I’m supposed to stop eating things like this but the novelty wins and the 5:2 diet to make up for my life of excess seems like a better and better idea. (Who wants to eat on Mondays and Tuesdays, anyhow?) The food at the Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport, Chicago along with their lovely staff, make for an excellent excuse to get yourself out of your Northside “I don’t go south of Madison” comfort zone. Mushroom and kale!! Who knew a mushroom and kale pie could be so perfectly perfect? Best pie I’ve ever had. Really and truly. You should go get one. Or four. (If you really don’t want to go south of Madison, Pleasant House Bakery pies are stocked at a number of places around Chicago.) Thank you to Roam & Home and Mr Roam & Home for the adventure. (And this was only our first stop!) Hmmm…if I’m going to stick around Chicago, maybe I should buy a car. It makes adventures easier.
Four very good restaurants in Chicago! All in a short time period. Amazing! Imagine me, doing a happy dance. Actually, don’t. That’s embarrassing. Now if only it was all just so much CHEAPER. Then you can imagine me dancing. Because really, Chicago, you are not as cheap as I thought you were. Listed roughly in order of deliciousness…
Carriage House, 1700 West Division: Like it so much, I’ve been here three times already. I love the Lyonnaise Salad, with its soft pillows of pork belly and salty, vinegary dressing in particular. It reminds me a lot of Yardbird in Miami Beach though, which is a bit weird. (Still haven’t written up my Miami trip. Sorry!) Either the design aesthetic is just an overall trend or Southern food is just an overall trend or something else is going on?? Anyhow, I don’t care really because it’s great to have a nice new spot in the neighborhood. Verdict: Go.
Au Cheval: 800 West Randolph. LOVE IT HERE. It reminds me of London. Not surprising after I figured out that they are part of Soho House. It was the Cowshed products in the ladies’ that gave it away. I saw the Cowshed and I actually teared up in the ladies’ room. It was all a little awkward, really. I’ve been back multiple times to have the bone marrow at the bar. Because that’s what I like to do, wander around town and eat bone marrow. The burger is pretty ace as well. Verdict: Go, but be mindful that they do not take reservations, so go early or late and do not take 12 people with you.
Trencherman: 2039 West North: I also love it here, although the food was best on my first visit. (That being said, on that first visit, it was my food — the short rib — that was great. My friend Amy’s pasta was so plain and boring, it was painful.) What I really like most about Trencherman is the bar. I like to just show up and eat at the bar. Sometimes, I massage the old white subway tile. My chicken thighs and grits just last week were very, very good. The Verdict: Great addition to the neighborhood. Go.
Grassfed, 1721 North Damen: My mother always told me never to buy white furniture. Grassfed has apparently never met my mother. For $25 for steak, frites, salad, and a huge chunk of garlic bread, this is a very good value. And a tasty one at that. I’d go again. The Verdict: If you, like me, like focused menus, go. If light hurts your eyes, stay away. So for example, I would never willingly choose Grassfed for a first, second, or third date. You don’t get to see my crows’ feet until much later, you know.
I’ve had some “meh” meals too lately. More about that in a later post. And hey, that picture above? It’s from the new Walgreen’s at North, Milwaukee and Damen. It’s in a old bank. So that’s cool.
Hello Northern Line. I’ve missed you. Yes. You. Even though you totally suck at rush hour. But when you’re empty and you make the sounds that you do, I do love you. You’re efficient. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’re clean. (Except during rush hour, with all the newspapers flapping about.) You’re — strangely — comfortable, you with your blue velour cushioned seats. London Bridge to Angel, in no time then.
Yes. I was back. A flight to London in the $800 range? This is a good thing. Lots of points on my credit card, letting me stay three nights at the The Park Lane Hotel? Even better.
Too bad The Park Lane was such a dump, relatively speaking. The carpets had seen better days. Way way better better days. But at least the bed was comfortable. Oh, and they had one of those outlet panels that let’s you plug in an American plug. Even though you’re in the UK. Nice.
To make myself feel better, I took myself out to dinner. At Dinner. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. You know, this guy. I would like to thank — profusely and obviously so — the maitre’d at Dinner for squeezing in our table of six on a Friday night at 8 pm. And into a very prime table no less. I’m sad we never got a chance to meet. Or hug. Because truly, this was one of the loveliest of evenings…definitely hug-worthy. Even if @leeturnerconn – aka Feathers –was ready to pass out at the table. (Pregnant. Twins. We forgive her.) But that Meat Fruit (pictured)? Like silk. Edible edible silk. (Foie gras. Mandarin. You get it.) The maitre’d also popped for a round of biscuity champagne, a wonderful surprise that made an already festive evening even more so festive.
