Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fountainhead - Blunch

About once a month, I find myself in the Ravenswood area of Chicago around brunch time.  The goto place when I am there is generally Glenn's Diner.  When I was in the area recently though, Glenn's was very busy.  While we could have gotten in eventually, it would have been an extended wait.  While we do like Glenn's, it didn't make sense to wait for an extended period when there were other choices in the area.  We decided to go to Fountainhead, a place just down the street from Glenn's that is known as one of the great beer bars in Chicago.  They have always had food of a sort, but the emphasis of the place had been on the beer until relatively recently.  They recently (within the last year) employed talented chef, Cleetus Friedman, who upped their food game.  I had had Chef Cleetus's food before and I was excited to see what he had done at Fountainhead.  Located on a corner, Fountainhead is in a single story white brick building with brown awnings and a fountain head symbol for a sign above the door, which is at the corner of the building.  The interior of the restaurant is large and open with a high unfinished ceiling.  The interior features a lot of heavy, dark wood which kind of reminded me of what a trading post in the mountains of Canada might look like.  At the same time, there were several vintage French liquor posters framed and hanging on the wall.  The bar and the shelf behind it were also done in dark, heavy wood, but they also had a vintage look to them.  There were a couple of large tables and several smaller tables on the floor with about 10 - 6 person booths lining the exterior of the dining room.  The beer list, which could be found at every table, was in a large leather-bound book which matched the size of many wine lists at fine restaurants known for their wine.  The beers were broken down by style and there was a slight description for most of the beers they were serving.  Admittedly, the beer list was augmented in size with the addition of the wine and cocktail list, but it would have been impressive, even without them.  Fountainhead doesn't actually call their brunch "brunch", they call it blunch instead which is supposed to be lunch with breakfast.  As such, their menu falls on the savory and more hearty side of things.  They do however, have a pretty good selection of vegetarian items which was good because I was dining with a couple of vegetarians.  I started things off with what was called a Jar of Pickled Things.  I like pickled things so I was interested to see what was contained in this jar.  As one might expect, there were Pickles (pickled cucumbers) which were crisp, and sour, and very good, but there were also Brussels Sprouts, Radishes, and Potatoes.  Of these, I liked the radish best.  It was crisp, fresh tasting and sour with the spicy finish that radishes have.  The potato, while it wasn't bad, was a little odd and unusual.  It was also slightly sour as a pickled potato might be expected to be and had a light earthy flavor as a potato.  It was also crisp (although not as crisp as the radish) and had the mildly gritty texture of a raw potato.  I prefer my potatoes cooked and with a softer texture.  The only reason a potato should be crisp is if the outside was fried crisp.  It didn't taste bad, it was just a little odd, and I would probably prefer not to have it again.  The brussels sprouts were sour and tasted fresh and good, but they were a bit tough and it took a bit of effort to stab it with a fork.  The dish was good and it was interesting to try vegetables other than the standard cucumber, beet, and carrot, but I don't know if I would pick any of these vegetables (other than the pickled cucumbers) on their own.

For my main dish, I stuck with a vegetarian dish, not because I was trying to eat vegetarian, but simply because it sounded really good.  I went with a Breakfast Burrito because I really like breakfast burritos and this sounded really good despite not having any meat.  It was a soft Corn Tortilla filled with Eggs, Potatoes, Cheese, and Onions served with a spicy Aioli on top, and more Fried Potatoes, Arugula,  Potatoes, Arugula, and Cleetus Heatus Salsa on the side.  This was a very good burrito and one that was so good that the meat was not missed.

