Posted by Krista on January 12, 2015
My friends Natasa and Olly invited me out to lunch over the weekend. This means they paid, which they shouldn’t have. It was too nice of them. Very nice of them. I know Natasa from my old job. Amongst other things, we’ve hit Prague, Budapest and Moscow together, revolutionizing investing all the way. We make a good team. Her husband, Olly, is a man with many lives. (Next time you see a dangling participle, send it his way.) Maybe I can convince Olly to edit my autobiography.
I make the long journey down to Clapham to have lunch with them. Oddly, I have an entire tube car to myself. If you’ve been reading the press lately, you know that London’s population is at an all-time high. So this is kind of amazing. Also, frightening.
Ah, Clapham. I haven’t been this far south on purpose in a long time. 2008? 2009? I am not kidding. (But before you get all offended, new visitors should know that I was absent from this fair city for a few years and am only recently returned. So don’t be hatin’.)
I get to The Manor and because I am a few minutes early, I ask to use the loo and am shown the way. The loo is crazy. Someone is having a laugh. After all the peacefulness and beauty and light and air and softness upstairs, I am no less than shocked and appalled downstairs. I cannot forget these loos for the rest of my meal. We talk about them throughout. “Have you been to the loo yet? You should go to the loo. So you’ve been to the loo! What did you think of the loo?”
And while the small plates of chicken skin at The Manor are pretty damn fantastic and I actually ate the better part of not one but two kale salads — so good were they — I cannot forget the loos. I really can’t. (Cue a discussion of the American “can’t” vs the British “can’t.” Can’t for me rhymes with ant or pant. Can’t for the British rhymes with want or font. Remember I have been blessed with the vowels of a New Yorker though so this could all be in my head.)
After polishing off a respectable number of starters between the three of us, I opt the The Manor’s pork belly and try to concentrate. It’s very good.
But I still can’t forget the loos.
I have some sort of lovely-doubly chocolate ganache-y thing for dessert — pudding, right Olly? — and I can’t forget the loos.
I try to blind myself with alcohol and order a sweet wine with my dessert and…I can’t forget the loos.
Let me make this clear. What I can’t get over, what I can’t stop thinking about, is that they really don’t have the money for a nice paint job and some soft lighting. A lot can be forgiven with soft lighting. Are candles legal in loos? Candles. How about candles? OK, maybe the tile work isn’t the greatest — they are flowered tiles from the 70s or 80s. But a little high-pressure water hose, a lick of paint and some nice art on the walls and maybe some fresh flowers and you’d be done. I promise. I know they’ve tried to tie it all together with the graffiti behind the bar but…meh.
Now, 27 hours after my meal at The Manor, what I remember more than the wonderfully nice food is, unfortunately, the loos.
The Verdict: Go. And hope that they’ve done something with the loos by the time you get there.
P.S. Yo, I’ve got a bit of a backlog from the holidays. More to come, soon I hope.
Posted in London, Modern European, SW4, United Kingdom, Very British | 1 Comment
Posted by Krista on January 31, 2012
So many places. I really need to stop eating for a while. Or I need to only eat vegetables. Or do something about the flat tires on my two bikes. Or I need to start walking to/from work like every day. (I say this because today on my way out of work, I ran into my colleague and neighbor who has been walking home from work every day for the last year or so and he has lost so much weight…sigh.)
Bar Toma, 110 East Pearson. So firstly, I need to give them props because their location is huge (both in size and the perfectness of location) and if I were a tourist and stumbled in here, I would be very very happy. It’s casual. There’s a bar. And look…I ate some vegetables! We LOVED the charred carrots with Capriole goat cheese, almonds, and Acetaia San Giacomo balsamico. Also loved the beets and gorgonzola. Our pizza was just good, but we weren’t very creative. Just a Pizza Margherita. I tried to get my friend Aileen to have some Prosecco and she demurred. Who says no to Prosecco??? I think she’s preggars. The Verdict: Fun. Cheap. Casual.
