Where I’ve Been Eating, Chicago Edition

Posted by Krista on September 5, 2011

Ooh, I’m way behind. I blame the airlines. And Design Star on HGTV. And my cousin George, who was in town for all of six days and managed to completely redecorate my apartment, rearrange my kitchen cabinets, and fix anything and everything that has bugged me since I moved into this damn place nearly exactly a year ago. (Who knew the top rack of my dishwasher was adjustable?) Exhausting, all of it.

I tried to entertain George food-wise, but here’s what I learned: he’s a picky eater.  He likes Red Bull. And cookies. And pretzels. And could happily survive on all that for breakfast and lunch. I think he also likes Chinese food, but I denied him his second take-out in the hopes I could convince him to go to Ruxbin. Denied. More in a bit.

Paris Club CharcuterieParis Club, River North: I made reservations ages in advance at Paris Club, and the charcuterie — for two — was pretty damn amazing. However, it should have been labeled “For two very large Americans” or “For four plus-sized French people” because it was really way too much food even for our table of four to do justice to. Our server was fantastic: I spilled a glass of wine all over myself (Long Island girl, talking with her hands) and he brought me a replacement glass, no problem.The atmosphere at Paris Club is very lively, but in a “What? What did you say??” kind of way.  Finally to the food…my ahi tuna main dish was pretty disappointing. Too salty.

I’ve been thinking about salt lately and have to list it out as one of the main differences between eating in the US vs. eating in the UK. Everything in the US is sooo disgustingly salty. And we wonder why we have high blood pressure. (I’d also say it’s because we don’t walk enough.)

Randomly…I went to use the ladies’ room at Paris Club on the main floor and there were six girls in line. For one toilet. Good times. About 10 minutes in, a staff member told us that there were more loos downstairs, but by that point I was next. I ended up using the men’s room, and you know what that’s like. The Verdict: Out. There are things I want to like, but that salty main dish was just too much. Oh, and my cousin George would like you to know that he and my friend Matt were two of the only men in the dining room at 8 pm on a Friday night. Odd.

Paris Club on Urbanspoon

Gilt Bar, River North: I went to Gilt Bar nearly exactly a year ago when I first arrived back in Chicago, but for some reason never wrote about it. Although I would like it better if I could see my hand in front of my face while I’m eating (flashlight, anyone?), I do love the food here. My truffle pasta was the dish that kept getting passed around the table.  I also really like the music at Gilt Bar; they played The XX, only one of my fave albums of 2010.  (OK, OK it came out in 2009 but still.) Great cocktail bar downstairs…all very chill and mellow.

Gilt Bar on Urbanspoon

Feast French Toast

Feast, Bucktown: I asked my cousin what he likes to eat for breakfast. He says — and I quote –”I’m not really a breakfast person.” You can guess where this is going. Every morning, I would wake up, make breakfast for myself, eat it, and then he would say, “What are we doing for breakfast?” Ahem. As we were up abysmally early on Saturday, so I thought we’d try for The Bongo Room. Let me point out two things. It was Saturday — not Sunday — and we arrived at 9:15 am. 9:15! They had been open 15 minutes!! And told us that we’d have to wait 30 to 45 minutes for a table. 30 to 45 minutes! So we went to Feast instead and had some pretty luscious peach and blueberry challah French toast. This place totally needs a lick of paint and our table was too wobbly for its own good, but those are minor quibbles in the face of a breakfast this nice.

Feast on Urbanspoon

Boundary Burger

The Boundary, Wicker Park: George wanted to eat outside, so I pulled up along Division and suggested Prasino. He ix-nayed it because it “looked too healthy” so instead we made our way to The Boundary, where we watched the cars go by as we snacked on some burgers and tomato soup. Everything was fine here. PS Did you know there are no parking meters on the main stretch of Division? (OK, not meters but that green machine ticket-y thing. You know what I’m talking about.)

The Boundary Tavern and Grille on Urbanspoon

Pizza Metro II: I wanted to go to Ruxbin. George wanted Chinese. We compromised on pizza because I wanted a salad. Hah! This place is more a take-out place than anything else. We brought home our 1/2 potato (him) and 1/2 pepperoni (me)  pizza, along with my salad, and enjoyed it in front of HGTV. George said, “Yeah, this wasn’t really that great.” I would concur. Fine, nothing special. Could have used a better more bubbly crust.

Pizza Metro II on Urbanspoon

I have more coming up…Blue 13, GT Fish & Oyster, Prasino, and um I decided to go to London for the weekend last week so there’s that too. Brace yourselves.

