Sunday, February 28, 2016

Analogue - Brunch

There are a lot of places to brunch in Logan Square.  There are several that are very well known and popular, like Lula Cafe, Jam, and Longman & Eagle, but there are also those like Analogue, where we went recently, that are both under the radar and, actually, a little hard to find if you don't know what to look for.  There is a sign out front, but it is abstract and doesn't obviously say anything.  If you look at it though, you can work out Analogue (Photo courtesy of my friend, Rich Frachey).  We waited out front, because several people had not been here and the sign is not obvious.  In the main dining room, there is a long bar and some tables.  Because we were a large party, we were seated in the private dining room in the back of the restaurant.    The room had hardwood floors, plank walls, wood tables, and a wood banquette.  At the front of the room was what looked like a DJ booth, although the DJ was operating in the front room on one side of the bar with two turntables playing a lot of old soul music.  There was also a painting/wall hanging in our dining area that played on the same theme as the Analogue sign.
As is typical the waitress took our drink order before our food order.  They actually have a pretty extensive brunch cocktail selection.  Because we were a large party, there were a large number of drinks to be made and somehow my drink got lost in the shuffle.  When I pointed this out, they were quick to recover and brought my drink free of charge.  I had an Over and Over which consisted of  Cocchi Americano, Lime, Campari, Grapefruit Juice, and a salted rim.  As might be expected of a drink consisting of a couple of Amaro and grapefruit juice, it was pretty bitter.  The salted rim served the same purpose as salting a grapefruit, it moderates the bitter and brings out the sweetness.  It was a very good cocktail and appropriate for brunch.

While we were drinking, our food orders were taken.  In addition to the main courses, there were several items ordered for the table for sharing, Beignets covered in Powdered Sugar, and Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits with Jam and Butter.  Unfortunately, no one thought to take pictures of these dishes.  As for my main dish, I ordered what seemed to be the most incongruous item on the menu, something called Yaka Mein.  While it sounded like an Asian dish and was served with Chopsticks, it is actually a Cajun street food and hangover cure.  Despite being a Cajun dish though, I have to imagine that it has an Asian origin as Ramen.  It had a rich Beef Broth, with Braised Beef, Spaghetti, Peppers, both Bell and Hot, and a Hard Boiled Egg.  It was rich, flavorful, and spicy and I really liked it. 

Brunch was a success.  Everyone enjoyed their food and the service was prompt and attentive for our large party.  I knew that they have a good dinner service with good cocktails, brunch is just as good.       

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sauce and Bread Kitchen, The Stew - Stuff Stuffed in Stuff Dinner

