Friday, June 17, 2016

Haywood Tavern

When you go into a bar that serves food, there are certain things that you expect to see like sandwiches, burgers, and fries.  If you go to a place that calls itself a gastropub, you expect much better food, but the place also looks like a restaurant (with a bar).  I went to neighborhood pub, Haywood Tavern recently and was very surprised.  From the outside, the place looks like a nice corner tavern a nice large front window and vintage accents.  Walking in, there was the large bar and a few booths, but the space was very open.  There was a very nice tin ceiling and a hardwood floor which played to the vintage feel of the place.  There is apparently also a nice patio in back, but I didn't see it.  Based on the appearance, I expected a place that did some good drinks and was a bar and grill as far as food was concerned.  I was correct as far as the beer and cocktail list was concerned.  They have a good beer list and some creative cocktails.  What I did not expect to see were things on the food menu such as Confit of Pork Belly, Raclette, or Parisienne Gnocchi, or Arancini.  As the food menu was going to take some time to peruse, I ordered one of their creatively named cocktails, Based on the Short Story "Fire in the Hole" which was made with Bourbon, Mezcal, Benedictine, and Peychaud's Bitters (and an Orange Peel Garnish).  It was smoky, citrusy, very smooth and a nice start.
After looking at the menu, I decided on something that I really like, but haven't had in a while (and another thing that I was surprised to see on the menu), a Tortilla Espanola.  A Tortilla Espanola is essentially a very thick omelet (or frittata) served cold.  It is made with Eggs and Potatoes and this was served with Brava Sauce, a mildy spicy Tomato and Olive Oil based sauce with Garlic and Cayenne that went amazingly well with the fried eggs and potatoes in the tortilla.

For my second course, I went with an Octopus Salad with Cucumbers, Pea Tendrils, and Romesco Sauce, a nut and red pepper based sauce from Northeastern Spain which goes well with seafood.  The octopus was very meaty and had a good texture and the cucumbers and pea tendrils gave the salad a nice fresh and crisp crunch.  The Romesco Sauce added a savory flavor with a little bit of spicy bite and altogether it was one great bite.
For my main course, I went with something that would not surprise my friends or family.  There was duck on the menu, so that is what I chose.  I had Seared Duck Breast with Spring Vegetable Fried Rice, a Fried Egg, and Green Onions.  As the duck breast was seared, it still had a nice pink color to it.  It was well seasoned, tender, juicy, and had a good flavor.  The fried rice had carrots, onions, a lot of soy sauce (but not overmuch), a crispy outside, and a moist inside.  The egg was a bonus that tied the rice and the duck breast together.  As this was a duck dish, it would be expected that I would like it, but everything tied together well and it was very good.
They don't have a printed dessert menu.  What they do have though, is a chalk board on the wall opposite the bar that lists specials and the one or two desserts that they're featuring.  On the day that I went, they had something called a Cornmeal Cake which sounded unusual, but I'm not someone who strays away from the unusual and I decided to try it.  It was served with Lemon, Strawberry, and Cheesecake, but the way it was served, very fragmented, it was possible to try everything individually.  Everything was also very different texturally.  The cornmeal cake was like crisp cornbread, although sweeter and a little less gritty.  The lemon was served powdered, the strawberry was pureed, and the cheesecake looked like it had come out of a pastry tube.  While all of the flavors were good individually, the best bite was to get everything together.  It was sweet, tart, creamy, and crisp, and a lot of fun to try the different elements in different combinations.

I was very surprised when I came here, but in a good way.  Both the food and drink were very good, and the bartender was very friendly and helpful and very willing to offer me samples of things behind the bar that I had not yet tried.  I will definitely be back.          

Saturday, June 11, 2016


We were introduced by a scallop.  Every fall, generally in October, there is a benefit for Meals on Wheels Chicago called the Celebrity Chefs Ball that I attend.  At this event, they have a sit down meal first featuring several notable chefs, this part of the benefit is pretty expensive and while it would be cool to attend, it would also probably make it difficult to enjoy the second part which is when I attend.  For this part of the event, about 40 restaurants are invited to set up tasting stations and offer bites based on dishes at the restaurant.  Many of the restaurants invited are well established with a very good reputation, but there are a few newcomers invited that have a significant buzz about them.  Last fall, Sociale, a brand new restaurant and wine bar that had opened in the Printer's Row/South Loop area was one of the newcomers.  They were serving a Scallop which was crusted in Sumac and cooked with Pistachio Butter which was absolutely amazing.  It was decided then that me must make a trip to try their food in person.  Located on a corner, it has a glass wall office space look from the outside.  The inside is a very open space with high, unfinished ceilings, floating liquor shelves and a kitchen, that while not open, was windowed so you could see it.  The dining room was L-shaped and we sat at a point where we could see both sides at a large black wood table.  Beer, Wine, and Cocktails were all available, but so were coffee and coffee drinks.  I started things with a Latte in which they did some very nice foam art.  I got a heart, another diner got a leaf.  The Coffee used in the Latte was also very good and flavorful.
As far as dining is concerned, I started things out with one of their small plates, a Pork Belly Pintxo, Braised Pork Belly Skewers wrapped in Iberico Bacon and served with Sherry Jus.  If you are thinking bacon on top of bacon, that is exactly what it was.  The pork belly was served as a big chunk of fatty and porky goodness.  The bacon was made from the highest grade of Spanish pork.  It was sweet and porky and had a more concentrated flavor than the pork belly.  It also provided some textural variety, being a little stiffer than the fatty belly.  The Jus provided some moisture and some sherry flavor on top of additional bacon flavor.  While this was good though, had i noticed the Scallops on the menu, I would have ordered them
For my main course, I chose Duck Sausage Hash with a Fried Duck Egg and Harissa Crema.  Like the first course was bacon on top of bacon, this was duck on top of duck.  I really like duck, but I think for other people, because of the variety, it wouldn't  be overwhelming.  The duck sausage tasted like sausage first and the egg tasted like egg first.  The Harissa Crema, a sour cream based chili paste added a spice to the dish, and the potatoes, which are an integral part of hash, gave it a nice heartiness.  It was a very good brunch with a friendly staff and I will return if for nothing else but to have another shot at the scallops.