Adventures in San Francisco

A few weeks ago, Scott and I met some friends in San Francisco for the weekend. Originally, I had planned to choose one restaurant from our trip to discuss in detail, course-by-course per the yooj; however, there was just too much good food going around all weekend to only give one place the spotlight. Since I would never want to cheat you out of glorious food-shots, I am opting for an overview of the whole shebang.

Scott and I arrived in San Fran (or ‘Frisco’ as my dad would say) earlier than our travel buddies so we started off our Friday solo. The first order of business was a trip to the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market for breakfast. The last time we were here, we showed up too late in the afternoon to really get the most out of the market. I’m telling you the line for Roli Roti was about 50 people too long for my stomach’s liking. This time, we got there nice and early (around 9 AM) and spotted a SHORT line at Roli Roti. We shared the porchetta sandwich. — Where ever you are right now, please take a deep breath and a moment to s-l-o-w-l-y read this next sentence: pork loin rolled into the pork belly with crispy skin on.

Can I get a –

  People???

Oh yes. This puppy was garnished with onion marmalade and arugula. The bread had a nice crunch on the outside and was soft on the inside. The pork was salty, sweet, rich and oh-so-tasty. Every once in a while you’d get a bite of the crispy skin and it was like finding bacon. Or gold, really. The onion marmalade was a great, sweet and savory addition. 

 

No Regretts would never condone sharing ONE sandwich for breakfast and calling it a day, so naturally we had to share another sandwich. We hit up Il Cane Rosso inside the Ferry Building for our second installment of breakfast. Here, we ordered the olive oil fried egg sandwich with baccalone pancetta, aged provolone and sweet onion butter. When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, this is what they mean:

Just look at that bread. Ugh. Take me back! The bread was very light and soft and had a sweet taste – perfect for soaking up all of that drippy egg yolk.

After breakfast bliss, we met up with our compadres and biked the Golden Gate to Sausalito. As an aside, I would not recommend this activity during Fleet Week. This comes from experience. Despite the crowds, the ride was as picturesque as hoped for and Sausalito was quaint and charming. We quenched our thirst with a glass of pinot gris and ferried it back to San Fran.

Our 9 PM dinner res found us at SPQR. This came by way of recommendation and did not disappoint. We shared 4 pasta dishes, all of which were amazing. My two favorites were the spaghetti and the beet and red wine risotto.

The spaghetti was served with guanciale, black pepper, brussels sprouts and parmesan. I think the consensus at the table was that this dish was good, but that it was “just spaghetti”. No fireworks. Not a show stopper. I, however, thought this dish was quite divine. There is something to be said about an extremely well done, simple dish. I have eaten at Tom Colicchio’s Craft in New York City where they focus on preparing fairly common things very well. Upon asking the server what he would recommend on the menu at Craft, he raved about the snow peas. Snow peas? Are you serious? Indeed he was. The snow peas looked so typical lying there on the plate, but once in your mouth, an entire garden of freshness came to life with the slightest touch of horseradish. For me, this is similar to the spaghetti at SPQR. The noodles were aldente, providing a perfect, slightly chewy texture. The accompaniments were subtle and complimentary allowing the skill in the preparation of the pasta to shine.

Since I’ve already thrown out one cliché in this post, what’s another going to hurt? So when they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, THIS is what they mean:

That doesn’t just look ugly, it almost looks gross. Whaddya think? Fortunately, looks aren’t everything! Dishes with red wine and butter incorporated into them have this depth, this richness that I can’t do justice to. It’s like your long-lost Italian grandmother giving you a huge hug. You feel so comforted and loved with every mouthful. The earthiness of the beets didn’t come through strong to me, but I think it probably mellowed out the richness of the red wine. The egg added an extra creamy texture while the crispy pork provided a great textural contrast.

Bellies full and happy, we made our way back to the hotel and crashed. The next morning we were up bright and early to be ready for our day long wine tour. On our ferry ride to San Fran, a gentleman had mentioned a breakfast place to us that he actually schedules his work meetings around. He raved so much about the oatmeal there that we had to check it out. I mean, who raves about oatmeal when there’s eggs benedict to be had?