I have mentioned that I like going to dining events.  It allows you to experience something new in a familiar space.  I went recently, to Sauce and Bread Kitchen's supper club, The Stew in Rogers Park for their Stuff Stuffed in Stuff Dinner.  The idea sounded interesting and the preview menu that they posted looked really good, so I decided to attend.  Sauce and Bread Kitchen is a Coffee Shop/Breakfast place during the day, so the space is small and simple with a counter to one side and tables on the other side and in the back.  While the bar and furniture are nothing to write home about, there are a lot of decorations hanging and sitting on shelves.  There is also a very cool map of the midwest on the wall behind the counter with labeled pins showing where all of their food comes from.  I arrived just before 7 pm, when the dinner was supposed to start, and waited outside because SBK is not normally open at this time and it is kind of small.  When the doors opened, we were checked in and found our own seats.  I again sat at the counter, because I like the view from there.  As things started, the hosts/chefs came out to welcome us and introduce themselves and the first course, which was actually an addition to the menu.  The head chef would come out before every course to introduce and describe it.  We started out with a large spoon (big enough for one bite) with Coppa di Testa, something that they described as Pork Pate, but which more accurately could have been called Head Cheese, which was served with Cracklin (also known as a Pork Rind or Chicharron).  It was a big meaty and porky bite that was a great start.  It was simple, something that could not be said about later dishes, but it was simple done very well and it was a great start.
The first official course was Bao, a Chinese Steamed Bun, which was stuffed with a Shrimp and Pork Sausage, a Red Onion/Turmeric Pickle, Celery, and Aji Sambal Mustard (a hot mustard with fish sauce).  I love Bao.  They are soft and slightly sweet and are a good complement to whatever are put inside them.  The shrimp and pork in the sausage were both easily tasted and went together surprisingly well.  The celery added a crunchy texture that would have otherwise been a very soft dish, and the pickled red onion and the sambal mustard added both spice and a little fishiness which went well with the shrimp in the sausage.
The next course was Carpaccio and admittedly, I thought it a little odd, but not in a bad way.  I would also say that while I did like it, I would not say that anything was really stuffed anywhere.  It was a Seared Strip Loin served with Koji Cured Egg Yolk (Koji is the fungus used to cure soybeans to make Soy Sauce), Jalapeno Ice, and Pink Peppercorns served with Heirloom Lettuce.  While the cured yolk and jalapeno ice were on top, the strip loin and the lettuce were arranged such that either could enwrap the other and it could all be eaten like a taco.  The yolk in this "taco" had a consistency like gel and the jalapeno ice was just that, shaved ice flavored with jalapeno, so the entire thing was cold and spicy with a nice crunch from the fresh lettuce and the flavor of very good beef.
From Charcuterie to Asian to Italian, we then went to Jewish with a Matzo Ball Soup.  The Matzo Ball was stuffed with Duxelles (Mushrooms, Onions, Shallots, and Herbs) and floated in a Porcini Mushroom Broth.  It had a strong savory and funky mushroom flavor with some spice in the broth that gave it some heat.  I like mushrooms and this definitely had a lot of mushroom flavor.  The spice saved it from being a one note wonder.  It was a good dish, but it didn't speak to me as it did to some other people I noticed in the restaurant.
The dish that did speak to me were the Stuffed Beets.  We were served one Red and one Golden Beet, Roasted, and stuffed with Garlic Ricotta, topped with Peanut Miso Powder, and Lime Chili Peanut Crumble with Micro Greens on the side.  This tasted fresh and bright.  The beets were tender and sweet.  The peanut miso added some savoriness, the ricotta added a depth of flavor, but the chili lime peanut crumble was a flavor explosion.
We finished things off with a Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta between layers of Blood Orange Gelee and served with a Candied Blood Orange Chip and topped with Chocolate Crumbs.  Served in a small glass cup, it was a sweet and colorful finish to a menu that went all over the map.  The Blood Orange Gelee was sweet with a slightly tart finish that played off of the sweetness of the panna cotta.  The chip was chewy and bittersweet, with a little more tartness, and the chocolate provided a bitter contrast to the sweetness of the blood orange and vanilla panna cotta.  I really enjoyed dinner and I will definitely do it again.          

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Bohemian House - Chicago Restaurant Week Brunch

Bohemian House has been a restaurant on my radar since shortly after it opened about a year and a half ago but I had never made any firm plans to dine there.  I had tried some of their food at various benefits and really liked what I had, but I had not experienced the restaurant.  A friend, though, invited me out for brunch during Chicago Restaurant Week so I decided to see what it was about.  As it's name suggests, Bohemian House, or Boho, focuses on the food of Bohemia (a region of the Czech Republic) and Eastern Europe in general.  While there is a sign outside on the awning, the restaurant is in an old office building and is not exceptionally obvious.  The alcove leading to the door has some really ornate tile along one edge, so that can also be used as a marker as well.  Entering the modern glass door in the alcove, there is a stair leading to the right, at the top of which is a big, heavy, wooden door behind which is the restaurant.  The space is very open with unfinished ceilings and large wooden beams supporting the ceiling.  There is a large, long, and heavy-looking wooden bar opposite the door with a nice liquor selection as well as some antiques on the bar shelves for decoration.  The floor of the dining room was hardwood as were the tables, a combination of high two tops, four tops, and communal tables.  The seats were padded with leather.  Also along the same wall as the entrance was a line of booths with soft leather padded seats, padded pillows, and a half-round table.  This is where we sat.  The kitchen was in the back behind a large arched window and tiled wall.  It's a beautiful space that reminded me of the European-inspired beer halls of The Publican and The Radler
As this was a Chicago Restaurant Week menu, we were able to order three courses for $22 (plus drinks, tax and tip) which, having looked at the menu previously, was kind of a huge deal.  I started things off with Deviled Eggs with Spicy Pepper Relish and Crispy Shallots.  The egg whites were firm and the yolks were perfectly whipped.  The Pepper Relish and Paprika provided a nice addition of spice and the Crispy Shallots added a nice crunch to what would have otherwise been a toothless dish.  It was a nice start and I looked forward to my next dishes.
I generally don't go sweet for my main course, but my other choice was a Weinerschnitzel Sandwich and while I am sure that it would have been good, I wasn't feeling it.  I decided to go with the Bavarian Pancakes with Brandied Prunes, Apples, Pecans, Farmers Cheese, and Powdered Sugar.This was very good and I'm glad I choosed it.  The pancakes were thin, like crepes.  The Apples and Prunes were sweet, tender, juicy, and boozy, and the sugar and juice/syrup added more sweetness.  The Farmer's Cheese, a housemade cheese similar to a mild ricotta added some creaminess to the dish and the pecans added a nutty flavor and a crunchy variety to the dish.
I would have been happy to finish here, but there was one dish to go.  I had a choice of Doughnuts or Kolacky and I decided to go with the Doughnuts.  They were deep fried Doughnut Balls served on  a thin layer of Bavarian Cream (basically the Bavarian version of Panna Cotta) and a dish of Currant Marmalade for dipping or spreading on the doughnuts.  The doughnuts were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside and were rolled in granulated sugar.  The doughnuts were good on their own (although admittedly, I have other doughnuts that I have liked much more), but the Bavarian Cream and the Marmalade added to the doughnuts separately or combined which was the best.