Posted in American, Brunch, Bucktown, Burgers, Chicago, French, Italian, Modern European, United States, Wicker Park | 2 Comments

Aquitaine, Lincoln Park

Posted by Krista on August 8, 2011

Aquataine Menu

Christina & Kent are having twins on Thursday. And Kent has two broken elbows. Cracks me up every time I think about it. Yes, I’m a bad friend. Worst part? Kent broke his own elbows! Riding his bike into work one morning. But he’s feeling better and as they’re relishing these last few days of freedom, we met up for a leisurely dinner at Aquitaine, the restaurant that will forever be know after this as The Sweat Locker.

Because Aquitaine was HOT. It was okay at first, with a cook trickle of air conditioning making it up to our table at the front of the restaurant on occasion. But around the time our starters arrived, a table of four arrived and asked that the restaurant open the doors to the street. The staff (and I believe the chef herself) had already starting opening the doors when they turned and asked us, “You don’t mind if we open these, do you? It should cool things down a bit.” Well, firstly…we did mind. But the horse was already out of the barn. Secondly, anyone who has studied anything remotely related to science will know that when it is 95 degrees outside and you open a window, it will become warmer inside.

Sigh.

Quiche at AquitaineChristina and I split an extremely generous “petit” tart to start. I’m afraid to ask what the grande looks like, because this was the size of a baby’s head. Made of portabella mushroom, sundried tomato, and goat cheese, it was badly in need of seasoning.
Pork Chop at AquitaineBetter was the mustard porkchop. That was some porky pig because this too was a very generous serving. (At $24, I’m glad it was.) I did not do this dish justice, even though it was a pretty excellent juicy pork chop and I am a fan of all things mustard. The seasonal vegetables seemed a bit catering college to me, but really they were fine. We were all so hot though that we asked for the check as soon as my plate was cleared and headed across the street to Dairy Queen to cool down.

The Verdict: The Sweat Locker — I mean Aquitaine — is probably that sort of restaurant that lots of locals like. So if you live in the neighborhood, maybe you should go there. When it’s not too hot outside.

Aquitaine on Urbanspoon

Posted in American, Chicago, French, Lincoln Park, United States | Comments Off

Bistronomic, Gold Coast

Posted by Krista on April 18, 2011

Bistronomic EntranceBistronomic
840 N Wabash
Chicago

Date of Last Visit: Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Victim: Hope

The Damage: About $40 each

The Background: Much like I was set up on “friend dates” when I first moved to London, I’ve found that repatriation comes with its own set of friend dates.  My friend Anna (who lives in London) has a friend Christa (who lives in France). I’ve met Christa a few times, and she’s every bit as awesome as her name, even if it is spelled with a CH. Christa, knowing my love of all things food, introduced me to Hope (who lives in Chicago) over Facebook a few months ago. And so Hope and I met up at Bistronomic on a chilly night in March, where funnily enough, the neighborhood was crawling with Brits due to some sort of even at the Bentley showroom. (American men more often than not wear t-shirts under their dress shirts. British men rarely do. Fact.)

The Entrance: I’m given a seat at the bar while I wait for  Hope and I try valiantly to catch the eye of the bartender. She is not of the multi-functioning sort because really, she avoids any and all eye contact with anyone until she finishes making the one drink she’s working on. Then she looks up, takes another order, and then proceeds to look down forever while cutting up this and adding that. Finally it’s my turn and I opt for a Kir Royale, which arrives a little on the sweet side, but there are worse things.

Hope arrives and we peruse the menu while we try to make ourselves heard over the din. That’s one thing I still can’t used to about popular American restaurants. They are so LOUD. And I don’t think it’s only because we’re loud people. I think our ceilings are higher, we use fewer tablecloths, and we are short on soft furnishings.

Country Pate BistronomicUp came our homemade country pate, which I thought was very nice and would have made a lovely lunch. Thick and meaty with some good spices in there. One complaint…someone had a heavy hand with the black pepper.

Beet Salad BistronomicThe beet salad lacked a little on the presentation side, but I again thought it would make a nice lunch. There were supposed to be yellow beets in here, but you could barely recognize them, so covered they were in red. Loved the hazelnut vinaigrette. This dish gave me ideas for things to cook for myself. That’s a good thing. I believe Hope felt it was all a little pedestrian, but I don’t want to put words in her mouth and will wait for her thoughts, which I have solicited via Facebook.

Oxtail Ravioli BistronomicOxtail ravioli just looked so…messy. It was nice, but the oxtail was lost here amongst all the celery root puree. This could have been bolder.

Tartine BistronomicAnd here’s where we messed up, and where you could tell we were American and not raised in close proximity to a French-speaking country. We ordered the house tartine. And out this came. An open-faced sandwich. So not what we were expecting, but after much Google-ing, it’s exactly what we should have been expecting. Lunch food, again.

The Service: A bit absent-minded. He totally forgot my glass of wine. So he said he’d comp it. I ordered a second glass at some point. When we got the bill, he had comped both glasses. Who am I to complain?

