Tag: weekend gourmet


Weekend Gourmet: Piedmont (or Misadventures in Beets)

Posted 26 February, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in musings

Piedmont Logo

Piedmont: Durham, North Carolina

Experience Date: Saturday, February 25, 2017

Price: $60 per person, with wine pairings, four courses

Mr. SFR is up in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina for a period of time due to his job, so I flew out this past weekend to go see him. He made reservations at Herons, which I hope to write a future post on because it was fabulous and magical, and Piedmont which… was not. I don’t think I’ve ever written a truly negative restaurant review here – but if nothing else, Piedmont has inspired me to do that.

Before we get to the food, I’ll start with saying the atmosphere wasn’t great – right off the bat. We were seated upstairs and it seems as if the kitchen doesn’t have enough ventilation because looking across the restaurant there seemed to be a low level of haze.

Next let’s talk service. We ordered cocktails almost as soon as we sat down along with a snack of buffalo brussel sprouts. (I’ll get to the flavor in a moment.) The brussel sprouts came – no cocktails. To be fair the waiter did apologize for the delay. We went ahead and put in our order for the tasting menu – no cocktails. We finish the brussel sprouts and finally – cocktails! Literally two minutes later we get the first course of our tasting menu, which we’re not at all prepared to start because… you guessed it, we hadn’t finished our cocktails. Granted, $60 for four courses, plus wine pairings isn’t super expensive – but it’s expensive enough that I expect the kitchen and bar to be able to properly time out cocktails, food, and wine.

Okay. Let’s talk food. Apparently the prix fixe menu changes monthly. February was beets. Again, to be fair, I’m not overly fond of beets, but Mr. SFR threw down the gauntlet and I accepted the challenge. I’ve had many dishes that featured beets, which in the hands of master chefs, were absolutely delicious. But let’s start at the beginning.

Buffalo Brussel Sprouts

Buffalo Brussel Sprouts
Blue Cheese

As I mentioned, we started with buffalo brussel sprouts with blue cheese. These were absolutely delicious. They were roasted and then I assume, tossed in a buffalo wing sauce with some mild blue cheese sprinkled over it. No complaints here.

Bees Knees
Ramos Gin Fizz

The long awaited cocktails came out and they were absolutely delicious. The Bees Knees had just the right amount of honey and the Ramos Gin Fizz was a new concoction for me, I really enjoyed the heavy cream, citrus, and soda. So far, so good, right?

Rockfish, Green Olive, Beet, Sunflower Seeds, Almond Milk

First course. Since there were no preparation notes on the rockfish I wasn’t sure what to expect. Since the server just dropped off the dish without explaining it, I had to pull out my phone and look at what we were eating again. Luckily I took a picture of the menu. This wasn’t quite a carpaccio – it wasn’t pounded out thin enough. It was raw, however, and the rockfish was largely tasteless. I tried to mix in the green olives and sunflower seeds for flavor, but I found in those bites the green olives completely overpowered everything. Underwhelming, but not bad.

Beets

Slow-Roasted Beet, Scallion, Trumpet Mushroom

Second course was where Piedmont truly lost me. What you’re looking at is literally just a pile of beets. The sauce underneath was okay, but seriously. It’s just beets. Where the scallion and trumpet mushrooms ran off to – I don’t know. But this dish was nothing short of awful. Presentation wasn’t exactly stellar either.

Lamb Mezzalune, Lindale, Beet-jus, Beet Greens, Pistachio

The third course was the main course, and had it not directly followed the pile of beets, it might have been decent. As it was, I was disillusioned by this point. The mezzalune pasta was a little overcooked and the lamb a bit gamey. I thought that with the earthiness of the beet-jus that maybe a beef or even a duck center might have been a better choice as it wouldn’t have been quite as gamey as the lamb. But, the dish was flavorful and the beet greens actually were surprisingly delicious as well.