Lula Cafe, 2357 N Kedzie: I dragged my friend Amy here one afternoon after New Year’s and I think she hates me now. Lula’s was packed. We got two seats at the bar and were promptly ignored by anyone and everyone. We eventually placed our order and we were promptly ignored again. And then we ate our food — my butternut squash soup and salad were good but not swoon-worthy — and we asked for our bill and (surprise!) we were both promptly (or impromptly) ignored again. It was all rather tiresome, and we left very tired and very grouchy. The Verdict: Hard to focus on the food when the service was so terribly terribly terribly abysmal. (You can imagine my Madonna accent — yes the UK one — as I’m saying that.) I liked the decor though.
The Southern Mac & Cheese Store, 60 East Lake Street. Even though my one and only experience at The Southern in Bucktown was nothing to write home about, I really liked my Artichoke Spinach Mac & Cheese at The Southern’s newish retail outlet. Crispy where it needed to be crispy, with plenty of artichoke and spinach, only two of my favorite things. I was surprised the shop wasn’t more crowded on the day we were there. Personally, I think they need to offer half portions because of the perception of mac & cheese alone. A lot of mac & cheese is NOT good for the waistline. Somehow a sandwich of the same caloric value doesn’t have the same perception. The Verdict: I liked this, but I can’t eat like this all the time. I’ll be back once a quarter.
I think I still have more to catch up. The more I eat, the less I write. I’m okay with that.
Posted in American, Chicago, Italian, Logan Square, Loop, Michigan Avenue, Modern European, United States | 2 Comments
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
Posted by Krista on August 7, 2011
Just like I’m not entirely sure how I’ve been able to dine at Next not once but three times when everyone else is so valiantly clicking refresh on their browser, so too am I unsure how I was able to get into EL ideas so quickly and with such a minimum of fuss. (EL ideas, for those of you not in the know, is a micro-restaurant. Seating just 10 people. Open just Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Located at 14th and Western. It is run by Phillip/Josh Foss — formerly of Lockwood, now of the Meatyballs Mobile — whose food I had never experienced before this evening.) Maybe I was able to get in because of my e-mail requesting a reservation…
per your instructions…
table for 4 should suit us adequatELy
ELigible for any date in July and August at this writing, most definitELy.
absolutELy no allergies. Except to cats. But we assume they are not on the menu.
sincerELy hope we are ELigible…
I brought Meredith and her friend Megan along. (Our party of four became three.) We each brought a bottle of wine. And I brought some dessert wine. (EL is BYOB.) In hindsight, this was a very bad idea as it relates to this here Web site. Because you see…I kinda didn’t take many pictures. Nor did I take any notes. In short, this meal is mainly remembered as “INCREDIBLE! So FUN! AWESOME. DAVE THE FORAGER!”
And, um, I remember the parking lot on Western, around the corner from EL ideas. Because after we learned about Dave the forager (and stand-up comedian) who had sourced a number of the ingredients used by EL like the wild garlic and the pollen and some berries, my running joke became, “And did Dave find this in the Union Pacific parking lot?” This probably became annoying after a while. For that, EL has my profuse apologies.
Also remembered…the bar on the corner. And the way they abbreviated coffee and what I can only assume is “breakfast.” Water Hole…the name seems to be missing a gerund or something.
I photographed this dish though — the haricots vert — because the sphere of chopped green beans was whimsical and lovely, and I liked the combination of granola and green beans.
Also photographed…the croquette. I didn’t eat this fast enough and let the liquid escape too soon.
One of our favorite dishes of the night…the duck. With blueberries. This was a more traditional dish — less inventive than the others I think — but lovely just the same.
Fun surprise of the night…EL uses Square to process your credit card via iPhone, right at the table. Love Square. And I’m hoping more restaurants in the US switch to at-table credit card processing.
The Verdict: Run, don’t walk. And lay off the booze so you can have clearer memories of what will, I’m sure, be a lovely evening.
Posted in American, Chicago, Modern European, United States, University Village | 3 Comments
Posted by Krista on July 31, 2011
Least favorite question? What’s your favorite restaurant. I hate it. Because you know what? I don’t have one in Chicago. (Yet?) I’ve yet to walk into a place here where I can say to myself, “Oh now here…I’d eat here all the time.” But I did walk into Mana Food Bar on Division the other weekend and think…”Ah, now this is interesting.” I liked the decor. I liked the smallness. Chicago doesn’t do SMALL so it’s refreshing to be in a place with only about 24 covers where the server can’t possibly ignore you.
