Monday, August 25, 2014

Osteria Langhe

It is a little sad when a neighborhood restaurant has to close.  Having said that, it wasn't a big surprise when Brand BBQ Market closed (for the second time).  They were a friendly restaurant with a wider than usual list of meats that they smoked well and they did a fantastic Burnt Ends Mac and Cheese.  I liked them even if I thought that they needed to work on their sauces a bit.  They closed the first time, to redo their dining room and to get a liquor license, but I am going to guess that they ran out of money and had to open earlier than they would have liked to, so they had no time to rebuild a regular clientele and again ran out of money because no one was coming.  I am going to guess that they had already sold the place when they closed because the turnaround was very quick, five weeks.  What opened it's place was Osteria Langhe, an Italian restaurant focusing on Piemontese cuisine.  I dined there recently to see what the space had now become.  The space itself hadn't changed a lot because it is a small, narrow space and I don't know that much could be done with it.  There is a small patio at the front of the restaurant for those that that would like to dine outdoors.  There was a mural of the Italian countryside on the wall opposite the bar at the front of the dining room.  The bar was in the same place at the front of the bar, but there was significantly more liquor including 10 Italian bitters.  This is where I sat.  Looking things over, there were many things of interest on the food menu so I made a quick decision for a drink and spent some more time with the food menu.  I started with an Amaro e Birra, which is exactly what it sounds like, an Amaro of the diner's choice, a beer of choice, and ice.  For my Amaro e Birra, I used a Menabrea Bionda, an Italian lager for my beer and a Cappelletti, a red amaro with medium bitterness.  The bartender said that I could drink them separately or together, so I did both.  The beer was light colored and had flavors of straw and lemongrass and the Cappelletti was very red and bittersweet with an herbal and cough medicine flavor, although not in a bad way.  Together, the beer cut the bitter of the amaro and the amaro added some sweetness to the beer and contributed to a nice head.
While I was still perusing the food menu, I was brought a can containing Black Olive Grissini or Breadsticks.  They were crunchy and bready with a light black olive flavor and they were very addictive.  While they were the bread course which will, in many places last the entire meal, I think mine were gone before my first course got to me and I wanted to be able to eat my meal, so I said no when asked if I wanted a refill.
For my antipasti, I went with Vitello Tonnato, a plate of Cold Sliced Veal (poached) that is served with a Tuna Citrus Caper Aioli, Frisee, and a Crispy Soft Boiled Egg.  I had had vitello tonnato before so I knew what I would be getting, but this was very good.  The veal was thinly sliced and very tender and the tuna flavor of the aioli, with the light texture of the veal gave the impression of eating tuna which was added to with the caper and citrus flavor also in the aioli.The egg was crispy on the outside with a liquid yolk and also went very well with the aioli.
 I was going to order a Primi (pasta) and a Secondi (meat), but I was then told about the Risotto which had everything that I wanted anyway, so that's what I went with.  It was the most expensive thing on the menu, but it was pretty big and had samples of a lot of different stuff including Duck, a Scallop, Blood Sausage, King Salmon, Red Peppers, and Sausage.  The rice was toothsome and very flavorful with a thick sauce.  The corn and red peppers was mixed in with the rice and sauce and felt like it was supposed to be there.  The meats were on top and were like "accessories" that all went well with the risotto.  The duck and scallop were my favorite accompaniments.  They were well prepared and seasoned and very flavorful.  The salmon was good and flaky, but I preferred the duck and the scallop.  The blood sausage, while it did have a good taste, was a little bit of a miss because it was a bit dry.  Despite that, the dish was good overall.
