Sunday, December 31, 2017

Old Irving Brewing

I will be the first to admit that I like beer.  I also like exploring and have been to many of Chicago's breweries and have gotten to know brewers, partners, owners, or other employees of several breweries.  One such brewery, Old Irving Brewing, I have been friends of the brewery since it was an idea in the head brewers head.  I met Trevor Rose-Hamblin, the Head Brewer/Partner at Old Irving Brewing when he managed fine dining restaurant, Moto.  The last time I had a meal there, he mentioned that he would be leaving to train with the guys from BrewDog in Scotland, so he could start his own brewery/brewpub.  He returned a few months later and worked toward opening the brewpub.  There were complications and things took longer than expected, but it opened at the end of 2016.  I tried to get there soon after it opened, and I did actually get there a few times, but complications prevented me from actually going in until last spring.  I have been there a few times and enjoyed both the food and drink.  They had a bottle release on black Friday for a beer that I was very interested in.  So I decided to stop in shortly after to pick up a bottle and have some more of their excellent food.
As it is a brewery and I was coming for a specific beer, I decided to try a few of the beers that they have on tap.  They generally have 8-10 beers on tap ranging from low alcohol to high, and light to dark.  There is always a very drinkable Kolsch, an IPA, and a Stout on the menu.  For this trip, I went with House of 'Pagne, an American Strong Ale that was a collaboration with Pipeworks Brewing, that used White Peaches and Belgian Candy Sugar, Trendi the Sixth, a Double Dry Hopped IPA that goes through frequent variations (hence the Sixth part of the name), and Imperial Krampus Cookies (the bottle I was picking up), a Barrel Aged Imperial Milk Stout with flavors of Cherry and Vanilla.  A ll of the beers were good, though House of 'Pagne was a little dryer than I generally like.  Of the three that I tried that night, I liked Trendi the Sixth the best.
As I was sitting there drinking and it was close to dinner time, I decided that I should eat.  Their restaurant menu has some really good food.  In the past, I have had some Brussels Sprouts, Marrow, and a very good burger that changes topping from week to week.  This time around, I decided to stat things off with the Fried Zucchini which was served with Sicilian Caper Salsa, Garlic Aioli, and Parmagiano-Reggiano.  It was very good.  The zucchini was sliced lengthwise and had a crisp crust, but it was not completely fried through, so you got some of the texture of the zucchini in the center.  The flavor of the zucchini also went very well with the caper salsa and the garlic aioli.  As this was very much an Italian dish, what better way of finishing it than by topping it with grated Parmagiano-Reggiano Cheese.
For my main course, I went to Spain and had the Wood Fired Spanish Octopus.  It was served with Crispy Potatoes, Piquillo Peppers, more Garlic Aioli (I can say for certain that I am not a vampire, because I like the aioli and think that it goes well with the food it was served with), Oregano, Lemon, and Green Olive Salsa.  Many people confuse octopus and squid and think that they might taste similarly.  Octopus has a much meatier texture and flavor, and goes better with savory elements.  The potatoes (which would have gone well with a steak), were cut in large pieces had crispy edges, but were well cooked fried potatoes.  I am generally not a huge fan of green olives, but the salsa went well with the octopus and other elements of the dish. and the piquillo peppers added a nice spice.
To finish things off, I was a little torn.  They generally, have a brownie, a panna cotta, and a strudel on the dessert menu.  All sounded good, but I decided to go with the Chocolate Fudge Brownie that was served warm with Fudge Sauce, and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.  It was very good on it's own, but also, I drink my beers from light to dark and by this time, I was down to the Imperial Krampus Cookies Barrel Aged Milk Stout, which it went very well with.  I enjoyed my dinner and beers here.  The food was good and the staff is very friendly.  I will definitely return to enjoy more of their good beer and food.   