The Verdict: I would go back here for lunch. Dinner is just too dark and loud and the menu seems better suited to lunch. (That being said, we didn’t hit the large plates, which are more dinner-like.)

Bistronomic on Urbanspoon

Posted in Chicago, French, Gold Coast, United States | Comments Off

Some things no one tells you about @NextRestaurant…

Posted by Krista on April 9, 2011

Duck at NextI’m not much of a restaurant blogger. I am not going to wax philosophical about the food at Next or post twenty-million photos. I will leave that to the rest of the lot. (That being said, you can see my pix over here on Facebook. Become a fan while you’re at it.)

I thought instead I’d try to write about the things no one tells you about Next. (Or at least…the things no one has told you until now.)

In no particular order really, but roughly in service order with some background thrown in first for good measure…

Some people want to know how I got a table. Here’s all I can tell you. When I knew I was leaving London for good after six-plus years, I signed up for any and all Chicago food-related newsletters. At some point last summer, I got something that told me to sign up for Next’s mailing list. My guess is that I did this in July or August, so relatively early on, and according to Next’s Facebook page — where, by the way, they’re doing an awesome job of responding to the madness — that put me within the first 6,000 sign-ups. I actually entered the Web site on Wednesday afternoon around 4 pm with the intention of booking a table in early May, but when I saw April 8th was available too, I jumped on both. (Yes. I have another table next month. And no, you can’t have it! I also have an Alinea booking this month. Do you hate me?)

OK…now on to those observations…

There seems to be a lot of concern from front-of-house regarding how you arrived at the restaurant. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer this question. “Um…I walked? From The Publican? Where I had a Weissbier and some pork rinds before dinner with my photographer friend David?” (BTW, Dave is very very good if you ever want some photos taken of your kids, etc.) The front-of-house team commented that it can be very difficult to get a taxi home, but I knew we were next to Lumen, and the cool kids would be arriving as we were departing. This would make for many taxis. I was right.

The chef is Dave Beran. He’s on Twitter over here and Facebook over here. Is it me or does he seems to have gotten lost in all this ticketing excitement?

There’s A LOT of front-of-house. I lost track of how many people arrived at our table. Personally, I like to have just one or two servers. But I can understand that at this level, they’ve got different people expressing different things. (Expressing as in delivering. Not reciting poetry.)

Most tables seemed to get grougeres at the beginning of service. We did not. This didn’t bother me, but it bothered one of my dining companions A LOT. I rationalized this by assuming that because we were the second table seated last night, there was no reason to not just get started with service. They didn’t need to pace us out with cheese puffs. (My other theory is that maybe they knew about the pre-game pork rinds.)

Bottled sparkling water = Badoit. I always go with Badoit in France because it’s cheap. Not so here. Part of me would prefer that they make their own sparkling. I need to go back and figure out how much the water service was per person. Why do I think it was $22 per person? If so, that’s crazy pants for Badoit, no matter how unlimited it is. (Then again, I suppose it’s imported. Need to check the retail price.)

If you express enough curiosity, apparently they will bring out the contraption that cuts the tops off the eggs that arrive on your platter of deliciousness that arrives at the beginning of the meal. I missed this completely, but the rest of my table swears the table next to us got a demo of the thing. We asked a lot of questions about how this was done and the handsome gentleman with the dark hair — Yes, server crush. Is he single? – mentioned lasers and diamonds. (Although it may have been me that mentioned the lasers first.)

Staff are very concerned about crumbs. By the end, I was consciously trying really hard not to leave any crumbs behind because I didn’t want them to sweep the table again.

Service was a little quirky. They were either super official and recited their little bits very officially, or they were very jokey.

The chef’s table was empty last night and we left around 9:30 pm. This almost made me cry. We didn’t get an answer on whether it hadn’t been booked or whether maybe they were purposefully holding it back. I can’t remember if I saw it on the Web site when I made my booking. **UPDATE: Next Facebook page says they’ll start serving the chef’s table 10 days from now.**

Suprêmes de PoUisson

Suprêmes de Poisson is spelled incorrectly on their Web site. It’s Suprêmes de PoUisson. In case you’re French and/or speak French and are a little perturbed when chicken arrives instead of fish. (Fish will arrive too. But that’s a different dish and will arrive before the baby chicken.) Just for the record, I don’t speak French. I do, however, read “Menu-French.” Aside: A word to the wise if you ever visit Paris…don’t get distracted by Veau when you see Foie de Veau on a menu in France. Uggh. (You would have thought with my love of foie gras that I would have known this. But no. Learned the hard way on that one.)

Staff will bring you a new napkin — not just refold the old one — every time you leave the table. My friend Meredith has a small bladder. She got a little embarrassed about this and wondered if they were thinking, “Jeez, hasn’t that girl gone through enough napkins already?”