Beet Cake, White Chocolate, Vanilla

Fourth course: dessert. Now, before we had even started the adventure, I knew that from previous experience that there was no way a beet cake was going to be any good. My own misadventures in beet cake came through an exceptionally terrible Weight Watchers recipe. Still, before things actually got started in earnest, I thought maybe in the hands of a talented chef – even beet cake could be turned around. Well, in the hands of the Piedmont chefs – it could not be. The cake was dry, those red crumbles to the side? Those are beet cookies – and they were completely inedible. I did take the little vanilla frosting dollops off the top and eat those – it was basically butter cream frosting – hard to go wrong with that.

Overall: This will come as no surprise at this point – don’t do it. The prix fixe menu experience – top to bottom – was terrible. Morbidly, I asked the waiter what the seasonal prix fixe menu for March is: rice. I can’t recommend trying that out. What I can recommend is maybe stopping into Piedmont for a cocktail before moving on to somewhere else in Durham for a nice dinner.

That’s all I got, Reader. Anyone else have any misadventures in beets? Maybe yams?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Gourmet: Staplehouse

Posted 17 April, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Places, Topics

staplehouse
Staplehouse
: Atlanta, Georgia

Experience Date: April 16, 2016

Price: $85 per person for five courses, $40 additional for wine pairing (six pours) – includes gratuity

I read quite a few articles about Staplehouse before we went last night. It’s being hailed as one of Atlanta’s up and coming new restaurants. I have to agree for the most part. On the whole, the food itself was quite good. My main issue with the experience was how damn loud it was in there. Also, the atmosphere was a little more laid back than I felt like I was paying for.

But let’s talk about the food.

Amuse Bouche: Party for the mouth! Buttermilk curd on crackers, sushi, and foie gras balls. I don’t remember what those sticks were. Those balls are covered in hazelnuts and are absolutely heavenly. It was paired with a surprise sparkling wine, I think it was an Atmospheres out of Loire, France. It was light without being too sweet.

staplehouse amuse bouche

amuse bouche

1st: Excellent Alabama blue crab with fresh asparagus, radishes, and egg yolks. The dish was initially a little bland until I managed a bite that also included an egg yolk. The saltiness of the egg allowed for the flavor in the rest of the dish to come out and I was really impressed. It was paired with a gentil vin d’alsace, a white wine that was just the right balance.

staplehouse crab

blue crab, asparagus, radish, egg yolk
Wine: gentil vin d’alsace, MEYER-FONNÉ, alsace, france 2014

2nd: Absolutely one of my favorite courses. The homemade ravioli was so fresh it melted in my mouth and was cooked to perfection. The green garlic and snap peas on top definitely were the perfect added crunch to make the dish just right. It was paired with a pošip out of Croatia, (that’s a white wine). I’m not sure that I’ve ever had Croatian wine, but it was an excellent pairing to go with both the pasta and the vegetables.

staplehouse ravioli

ravioli, green garlic, koji, snap peas
Wine: pošip, ZLATAN, hvar, croatia 2012

3rd: Poached sablefish. I pointed out to my husband that we didn’t get fish forks or knives with this course.  Poached fish generally isn’t something I care for, but in my experience when you have a phenomenal chef, foods you don’t normally care for can be made magical. This did not happen for me with the poached sablefish. The lime was overwhelming in this dish and the texture of the fish was something akin to warm sushi. I like sushi. I like cooked fish. I don’t like that state in between. This course was a fail for me.

The wine pairing was decent, but didn’t save the course. It was a Napa Valley Chardonnay that was unremarkable. Not bad, but unremarkable.

staplehouse sablefish

sablefish, salami, lime, nasturtium
Wine: chardonnay, TRUCHARD, carneros, napa ca 2014

Bread Intermezzo: Potato sourdough with homemade salted thyme butter. Heavenly.

bread intermezzo!

bread intermezzo!

