Sunday, December 20, 2015

Oak + Char - Brunch

As I mentioned when I came the last time, it is interesting to see a familiar address in a different guise.  I came t, and really enjoyed Oak + Char for dinner, I decided to come and see how their brunch stacks up.  I will first state that while the dining room has a large window on one side, as it is on the south side of the dining room, if it is daylight, it makes little difference whether it is morning or afternoon/evening because the reflected light is about the same either way.    The menu had a variety of small plates and larger plates, they don't have as much an international flair as the dinner menu does.  The menu would not look unfamiliar to anyone that is familiar with brunch places.  They also don't have a lot of sweet on the menu.  They do have coffee, juice, and breakfast cocktails.  I had both a coffee and a cocktail.  Their coffee is Colombe and is very good.  I prefer my coffee black, so when I drink coffee, I would prefer if to be good and flavorful.  This is very much so.  For my breakfast cocktail, while they did have a Corpse Reviver #2 which is my favorite breakfast cocktail, I decided to go with a Beermosa, a beer and orange juice mixed drink, in this case, the beer was a New Belgium Snapshot, which is an unfiltered wheat beer with natural citrus flavors, and the beer was freshly squeezed.
For my main course, I went with Biscuits and Gravy, which used a biscuit that was crusty on the outside and very fluffy on the inside.  It was topped with perfectly cooked and seasoned Scrambled Eggs, and surrounded with Sausage Gravy.  Everything was very good individually and together and while I might have preferred a little more pepper in the gravy, that was a very small issue because if I had thought I could have gotten away with licking the pan, I would have.

I enjoyed brunch here, the food was very good, the staff was friendly and helpful, and the space looks nice.  Having said that, if I had to choose between going for brunch and going for dinner, I would choose dinner.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Club Lucky

In order to talk about this, I need to tell a story.  When I was growing up in Michigan, there was a really good Italian restaurant one town over from where I grew up, Terry & Jerry's O Sole Mio.  It was so good, as a matter of fact that it was recognized in the Michigan Mobil Travel Guide (the Zagat Guide of the time).  It was a great thing because we got to know some really good Italian food, but it was also kind of sad because when the owners retired and it closed, there really was no other Italian restaurant anywhere close.  We have visited the few Italian restaurants, in the Mid-Michigan area and have been disappointed, so I decided to look in Chicago for an Italian Restaurant that was similar in style.  There are a lot of really good Italian restaurants in Chicago, I wanted to find a neighborhood restaurant that felt like a family run place with a good menu and really good food.  I had heard about Club Lucky in Bucktown, a while ago, a friend, also from Mid-Michigan, lived around the corner from it and really liked it.  A coworker recently recommended it as well, so I finally decided to try it out.  As it's located in the neighborhood, it's a bit off the beaten path, and unless you are going there, it isn't somewhere you will pass by everyday, so it's pretty easy to slip your mind.  Located on a corner, it is easy to find, but it is a block off the main drag.  Arriving there, I had a small annoyance.  I am a cyclist and I like to lock up close to where I am going.  There were no bike racks in the area and the street signs around the building had "no bike parking" signs on them and there didn't look like there were any other street signs on that side of the street.  I ended up locking up across the street.   Entering the restaurant felt like going back in time.  Club Lucky was apparently a dance club in the 1940's and they have seemed to have kept the style.  (The bar side of the club was also a hardware store that hid a speakeasy during prohibition). The entrance is in the lounge area and you have to walk through the lounge to get to the dining room.  I sat in the lounge, which has the same menu as the main dining room because I didn't want to take up a two top with just myself in a busy restaurant.  While I didn't dine in there, I did take a look.  There were booths on one side and two tops on the other with larger round tables in the middle of the room.  The floor was tile, the walls were wallpapered, and the furniture was wood.  Everything had an old style to it.  As I was eating, I noticed that the restaurant had a lot of regulars that the staff knew and many of whom could order without looking at the menu.  While the menu was pretty classic and I probably could have picked a classic Italian dish that was on the menu, I wanted to see the breadth of what they had.  I started things off in the lounge with a cocktail, The Pamplemousse, the French word for Grapefruit.  It started with Creme de Pamplemousse and mixed with it, Hendrick's Gin, St. Germain, Lemon, and a fresh Thyme garnish.  As might be guessed, the drink has a strong grapefruit flavor.  It was very refreshing and I liked it.
For my appetizer, there were a few things that interested me.  There was calamari on the menu prepared three ways, but they were all for two.  While I was interested in them, if I had ordered calamari, I wouldn't have had room for anything else.  I decided to go with an Italian classic, Sausage and Peppers.  The sausages were large and were served with Red and Green Peppers and Tomatoes in a White Wine Brodu (Vegetable Broth).  There were also pieces of garlic that were so tender that chewing was pretty unnecessary.  It was flavorful, the Italian sausage was spicy (although one was a little overcooked) and the vegetables were tender, sweet and flavorful.  It was also a pretty large serving which made me wonder how I was going to feel at the end of the meal.
The standard Italian menu is set up in four sections, the antipasti (appetizers), pasta, the entrees that aren't pasta, and dessert.  I knew going in that I wasn't going to get something from every section and while the pasta is supposed to be handmade every day and very good, I was interested in what they did other than pasta.  I was hoping to find something that wasn't pasta, but had pasta served as a side.  I succeeded.  I went with the Veal Francese, Breaded Veal Cutlets served with Mushrooms and Butter in a White Wine Sauce over Pappardelle Pasta.  I like veal in any case, but this veal was very good.  It was very tender and flavorful in the buttery wine sauce and there were a lot of very good mushrooms.
When I was ordering, I thought, I've ordered 2 orders of meat, I should probably get a vegetable, so i ordered a side of Broccoli.  What I didn't expect was to be served an entire bush.  It was very freah and green and lightly coated in melted butter.  It was also a lot bigger than I expected.  I did eat it all, but at this point, I knew that dessert was going to be an effort.
 Frequently with dessert, if a restaurant has a good Amaro list, I will frequently order an Amaro as a digestif.  As Amaro are Italian, it shouldn't be a surprise that they have a good Amaro list.  I decided to go with Averna.  It is sweet, thick, and has a gently herbal bitterness, with a caramel finish.  It went down very smoothly and went well with dessert.
While most people think of Tiramisu or Cannoli when they think of Italian desserts, and these were on the menu, the dessert that I chose was a classic in it's own right.  I went with Profiteroles which were filled with Housemade Vanilla Ice Cream, topped with Hot Fudge, and sprinkled with Powdered Sugar.  Profiteroles are basically cream puffs.  The pastry was light and airy, the ice cream was sweet, with a good vanilla flavor, and what more can be said about hot fudge.  I finished very full and satisfied.  I enjoyed my meal here and would definitely keep it in mind for classic Italian fare. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spritzburger - Brunch

