Thursday, May 27, 2010


954 North California, Chicago

If you ask me, there aren't nearly enough late-night dining options available in Chicago, so I was excited to hear about Rootstock opening (though disgruntled to hear that it's closed Sundays, which, for whatever bizarre reason, is when I often find myself hunting for a restaurant open past 11pm). Last night, having just seen The Good Negro at the Goodman Theatre (which was good but not great - it was really creatively staged, and definitely better than the last two plays I've seen there, but still not that great) my boyfriend and I finally made it to Rootstock.

The patio (which is sadly quite small) was full so we had to sit indoors, but it wasn't really a loss because the inside is lovely - intimate without being claustrophobic, and really well decorated. The walls are a slate gray and there are some really nice paintings on the wall. The lighting is low but not so dark that you have to strain to see the menu - it's really quite nice.

The wine list is quite large, but well presented. I'm not that knowledgeable about wine, so I really appreciated the long descriptions of each option. I often find that they're not nearly as descriptive as you'd like, but these actually gave me a good idea of what I was getting into. In the interest of full disclosure though, I should admit that I was fortunate enough to have a date who does know about wine, so I just asked him what I should get. I wish I could tell you what I had, but I just looked at the list and couldn't find it and I have a terrible memory for such things. Sorry. It was delicious though.

ANYWAYS. The food!
So, the food experience was joys mingled with slight disappointments. I had noticed the onion rings with harissa dip on the menu when I'd checked it out before, and was really excited to try them (I adore harissa). The onion rings were good - reasonably sized, with a flaky crust that wasn't too greasy - but the dip was strangely flavorless. It wasn't bad, but it was basically forgettable.
We also ordered a charcuterie plate. Now here, we were sort of blinded by optimism. The menu says Charcuterie Plate $6.50 and lists 4 charcuteries - a prosciutto, a spec, a copa, and a chicken liver pate. For some reason, we thought we'd get all of them. When we ordered, our server asked which one we wanted, or if we wanted them all. This should have tipped us off that they were each $6.50, but for some reason, it didn't. So that was a bit of a disappointment when the bill arrived. However, we ultimately decided that despite the slight pain to the wallet, it was actually a somewhat fortuitous error, because we never would have tried them all otherwise. Neither of us was into the copa - it was rather too fatty and heavy tasting. The prosciutto was good but not mindblowing (full disclosure again - once you've eaten prosciutto in Italy, you will probably feel disappointed any time you eat it in America. Sad but true). The spec, which I never would have thought to try, was fabulous - it melted in your mouth with an intense hamminess. I loved it. The pate was creamy and chickeny and fantastic, with less of the strong liver taste that most pates suffer from. I have to add, too, that all charcuterie plates come with the chef's accompaniments - the bread is nice, the mustard is fine, the pickled radishes are great, but the real star is the apricot-jalapeno jelly. Oh wow. It's sweet and fiery and absolutely incredible. And pairs beautifully with the prosciutto.

For main dishes, we shared the Fried Quail, watercress and lentil salad and the Italian bahn mi (which means PORK BELLY) on tuscan bread with pickled radish, cilantro and calabrian pepper. Both were phenomenal. The quail was juicy and tender and fell of the bone. The real stand-out of the dish, though, were the lentils - they were dressed in a soy lime citronette and the ensuing harmony of earthiness, citrus and salt was absolutely gorgeous. The pork belly was perfect - crispy and creamy and flavorful and great. If you've had the bacon at the Publican - it's like that. Except it's on a piece of bread that I think might be grilled in pork fat. Honestly, I was so enthralled that I didn't really notice the radish, cilantro and pepper. The balsamic soy caramel was a nice accent, but at the end of the day, it's all about that pork belly. I will say that while both dishes were incredible, I was glad we were splitting them - they were so densely rich and flavor-packed that I felt slightly overwhelmed after eating half, and was relieved to switch plates. Still - they were delicious.

Overall, I was impressed. Although there were a few disappointments, the highlights were so impressive that the rest seemed like the kinds of mistakes that are eliminated in the transition between rough draft and final version. My next time there, I'm pretty sure, will be unblemished bliss. If you're looking for a nice romantic late-night dinner option - this is your spot.

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