The only factor preventing Mana Food Bar from being a true favorite? Sigh…it’s vegetarian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I like a little pork belly now and then.
Yup, no meat on this menu.
The small vegetarian chili was surprisingly hearty. I barely missed the meat. Only complaint? Too small!
Bi Bim Bap is one of my all-time favorite dishes. This too was a surprisingly hefty dish, but I did miss the marinated beef. Still though, I felt virtuous with all this veg inside of me.
At Mana Food Bar, they leave the tap water on the table so you can serve yourself. I like this. A lot! I hate it when servers fill up my water glass every two minutes, even when the glass isn’t anywhere near empty. I want to see more bottled water on the table in Chicago. More.
The Verdict: I really like Mana Food Bar. I’d go back again and again and again some more. (I’d probably have a turkey sandwich for lunch though.)
Posted in American, Chicago, Modern European, Pan-Asian, United States, Wicker Park | 1 Comment
Posted by Krista on July 15, 2011
615 W Randoph Street
Date of Last Visit: Thursday, June 30, 2011
The Victim: Dan
The Damage: About $50 each
The Background: I want to like Avec. I really do. EVERYONE likes Avec. So when Dan suggests we meet up at Avec — a place I haven’t been to in ages — I say yes. But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking…”Avec. That place that everyone thought I’d like but I didn’t. And then everyone told me to go to Blackbird. So I did. And I didn’t like that either.” Hmmm. (Granted both my prior visits to these establishments were ages ago. Ages and ages.)
One reason why I don’t like Avec is THE NOISE. There is not a soft surface in this little matchbox of a place, which creates a thundering din as the night goes on. And we were on the end, close to the window. Imagine if we’d been in the MIDDLE.
We ate a lot of vegetables at Avec. I’m cool with that. The brussel sprouts with parmesan were nice. But was it like the best thing I’ve eaten in forever? No. It was just brussel sprots with cheese. And onions. And some green stuff. I know I know. I’m being picky. But when you’re eating in a place that is widely regarded as one of the best casual-dining spots in Chicago, you want more. Or well…at least I do.
We had some soft shell crab, and it was very nice. I could have more of this.
We ordered some of Avec’s “famous” flatbread. (“Everyone” says you have to try the flatbread.) And this is what arrived. Um, I don’t know about you, but I call this pizza. Pizza with beets and olives. But pizza just the same. It was very nice beet and olive pizza. And it was pretty tasty. But it was just pizza.
The Service: Service was a little confusing. Was the girl waiting on us, or was our busboy waiting on us? He certainly seemed knowledgeable enough about the menu. Someone deserves a promotion. And our female server…she did not smile once. Odd. This is America, after all! And stop please stop filling my water glass up every 2.5 minutes. Please.
The Verdict: I think I have this high expectations problem in America. Everyone tells me I will love a place. So I expect to love it. And while I do love Avec’s very comprehensive wine list, and while the food is quite nice and of very high quality, I’m just not totally wowed. You’re probably wondering…”What does it take to wow her?” Good question. It takes things in combinations I don’t normally have. (And it’s probably why I love Ottolenghi in London so much.) Unfamiliarity probably scares off the average diner, and this is maybe why a lot of American restaurants don’t do it all that much. I just want someone to take some goddamn risks.
So…I like Avec. I really do. But would I say you MUST go there? Nah.
Posted in American, Chicago, Modern European, United States, West Loop, Wine | 1 Comment
Posted by Krista on June 14, 2011
500 N Clark
Date of Last Visit: Friday, May 27, 2011
The Victim: Me
The Damage: Keep reading.
When I entered university, I was under tremendous pressure to major in math. Having an affinity for standardized tests — who doesn’t love Number 2 pencils — I had apparently scored off the charts (well, at least according to my parents) when it came to all things quantitative in whatever tests they were measuring me by. My freshman year academic advisor just sat there, mutely shaking her head, when she noted my intended major of MEDIEVAL HISTORY. (At the time, in addition to math, I also had quite the affinity for a good bodice-ripper. Of the medieval sort.)