I would say that I had been to Spritzburger before, but that is not precisely true.  I had been to its predecessor, Hearty for both brunch and dinner (while I did take pictures for brunch, I didn't actually blog about it.  Spritzburger is in the same location as Hearty was and has the same owner/chefs, the culinary team The Hearty Boys, but they have added an award winning Pastry Chef, Gale Gand, and their dinner menu has become more burger and housemade soda, instead of comfort food, focused.  Walking into the new restaurant, I noticed that while there were a few changes, it was still very similar to Hearty.  The color scheme is still light blue although the wallpaper on the back wall has changed and a large image of a chipmunk drinking a soda was added.  The wallpaper actually creeped me out a little.  It is a classic design that is either a bee or a flower, but if you look at it a certain way, it could also be an evil clown.  The white tablecloths that had been on the tables are now removed.  The classic bar is still in the dining room and, in addition to the sodas, the cocktails are also bubble based.  They also list a carbonated Malort shot on their menu which I think would be about the worst way that you could serve Malort because it would allow the flavor to linger, but that's me.  The brunch menu has not changed monumentally (the chocolate french toast is no longer on the menu), but that was kind of expected because there are some standards that are expected on a brunch menu.  We started things off with some Cheese Curds which were White Cheddar and breaded with Cornflakes and served with a Red Pepper and Artichoke Dipping Sauce.  The cheese was good and the breading had a nice crunch to it.  The curds themselves though, did not squeak when you bit into them.  This is a minor point because they did taste good, but the best cheese curds squeak even after being fried.  The dipping sauce though was perfect and I would have eaten it on its own.  It had a nice pepper flavor with a slightly tart finish from the artichoke.  There was also a pronounced garlic flavor and a chunky texture which very much complemented the artichoke and pepper flavors.
For my "main course", I had a spin on a shepherds pie called, surprisingly enough, the Shepherds Pie Redux.  It included a Cheddar Scallion Scramble, Sausage Gravy, and Root Vegetable Hashbrowns.  It was also served with a Biscuit and some excellent Strawberry Butter.  The hashbrowns were crisped and finely shredded, so I really couldn't tell if there was more than root vegetable in the hash.  I could definitely say though, due to the sweetness, that there was definitely sweet potatoes in it.  The cheddar scallion scramble was like an omelette buried under the hashbrowns and the sausage gravy added some meaty flavor.  There was, however, very little actual sausage in the gravy which would have been an improvement.  It was good, it could have been better.  It was nice to see the transformation of the space.  The food was still good and the staff was friendly and I will definitely make back for dinner.          

