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.