I am glad my friend invited me out for brunch so I could actually see the place.  I really liked brunch and would return again for brunch or dinner.       

Monday, February 15, 2016

Fork - Knife Steakhouse Preview with Revolution Brewery

Fork is becoming a favorite restaurant of mine.  They do some great food, but they also are good at varying things by doing special events like beer dinners featuring different area breweries and dinners to support a cause.  Their most recent event dinner was a preview dinner for their new sister restaurant, Knife, which will be a steakhouse.  For this dinner, they featured Revolution Brewing who provided a good winter beer to pair with each course.  The first course started with what they called "Amazing" Shrimp de Jonghe which is a Chicago classic, created by the DeJonghe brothers, at the DeJonghe Hotel and Restaurant, who had emigrated from Belgium to run a restaurant at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893.  The original recipe consisted of a Shrimp stew blanketed in soft, Garlicky, Sherry-Laced Bread Crumbs.  Fork's version was similar in that it used Shrimp, Garlic, and Bread, but the Shrimp was Farm-Raised Indiana Shrimp with Garlic Bread Crumbs Soaked in Revolution's Coup D'etat Saison in a Puff Pastry Basket.  In addition to being used in the Shrimp de Jonghe, the Coup D'etat was the beer used for the pairing.  It was hoppy with an earthy flavor and was the lightest of the beers that we were served.  It was a nice start and I was excited to see where things were going to go next.
The next course was a bit heavier, starting with a Jukebox Hero, the winter varietion of their very popular Anti-Hero IPA, this being a black IPA.  While it was black, it doesn't have the coffee bitterness of a stout or many black IPAs, the roasted malt adding a toasty flavor to the the pine and citrus flavors  provided by the hops.  For the food side of things we were served with a tender Roast Pork Loin (pasture raised) served with a Butternut Squash Raviolo, an Arugula Salad with a Butterscotch Vinaigrette, and a Ciderscotch Gastrique (a sauce made by caramelizing Butter and Brown Sugar and deglazing with Cider Vinegar).  As one might guess, this course skewed sweet, although it did have a variety of flavors besides sweetness with a lot of butter and cider, and some bitterness from the arugula.  The Raviolo was interesting in that it was completely made from butternut squash.  The filling was butternut squash as one might expect, but the shell was made from the skin of the squash.  It was sweet and tender and went well with the pork loin.

For the main course, what better to show off a steak house, than a steak?  In this case, it was a dry aged rib-eye.  It was served with a Beef Fat Roasted Potato, Brussel-Kraut (Sauerkraut made from Brussels Sprouts) and Foie Gras Beerdelaise (a Bordelaise sauce substituting Foie Gras for Marrow and Very Mad Cow Milk Stout, which was also used as the beer pairing, for the red wine).  The steak was served medium rare and was very tender and flavorful.  The Brussel-kraut was good.  It wasn't as sour as a standard sauerkraut, which is surprising because Brussels Sprouts tend to be more sour than cabbage.  The Beef fat Potato was special.  It was a roasted potato that cooked like the very best frites,  It had a brown crunchy exterior and a very soft, fluffy interior with a very rich flavor.  The beerdelaise added a richness to everything.  The Very Mad Cow Milk Stout is a Bourbon Barrel Aged Milk Stout.  It was sweet and woody with a pronounced bourbon flavor.  It was also my favorite beer of the night.