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Split Rail - Brunch

For our monthly brunch in November, we went to Split Rail.  I have a long history with the chef and enjoyed her food at Ada Street, her pop ups pre-Split Rail, and dinner at Split Rail, so I was confident that I would enjoy brunch.  Located in a former Doughnut factory in Ukrainian Village, I mentioned that it looked to me like Ada Street had grown up and moved to Wisconsin.  Like Ada Street it has black exterior walls and a white stenciled name.  In the case of Split Rail, it is more stylized and near the entrance as opposed to on the door.  The ceiling inside is also black and unfinished, there is a very nice long bar, and a banquette opposite the bar for seating, in the case of Split Rail, it was decorated with Polo players.  This is where we sat.  The kitchens of the two restaurants are semi-open, though in Split Rail's case, it is off to the side and elevated somewhat.  There are other tables over Persian rugs providing additional seating and the soundtrack is provided by vinyl LPs.  Split Rail is about twice as big as Ada Street, but it still feels cozy.
As we were there for brunch, coffee was a prime consideration.  The coffee we were served was from Dark Matter.  It seemed to be a medium roast, was nice and savory, and was served in a very nice Split Rail mug.  There were also 6 interesting cocktails being served for brunch, so I had to try one of those as well.  My drink was called Two Celestials.  It was pink, served in a Rocks Glass with ice and was made with Earl Grey Creme-Infused Prairie Gin, Combier Creme de Cassis, Grapefruit, and Lemon.  It had the bitter, floral, earthy flavor of Earl Grey Tea which combined well with the botanical flavor of the gin.  The Creme de Cassis (a liqueur made from black currants) added a bitter tang like a cross between a blackberry and a pomegranate.  The grapefruit and lemon added some sour and complemented the bitterness of the tea and the Creme de Cassis.
Starting things off, I ordered a bowl of Beignets for the table.  These were were fluffy fried yeast balls of wonderfulness like other beignets, but were covered in granulated sugar as opposed to the powdered sugar that most beignets are covered in.  They were also filled with Raspberry Jam.  They didn't have the mass amounts of jam that most bismarcks have, but these were like a beignet/bismarck hybrid and were very good.
For my main course, I went with Duck Confit Hash with Fingerling Potatoes, Fried Duck Egg, and Giardinera.  It was good and very flavorful with each piece adding something in flavor and texture, though at the same time, maintaining its individuality instead of combining into a homogeneous mess.  It was rich and savory with some significant spiciness added via the giardinera.  I am a huge fan of Reubens and there was a Reuben on the menu.  While I didn't order it, one of my friends did.  It was not the overstuffed thing that the Reuben from a Jewish deli would be, but it had everything necessary for a Reuben:  Toasted Rye Bread, Corned Beef, Sauerkraut, Swiss Cheese, and Russian Dressing.  It was crunchy, flavorful, and satisfying, despite being a little on the thin side.
Generally one sweet and one savory are my limit for brunch and will not generally go for dessert.  There was, however, something on the menu for which Chef Zoe is famous for, her bread pudding and I had to order it, ideally to be shared, or to take home if there was any left over.  This Bread Pudding was made with French Toast, served with Maple Syrup and Whipped Cream, and served in a Cast Iron Baking Pan.  It was sweet with a little crispness and enjoyed by all that tried it, but because the rest of brunch was also much enjoyed, I ended up taking about half of it home to be enjoyed later.
Like dinner, I very much enjoyed my meal here.  The food was very good as was the service, and I enjoy supporting and introducing friends to chefs that I have met in the past.  I will certainly return.       

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Pizza Night at Sunday Dinner Club

