Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tanta - Brunch

In my mind, Peru was doing fusion cuisine before it became popular.  The country has had many immigrations and with those, they have integrated the cuisine into the cuisine of Peru.  One of the best chef's to show this is world famous Peruvian chef, Gaston Acurio, who has a restaurant in Chicago, Tanta and loves to teach the world about the cuisine of Peru.  I have been to Tanta before and really enjoyed it.  I decided to return for brunch before I make an upcoming trip to Peru and use it as sort of preview.  The restaurant is sort of linear with a long bar running into the restaurant with a ceviche bar at the end of it.  There is a two-sided banquette in the center of the restaurant with booth seating on the right side of the restaurant.  The wall behind the bar is a chalkboard with the recipe for a Pisco Sour, the national drink of Peru written large on it.  On the opposite wall is a series of very colorful paintings typifying the art and food of Peru.  Other than the paintings and the chalkboard, the general color scheme of the dining room is brown and the lighting is hung in a wooden ovoid cage.  We were seated at the banquette and started our brunch with a Leche de Tigre Ceviche.  (The picture above is not a picture that I shot or, I think, from Tanta Chicago.  I posted it to give people an example of what a Leche de Tigre Ceviche looks like.)  Ceviche is a preparation of raw fish,seafood, onions, and spices that is "cooked" (tenderized, actually) with lime juice.  I like ceviche and I have had Leche de Tigre (Tiger's Milk) Ceviche before although not at Tanta, so I wasn't exactly sure what I would be getting.  We received a glass of milky white liquid filled with seafood and onions and corn, which actually, we kind of ate wrong.  It is supposed to be eaten like a shooter, pouring everything down at one.  As it was, we kind of took things apart and were left with the marinade which I then shot.  The ceviche had Cubed Fish, Red Onions, Peruvian Corn, Habanero Pepper, and a lot of liquid.  Even though we did eat it wrong, there was still a lot of marinade on the fish, corn, and onions, which provided an intensely sour flavor and tender fish.  I drank the marinade on it's own and I could see why that people would think that it provided prowess and energy, because drinking that much lime juice at once definitely woke me up and cleansed my palate.
Our next starter were called Los Picarones.  They were Warm Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Fritters served with Spiced Chancaca Syrup (a syrup made from unrefined Cane Syrup) and topped with Powdered Sugar.  The fritters looked like deep fried doughnuts, round and with a hole in the middle.  This could also be expected of pumpkin fritters, I guess, because they are essentially hollow.  In any case, they were crunchy, and sweet, with a squash texture and a pumpkin flavor.  The Chancaca syrup had a caramel flavor that went really well with the fritters, and they were enjoyed a lot, both with and without the syrup.
For my main course, I went with a spin on a very popular breakfast dish, or I should probably say a spin on several popular breakfast dishes.  The dish was called Chicharron Waffles and consisted of Belgian Waffles, Crispy Pork Belly glazed with Panca Chili Honey, and a fresh Berry Compote with Strawberries, Blackberries, and Raspberries and topped with a little Powdered Sugar.  The waffle was thick, with a crunchy exterior and a light and airy interior.  The pork belly was also very thick with a crispy skin.  The meat itself was fork tender, and sweet like good pork is supposed to be.  The glaze was subtle, but it was there, and it added a sweet and slightly spicy flavor that went well with the pork belly and tied well with the fruit compote.  The fruit was very fresh and tasty, although it did make me wonder where it came from as they were not growing in the midwest in February.  Despite the fact though, that the berries were not midwest seasonal, it was very good and a very good finish to my meal.  The food was very good, the staff was very friendly, and I will definitely have to return, after I return from my trip to Peru.     

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Francesco's Bistro

Years ago, there was a very good Italian Restaurant in Mid-Michigan called Terry and Jerry's O Sole Mio located in Bay City.  It was good enough to be recognized by the Mobil Travel Guide.  It was a family run place and they loved what they did.  After a time, the owner and chef decided that they wanted to retire and sold the place.  This unfortunately caused the quality to suffer and it eventually closed.  This brought those of us that had dined there several times to the realization that there really wasn't much in the way of good Italian restaurants in the area.  There were a few places around that served Italian food, but it seems that they were all aiming for the quality and authenticity of Olive Garden.  There have been several places that have been searched out by my family and all have disappointed.  Recently it has come to the attention of my family in Michigan that there might be a few places in the area that might serve good Italian food.  Both are in small towns in the surrounding area.  Unfortunately, one is only open for a few hours a week so we decided to try the other one for a recent family celebration.  Francesco's Bistro is located on the main road in a small town in mid-Michigan   It's a relatively large stand alone building that is fairly easy to find.  The dining room looks very much like any number of country restaurants, although it does have several Italian design elements.  The menu was very large, with many Italian classic selections plus pizza but we before we even ordered, we were presented with a loaf of Italian Bread with Olive Oil and Herbs.  The bread seemed very fresh and had a crusty outside and soft inside like a good, fresh bread.  This seemed t0 bode very well for the restaurant quality.  Our waitress was nice and friendly so we already knew that we had that covered.
The table then ordered several appetizers with the idea that the idea that the appetizers were individual sized.  We were mistaken.  The appetizers were enormous and served family style.  I ordered Fried Zucchini which was served with a Spicy Bistro Sauce which was a spicy mayonnaise.  The zucchini was crispy and juicy with, it seemed a little spice in the breading.  While I really liked it and I did share, I ended up with a lot more than what I expected.