4th: Meat course! Steak. The cut is best described as the top of the ribeye. Just like the ravioli, it was cooked to melt in your mouth perfection and topped with whipped fat – which I know sounds a little iffy – but I promise you was absolutely delightful. The charred vegetables on the side here should not be overlooked as they were a perfect compliment in both flavor and texture. The wine was a nebbiolo (red). To me it was a little like a cabernet in how it was a bit heavier and more bold than I generally like in a red, but paired with the beef, it was just right.

staplehouse steak

bear creek beef, spring onions, english peas, smilax
Wine: nebbiolo, BORGOGNO, ‘no name’, piedmont, italy 2011

5th: Dessert. Strawberries and butter cake. Sounded a little dull on paper, but Staplehouse delivered strawberries in a couple of different ways. Homemade sorbet, fresh strawberries, and strawberry bark were presented. The cake itself was a bit dry and lackluster. The most notable thing for me about this course was that it was paired with a moscato, which I normally really dislike – but this moscato wasn’t cloyingly sweet and it was paired perfectly with the strawberries.

staplehouse dessert

strawberries, butter cake
Wine: moscato d’asti, vietti, piedmont, italy 2014

Chocolate Truffles: Made in house! Surprise!

Cheers! Home made chocolate truffles!

Cheers! Home made chocolate truffles!

Overall: More or less this was worth the money for me. Like I said before, I felt that the casualness of the venue and the staff to be a little bit underwhelming considering the price. However, I get the idea behind trying to get the millennials who are allegedly ‘less casual’ in their desire for dining experiences.

Personally, I don’t need the white tablecloths and the guys with crumb sweepers – though they are nice touches. But I do require a certain amount of formality based on the price. This isn’t to say that the staff wasn’t incredibly knowledgeable about what they were serving, but …. the price just makes me wish that it was a little quieter and the tiniest bit more formal.

Worth a trip.

So Reader, what do you think? Any amazing recommendations for me? Anyone else been to Staplehouse?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Gourmet: Alinea

Posted 15 December, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Alinea: Chicago, IL
Experience Date: 24 November 2013

We’re Weekend Cooking (or eating, as usual in my case) with Beth Fish Reads again!

If the menu looks more like an unintelligible work by a modern poet than it does something to select food from, that’s because it essentially is. Alinea is the only three Michelin Star restaurant (out of three stars) in Chicago. Though there are twenty four other one and two star restaurants in the city, Alinea holds the distinction of not only being the only three star Michelin restaurant in Chicago, it has been maintaining that sort of excellence for many years.

There is no ala carte at Alinea and reservations are done in a non-traditional way. Instead of making reservations you buy ‘tickets’ (well in advance). You pay online, upfront and there are no refunds (think of it as buying tickets to a concert). The ‘tickets’ can be transferred, but only through Alinea’s website. (Note: there are no physical tickets.) My only problem with this method is that tickets can only be reserved in multiples of two. I would have liked to go with my husband and sister, but we didn’t have a fourth. Too bad for my husband.

Back to the menu. When you enter Alinea you are putting yourself in the chef’s hands. A menu is posted on their website, but it’s not necessarily representative of what you will be served when you get there. They do take in dietary restrictions and the waitstaff and kitchen are very sensitive and accommodating to that.

Okay! The meal! Naturally, we chose to get the wine pairing.

Burning Oak : pumpkin, birch
Champagne Jean Lallement Verzenay – Grand Cru Brut NV

So, this was almost an amuse-bouche, just a bite, but it was still delightful. Light breading on the outside and inside there were flavors of pumpkin (but not overwhelmingly so) and cream. I hate that this picture came out so badly because it was presented and eaten directly off of a stick from an oak tree – complete with leaves still on it.

Char Roe: matsutake, apple, mustard



There was a wafer topped with the roe and matsutake mushroom. Underneath the wafer was a mustard ‘sauce’ (for lack of a better word.) I really enjoyed this course. The roe was just the perfect amount of savory and you could feel the ‘bubbles’ popping in your mouth, a sure sign that the roe you are consuming is fresh. The wafer and mustard puree gave for the perfect amount of balance with the texture.

Scallop: citrus aroma, fourteen textures
Hexamer ‘Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg-Hochsgewachs’ Riesling Nahe 2001 (White)


This was definitely the most spectacularly dramatic dish of the evening. The dish arrived with the clam shell that you see above closed and the mist (caused by dry ice). When you open up the clam shell you see your course inside of it. Additionally, the dry ice is used to kick up aromas from the lemon grass that surrounds the clam shell. The first think that I thought I smelled: Bath and Bodyworks Lemon Verbena.

The fourteen textures are pretty evident here, though too many of them seemed to be chewy for my taste. I would have liked more crunch.

