Monday, June 29, 2015

Fork - Brunch

Our brunch this month was at Ravenswood gastropub, Fork.  The space is large and divided into two rooms with a rustic wooden interior and a large bar.  There is also a nice sized patio.  In the main room their were several round booths with leather seats in addition to round stand alone tables.  In the second room, where we sat, were two banquettes on opposite walls with large tables.  The brunch menu at Fork has many of the standards, although I was a little surprised that the sweet side was a little sparse.  We did order doughnut holes to start, but one of my friends had to point it out on the menu.  They were light yeast doughnut holes covered in powdered sugar with a slightly crisp outer crust.  Overall, the table liked them, I will say though, that I found them a little doughy.
My main course, however, was very much a win.  I ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffles which was served with Candied Bacon coated with Spiced Pecans with some very good Maple Syrup.  It also was much bigger than I expected (which was not a bad thing).  The bacon was thick, sweet, and crunchy and the nuts were coated on the bacon.  The Chicken had a nice crispy skin and was tender and juicy and the Belgian Waffle was light and crispy.  I really liked brunch here.  The food and service were very good and the space was very comfortable.  Brunch was good, but I will have to visit for dinner sometime.   

Friday, June 26, 2015

Homestead on the Roof

Location for a restaurant is a very big thing and a restaurant has to be very special if it's in a location that doesn't have a lot of foot traffic.  Even if a place is in a good location though, it does really help if you can find it.  This made me a little skeptical when Homestead on the Roof opened a couple of years ago.  Located in West Town on the Roof of Roots Pizza, you have to walk through Roots to get to the entrance of Homestead.  While there is a sign for Homestead on the outside wall of Roots Pizza, it still isn't obvious where exactly it is.  After walking through Roots Pizza, you will come to a hallway in back with a host station beside a stairway that leads to the roof where Homestead is located.  There is a small interior dining room, but the majority of Homestead on the roof is open to the air and is surrounded by gardens used to supply some of the greenery used on the plates.  There is a frame over most of the dining area that could be used to throw a tent over to cover diners in inclement weather, but on the beautiful evening that I was there, it was uncovered and open.  There are also large heating torches in the corners of the dining areas which, on the evening that I was there, were going strong.
Being a farm-to-table restaurant, the menu is constantly changing based on what happens to be in season at the time.  I am not absolutely certain that the same can be said of the cocktail menu, but it did seem to be featuring a lot of fruits that would be fresh and in season at the time that I went, so I would guess that it is the case that the cocktail menu is also seasonal.  In addition to the cocktails, they also offer beer and a small selection of wines by the glass and bottle.  I started things off with a cocktail whose name I happened to like.  It was called Violet, You're Turning Violet and it was made from Blueberry Veev (a carbon neutral spirit similar to vodka that is infused with Acai and Blueberries), Cava, and Lemon, and garnished with a Flower and a Blueberry.  While the drink did look violet around the edges, it was primarily the color of cava, a light straw color.  It was frothy, sparkling, and very bright.  I liked it and it did do a lot to wake up my taste buds for the forthcoming meal.
For my starter, I was looking at an Oxtail Croquette, but was told that they were out of Oxtails so, I went with the Frika Salad.  I had no idea what Frika was but the dish also had Morels, Leeks, and a Burnt Leek Vinaigrette,  I knew that I like morels and leeks, so I thought that I could work with it even if it turned out that I didn't like frika.  While I was waiting, I looked up frika and found it to be smoked green spelt, an edible grain similar to farro that has been grown for thousands of years.  The dish was also very good.  The frika was served separately from the morels and leeks, but together or separate, they were both good.  The frika was very firm, almost crunchy, and had a slightly nutty flavor.  The morels were well cooked and went well with the grilled leeks, and the burnt leek vinaigrette added a nice smoky onion flavor to everything.

For my main course, I went with a favorite of mine, the duck.  in this case, it was Roast Duck served with thinly sliced Duck Ham, Candied Rhubarb, Anise, and Cranberry Beans.  This was a very good dish with a variety of flavors and textures.  The duck leg was juicy and tender and had a nice crispy skin.  The duck ham was like a prosciutto with a duck flavor to it.  The rhubarb added some tartness and the anise added a hint of licorice flavor.  The beans were hearty and starchy and similar to pinto beans with a milder nutty flavor and everything went together really well.