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fork - Beer Dinner Benefiting LLS

Fork is rapidly becoming one of my favorite neighborhood dinners.  There normal menu is pretty good, but the chef here is also very creative and is able to come up with a menu that is both local, seasonal, and pairs well with what the diners are drinking.  I recently attended a benefit dinner for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that Fork held with several local and regional breweries.  The dinner was held in the side dining room where I had previously dined.  We were seated this time at a long table in the middle of the room and has been the case in many instances, we were seated with industry people.  After seeing the number of industry people at the dinner though, it really wasn't a huge surprise.  We were served a six or seven course meal (depending on whether you counted the food or beer courses) and five of the seven breweries sent representatives and we were seated with two of them (as well as a wine distributor that was just there to enjoy the dinner).  As I said depending if you counted the beer or the food, we were served a six or seven course meal.  We were served one more beer than food course although the first beer served, Half Acre Golden Tuna Pale Ale, very definitely has a food name.  It is a sessionable American Pale Ale at 4.7% ABV with a clear golden color and flavors of citrus, pineapple, floral, and pine.  It was light, crisp, something you could drink all day, and a nice start.
Our first food course was a Roasted Scallop served with Banana Aioli and topped with Sesame Seeds.  While I have little issue with trying anything, I might question how something might work in my head before trying it.  I like scallops and this one was perfectly roasted, but I was puzzled about the Banana Aioli.  While it did sound like an unusual combination, it actually worked well and actually had flavors of a Big Mac, especially with the sesame seeds.  The Big Mac scallop was paired with Revolution Bottom Up Wit, a local Belgian-style Wit with flavors of orange and coriander, which went well with both scallops and burgers.

While it did have a very complex name, the next course wasn't as complex as it sounded.  We were served a Delice de Bourgogne and Caramelized Onion Tart with Basil Pistou.  The caramelized onions were served on a layered pastry shell with the pistou, a sauce similar to pesto, but without nuts that combined the basil with the Delice de Bourgogne.  The pastry was crisp and very flaky and the onions were sweet and tender.  Delice de Bourgogne is a French cow's milk cheese from the Burgundy region of France that is soft and very creamy with an aroma of mushrooms near the rind.  Over the onions and the pistou, the tart was topped with microgreens that added to the vegetal flavor of the dish.  It was paired with 10-Ninety Pink Tie Saison, a golden Belgian-Style Farmhouse Ale with part of the proceeds already going for cancer research.
The next course was surprisingly one of my favorite courses.  It was a Rye Crusted Salmon with a California Bay Leaf Gastrique that was paired with Atlas Rookery Rye IPA.  The salmon filet was pressed into the rye and pan fried until crisp.  Salmon, Rye, and Gastriques all have strong flavors, but while they were all there, they played together nicely.  The salmon was distinctively salmon, but without a fishy flavor.  The gastrique provided some tartness with the bay leaf adding some herbal flavoring that paired well with the rye and the rye provided some sweetness without the typical rye bitterness.  The Atlas Rye IPA was bitter as an IPA will be with citrus and floral hop flavors and a dry finish.
The next course, while I liked it, seemed to split the crowd.  It was a Wild Mushroom Flan with Arugula, Fennel, and Pistachio Pesto.  The flavors were very fresh and distinctive, but from what I understood, the problem was not precisely a flavor issue, but a textural one.  Admittedly, there were a few people who didn't like mushrooms, for whom this was a lost dish.  Other people couldn't get past a savory flan.  I like mushrooms and I have no problem with savory flans, so this was not an issue at all.  The flan was creamy and had a nice and strong mushroom flavor, that went well with the fresh arugula, fennel, and pistachios.  The beer served with it, New Holland Carhartt Woodsman Barrel Aged Pale Ale, a sessionable (4.4% ABV) Pale Ale made with Michigan Cascade Hops with a malt sweetness and a nice oak flavor.  
Our last savory course was a Coffee Rubbed Brisket with a Puffed Farro Salad and Mole Sauce.  This was probably one of the room favorite dishes.  The brisket, cooked 12 hours, was very tender and flavorful.  The farro was light and crispy and served with arugula and a light vinaigrette and the mole had a sweet and spicy flavor that went well with the brisket.  The beer, Arcade Brewery Mega Milk Stout an oatmeal milk stout with creamy chocolate and coffee flavors that amazingly well with everything.
Most of the time dessert is a win and this time was no exception.  We were served a Honey Brioche Bread Pudding which just sounds ridiculous by itself.  The bread pudding was topped with a Hop Caramel and a Grapefruit Gelato.  Brioche is a rich bread that is brushed with an egg wash before it's baked.  Add honey to that, and it's dessert by itself.  The hop caramel was sweet with a bitter hop aftertaste that brought the bread pudding and the bitter citrus flavor of the grapefruit together.  With the flavors here, I could see this pairing very well with an IPA which is what was done.  The beer pairing was Tyranena Balling the Queen Honey IPA, an seasonal Imperial IPA (9% ABV, 100 IBU) with a citrus flavor and a very bitter finish.  It was a great finish to a very good dinner for a very good cause.  I enjoyed the food, beer, and company and will happily return for their next beer dinner.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Red Door