The Tipsy Cake — a wonderful pineapple creation — nearly brought me to tears. Happy sad tears for everything I had left behind and everything yet to come. (Even though this was the end.) Slow-roasted pineapple. On a spit. Carmelized and only-God-knows-what-else-brioche with custard — custard which I am normally not a fan of, but which worked marvelously well here. I didn’t want to leave Dinner, and nothing could spoil anything, not even the couple at the table next to us, who stopped to (rudely and obviously) count the number of (perceived) Americans at our table. Sigh. We’ve been in the country a while now. We talk with our inside voices. Really. (And you two didn’t talk to each other one bit your ENTIRE meal. Sad!)
The Verdict: You should go to Dinner. If you don’t live in the UK, you should get on a plane and fly there. Just don’t cry. Like I did, in the terribly short taxi ride “home,” against the darkness of Green Park, wide awake with jetlag, wondering how I could make this all never end.
Chin up though! After a spin through Borough Market Saturday morning, where I had one of these…
and wept with happiness (that’s the chorizo & rocket sandwich from Brindisa), @tehbus suggested I come on over to Ferdies Food Lab that evening, which Simon himself had invited me to a week or two earlier. I took this all as a huge sign and headed over to Aldgate East to meet the gang for what would turn out to be a memorably bizarre evening. (You know…where there’s a man wearing a beret who talks about his black cape, and there’s someone else who manages to tell an entirely different story to everyone there about how they came to be there, and then there’s an in-depth discussion of the pros-and-cons of “adult” dating Web sites and before you know it, someone has drank all your wine so you’re drinking someone else’s and hope they don’t notice before it’s time to leave. And then you try to take a taxi home but the black cab driver kinda goes a lot crazy on you — only the second time that’s happened over hundreds of cab rides over more than seven years — to the point where you just pay him and get out in the middle of traffic at Oxford Street tube, even though you’re going to Green Park. )
The main of slow roast lamb was — and I hate both of these words — moist and succulent. Hard to turn away from this dish. I sorta wanted to take away the leftovers. But I had nowhere to put them. (Sob.)
The next morning, I went to Automat in Mayfair for the most disappointing of American breakfasts before heading down to Brockley for the most amazing of barbecues and the most beautiful of skies. And then the Big Green Egg came down from the skies and gifted us all with food and we were very happy.
…or is it?
Date of Last Visit: Saturday, 17 July 2010
The Victims: Muna, Lee, Jen, Tracey
The Damage: £50 each but we paid for Muna because she is having a baby!
The Background: Muna is having a baby! So we're throwing her a baby shower, as all good American women do. Dressed in our Sunday finest (even though it's Saturday and even though I was probably a bit more casual than I meant to be), we converged on Brown's for some tea and more importantly, CAKE.
The Entrance: We're shown to the tea room which reminds me of the tea room at The Berkeley. It's a slightly masculine place and could easily double as bar space. This is fine with me, but I just thought I'd mention it.
They have salt beef sandwiches. Ingenious! I love these so much, I ask for another plate of just salt beef. The salmon is also quite nice. But really, I focused on the salt beef. And skipped the egg mayo.
We all agree that the scones are amazingly good. Moist. Dense, but still fluffy at the same time if that's possible. Rich. We ask for more of these as well. I limit myself to two and go back to the salt beef.
And of course, the sweets. I limited myself to two mango and passion fruit macarons, which were lovely, and a lemon and polenta cake, which was also fantastic. The cake had a knob of lemon cream in the middle, and that raspberry couldn't have been more perfect. When I got home that day, I googled lemon polenta cake, determined to get around to making one at some point.
Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
The Victim: Chris
The Damage: Unknown. Chris paid.
The Background: The more things change, the more things stay the same. I've known Chris for 13 years. I know he likes cookies. So when we walk into The Albion, I am so not surprised that he is momentarily paralyzed by the display of chocolate-chip-cookies-as-big-as-your-head. It was funny. But I guess you'd have to know Chris. Or, well, you had to be there.
We're at The Albion for breakfast and I've really been looking forward to it. The Albion is one of those places that has always been on my list, but somehow keeps getting pushed down. And down. But here we are. And I like it. I like subway tile. A lot.
The Food: Poached eggs on toast for Chris. And this looks nice. The toast is hearty. And the eggs look perfect. I'm not THAT intrigued because I can normally only eat one egg, not two. There's just something about eggs that sort of turns me off sometimes.