Lights Next

Meredith says the light fixtures remind her of shower heads. I can see why she’d say that. Looking up, I found the ironwork running across the ceiling to be a bit steampunk. I like steampunk.

The staff is aware of the silverware. I was not paying full attention (sorry — I really should get worked up for ADD) but at some point towards the end of service, a server politely inquired about a tiny spoon that one of my dining companions was holding on to.

There’s something really nice about not having to worry about a bill at the end of the evening. That being said, when you don’t have to worry about paying the bill at the end of the meal, one of your friends can easily forget to pay you the $188 bucks she owes you for dinner.

The table lighting is very intense. I was glad I had moisturized. I was also glad I was not dining with a member of the opposite sex, because he really would have been able to accurately guess my age. The lighting makes for very good photography though, so that’s nice.

It got really really warm in the restaurant by the end of our booking. I went to use the ladies’ around dessert and it was lovely to enter the cool, dark stairwell. Not so lovely to re-enter the stifling restaurant afterwards. The staff admitted it was a little warm and we felt a brief puff of A/C when they acted on our feedback, but it quickly dissipated.

Salted Caramels at NextThese are amazing. Salted caramels. Eat them upside down to get the salt first.

Ask and you shall receive...Lastly…ask nicely and MAYBE you shall receive. (Luckily we asked before the spoon incident.) Thank you, Next. You’re lovely. I will happily volunteer to be your unpaid intern this week if you need help keeping up with the deluge of emails, etc. Because you’re worth it. xx

Next on Urbanspoon

Posted in Chicago, French, Fulton Market, United States | 16 Comments

Next Restaurant, Chicago

Posted by Krista on April 9, 2011

Next, starters

**If you’ve arrived here from Google or similar, you might like my other post about Next better than this one!**

Tonight, I had dinner at Next. You know…the Grant Achatz restaurant. It was lovely.

Very lovely.

Next Brioche Foie Gras

The brioche toasts with foie gras and apricot were like last-meal-on-earth-good. Boy am I glad this stuff is no longer illegal in Chicago.

But here’s the problem. I’m tired. And full. And need a nap. A long one. Big time. #Jetslag. So you will have to wait for the rest of my thoughts and photos later today.  (It is, after all, after midnight as I write this.) I have, however, started uploading photos to my Facebook fan page over here for those of you who are wondering why I’m banging on about grammar when I should be talking about THE DUCK.

xx

Posted in Chicago, French, Fulton Market, United States | 5 Comments

Cafe a Vin, Spitalfields

Posted by Krista on August 10, 2010

Cafe a vin menu
Cafe a Vin
35 Spital Square
London E1 6DY

Date of Last Visit: Thursday, July 29

The Victim: Niculie

The Damage: £20 each

The Background: I was never much one for long leisurely lunches at work. Too much to do! But in the days leading up to my departure from London, I had an opportunity here and there to say goodbye to friends and coworkers, and my move seemed to provide just the right amount of a justification for–if not a long lunch–a leisurely lunch.

So it was that Niculie and I found ourselves at Cafe a Vin, the bistro end of Galvin La Chapelle. Now truth be told, I actually thought I had booked La Chapelle via the Galvin Web site, but I must not have been paying attention because when I actually checked the e-mail confirmation, Cafe a Vin it was. This was fine as the set menu at the Cafe is a very reasonable and attractive £14.95.

Cafe a vin gazpacho
The Food: I started with a generous serving of gazpacho, which while prettily presented, smacked of too many carrots for me and needed a very generous sprinkling of salt. I could have used more croutons too.

Cafe a vin chicken and risotto
This was followed by a nice roast chicken on a bed of risotto. A simple dish and nicely executed, but as Niculie said afterwards, "It was just chicken and rice." I really have to stop ordering chicken in restaurants, as it's too easy for me to dismiss it afterwards. This was a very honest plate though and did what it said on the tin. I just wasn't overly enthralled by it.

The Setting: Yet again, I forget to take outdoor shots. We enjoyed our table a fresco and watching all the busy office workers swarm into and out of Spitalfields and its environs.

The Verdict: Not worth a particularly special trip. But a good value (wines available by the carafe) and nice setting just the same.

Posted in E1, French, London, United Kingdom | 2 Comments

Boundary, Shoreditch

Posted by Krista on July 26, 2010

  Boundary inside
Boundary
2-4 Boundary Street
E2 7DD

Date of Last Visit: Monday, July 5, 2010

The Victims: Too many to mention.

The Damage: Unknown. Denis paid.

The Background: You know, I really don't like going out on Monday nights. Or Sunday night. This is my time. My time! But then again…I can be persuaded with fine wine and the prospect of a relatively decent meal. As long as it's close to home. So it was that I came to Boundary on a Monday evening in early July.