After I finished my main course, I looked at the dessert menu.  All of the desserts were named after the fruit that it featured.  When I went the featured desserts were Huckleberry, Peach, Raspberry, and Cherry.  There was a short ingredient description with each one, but it was still slightly ambiguous.  I ordered the Raspberry dessert and shortly after I ordered, this arrived without explanation.  This looked like Raspberry Sorbet so I thought that this was my dessert.  If you can't tell, it's pretty small consisting of about two bites.  The garnish is a blueberry to give you perspective on size.  It was a nice, if simple, presentation and it tasted good, but I thought that, if this is my dessert, it's terribly over priced.  I wasn't happy, but I wasn't going to make a scene there.  I ordered it, I have learned not to do it again.  I finished the small cone and waited for my bill.
Then my actual dessert came out.  This was much better and much closer to what I had been expecting.  It started with a Raspberry Sorbet on top, topping a strip of Raspberry Chocolate garnished with Granola and Mint.  In the glass were some Raspberries topping a layer of Bee Pollen Creme, and Raspberry Gelee.  This relieved me a lot and I really enjoyed it.  It was sweet, tart, chocolatey with fresh fruit and the very nice bee pollen custard.  
To finally finish things off, I was given a Praline Truffle with my bill.  It was sweet, and nutty with layers of flavor and it was a great finish to a very good meal.  Despite the hiccup at dessert, this was a very good meal in a unique setting and now that I know what to expect, I would be happy to return.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Parts and Labor

The neighborhood that I live in in Chicago is generally recognized as a hipster hang out and my friends give me a hard time about being a hipster for both my address and for having some of the aspects of the stereotypical hipster.  A list came out recently a list came out listing the most hipster restaurants in Chicago, and as it might be expected, many of them were in Logan Square.  I have also been to and like many of them (which also adds to my hipster cred).  To be clear, I do not think that I'm a hipster myself, I just think it's kind of funny and like to play with it occasionally.  There was a restaurant close to me that had gotten some pretty good press and was also on the hipster list that I hadn't been to so I decided to visit it.  Parts and Labor is a bar and grill with a simple food menu, mostly consisting of their burger, a few sandwiches and salads, and sides.  They do have a very good beer list, though, and I started things off with a Diablo Belga Belgian Style Dubbel from Ale Asylum.  A Dubbel is a high alcohol brown ale with an understated bitterness and flavors of fruit and cereal.  They are generally heavy, but this one really wasn't.  It also didn't have much of a head.  It did have flavors of raisins and granola and it was pretty good.  The restaurant itself is bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.  It occupies a corner lot with windows on both sides and a small courtyard/patio in the back.  The interior is unfinished and open with many ladders on the walls in the front of the space where the large bar is, and furniture with an 8-bit design in the back.  There are also many flat screens throughout the space.
Parts and Labor is primarily known for their burger and while you can order it on its own, they have two specials built around it.  The first is the burger with fries and a cheap beer and the second is the burger and fries.  As I generally try to avoid cheap beer because it has no taste, I decided to go with the second which I added bacon to.  The burger consists of a couple of thin griddle burgers (like you would find in a diner or many fast food restaurants) and is topped with Iceberg Lettuce, Tomatoes, Onions, American Cheese, "Special Sauce", and the Bacon that I added on.  Ketchup and Mustard are served on the side.  The Fries were crispy Curly Fries seasoned with Seasoned Salt.  As far as ingredients were concerned, the burger really wasn't anything special.  It was however, cooked and assembled well, and was well worth the price.  It was a very good bar burger.  The fries were crispy, flavorful, and very good.  I am sure that they would have been good with ketchup, but it wasn't necessary.
Their dessert was similarly limited, but it definitely hit some comfort food notes, featuring a couple of floats and a Fried Twinkie.  The Fried Twinkie sounded positively decadent, so that's where I had to go.  When it arrived, I saw that it was even more decadent than it sounded.  The trinkie seemed to have been coated in a light tempura batter.  It was light and crispy with a lot of air pockets.  This was liberally covered with raspberry jam and it was surrounded by whipped cream.  It was crunchy, sweet and very good.  The vibe at Parts and Labor is very relaxed, it has a good beer list, and prices are inexpensive, so I will definitely be back.   

