Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Band of Bohemia - Brunch

While Green River was an unplanned brunch, however good it was, I returned to my regularly scheduled brunches soon after with a trip to Band of Bohemia, the first brewpub ever to have been awarded a Michelin Star.  Run by Alinea vets and located in a former warehouse in Ravenswood, from the outside that is exactly what it looks like.  The inside is something different.  It uses a bunch of vintage furniture, book cases, upholstered chairs, dressers, heavy curtains, and long wooden tables in a room that retains it's industrial feel with white brick walls and an open unfinished ceiling.  There is also an area off to the side that's like a salon where I had been seated before that had couches, arm chairs, side tables, and coffee tables.  The bar is long and dark colored wood and looks into the modern kitchen on one side, the other side looking at the taps.  We were seated at one of the long tables in the center of the dining room.  As this is a brewery, I figured that it would be a shme not to try the beer, so I ordered a flight.  The beers served are mostly ales, but they do not precisely fit into common styles using many different fruits and botanicals.  The beers were all served in crystal goblets that let them breathe.  We started with Peony Starflower Ale, an ale made with White Tea and Starflower.  It was very clear and almost looked like apple juice, but it was definitely beer and had a light botanical flavor to it.  Next was Guava Pink Peppercorn Rye Ale and with that came all of the flavors of fruit and spice that you might expect.  Constellation's Kiss, the center beer, was brewed for Next Restaurant and included Jasmine Rice, Lemongrass, Thai basil, and did nothing for me.  Beer number four is a regular on their menu, The Noble Raven Ale.  It is a light and crisp German style Ale, which while not really surprising, is very solid in its execution.  The final beer was (Sitting on) the Dark of the Bay.  A dark colored beer made a play on words of it's name.  When I think black beer, I think heavy.  This was very definitely not that.  It was a Black Wheat Ale that used Bay Rum, Bay Citrus, and Bay Laurel.  It was very flavorful but surprising in that it was not heavy and did not have the bitter flavor of a stout or a porter.  This was probably my favorite beer.
For the sweet side of my brunch we started out with Donuts, specifically started out with Brioche Donuts with Cinnamon-Cardamom-Vanilla-Maple Sugar served both as donuts and the holes.  The donuts were of the yeast type so were pretty light and I would imagine that if it were not for the sugar, they would have a salty, buttery, and savory flavor being as it's made from an egg washed dough.  The mixed sugar though, gave it a pretty complete covering and a sweet, spicy, nutty flavor.  I also got a cup of their house Dark Matter coffee, which was a dark roast and had a good rich flavor to it.
When everyone was brought their main course, I was brought a pancake, which was not what I ordered.  The waiter very quickly noticed that it was not what I ordered and said that my order would be out quickly and that we could keep it.  It did look pretty good, so it couldn't go to waste, and we had a bonus sweet plate.  The Pancake was an Oat and Buttermilk Pancake with Oats, Rye, Hemp Hearts, and Buttermilk with Cherry Bourbon Maple Syrup and Whipped Creme Fraiche.  It was a little more dense than your standard pancake with a strong flavor of grains and some tartness from the buttermilk.  The cherries on top were sweetened tart cherries which went well with the buttermilk and the creme fraiche.  The bourbon cherry syrup was sweet, and woody and went well with the cherries and tempered some of the tartness of the pancake and creme fraiche.
My main course, the one that I actually ordered was Fried Chicken and French Toast.  It was had a lot of tropical flavors and was very good.  It started with Caribbean Fried Chicken (boned) served with Papaya - Jalapeno French Toast, Bananas, Orange, Mint, and Mango-Passionfruit Syrup.  I like Chicken and Waffles, but this was taking things up a level with peppers and flavors of tropical fruit adding both sweet and tartness. 
After sharing the pancake and  eating this, as well as a donut, I was pretty full, but in a good way.  The food and beer were very good, as was the service and I did like the design of the place down to the box that looked like a leather-bound book that held the bill.  In it's early days, they used actual books as bill holders, but decided that that was difficult to hold the money, so they went with the box.  In any case, it looks cool and I will definitely return.         