Dungeness Crab: squash blossom, cardamom, saffron
Giovanna Madonia ‘Neblina’ Albana Secco, Romagna 2011



First. You should know that everything on this plate was edible. That’s up to and including the leaf and the fluff. The two mounds of orange are the dungeness crab and a cauliflower puree. The white spots that you see on the plate are salt!  infused with lavender.

I really enjoyed this course, the crab and cauliflower were reminiscent of the savoriness of foie gras. The fluff tasted like cotton candy.

Binchotan: tokyo inspiration
Takatenjin Junmai Daiginjo-shu ‘Soul of the Sensei’ Don Shuzo, Shizuoka-ken and Hitachino Nest White Ale, Kiuchi Brewery


There were four bites in this course. The fire was strictly for effect, we didn’t have to grill anything. Closest to the fire you’re seeing a piece of sushi grade tuna (raw) it was just the right amount of balance with texture and taste. It was not overly fishy, which was good because it might have overpowered the other flavors being offered.

Behind that was a piece of beef that was grilled to perfection and it completely melted in my mouth.

The next cube that you see is pork-belly which was delectable, and finally on the end you see a shrimp head. The waiter informed us just to pop the whole thing in our mouths. I’ll admit that I was a little hesitant, I grew up in the south and was always a little repulsed by sucking crawfish heads. In the end, however, I decided to trust the chef and popped that whole shrimpy-head into my mouth at once. It was an excellent contrast in texture, being crunchy, from the other three items on the plate.

This was definitely one of my favorite courses.

There were two beverages paired with this offering, a sake, which is a traditional Japanese rice wine, and a Japanese craft beer. I found the beer to be refreshing and it paired nicely. I don’t like sake, I never have, and while I tried it I learned that it still isn’t my cup of tea. (Or glass of wine.)

Veal Cheeks: lapsang souchong, pine, blackberry
Faugeres Domine Leon Barral 2010


Inspired by traditional Chinese barbecue, is what the waiter told us about this course. The veal sat on a bed of forbidden rice and a blackberry reduction topped with a pine froth and a rice cracker. The veal was excellent and the blackberries gave just the right amount of sweetness to enhance how savory the rest of they ingredients were.

The wine was interesting here. It had heavy overtones of well… manure. The sommelier warned us of this, though I think he had a fancy French word that roughly translated to ‘barnyard’. Honestly, I think I would have picked out the smell anywhere though.

Hot Potato: cold potato, black truffle, butter



Okay, what you’re looking at in this picture is a hand-crafted wax bowl filled with hot potato soup, suspended over it with a pin is a piece of cold (but cooked) potato topped with truffles. The waiter informed us that this was a ‘time sensitive’ dish. It rather reminded me of chugging an Irish Car Bomb. (For the uninitiated: 3/4 pint of Guinness, drop a shot of Irish whiskey and Bailey’s in it and chug. Ah, youth.)

So, being a rule follower, I pulled the pin and went for it! Perhaps I didn’t wait long enough for the temperatures of the two potatoes to even each other out but the soup burned my tongue a little and when I bit into the cold potato, it was almost unpleasantly cold. Still, truffles can fix almost anything and despite the temperature the tastes and textures were still superb.

Duck: …..?????……!!!!!!











Black Truffle: explosion, romaine, parmesan 

This course was definitely the most fun and my sister swears that she had a religious experience during it. First, what you’re seeing is duck prepared in five different ways on the white plate. On the black platter in the middle you’re seeing an assortment of toppings and additional flavors. Crazy, right?

Then the waiter told us the rules. Each piece of duck was to be consumed in two bites, with each bite we were to choose one topping. No sharing. Also, he didn’t tell us what anything on the platter was, so it was a crazy discovery game. He also explained that there was no way that we could use all the toppings, so we were just to go for it!

Go for it we did and what a result! Greens, nuts, chocolate, even a marshmallow greeted me on my fork. There was simply no way to know what the next bite was going to taste like, but each of the toppings complemented the duck perfectly.

Then, when I ran out of duck, I cheated and had a little sampling of other toppings I was curious about. It was tons of fun.

