Friday, December 30, 2016

Nosh and Booze - Brunch

Every month, I plan for a brunch outing.  I pick a place, invite friends, and make a reservation, if necessary.  I have a soft list in my head of places in which I might be interested that I generally choose from, but this month, a friend told me that she had a reservation for a place for brunch that I could use I wanted to.  Nosh and Booze was on my radar and it looked interesting, so I decided to take her up on that offer.  Located in the West Loop in the former Vivo space, it is a long term pop-up for the group that runs AMK in Bucktown.  The group bought the space and have plans for it that they have not yet talked a lot about.  These plans will take some time, so they decided to open something up quickly while they were planning the permanent space.  Presently the space is pretty raw, with graffiti (art) covered brick walls and unfinished ceilings.  The floor is cement and the furniture is made from steel piping and finished wood planks.  The menu is cheffy bar/comfort food with a good selection of beer, wine, and classic and original cocktails.  I started things off with an IPA Jackass, a beer cocktail based on a Moscow Mule.  Served in a metal mug (it was not obviously copper), it contained Hophead Vodka, Ginger, Lime, Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA, and a Mint Garnish.  It was both sweet and tart with a nice herbal flavor, floral hops, and a mint finish.  It was very refreshing and I really enjoyed it.
For my brunch, I had Chilaquiles.  Now, I will admit to being a little pedantic about Chilaquiles, because many people get it wrong.  At it's base, chilaquiles is simply fried tortilla chips cooked in red or green salsa.  Different things can be added, including, in this case, Guacamole, Sour Cream, Chorizo, White Cheddar, Pico de Gallo, and Two Eggs, Over Easy.  Tex-Mex Migas, while similar, are frequently confused with Chilaquiles.  Migas, while it also has tortilla strips in salsa with onions, and frequently, pico de gallo, it is also frequently served with refried beans and corn tortillas.  While this did have pico de gallo, which is unusual for chilaquiles, it did not have refried beans, and was not served with extra tortillas, so I would say that this was truly chilaquiles.  In any case it was meaty and spicy, with perfectly cooked eggs, and very good eggs. 

Besides the Chilaquiles, they had Chicken and Waffles, an Omelette, Frittata, Biscuits and Gravy, and a nice looking Hash.  Everything looked very good and seemed to be enjoyed by all.  I enjoyed brunch here and can hopefully make it here for dinner before they switch to their permanent concept.    

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sauce and Bread Kitchen, The Stew Luau

I enjoy going to Sauce and Bread Kitchen for their supper club, The Stew and have gone several times. mostly at Sauce and Bread Kitchen, but also at alternate locations.  The coffee shop/cafe itself is religiously local and seasonal and is the home of both Crumb Bakery and Co-op Hot Sauce.  While both of these are very good, their self imposed rules can be a little restrictive.  The Stew, their monthly supper club, allows them to break out and get creative and for this episode, they were very creative.  They did a spin on the food of a Hawaiian Luau (having never been to a Luau or even Hawaii).  Hawaiian friends of theirs that consulted on the menu development said that while some were pretty close to authentic, some were very creative.  In any case, the food we were served was very good.  We started out with a dish called Puri Puri that took a little work from the diner to put it together.  It consisted of very "balls" with very thin shells.  We were to crack them open to fill them with the Avocado Citrus Kissed Salmon and Sauce with which they were served.  The shell was like a very thin cracker, the salmon was very fresh and had a nice citrus flavor along with pureed avocado.  The sauce was like a Salsa Verde and added a tart spicy flavor.  It was a nice start with a very interesting dish that tasted really good.
Our next dish was called a Masubi Roll, but looked nothing like any roll that I might normally think of.  Having said that, it was similar in technique to a Maki Roll that you may find in a sushi restaurant.  It was an Onigiri Roll with House Made Ham, Egg, Rice and Umebashi Plum Sauce wrapped in Nori.  Onigiri is a roll with rice, and some sort of salted or sour food, and frequently, umebashi (salted plums), in this case the ham stood in as the salted portion and the Umebashi was served as part of the spicy sauce served with the side salad.  It was very different, but it did taste good, despite the burn. 
For our third course, we had Lau Lau, Braised Octopus and Poi (a tick sauce consisting of mashed and baked Taro root and in this dish, acted as a very thick sauce for the tender octopus) wrapped in a thick and edible leaf.  Served with the leaf were Purple Sweet Potato Chips.  While this tasted good, I couldn't figure out an easy way to eat it without making a mess.  As it was, I wrapped the leaf more tightly than it was served and ate it like a burrito, although more quickly.  While it did help somewhat, the leaf was tough, so it was tough to bite through, and the poi was very liquid.  The sweet potato chips were sweet and salty and provided a nice textural counterpoint to the leaf.