My parents — not really the strictest of sorts — made it very clear. Major in Medieval History and I could pay for my own education while I lived in their basement on Long Island for the next four years. Ever the compromiser, I took more math classes than could possibly be healthy for ANYONE to take — no less an English Literature major — and I saved my affinity for medieval history for university breaks, where I would devour Julie Garwood books by the case full. In the basement.
But let me tell you…an affinity for Number 2 pencils and taking a lot of math classes does not a mathematician make. Because I woke up the night after my meal at Naha thinking, “Holy f*cking sh*t. I think I left a 33% tip at lunch yesterday.” A bill of $71.04 (including tax). I am pretty sure I tallied it all up to $95, because I remember thinking, “Wow. $95 for lunch. I’m not a cheap date.” OUCH.
$95/2 = $47.50. I thought the prawn risotto was a very proper “Ladies who Lunch” dish, but not a $47.50 dish. If I were on a diet — which I probably should be — I would have had just this and called it a day. And I would have been quite happy, if not jonseing for some egg rolls three hours later. But…if we put the ratio of starter to main here as 2/5 (ignoring of course any alcohol consumed) this starter cost me a more palatable $38. Yeah.
But you know I can’t possibly live on risotto alone. I moved on to the roasted quail with Korabuta pork belly, McWethy Farm “Hoop House” Tomatoes, Swiss chard, fiddlehead ferns, wild ramp — Is it me or are fiddleheads and ramp everywhere recently? — and basil jus. By my math, my mathematical error means this cost me $57 (going with that 3/5 ratio). Prettily presented and a very hearty hearty dish, at times, it felt like bottomless hard work. (Oh no…there’s STILL more pork belly.) But while the flavors came together nicely and it was all very, very interesting, it wasn’t the summery dish I was looking for.
Before I left, my server brought me some complimentary treats. Very nicely done, of course. These items don’t count towards my cost ratio because I didn’t order them.
What Happened Next: I checked my credit card statement the next day. $85. So either I actually did the math right, or Naha corrected my math for me. Relief. Majorly.
The Service: Really friendly and informative and opinionated, which I like.
The Loos: Meh. I’m so tired of Chicago restrooms. (And American restrooms in general.) They can just be so oddly cavernous and over-tiled at times.
The Verdict: I like Naha. If I had something to celebrate, I’d go back and try a different main dish. I’d be a bit more careful about ordering wine with my meal though as this ended up being a bit more pricey than I had hoped for.
Posted in Chicago, Modern European, River North, United States | 2 Comments
Posted by Krista on May 17, 2011
The Ritz Carlton
160 East Pearson Street
Date of Last Visit: Saturday, April 16, 2011
The Victims: Christina, Aileen
The Damage: About $50 per person
The Background: Christina and Aileen appear in a lot of Chicago posts on this blog. (And Bob! Can’t forget Bob. Hi Bob!) Christina was my freshman year roommate at university, and Aileen lived next door. Christina will always be known for her green Doc Martens that year, and Aileen for her older boyfriend who, um, bought us Busch Lite.
It’s somewhat frightening sometimes to think how long I’ve known them both. Am I really that old? Urrggh.
We were dilly-dallying about making plans for dinner so at the very last minute, when I couldn’t get anyone at Hema’s to answer the phone, I booked us into Deca at The Ritz Carlton.
As you do.
Deca, as it turns out, is in the lobby of The Ritz. And while the gurgling of the fountain in the lobby may be pleasing at first, by the end of my meal I WANTED THEM TO TURN THE BLOODY THING OFF.
That being said, hotels always seem to induce this feeling of calm within me, so otherwise, all was right with the world. And the bread was really lovely. Like really lovely.
Aileen and I split the soft shell crab special to start. I liked this. She didn’t. I’m a fan of all things softshell. Great frying. Great flavors. Fresh fresh fresh asparagus.
Regular readers will know that steak isn’t normally my first preference, but there’s something about steak frites that calls to me every time. Sadly, this steak was overcooked. (I ordered medium rare. It arrived more medium well. All this being said, I was so hungry, I didn’t send it back.)
I don’t know what sorts of potatoes they used but the frites were just too short. Is that bad? Me criticizing a dish because the fries are too short? I feel very superficial. But ah well…so be it.