Blunch at Fountainhead was very good.  The space was both rustic and vintage and had a homey feel to it.  The service was good as was the food.  It was a very good change of pace from Glenn's and I will keep it in mind when I am up in the area again around brunch time.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rickshaw Republic

I generally think that I have a pretty broad palate and am familiar with a wide variety of cuisines.  There are a few cuisines with which I am relatively unfamiliar and I went to a restaurant that specialized in one of these last week.  Rickshaw Republic specializes in Indonesian cuisine and specifically, Indonesian street food.  I have a pretty good sense of geography and know that Indonesia is located in the Indian Ocean between Australia and Thailand.  It is considered part of Southeast Asia, so I would expect there to be some similarity between it's cuisine and the other major cuisines in the area: Thailand, Vietnam, North and South Korea, Philippines, and possibly that of India.  While this may have been the case, it was going to take some exploring to find this out.  I walked in and was immediately seated in the front room.  The room was small with 4 tables and a small bar (for additional seating as the restaurant is BYOB).  One of the first things that I noticed was that all of the seats were mismatched.  They were all black, but they were all of different designs.  There was a large Asian-style wooden screen dividing the front room and the rear dining area.  There were many knick knacks spread around the room for decoration including a couple of puppets and a toy rickshaw.  There was a hanging above the bar that acted sort of as a drop ceiling that was nailed with several dozen (if not over a hundred) things that looked like rolling pin handles.  What little I could see of the back room looked like it also had a lot of knick knacks, although the room was red to the front room's white.  Overall, the space very much gave me a feeling of it being a family affair.  As I said before, I was relatively unfamiliar with Indonesian cuisine.  Looking at the menu helped very little.  The names of the dishes helped not at all and I was only able to navigate by the descriptions of the dish.  I ended up ordering things by what was in the dish without really knowing how they were going to be presented or really having an idea how different flavor combinations were going to work.  My waitress was friendly and helpful and she did help me choose what I ordered.  I started out with Risoles.  These were breaded and fried croquettes of Chicken with Bechamel Sauce, Coriander, Fennel, Carrots, Cloves, and Celery, and were served with a Coconut Milk Curry.  It was crisp, very flavorful and easy to eat with your hands.  The curry that was served with it had a strong coconut flavor and reminded me of Massaman curry.  It matched well with the spices in the risoles and was a good start.
My entree was essentially a sampler plate although it is actually a dish served by Indonesian street food vendors.  It was called Nasi Rames and is an Indonesian mixed rice dish.  Further reading stated that there is no one recipe for Nasi Rames and it varies by vendor except that it includes rice (in this case it was coconut rice) and things to mix it with.  With my dish, it included Beef Rendang (beef that's been braised in coconut milk and spices), Curry Pickle, a Spicy Egg, Green Beans (with red peppers and fish sauce), Carmelized Tempeh (similar to fried tofu), Krupuk (multi-colored shrimp crackers), and was served with Sambal, a red pepper fish sauce that was served on the side.  I decided to try everything individually before I mixed everything together and added any sambal.  Everything was prepared well although the curry pickle was a little boring on its own.  It was a fresh and thinly sliced cucumber with a light pickle and curry flavor.  The green beans were freshly crisp and pretty spicy with the peppers.  The tempeh was actually kind of surprising because I first thought it was a meat of some sort.  It was flavorful, savory, and had a meaty texture.  The egg was hard boiled and was covered in a spicy red sauce.  The Beef Rendang was fork tender and had a lot of coconut milk and spicy flavor.  The Krupuk I had encountered before.  It was lightly flavored but very crispy and adds a nice crunch to whatever you eat it with.  Mixed together, it was a melange of flavors and textures although spice and coconut milk figured prominently..  The sambal is pretty spicy on its own so I used it lightly.  It did add another level of spice to a good dish that was pretty spicy in places already.

After that large entree, I decided that I should probably go light for my dessert, so I ordered what was essentially a drink.  It was called Es Cendol and included Ice, Rice Flour Jelly, Coconut Milk, and Palm Sugar.  The glass was brought to the table and the coconut milk was added there.  I was told to mix it before drinking it.  I could see the point of that because the coconut milk floated on top and if I were to drink it as it was, the flavors wouldn't have combined.  I mixed it up and the liquid turned about the color of coffee with cream with the globs of rice flour jelly floating throughout.  It was very good.  It was sweet and flavorful with the little bits of green jelly that were kind of like soft gummies.