While I had been to Red Door before, it was for a special beer dinner and we ate in the private dining room in the back.  I had never eaten at Red Door for a regular dinner so I thought I would try it out.  I had been to the address previously in its previous incarnation as Duchamp which I really liked.  I also liked the beer dinner that I had attended and I had heard good things about it, including the fact that they have a great courtyard for outdoor dining in the summertime and they do a good brunch, but I will have to find this out at a later date.  As you might expect, with a name like Red Door, the entrance is a big red door.  The dining room however is not red.  It is, in fact very rustic and uses a lot of wood.  There is a hardwood floor and a long wood bar opposite the entrance.  Other than the bar, which uses gray steel bar stools for seating, there is a banquette with a high wooden back to match with the floor and tables.  The walls behind the bar and behind the banquette, as well as the ceiling, are light green, which, I think is what they were in Duchamp.  There is also some antique brick as the wall to the courtyard entrance.  Light is supplied from a window at the front of the bar and hanging lights over the bar and the banquette tables.  Because I was by myself and it is kind of a small space, I decided to sit at the bar and leave a table open for prospective diners.  I decided to start with some Fried Cheese Curds which were served with a Spicy Aioli.  I like cheese curds and do try them frequently, but these were different.  Obviously they were fried and cheesy, but many were unusually shaped and they were some of the lightest cheese curds that I have had.  It was like eating cheese flavored clouds.  The spicy aioli was also very nice.  It was a great texture, not too thick to dip the curds or too thin to stick to them and it had a nice spicy garlic flavor that reminded me of Sriracha which went well with the cheese curds.
My next course, which was also sort of an appetizer really reminded me of Peru.  It was Red Quinoa, which was what reminded me of Peru as it's a staple there, served with Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms and more Spicy Aioli.  It was crisp, crunchy and very fresh tasting.  While I liked the quinoa and the Brussels sprouts, what really made this dish were the mushrooms, which added the nice savory and earthy flavors that mushrooms bring.  While the vegetables would have been fine as they were, the aioli added some spice and acted as a sauce to tie things together.
For my entree, I went with a Bulgogi Barbecue Short Rib which was served with Housemade Kimchi.  The short rib was tender, although not fall off the bone tender.  While they were tender enough to tear off the bone, I preferred to be a little more civilized and used a knife and fork.  The Bulgogi stuck to the pork and had a nice spicy sweet-sour flavor that you might expect from a barbecue sauce that uses soy sauce, chili paste, ginger and sugar.  The kimchi was funky and spicy and had a nice crispness to it.  It was a good dish that fused American Midwestern and Korean cuisines.

I would normally get dessert after a nice meal out, but Red Door has a  limited dessert menu, they normally serve pie from Bang Bang Pie Shop, but on the night that I went, they had run out and hadn't gotten a delivery.  I left a little disappointed without pie.  While I was disappointed about dessert, I did like the food that I did get and when I return, I will make alternate plans to get dessert elsewhere if I can't get it there.       

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fat Rice - Kill Grill Hauted Izakaya Halloween Dinner

It has taken me a few weeks to put up, but I went to a themed Halloween dinner at Fat Rice this Halloween.  Every time I have gone there, I have really liked Fat Rice.  I also like themed dinners and Halloween can be one of the most creative.  This year, they dressed up the restaurant (and themselves) to go with a Kill Bill theme, calling their restaurant Kill Grill, A Haunted Izakaya.  I am a fan of Quentin Tarantino's movies, but the Kill Bills were my least favorite.  I did, however, think that it would make a great theme, so I decided to check it out.  As Fat Rice is a Macanese restaurant, it wasn't a huge stretch to go for a Japanese theme, about the only thing they did to the restaurant was to add a few weapons hanging on the walls.  The staff also dressed as various characters in the movie which was pretty cool.  At our table setting, we were given a menu and a handwritten kill list for the characters that were killed.  All of the courses were matched to the individual killed.  Kill Bill was a very gruesome movie and between that and the fact that it was Halloween, I expected the dishes to have a bit of a macabre look to them.  I was not disappointed when our Amuse Bouche came out.  It was billed as a Bloody Eyeball, which is what it looked like, but consisted of a Poached Onion with Lychee and Beet Juice.  It was very gruesome looking, but it did taste good. 