Scott and I ran over to The Grove to grab the oatmeal-s. $8.00 for oatmeal?! This better be good. We finally got our to-go bag and – UGH – holy heavy oatmeal! It wasn’t the oatmeal that was so heavy though; there were HUGE boxes of fresh-cut fruit for each oatmeal order! I’m talking enough bananas, blueberries, strawberries and raisins to feed an army of hungry kindergarteners. The oatmeal was also steel-cut, which is not only healthy for you but also has a bid more texture because the oats haven’t been rolled. You get a little extra pop or bounce in every spoonful.

After our healthy and hearty breakfast, we boarded our shuttle for wine country. We went with Great Pacific Wine Tours for a whopping $95 a person. We didn’t get an abundance of wine education but we did get plenty of tastings, transportation and lunch all included in our package. I’d recommend it for any first-time wine country explorers that don’t have enough people in their party to make hiring a limo economical.

On our tour, we visited three vineyards – two in Sonoma (Vinyasa and Jacuzzi) and one in Napa (Domain Chandon).

We tasted wines at all three places and got a little education on the bubbly at Domain Chandon. Wine country was breathtaking!

After wine tasting we had ambitious plans to dine at Delfina. As tired as we were, we could not pass up the opportunity to eat some more amazing Italian food. Scott and I had first tried Delfina last August and we were blown away. Specifically, the grilled calamari stand out in my mind as being incredibly fresh and delicious. This time it wasn’t the calamari that took the cake, but the Berkshire Pork Spareribs.

The spareribs were cooked so well that the boundary between meat and fat was nearly non-existent and the tender, rich, semi-sweet pork fell cleanly off the bone. We also shared olive oil mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, tagliatelle and some amazing spaghetti with plum tomatoes. Unfortunately, the meal this time around did not quite match the impeccable expectations that we had conjured up in our heads, but it was still fantastic.

All in all, we had a wonderful time eating our way around San Francisco. If you’re taking a trip to the West Coast anytime soon, I would whole heartedly recommend heading to the farmer’s market at the Ferry Building and dining at SPQR, Delfina and The Grove. Also, track down a Blue Bottle Coffee shop while you’re there. You’ll be glad you did.

SPQR on Urbanspoon

Delfina on Urbanspoon

Chicago Gourmet 2010

I am fanatical about food like Pittsburghers are about the Steelers. So naturally, chefs are my superstars. I wouldn’t be upset if Rick Bayless dawned huge diamond studs on his lobes.  Anyhow, keeping with this sport analogy, that would make Chicago Gourmet my Superbowl.

Chicago Gourmet took place last weekend, September 24-26th in Millennium Park. This is the third year for Chicago Gourmet and the first that it was sponsored by Bon Appetit. I attended for the first time this year, but I overheard people discussing how much more organized the event was since Bon Appetit had sponsored it. I also heard rumblings that it felt much more crowded than the previous years, which makes sense since it’s gaining in popularity.

So what is Chicago Gourmet? The event itself describes it as “…a world-class celebration of the city’s rich culinary heritage…”. Each day of the event, they offer live cooking demonstrations, book signings, food/wine lectures and food tastings prepared by some of the best chefs in the city. You can purchase one-day tickets or a ticket for the entire weekend. A one-day ticket costs $150 per person or you can participate in the Chicago Dine Around program for a one day ticket. Scott (my fiancée) and I opted for the Dine Around program.  

With the Dine Around program, you must dine at 5 of the almost 60 qualifying restaurants within a certain time period and present copies of your receipts the day of the event to gain admission. We scouted out the most reasonable restaurants on the list and ended up spending about $80 per person. We chose to attend the event on Saturday. As an added bonus, it didn’t seem like many others participated in the Dine Around program so the line we waited in was considerably shorter than the line for regular ticket holders and we were admitted without any wait.

Upon entering, you grab a wine glass and a tote bag. To my surprise, the wine glasses were actually glass. Prior to the actual day, I had carefully evaluated the schedule and selected the not-to-miss events. Our first order of business was a live cooking demo with Rick Bayless.

Barbara Fairchild speaking at the Chicago Gourmet kick off.

Rick Bayless during his Luxury Guacamole cooking demonstration.

The cooking demo was a great way for us to start the day – very entertaining as Rick Bayless is so charismatic. We walked away with some great tips on how to always buy great avocados (go to a place where the best avocados are important to the customers) and tips on how to roast your garlic before you chop it up and throw it in your guac.