 



Another one of my favorite courses. When looking at the menu online before we went I was trying to figure out what flavor exactly ‘explosion’ was. Allow me to enlighten you. Again, we received instructions from the waiter. We were to put the entire dumpling in our mouth and seal our lips tight before biting down, otherwise we could look forward to an unholy mess.

I managed to do this with grace and dignity, my sister squirted delicious black truffle broth everywhere. Inside the dumpling was some concoction made from black truffles the topping of parmesan and romaine filled out both the flavors and the textures. I would have appreciated more than one of these.

Ginger: five other flavors
The Rare Wine Co. ‘Boston Bual’ – Special Reserve Madeira


The waiter described this as a transitional course, which makes sense as ginger is often used to clear the palate. What was neat about this, other than the presentation, was that the ginger was flavored from savory to sweet (left to right) so that upon eating the last piece of ginger I had been transported from my black truffle explosion and I was ready for my green apple balloon.

Balloon: helium, green apple


The famous green apple helium balloon. Everything that you see, including the balloon and the string were edible. To eat the balloon the waiter instructed us to ‘kiss’ the balloon and suck in as much air as possible. Being a total nerd I had to ask, “Like a dementor’s kiss?” I think that’s the reason my sister has that look on her face, she was totally humiliated.

Anyway, we did as instructed and after I had inhaled the helium my first words (naturally) were, “Expecto Patronum!” and I totally sounded like a chipmunk. Again, my sister was totally humiliated, that made it even more fun.

The balloon itself was delicious and a little reminiscent of the flavor of the outer part of a green apple Blow-Pop.

Corn: white chocolate, honey, mango
Chateau La Haute Borie Monbazillac 2010


So again, everything on this plate is edible. The ‘nest’ is made of white chocolate and underneath it was frozen pieces of delightfully sweet corn and mango. The little tower protruding from the nest was made of corn-silk that was fried(?) and made deliciously edible. The corn-silk gave the dish texture that it otherwise might have lacked.

Again, I had a problem with competing temperatures on this. I don’t like my ice-cream cold so it’s unsurprising that I had a hard time with some of the frozen pieces in this dish.

Milk Chocolate: påte sucrée, violet, hazelnut
Maculan ‘Torcolato’ Breganze 2009


This was like hibachi – for dessert! The rest of the meal there was no table cloth, but after we finished our corn course the waitstaff came and rolled out this grey vinyl table cloth. A chef came from the kitchen (though not the chef) and proceeded to prepare this little lovely presentation for us.

In the center is milk chocolate on top of a traditional graham cracker crust, the chef brought out kind of a tiny, bottomless springform pan and shaped the cake right there on the table. On top of it is whipped cream and those cracker looking things are actually sheets of sweetened salt. (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron) The white swirls on the table are more sweet cream, the beige lumps are hazelnut whipped cream (very stiff) and the purple and pink spots are syrup from violets. The neat thing about the violet syrup was the darker spots were made first, the chef then stirred his concoction and then the liquid was magically more pink!

This was delicious and fun to eat right off the table, but way too much for the end of the meal. I don’t think we even managed half of it.

Final Thoughts
Alinea was definitely an experience to remember and I found it throughly enjoyable. However, it was not cheap. The bill for the two of us including the wine pairings was more than $1,000. The sting of this was taken out a little as I paid for the dinner months in advance ($596.70 for two) and so when we got the bill at the end of the night we only had to pay for the wine pairing. That being said, I would not recommend Alinea to the casual foodie. You can have a comparable experience somewhere like Tru for half the price.

I also was mildly put off by the lack of a cheese course. I understand that Alinea specializes in ‘New American’ dining, so the traditional French food customs aren’t necessarily expected or needed, but damn it, I like my cheese course! I also found the wine pairings to be rather unremarkable.

The food was incredibly fun to eat and equally delicious. The waitstaff was amazing, professional, and totally on top of things. It’s definitely going into the annals of ‘meals of my life’.