All of our courses were accompanied by drinks which most of the time, came out first.    The first course/kill was Budd and our first drink was called Budd's Shift Drink and was actually a spin on a Boilermaker with a shot of Whiskey, a Pickleback, and a Tiger Lager.  I am not a huge fan of drinking a shot of straight whiskey but the pickleback helped it go down and the Tiger is a light Asian Lager.  For our first course, we were served Yakitori, or skewers, with Tongue (Chicken), Ears (Mushrooms), Finger (Korean Finger Pepper), and Blood (More Beet Juice).  Again it did look pretty gruesome, but they were all pretty good.  The pepper was of the non-hot variety and while it looked like a finger on a stick, it tasted similar to a grilled green pepper.  The mushrooms were like little bites of wonderfulness. and while the chicken had the general shape of a tongue, it still tasted and looked like chicken.

After Budd was Elle Driver.  The drink was called Miserable Old Fool and the course was Nigiri.  The drink was a combination of Sake, Peach Liqueur, Lemon, and Sriracha.  I am generally not a fan of sake or peach liqueur on their own, but their combination. along with the lemon and sriracha, mediated the worst influences of the other.  It wasn't too bad, but it probably isn't going to be drinking on a regular basis.  The Nigiri was interesting and did some things that I hadn't previously seen in sushi.  The first was a Torched Pork Fat Furoso, essentially bacon on a bed of rice.  It was rich and flavorful, and despite the general unhealthiness of it, I would definitely have it again.  Then there was the Charlie Brown Pepperoni Pizza which I will guess they gave the name because it was small and had only a couple of pepperonis on a layer of cheese, rice, and tomato.  I'm not sure how it held together, but it was definitely a pizza on rice and I liked it.  We then had what was called Fish Entrails.  I am not sure what this was, it did not taste fishy, and it was served with a rice cracker with the seaweed rolled rice topped with sesame and served on the side.

When Elle was dispatched with, we continued to Bill for which we were served a drink called Blood and Guts and an Exploding Heart Bun.  The drink was the simple part of this as it was Beet Vodka and Virtue Offalgood Cider (a collaboration between Virtue Cider and Chris Cosentino, a chef who knows much about offal, that contains nothing but apples and wild yeast).  Because of the difference in densities, the vodka floated on top, giving it a two tone color, which also had a very nice head.  The exploding heart bun reminded me of a large round pastie.  It was firm and had a crusty exterior, but it did sort of explode when it was cut open.  It had Five Points (Star Anise) with Chicken, Mushrooms, Glass Noodle, Carrots, Almonds and was also seasoned with Ginger and Cinnamon.  It was very good and was definitely my favorite course up to that point.  (Spoiler:  It ended up being my favorite course of the meal).
We continued to O-Ren Ishii with a Poisoned Fish Head and a glass of wine, Vina Mein Ribeiro, 2014 (that I forgot to photograph).  The poisoned fish head, though, I definitely remembered to photograph.  Yes, that is a real fish head served whole.  Thankfully, the eyes were removed.  In the mouth of the fish were a couple of Sticky Rice Balls with a ribbon of Carrot and Fennel.  We were told not to eat the tongue, but that wasn't a huge issue.  They also told us that most of the meat was around the cheeks and collar.  We were also given a heaping bowl of rice to go with the fish head.  I will say that the rice was a heck of a lot easier to eat than was the fish head.  Having said that, the fish head actually did taste good (initially) and I ate more than many of the people I was sitting around.  I even ate the brain which I really didn't plan on or really think about.  The flavor wasn't significantly different than was the rest of the fish, but it was much creamier.  After eating the fish head for a few minutes, we started getting a numbness in our lips and tongue.  This freaked out some of the diners and we were told that this was the poison on the fish head before telling us that it was Szechuan Peppercorns which I was guessing.  I had never had Szechuan Peppercorns, but I had read about them and found it a very intriguing experience.

The fish head was our last savory course and we finished our dinner/murder spree with Vernita Green.  The drink looked interesting, but the dessert looked a little disappointing.  The drink was called Tea Time for Vernita and contained Ninja (an energy drink), 1/2 and 1/2, Lemon, Angostura Amaro, and Black Tea served in a tea cup.  It tasted like Earl Gray with cream and a little alcohol and I enjoyed it.  I did just sip it initially which was a good thing, because unbeknownst to me, I was going to need it.  Dessert looked pretty unassuming and frankly pretty underwhelming.  It was however named Kaboom!  Revenge is a Dish Best Served Cold so I was a little on my guard.  Our dessert came out in a cereal bowl and looked for all the world like a bowl of Fruit Loops.  The cereal tasted like what it looked like, but instead of using milk, it used yogurt that was a little spicy.  I was pretty underwhelmed until I came across a gelee a few bites in.  It tasted sweet at first, but very quickly exploded to something very hot.  It turned out to be a Lychee Gelee with a drop of Ghost Pepper and you could definitely tell when diners came across it.  There was a look of terror and shock and you could see several people wondering whether they should eat it.  The kitchen was watching the dining room and had a laugh when diners found the gelee.  Luckily, while it was pretty hot, the heat dissipated quickly.  It was a surprising end to a good and very creative meal.  I was glad I came and really enjoyed the food, the staff and my fellow diners.  As a Treat for the Tricks that the restaurant played, they gave us a Chinese take out box filled with a Sesame Cookie, a Crispy Rice Treat, and several hard candies.  I'm glad I came, it was a lot of fun, and I will definitely return.            

