Sunday, March 20, 2016


Sometimes you just want a burger.  If it's a good and unusual burger, all the better.  I had heard of BopnGrill a few years ago when it opened and it sounded pretty interesting, a burger place run by a Korean family featuring Korean flavors.  I didn't remember having anything planned for the weekend, so I decided that one of the things that I was going to do was to make a point to get to BopnGrill.  It's located in Rogers Park which is in the Northeast corner of Chicago, so while it isn't phenomenally far, it's more than just biking to the corner so it takes a little planning.  I realized later that I actually had some theater tickets at the time that I was planning to go to to Bopngrill so I wrote off that trip and started looking around the theater to see where I might be able to grab some food before the show.  I was happy and surprised to discover that BopnGrill had recently opened a new shop close to the theater that I was going to, so the trip to BopnGrill was back on.  The space itself doesn't really look like much more than any other hot dog/burger/taco/gyro joint around town.  It's a small counter service place with a grill in back, a tile floor, cheap dining furniture, and a counter facing the window.  It's only when you look at the menu that you get an idea that it might be something other than your standard burger joint.  Other than their Signature Burgers, they also feature Bop Plates that have Rice, a Side Salad, and Kimchi with a variety of proteins including Bulkogi (Korean BBQ Beef, BBQ Chicken, Tofu) or even Bi Bim Bop which includes Vegetables, Chili Sauce, and a Fried Egg.  While several of the Bop Plates sounded good, I decided to go with their namesake burger.  BopnGrill has been widely recognized as having some of the best burgers in Chicago, so I figured, if I was going to go, I should try one of these great burgers.  The bNg Burger came with Lettuce and Tomato, like every other burger in the city, Thousand Island Dressing, which wanders into Big Mac territory, and Jalapeno, American Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Bacon, and a Fried Egg, which brought the burger into solidly interesting territory.  The beef used was very good and the flavors used with it made it very good.  The egg was sunnyside up, so it was good to break the yolk before trying to eat it, unless you weren't bothered about wearing egg yolk.  It had some sweetness, savory flavors, some tartness, and just enough spiciness.  There were bottles of Sriracha available for those people that didn't think it was spicy enough.  I did add some Sriracha to part of my burger and while it did make it spicier, and was still good, I will not necessarily say that it improved it much.
A standard side with a burger would be fries, so of course, I had to have some fries.  In addition to the standard fries, they also had Cheddar Fries and Bacon Cheddar Fries, which are also fairly standard, but they also had Kimchi Fries.  This was a pretty different idea, so I had to try them.  The first thing that I will say is that the fries themselves were very good.  They were very crisp on the outside and soft on the inside like Belgian Frites and were well salted.  They were topped with Kimchi which was sour and spicy, and also with Scallions, Bacon, and Cheddar Cheese Sauce.  It had a variety of flavors including spicy, sour, and salty, and while you could pick at the outside of it with your fingers, a fork was helpful to finish it.

I really enjoyed what I had here.  It was good and interesting and would definitely keep me coming back, but there are several other things on the menu that I have not yet tried that I will definitely have to return for.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Fork - Ten-Ninety Beer Dinner/Knife Preview