The salad came next and while it was a good salad with fresh vegetables, other than the fresh ground Parmagiana Reggiano Cheese, it was your standard house salad with Iceberg Lettuce, Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Red Onions, and Croutons.  It was a good size and the house vinaigrette was good, but it was really nothing to write about.

The entree, on the other hand was something to write about.  It was large, hearty, flavorful and very good.  I ordered the Seafood Cavatappi, with Shrimp, Scallops, Spinach, Roasted Red Peppers, and Applewood Smoked Bacon and a light cream sauce..  It also had fresh ground Parmagiano Reggiano on it.  Every bite was a taste explosion.  The spinach and res pepper added to the depth of flavor to the dish and while I wouldn't expect bacon in a seafood dish, it worked really well and added to the flavor.  There was also so much that I didn't finish and was unable to venture to dessert which featured several cheesecakes that looked really good. 

While Francesco's does not quite fill the large shoes left by Terry's and Jerry's, they are good in their own right and I would happily return.  I will however, keep in mind the serving sizes and plan accordingly so I can get dessert.    

Sunday, March 1, 2015


There are many places in Chicago where you can get a good cocktail.  Many are lounges, but there are several that are restaurants that serve good food.  Among those is Celeste, which I visited for Chicago Restaurant Week This year.  Located in a high traffic area in River North, it isn't exactly obvious.  It is located across the street from Epic and Slurping Turtle.  There is a small sign in the window by the entrance, but in the wintertime, the door is covered by a shelter which also blocks the sign.  The restaurant has three floors with three different drink menus.  The food menu is served on the the first two floors.  On the first floor is the bar, where is served beer, wine, and classic cocktails.  The second floor, where we were seated, was called The Deco Room, has an Art Deco design which aims for a 1920's era Supper Club with an extensive cocktail list.  The third floor is the rooftop bar (which is open seasonally) and serves beer, wine, punches, and different cocktails than those served in the bar or deco room.  I started my evening there with a classic cocktail called The Last Word which is a Prohibition era cocktail invented at The Detroit Athletic Club which includes Gin, Marashino Liqueur, Green Chartreuse, and Lime Juice.  It is shaken in ice and then filtered and served straight up.  The drink was very good.  It was sweet, sour and pungent and served as a very good palate cleanser (which admittedly, wasn't really necessary at the beginning of the meal, but was nice as the meal continued).
We were at Celeste for Chicago Restaurant Week so we were going to be choosing from a Prix Fixe menu for our Appetizer, Entree, and Dessert, but we decided to amend our menus with a couple of additional courses to share.  We started with a Charcuterie Plate which was pretty good.  There were three meats served, and while I can guess pretty closely what they were, they were not listed on the menu.  There was a dried ham like a Prosciutto, a lean and thinly sliced meat like a Bresaola, and a hard sausage like a Soppressata.  It was served with some Country Mustard and some hard bread.
For my appetizer, I had Grilled Baby Octopus with Romesco sauce, Crispy Chickpeas, Shaved Radish, Blood Orange, and Cilantro.  This was a very good dish with a wide variety of textures and flavors.  The Romesco Sauce was tangy and spicy, the octopus was meaty with a nice grilled flavor, the radishes were very fresh and crisp even as they were thinly sliced, the chickpeas had a Corn Nut crunch, and the blood oranges provided a sweet finish.
We then received our second extra dish, Roasted Brussels Sprouts in Miso Sauce.  The brussels sprouts were caramelized, which brought out the sweetness and the miso sauce added some savoriness to the dish.  The sprouts were tender and good and while caramelized, still had a little cabbage funk.
My entree had more brussels sprouts, but they were prepared differently, and it wasn't a major part.  It was a Saffron Fettucine with a Vegetarian Ragu, which included more Brussels Sprouts, Pine Nuts, and was topped with Chives and Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese.  This was a very good dish with a lot of flavor and it was one of those vegetarian dishes that is so flavorful that you don't really notice that there is no meat.
Dessert was essentially a deconstructed candy bar.  It was Arguani Dark Chocolate Ganache with Salted Caramel, Orange Crumble, and a Coconut Nib Tuile.  It was sweet, salty, bitter with a few different textures.  It was very good and if I thought I could lick the plate I might have. 

Dinner was very good with good service in a nice space.  While the food is very good and I would come back for dinner here, the stars of the show are the cocktails, and I will definitely have to return to explore more of them.