For my dessert, there were several things that were of interest, but I decided to go with the Limetta, the Lime Curd dessert that was sort of like a deconstructed Key Lime Pie.  In addition to the Lime Curd, it had Rum, Graham Cracker Shortbread, Raspberries, and Mint Meringue.  It all tasted good and went well together and I really liked the mint meringues, but the presentation was a little lacking.  This did not mean, of course, that I didn't eat it.  I ate it and enjoyed it like I did everything else.  The food was very good, the service was friendly, and the servers were knowledgeable about what they were serving.  I would be happy to return, which made me make sure to correct the tipping error that I had made after I discovered it well after I left.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I first met Chef Beverly Kim at the CF Grand Chef's Gala as the Chef of Aria.  I liked what they were serving, but I wouldn't say that I I could judge the restaurant until I actually went there which I did several months later.  It was then that I could say that I liked the restaurant, and by extension, Chef Kim.  Since that time, she participated in Top Chef, Season 9 (and almost won), took over Bonsoiree with her husband to turn it into a high end Korean restaurant, and has now opened a new neighborhood restaurant with a Korean twist called Parachute in Avondale where I went for dinner recently.  The restaurant is small, seating about 40 people between the long bar, the communal table at the end of the bar, and the seats at the front of the restaurant.  I sat at the bar in the back of the restaurant which looked into the prep area.  It was very cool to be able to see the ingredients before they were combined.  I was also able to watch the bartender work his magic.  The menu at Parachute isn't divided, as such, but the savory courses start with the smallest, snack like courses at the top and get larger as they go down the menu with the entree size courses at the bottom.  I started dinner with Grilled Carrots that were served cool with Italian Parsley, Crushed Almonds, and a Chermoula Sauce, which is a North African Sauce consisting of herbs, oil, lemon juice, pickled lemons, garlic, cumin, and salt.  The carrots were still crisp, though not raw crisp, and had grill marks, which added some sweetness to the carrots. The sweetness of the parsley paired with the carrots, and the herbal flavor paired with the chermoula.  The tart flavor of the chermoula added variety of the dish, and the almonds added a nice crunch to it.  It was a simple dish and a nice start to my dinner.
For the dish that served as my appetizer, I had a Boudin Noir, Nam Phrik, Peanuts, Crispy Rice, Spearmint, Endive, and Coconut Yogurt.  Boudin Noir is a typically a dark sausage that uses pig blood.  In this case, it was more like a blood flan.  Nam Phrik is a spicy fish sauce of Thai origin.  the combination of ingredients is very similar to a Vietnamese dish called Tiet Canh.  In any case, it was very good.  It was a variety of textures and flavors that would have been good without the spearmint.  With the spearmint though, the dish was a total win.
There were several things on the menu that I was interested in for my entree, I finally decided on the Slow Cooked Chicken, with Corn Off the Cob, Chanterelles, and Crunchy Furikake (a Japanese Condiment consisting of Sesame, Seaweed, Bonito, and Powdered Soy Sauce.  The presentation of this dish was pretty chaotic, it kind of looked like it had exploded, but it tasted very good.  The chicken was tender, the corn was both tender and crunchy, the mushrooms were tender and flavorful and the furikake added a variety of additional flavors.  
While I mentioned that the menu went from small to large, this was for the savory side.  There is a separate menu for desserts and after-dinner drinks.  There were three things listed for dessert as well as Bitters and Dessert Wines.  I did order an Amaro, Santa Maria al Monte to go with my dessert.  It was bitter as can be expected of Amaros, but it also had flavors of bitter orange peel, ginseng, menthol, and a medicinal finish.  While it was good, I had to be careful with my pairing to see that my dessert wasn't overwhelmed by the bitterness of the amaro.
For my dessert and to pair with the amaro, I chose the Black Sesame Tea Cake with Blueberry Sorbet, Blueberries, Brown Butter, and Lavender.  I had had the blueberry/lavender combination before in a pie for Pi(e) day (3/14) at Bleeding Heart Bakery and new that the combination was a win.  In addition to being really good together, it went well with the bittersweet tea cake, and brought out the fruit flavors in the amaro.