Our last savory dish was unusual in that it was a vegetarian dish.  Called Manapua, it consisted of BBQ Jackfruit in a Steamed Hawaiian Bun with Carrots, Pickled Red Onion and Grilled Pineapple.  Jackfruit is a large citrus fruit, with a banana/pineapple flavor, but it also unfortunately had a slight aroma similar to body odor.  The BBQ provided a sweet and tart flavor over the sweetness of the Hawaiian bun.  It had a nice crunch and other than the slightly unpleasant aroma, it tasted pretty good.
For our dessert, we finished off with Haupia, a traditional Hawaiian dessert consisting of Coconut Milk cooked with Arrowroot to make it thicker.  It had a texture similar to thick gelatin and was served with Pineapple, Passionfruit Curd, and Coconut.  It was sweet and tart from the passionfruit and pineapple and had a lot of textural variety.  It was very good and a good and interesting finish to a supperclub that I will undoubtedly enjoy again.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Land and Sea Dept - From Good Stock Underground Dinner

I mentioned that I like to do underground dining; going to a dinner served by a chef in a space that is not a restaurant.  I recently went to a dinner that was just about as underground as you could get (as far as the space was concerned).  Land and Sea Dept is a group that runs restaurants and lounges including Longman & Eagle, Parsons Chicken and Fish, Chicago Athletic Association, and Lost Lake.  They also host events in different spaces including the building in which their offices reside.  In the fall they host a series of dinners called From Good Stock in which they invite a chef to create a dinner in their space.  They make it an event by also inviting a DJ, bartenders, and artists to decorate the space.  For this dinner they invited brothers Ryan (Chef) and Matthew Poli (Mixologist) formerly of Chicago and now in Nashville running fine dining restaurant, The Catbird SeatScarpetta Wines was the wine partner and Fleur provided greenery to the space.  The space itself was something else.  Located on a side street in Garfield Park (that has no street lights) it is in a former candy factory.  There is nothing to indicate that this space was a former candy factory, it is a big open space with cement floors, brick walls, and a high ceiling in a former factory.  There was a bar at the front of the space where we picked up our Bienvenuto (Welcome) Cocktail which had Melleti Amaro, Carpano Antico Vermouth, Lemon, Peychaud's Bitters, and Fentiman's Tonic.  I like amaro and I liked this cocktail.  I was actually kind of surprised that it was less bitter than I expected (All of the alcohol in the drink is bitter).  It had some bitterness to it, but it was also sweet and had a tart finish from the lemon.  In the back of the room, the DJ was playing a lot of old school funk and disco and in the back corner on the same side as the entrance was the open kitchen.  There was art in the room, both free standing and hanging on the wall, but I was told later that they don't have as much art as they used to because the roof leaks and has damaged several pieces.  As far as seating was concerned, there were four long tables in the center of the room that could seat a total of 80 people.  The tables were decorated with greenery from the aforementioned Fleur which included a crown made from that greenery.  Most of the crowns were made from Sage, but there were a few made from Rosemary.  There may be a picture of me wearing the crown, but it will not be shared.  