As the demo was wrapping up, we were eager to get a move on so we could explore the tasting pavilions. Here are some of my favorites:

Arun Sampanthavivat; Arun’s

This chicken satay from Arun’s was one of my favorites. The flavors were perfect and it was easy to bite right off of the stick as you tried to manage a handful of samples at once.

Stephanie Izard; Girl and The Goat

This shredded lamb and pasta dish from Girl and The Goat was delicious. It was warm and hearty and perfect to have in your tummy as you prepare to sample the seemingly endless varieties of wine.

I have previously divulged my reservations about scallops; however, this scallop atop celery puree was simultaneously refreshing and rich and was one of my favorites.

I know, I know – it’s just a cupcake! I have a dangerous love affair with these salted caramel cupcakes from more. In my opinion, they are utter perfection. Sweet, salty, creamy – ugh! I could eat 2 dozen by myself.

Now for the “pretty good” category. Here are some of the things that we tried that were a solid “good”:

This sirloin sandwich from the Lockwood at the Palmer House Hilton was a good start to the day and well positioned by the Stella Artois/Hoegaarden tent.

I am not a big red meat fan, so this tough piece of steak from Japonais complete with pipet of miso jus did not rock my world, but I can appreciate that this probably would be considered good, but not exceptional, to most.

This sesame chicken from Boka was pretty good, albeit room temperature. The bed of rice was a bit strange as it was also at room temperature, fairly mushy and lacked flavor. The wonderful thing about this dish that you couldn’t possibly see, is that we had been waiting in a painfully long line to enter the tasting pavilion in which these were served, when one of the servers for Boka decided to come out and pass samples to the line.  What a life saver!

Graham Elliot Bowles; graham elliot

I found this light fig mousse to be a strange companion for a balsamic glaze, but Scott rather enjoyed it.

This spring roll from Le Colonial was good, but slightly boring. I am not a fan of anise (or any flavor that resembles it) and my taste buds are highly trained to detect it. I believe that there was fennel or fennel seed in here (which has an anise flavor)…so I tried to pawn half on Scott.

 This scoop from Aja was creamy and rich but didn’t pack much of a punch of flavor.

This pumpkin soup with crab was quite delicious and, unlike some other samples, was still warm.

I really enjoyed the right half of this desert from Japonais, and moderately enjoyed the left half. The little jellies are sitting on top of the halves that would make up a French macaroon. French macaroons are my all time favorite cookie, so I was thrilled to see components of them used differently.

This bathtub full of chocolate caramel and caramel/pear ice cream from Cafe des Architectes was quite delicious. The chocolate shell was harder than anticipated, but still good.

This hot chocolate float with a mini-churro from Hot Chocolate was wonderful. The churro was a little hard (read: stale texture) but the hot chocolate was deep, rich and satisfying.

At this wonderful celebration of all that is gourmet, I am disappointed to report that there were also some not-so-good dishes being served. Behold:

I rather enjoy how this dish photographed, but ugh, it just wasn’t good. I mean, I couldn’t make it past one bite. This was served cold and I felt like I was eating raw bacon. Raw, cold meat with crunchy and sharp dried herbs is not what I want to be chewing. Sorry.

As for the beverages, there were so many to try. It was absolutely necessary to take advantage of spit buckets and rinse out your glass with some of the Fiji water provided (yep, you read that right – rinsing your glass with Fiji water). We sampled dozens of wines, champagnes, Jim Beam cocktails that tasted like apple pie, Grey Goose cocktails that tasted like hummingbird nectar and pumpkin beer. I also learned how to make a sidecar with Hennessy Black – which was way better than I expected!

Food and beverages aside, I thought that the event was set up and organized well. The tents, tables, furniture, plants and decor transported you to a posh outdoor scene where you could comfortably and stylishly taste, sip and mingle. Lines of eager and hungry people backed up quite a bit at some of the tasting pavilions; particularly at Pavilion IV (Latin and Asian tasting pavilion). I think that more visible signs displaying the name of the restaurant/chef and the time that they will be present at each station would help mitigate most queues. I’m not sure what could help Pavilion IV – more efficient service perhaps?

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at this event and I would participate in the Dine Around program again in a heartbeat to attend Chicago Gourmet next year. I think that the 6 hour gourmet food-extravaganza is well worth the $150 ticket price (I mean, this is my Superbowl after all), but why not go with the Dine Around program and challenge yourself to make it a great deal? If you did not make it out this year, I hope that you get a chance to next year!