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Intro - C. J. Jacobson

Most restaurants of note will vary their menus based on season.  Some restaurants take it further by changing themes several times a year.  In a more extreme example, Next Restaurant completely changes its concept about three times a year.  Following along the same lines, the popular restaurant group Let Us Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) has introduced Intro, a restaurant that introduces diners to a new chef and his concept, changing both menu and restaurant details every two or three months.  For their first chef, they brought in California native and Top Chef Alum, CJ Jacobson.  Chef Jacobson's cuisine could be described as rustic refined.  He focuses on local, seasonal, and foraged products, to create something that you would expect to find in a fine dining restaurant.  The restaurant itself is kind of hidden, with the entrance in the lobby of a condo building on Lincoln Park West behind a large wooden door.  The dining room space is pretty open so it leaves a lot ov room for individual variations from chef to chef.  Mon Ami Gabi, another Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, is located in the same building, although it is visible from the outside, so it can be used for navigation purposes.  Intro uses a prepaid reservation system that varies based on the time you book your dinner, for most dinners.  They do save a few seats for online reservations, but because you are not prepaying, the price will be the maximum price offered in the prepaid system.  Tax and service charge (tip) are included in the prepay, so it is possible to go and not to have to pay anymore on the night of the dinner (if you do not drink).  This was not the case for me as I did start out with a cocktail.  My cocktail was called a Fir Mule and was similar to a Moscow Mule.  It used Absolut Vodka and Ginger Beer like a Moscow Mule, except that instead of Lime, it used Douglas Fir Syrup and it was not served in a copper mug.  The drink surprised me as to how green it was.  It did taste good though.  It doesn't have the sour finish of a Moscow Mule.  The Fir Syrup went well with the ginger and brought out an herbal flavor instead.
Before our first official course, we were served an Amuse Bouche which consisted of a savory Panna Cotta, two Granitas (a frozen ice dessert from Sicily made from fruit juice with a coarser texture than is typical for Sorbet), and topped with Trout Roe.  On paper, this doesn't look, to me, like it should work, but the saltiness of the roe and the savory panna cotta actually go well with the sweet and sour from the granitas, and the many different textures helped as well.
For our first official course, we were served a dish in a large semicircular bowl that was kind of a cross between a salad and a ceviche.  This very nice looking dish contained Fluke, Avocado, Radishes, and Douglas Fir Tips in another very green broth.  I have to imagine the green in this case was a combination of the fir and the avocado.  It was very all very tender and flavorful and I enjoyed it a lot.
We took a break of sorts after our first course when our bread course arrived.  It was fairly simple as far as a bread course is concerned, consisting of only one type of bread, Sourdough and Butter.  Having said that, the bread and butter were both housemade and were very good.  The bread had a nice thick crust with a soft interior and was broken into several pieces to more easily get a piece that was easy to handle.  The butter was very soft sweet and salty and had a good sprinkling of chives for flavor.
Our next course was primarily a vegetable course, consisting of very fresh Asparagus, Celery, and Pepitas (fried sunflower seeds), with what was essentially a Hollandaise Sauce with Bacon.  There There were also a few things not listed in the course description that I think were fried Cauliflower.  The vegetables were very crisp, the cauliflower was crunchy, the pepitas provided a nutty crunch, and the Hollandaise provided a complementary flavor and bacon improves the flavor of everything.
In a normal fine dining course progression, after the salad comes the vegetable, fish, and meat, finishing with dessert.  This menu more or less continued to follow the standard course progression with the fish course coming next.  I say more or less, because while we were served the fish course, there was still a fair emphasis on the vegetables served with the fish.  We were served Poached Halibut with English Peas and Pea Shoots, and Maitake and Shiitake Mushrooms.  I really like halibut.  When it is prepared well, as it was here, it is tender and flaky with a mild flavorthat can pair well with a wide variety of vegetabes.  The mushrooms and peas provided a lot of flavor to this dish and went well with the halibut.
The final savory course was a couple of slices of Medium Rare Prime New York Strip served with Escarole, Aronia Berries (Chokeberries), and Jus.  The escarole, a leaf lettuce, was served both as a sauteed leaf and a puree, and the chokeberries were chopped and presented with the escarole.  By itself, the greens were a bit bitter (and astringent with the aronia berries), but they paired well with the steak.

Dessert was different, but good.  It consisted of Kombucha (fermented sweetened black or green tea), Juniper Snow, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream, Dark Chocolate Cubes, and Sunflower Shoots.  The kombucha had a bittersweet herbal flavor and the juniper snow brought back the pine tree theme.  Chocolate is chocolate and it tasted good, but with the sunflower shoots, the kombucha. and the juniper, the bitter was emphasized.  While it was good, it went more towards flavors complementary to the savory side of things than a typical dessert does.
To finish things off, we were given crisp chocolate twigs.  They were sweet and crispy like a KitKat Bar, but with the twig form brought things back to the natural side of things that all of these dishes featured.  I enjoyed my dinner here and look forward to seeing what the next incarnations of Intro might be.