Sunday, February 26, 2017

Monteverde - Restaurant Week

My second previously unvisited restaurant that I dined at during restaurant week was the very popular Monteverde in the West Loop.  Run by Top Chef Runner Up and former Executive Chef at Italian fine dining restaurant Spiaggia, Sarah Grueneberg, it is a temple to housemade pasta, which ironically, was something that I did not have.  Monteverde literally means Green Mountain and, unsurprisingly the main color scheme is olive green.  The building in which it is located is a large blocky brick building with green awnings.  The main dining room is shaped like an "L" with the bar on the inside corner and the entrance on the outside corner.  The pasta making station is in the same area as the bar and there is a counter located right after you enter (the outside of the vertical part of the L) behind the host station where you could buy bags of dried pasta.  In the center of the top shelf, there were several volumetric flasks, a piece of scientific glassware to accurately measure or deliver a specific volume of liquid.  It appears, though, that they were just there for design because when I asked the guy manning the counter what they were used for, he had no idea.  There was a second dining room on the road side of the L that looked like it held the wine collection although I didn't go to get a closer look.  The dining furniture in our dining room was mismatched.  The tables by the windows looked to be heavy wood, there were several marble topped round tables in the center.  I sat on what looked like a long patio couch that had three two tops sitting in front of it and was very comfortable.
As soon as I was seated, I was given a Mason jar of Italian Breadsticks (called Grissini).  They were crisp, buttery, very long, very hard to stop eating once you started, and a nice start to what would be a very good meal.
There was a wine pairing offered for the Restaurant Week 3 course Prix Fixe, but I wasn't really interested in wine, so I ordered a cocktail.  Called a Sardinian Bandit, it started with Death's Door Gin, Mirto Judu (a Sardinian Liqueur made from the berries of the Myrtle Plant), Lemon, Absinthe, and Egg White.  It was sweet, tart, a little, bitter, with an herbal and berry flavor, and a light egg white topping.  
While the Restaurant Week menu was 3 courses, I wanted to get a broader view of their regular menu so I added another dish.  While I could have added a pasta dish, the pasta dishes are essentially entrees and I wasn't sure that I could comfortably eat two entrees, in addition to an appetizer and dessert.  As it was,  I decided on a very nice Hamachi Crudo, basically the Italian version of sushi.  It came with Tomato Chile Water, Avocado, Mint, Fennel, and Blood Orange.  The Hamachi, the Japanese name for Pacific Yellowtail, was thinly sliced, very tender, and had a great flavor.  The tomato chile water gave it a spicy brightness that finished with some sweetness from the blood orange.  The avocado was light and delicate while adding a "green" flavor to the dish.  While it was all good, I think the tomato chile water was what made it.
For my second appetizer, I went with Polpettine Fritte, Country Ham Croquettes with Red Eye Gravy.  The croquettes were crispy, filled with chopped ham and, I think, a little cheese.  They were all topped with a little hot sauce to enhance the flavor.  They were sitting in a bed of red eye gravy which seemed to be very similar to tarter sauce with coffee.  The gravy may have sounded a bit unusual, but it was good and went well with the croquettes.
My main course seemed to be one of those things that just shouldn't work.  It was a Skate Wing Schnitzel with Chanterelle Mushrooms, Kraut, Sesame, Roasted Beets, and Bacon.  Skate Wing is really good, but I ordered this because this seemed to be one of those things that just shouldn't work (Skate and Schnitzel). The sweetness from the beets and bacon tied well with the sweet and sour flavor of the kraut and the sesame kind of gave it an Asian flavor (which tied with the kraut).  The mushrooms added a sweet and earthy flavor and it all tied together to a very good sweet and sour German-Asian Mashup.
And then there was dessert.  I am always a sucker for a good Panna Cotta and this panna cotta sounded really good.  It was listed as a Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Winter Citrus.  The Winter Citrus was Blood Orange.  There were also Housemade Marshmallows and Graham Cracker Crumbs contributing which kind of reminded me of trying to eat a pie upside down.  It was sweet, with a slight tartness, a great vanilla flavor, and the graham cracker crumbs added a nice crunch.  This dessert finished off a great dinner here.  It was very friendly, the atmosphere was very welcoming, and the food was very good.  I will have to return one day so I can actually try the pasta. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Metropolitan Club - Chicago Restaurant Week