The food here was very good.  My waitress was friendly and I now have an idea of what Indonesian food is like.  In my experience, it is most similar to Thai cuisine with some Filipino and Indian flavors thrown in.  I enjoyed it and will definitely have to return to try more.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

endgrain - Brunch

I choose the restaurants that I go to for a variety of reasons.  It is a very rare occurrence that I choose a restaurant that I have heard nothing about and am going in blind.  The restaurants that are close to me, I go to because they are close but other restaurants I will choose because when I read about them in a newspaper or blog they catch my interest, and when I do further research, looking at their website and/or Yelp, they hold my interest.  As far as my friends are concerned, I am generally the one that they will turn to for recommendations.  Occasionally though, I do get recommendations from them, which I am happy to take.  A friend last year notified me of this amazing place that she went to called endgrain and said that it needed to make my brunch list.  At the time, while I had heard of endgrain, it really wasn't on my radar.  With her glowing recommendation though, I decided that we would try it out.  Located in Roscoe Village, it's a little off the beaten path.  While it is on a main road, it is on a part of that road that is largely residential.  Because of this, the building and the restaurant itself are quite a bit smaller than a restaurant that you might encounter in one of the high traffic areas in the city.  There is a bar on one side of the dining room that runs the length of the dining room and a banquette on the other side.  Total seating might be 40.  The color scheme is brown and beige and there is a lot of wood used in the design.  There is also a stuffed boar's head and a deer head hanging on the wall in the back as well as several paintings hanging on the wall behind the banquette.  The ceiling is unfinished and the lighting is both natural and provided by hanging lights.  One of the first things that you may notice as you walk into the space is the doughnut rack at the front of the bar.  Their doughnuts and biscuits are what they are most well known for and it is how we started when we were seated.  There were about 10 different doughnuts and "dough-scuits" listed on the menu which changes daily.  Flavors included Charlie Brown which was Nutella and Peanut Butter, Bourbon Vanilla, and the one that I got, Bacon Butterscotch.  As far as doughnuts are concerned, it was a little on the denser side, although not as dense as a cake doughnut.  The doughnut itself tasted very good and the butterscotch icing just added to it.  It was sweet and buttery with a slightly salty finish with played very well with the bacon which was an abundant topping itself.  The bacon added some crunchy variety to the texture as well as having the salty and sweet flavor that played well with the butterscotch.

In addition to the doughnut, I decided to get a appetizer for the table.  On the menu, there was something listed as a Braised Pork Handpie with Soybean Sprout Kimchi, Scallions, and Radishes.  I was kind of expecting something similar to a Cornish Pasty.  This is not what I got and when I first looked at it, I wasn't sure how I was going to attack it.  It was ultimately a knife and fork thing and it was very good.  The crust was flaky and had a significant amount of black sesame.  The pork was very tender and flavorful.  The kimchi was sour and a little spicy although not as strong as kimchi made from cabbage.  There was a sauce that was spread over it that added some spice and tang, and the radishes and scallions provided a nice finish.

While there were many entrees listed, the raves I had heard, including those from my friend were about the biscuit sandwiches so that is the direction that I went.  I got a Fried Chicken Biscuit with Smoked Mashed Potatoes, Pork Gravy, and Greens.  It was served with House Made Potato Chips and Pickles.  The biscuit sandwich lived up to expectations.  It was, in fact, amazing.  The sandwich was large and if you were to attempt to eat it with your hands, it was definitely a two hand job.  While I did try to eat it with my hands, I decided that with the lightness and fluffiness of the biscuit and the weight of the fillings, it would be very easy to create a disaster.  The biscuit was one of the best that I have ever had.  It was light and fluffy and still moist.  I would have gladly eaten it by itself.  The chicken, which was lightly breaded and fried, was also moist, tender, and flavorful and was some very good chicken.  The mashed potatoes, gravy, and kale went well with the chicken and biscuit.  It was like a southern homestyle dinner in sandwich form.  The chips and pickles were also very good.
I definitely enjoyed brunch here, I will definitely have to return for more.     