The Entrance: I'm a little worried as we enter Boundary. Because it's in a basement. Who wants to eat in a basement? But that being said, the bar is cozy and stylish and my immediate impression is positive so I hold off on further judgment. (The stairs, however, need work. Not sure how I feel about the artwork.)

This positive impression continues as we enter the dining room. Even though we are technically in a basement, the architects have been clever with lighting and along one side of the room, there are skylights out onto the street. So you're not totally in the dark. Along the other side of the room, there's the full kitchen on display, brightly lit up and thus, again, distracting you from the fact that you are, after all, dining in the cellar.

Boundary is mostly French. With a bit of English thrown in for good measure. (I really should have photographed the Yorkshire pudding.) The manager appears to be very French indeed and he and Denis consult on the menu and the wine list at length. Thank God for Denis because although my French meat vocabulary is quite good, I fail at vegetables. I am considering the Squid with Espelette peppers, but first I ask Denis to translate espelette.

  Seafood platter
The Starters: Torben orders the seafood platter to start. This, I must note, is the "petit plateau" for £25.00 for one. Does this look petit to you? He makes a good dent in it, but gives up and passes the rest to the rest of the table. Some of the mussels were closed, but then, July doesn't have an R in it, does it? It would have been good if someone had warned us about how big this was going to be.

  Squid espelette
I really liked my squid. It's a very generous portion–a good value for £9.50. And the dressing–a balsamic reduction of sorts–adds a nice bit of tartness to everything.

  Rabbit
My main of rabbit, sprinkled with broad beans, is another generous portion. It's dense and rich and pretty meaty for rabbit. I am–pun intended–a happy bunny. I have ordered well, but I give partial credit to the very excellent manager who took my order and guided me through the menu choices. (Then again, that same manager let Torben order the seafood platter AND a main. That's a lot of food. Poor Torben's eyes were rollling back in his head by the time we got out of there.)

  Boundary madelines
Then came an order of six madeleines and creme fraiche. Too many for one person! We split this amongst three people, which was a good idea at the time, but once I had polished off my first one, I had to wonder why I had given away the four. These were amazingly good. Unexpectedly good. Soft. Moist. Was there a hint of lemon in there? Yum.

The Service: Really some of the best I've had. One of my colleagues had lost his voice earlier in the day, and the staff happily whipped him up his own little pot of chamomile tea with honey and lemon and then refilled it throughout the meal.

The Verdict: A pleasant surprise. I'm sure it was pricey so I don't know if it will be at the top of my list of places to return to, but if invited again, I would go again. Huge portions. Tasty food. Great service. The American in me approves.

Posted in E2, French, London, United Kingdom | 7 Comments

Bistro Bruno Loubet, Clerkenwell

Posted by Krista on July 8, 2010

Bistro bruno loubet

Bistro Bruno Loubet
86-88 Clerkenwell Road
EC1M 5RJ

Date of Last Visit: Monday, June 28th, 2010

The Victims: Cara, Alice

The Damage: £50ish each

The Background: Time passes so quickly. Before you know it, it's June and then July already.

Bistro Bruno Loubet is still new. Right? But it's been open since when? March? That's ancient in blog terms, where we–the royal we–all secretly strive to be the first to review any new restaurant. (Or at least–to be the second to blog about a place after the venerable Dos Hermanos. Simon moving to California means the field is WIDE open…)

I live right up the road from Bruno Loubet. (Stalkers take note.) And I've never been. Me, the local always griping about how no new places have opened in Clerkenwell in like F-O-R-E-V-E-R. (This is a lie. New places open in Clerkenwell all the time. Just not fast enough and close enough for me.)

But here I am, thanks to the industriousness of two fellow bloggers. It's Monday. I don't like to go out on Mondays. Monday night is MY night. Time to watch CSI Miami. Or New York. Or Las Vegas. I'm sure one of them is on. Probably all three. But–sigh–I guess I'll go out for dinner.

The Entrance: The maitre'd is weird. That's the only way to describe it. I feel like I'm stuck at an awkward party. I walk in. I say hello. He says hello. And then he just sorta stands there and stares at me. "Um, my friend Alice made a reservation for 7:30." (It's 7:20. You know I like to be early.) 

"Yes, she did," he responds.

"Um…okay…so…"

Silence

"I guess I'll go to the bar for a drink then."

The Bar: At the bar, I feel like I'm that mouse that's always trying to get into my flat, foiled by my many many Ultrasonic Mouse Repellers. Because every time the bar staff turn on the beer tap, I WANT TO LEAVE. It is generating the highest pitched, most annoying noise ever. The staff all acknowledge the sound is very strange BUT NO ONE DOES ANYTHING ABOUT IT. And they continue to pour one beer after another.

Let me remind you all…All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (or women) to do nothing.