The Purple Pig

The September 2010 issue of Bon Appetit recently named The Purple Pig as one of the 10 best new restaurants in America.  You can find the online reference here. What a title, right? You can imagine the hopes and expectations I had built up with a review like that.

Silly me, I left the SLR at home this evening. Never fear! My dinner date came through in a pinch with her camera, so you do not have to suffer through a review sans photos.

The first order of business at The Purple Pig was a plate of cheese. Have you ever been asked the question, “If you could only eat three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?” No? Okay, maybe that’s my own way of getting to know someone…Anyway, one of my three is CHEESE. Holy moly, I could eat the stuff non-stop. Our cheese selection included Manchego, Parmigiano Reggiano and Bucheron accompanied by fig jam.   

After studying abroad in Madrid, Manchego holds a special place in my heart; but the real show stopper here was the Bucheron (the cheese at the top of the photo). The white, spreadable cheese was salty, creamy and the perfect amount of tangy.

Next, we went with the Prosciutto Bread Balls.

Without the SLR sitting on the table staring me in the face, I was a little slow with the picture-taking (okay, maybe it was the wine…). I believe this dish came with 6 bread balls, not 3…but hey, I do what I can. These were very tasty, but not mind-blowing. The bread balls were salty, as to be expected, but were not notably flavorful. The tomato based sauce had a nice acidity that balanced the salty, bread balls but it did not add much depth of flavor beyond that.

Since my whole motto around dining and ordering out is “No Regrets”, I can’t turn down a raving suggestion of a menu item, no matter how crazy. Case in point: bone marrow. That might sound bizarre, but I was excited to give it a try.

Can you see what the forks are sticking out of there? Yep - BONES! How crazy is that? Welp, not crazy at all apparently. Behind the parsley and fennel, there is a little row of toasted bread as well. I immediately grabbed my fork and began to scoop up the marrow, slather it on a crusty piece of bread and sprinkle that wonderful sea salt right on top. Juxtaposed against the crusty bread, the marrow didn’t seem to have much of a texture of its own. It didn’t seem to have much flavor either. Mostly, it came across to me as a very rich hybrid between olive oil and butter. Not offensive or bizarre in the least.

Per recommendation of our server, we also ordered the Octopus with Summer Beans, Fingerling Potatoes and Salsa Verde.

Aside from the Bucheron, this was my favorite dish. The lemon and fresh herbs in the salsa verde complimented the perfectly grilled octopus with a clean burst of flavor. The texture of the octopus was perfect – meaty and smooth – and the light smokey flavor provided by the grill could convince you it was still summertime.

Last, but not least, dessert! Between recommendations and the process of elimination, we landed on the Sicilian Iris. Our server described this as a doughnut filled with Ricotta and chocolate. We have already discussed my undying love for cheese, but doughnuts are another story. Light, airy glazed doughnuts frustrate me greatly. They are delicious, yes, but they leave me feeling empty inside. Such a deceiving feeling given the amount of calories they pack. All grudges aside, we went for it.

“Doughnut” does this baby no justice! It’s a fried brioche, which is different enough from a doughnut for me to be in love! The brioche was more cakey and dense than a glazed doughnut, but not quite as heavy as a cake doughnut. Perfect! As the Iris was broken open, creamy ricotta and melted chocolate oozed onto the plate only to be quickly sloped up with porous pieces of brioche. Now that’s a mouthful of magic right there.

Overall, I enjoyed The Purple Pig and would return. However, with all of the “10 best restaurant” hype, The Purple Pig did not meet my expectations. My date and I concluded that The Purple Pig could be mistaken for a miniature Publican. From the menu focus on pork and beer to the C.O. Bigalow lotion and soap sets in the bathrooms, this place could pass for a pocket-size version of the Publican. (Although, the Publican does it better in my opinion). A note on the size – The Purple Pig is small, which can be comforting and very European if it’s something that you like. On the other hand, my date and I waited 25 minutes to be seated in doors and we received a seat at the bar. I rather enjoyed being perched in front of the kitchen and having Jimmy Bannos Jr. ask us if we were enjoying our food, but it might not be your thing…just a heads up.