When the dinner started, the crew introduced themselves and told us a little about the event.  When chef Ryan Poli thought about doing a large dinner party served family-style, he came up with the idea of a Roman feast.  The meal was billed as a three course family style meal, but each course had several parts, so we actually had closer to seven dishes over four courses.  After our opening cocktail, we had several bottles of Scarpetto Red and White Wines at the table to drink with our meal.  We started with a large plate of Antipasti which included Grilled and Marinated Vegetables including Zucchini and Brussels Sprouts, a couple of Italian Cheeses, Calabrian Chilies, Mortadella, Prosciutto, Fermented Beets, and Squash.  This was very good and I tried several elements, but I didn't want to stuff myself early.  We were then served Arancini.  They didn't call it Arancini, but Crispy Fried Tomato Risotto filled with Mozzarella Cheese is Arancini.  I have had several arancini balls, but I had never had it made with tomato risotto.  The tomato added another element to the dish and it was very good.

For our Primi, we were served two pasta courses.  The first was Spaghetti All'Amatriciana, Spaghetti served with a Tomato based sauce which contains Guanciale.  It tasted good, the tomatoes and gualciale were very flavorful, but the spaghetti was a little overdone.  With the other pasta course, I wasn't exactly sure what it was and with minimal lighting, it was kind of difficult to see.  It looked like a cake with a little sauce on the plate.  It had a crisp top and bottom with soft center and was very flavorful.  After looking at the menu, I saw that it was Gnocchi Alla Romana with Truffles and Celery Root.  I had never had Roman Gnocchi, but after thinking about it, really the only difference between Roman and regular Gnocchi is the shape and the crispness on the outside of the Roman Gnocchi.  The truffles were thinly sliced, but were an explosion of flavor and the sauce on the bottom provided a bittersweet finish.

The Secondi was made up of three elements on two plates.  The first, Bistecca Alla Bear Creek Farm with Cipolline in Agrodolce.  The beef was a Roast Tenderloin which was very tender, flavorful and juicy cooked to a perfect medium rare.  It was served with Cipollini Onions in a Sweet and Sour Sauce.  Cipollini onions are small and kind of flat so I kind of mistook them for mushrooms.  They were tender and sweet and went very well with both the beef and the agrodolce sauce.  The other half of the course was the Potato Gratin with Mustard Greens.  Potatoes and Cheese are a natural with beef and these potatoes were cooked perfectly.  The mustard greens added a little tartness which matched well with the agrodolce on the roast.
After our big family-style plates, our dessert was served individually.  In a small glass, we were served a Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Agrumato Lemon Olive Oil.  Agrumato is the process of pressing citrus with olives to create a flavored olive oil.  As odd as it might sound, it was actually very good with a the texture of a fine olive oil and a very nice lemon flavor.  The smooth texture went very well with the panna cotta and the lemon flavor paired well with the tartness from the buttermilk.  It would have been a fine finish if it were the end, but it was not quite the end.
I have to think the last drink was a last minute add on because it didn't exactly make sense with the rest of the dinner.  This is not a complaint.  Someone had gotten a hold of a firkin of Solemn Oath Big Pern, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Belgian Brown Rye Ale and it was very good with a nice barrel aged flavor on top of the coffee flavors of the roasted malt, but while it was a good drink to finish with, it didn't exactly go with the Italian theme.

In any case, this was a lot of fun and I did enjoy myself.  The food was very good and I ended up sitting next to one of the partners of Land and Sea Dept who was very interesting to talk to.  He actually mentioned a couple of projects in the works without giving a lot of detail that excited me.  This episode of From Good Stock was the last of the year.  I will have to remember to keep an eye out for this next fall because I definitely want to do this again.      