I’m glad that I did it once, but I probably won’t be back. Next time I make it to Chicago however, I would like to try out their sister bar The Aviary for the five-course cocktail menu.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Gourmet: Franks ‘n’ Dawgs

Posted 30 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Franks ‘n’ Dawgs: Chicago, IL
Experience Date: Saturday, 23 November 2013, 3:30 PM

Winner: 2012 Opinionated About Dining Top 100 Cheap Artisanal Eats (#43)

We’re Weekend Cooking (or eating, as usual in my case) with Beth Fish Reads again!

I went here with my sister after a day at LegoLand Chicago. Since I’m getting ready to leave Chicago for Atlanta I thought that it was important to have the Chicago hotdog experience. This was not the place to do it.

As you walk in there’s a GIANT sign that says, ‘WE DO NOT MAKE CHICAGO STYLE HOTDOGS’. Okay. No big deal. It was still an amazing experience. All of their sausages are fresh and made in-house. It’s a counter order and then they’ll bring your selections to your table. Instead of numbers to identify you, you have to pick a celebrity from the ‘Celebrity Wall of Shame’. Your choices range from Lindsay Lohan’s mug shot, to Gary Busey, to Sarah Palin. I chose an order of the Triple Truffle Fries and the Krazy Kimchee Dawg, my sister had the Banh Mi Dawg. When asked for my celebrity of shame I knee-jerked and got Sarah Palin.

So we sit down and the fries come out first. The server says, ‘Are you Sarah Palin?’ and I got to reply, “You betcha.”

Oh. Em. Gee.

The fries are waffle-cut and fried in truffle oil, topped with truffle butter, and seasoned with truffle salt. The bowl of fries probably had approximately 3,325,454,021 calories in it, but you really can’t think about this here. These are a must try.

The Krazy Kimchee Dawg is a spicy beef sausage topped with braised short rib (meat) and turnip, with kimchee, wild rice and a sprinkle of fresh basil. I love kimchee, so of course this appealed to me. However, the hotdog itself was excellent, I found the kimchee to be a little bit bland for being kimchee, but paired with the fresh sausage and the bun, (which is covered in butter and more like a hot dog bun-shaped Texas toast than a traditional hot dog bun) the overall taste was quite good. I liked my sister’s order better.

The Banh Mi Dawg was excellent. This is an especially good order for Sriacha worshippers. It’s a lemongrass coriander chicken sausage (on the same type of bun as my Krazy Kimchee Dawg), topped with pickled daikon and carrots, Sriacha mayo, jalapeño, cilantro and garnished with a spicy pickled duck egg. I know, it sounds like a lot. But all those toppings and flavors were all applied with such a perfect hand that no one flavor overwhelmed another. It had some zip in it, which I liked a lot. The daikon gave it a little bit of crunch and texture.

So there are two hotdogs from Franks ‘n’ Dawgs that we tried, there are a million other options. My friend that recommended it tells me that the fried pickles are to die for. She also told me that one day she did the Corndog Flight, expecting three smaller sized corn dogs — she said they were full sized so it was a LOT of food. That might be something to think about sharing.

Final Thoughts

A definite go to for a nice spring or summer day, since it’s the dead of winter the indoor space felt a little small and it was definitely chilly in there but hey, it’s a hotdog joint so you’re really not there for the ambiance. The portions are large enough that between the two hotdogs that we ordered and the truffle fries there was more than enough food for the two of us.

It is BYOB, like a lot of places in Chicago, so if you’re going to eat in, it could be fun to bring a nice craft beer to enjoy with your hotdogs. Good for kids. Definitely try it, but not if you’re looking for an ‘authentic’ Chicago hotdog.

Signature

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Weekend Gourmet: Chicago Pizza Tour

Posted 23 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Chicago Pizza Tour: Chicago, IL
Experience Date: Monday, 18 November 2013, 11:00 AM

Price: $60/per person, includes all food and water, plus a seat on a bus, and of course the tour guide. You’re on your own if you want wine, beer, or soft-drinks. 

I’m Weekend Cooking with Beth at Beth Fish Reads, again! I guess more accurately I’m weekend eating, but let’s not split hairs, shall we? 

