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.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Longman & Eagle (Brunch edition)

2657 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago

I'd heard a lot about Longman & Eagle and its deliciousness, but I hadn't quite convinced myself that it was time to drive way out to Logan Square and brave an apparently rather long wait for dinner. But my friend Harold suggested it for brunch, and despite having heard some slightly negative things about their mid-morning offerings from a friend, I assented.

I was pleased to discover that it wasn't difficult to nab a parking spot or a table, and so we found ourselves seated inside their very pleasant back room. The decor is simple but amiable, and while the back room is a bit loud, you can still carry on a conversation without too much difficulty. The brunch menu isn't extensive, but it's well stocked with tantalizing options. I'd heard that the omelets were somewhat disappointing (described as a slightly dry egg pancake folded over cooked ingredients), so I went with the sunnyside-up duck egg with duck confit hash, roasted shallots, and black truffle vinaigrette. Harold got the croque madam with ham and gruyere and a bloody mary. And of course, we both had coffee.

The coffee (Alterra) was good though not especially exciting. The bloody mary was solid. It wasn't knock-your-socks-off amazing, but it was extremely well executed. It was a bloody mary that you inadvertently take for granted; the kind that makes you forget how difficult it is to make a good bloody mary and how many disappointing ones you've had because it's so subtly tasty. I generally avoid drinking cocktails in the morning, but a taste of this one severely taxed my powers of restraint. I should add, too, that the cocktail list was generally quite appealing. I was particularly intrigued by the Horchata para Adultos, a horchata mixed with Sailor Jerry's rum - I'm looking forward to trying one of those someday.

The food did not disappoint. Harold's croque madam was just right in all regards, and my meal was delicious. The duck confit hash was fabulous, and beautifully set off by the black truffle smear that orbited the plate. My one complaint was that it was a tad on the small side - our server immediately suggested I order some toast to go with it. With a side of sourdough toast, it was an adequate, though not particularly large, breakfast, but it also totaled out at $16 for the food alone, which seemed a bit... much. But that was but a spot of gray on an otherwise sunny brunch experience. Good food, good service, good atmosphere - the next time you find yourself standing outside Lula's and hoping that the wait for brunch won't actually be an hour, you might consider strolling over here instead.


I love to eat. I love to eat all kinds of foods at all kinds of prices. I am not a professional food writer, but I might want to be one someday, so a blog about restaurants seemed like a good place to start. It remains to be seen whether the posts will be in the genre of reviews or whether they'll be more like diary entries about my particular experience at a given place, but hey, either way it could be useful information right?

I live in Chicago, so that's where I do most of my eating, but I do travel occasionally, so you may seem some posts about restaurants in other places too. I don't expect that anyone will be offering me free meals or otherwise trying to sway my opinion, but I promise a full disclosure if they do. There might be pictures sometimes, but I'm pretty lazy when it comes to uploading them. I'll try to update at least weekly, and I'll try to avoid unnecessary superlatives, and we'll see how it goes.

Comments are by all means encouraged, even negative ones. If you have any pointers on how I can be a more useful restaurant critic, feel free to let me know. And by all means, please, recommend another restaurant to try.