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sunday Dinner Club - Three Floyd's Beer Dinner

I was recently added to the Sunday Dinner Club mailing list.  It is one of the most popular underground supper clubs in Chicago and you have to be invited on to the list.  They do multi-course dinners several times a year.  While I recently was able to try some of their food via a Takeout Night, this dinner, a beer dinner featuring Three Floyd's Beer was my first dinner in their event space.  Located above Honey Butter Fried Chicken, the entrance was not obvious as it is unmarked with the exception of the letters SDC at about chest height on an otherwise unmarked door.  The door is also locked, so you have to press the buzzer to be buzzed in.  Opening the door reveals a staircase immediately behind it.  At the first landing, the wall is decorated with plates of many sizes and colors.  Entering the room room there are three communal tables that will seat about 10 each, a wood floor, and two hanging lights that kind of reminded me of octopuses.  There were several wires radiating from a central hub that supported Edison lights hanging at different heights.  There was a fireplace on the same wall as the entrance (unlit on the night I went) with many cookbooks on the mantle.  There was a room off to the side where there was a coat rack and the kitchen was in a second room off to the side.  Things started out with the crew introducing themselves, welcoming us, and and telling us a little about both Sunday Dinner Club and Three Floyd's Brewery.  Our first course came out shortly afterward which were Chicken Fried Cheese Curds and Cauliflower with Lime Salt and Sriracha Aioli, paired with Gumballhead which is a Hoppy Wheat Ale.  The curds seemed pretty fresh because they still had a squeak even after the deep fry.  The flavor was medium, but the lime salt enhanced the salty sour flavor.  The Sriracha Aioli provided a nice spicy finish.
The meal followed a fairly standard progression with the soup following.  We were served a Pub Style Trout and Bacon Chowder with Rushing Waters Trout, Neuske Bacon, Fennel, Fennel Pollen, and Housemade Oyster Crackers, paired with Yum Yum Pale Ale.  The chowder was very flavorful with the bacon and the mild licorice flavor of the fennel.  The chowder was very creamy and the oyster crackers provided a nice salty crunch.  Yum Yum is also pretty hoppy as most of Three Floyd's beers are, but it also has a lot of malt which gives it a biscuit flavor.  Which went very well with the creamy soup.
After the soup came the pasta. which was also the seafood dish.  We were served Spaghetti and Clams with Cardamom, Garlic, and Parsley, and topped with Orange Brown Butter Bread Crumbs.  This was paired with Zombie Dust Pale Ale, a very hoppy pale ale that is not an IPA simply because the ABV is too low.  This dish and the pairing were probably my favorite of the meal.  The spaghetti was perfectly al dente pairing with the chewy texture of the clams.  The Cardamom, Garlic and Parsley went well with the hoppiness of the beer and the orange brown butter bread crumbs provided a savory citrus finish.
For our main course, we had a Pork Loin and Ham Roulade filled with Creamed Spinach and Kale, served with Honey Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and topped with Apple Cider Jus.  This was paired with Three Floyd's first beer, Alpha King APA which paired with the roasted Brussels Sprouts and the Cider Jus.  The food was porky and sweet with bittersweet caramel flavors from the Brussels sprouts, tartness from the jus, and a little bitterness from the vegetables.
Dessert was pretty simple, but it had both the flavors of a very good dessert and hit all of the right comfort food notes.  We were served Chocolate Cake Doughnut Holes with a Coffee Glaze.  If you are going to serve a dessert with flavors of chocolate and coffee, it makes sense to serve a beer with flavors of chocolate and coffee.  Many stouts and porters with their roasted malts fit this description and we were served a very good member of this group, Alpha Klaus Christmas Porter.  It had a lot of chocolate flavor (although not much on the coffee front) and as with all Three Floyd's Beers, a lot of hops.  It was a good pairing and a very good finish to a fun and very good dinner.  It was my first official dinner with Sunday Dinner Club, it certainly will not be my last.     