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sauce and Bread Kitchen, The Stew - Day of the Dead Dinner

Underground Supper Clubs are a lot of fun.  You get to have some pretty good food at a place that may not necessarily be a restaurant.  While there are several that require a membership, there are also many that you can go to if you know about it and pre-pay.  Sauce and Bread Kitchen, a cafe and coffee shop in Rogers Park that also makes Co-op Hot Sauce, holds a monthly dinner called The Stew, varying themes every month.  Most of the time the dinners they hold are at the cafe, but sometimes they are elsewhere.  This month they did a dinner in their cafe based on The Mexican Day of the Dead celebration.  The cafe is small with a coffee bar on one side and seating for about 40 people.  Because they were celebrating the Day of the Dead, there were many calaveras and other Day of the Dead art throughout the dining room.  The meal started with Pan de Muerto, a traditional Mexican bread that had a skull and crossbones design in Sesame on it.  It was served on a board as a common dish with Head Cheese, Cornichons, Sambal, Castelvetrano Olives, and Quince Preserves.  The bread was soft and slightly sweet with a nice crust and a good texture.  It tore very nicely and it went well with the head cheese which had a nice pork flavor.  While I did try everything individually, what worked best for me was to eat the head cheese and sambal with the bread, finish with a pickle, and eat the olives and quince on the side.  It all had a good flavor and it was a nice start for the meal.
The rest of the dishes were served individually.  The next dish was a spin on a Ceviche.  It was served in a clear glass bowl and contained Hamachi, Grapefruit, Radish, Carrot, Star Fruit, and Black Bean Miso Powder.  The hamachi and grapefruit were both about the same color, and while they were both very tender, unless you looked closely, you really couldn't tell them apart until you put them in your mouth.  The black bean miso powder provided a savory flavor, and the radish and carrots added a nice crunch.  While it did taste good, the only real complaint I had about it was that there wasn't enough liquid that might have added a citrus flavor.
We continued with fish for our next course with Smoked Halibut.  The halibut was ground and texturally looked like the tuna fish that you might have on top of a salad although the color was different.  It was served with a Salsa Verde Reduction, Fried Huitlacoche, and Wood Sorel Micro "Greens" (I use quotes because the Wood Sorel wasn't actually green, but purple).  The huitlacoche was crispy with a flavor like a cross between corn and mushrooms.  The halibut was tender and flavorful with the salsa verde adding some tang and a little heat.  The sorel provided a little vegetal flavor, bringing the fish and salsa flavors together with the huitlacoche.
Our final savory course was Lechon Asado or Roast Pork.  In this case it was a Crispy Pork Belly served with a Chuicharron, Roast Pumpkin "Polenta", Pepitas, Pickled Green Tomatoes, Red Onions, and Micro Greens.  The pork was very good, but this very much tasted like Fall.  All of the vegetables really, provided a late fall flavor which really went well with the pork flavors from the pork belly and the crispy chicharron.
For our dessert, we had a very Mexican pastry, a Concha, a shell shaped sweet bread that uses two types of dough, which served as the outside of an Ice Cream Sandwich along with Cider Syrup.  It was sweet and dense with a couple of textures and ice cream.  The cider syrup added some tartness to something that would have just simply been sweet.  It was a nice finish to a dinner that, while not stereotypically Mexican, used a lot of Mexican ingredients and techniques.  The dinner was a lot of fun, and I would happily to return to try other dinners.  


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Deleece - Brunch

When I first went to Deleece last year, I noted that their takes on American classics, while good were not great and while it was a good place to start an evening, it was not a destination restaurant.  This isn't glowing approval, but I thought it good enough that I would return.  This time, I decided to join some friends for brunch.  On the way in, I got caught in a rainstorm and arrived dripping wet.  I apologized and did try to dry myself in the bathroom, but my coat still caused a small pond on the dining room floor.  I have to credit the waitstaff for being both forgiving and accommodating to this because they did have to clean up puddles coming from my coat a couple of times.  While I was a little embarrassed, their wasn't a lot I could do about it and the staff took it stride, so I really appreciate that.  As I mentioned before, the dining room is a big rectangular room with a front window wall, white ceilings, antique brick walls, and old theater posters on the walls.  The entrance is off the entrance to the Mercury Theater, which is next door and the large, dark, vintage-looking bar is on the same wall as the entrance.  As is tradition for my brunches, I was able to order something sweet for the table to start things off.  In this case, it was Beignets, french pastries that are very popular in New Orleans that are very similar to yeast doughnut holes.  These beignets were a little smaller than the ones that I have seen elsewhere, but that was okay because they were the right size to make a simple bite of wonderfulness.  They were yeasty, and covered with powdered sugar and maple syrup and a great way to start things.
While the brunch menu was not exceptionally creative, it did make up for that by offering a pretty good variety.  They have a variety the standard eggs and bacon, pancakes, and frittatas (instead of omelettes), and a variety of sandwiches including a lobster roll served in a split top bun and a breakfast burrito.  I went with a Breakfast Sandwich with Housemade Sausage, Scrambled Eggs, Arugula, Roasted Red Peppers, and Dijon Mayo on a Brioche Bun which was served with Roasted Red Potatoes.  The sandwich was very flavorful.  There seemed to be a lot of red pepper in the sausage and the scrambled eggs were perfectly cooked.  The brioche bun, though, made the sandwich.  The potatoes were liberally spiced, well cooked, and provided a good finish to the dish.