NAHA

After trying NAHA for the first time during restaurant week last year, I bought the Groupon for NAHA ($40 for an $80 credit). Boy, did time fly! The last day to use the Groupon was last Tuesday, September 7th. Fortunately, an amazing friend was on top of her game and scored some last-minute reservations – 9:30 pm on a Tuesday! Apparently, a lot of Groupon owners were in the same spot because the lounge was packed with people waiting to be seated. We agreed to take two tables right by the entrance rather than wait another 20 minutes for a table.

My dinner date and I shared the scallops to start things off.

To be honest, ordering scallops makes me nervous. I feel like they are a high-risk, high-reward menu item. I should be able to trust nice restaurants to cook their scallops properly, but I must have had a horrible experience with rubbery, fishy tasting scallops because I still approach that first bite with apprehension. After that dramatic intro, these were quite delicious. As you can see from the photo, they were draped in prosciutto, adding the perfect amount of salty flavor. As they should be, the scallops were cooked perfectly – the knife easily sliced through the crisp outer layer to reveal the icicle-like meat within. The little cubes on the plate were something like yellow watermelon. I did not really see how these added to the dish, but they were interesting nonetheless.

If I added something more to the title of this blog entry, it would be “NAHA: Where Adjectives are in Quotations”*. Exhibit A: the descriptor for the entrée I ordered: A Farm Plate of Roasted Quail, Crisp Kurobuta Pork Belly and a Coddled Duck Egg “enrobed” in La Quercia Prosciutto with Scallion Jam, Lacinato Kale, “Duck Fat” Fried Rose Finn Potatoes and Thyme. Who knows why these things are in quotations, but it works – I mean, who wouldn’t order something described as “enrobed in La Quercia Prosciutto” or “duck fat fried”. Hello?!

If I did not have a photo to show you, I would have described this dish as though a farmer painstakingly assembled his pride and joy on a plate to create a “find the pork scavenger hunt” just for me, and me alone. Fortunately, I also have a photo:

So you’re probably thinking, “The meat is right there, you idiot! Why the ‘scavenger hunt’?” Yes, you can see the lovely quail and the coddled egg in the prosciutto, but on the other side of that, there is a hash of purple potatoes. Along with that, there are thick pieces of pancetta that conveniently look just like the potatoes. Between the salty pancetta and the soft potatoes, you just never know what you’re going to get. Either way, it’s a marvelous surprise. Aside from the “pancetta surprise”, the egg “enrobed” in prosciutto was my favorite part of this dish. Salty, gooey, warm perfection. I have trouble making my way through meat on the bone, so the quail was a struggle for me to eat gracefully, but it was very good. There was also pork belly on the plate which was salty and rich but a little too fatty for me. I know that pork belly is fatty by its very nature, but I don’t think the fat was cooked down enough to be a cohesive element of the meat.

If you’ve read my reviews of Blackbird and Girl and The Goat, you’ve come along with me on my journey exploring cream corn desserts.  Welp, the third time is not a charm, folks. We ordered the pave of almonds and blueberries with white corn ice cream and kettle corn.

It was pretty good, but not great. The ice cream, which was the corn component of the dessert, was deliciously creamy and rich. However, the “accessories” of this dish that you see floating around – the blueberries, the kettle corn and the candied almonds – were just strange. The blueberries are juicy and tart and burst in your mouth, the kettle corn is dry and light and melts in your mouth and the almonds are salty and sweet and crunch in your mouth. Three tastes and textures don’t compliment each other like they should. Oh well, I’ve had fun exploring corn-themed desserts, but I think I’m ready to move on. Sigh… 

After the second time around, I can safely say that I am very happy with NAHA. The service is good, the food is delicious and I think their semi-steep prices are justified by the quality of what they serve. The ambiance is nothing unique, but it is a classy restaurant perfect for a special occasion (wouldn’t recommend sitting by the door).

Stay tuned for a review of The Purple Pig!

*This phrase was coined by the lovely Katie L.

Girl and The Goat

I am always looking for the restaurant.

I talk about food like proud mothers talk about their honor students, so when people come to Chicago to visit, I feel the pressure to take them to the one restaurant that they have to try before they leave.  This isn’t as easy as you would think, considering how different people’s preferences and expectations can be. Pretentious, fine dining establishments don’t scare me one bit if it means amazing food, but white gloves and 4 forks may induce nausea in others.