I really like Sunday Dinner Club.  They are an "Underground" supper club, located above Honey Butter Fried Chicken, and are in fact the founders and owners.  They do a wide variety of meals throughout the year, most of which are BYOB.  For those dinners held at their space, besides about one set of wine dinners per quarter and a Three Floyds beer dinner held in the fall, all of the rest are BYOB.  With these dinners mentioned, you are also able to bring a bottle, but they will already be serving beer or wine.  About once a quarter, they will have a dinner at Half Acre Brewery's Taproom.  This dinner was at their space and was all about pizza.  The entrance to the space is next to the entrance to Honey Butter Fried Chicken and is basically unmarked.  There is a sticker that says SDC, but unless you know that that's Sunday Dinner Club, it's pretty anonymous.  The door is also locked and you have to be buzzed up.  The stairway is narrow and has several plates as decoration at the top of the stairs.  The stairs open up to a room with three communal tables which will seat about 26 people and the menus were set at every place setting.  When we were all seated and had started to enjoy our beer and wine, I had a Double IPA from a small brewery in Bridgman, MI that I enjoy called Tapistry Brewing, the team came out to introduce themselves and tell us about Sunday Dinner Club and our dinner.
While I did say that the dinner was all about pizza, while it was the focus, we did eat more than pizza.  Our first course was Tomato Conserva Arancini, risotto balls filled with mozzarella and reduced tomato sauce with spices, served with a very nice Pesto Sauce.  The outside was crisp though thin.  The balls could be eaten by hand, though you did have to be careful to hold them lightly to prevent putting your fingers through the crust.  The risotto in side was very tender and flavorful after being cooked in the tomato sauce and the cheese was melted and gooey, which could easily be stretched out.  Arancini are very good, but these were especially good with good texture and flavor.
Our first salad, there were actually two, was kind of an Antipasto salad made with Chili and Honey Roasted Cauliflower, Ricotta, and Mortadella, a cured meat similar to bologna.  The cauliflower was the feature of the dish with a nice sweet and spicy flavor.  The ricotta added a creamy and bitter tang, and the mortadella added a savory flavor.  It was both simple and complex and was eaten very quickly.
For our second salad we had a more traditional salad with Apples, Pecans, Chicories (Bitter Leafy Greens similar to lettuce, Arugula, Radicchio and Endive) and Warm Bacon Dressing.  This was more traditionally salad and was pretty good.  As opposed to a salad that might be built from a restaurant salad bar, this was focused with the greens providing a bitter flavor, the apples, sliced very thin, adding a sweet/tart crunch, and the nuts providing a nutty flavor and a crunchy texture.  The bacon dressing, added a sweet meaty flavor which moderated the bitter of the chicories, and provided enough moisture to hold things together.
There were actually three pizza on the menu and they were all served family style, although they were cut.  The first pizza was a Chicago Thin that was similar to a Margherita Pizza.  It was made with a Sourdough Crust and was topped with Tomatoes, Fresh Chevre, a soft goat cheese, and Oregano.  It was also cut in squares.  I will never understand the logic of cutting a round pizza in squares, though it is a Chicago tradition and will tolerate it.  The pizza looked like a Margherita, though with the sourdough crust and chevre, it was more tart than the standard Margherita.  It also had a nice crispy texture.  It was simple, but with good ingredients, it was a very good piece of pie.
 The second pie was called a Grandma Pizza and was a white pie.  It started with Garlic Cream, Roasted Delicata Squash, and Magia Negra Cheese, a hard, raw goat's milk cheese, similar to Manchego.  While I liked the first pizza, this was a big step up.  This was also square cut, but since it was a square pie, it was understandable.  The garlic cream gave it a pronounced garlic flavor which the squash moderated with it's sweetness.  The Magia Negra had a somewhat sharp flavor which complemented the garlic cream and provided a counterpoint to the squash.

Our last pizza, also square, was also called a Grandma Pizza (a homemade pizza you might have at grandma's house), but it had more traditional pizza flavors with Tomatoes, Italian Sausage, Mozzarella.  It also had some sweet spiciness provided by Candied Jalapenos.  This seemed to be the most popular pie, I'm guessing because it was the most traditional.  There were leftovers of the last two pies, which I was elected to take home (not that I minded), though there was more of the white pie than the red.
For our final course, dessert, everyone was pretty full, but dessert was pretty simple and light.  It was an Italian Cookie Plate with a Chocolate Drizzled Pizzele, a very thin and light sugar cookie, a Fennel Cookie, and a Lemon Glazed Cornmeal Cookie, also called an Italian or Mexican Wedding Cake.  While all of the cookies were good, the Pizzelle with it's thin crunchy texture and light sweetness with a little chocolate and the Lemon Glazed Cornmeal Cake were memorable.  I really enjoy Sunday Dinner Club and this dinner was one of their better ones.  I will continue to go and enjoy what they put out.    