Despite the wet start, I really enjoyed my meal here.  The staff was very accommodating and friendly and the food was very good.  Again, this is not a destination place, but it is a good place to make a start from.     

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Belly Q

I have met Chef Bill Kim on many occasions and have had and liked his food at many venues and many occasions.  I have been to his Asian Latin Street Food Fusion Restaurant, Belly Shack, his Pan-Asian Noodle Shop, Urban Belly, and have seen him at several benefits and special dinners, but I had not been to his premiere restaurant, bellyQ, a higher end spin on Korean Barbecue, until recently.  Admittedly, when it opened, I was a little upset because it took the place of a favorite restaurant of mine, one sixtyblue.  I like Bill Kim's food and the former Chef, Michael McDonald, moved on, so I got over it.  When I went to belly Q, though, I definitely still saw one sixtyblue.  If the same building is going to be used for two different venues, you will definitely see similarities.  With bellyQ, the color scheme was different, using tans and browns, the ceiling is unfinished, and the furniture is different, but the location of the kitchen, dining room and lounge are in the same place.  There are also grills located at the front of the restaurant so diners can grill their meats the way they might want them.  I came during happy hour and they had appetizer specials if you dined in the lounge, so that's where I ate.  I sat in a very comfortable high backed leather arm chair and used a side table as my dining table.  I started things off with a cocktail called a Kill Bill, Vol. 1 which used Sudachi Shochu (a Japanese distilled liquor using sudachi, a tart citrus fruit from Japan, and molasses), Passionfruit Drinking Vinegar, Mezcal, and Aloe.  It was tart and smoky with a little sweetness at the end and was very good.
For my appetizer, I went with a dish called Lamb Buns.  What I expected was a Bao, but that was not what I got at all.  What I got were essentially build your own sandwiches.  The buns were fluffy on the inside, but they were crispy and browned on the outside.  The Lamb was ground and grilled and served with Spiced Yogurt, Cucumber, Onion, Mint, and  Peppers.  It was spicy, very good, and kind of reminded me of something you might find in Greece or the Eastern Mediterranean.
For my entree, as this is a barbecue, I decided to go with my usual for barbecues and ordered Baby Back Ribs with Housemade Hoisin Barbecue Sauce, Green Onions, and Bacon Crumble.  The ribs were super tender and the hoisin barbecue sauce was sweet and spicy with a tang at the end.  While I am sure the ribs spent some time next to some flame, I have to think it spent most of its time in an oven.  Most meat that has spent significant time in a smoker, while it is tender, it has some texture to it, and the meat has some pull on the bones.  These ribs were fall off the bone tender and there really wasn't a pink ring on the meat.  It was pretty good, but it really wasn't something that you could compare to smoked ribs.
The side I ordered with the ribs was a combination of a barbecue standard and a Korean standard, Warm Kimchi Potato Salad. In addition to the Fermented Cabbage and the Potatoes, the salad included Horseradish, Onion, and Cilantro.  The potatoes were mild, but that was more than made up by the pungentness of the cabbage and the spiciness of the horseradish.  The combination referenced both barbecue and Asian food well without reducing influence of either group.
At this point, I was finished with my savory dishes and I would have normally expected my waitress to bring me a dessert menu.  I had looked at the dessert menu online and I noticed a lot of dishes included ice cream.  Several looked interesting, but I wasn't going to make a decision until I actually saw the menu.  My waitress/bartender did not bring me a dessert menu though.  What she did do though, was to come to my table, tell me I looked like I needed a dessert, and brought me a dessert that was not listed on on the dessert menu that I saw online.  She brought me what she told me was her favorite dessert which was a Bread Pudding topped with White Chocolate Mousse Ice Cream, Oatmeal, and Soy Salted Caramel.  If that wasn't good enough, she said that it was on her.  It would have been really good as it was, but free it was even better.