Back to the point – I think I may have found the restaurant. Behold:

Girl and The Goat opened 7 weeks prior to our trip there. Star chef and winner of the fourth season of Top Chef, Stephanie Izard, is the Executive Chef. Our server informed us that, unfortunately, the night we dined was the FIRST night since they opened that Stephanie wasn’t in the kitchen. Bummer, ’cause we were sitting at one of two communal tables facing the open kitchen.

I made reservations for 2 people on a Sunday night, but had to up it to 3, pushing the reservation to 10pm. To avoid the major shift in schedule, we opted to try our luck at dropping in and were immediately seated at a communal table. (To improve our chances for prompt seating, we went super-duper early at 5pm).  

When you walk in, your sense of smell overrides your 4 other senses and you inhale wafts of slowly cooked pork before your eyes can even register the hip, dimly lit space. Your nose bypasses your brain and makes an agreement with your stomach that you’re going to order whatever that smell is. Once you snap-to, you notice the lounge-y seating area to the left, the bar just beyond that, the subtle, multi-level seating area, the communal tables and the wide, open kitchen.  This space definitely has the elements of something new and trendy, but the attitude of Girl and The Goat (thanks to the passionate, but chill servers) makes you feel like you’re coming back to your favorite, old  place.

Before making any big decisions, we immediately opted for the pretzel bread with gruyere butter and whole grain mustard applesauce.

After testing the waters with a small sampling of each accompaniment, I proceeded to slather both options on every, single bite. Sweet, salty, nutty, creamy – how could you go wrong? It’s almost mathematical, people. We ordered a bottle of Malbec while we attempted to decide what to order.

The menu is split into three sections: vegetables, fish and meat; each of which are composed of a selection of small plates. Think tapas-ish. The server recommended that we select 2 to 3 dishes per person. We decided to go with 2 dishes per person, and we were stuffed! For a good sampling of the menu, we ordered 2 from the veggie section, 2 from the fish and 2 from the meats.

First up, chickpea fritters, heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

YUM! Imagine chickpeas dressing up as french fries for Halloween. This is what you’d get. Because they’re made of chickpeas and not potatoes, the inside of the fried square is creamy and light rather than hollow and airy. The heirloom tomatoes offer a great punch of acidity to the rich, fried chickpeas. For the second veggie course, we ordered pan-fried shishito peppers with Parmesan, sesame and miso (not pictured). They had just a little kick (mind you, I have a high tolerance to spicy food) and were quite delicious, but there were just too many. You can only eat so many peppers, ya know?

As for the fish, we started with the hiramasa crudo with crisp pork belly, aji aiolio and caperberries. Hiramasa is a sashimi grade Yellowtail Kingfish. (sashimi grade means that you can safely eat it raw). “Crudo” means that the raw fish is dressed in some sort of acidic liquid, such as citrus juice or vinegar. Paired with the crisp pork belly, this was really delicious. The server raved about the soft shell crab with sweet corn, so we ordered that as well.

Did you know that sweet corn is in season right now? Well after eating this, I knew it had to be! (Hurry though, because the sweet corn season is coming to an end) The corn popped happily as I chewed and bursts of wonderful, sweet, juicy corn abound.

Now for the meat course. Our server also gave us a gushing recommendation for the grilled lamb ribs with a sweet onion bbq, grilled avocado and pistachio picada. I will tell you, I have had more than a few less-than-pleasant encounters with lamb so I am often reluctant to order it. My biggest complaint is that the meat is often tough. These lamb ribs were anything but tough. They were sweet, salty, juicy and succulent. For our last small plate, we had the smoked goat pizza.

As a group, our brains inserted the word “cheese” into that title, leading us to believe we had ordered a “smoked goat cheese pizza”. On the contrary, my friend. Biting into this pizza, there was a little surprise at the lack of goat cheese and a lot of satisfaction with the combination of flavors. When our server returned to check on us, we inquired about the meat – is this what I think it is? Is this – “Yes!” She says, “It’s goat!” Wow, with those crazy eyes that goats have, I never would have expected them to taste so good! Sort of like slow roasted, pulled beef. Our server went on to explain that, if cooked improperly, goat can have a gamey texture. She also explained how Stephanie put a lot of time into visiting all of the farms that were going to supply her restaurant. Almost all of the meat comes from a farm between Chicago and Peoria, IL (except the lamb, that comes from Colorado…they can’t keep up with demand or produce the same quality in Illinois.) This conversation made me fall even further in love with this restaurant. There’s something about that kind of pride in the ingredients and care for the source of the food that makes me a believer.