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Green River- Brunch

While there are many restaurants that offer brunch, even many that offer a very good brunch, the number gets smaller when I have to consider party size.  There are a few places that I like, but would not set a brunch up there because I don't think that they could easily handle the large parties that I frequently have for my large brunches.  Green River has been on my to do list since shortly after it opened, but I had the idea that it was a smaller place so I thought that while I could come for dinner, they would be hard pressed to handle a larger party.  A couple of friends wanted to meet for brunch, though, and wanted to do a rooftop, so I decided that it would be a good time to check it out.  Located on the 18th Floor of Northwestern Hospital in Streeterville, there is a sign for direction on the main floor.  The elevator opens to a hall with the main restaurant and the host station to the left.  Located near, and named for, the river that gets dyed green for St. Patrick's Day, the restaurant is known both for it's fantastic terrace and it's nod to the cities Irish heritage which can be noted in their fantastic cocktails.  While the interior did look very nice with a lot of marble used on the floor and bar as well as with dividers between the booths.  Heavy light colored wood is used for the chairs and the booths and couch are upholstered with leather.  The main room did look very nice, but we were interested in the terrace which used modern and well made patio furniture.  The tables were dark wood and the chairs were stainless steel with a woven seat and back.  While we sat close to the building, there was nowhere that didn't provide a great view (and there were areas where there weren't tables that seemed to be made for balcony pictures).  Green River quickly became a Michelin Star restaurant, but they are also very well known for their cocktails.  That being said, trying at least one cocktail was a must.  The cocktails are divided on the menu by the grain, seed, or fruit used in the base spirit.  For my first cocktail, I started with Juniper.  There were two spirits on the menu based on Juniper, Gin and Genever.  I started with Gin and a drink called Haley's Comet.  It started with Sipsmith Gin, and used Aveze Gentiane, a French bitter using the Gentian root, Passion Fruit, Lemon, Kaffir Lime Leaf, and topped with Cava.  This was a tart, sparkling drink served in a cava glass.  It was very refreshing and a nice sipping drink.
When I go out for brunch, I do like to hit both sweet and savory.  They had a Cinnamon Roll on the menu that I happened to see before I ordered and saw that it also was a must.  It was big and sticky looking and served on a board.  It was topped with a Cream Cheese Frosting that did make it very sticky.  There was a lot of cinnamon and it had a crusty outside and a very soft inside.  While I would normally eat a cinnamon roll by hand, it was so sticky that I would have ended up wearing as much as I ate.  It was very good and I really enjoyed it despite having to eat it with knife and fork.
For the savory side, I went with  Fried Chicken and Cheddar Biscuits with Sausage Gravy and an Arugula Salad.  This reminded me of three brunch favorites, a breakfast sandwich, Chicken and Waffles, and Biscuits and Gravy.  While it couldn't be eaten by hand as a sandwich could most of the time, it presented the best parts of all of these dishes.  The biscuits were flavorful and tender, the arugula provided some peppery green, the sausage gravy, was rich, with a lot of sausage and pepper and went well with everything, and the chicken had a crispy breading and was juicy and tender.  Minus the gravy, it might have been eaten with difficulty by hand, and that probably would have been the easiest way to achieve the correct ratio of everything in a single bite.  It could be done with knife and fork, but it was a little more difficult, but it was good and everything went together well.
To finish things off, I had another cocktail, this one from the Grape and Apple section.  Called a Tommy Gun, it had Kappa Chilean Pisco, Pineapple, Lime, Garam Masala, and Aromatic Bitters.  This drink was very complex and very good.  It had the flavors of a Pisco Sour, and a Tiki drink, with flavors of Curry.  As odd as it might sound, it was very good, and a very good finish to our brunch.

Looking around the space, I wondered about the possibility of doing a larger scale brunch here and talking to the manger, I found that it could be done although probably not on the terrace.  I was shown around and got to see their event space/alternate cocktail lounge, The Annex.  When it is operating as The Annex, it has it's own food and cocktail menu, but it can be used for larger parties and brunch and it also has a fantastic view even if it is enclosed.  I really enjoyed my time here, so I will have to include it on my list of upcoming restaurants to visit.

Friday, July 7, 2017


When a restaurant first opens, there are generally a few hiccups, so I like to let give them a few weeks for everyone to learn their jobs and the restaurant to find it's feet.  Recently though, I went to a restaurant, Daisies, on it's opening night.  While the members had not worked together before, they all had previous restaurant experience.  The chef, in fact, had been the chef for several years at Balena.  Balena is a pretty highly rated restaurant, so the chef obviously knows what he is doing.  Daisies is located in the former Analogue space, so the layout was the same, narrow front dining room, long bar off to one side, kitchen in the middle, smaller dining room/event space in back, and a small patio behind the restaurant.  It also has a turntable on the side of the bar in the front of the restaurant.  While the layout is the same, it was painted a later color and had some vegetable paintings done by the chef's wife hanging on the walls.  The bar had a short list of local beers, wines, and cocktails.  At the time that I went, the cocktails did not yet have names.  I went with their gin cocktail, which at the time was known as the #4, but has since been named the Negroni B-Side.  It was similar to a Negroni, but it was lighter, both in color and in flavor and bitterness.  A regular Negroni uses Gin, Vermouth, and Campari in equal measure.  The B-Side uses Gin (of course), Carpano Bianco, a younger and sweeter vermouth than the Carpano Antico that is typically used, and Amaro Montenegro, a lighter flavored bitter than Campari.  While I do like bitter drinks, Negronis are generally a little much for me, this was bitter but it was lighter and I really liked it.
The food side of the menu focuses on vegetables and pasta.  There is some meat and fish thrown in for the carnivores, but it would be very easy for a vegetarian to come and enjoy a dinner here.  I started things off with some Fried Mushrooms which were served with Brunkow Cheese Curds and a Tarragon Buttermilk Vinaigrette.  I will admit that fried food is generally not going to look exceptionally pretty, but it's fried, so it tasted really good.  The mushrooms and curds both had a crunchy batter crust, but the crunch was simply on the outside.  The inside had a nice chew and tasted great.  The tarragon buttermilk vinaigrette, had a green cast and added a spicy and sour finish.
For my main course, I went with something that I had some familiarity with, the Beet Agnolotti.  The chef made it at Balena and brought it with him when he opened his new place.  At Balena, it was served with Creme Fraiche and Smoked Salmon.  At Daisies, the Creme Fraiche was there, but the salmon was switched out for Trout Roe.  It still had a salty and fishy flavor, but it was more subtle.  The bright red agnolotti, was an eyeful, but the texture and flavor were also fantastic.  It was toothsome and while it was pasta, it did have a good amount of bittersweet beet flavor.
I finished with Nancy's Kahlua Cake with Mint and Strawberries.  It looked like a Basque Cake, something that is done to wide acclaim at Balena's sister restaurant, The Bristol,that I am a huge fan of, but it did not have the crust of a Basque cake.  It was softer than a Basque Cake, and had the  bittersweet coffee flavor of Kahlua.  The strawberries added some fruity tartness and the mint added the cool fragrant flavor of mint.  It all went together well and made for a very nice finish to a nice dinner.