Sunday, April 6, 2014

GT Fish and Oyster

The chefs in Chicago seem to have a pretty friendly and supportive relationship among one another for the most part.  At the same time, there is definitely a competition among various restauranteurs.  There have been many times that various restaurant groups have opened similar restaurants within months of one another.  In one case, the Boka Group and DMK opened their version of an east coast seafood shack within months of one another.  I talked about DMK's Fish Bar a few months ago, I recently decided to try out Boka's version, GT's Fish and Oyster to see what in direction that they decided to go.  Located in River North, GT's Fish and Oyster is decidedly more upscale than is Fish Bar.  This is not a criticism of either restaurant, it is simply an observation that they decided to go after different crowds.  GT's Fish and Oyster does have a decidedly nautical theme after you get past the large windows.  The space is divided into two rooms, The interior walls of the front room, which contains the bar and a communal table in addition to several two tops, are all thin interlocking slats painted white.  There is also a lot of brass and hanging lanterns provide the light.  There are also many nautical themed paintings hanging in the front room.  The back dining room has banquette seating with black tables and a black wall with a painting of a swordfish skeleton and the quote, "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster."  - Jonathan Swift.  I sat in the front room at the bar so I only saw the rear room in passing.  The bar looked like it was made from a deck and had brass tags with different names (that I didn't recognize) in front of each seat.  There were about 10 seats on one side before it turned a corner and had about 6 more seats.  The shelf behind the bar was glass and brass and featured many higher end liquors.  Looking over their cocktail and beer menu, I saw that they had a respectable beer list (4 on draft and 18 bottles) and 9 cocktails.  I decided to go with a cocktail called The Waitlist which contained Russian Standard Vodka, St. Germain, Grapefruit, and Averna Bitters.  The description reminded me of something that I had had previously, of course I seem also to be on a bit of a St. Germain kick as well.  In any case, I like grapefruit and it was a very good drink.
For my appetizer, I decided with a Tuna Poke which is similar to a Tuna Tartare although the cut is a bit more coarse.  It was served with Mango Puree, Thinly Sliced Cucumbers, a little Cilantro, and was topped with Pickled Mango and Black Sesame.  This was very light and fresh and really reminded me of the impending Spring weather.  The mango emphasized the sweetness of the tuna and the black sesame added a little bitterness.  The cucumber, also sweet, added a crunchy finish.
I then added a slider which, while it was good, didn't make a lot of sense as far as meal progression was concerned, but that was my own fault.  It was an Oyster Po' Boy Slider with Kimchi and Peanuts.  The oyster was breaded and deep fried and was crispy and a little spicy.  The kimchi added to the spiciness and the finely ground peanuts added a vaguely Thai flavor and a little crunch other than the oyster.  The slider was small, as sliders are, but it was very good and had an outsize flavor.
 My entree was decidedly more main course like than the slider was.  It consisted of Kabocha Squash Gnocchi with Oyster Mushrooms, Burrata, and Crab and was topped with Pepitas and Fried Thyme Leaves.  Everything about this dish was good.  The gnocchi was very tender and had a great squash flavor.  The Burrata was very rich and creamy.  The Oyster Mushrooms added a savory element that played well with the crab which was thinly shredded and spread throughout the dish.  The pepitas and Thyme added a nice finish.

For dessert, I challenged myself.  I am not generally a fan of popcorn, but I will try it if it's in a dish that sounds interesting.  For this dessert, the pastry chef did a spin on Garrett Popcorn Chicago Mix.  The Chicago Mix is a mixture of cheddar and caramel corn.  For this dessert the chef had a Caramel Semifreddo, to which was added Corn Bread, Caramel and Cheddar Popcorn, Cheddar Tuile, and more Caramel.  I will say that it was a very nice looking dessert and I really liked the Semifreddo.  The cornbread topped with the caramel was an interesting flavor combination as the cornbread was a bit on the savory side.  The cheddar tuile reminded me of Cheez-Its, and the popcorn, while good for popcorn, was still popcorn.  If you like popcorn and like desserts with a savory edge to them, you may very well like this.  For me, while I liked the look of it and did like some elements, I will probably never order this again.

I really liked my meal here.  The food was very good and the staff was friendly and knowledgeable.  The space was clean and had a nice feel to it.  As far as the comparison between Fish Bar and GT's Fish and Oyster, there really is no comparison.  They are both seafood houses but they go in different directions and are very good at what they do.     

