Saturday, October 22, 2016


There are a lot of things I can say that lead up to Giant, the new American restaurant in Logan Square, before I even talk about the restaurant itself.  The chef, Jason Vincent, is well known in Logan Square, first gaining notice working under the other Jason in the neighborhood, Jason Hammel, at Lula Cafe, as sous chef.  After several years as sous chef, he decided to take on the roll of chef at Nightwood, which was also owned by Jason Hammel, where he came into his own, winning Food & Wine's Best New Chef, Cochon 555 King of Pork, and was a James Beard Award Semi-Finalist.  Two years ago, he left Nightwood so he could actually be a parent to his two small children.  After taking two years off, showing up at the occasional pop-up or benefit, he has returned and people are happy for it.  The restaurant space he chose at 3209 W. Armitage Ave. is a small space (1400 sq. ft).  When I moved into the neighborhood nine years ago, it was a cheap Thai BYOB that had just closed.  It eventually reopened as another cheap Thai BYOB and over the next 8 years it was a cheap Thai BYOB changing names and owners three times.  The food wasn't bad, it just may not have been the place for Thai food.  Walking into the new place, I saw that they had made many changes.  It's still small, but the space is well used with banquette seating on both sides of the room.  The walls are white painted brick with some wall hangings on both sides including the poem, Me and My Giant by Shel Silverstein from his book, Where the Sidewalk Ends.  The background music for the restaurant is provided via record collection.  There are two turntables mounted behind the bar that play records vertically, which saves space and also looks pretty cool.  The music is widely varied.  When I was there, I heard some indie rock, jazz, and folk.
The restaurant has a very nice wine list, with a few beers and five cocktails, four of which were gin based or in a gin style and one was a whiskey cocktail.  I didn't want to think about wine and I thought the menu deserved more than beer, so I went with a cocktail from their short list, a Gin and Tonic with Cottswolds London Dry Gin, Fentiman's Tonic, and a Lime.  It was a good and simple classic cocktail, although I will admit that it may not have been the best choice when paired with some of the food that I had.
The menu is widely varied although most is designed for sharing pretty easily.  The one thing that can pretty conclusively not be shared is the first thing on the menu, which is also one of the more popular things on the menu.  The dish is called a Super Uni Shooter and while it does have some ingredients common in a shooter, a shot made with soy sauce and sea food frequently served in sushi restaurants, it is not served in a glass.  It is served as as something that looks like a hushpuppy or an arancino.  When it is presented, the waitstaff instructs diners to eat the ball in one bite.  Frequently though, people don't listen and make mistakes.  This almost happened to me despite the fact that I knew why we were instructed on how to eat it.  The reason that people are instructed to pop it into their mouths and eat it in one bite is that it's filled with liquid and if you bite into it, you will end up wearing it.  What this is is Uni mixed with butter, aged for a day, breaded and deep fried.  This allows a crust to form and the center to melt.  It's a very good one bite wonder that is served with grated Cucumber and Soy Sauce.  It was very good and I am glad that I was caught and didn't end up wearing it.
For our first shared plate we had Marinated Zucchini, Pumpkin Seeds, and Cilantro with Chihuahua Cheese.  I like Zucchini, so for me, it would have been good just sliced up on the plate by itself (although admittedly, that would have been pretty unexciting visually).  The marinade seemed to be some sort of vinaigrette which added a little tartness to it.  The pepitas added texture and a nutty flavor and the cheese added the nice savory flavor that cheese adds.

We then ordered two different types of pasta, both of which were made in-house.  We had a Cannelloni with Smoked Lamb and Arugula Pesto and Pici (which was a pasta that similar to a pappardelle, but with a little more texture which they just made up) which was served with Jalapeno, Anchovies, and Bacon in a Pasta Water Sauce.  While I will eat it, I am generally a little leery of lamb because it can be pretty gamy.  In the case of the cannelloni, I think the fact that it was smoked helped.  The lamb was tender, pulled, and wrapped inside the cannelloni which was nicely browned and topped with Sour Cream.  The arugula pesto was a little more bitter and peppery than standard pesto which is frequently made with basil, but with the lamb, it worked.  The Pici, I wanted to like.  The pasta was perfectly al dente, the bacon and the anchovies added a nice salty and savory flavor and it had a nice spicy finish from the jalapeno.  The problem I had was self inflicted because the sweetness from the Gin and Tonic really clashed with the flavor.  It took me a minute to figure out what the problem was, but after I did and had some water to clear my palate, it was much better.
We finished our savory courses with Swordfish which was served with Tomatoes, Giardinera, and Fried Clams.  The swordfish was lightly browned and tender.  The light flavor went well with the vegetables, but I was surprised by the clams.  They were listed on the menu, I had just forgotten about them and it was like a bonus.  They were chewy, flavorful and went well with everything.

There were two desserts on the menu and because there were two of us, we had to get both.  The first was the Cajeta Ice Cream.  It was similar to Mexican Fried Ice Cream using Housemade French Vanilla Ice Cream, Cut Strawberries were wrapped around the ball of ice cream  and then everything was coated  with Butter Pecan Crunch which was also used as a garnish.  It was like Mexican Fried Ice Cream with Strawberries and it was pretty great.  The other dessert was called Smoregasbord and was positively decadent.  It started with a German Chocolate Dump Cake which was topped with Marshmallow Cream, Chocolate Graham Crackers, and Mini Oreos.  It was then put in the oven to lightly brown the marshmallow and served warm.  I really enjoyed my dinner here and am really glad it's close, because I will surely return. 


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