Then there's my smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. (Predictable, aren't I?) I thought this was an extremely large portion. What is that? Three eggs? And there was so much smoked salmon, I started to get sick. I left half of this behind. Not because I didn't like it, but because it was just TOO MUCH. And "only" £9.75 at that.
The Service: Fine. Took FOREVER to get the check though. Always a problem when you're hanging out with Americans.
The Atmosphere: I dig the shop up front with all the British products.
The Verdict: Good.
Date of Last Visit: Monday, March 22nd, 2010
The Victims: John, Paul, Rachel, Ruth
The Damage: Unknown. John paid. But I know it wasn't cheap.
The Background: Everybody who's anybody seems to love Rules these days. Especially the cocktails.
But let me cut to the chase and spoil it for you now. I'mj just not so sure I'm going to be joining this specific club.
I feel a bit harsh writing that, and I don't mean to be so, but how else to say it? Yes, yes…I know I've only been there once and maybe I should give it all another chance, etc. etc. But at these prices, well…I'm not so keen.
Let me try to dissect my likes from my dislikes, based on my one visit with four Americans who wanted to go somewhere "British."
- The guy wtih the top-hap that greets you at the door.
- The British-ness and old-school atmosphere. (But…there's a but. Keep reading.)
- The deer antlers.
- The big comfy booths.
- The way they poured my soup out of a big tureen.
- The carafes of wine.
- The beautiful presentation of the roast beef.
- How they said it would take 45 minutes for the roast beef to arrive and it took like 20 instead. (Although I kinda thought that was weird.)
- The size of the Yorkshire pudding.
- The products in the ladies' loo.
- The prices.
- The lack of women. This is a dudes' retreat. An OLD dudes' retreat. (With all due respect.) Rules seems to appeal to a certain type of customer, or at least they did on the one (yes, just one) night I visited.
- The temperature (warm) of my house apertif, The Rules. (Tanquerray Gin, Dubonnet & Cremant Blanc de Blancs.) Maybe this was supposed to be served stirred, not shaken? I don't know. Blame it on my American-ness. I wanted this a bit chillier. Who likes warm gin?
- How John said the tomatoes in his back garden were more flavorful than the ones in his salad.
- The temperature (cooling) that my main–steak and chips–was served at.
- The time it took for our desserts to arrive. (Ages.)
- The response from the staff when we asked where our desserts were. "Oh, there was a problem in the kitchen and they needed to redo your dessert." Hello. This information should have been proactively offered, not sought out. Four out of five of us were jetlagged, so this delay was really wearisome. And you know…it kinda ruined everything…everyone sitting there. And sitting there…waiting.
Now when I threw some generally vague comments out there on Twitter, Simon of Dos Hermanos fame encouraged me to contact Rules directly and tell them what I thought. I never got around to doing that, and I probably should have. I'm a lazy git. But then again, I'm not one of those "restaurants should have three chances to get it right." I'm sorry. I'm there. We're' paying. Get it right.
The Verdict: Eh. (And lest you be distracted by all my points, the coolness of my main and the slowness of the dessert and the response to the slowness of the dessert were my primary gripes.)
Hix Oyster & Chop House
36-37 Greenhill Rents
Date of Last Visit: Friday, October 23, 2009
The Victim: Me
The Damage: £30
The Background: My flight back from Chicago landed at Heathrow at 12. Eyeballs scanned, I was home at pretty much exactly 2 and at Hix Oyster & Chop House by 2:30 p.m. I had been saving myself for this particular Hix…ignoring the soul-destroying breakfast of warm yogurt and stale pastry on my flight. Knowing…knowing that there was a very very good lunch just waiting for me.
The Entrance: A good-sized late lingering lunch crowd was, well, lingering. The hostess put me at the bar, which I like. File Hix Oyster & Chop House away as a good place to lunch alone.
The Food: An immensely delicious beef and oyster pie. (Plus a side salad of watercress and shallots to get my five-a-day.) This pie ranks up there with the most delicious things I have eaten all year. Really…the crust!! You should have seen me there, chinking the crust off the porcelain serving dish. (My apologies to my neighbour on the left, who was inadvertently attacked by flying pie crust bits.) Desperation, I tell ya. This pie was so delicious that I had to see if the newer Hix had the same on their menu because maybe, just maybe, I could have this pie two days in a row…And they did! (Albeit a quid or two more expensive.)
The Service: Cheerful. Knowledgeable. Brought me over the Hix books to peruse while I dined alone. Hix' British Seasonal Food looks great. If I ever move back to the States, now you know what to get me as a going away present. I ran into my server again the next day over at Hix Soho, which was fun.