Friday, December 8, 2017

Pub Royale

While I have been told that I am a pretty adventurous water, I am a little intimidated when I don't really know what the food will be like.  Indian food uses so many unusual spices that are not used in other cuisines, that I have been a little intimidated to dive in.  There are things that fall within the realm of Indian cuisine that I really like, but my knowledge base of Indian Cuisine is small so it is generally not a go to for me.  India, however, was a colony of the British Empire and Anglo-inflected Indian cuisine is popular in England, so if Indian Cuisine is put through an English lens, this makes it easier for me to try.  If a restaurant putting out Anglo-Indian pub fare hores a chef that I know and like, that makes it easier for me to try.  Pub Royale, a gastropub with a really good beer list serving Anglo-Indian cuisine recently hired Chef Joanna Stachon, formerly of Ada Street, a restaurant I have come to love, so I decided that it was time for a visit.  The sign over the door looks really weathered with the lettering giving an exotic Indian feel and green neon signs above the name announcing food, beer, and brunch.  Inside, the space is narrow with the bar running along one side.  The walls are brick with Indian masks hanging on the brick walls and hanging globe lighting.  There is a large mirror behind the bar framed by a couple of stuffed white peacocks.  The glassware is kept hanging or sitting under the shelf holding the liquor and there is an old BMW motorcycle hanging on the wall behind and beside the bar.
While there is a printed beer list, the most up to date list is on a digital screen at the back of the restaurant.  I didn't actually notice the list until I had already ordered and received my beers off of the cardboard menu.  I ordered Odell Pyrus and Prunus American Wild Ale and Prairie Twist Farmhouse Ale.  The Odell was very tart.  While I liked it, it was a sipper as opposed to something you might put down quickly.  The Prairie was a hoppy and funky saison.  It had a pronounced flavor, but I had never had a high alcohol sour before (the Odell was 9% ABV), and I liked that more.  Having said that, while I did like the Odell better, the Prairie was better with my food.  
As for my food, I started with something I will almost always start with when I eat Indian food, Samosas.  They had a crispy outer shell as a good samosa is supposed to and was filled with Potatoes, Peas, and Onions, and was served with Cilantro and Tamarind Chutneys.  The samosas were good without chutney.  The crust was like a fried wonton with steamed potatoes, peas, and onions and the flavors that they provide.  While they were good without the chutney, they were better with, thiough I will admit that I did prefer the tart and bitter flavor of the tamarind to the green flavor of the cilantro chutney.
When I looked over the food menu, I saw something else that there also was no question about ordering.  At Ada Street, Lamb Ribs had made a showing on the menu and they were a big favorite among my friends and I.  They were also on the menu at Pub Royale with an Indian twist, adding Pomegranate Seeds, Cilantro, Pistachios, and Crispy Rice.  The ribs themselves were tender and flavorful, but required a little pull to remove from the bone.  The pomegranate seeds provided a bitter sweetness, and the crispy rice had a light fried flavor and added some crunch.  While it was a little different from that that was served at Ada Street, it was still very good.
My next course, while vegetarian, could very well be considered a main course.  It was Butternut Squash Dal with Red Lentils (the dal), Broccolini, Saffron, Pumpkin Seeds, Lasanachi Chutney (Garlic Chutney), and Crispy Kale.  This was very rich, flavorful, and spicy, and the Kale was very light and crispy with the lentils and squash being very creamy textured.  While I expected that I would like this, I was surprised at how much that I did like it.
While I was enjoying the dal, Chef Joanna came out to greet me (I asked if she was in and when told who was asking, she said that she would come out and say hi).  We exchanged pleasantries and caught up a little and shortly after she returned to the kitchen, I received a bonus course that was not yet on the menu:  Charred Rainbow Carrots with Lemon and Honey Greek Yogurt, Smoked Pistachios, and Sherry Golden Raisins.  I really like carrots and these were cooked to a perfect tenderness.  They were lightly sweet which the raisins paired well with.  The pistachios added a crunchy textural variety and a nutty flavor and the yogurt provided a tart counterpoint.  It was simple and complex at the same time and I really enjoyed it.

There is one thing on the menu that could qualify as dessert and that was the Naan Doughnut with Chai Dulce de Leche Sauce.  While most doughnuts are finger food, this, because of the Dulce de Leche Sauce needed a knife and fork.  The doughnut itself was pretty dense and powdered with sugar, making it lightly sweet.  The Sauce provided the sweetness that you would expect of a doughnut and the chai spices added a sweet spiciness to the whole thing.  It provided for a very nice finish to a good meal.