Dessert was about presentation although I am going to guess that I didn't give it enough time for a proper presentation.  It was called S'Mores and was presented with Rise, an American Stout.  There wasn't much sweetness in the beer which, to me, didn't make a lot of sense with a dessert that looked like a giant chocolate egg.  When the Hot Fudge was poured on the egg I understood that there was enough sweetness in the dessert to enhance the flavor of the beer.  On videos that I have seen after the fact, I have seen desserts presented like this melt away when the hot fudge was added.  While the egg did get a dent in it, it didn't collapse and I didn't really know what to expect when I cracked into it.
When I cracked into the egg, I found a Charred Tangerine Marshmallow stacked on a Graham Ginger Sandwich Cookie sandwiching more marshmallow.  It was very good with a lot of good chocolate  and fudge and the presentation was very cool even if I possibly didn't wait long enough for the chocolate to melt.  I again enjoyed my dinner at Fork and plan on returning when they do their second preview dinner for Knife with 1090 brewery.           

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Piccolo Sogno - Restaurant Week

I've mentioned before that while I really like Italian food, I don't eat it often (other than pizza, which doesn't really count) because, to me, it feels like something that you eat with family or a group of friends.  Having said that, there are a few Italian places that I feel that I need to go to whether I have a dining companion or not.  Piccolo Sogno (Little Dream) is one of these restaurants.  While it has been on my radar for years, and I have actually made reservations several times (mostly during restaurant week), I have never gone because I couldn't coordinate my schedule with someone else.  I decided this year that even if I couldn't coordinate with someone, it is a place that I wanted to visit and I would go whether or not I had a dining partner.  I have had samples of the food prepared at Piccolo Sogno at various benefits and festivals, I had never actually dined at the restaurant itself.  Chef/Owner Tony Priolo was raised in Chicago and had established himself as a great chef (at Coco Pazzo) before he opened Piccolo Sogno eight years ago.  The building in which Piccolo Sogno is located has actually been a restaurant as long as I have been in Chicago.  I first remember it as Thyme, a French bistro-style restaurant which switched to Italian and Timo before becoming Piccolo Sogno.  The building is a large old brick building in River West.  The entrance is on the side of the building off of a small parking lot and you enter into the lounge area.  There are three dining rooms inside, I think I was in the largest one, which seats about 70 with 2 tops and round 4 tops.  There is also apparently a fantastic courtyard that is open in the summer, but I obviously didn't see that.  The walls were dark blue (not quite navy blue) with light ceilings and dim lighting that was slightly augmented with candles at the tables.  The passageways between rooms are arched.  When I was seated, I was offered still or sparkling water and was presented with three menus:  the Chicago Restaurant Week Prix Fixe menu, the regular dinner menu, and the wine menu which was a pretty sizeable book of Italian wines.  I asked for still water, ordered a nice Rose from Tuscany and started perusing the menu.  While I was looking, I was presented with the bread basket.  It contained bread sticks and two different loafs with some olive oil at the table for dipping.  The bread had a nice crust and soft interior as good bread is supposed to be. 
While there were many good things on the regular menu, I decided to go with the Restaurant Week Prix Fixe and started with the Coda di Vaccinara, Roman-Style Braised Ox Tail braised with Carrots, Celery, and Onions.  I had had ox tail before and while it tastes good, it can be messy and a lot of work to get the meat off of the tail bone.  This ox tail had the potential of being very messy as well because it was very juicy with a lot of sauce.  There was sufficient meat though, to make it easy to peel it off of the bone.  It was very tender and flavorful and with the carrots, celery, and onions, it reminded me of a very good and flavorful stew.

For my entree, I went with some housemade pasta, Tagliatelle served with a Ragu Sauce, specifically I had a Tagliatelle con Cinghiale (Wild Boar Ragu) which was topped with Parmigiana at the table.  This was pretty amazing.  The Tagliatelle was a perfect al dente, the ragu was more meat than sauce, and my server was very generous with the Parmigiana.  Wild boar has a flavor similar to farm raised pork although the flavor is a little stronger.  The tagliatelle was long and strong so each bite was a great bite of pork and pasta with a generous helping of Parmigiana.
For my dessert, I went with a Tavoletta, layers of Chocolate and Pistachio Mousse on a Dark  Chocolate Crust served with Pistachios and Amarena Cherries and garnished with Chocolate Sauce and Powdered Sugar.  It was a sweet, rich, and nutty, with a little tartness provided by the cherries.  It was also a very good finish to a very good restaurant.  While I still think of Italian restaurants as a family/group thing, I am glad I came out and finally got to try the restaurant.