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Goose Island Beer Dinner at Red Door

Every couple of months or so, The Reader sponsors a dinner asking a local restaurant to work with with a local brewery or winery to come up with a 4 course dinner paired with beers (or wines) from that brewery.  Recently, they asked Red Door to work with Goose Island for their dinner.  I had been a fan of the restaurant that was located where Red Door is now, Duchamp, but I had not been there since Duchamp closed, so I was unaware of how the space had changed.  I figured it was a good time to check it out.  My opinion of Goose Island had lessened somewhat when they sold out to Anhueser Busch even though I knew that they did still make some good beer.  I decided it was a good time to give them another chance and possibly see what was new at Goose Island.  I arrived on time for dinner but it was actually a little early because they weren't quite ready, so I sat in the main dining room and examined the space to compare it to Duchamp.  It was in the same building, so the entrance was in the same place, as was the bar, and the shape of the dining room was the same.  While the shape of the room was the same, the space was very different.  The red door at the entrance was solid wood and had a vintage style.  The left side of the restaurant, opposite the bar was lined with a tall light colored but heavy looking wood banquette.  The tables lining the banquette were hightops.  The room seemed to be filled with found objects of mismatched design and the lights were dim and hanging.  The space had a very rustic feel to it.  While I could still see Duchamp, it was also a very different space.  The restaurant also has a large patio with a communal table for dining in warm weather.  Duchamp also had the patio, of course, but I never saw it in either restaurant so I can only say that other people have said that the patio is very nice.  After sitting in the main dining room for a few minutes, we were guided into a private dining room in the back.  The design of the space was similarly eclectic but the color scheme was different (it was light green) and it had a large communal table for seating.  Unlike other beer dinners that I have gone to, Red Door actually offered a choice for most of the courses which was nice.  There were only about two or three choices offered for each course, but it was nice that a choice was offered.  For my first course, I chose a dish that I had not ever had but strangely had looked it up recently.  The dish was called Shakshouka, and it consists of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes and chili peppers, it was served with goat feta cheese and crispy pita chips and was topped with chives.  It was paired with Sofie, a Belgian-Style Farmhouse Ale.  The tomato sauce was thick and almost had a pizza sauce flavor and the eggs were poached hard.  The feta added an earthy flavor and a semi-soft texture that paired well with the eggs.  It was all very spreadable on the pita chips and it was very good.  The earthy flavor of the dish also went well with the beer. 
The second course was a salad which was served with Goose Island's new 312 Urban Pale Ale.  The salad consisted of mixed greens, a lot of which looked like Raddicchio, Goat Cheese, a Grilled Orange, and it was topped with a Thai Chili Vinaigrette.  There was no other choice for this course and it was pretty simple, but there were some elements that were pretty good and the simplicity went well with the beer. 
The entree was decidedly more complex and hearty and it was paired with a decidedly more complex beer that I knew that I liked already.  I ordered a Grilled Hanger Steak with Chorizo, Sweet Potatoes, and Chimichurri Sauce.  The steak had a nice char which gave a good crust.  The sweet potatoes and chorizo were combined and added a sweet and spicy flavor, and the chimichurri added an herbal and garlicky flavor.  It was hearty and complex and I really liked it and it went well with the Matilda, a Belgian-Style Pale Ale.
For dessert, there were a couple of choices, although one seemed decidedly more farm style than did the other so that is the one that I went with.  The fact that the final beer was a wild ale helped me lean in that direction.  I went with a Seedling Farms Cherry Cobbler which was served with Buttermilk Ice Cream.  Seedling Farms produces some very good fruit and Red Door did very good things with it.  The cherries were tart and sweet which went with the tart sweetness of the buttermilk ice cream.  The beer served with this was called Lolita, which was a Belgian Wild Ale.  It was surprisingly sour.  It had a bit of a red wine flavor to it with a slightly sweet finish and it paired well with the cobbler.

Dinner here was very good and I really liked the pairings (if I didn't completely care for all of the beers).  It was also interesting to see the changes in the space.  I will definitely have to return to try more of their menu.