 I really enjoyed my meal here.  The food was really good, and while a little exotic, not inaccessible.  The staff is very friendly and helpful and the place has a nice design.  I will definitely return and will probably bring friends.    

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Hopewell Beer Dinner at Bite Cafe

The Empty Bottle has been around since I've been in Chicago (longer actually, opening in 1992).  It looks like a dive bar, but it is also a very good music venue that is able to draw bigger bands than you might guess from the size of the bar.  It is also the first venue in the 16" on Center empire which also includes Longman and Eagle, Dusek's, and Revival Food Hall.  Attached to The Empty Bottle, although a separate venue, is Bite Cafe.  When I was going to The Empty Bottle more often, I noticed it and thought it looked interesting.  The menu looked very veggie-friendly if not strictly vegetarian and I thought that I might want to try it out sometime, but until recently, it hadn't happened.  Although Bite Cafe is BYOB, about once a month, they have started doing a very casual beer dinner.  I went last month when they were hosting a neighborhood favorite of mine, Hopewell Brewing Company.  For the dinner, you had a choice of one of two appetizers and entrees, each paired with a different beer.  The dessert was set, but the last beer was a surprise.  Going there, I knew where The Empty Bottle was and I knew that Bite Cafe was right next to it, so I thought that it would be easy to get there.  Unfortunately there are several doors and I was confused as to which door was the correct entrance, so I ended up walking through The Empty Bottle to get there.  The sign for the cafe is over where the cafe is located, but it isn't specifically located over a door.  Once I was actually in the homey dining room though, I saw that there was an exterior entrance.  The space is small and bright, with a simple look.  It has hardwood floors, brick walls, wood chairs painted light blue, which is about the same color as the sign out front, and local art.  There is a small counter/coffee bar at the back of the room which is also used for dining and was where the owner/brewers of Hopewell Brewing were sitting, though I didn't notice that until I sat down at a table behind them.
For my appetizer, I had a choice of a Cured Salmon Latke served with First Lager or Beer Battered Cheese Curds served with Endgrain Lager.  While Cheese Curds are always a win, I was more interested in the Cured Salmon Latkes which were served with Dill Creme Fraiche and an Herb Salad.  For beers, while First Lager is eminently drinkable, I think Endgrain Lager (a Marzen-style) is more interesting.  I wish that I could have had the Endgrain with the Latkes, but First Lager would go better with the dish.  As far as the latkes were concerned, the salmon was very fresh and flavorful, the latke (potato pancake)  was lightly fried and pretty tender.  The dill, craime fraiche, and herbs, added a lot of good flavor and I really enjoyed it.
For my entree I had a choice of the Pan Seared Bass served with the 24:37 Red IPA or the Pork Schnitzel served with the Family Saison.  I went with the Pork Schnitzel which was served with Pickled Cabbage, Warm German Potato Salad with Apples, and Gravy and the Family Saison.  With this one, I again wished that I could have switched beers.  The saison is good, and has a nice flavor with a dry finish, but I like the IPA better.  I suppose though, that the botanical flavor of the IPA goes better with the bass than does the dry flavor of the saison.  The schnitzel was classic and very good.  The pork was pounded flat, well breaded, and fried, giving a nice crispy exterior and tender interior.  The red Cabbage was sweet and tart and the German Potato Salad also very good.  The apples in the salad added some sweetness to the tartness of the potato and vinegar salad.
There was only one dessert being served, so it was easy to make a decision.  We were served Ginger Lemon Bars with a Lavender Caramel Drizzle.  With this, the Hopewell team broke out their Squad Quadrupel.  I love lemon bars on there own, but the lavender caramel added a floral sweetness that contrasted with the sharp tartness of the lemon bar.  The Squad was Hopewell's 1st Anniversary beer.  At 10.4% ABV, it isn't light, but it is pretty good.  It's sweet, boozy, and tastes of raisins, and it has a nice head.  It was a great finish to a very good dinner.  I like Hopewell and their beer worked well with the food served.  I will continue to enjoy Hopewell, but I will have to return to Bite Cafe to try more of their regular menu (possibly with some other beer).          