I really liked my dinner here, the atmosphere was very friendly, kind of eating dinner at a friends house, and the food was really good.  It was both familiar and with a world twist.  I will definitely return and recommend it to friends


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chef's Burger Bistro

As I have said before, if you want a burger in Chicago, you have a lot of choices without having to resort to a chain fast food place.  You can get one at a diner like Eleven City Diner or a local fast food place like M Burger or Epic Burger, but many bars that serve food have a really good burger.  In fact, I would say that some of these, Kuma's Corner, The Bad Apple, and Burger Bar are among the best burgers in the city.  In addition to these examples, many fine dining restaurants like Naha or Vie also make some really good burgers.  To this list, I will add Chef's Burger Bistro, where I dined recently.  Located off of the Magnificent Mile, Chef's Burger Bistro is located at the same location as a former local burger chain location.  The space is long and narrow with a long bar at the front, between the restaurant and the patio and the kitchen in the back.  In addition to bar seating, there are large booths opposite the bar and some small tables dividing the two.  The space has a hardwood floor and a lot of black trim.  The unfinished ceiling was also painted black.  The space was loud and there were a couple of large flat screens on the walls, so the space almost had a sports bar feel to it (There were no team banners or flags, so the similarity ended with the TVs and the loudness of the space).  The chef at Chef's Burger Bistro has an impressive CV with experience at restaurants all over the world and author of 6 cookbooks.  He is one of 72 Certified Master Chef's in the United States and believes that cooking is an art.  Everything should be prepared with care and with quality ingredients.  In regard to the restaurant, this means that the meat is ground in-house every day and the bistro buns are made several times a day.  Everything on the menu is served a la carte, and while the burgers are the feature here, there are also finger foods, salads, and sandwiches on the menu.  As the only thing that I ate other than the burger was the fries, the only thing that I can say about these things are that they look good.  While I didn't eat anything other than the burger and fries, I did notice that they had a very nice looking milkshake list, so I decided I would also have a milkshake.  I ordered a Chocolate & Chocolate Shake.  It was served in a square Mason Jar mug (with a mug handle) and a straw.  I am not sure why it was called a Chocolate & Chocolate shake as it seemed to have a fairly uniform texture, but it was very thick, very chocolaty, and very good.  The shake arrived before my burger did so it was almost like having dessert before supper.
When my burger arrived, it was served on a large square plate alongside my Bistro Fries which were served in a modern looking serving glass.  It was red with a black rim which was wider at the top than the bottom and had an angled top.  The fries in it were very good.  They were well salted and could very well have been double fried as frites are.  They were crisp on the outside with a fluffy interior and I really enjoyed them.  The burger was fairly large (1/2 pound) and nice looking and pierced by a steak knife.  The burger that I ordered was called The Iberico because it was dressed in a Spanish style.  It was topped with Manchego Cheese, Serrano Ham, an Egg, and Garlic Aioli.  The bun was very fresh but it was very much like a fast food bun and not that exciting to me.  The burger and its accoutrements were very good.  I would say that their burgers fall between a bar burger and a burger at a fine dining restaurant.  The ingredients were high quality and tasted good.  The pairing and the presentation seemed like something that you might see at a fine dining restaurant.  While the burger was good and high quality, it doesn't beat my favorite bar burgers.  The place is definitely an option if I am in the area, but does not warrant a special trip.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer Seasonal Slam at Two Restaurant and Bar