I really enjoyed my meal here.  Even without the discounts, the service was very good as was the food.  I really enjoyed myself and will be sure to bring friends.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

River Roast

As odd as it sounds, when considering a new restaurant, the name is a major consideration.  There is a restaurant that opened up last year on the Chicago River and had some bid names behind it (Restauranteur, Tony Mantuano and Chef, John Hogan).  Despite the chefs and their backgrounds, I found the name of the restaurant, River Roast, to be one of the most uninteresting names they could come up with.  Since it has opened, I had heard a lot of good things about the food, and I had had several of Chef John Hogan's Terrines at various benefits which were really good, but I just couldn't get past the name.  The restaurant is located on the north side of the Chicago River, and in fact, has a great patio view of the river.  While the entrance of the restaurant is at street level (obviously) the dining room is downstairs at river level.  We were not on the patio, but we were at a table inside that overlooked the patio.  The wall facing the patio was all glass and looked like it could be opened on warm days (The day on which we visited was definitely not warm, but there were still a few brave souls sitting on the patio).  Our table, like many of the tables in the place was a 4 top hi top and while we did manage, it was really too small for the amount of food that we ordered.  It could have folded out to make a bigger table, but as I said, we managed.  While Chef Hogan is known for his charcuterie, we started things out with a couple of things that were definitely not charcuterie, a Scotch Egg with Pickled Red Onions and Pickled Mustard Seed, and Shrimp and Crab Toast.  I really like Scotch Eggs and this one was done exceptionally well.  It starts with a boiled egg, this one was soft boiled.  It is then wrapped in sausage, breaded and fried.  It has a crispy crust with well cooked sausage and a flavorful egg in the middle.  The mustard and onions added some tartness to the dish which was very much enjoyed.  The Shrimp and Crab Toast was a mixture of finely chopped shrimp and crab with Avocado served on some nice crispy wedges of toast.

For our next selections, we went with Golden Gobbets, which were Crispy Fried Chicken Nuggets served with Honey, and Hogan's Charcuterie, which was the Chef's choice of Charcuterie.   The Golden Gobbets were served in a square basket lined with kraft paper (I imagine to soak up the extra grease) which sat on a board with a jar of golden honey.  They were crispy and tender, and had a great fried chicken flavor that had sweetness added when the honey was added.  The chicken was very good, so the honey was really unnecessary, but it did add to it when used lightly.  The charcuterie plate was a thing of beauty.  It contained 5 "cuts" of meat, Breseola, a dried and salted beef sausage, Head Cheese, a terrine containing scraps from the head of a calf or pig and set in aspic, a Pheasant Terrine, a Duck and Fig Terrine, and Pickled Veal Tongue.  In adition, it was served with Toasted Bread, Cranberries, Cornichons, and two types of mustard.  It was great.  The meats had a variety of flavors and textures and were good with or without the accompaniments.
After all of this, we got on to the roasts, the main courses which, while on three boards, were brought out and sliced on a single tray.  Most of the roasts were for two people, although one, the 8 oz serving of Roast Beef served with Horseradish, Jus, and a Popover, was an 8 oz serving for a single person.  We also ordered a Rack of Pork, which was served with Cider Vinegar and Apple Smoked Cornbread, and Branzino, a Roasted Fish served with Mediterranean Chips, a higher end spin on Fish and Chips.  We also ordered a side of RR Potatoes which were pan fried and crispy and presented in the pan.
The Roast Beef was rare and tender, the popover was tall and fluffy, and the horseradish and jus, added a nice finish to the meat.
The Rack of Pork was presented sliced with the Cider Vinegar already added and the bones to the side for anyone that happened to want to gnaw on a bone. There was some cider vinegar left for anyone that thought that it needed more, but it was very good as it was.  This may have been my favorite meat.  The cornbread was sweet with the slightest hint of applewood smoke.
The fish was presented as a whole  breaded fish on a skewer.  We ended up eating it, basically, by pulling pieces off.  While it was mostly deboned, we kind of had to watch it with small bones around the head and tail.  It was very good.  The meat was tender and flavorful and I actually surprised myself a little by working on the head after everyone else had finished with it.
While we did have a lot to eat, not having dessert was not an option.  On the dessert menu was Ice Cream, Pudding, a selection of Bundt Cakes, and a Dessert Terrine, what I saw though was the Fat Elvis, A Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie with a Peanut, Pretzel, and Graham Cracker Crust and topped with Pretzels and Dried Bananas.  The peanut butter and chocolate were actually in separate layers, with the chocolate on the bottom having the consistency of fudge and the creamy peanut butter on top.  It was a great pie and a great way to finish the meal.

While I really liked dinner here, the food was great, as was the service and the great view, if I were to return here, I would make sure to have someone with me because their food is made for sharing and for the most part, it really isn't conducive to dining alone.