Friends joke that for me, Chicago Restaurant Week is like Christmas.  It takes place at the end of January and this year, ran for two weeks.  For restaurant week, several hundred Chicago restaurants create a 3 or 4 course prix fixe menu priced $22 for lunch and $33 or $44 for dinner.  While I will occasionally visit old favorites, I also like to use Chicago Restaurant Week as a way to try out restaurants that I have not yet visited.  The first place I started was The Metropolitan Club, a private club in Willis (Sears) Tower that is normally not open for outside diners.  As it is a private club where I would normally be unable to dine, I decided to try it out to see what I might be missing.  I did receive a note when making my reservation that it is preferred that men wear suit coats on the weekends.  As it was the weekend when we were dining, I saw that I would need to wear one of my jackets.  I have worn a jacket to dinner before, and will on a special occasion, generally I prefer not to and hoped that the restaurant was as special as it required it's guests to be and not just snooty.  In order to get to the club, it is necessary to go through security and then take an elevator to the 66th floor and an escalator to the 67th.  The entrance to the restaurant passes a hallway with what looked like private rooms, but walking into the restaurant dining room it felt very elegant.  The walls were windows looking out over the city, the floor was carpeted, and the lights were electric chandeliers.  We were seated in a semi-circular booth that was slightly elevated, but sat away from the windows.  Despite that, it was still a great view.  When we were seated, we received a wine list, a regular menu, and the restaurant week menu.  I was not interested in wine that night, so I decided on a cocktail from their short list.  It was called Tito's Lemon Chai which perfectly describes what it was.  It started with Tito's Handmade Vodka and added Chai Spice and Lemon Angostura Bitters.  It was pretty good with an herbal flavor and a nice bitter lemon finish.
We decided to mostly order from the Restaurant Week Menu, but to add an additional appetizer.  While we were deciding this we received a very nice Bread plate with French Bread served with Tapenade, Whipped Butter, and Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil.  The bread had a nice crispy crust and a soft interior and went well with all of the spreads.  Of the three, I think I preferred the whipped butter best.
Our first appetizer was our extra appetizer.  It was Foie Gras with Arugula, Blueberries, and Toast Points.  It was very rich and the fatty foie gras went well with the bitter of the arugula and the sweetness of the slightly dried blueberries.  It was all good, but we did need to ask for more toast points.  While we could have eaten everything without, it was better on bread.
My second appetizer was a favorite, Beef Carpaccio.  It was colorful, flavorful and very, very tender.  Served with the thinly sliced beef were Capers, Romano Cheese, and Truffled Olive Oil.  The beef was paper thin and almost melt in your mout tender, the Capers brought a slightly sour flavor, the Romano cheese, added richness, and the truffled olive oil added a funk that is indescribable unless, you have had truffles.  It is an acrid flavor/aroma that doesn't seem like it should be agreeable, but it is almost like catnip to cats.  It was very good and I would have been happy to have had twice as much.
The entree, on the other hand, I was surprised by its enormity.  I had Lump Crab and Pesto Gnocchi with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Toasted Pine Nuts, Romano Cheese, and Balsamic Reduction.  This was very good, very rich, very flavorful, and I ended up taking half of it home.  The gnocchi was very tender and the sun-dried tomatoes brought an intense tomato flavor.  The pieces of crab were large and brought a sweet seafood flavor which went well with the tomatoes.  The Romano cheese added some richness and the pine nuts added a little crunch.
For our desserts, we split them.  We had a Turtle Lava Cake with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Strawberries, Blueberries, and Pecan Caramel Sauce and Drunken Cherry Tiramisu with Brandied Cherries and an Espresso Lady Finger.  While I ate most of the Tiramisu, I think I may have liked the lava cake more.  It was a rich lava cake with the classic turtle flavors of chocolate, caramel, and pecan, and fresh fruit and very nice vanilla ice cream.  I am generally not a huge fan of vanilla ice cream, but this was creamy with a nice texture and a great vanilla flavor.  The standard Tiramisu has ladyfingers dipped in espresso and layered into an egg custard with cocoa.  With this tiramisu, it had the coffee dipped ladyfinger, and egg custard, but the custard was brandied cherry flavored and contained a lot of brandied cherries.  While it wasn't bad, it did have a boozy flavor.