I again returned to Fork recently for a beer dinner with Ten-Ninety Beer Company that was also the second preview for Fork's sister restaurant, Knife.  I had heard of Ten-Ninety before, but the only beer of theirs that I had had of theirs was called Pink Tie Saison which was brewed to support a Breast Cancer Organization.  The beers served on this night seemed to be there main beers and they were all pretty big.  All having an ABV above 9.00%.  After finding out how big the beers were that were being served, I was a little worried because I had biked there and depending on how much we were served, it might have been difficult to bike home.  In the past, they have been pretty good about being able to serve enough without getting their diners blotto, but I still was a little concerned.  We started things out with Ten-Ninety's Rancorous, which is an American Wild Ale with an ABV of 9.00% .  Wild Ales are called such because they use wild yeast for fermentation.  They tend to have a sour flavor to them.  While Rancorous did have some sourness to it, it also had some sweetness to it and kind of reminded me of a Belgian Tripel.  I liked it and it paired well with the first course, Lobster Tempura with Ginger Cranberry Orange Sauce.  The dish consisted of half of a lobster tail with most of the meat removed, battered, and fried, the shell was included, it was also battered, but the amount of work necessary to remove the meat was not worth the effort.  I would guess that the shell was included more for aesthetic reasons than anything else.  The ginger cranberry orange sauce was pretty complex with sweetness from the cranberry and orange, spiciness from the ginger, bitterness from the cranberry, and tartness from the orange.  It went well both with the lobster and with the beer.
Our second beer was an Imperial Witbier which, strangely enough, smelled of summer sausage.  It had an ABV of 10.10%.  It was very good, brewed with honey, didn't taste as heavy as a 10.10% ABV beer should taste, and went well with our salad, which, while it had all of the ingredients of your standard Wedge Salad:  Lettuce, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Hard Boiled Eggs, and Bacon, It did not look like a standard wedge salad.  All of the vegetables (and the lettuce) were grilled, the bacon was formed into a ring around the vegetables, and the vinaigrette used Avocado.  I am generally not a salad person, but I would happily have this again.

The beer pairing for our main course was Ten Ninety's Imperial Porter, another beer that didn't taste as heavy as a 10.80% ABV beer should.  It has the standard porter flavors of chocolate and coffee but it was also brewed with pomegranate juice to bring out the sweetness and a significant amount of Cayenne Pepper which gave the beer a fiery finish.  It was paired with steak, which makes sense because the strong flavors of each would be able to stand up to, and even complement, one another.  The steak was a 23 Day Dry Aged Strip Steak, Blue Cheese Crusted, and served with Creamed Kale and a Potato Gallette which is similar to a Potato Pancake.  The steak had a a funk to it as would be expected of a dry aged steak which was emphasized by the blue cheese crust.  The creamed kale lightened things up and what can be said of the gallette?  Potatoes go well with steak and who doesn't like fried potatoes?

The dessert beer was the biggest beer of the dinner.  It was called Jaggery Tripel and "weighed in" at 11.00% ABV.  The name actually tells you everything that you need to know about the beer.  It's a Belgian Tripel, a high alcohol alternative to a European Pale Lagers with a sweet finish.  The sugar used in this beer is Jaggery, a minimally processed date palm and cane sugar of Indonesian origin.  It contains a significant amount of molasses which, while also sweet, imparts a more complex taste than your standard cane sugar.  It had a lot of tropical fruit flavors and a friend suggested that it tasted as if it was brewed with a fruit cup.  In order to pair with such a big and sweet beer, the chef decided to do a "shock-and-awe" performance and served a Baked Alaska.  The description that the chef gave us when he described it made it sound really good.  It started with Yellow Cake and was topped with Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee Ice Cream.  This sounded good, but the dessert that arrived at our tables looked pretty white.  Baked Alaska's are supposed to be browned on the outside, so this was a bit of a surprise.
The reason that the desserts were white is because they were going to be browned at the table.  The chef had a pitcher of Over-Proof Rum which he lit in the pitcher and then poured, flaming on to the Baked Alaska.  It was a spectacular presentation but it was nothing compared to the actual taste of the dessert.  It was sweet, complex, and one of the best desserts that I have ever had.

I have been to Fork many times and they have never disappointed.  I will continue to return for their special dinners, and am very interested in the opening of their sister restaurant, Knife.       