The Service: Cara arrives and Alice soon afterwards. We are asked to take our table immediately because we only have the table for two hours. Let's just note that no one ever told Alice that when she booked.

But it's all okay because once we're seated, we're brought lots of tap water and our server is effervescently cheerful and makes all sorts of recommendations.

Bistro bruno loubet pea soup 

I have the pea soup to start. It's very pleasant.

(I should note that after hearing a fellow employee being described as "pleasant," I told my boss, "Please. I don't ever want to be known as the pleasant girl.")

Bistro bruno loubet lamb 
And then I have the lamb ball. They must have confused themselves momentarily with Giant Robot across the road, which serves a lot of ball-shaped food. Seriously. Sorry…sorry…someone is probably reading this and hating me right now. I believe this was confit lamb shoulder. It was dry. I became confused. And depressed.

The Verdict: Sometimes, I feel like I live in an alternate universe. How can everyone love a place so much that I, alas, found just okay?

Bistrot Bruno Loubet on Urbanspoon

Posted in EC1, French, London, United Kingdom | 15 Comments

Les Trois Garçons

Posted by Krista on July 13, 2009

Le trois garcons menu
Les Trois Garçons
1 Club Row
E1 6JX

Date of Last Visit: Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

The Victims: Bevin, Jimmy, Linda

The Damage: About £50 each

The Background: It's a Tuesday night and it's gorgeous out so we try to get over to The Boundary Rooftop. There's a 45 minute wait to get up to the top. So then we consider eating at The Albion, but I can't get excited about the menu. So I suggest Les Trois Garçons, a place I've wanted to try out for quite some time now, for the decor alone.

And maybe there's the rub. If you want to go to a restaurant mainly for the decor, maybe you'd be better off at the Rainforest Cafe.

The Entrance: It's really bright out, which is an odd look for Les Trois Garçons. It's the type of place that I think would do best at dusk or on a dark night in December. With candlelight. There are a lot of things, sparkly things, hanging from the ceiling. In the bright light of day–and particularly a day that's close to the longest day of the year–entering Les Trois Garçons feels like stumbling into a funhouse with the lights on. Not so fun.

The clientele is also pretty dressed up. We're a little, shall we say, casual. This doesn't seem to bother the restaurant at all, but I felt like I made the wrong restaurant choice on the wrong night. This is confirmed when we're handed the menu…£42.50 for TWO COURSES. Ouch.

Le trois garcons foie

The Food: Foie gras for me to start and it's smooth and buttery. I'm still smarting over the £21.25 price tag on it, but in for a penny, in for a pound, huh? (Probably more like a 1/3 – 2/3 split on the price, I know.) The only let down here are the toasts. Although they look gorgeous from a distance, they're sandy and crumbly. And although maybe that's meant to be a good foil to the foie gras, I just end up making a mess. (And yes, another night where I've left my real camera at home. Sorry.)

Le trois garcons lamb

Jimmy and I both opt for the lamb as our main and it is pretty good. I like the soft cushions of gnocchi. The lamb could have been a little bit pinker, but overall, it's respectable. My only problem (besides for the price) is the size of the dish. I am not one to leave food behind, but I had to hand Jimmy my plate half way through as there was no way I could eat more than four slices of the lamb. Odd that I'm complaining about the price and then giving half my food away, I know.

The Loo: There's only one. And it was a bit of a mess when I visited.

The Service: They pulled the bottled water trick. We asked for still water. They brought us TWO bottles, and poured very generous servings. I didn't check the bill, but what do you think? £8 worth of water?

The Verdict: Not for me. The only way I'd go back is on a TopTable discount. Just too OTT (and a bit dated, at that) and too pricey.

Posted in E1, French, London, United Kingdom | 5 Comments

Eastside Inn Bistro

Posted by Krista on July 8, 2009

Eastside chicken

Eastside Inn
38-42 St John Street
EC1M 4AY

Date of Last Visit: Saturday, June 13th, 2009

The Victims: Rutton, Al

The Damage: About £40ish each?

The Background: If you fiddle with a food blog, never Twitter where you're going for dinner. Because before you know it, you might end up Twitter-friends with the chef's brother or something. And the chef's brother might tell the chef that you're coming and the chef might drop by your table to say hi and then the chef's wife might drop by the table to say hi too and then you might just fall in love with them both because they're both so nice and you want their new place to be just as successful as they are nice.

So be careful, you know?

The Entrance: I am the first, as always. Rutton is on a bus on the other side of London. Like Westbourne Grove. (Tube troubles, he tells me at the time. But when arrives, he elaborates about running into our friends Dev & Connie at Baker Street on the way and how he just had to have a beer with them.) While I'm waiting for Al, I joke with one of the servers about the review of Eastside Inn in that week's Time Out. That's my server there in the picture. Or at least, my first server. Because after placing my drink order and asking for some tap water, someone else asks me if I'd like to order a drink. And then a little while later–while I'm still waiting for that drink–a third person asks if I'd like a drink. I feel very looked after. But it is a little like Groundhog's Day. (The movie.)