Sunday, December 4, 2016


I have mentioned Knife before, having attended a few preview dinners at sister restaurant Fork.  I recently had dinner at the newly opened and aptly named steakhouse.  I did joke about the name and the number of utensil named restaurants are in Chicago, but naming a steakhouse Knife seems very appropriate.  The space is small, seating about 50 people and the vibe is both retro and rustic with a hardwood floors and walls, a maple colored wood bar and wood furniture.  There are several booths with half-round seats covered in white leather and the wood walls are laid in a chevron pattern.  The bar is in the back half of the dining area opposite several booths.  The entrance is through a hall that enters into the dining room in about the center of the room.  We were seated at a table in the front half of the restaurant although near the center of the dining room, so we were relatively close to the entrance.  The menu was printed on two large sheets, one for food and one for spirits.  The cocktail list was very interesting with the names of the cocktails coming from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and the definition of each sorrow was included on the menu.  In addition to these, they have beer, wine, and four classic cocktails that are made table side.  While Vermodalen (The frustration of photographing something and knowing that thousands of identical photos already exist.) did catch my eye, and was in fact ordered by my table mate, the obscure cocktail that I ordered was called Exulansis (The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it).  It was made with Snap-pea infused St. George Botanivore Gin, Chamomile Syrup, Aloe, and Lemon Juice.  It did have a vegetal flavor from the snap peas, but the overarching flavor was very floral with a tart finish from the lemon juice.  It was a little more floral than I would normally drink, but it was pretty good despite that.
While there are several things on the menu that are not a steak, and considering the talented chef, Tim Cottini, I am sure that they would be very good, coming to a place that at its heart is a steakhouse and not ordering steak would have been a shame.  While the plan was ultimately to order a steak, I wanted to try an appetizer as well.  With that thought in mind, I ordered Oxtail Doughnut Holes which were served with Au Poivre Sauce.  The balls of deep fried dough were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with a pice ofvery savory, tender and juicy oxtail.  They were good on their own, but the Au Poivre sauce added a nice peppery finish.

The steaks at Knife are dry aged in house and unlike many other places, it is unnecessary to order a giant steak that will feed two (or more) people.  The size of the steak is listed on the menu and while there is one large steak (28 oz) for two, most of the other steaks come in sizes between 6 and 12 oz and are priced accordingly.   All of the steaks can be ordered with a variety of sauces and additions, but they all come with a choice of frites or onion strings as well as a housemade Journeyman Steak Sauce and a Lemon Aioli.  There are also a variety of sides that can be ordered for an additional fee.  While I generally like my steaks Au Poivre, I ordered Three Medallions (Filet Mignon) that came with a Blue Cheese Crust (which came with the steak sauce, aioli, and my choice between Smoked Frites and Onion Strings, which was the frites) so an additional sauce was unnecessary.  On the side, I ordered  River Valley Mushrooms En Papillote (Cooked in Parchment) with Portobello, Shiitake, and Cremini Mushrooms, seasoned with Rosemary, Garlic and Bay.  Everything was excellent.  The blue cheese on the very tender medallions was very flavorful.  I would not normally use a sauce on a good steak, I did try it to taste the sauce.  The sauces were good, but unnecessary for the steak, and I used them more for the frites.  The mushrooms were also tender and flavorful with the spices really contributing to the flavor.  They went very well with the steak.

There were several things of interest listed on the dessert menu, but there was one thing that went to the head of the line when I saw it.  In one of the preview dinners, Chef Tim did a Baked Alaska for dessert using 151 Rum for the fuel for the fire.  When lighting one of ours at the table, he nearly set his face on fire.  Despite this mishap, it was a fantastic dessert in taste and presentation and he carried a variation over to the dessert menu at Knife.  This dessert, called The Gran Torino topped a Sponge cake with Raspberry and Pistachio Ice Creams and a Marshmallow "crust" that was roasted tableside on a cart similar to the cart that carried all of our food to the table.  When the Gran Torino arrived, it was topped with 151 Rum and torched to develop a nice char on all sides.  When it burned for a little while it was put out by covering it.  It was then cut and served.  It was fantastic and a great finish to a very good meal.  I really enjoyed dinner here as well as having the opportunity to talk to Chef Tim.  I would definitely enjoy a trip back and recommend it to my friends that enjoy a very good steak.