Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Duck Inn

It is really nice to be surprised positively.  I had heard about the The Duck Inn when it opened about a year ago.  On paper, it had a lot of things going for it, number one being that it's headed by Executive Chef Kevin Hickey, a talented chef who has headed several high profile restaurants (Allium, Bottlefork).  I was skeptical though, because the place is backed by Rockit Ranch, a group that seems more focused on the scene than on the dining experience.  While the food at their restaurants is generally pretty good, the prices also seem to be inordinately high, which promotes that this is an exclusive place that only the rich and beautiful would be welcome.  The place is also located in an out of the way corner of Bridgeport (a south side neighborhood) which has to make it a destination place for northsiders (It's a place you plan to go to vice going to spontaneously).  Looking at the menu before going did not dissuade me from the idea that this was a scene place, the food looked good, but the prices also looked inordinately high.  I had read a lot of positive press about the place and one of my friends had gone and really liked it, so I decided to try it out.  From the beginning when I arrived it was not what I expected.  As I said it was an out of the way corner of Bridgeport, very close to the Illinois Sanitary and Ship Canal.  The building, while it does have a sign, is pretty inobtrusive and just looks like a small corner bar painted black.  Walking in did little to dissuade me of of that idea, although it did have a definite 70s vibe.  I was a little taken aback though to see the chef standing at the Host Station.  I was by myself so he walked me to the dining room behind the bar where he handed me off to one of the waitresses who seated me in the dining room.  Generally, I would have no problem sitting at the bar, but in this case, the bar apparently only has an abbreviated menu, so the dining room it was.  The dining room is also basically black with a 70s vibe with high windows, a door to a patio in the rear, and a window to the kitchen.  I was seated in the center of the room so I got a good view of the movement of the staff and who the clientele were.  With that I was surprised again because this very much seemed a neighborhood joint.  There were families and people of all ages here.  Looking at the menu beforehand, the menu seemed to have many of the typical bar food standards (Burgers, Hot Dogs, Cheese Curds), they also, unsurprisingly, had a lot of duck on the menu including a Whole Rotisseried Duck that you had to pre-order, but they also were pretty all over the map with items such as Lumpia, Potted Foie Gras, and Scallop and Clam Stew.  There was also a 4 course Chef's Tasting Menu for $58, which I thought a little expensive, with a beer pairing at $16, which I thought pretty good.  After finding out that 3 out of the 4 courses came from the regular menu, and quickly comparing prices, I decided to go with the tasting menu.  For the first course, we started with the Spot Prawns with Seven Year Aged Risotto (the cheese in the risotto is aged seven years, not the entire risotto), Uni Butter, Eucalyptus, and Pickled Sea Beans.  It was paired with a Hottenroth Berliner Weisse from The Bruery.  The prawns were tender and flavorful and went well with the butteriness of the risotto and the saltiness of the sea beans.  The Berliner Weiss, a sour wheat beer paired well with every part of the course, bringing out different flavors with the different elements, the sour playing well with the sea beans and prawns, and the wheat pairing with the risotto.

The second course I may have bought whether or not I got the tasting menu, but then I may not have have had the beer to pair with it.  For the second course I had the Braised Pork Belly with Kale, Parsnip Tostones, and Heirloom Beans, and topped with Chimichurri.  Pork Belly is where bacon comes from.  It's generally served as a slab as this was and had a very tender interior as well as a chewy exterior.  It was like pork candy.  The parsnip tostones were unusual because when I think of tostones, I think of plantains.  As they are both starchy, it worked.  The flavor was more potato than banana, but it went with the pork belly well.  The beans were like pintos, the kale was similar to a stiff spinach, and the chimichurri  added a spice to everything.  The beer pairing was Marzcal Kolsch from Marz Community Brewing which was really unusual for a Kolsch, but went with the pork belly.  A Kolsch (named after Cologne, Germany) is generally a lower alcohol beer with a light color, and is a good summer beer.  This Kolsch used Smoked Malt, Blue Agave Nectar, and Sea Salt and is 7.2% ABV.  It was like the beer version of Mezcal and while it was almost nothing like a standard kolsch, it went well with the pork belly.

The next course was the cheese course which was listed on the dessert menu which I didn't see.  It was a simple cheese course paired with a nice dry cider.  The cheese was a semi-soft cheese similar to Camembert called Green Hill Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia.  It had a light flavor, but it also had a light funk to it.  With the cheese was served a Cherry Marmalade, Fig Preserves rolled in Marcona Almonds, and a Baguette.  While it wasn't much on its own, it spread well and was great on the bread with or without the cherries or figs.  The cider was great. and it paired well with the cheese.  It was a dry cider from a cidery in Tennessee that I wish I could remember the name because it's not listed online and I would definitely buy it on my own.  It was very tart and crisp with a nice cider flavor and minimal funk.

I will say that while I really liked my dessert, I can't say that I was exceptionally excited by the pairing.  I was served a White Chocolate Cremeaux (similar to pudding) with Strawberry Sorbet, Fresh Strawberries, and a Shortbread Crumble.  It was sweet, very creamy, tart, and very fresh tasting.  It was paired with the Nonsequitur Metaphor Cream Ale from Solemn Oath Brewing.  I understand the pairing because it was creamy and sparkling, but I can't say that I am a huge fan of the flavor of cream ale which just reminds me of a light lager without much flavor.

Overall, my dinner was very good.  The staff was friendly and it was nice to actually meet the chef.  The food is very good, but it is not cheap, so it would not be an every day stopping place, even if it was close.  I liked the vibe and I would really like to return if for nothing else than to try the rotisseried duck.     

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