salty pork flavors.  The Cheesy Potatoes were so big that I actually thought that they were someone else's dish.  Their was a combination of mashed and whole potatoes that were served with butter, chives, and a little cheddar cheese.  They were really good and while I didn't think about it at the time, if I really was missing the cheese in the sandwich, I could have added a little of the potatoes though this actually, may have been the intent.

I really liked my brunch here at Frontier and will declare it a success.  The food was really good and there was a lot of it.  The service was friendly and the space has a rustic and homey feel to it.  This will be added to my list of favorite brunch places (as well as being one of my favorite dinner places).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Honey Butter Fried Chicken

There has been a trend in restaurants in recent years that has been tending away from fine dining.  It can be fairly easy to scale down a restaurant's cuisine by making their food less complex and using lower quality ingredients.  If this is done though, the restaurant is likely to be pretty mediocre and runs the risk of closing quickly.  It is possible to maintain the quality of the food without aiming for fine dining but it is more difficult.  Honey Butter Fried Chicken uses high quality ingredients to make fast food.  While the food at Honey Butter Fried Chicken is essentially fast food, the hours that the restaurant keeps are essentially restaurant hours, 5-10 PM, and they also have a bar.  I arrived a little early on a week night to get my meal to go and there were already people waiting at the door.  When the door opened, we waited in line to place hour orders from a counter with the menu behind them like a fast food restaurant. (We were also handed menus at the door).  I was behind a person who seemed to be absolutely miserable and wanted to complain about everything but I didn't let the person get me down.  The dining area is fairly simple with many 2-tops for seating and a waiting counter where a person who is getting a take-out order could stand and wait with a drink.  The people that took my orders and presented my food and drink were very friendly and accommodating although I didn't order anything special.  The specialty of Honey Butter Fried Chicken is the chicken and of course I ordered the chicken, but the sides are nothing to sneeze at either.  I ordered a Kale and Cabbage Slaw with Dried Pomegranate and Yogurt Cumin Dressing.  The slaw was crisp and fresh and had a nice vegetal flavor.  There was a lot of pomegranate in the slaw which added a bittersweet fruity flavor.  The fact that the cells were dried enhanced the pomegranate flavor, and the yogurt cumin dressing was sour and spicy.  The dressing was added lightly so it didn't overwhelm the other flavors.  It was a very good combination and a pretty good salad.

The chicken could be ordered in 2, 4, or 8 piece servings (as well as on a sammy or served with grits).  I ordered the 4 piece which was served with 2 corn muffins and a dollop of honey butter.  The butter is to be spread on the chicken and muffins both but I decided to try each first without the honey butter to get an idea of the base flavor.  The corn muffins were lightly sweet and had a coarse texture.  The chicken was brined and was very juicy.  It was also very flavorful chicken.  The breading was very good.  It was crispy, salty, and a little spicy.  The honey butter added a buttery sweetness to whatever it was on, but I think that I preferred the chicken with very little butter if any at all.  It was very good chicken and if I had not first had the chicken from Parson's, I might say that it was some of the best fried chicken that I have had.

The dessert list at Honey Butter Fried Chicken is pretty sparse, consisting of a cookie and a dump cake.  As I was traveling with it, I didn't think that a dump cake would travel well so I went with the cookie.  It was a Chocolate Toffee Cocoa Nib Cookie.  It was pretty large but it was also pretty thin so it was kind of crunchy around the edges.  It was kind of like a crunchy chocolate chip cookie and while chocolate chip cookies are a favorite of mine, I like my cookies a little less crisp.

The chicken here was good and the staff was friendly so I can understand the buzz about this place.  While I do like Parson's chicken better, I would recommend this place.