After dinner here, I will say that our service was fantastic and the view was fantastic.  The food though, while really good, was nothing I haven't had at several other restaurants (that do not require a coat).  While I am glad that I had the opportunity to try it out, I would say that the atmosphere does not lead me to want to return.           

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Smylie Brothers Brewery

And the unplanned brewery tour continued with Smylie Brothers Brewery in Evanston.  This is the first brewery in Chicago, outside the city of Chicago, that I have gone to.  While there are many other breweries in the suburbs to visit, I am done with breweries for a while.  Located near the northern downtown part of Evanston, it is in a brick building with a large patio area that would be great for sitting in the summer, but not in January.  The inside is gray brick and black wood with a cement floor.  It kind of has a hunting lodge feel to it (although there is no taxidermy there).  There are several large communal tables, but there are also several two tops and four tops closer to the bar which is curved and sits close to the back of the dining room.  There is also a second level dining/drinking area that has a vintage bicycle sitting near the top of the stairway, but as I never went up there, I can't talk about how it looks.  The brewing area is off to one side of the dining area and is viewable through a large window.  The beers that they serve generally lean toward the sessionable with an alcohol content between 5-6% and a lighter flavor.  When I was there, they were making only one IPA and that was sold out.  They do make Belgian Strong Ales and do barrel aging for a stronger and more distinctive flavor.  As this was my first time here and I had not previously had much of their beer, I decided to do a flight.  I decided to drink two base beers and their barrel-aged counterparts, the Farmhouse Saison and its Gin Barrel-Aged counterpart and the Belgian Strong Ale and its Bourbon Barrel Aged counterpart.  All of the beers were good, but I liked the barrel-aged versions more.  The base saison was light in flavor (and the lighter color of the two beers) and wasn't as funky as many saisons tend to be.  The gin barrel-aged version added a nice herbal flavor similar to a good gin.  As there was no smokiness to it, I have to imagine that the barrel was made from a light wood and was uncharred.  The Belgian Strong Ale was richer and definitely had more flavor, considering the fact that it was 10.25% ABV, this is not surprising.  The Bourbon Barrel-Aged version was smoky and boozy and my favorite of the four that I tried.
The menu that Smylie Brothers puts out is similar to a smokehouse crossed with a bar.  There are a lot of sandwiches, burgers and pizzas, but there is also a lot of barbecue.  I was there for lunch and my trip home would take about an hour, so I wasn't really interested in anything heavy, although admittedly, seeing it on other people's plates, I did think that the barbecue looked really good.  I ordered a Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup with Sharp Wisconsin Cheddar, Gruyere, and Fontina Cheese and House Smoked bacon on Challah Bread, and Tomato-Basil Soup.  Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Tomato Soup is a total comfort food thing and this just stepped things up.  There was a lot of cheese with a gooey texture and a sharp and funky flavor and the bacon added a sweet, smoky, and porky flavor and a variation in texture.  The tomato-basil soup was creamy with a sweet tomato flavor and a nice basil finish.  It was good for dipping the sandwich in or on its own.

While I have been told that there are better breweries in Evanston (Temperance and Sketchbook), I liked Smylie Brothers and would be happy to return.  The food is good and I would like to try their barbecue and more of their beer which doesn't seem to rely on a single style.