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bar Marta

While there are some restaurants that I plan on going to months in advance, there are others that I decide on the day I go.  I recently had nothing on my agenda and wasn't looking for anything spectacular or extravagant, so I decided to look at one of the neighborhood places close to me.  Bar Marta isn't in my neighborhood, but it is close, in Humboldt Park, and it's where I decided to go.  I read before arriving that many of the people from Bar Marta had previously worked with Brendan Sodikoff's restaurant group, Hogsalt.  I was not sure if this meant that it was part of the Hogsalt Restaurant Group, but it did give me an idea of what to expect.  While the group has a number of restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisines, they all have a certain commonality.  They are all dark, their food menus are fairly small and each feature a significant of small plates with a few large plates.  They have a good selection of craft beers and many of their featured cocktails are classics or based on classics.  Pulling up to the restaurant, I saw that while there is a sign on the door, it is very unobtrusive and you would never know that the place was a restaurant unless you saw the sign.  It sits on a corner on a main road with the narrow side on the main road and the entrance on the long side.  Walking in, I saw that it followed one of Hogsalt's key things, it was very dark.  There was a long bar opposite the entrance which is where I decided to sit.  The dining room is carpeted and while there are large windows on the long side, opposite the bar, they are covered by heavy curtains.  The room was a light color, but I because it was so dark, I couldn't really tell what light color it was.  The bar was a substantial element in the room.  It was big, looked heavy and had a white marble top.  Looking at the beer and cocktail menu, I saw that they had a pretty good beer and wine list.  The cocktails were divided into Shaken, Stirred, Sparkling, and Old Fashioneds.  While I was interested in a cocktail, I wasn't looking for anything really heavy, so I went for one of the Sparkling drinks.  Called a Strange Brew.  Served on ice, it consisted of Gin, Pineapple Juice, and Evil Twin Yang IPA.  As I like both gin and IPAs, this was a nice choice.  It was heavier than a beer, but was a lighter cocktail.   It tasted first of pineapple with herbal notes from the gin and the hoppy bitterness and head from the IPA.
The food menu was divided by the featured elements of the dish (Pantry, Seafood, Vegetables, Meats, Pasta, and Dessert) with smaller courses at the top of the list and more substantial courses further down the list in that category.  For my meal, I chose a vegetable and meat course, but I was torn about the seafood and pasta.  The vegetable courses consisted of several salads and some other interesting things.  I am generally not a regular green salad orderer so that did limit my choices somewhat.  What I did order though was based on what I ordered for my meat course.  What I did order could technically be considered a salad, the greens were no the main element.  I ordered Marinated Beets with Grapefruit, Sunflower Seeds, Arugula, and a Mustard Dressing.  I like beets and these were very good.  The addition of the grapefruit added some citrus bitterness which paired well with the arugula.  The sunflower seeds added a some crunch and a nutty flavor, and the mustard added a tart finish.
For my main course, I went with a bistro classic, Steak Frites, which is exactly what it sounds like, Steak and French Fries.  The steak was a prime hangar steak wet aged 21 days cooked medium rare (diners choice).  It was tender and flavorful with a little funk to it.  It was not listed as aged, but it definitely had an aged flavor that had not quite reached blue cheese flavor, so I asked.  The fries were double fried which makes them crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  They were also well salted and served with a Chili Aioli on the side as French Frites would be.
It wasn't listed on the menu, but a good bar will generally have a selection of Amaro.  I was interested in a digestif, so I asked what they had (because it was too dark to really see the bar back to see what they had).  After asking about a few things specifically, I ended up with an Averna.  It was thick and thick with a gently herbal bitterness, and I thought it would go very well with my dessert.
I only took a quick glance at the dessert menu because there was something that I saw that I knew immediately that I wanted.  Called an Eaton Mess, it is a traditional English dessert (actually spelled Eton) created for the annual cricket match between Eton College and Harrow School.  It consists of Whipped Cream, Seasonal Berries, in this case, Blackberries, Blueberries, Raspberries, and Strawberries, and Meringue.  I had previously only seen this dish in London, so I was very excited to see it here.  I had previously seen this served in a dish or a cup, this was seved as what looked like a tower of whipped cream.  The tower was supported with slabs of meringue and covered in berries.  It was light, sweet, and crunchy, with an abundance of fruit in every bite.  It was a mess to eat, but it tasted good and it was fun to try.

Other than the dimness of the light, I enjoyed my time here.  It was quiet, had a low-key vibe, and the staff was friendly and informative.  The food was very good and there were a few things that I may have to return for.