I really enjoyed my dinner here.  The food was very good, the staff was friendly, and while the service was not absolutely perfect, it was very good for the first day open and I will give them a pass on it.  I did miss Analogue when it closed, but with Daisies, we did get a good replacement.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Bar Takito

Having grown up around Mexican culture, I am kind of picky about Mexican food.  Generally, I am more picky about low end Mexican food (because that is what I am most familiar with).  But I also can be pretty picky when a restaurant is trying to bring something low end upscale.  I do really appreciate, though, those restaurants that can do this.  There are a few restaurants that are trying to do this with Tacos.  Big Star and Antique Taco do this well.  I had heard of another that people raved about, Bar Takito, which started in Wicker Park, but which has since moved to the West Loop.  I have been interested in visiting it since it's days in Wicker Park, but I had not made it there.  Recently though, an opportunity presented itself and I decided to try it out.  Located in a hot area, it was pretty busy on the Friday night that I went.  The entrance is on the side of the building through the large patio.  There was road construction occurring when I went so it might have been that the front entrance just would have been difficult to use.  The building largely uses wood in structure and design and looks, with the timber slabs used on the walls and floor, like a frontier saloon.  The tables on the patio are typical patio furniture.  The tables used in the dining room are long, white, and rectangular, and look both modern and kind of cheap with white formica tops and steel legs.  The seats are, depending on the table, either white plastic chairs, or fire engine red.  The chairs along the long bar are steel and also painted fire engine red.  It was Friday and pretty busy, so I sat at the bar.  Not that I wouldn't have sat at the bar in any case, but in this case, it was just easier.  The menu specializes in Tacos, but there are also shared plates, ceviches, and vegetables.  I knew that I wanted to get tacos, but I needed to decide what kind of tacos I wanted and if I wanted anything else, so I started with a cocktail.  Being a Mexican inspired bar, there were a lot of Margaritas with some other Tequila/Mezcal drinks, and a small selection of non-Tequila based drinks.  I have never been a fan of Margaritas, so I decided to go with a non-Tequila Drink.  Called Violet! You're Turning Violet, It was a very bright red-violet drink containing Rebel Yell Rye, Blueberry Grenadine, Lemon, Lavender Spice Bitters, and Bee Pollen.  It was pretty good and tasted very much of blueberries, very tart and sweet.
While I was enjoying my cocktail, I decided on my appetizer and tacos, both of which arrived at once.  For my appetizer, I decided on Papas Fritas, which is what potatoes are called in Spanish.  While there were other things besides the potatoes in the description, I though that I was getting fancy French Fries.  This was not the case.  They were closer to stuffed potatoes.  The dish was Crispy Peruvian Purple Potatoes, Spicy Cheese Sauce, Pork Belly, Parsley, and Garlic Mojo.  It was crispy, spicy, salty, cheesy, and very good.  While the presentation was a surprise, I really enjoyed it.  For my Tacos, I went with Octopus Tacos with Popcorn Tortillas, Polenta, Dried Chorizo, and Arugula.  I am not a fan of popcorn, so I was a little concerned about the tortillas.  Other taco tortillas used Pepitas, which I like, but I was interested in the Octopus, so I decided to take a chance.  While the popcorn could be tasted, my problem with popcorn is the texture and as it was ground, it was not an issue.  Between the polenta and the tortilla, the taco tasted strongly of corn.  It was good, but it was a little unusual.  The octopus used a single tentacle for each taco (I was served three) which was cooked perfectly.  It was savory and tender with very little rubberiness.  The arugula added a peppery flavor which went well with everything.

While I liked the food here, it has a vibe of a place to be seen at which is really not something that I am interested in.  I would be happy to try more of there tacos, but I don't know that I would return on a Friday night.