With the boys running a bit behind (Al wasn't THAT late–maybe 7 minutes), I order some snacks. And this endears me to the Eastside Inn immediately. Proper little snacks. Some radishes, served with butter and sea salt. Some very good olives, and some goats cheese and toast. We end up combining the radishes with the goats cheese. A nice combination.

The Starters: Chef Bjorn tells us about his specials…there's what I keep calling Kalbskopf in my head but I suppose you'd call veal head? Calf's head? I forget what Bjorn calls it. Served cold in a carpaccio-like way. And then there's a roast chicken for two. Rutton confuses our server completely by ordering the veal to start and then placing two orders for the chicken, one for him and one for Al. I clear it all up. For me, it's squid to start and the calf's head as my main.

Eastside squid

I like the flavors in the squid, which are mixed up with peppers and a nice zesty vinaigrette. The squid seems a little chewy but maybe I need to eat more squid to figure out how chewy is too chewy for fresh squid. (I do think I've eaten a lot of squid. See my About page.) The only thing is…it just seems a little messy, there in its bowl. Like it should be more organized, more neatly piled. Hmmm.

Eastside kalbskopf

The Mains
: Next up is my calf's head, which is a heartier dish than I had imagined. (I obviously was not paying attention while Rutton was polishing off his as a starter.) This is a pretty generous portion. I like it. The veal is sturdy but soft, and it's a cooling dish on a warm day. Rutton and Al are digging into the chicken and they polish it off so quickly I don't even get to try it. I can only tell you that they like it. A lot.

The Wine List: The bistro wine menu is very abbreviated. There's a Torrontes on it, which I'm familiar with after passing the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Exam. (I'd suggest some tasting notes for the bistro menu, personally. And while CdR might clearly mean Côtes du Rhône to me, it means nothing to the average punter.) After some discussion, we end up asking for the wine list from next door, and then the very patient sommelier talks us through some options. (Now if only I could remember what we selected!) Later I'm thrilled to discover they actually will sell by the carafe, as we're not really ready to polish off a second bottle. (I swear that during our meal, the unsteady and uncommunicative couple next to us polish off two bottles of wine between the two of them, but maybe I am just imagining things.)

The Atmosphere: If I were to go back, I'd grab a space at the counter, which overlooks the kitchen directly. I'm a sucker for show kitchens. Decor-wise, I don't know…something was missing. Or maybe the lights were too bright. Or maybe we were just sitting too far up front. When I think "bistro," I think cozy. There's a modern-y newness to the bistro side of the the Eastside Inn that could use some warming up. 

The Verdict: I thought the bistro side of the Eastside Inn was good. I'd give it another shot, for the warmth and enthusiasm of Bjorn and Justine alone. But I wouldn't tell anyone on Twitter that I was going.

Eastside Inn on Urbanspoon

Posted in EC1, French, London, United Kingdom | 5 Comments

Morgan M, Plus Some Thoughts on Freebies

Posted by Krista on July 1, 2009

Morgan m inside

Morgan M
489 Liverpool Road
N7 8NS

Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, June 3rd

The Victims: Sarah, Gaby

The Damage: Gaby paid.

The Background: If you haven't noticed, I do like to eat.

But I like exploring more. Some of my favorite blog posts–the blog posts I really enjoy writing—are not the ones that are all about a dinner out and a London restaurant review.

I like the adventure posts. The getting-on-a-London-bus-and-going-somewhere posts. The something different posts. I enjoy a good day out, with multiple stops, some with food. Some without.

When I first started my blog, I borrowed a post from business writer Seth Godin about creating a blog disclosure statement and posted my own on my About page. My Disclosure Statement has gone through various iterations over the years. For a long time, it said something like "I will go out of my way NOT to write about things that other people want me to write about, except when there's a lot of champagne involved." And for somewhat of a shorter time, I removed my Disclosure Statement completely because I felt like I was violating it so utterly and completely.

Case in point. My friend Sarah runs a site for new moms in London. A month or two ago, she went to an event about women in business and met Gaby, who just happens to do PR for restaurants, many in London. Sarah says, "You must meet my friend Krista." Gaby knows my work and says something like, "Krista from Londonelicious? The London food blog? I'd love to." And we all arrange to meet up for lunch at Morgan M in Highbury, a place I've always wanted to go to. And a place that Gaby does PR for.

I like Gaby instantly. I want to help her understand bloggers and blogging and Twitter and all those good things. I like Morgan M instantly as well. It's peaceful and relaxing and a great "Ladies who Lunch" sort of place, and you know that I not-so-secretly wish that I were a lady who lunches. Instead, I'm a lady with a full-time job, an addiction to restaurants, a passion for blogging, and a train that leaves for Paris at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday.