They gave us free cookies before we left. That was sweet.
The Verdict: Eh. I could spend less elsewhere for better, I think.
P.S. So you know I always include the Urbanspoon.com badges at the end of my posts. As of this writing–7 May 2011–the badge is showing a 42% rating for Deca. This is the LOWEST rating I have ever seen. Weird. Scary. Frightening.
Posted in Chicago, Gold Coast, Modern European, United States | 3 Comments
Posted by Krista on April 26, 2011
1450 W Chicago
Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, March 9, 2011
The Victim: Liz of Elizabites
The Damage: About $40 each
The Background: I love Liz’ blog, Elizabites. Her posts are simple and straightforward, and there’s always a contest or two thrown in for good measure. She doesn’t always write about the food…it might be the decor or a sign or something on the table or a product-find. each post is its own little nugget. There’s no messing around.
Liz is much the same herself and we had a very enjoyable dinner at Leopold in West Town talking all things food. (Seriously, have you seen that Wendy’s is hocking sea salt fries?)
We split the mixed green salad, which was accompanied by gouda croquettes. The croquettes were cold and hard. They could have been so much better. The salad dressing was nice though.
The home-made pierogi of cheese and onion were a bit on the stodgy side and had maybe a tad too much butter, but that didn’t stop us from finishing them.
Best was the cassoulet. Confit rabbit, braised pork belly, and German bratwurst. This was a ridiculously huge portion for one; I would highly recommend splitting it. But be ready to fight over all the juicy bits of meat in here. I really enjoyed this dish and finished my leftovers for breakfast the next day.
The Service: Quirky but attentive. “Working on his poetry,” and all that.
The Verdict: Enjoyable company and good food overall. I’d definitely go back for the cassoulet.
Posted in Beer, Chicago, Modern European, United States, West Town | 2 Comments
Posted by Krista on April 20, 2011
505 North State
Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, March 16, 2011
The Victim: Heather
The Damage: About $20 each
The Background: Heather and I have been talking about going out to lunch since AUGUST. We finally put a date in the diary and headed over to Sable Kitchen, in The Palomar Hotel.
I am a fan of all things Kimpton–they are in my opinion the nicest hotel chain in America–so this was not a hard sell for me. And I was excited to check out Kimpton’s latest offering in Chicago.
What I like about Kimpton is that their restaurants are destinations. They’re not just soulless hotel restaurants, something that I have a lot of experience with.
The Entrance: We enter Sable Kitchen and we are immediately overwhelmed by the smell of GAS. This is a bad thing. It’s so bad that we have to talk to the hostess about it. Does she know it smells like gas, and more importantly, are we all going to die during lunch?
Yes, she says. They know it smells like gas. They’ve had many people in to research the smell of gas and they can’t figure out where it’s coming from really. They’ve had everything tested and, she assures us, the smell of gas will not hurt anyone.
You know what I say to that? Nothing should smell like gas. MAYBE YOU SHOULD LOOK HARDER. (It’s not just me…see Gary R’s review of Sable Kitchen on Yelp.)
The tomato soup I had at Sable Kitchen was some of the best I’ve ever had. Tangy. Excellent.
My main was a super-generous chicken with buttermilk herb dumplings. (Welcome to America, really.) I don’t know how one person could reasonably eat all of this unless they ran a marathon earlier. I really liked the idea of this dish and it all came together well with one exception…the dumplings suffered under the onslaught of such a massive amount of broth. They had disintegrated into mush, which kinda defeats the point of offering dumplings.
The Service: Service was friendly and helpful and knew when to approach the table and knew when to stay away. Well done, Sable.
The Verdict: I haven’t mentioned the natural light. Sable benefits from a corner position so it is full of natural light, a rarity it would seem in many Chicago restaurants. I liked this about Sable Kitchen and oddly, it would be one reason why I might return. That and the tomato soup!