My Other Reading Material: The last ever issue of Gourmet. Sadness.
What I Did Next: Made plans to have lunch at Hix in Soho the next day!
The Verdict: I will be back. And why haven't I been here sooner?
66-70 Brewer Street
Date of Last Visit: Saturday, October 24
The Victims: Feathers, Jen
The Damage: £20ish each. I think I owe Jen money.
The Background: The longer I write this blog, the shorter my reviews. Sometimes I'm sorry about that, but then I think, "But really, I don't have that much time. I should be doing laundry. Or something." So let me cut right to the chase…I like Hix. A lot. (You'll see this even more when you read my blog tomorrow, Tuesday.) I have to tell you that now, upfront, such is the hugeness of my current passion for the Hix empire and their very British, very delicious creations.
Let me also note, however, that visiting Hix at 4 p.m. on a Saturday probably didn't lend itself to a typical experience. You see…Hix was empty. REALLY empty. Like only one other table full when we walked in. Maybe four tables full when we walked out.
Why lunch at 4 p.m.? Well, I was jet-lagged and had slept til 11 and my internal clock was very mixed up. Oh, and we wanted to swing by Anthropologie before it closed, and Hix was a super-convenient place to dip into before shopping.
The Entrance: Hix has a big door. I should have taken photos of said door, but I didn't. You'll have to visit for yourself and see. You also can't see into Hix because of its frosted glass windows. So while I was waiting for Jen out front and across the road, I saw person after person gingerly approach the restaurant, stare at the menu, waver in front of the door…and leave. Many people, it seems, fear the unknown.
Not me and Jen. We waltzed right in.
The Food: Fish fingers for me! With mushy peas. And chips. I know…it's just basic comfort food, but it was exactly what I was in the mood for. And the fish fingers were pretty awesome. Great breading. The mushy peas were some of the best mushy peas I've ever had in my entire life…and normally, I don't die over mushy peas. And the chips! Proper chips. Wrapped in old menu. Very good.
The Service: Lovely, really. But then again, we were one of their only tables.
The Cocktail Menu: A bit esoteric, perhaps? This isn't a bad thing…it just means it will take you forever to choose your cocktail.
The Wines: Available by the carafe!
The Cocktail Bar Downstairs: Very cool looking. Must return for this alone.
Interesting: The beef and oyster pie was a quid or two more here than it was at Hix Oyster and Chop House.
The Verdict: Love it. Love it. Love it.
Upper Street, outside St. Mary's Church
Date of Last Visit: Thursday, March 12th, 2009
The Background: I've just taken my Life in the UK test! And passed! In 4 minutes. (24 questions that I went through twice.) Really, citizens of Britain, you might want to consider raising the bar a bit.Just a little.
If you don't know what the Life in the UK test is, it's the first step towards either settlement (as in permanent residency) or citizenship. Here are some of the things that were on the test. I'm not even going to tell you the answers.
Are there more women than men in the U.K.?
Where does the Prime Minister live?
What is the legal drinking age?
Who is the Queen's heir?
Who is eligible for free dental care?
What is the maximum speed limit on a single carriageway?
Yes, for a second there, I thought I was taking my driving test.
But hey, on my way back into work (after a celebratory lunch at Ottolenghi), I passed this Pieminister cart on Upper Street. It's a bit new, I think. Part of me wonders if they really needed all that real estate–it's very big, isn't it?–but hey, it's still a fun idea. Must check opening hours.
St. John Bread & Wine
94-96 Commercial Street
Tel: 020 7251 0848
Date of Last Visit: Tuesday, September 9, 2008
The Victims: Feathers, Matt, Feathers’ Little Brother
The Damage: £50 each
The Background: Feathers’ little brother is in town for a visit. We had grand plans of Petrus and Royal Hospital Road and a meal out every night. Somehow, these grand plans of five fine meals in five days became two nights at St. John Bread & Wine and Geales. (More to come on Geales tomorrow.)
But that’s okay because I’ve never been to either. So I’m excited. For one. (And for once.) Plus, last weekend, I went all the way to Denver and back without my Nokia N82 and gosh darnit but I missed it’s 5 MP camera. And I’m also testing out Nokia’s new Lifevine application, and tonight’s my first night really using it. Yes, I’ve got a lot going on.
And God but I’m a sucker for GPS. Nokia’s Lifevine (or nVine) in one sentence: It tracks me all over town and attaches the photos/music/movies to where I’ve been. It’s neat. If a little weird from a privacy standpoint.