Hanging on to the birthday excuse for a little while longer, we went for dessert. Since we had such a memorable experience with the creamed corn dessert at Blackbird, we went for the creamed corn dessert here as well. It was presented in a rustic mason jar with a single candle burning for the birthday boy.

The creamed corn semifreddo was immensely rich and creamy, exactly what we were hoping for. There was an apricot mixture in the base of the mason jar that was a little too acidic for me. I can see how it should have been complimenting the richness of the semifreddo, but instead, it overpowered the creamy mixture on top and detracted from the overall flavor profile of the dessert.

While the dessert didn’t knock my socks off, I was extremely pleased and impressed with Girl and The Goat. My fiancée has been talking about this place to anyone that will listen for the past week and is already trying to schedule our next trip. The ambiance, the service and the food were wonderful and I think it came at a great value ($7 – $16/per dish). I would highly recommend this restaurant. I think this could be the restaurant in my book. You can expect me to take you here if you come to visit.

Birthday at Blackbird

For my fiancée’s birthday, I decided to make reservations at Blackbird. We have been to Avec and The Publican, sister restaurants to Blackbird, and love them both, so a special occasion seemed to warrant dinner at the fine dining establishment of the group.

The waitress told us that the endive salad had been on the menu since the restaurant’s opening in 1997. I sort of have a weakness for anything with a poached egg on it, so I haaaad to order it. The salad was presented in a delicate basket made of crispy potatoes with endive spears jutting out of the top and - the gem - the lovely poached egg nestled right on top. With a knife and fork, the waitress broke open the egg and cracked the basket, unfolding the picture you see below (and revealing the pancetta!).

The salad was very good, albeit a little difficult to get all of the goodness in one bite. Securing the crispy potatoes, some endive, a little egg and pancetta was a less than graceful act. However, the crunch of the endive and potatoes, the warm liquid from the egg, the punch from the Dijon and the salt from the pancetta  made for a great multi-sensory in-mouth experience.

For my entrée, I went with the Pekin duck. Aesthetically, this dish seemed flat. The meat, the sauce and half of the accompaniments were all brown. There’s some green hidden under there, but the sight of the dish led me to skepticism. Upon first bite, I thought, “Wow!” Upon second, I thought, “Hmm?”

The first bite seemed so full of flavor while the rest seemed lost. There were delicious little churro-like crisps around the plate with a cinnamon flavor that complimented the duck perfectly. However, the duck was sliced so thick and was cooked rare enough that it was difficult to cut through the meat. Unless I cut the duck into very thin slices, it felt like I was chewing a tough, raw piece of meat. Not pleasant. The portion was also very large. I could not make my way through all of the meat and shared two of the pieces with my man.  

Since we were out celebrating a birthday, we decided we had to get dessert! (who am I kidding? we would have gotten it anyway…) We decided to order a pot of french press coffee and the creamed corn ice cream.

Oh. My. God. When you are finished reading this, please immediately proceed to Blackbird and order this! Okay, lemme back up a sec. The french press coffee was notably fantastic. It was Intelligensia coffee and had a wonderful deep note of the perfect marshmallow - I’m talking the kind that you almost, but not quite, catch on fire and then quickly extinguish for the most perfect nutty, sort-of-burnt, marshmallowy flavor. Yes, that.

Okay, as for the dessert. Please know that I cannot do justice to this experience. Take a look at this beauty:

Interesting, right? The moment my spoon began to glide ever so smoothly through this frozen delight, I knew I was in for it. The depth of the creamy, richness of the ice cream was enhanced by the creamed corn flavor to the point of magical, buttery perfection.  To bring you back down to Earth and remind you that there’s more to this dessert than magic corn-butter-cream, there are petite bacon, hush puppy-esque bites alongside the log of ice cream. They offer a wonderful balance of savory flavor and cakey, but slightly crisp texture to – can you believe this – allow you to further appreciate the satiny ribbons of creamed corn iced cream on your tounge. Although, I am describing flavors that you would more readily associate with breakfast or dinner (corn, bacon, hush puppies), this preparation leaves no doubt in your mind that you’ve just had dessert.

Overall, I was disappointed in Blackbird. After visiting Avec and The Publican several times, I had high expectations for the priciest restaurant of the three. However, the dessert certainly blew me away, leaving me with a smile on my face and a generally positive feeling about Blackbird.