Posted in American, Chicago, Modern European, River North, United States | 3 Comments
Posted by Krista on March 23, 2011
11 East Walton
Date of Last Visit: Friday, 2 March 2011
The Victim: Natalia
The Damage: $80 each
The Background: I haven’t seen Natalia in AGES. Like 2004 ages. I think she’s a spy and should you ever meet her, I think you’d agree that the moniker fits. She is Belarussian, tall and enviously thin and Slavic-ly exotic looking. I remember when I first got to know her, she would smoke cigarettes in just that way–you know, that spy way. And she rarely every smiled. Not that she was unhappy or anything. It was just Natalia.
I haven’t seen Natalia until now because she’s just moved back to Chicago after a stint in Santa Monica, with her startup Interest Mix. Before that, she was somewhere between Detroit and Mexico City. But now she’s back and it was great to catch up with an old friend.
Natalia puts me in charge of ordering and I put our server in charge of ordering. We start out with some silky foie gras, which tastes deceptively light and airy. The speck is satiny with just the slightest elegant hint of smoke (like Natalia herself). Actually, the speck is truly excellent. I am very happy.
I’d watched a neighboring table secure an order of burrata and demolish it in good speed. And after tasting this, I can understand why. Mozzarella and cream. Was there ever a finer combination? I appreciated that when plated, they added a generous drizzle of olive oil along with a good dash of salt and pepper. This was lovely.
For our main, we split an order of Veal Blanquette–carrots, Paris mushrooms, and egg noodles. This reminded me of a dish from my childhood; my mother used to serve us veal, carrots and butter noodles on a regular basis. This was a homey and filling dish and perfect for the chilly weather. Perhaps a bit on the soupy side, but the buttery flavor melded well with the veal and carrots and made it all quite delightful.
Service: Service throughout was attentive and helpful. Honest, really. My only quibble is that the room we were in was in no man’s land to the back of the restaurant. It was dead, while the rest of Balsan was quite lovely.
The Verdict: I liked it here. I’d go back. I’d also go back to The Elysian’s bar on the second floor, Bernard’s, where we enjoyed a glass or two of Prosecco before embarking upon our dinner reservation. (And they actually comped us some Prosecco when our table wasn’t ready at 8, as booked. Natch.)
Posted in Chicago, Gold Coast, Modern European, United States | 5 Comments
Posted by Krista on March 17, 2011
1962 N Damen
Date of Last Visit: Thursday, March 3
Victims: Theresa, Steve
Damage: $50 each?
The Background: I’ve known Theresa since kindergarten. Crazy. She’s appeared on this blog before, when she came to London for work in the autumn of 2009 and we had a nice meal at Le Cafe du Marche in Clerkenwell. Fast-forward 18 months later and Theresa is now married and pregnant and I’m living back in Chicago and my new place is right down the street from hers. Crazy how life works.
So we made plans to meet for dinner and Takashi seemed like a good neighborhood option on the basis of both word-of-mouth as well as ueberly excellent reviews online. I was looking forward to it.
The Entrance: Takashi is in a little house on Damen. I liked this about it. It’s cozy and massively unlike the massively massive restaurants you find in River North. We’re given a nice corner table upstairs, which I like because I can survey the room–I’m an observer–and there’s lots of space for my bags. (I’m also a bag lady.)
The Starter: We split an order of the soy-ginger caramel pork belly with pickled daikon salad and steamed buns. I loved this. The pork belly was melt-in-your-mouth tender and I loved making up the little bun sandwich. The dressing on the salad was also ace. Only three buns though and four slices of pork belly…Steve was kind enough to go halfsies with me on the last bit of belly.
My Main: The roasted wasabi crusted New York strip steak was, well, just a steak. And that’s not saying a lot given we’re in Chicago. I wanted some more char on the outside and some more flavor to the meat. Also, I expected some bite from the wasabi but it really didn’t taste like anything all. (Then again, maybe I’ve eaten so much wasabi in my time that I’m immune to it.) The potato cake there on the side was a bit on the dry side…it was crying out for some wasabi or more of the mysterious “aromatic sauce” referred to on the menu. In summary, this was a perfectly acceptable dish for the average diner who doesn’t get out much. For me…meh.
The Verdict: Go for the pork belly. Also, they do a Sunday noodle brunch that I hear is good and which I’d like to check out. But otherwise? Not so sure I’ll be bee-lining it back here anytime soon.
Posted in Bucktown, Chicago, Japanese, Modern European, United States | 2 Comments