Sunday, November 19, 2017


I have really liked Osteria Langhe, the Piedmontese (Northern Italian) restaurant in Logan Square, so I was excited to read that they would be opening a fast casual place also in Logan Square focusing on a few pastas and sauces.  Called Animale, its tag line is One that Feeds Itself to Survive and its location is under the Western Blue Line Station.  With a very elaborate mural on the outside, it's difficult to miss.  Inside it's kind of small and kind of reminds me of a cross between a diner and a ramen place.  There is a narrow dining area between the front window and the (windowed) kitchen.  There are several 4 tops beside the front windows and a counter looking through a window to the kitchen.  There is a wider area to the right of the kitchen with more tables and muraled walls.  The entrance is where the two pieces of the dining room meet.  The tables and chairs are kind of cheap and dineresque and the counter overlooking the kitchen has padded stools.  This is where I sat because it gave me something to watch and I thought it would be more comfortable.  There was a box at each table and several on the counter, containing menus, napkins, and silverware, with salt and pepper beside it. 
Looking at the menu, I saw that they serve beer, wine, and cocktails.  Their beer selection is mostly local with craft beer prices and the wine was relatively inexpensive with glasses for $9 and bottles for $35.  I was very surprised to see how inexpensive their cocktails were.  All were $10 or less and most were $9.  Because of this, I decided to go with one of their signature cocktails, the Italian Mulo, a spin on a Moscow Mule, using Modest Vodka, Cocchi Americano, Ginger Beer, Lime, and Prosecco.  A Moscow Mule has quite a bit of carbonation, is pretty tart, and a spicy finish from the Ginger Beer.  This had the carbonation and some tartness, but it was surprisingly bitter, approaching Negroni bitterness.  It wasn't bad, but I don't know if I would order it again.
For my appetizer, I picked a classic of Sicilian cuisine, Arancini, which literally means Little Orange.  What they actually are are deep fried risotto balls with cheese.  This version used Saffron and Gorgonzola and was served over Pink Peppercorn Basil Cream.  The balls were crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside with an herbal and slightly bitter flavor provided by the saffron and gorgonzola.  The dipping cream melded well with the internal flavors with a nice herbal flavor from the basil and a spicy and floral flavor from the pink peppercorn.
With as much starch as I was getting from the arancini and what I would be getting from the pasta, I thought that I should at least pretend to eat a little healthy and order some vegetables.  I ordered something very seasonal, Zucca, which contained Summer Squash, Zucchini, Goat Cheese, Roasted Shallots, Toasted Almonds, and Curried Olive Oil.  I love pan fried squash and this reminded me of a vegetarian version of a dish that my Mexican grandmother used to make.  The squash was perfectly cooked, the almonds added texture, and the curried olive oil and goat cheese added flavor.  It was very good and almost big enough to be counted as a main course.  I could have stopped here, but there was still the pasta and the dessert to be had.
With the pasta, you build what you want in three steps, first you choose the weight of pasta that you want, either 4 oz or 8 oz.  Next you choose your pasta.  Plin, a small hand pinched ravioli that is a specialty of the house is only served in the 4 oz size.  Other pastas offered are Gnocchi, Pappardelle, and Cavatappi.  I went with the Gnocchi.  Finally, you choose the sauce with which you want your pasta served.  The sauces do change somewhat with the seasons.  So for my final dish, I chose a 4 oz portion of Gnocchi with a Pesto Alfredo Sauce (Diced Chicken Breast, Basil Hazelnut Pesto, Cherry Tomato Medley, and Parmesan Cream).  I went with the 4 oz size, because of everything else that I ordered.  The Gnocchi was very tender and the pesto sauce was very flavorful and the tomatoes added a light acid bite.  The chicken did add a little texture, but it wasn't critical and would have been fine without it.
With all of this good food, I had to at least try dessert.  I was pretty full when I got to dessert, so I was looking for something light and i went for their Panna Cotta.  This Panna Cotta was Vanilla and was served with Chocolate, Hazelnuts, and Raspberries.  Admittedly, it might partially be due to the fact that I was fairly full by the time I got to dessert, but I have to say that it fact kind of obligatory and an afterthought.  It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't stellar as was the pasta and the arancini.  It felt as if they felt that they needed something on the menu for dessert, so they might as well do vanilla pudding.  I will definitely have the pasta again, but I may very well waive the dessert next time.