While the listed price is obviously higher than any given item on most restaurant menus, if you break it down per dish and drink basis, it is in the same price range, if not slightly better.  It also allows for the possibility of letting the chef get away from the standard menu somewhat and may allow him to explore his creativity.  It also allows for the possibility of the diner to get a pretty good idea of the restaurant theme, whether the chef sticks to the menu or not. 
I attended an event called a Summer Seasonal Slam at Two Restaurant and Bar recently which was a spin on an Iron Chef type-competition.  Two restaurants, in this case, Two and Acadia, were given three ingredients to work with and had to come up with a food course and a drink for each ingredient.  Diners were to vote on the better of each pairs and drinks and dishes and a winner was announced at the end.  Two is a small restaurant and bar on Grand Ave. on the border of Westtown and the West Loop.  Despite the fact that the entire place is done in black, it actually has kind of a friendly neighborhood vibe.  The entrance is into the bar area which has some tables besides the bar.  The event was done in the main dining room which was in a separate room, next to the bar.  The tables were arranged into three communal tables, I have to imagine which was for ease of service.  When everyone was seated, we were welcomed and the rules were explained.  We were told the three ingredients that the chefs and bartenders would be using and were basically told that we could decide which was the better drink and dish however we wanted to.  Our first ingredient was Corn and the drinks were first to show up.  For Drink A, we were served Smoked Corn, Achiote infused Ocho Plata Blanco (Tequila), Fresh Corn, Popcorn Syrup, Champagne Vinegar, Cilantro Kix, and Coconut Milk Foam for Drink B, we were served Caorunn Gin, King's Ginger, Midori, Roasted Corn Puree, Sweet Corn Ice Cream, Sarsparilla Bitters with a Canteloupe Garnish which wrapped the Sweet Corn Ice Cream.  I am generally a gin guy and am very picky with my tequila so it would be easy to think that I would have picked Drink A, but I am also not a fan of Midori or canteloupe, and the corn ice cream made for a rather heavy drink so I had to go for Drink A which was savory, spicy, and actually reminded me of camping.
For the corn dishes, Dish A had Pork Belly, Corn, Maine Blueberries, Masa and Cilantro and for Dish B, we were served Smoked Pig Cheek, Corn 4 Ways, and Smoked Pork Jus.
As far as presentation was concerned, I liked Dish A better.  It had a cleaner look and it looked more artfully arranged as opposed to the calculated mess that Dish B presented.  While presentation is important though, ultimately, what is most important is how the dish tasted and in the case of these two dishes, I liked Dish B better.  While I liked the presentation of the pork belly better, I found the corn, blueberries, and cilantro a bit dry.  With Dish B, it made sense to try everything together (although I also did try things separately).  The pork cheek was smoked and pulled, had a very nice porky flavor and went well with the corn and jus.
 The second ingredient challenge was cherries and again, the drinks came out first.  The first, Drink A, was Angel's Envy Bourbon, Cherry Juice, House-Made Cherry Shrub (a vinegar-based syrup), Casoni 1814 (an Italian apertif), and Stiegl Radler.  The bourbon in this was obvious, but it also had sour and cherry flavors and a light carbonation from the Stiegl Radler.
Drink B consisted of Tart, Rainier, and Bing infused Letherbee Gin Cherries, Lemon Peel, Quinine Elixer, Lemongrass, Kaffir Lime, and Ginger Tonic.  This was sweeter, although still with a tart finish and reminded me of a Gin and Tonic with Cherries.  Both of these drinks were pretty good, but I preferred the Gin and Tonic flavor to the Bourbon and went with Drink B.  
For the Cherry dishes we started with a dish that was almost empty being brought out.  It had no cherries and instead contained King Crab, Pork Marrow Powder, and Bourbon Maple Bubbles.  This was obviously not finished so I waited on it.
The first completed dish to arrive at our tables was Dish B, which was a very nicely composed dish with Cherry Smoked Duck Ham, Cherries, Mushroom Panna Cotta, Rye, and Mache (Lamb's Lettuce).  This was a very good dish with very strong and distinct flavors and varied textures and it would have been hard to beat without even trying the second dish.
Dish A was completed with a Cherry Gazpacho which was very good and flavorful and went well with the Crab and Bourbon Maple Bubbles, it also paired well with Drink A.  While I liked the dish and the pairing, it couldn't beat the duck ham and I went with Dish B.
The third ingredient that the chefs and bartenders had to work with was Basil which, while I like it, I have to think because of it's strong and distinct flavor was probably the most difficult ingredient to work with.  For our Drink A, we started with Next Star Vodka with Sweet, Thai, Pineapple, and Red  Basils, Juniper, Genepy des Alps (an apertif similar to Absinthe), Luxardo Maraschino, and a Citrus, Basil, Cucumber, CH Distillery Key Gin Cube.  By the time I got this drink, I was definitely feeling the previous four drinks.  It was very flavorful and despite the fact that vodka was the base liquor, it had a lot of gin flavor on top of the herbal flavors from the basils.
Our last drink, Drink B (basil) Rapidly Infused Basil Tito's Vodka, Cucumber, Fresh Lemon Juice, Green tea Simple Syrup, and Grapefruit Bitters.  With this drink, we were hit with a cucumber start, a basil flavor, and a grapefruit finish, all of which I like and I really like Tito's Vodka, but I thought Drink A was done better.
Our basil dishes started with Scallop, Edward's Country Ham, Parisian Gnocchi, Basil, Lemon Ricotta, Radishes, and Sugar Snap Peas.  This was also a thoughtfully composed and flavorful dish and I really liked the gnocchi and the flavor combinations.
With Dish B, though, it also was well composed and flavorful with a variety of textures.  It started with Basil Poached Yellow Fin Tuna, Grilled Shishito Puree, Summer Ratatouille, and Basil Chips.  This was a good dish and I really liked the accompaniments that went with the tuna, but in the end, I liked the Scallop better than the Tuna, so I had to go with Dish A. 