The Starters: The menu at St. John Bread & Wine is a bit unexpected. There are a lot of small dishes. And then there are maybe four large main dishes. So we order a bunch of small plates…the foie gras (nice), some langoustines (you know I don’t work for my food, so I let Feathers’ Little Brother eat all of these), an artichoke salad without any artichokes (we sent it back and got another–it was much nicer with the artichokes), and then a plate of zucchini and white beans that I would gladly eat every day for lunch. Our server made it seem like these were tapas size portions, but they weren’t. They were just regular starter size portions.
The Mains: So they had grouse on the menu. I’ve never had grouse before. And nor will I ever again. It was dark and bloody. And cold. I like game. But this was too gamey for me. No photos for you, I’m sorry. You’ll have to take my word for it.
But we also had the rabbit–rabbit for three! Unfortunately, the best part about it were the roasted carrots. I do like a nicely roasted carrot. But one cannot survive by carrots alone.
The Desserts: Now this is what makes me say I would gladly go back to St. John Bread and Wine. I like their desserts. Firstly, the blackberry meringue. Secondly, the cheesecake. The blackberry meringue, in particular, was one of the nicest things I’ve ever eaten. It was nice and chewy and sticky.
The Verdict: I wasn’t so impressed with the starters and mains at St. John Bread & wine. But I haven’t stopped thinking about the desserts since. Could one live by desserts alone? I think so.
Fox & Anchor
115 Charterhouse St
020 7250 1300
Date of Last Visit: A Wednesday or Thursday night in February.
The Victims: Geoff, Bevin, Karen, Chris
The Damage: Unknown. Bevin paid.
The Background: I've been wanting to try the Fox & Anchor for ages and having some American colleagues in town seemed like the perfect excuse. American colleagues are often in search of Fish & Chips in London. I thought the F&A might deliver on that aspect. No one got the Fish & Chips, but that is not my fault.
The Entrance: It's PACKED. This is not a relaxing place to have a meal on a busy night. Lots of traffic back and forth. Make sure you get a bench seat facing the bar…if you don't, you'll have people bumping into you all night.
Tap Water Test: Jug provided. Frequently refilled.
The Food: Steak and oyster pie. Pie was full of steak. That was good. But there didn't seem to be anything else in there? It was just steak. Is that weird? This was my first steak and oyster pie ever. Are they all like this? Why? I'm very confused. Was I ripped off? But the oysters were delicious and the side of spinach was nice.
Service: You know, it's interesting. After four years of blogging around town, I guess I must have low expectations of London servers. As long as they are cheerful and friendly and helpful, I can forgive most things. Because at the end of the day, cheerful and friendly and helpful is more than you get at most restaurants. So I thought our server was pretty good because she was cheerful and friendly and helpful. But as Geoff pointed out, she didn't seem to know a whole lot about anything on the menu.
The Verdict: Hmmm. The burgers looked great. And I liked the atmosphere. If I had friends in town from the U.S., I'd take them here for some upscale pub grub if they put in a specific request for pub food. But I wouldn't get the steak and oyster pie again.
Tel: 020 7267 9700
Date of Last Visit: A Saturday night recently.
Victims: Al & Louise
Damage: £35ish for starter, main, dessert and lots of tap water.
The Background: We have been planning for ages to have an international dinner club, where we go all over London in search of interesting ethnic restaurants. Unfortunately for us, just like the French server I mentioned the other day, we too seem to be suffering from a bit of ennui. Outside of one sparsely attended Ethiopian meal, we've yet to make this a regular occurance.
Our tentative plans to head to New Malden for Korean fall through. So I suggest Market in Camden, which Dos Hermanos liked.
I read online that there's a small step into the restaurant, and to watch out for it because a lot of people fall INTO the restaurant. "A lot of people" is right. As our meal progresses, I lose track of the number of people who fall into Market. Someone is going to hit their head soon–if they haven't already. These guys need a ramp. Or a sign. Or both. I see stiches in Market's future. Maybe even a law suit!
Starter: Goat cheese tart. Too gooey. I am jealous of Lou's pig's head terrine.
Main: Pork belly. Side of dull knife. Crispy crackling. This was a bit of a challenge until I procured a sharper implement.
Service: Forgot to tell us about the specials. Wouldn't let Louise order her steak well-done. (Never ask well-done of a French server.) Other server was much better.
Wine List: VERY affordable.
The Verdict: Everyone seems to like this place. By everyone, I mean my boyfriend, famous London restaurant critic Giles Coren. I love Giles*. But I don't love Market.
*Giles isn't really my boyfriend. Except when I close my eyes.