The Entrance: I like how I'm met at the door of Morgan M. and how they take all my belongings away; I've come straight from work with a lot of stuff that I need to run home with after lunch and throw in a suitcase and turn around again and head back to Kings X with. (Are you still with me?)

Morgan m plates

I like the plates at Morgan M. They're pretty. And I like how while I'm waiting for Gaby and Sarah to arrive, the staff offer me my choice of good magazines. Not bad magazines. Good magazines. (I choose a travel magazine.)

I feel a little pressured to order the tasting menu, which is what Sarah and Gaby opt for. I am on a bit of a diet these days, and really I am not that hungry. Plus I'm heading to Paris and I know I have a multi-course dinner to look forward to. So with some negotiation, I manage to secure just two courses (plus an amuse-bouche) to Sarah and Gaby's five courses (plus amuse-bouche). (Generally, Morgan M prefers that the entire table opt for the tasting menu, but I think I must have looked panic-stricken at the thought of a full menu, so they relaxed their restriction for me.)

The Conversation: After we order, we go back to talking about bloggers and London food and restaurant bloggers and restaurant reviews in particular. Gaby says that she's counted, and there's something like 70 of us London food bloggers these days. I note that she should start looking at the wine bloggers too because for a restaurant like Morgan M with such a nice wine list, I think she's got an additional market.

We talk about the real food critics and I learn that although the big ones have budgets and pay-their-own-way, the smaller ones get everything comped. This makes me angry because here I am, paying my way for everything (or, well, nearly everything), and some of the professional restaurant reviewers actually get all their meals for free? But then, I get angry at myself; if I just went around London accepting restaurant freebies all the time, I'd kinda feel like somebody's mistress. All the nice things, but no respect in the morning… 

Continue Reading »

Posted in French, London, N7, United Kingdom | 53 Comments

L’Ardoise, Paris

Posted by Krista on June 17, 2009
Menu

L'Ardoise
28 rue du Mont-Thabor
75001 PARIS

Date of Last Visit
: Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Victims: Too many to mention.

The Damage: Unknown! Our CFO paid.

The Background: I was excited, of course, to go to Paris for work. But the fact that Craig and his wife Leann would be there at the same time made me look forward to the trip even more. I know I can always count on them for organizing a great evening.

Craig told me about a little restaurant he had been to the night before and how much he and Leann had liked it. So based on his rave reviews, we booked a return trip–this time, for nine people.

The Entrance: We enter and are shown our own private dining room. How great is this? (The only bad part is that our private dining room is on the way to the toilets.) We make ourselves comfortable and proceed to rearrange all the tables.

Ummm…Only to find out that this is not our table. We don't have a private dining room. We've got a table upstairs in the corner. Whoops. Luckily not our fault.

The Ordering: I steer clear of my co-worker from yesterday's lunch at Georgette this time around. Luckily, there are no paper menus, just a large blackboard. There are also no little toothpicks around, so I can't poke anybody's eyes out.

Sausicon

I do agree to share the cuissot de chevreau roti with the same co-worker, however. (And although I don't know what cuissot means–my French colleagues tell me "shin"; Google Translate says "leg"–I do know that chevreau means goat.) I also take our server's suggestion of the prawn starter, which isn't  even listed on the blackboard.

Delicious garlicky somethings

The Starters
: We're brought a couple of boards of saucison. Great stuff. And then my prawns arrive, and I haven't stopped thinking about them since. They're served individually, each prawn in its own little pot of red wine, with a great buttery garlicky crouton on top. It was all I could do NOT to drink the remaining red wine in all the pots. Oh to be dining alone! (I did, however, help myself to some bread to sop it all up.)

Baby goat

The Mains: After a while, my colleagues insisted that I stop calling my main "baby goat." But the problem is, that's how my French colleagues first described to me. As I reviewed the menu, I said, "Well, that says goat" and they said, "Well, it more like baby goat. And what's that part of the leg? The lower part? Shin! Shin, yes. It's "baby goat shin." (Kinda like "baby fish mouth"? If you know what I'm talking about.) Well, the goat, baby or not, was delicious.

Creme brulee

The Dessert: I'm not normally a huge crème brûlée fan, but again, I went with our server's recommendation. This was billed as a raspberry crème brûlée, which I figured was because of the raspberry sorbet on top. How wrong I was! This was full of plump raspberries. Fantastic.

The Verdict: This was a very happy meal. I left very happy. I would gladly go back here, and I would gladly recommend L'Ardoise to friends. And strangers.

P.S. Should I warn you that you're going to have to put up with a few non-London restaurant reviews in the coming days? Paris first, Madrid next! But I will try to mix up the reviews in between.

Posted in France, French, Paris | 4 Comments