While I did vote and a winner was chosen (Acadia in both the kitchen and in the bar), it was not revealed to us which restaurant was responsible for which dish.  While I can guess for some of the dishes (even though I have not officially dined at either restaurant, I have had tastings of their food at various benefits), I do not know for certain how I voted in regard to which restaurant I voted for for each drink and dish.  In any case, despite the fact that I left a little more drunk than I like to get on a night before a day that I have to work, I did have a lot of fun and look forward to going to both restaurants sometime in the future.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lillie's Q

I like barbecue and there are a lot of bbq places in Chicago.  There are many that aren't so great, but there are enough that are really good to be able to enjoy some good barbecue regularly.  I hadn't been to any barbecue places in a while and there was a place that I live relatively close to that I hadn't been to so I decided that place.  On paper, Lillie's Q should be one of the best barbecue places in the city, if not the best.  The pitmaster, Charlie McKenna, has been to Memphis in May several times, placed in the top 5 five years in a row, and actually came in 1st in 2007.  Cooking in a competition and cooking in a restaurant though, are two different things and while he does well in competition, there is more to running a restaurant than making good food.  I came for lunch one afternoon and was seated quickly at the bar.  The place is very rustic as are many barbecue joints and really, it fits.  While I was perusing the menu, I took a look at the beer list, which was pretty creative, and asked for a recommendation from the bartender who was very friendly and helpful.  I started out with an IPA which was pretty good and not as bitter a typical IPA.  After I ordered my barbecue, he bought me a tray of the sauces that they made and served.  I tried all of them on their own and decided that I liked the Carolina Gold (Mustard based) and Carolina (tomato and vinegar) best.  Ivory (a creamy pepper sauce) was very different.  Most were very good, although I didn't care for the ENC (Eastern North Carolinan) which was a little too thin for my liking.     
For my food, I decided to start out with some Fried Pickles which were served with a Ranch Sauce.  The pickles were breaded with a light tempura-type breading and were very hot when they hit my table.  When they cooled enough that I was able to taste them, I found that the pickles were vertically sliced, crisp and flavorful.  While the ranch dressing did add to the flavor of the dish, the pickles were good without it.
For my main course (and side), I would normally go with Baby Back Ribs so I can more easily compare them to other barbecue joints.  I did get Baby Back Ribs but I saw that they had a sampler plate called a Taste of LQ which included three meats.  With the Baby Back Ribs, I also got Tri-Tip, and Pulled Pork.  For my side, I went with Mac and Cheese.  I did try everything without added sauce and with a variety of different sauces and they were good with and without them.  I did like the mac and cheese with the Hot and Smoky Sauce.  As far as the meats were concerned, the ribs were best with the Carolina, the Tri-Tip (which was actually a little rare for my liking) was best with the Carolina Gold, and the Pulled Pork was best with the Smoky Sauce.  
 For my Dessert, I went with a standard Southern Dessert, a Bread Pudding.  It was a Brioche Bread Pudding, Golden Raisins, Candied Pecans, and Chocolate Bourbon Sauce.  While it was surprisingly dense, it was sweet, flavorful, and I really liked the bourbon chocolate sauce.  It was a good finish for a meal that ended up satisfying me for the rest of the day.

The barbecue here is very good, but ultimately, it is not my favorite.  I will say though, that the service was very good and helpful, they have a better dessert list, and a liquor license, so this may actually now be my favorite barbecue place.