We took the Original Pizza Tour which is billed on the website as follows: 

Original Chicago Pizza Tour – Our daytime foodie adventure

Bus guided tour covering 4 pizzerias over the course of 3 – 3.5 hours. You will visit the inside of kitchens; we’ll serve as your backstage pass at several of the restaurants. Our guides will help educate you on ingredients, ovens, and the physics of what makes the pizzas you sample so special. Whether a visitor or local, get on Dough Force One and explore pizza in the neighborhoods, because Magnificent Pizza spans more than a mile!
I wouldn’t necessarily describe that as completely accurate. While our guide was definitely knowledgable enough about the pizzas, there were no physics mentioned. Also, we only saw actual pizza preparation in one restaurant, the rest of the time the guide ordered ahead so everything would be ready. As I had decided to go on this tour at the recommendation of a friend rather than the website, none of this disappointed me because I didn’t know to expect it. I think that the restaurants were expertly picked and we did learn a lot about the city and the different styles of pizza that have grown up here. 
I skipped breakfast and now it’s 8:30 pm and I’m still not at all hungry. Be sure to wear your buffet eatin’ pants. 
So! The food! We started at Pizano’s Pizza in the Loop.
We started with a slice of deep dish, billed ‘Mark’s Special’ on the menu. It had fresh sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh garlic in it. The recipe for the crust is (allegedly) only known by three people in the world and three times a week the owner’s eighty-five year old mother comes in to cook it. Another distinction we learned about was that the pans used to prepare the deep dish pizza at Pizano’s aren’t washed, they’re cleaned out (of course) but much like a cast-iron skillet it is allowed to season itself over time. 
I love crust with my pizza and therefore I love deep dish pizza. The sauce had no added salt or sugar, I expected this to make it bland, but it didn’t. The basil and garlic were perfect seasoning and the tomatoes (which are selected by the chef from a local farmer’s market at the beginning of each week) were sliced thick enough that I didn’t miss the meat at all. 
The second slice that we had at Pizano’s was a piece of Chicago tavern-style thin crust. It was just a simple sausage pizza. I’m not a big fan of sausage, but the piece was thoroughly enjoyable, there were leftovers so I even had another! I liked the thin crust because it was crunchy and not at all soggy the way that many thin crust pizzas (I might be looking at you, New York) often are. 
We learned from the guide that Chicago tavern-style pizza developed just as pizza was becoming a ‘thing’ in America, I want to say the 1850’s or so, but honestly the date escapes me. Anyway, bars in Chicago were looking for a way to keep people in there drinking longer, so a thin crispy crust pizza was developed, instead of being cut into traditional wedge slices, it’s cut into small squares, this was to allow the pizza to last longer inside of the taverns since they were giving it away, it was treated like a little appetizer in those days. 
Flo and Santo’s in the South Loop was next. I had been here previously with the same friend that recommended the pizza tour and had the tavern-style thin crust with Polish sausage and sauerkraut (I love sauerkraut). During the visit on the tour we had two more tavern-style pizzas, one was the Polish sausage pizza I had already had and the second was an Italian Beef with a fiery pepper on it. 
Now I had never had Italian beef and honestly I didn’t know what it was, I expected ground beef. But no, it’s a shaved roast beef that’s seasoned with italian spices. It was amazing, I like a little kick on my pizzas so the peppers really worked for me. I was told by other people on the tour that an Italian beef sandwich was a completely different experience than the pizza, so I’ll have to keep that in mind and try one soon.
The crust at Flo and Santo’s wasn’t as crispy which left me a little disappointed until…
THEY BROUGHT OUT THE S’MORES PIZZA. Oh yes. This might have been my favorite part of the tour. They used the same thin pizza crust that they had used for the two ‘regular’ pizzas put a ton of chocolate on it and then topped it with marshmallows. It had obviously spent some time in the oven because everything was melty and toasty and amazing. I probably had too many pieces of this as the rest of the group wasn’t as enthusiastic as I was and there were lots of leftovers. They ripped me away from the table, back on the bus, and we were whisked away to our next destination. 
Pizzeria da Nella, while I didn’t think that this was a traditional Chicago pizzeria, this might have been my favorite place. The chef, Nella Grassano, imported herself and her 14,000 pound wood fire pizza oven from Naples. Boy, has Chicago reaped the benefits from this one. 
Here we had a traditional Neapolitan pizza. From start to finish the prep and cooking of the pizza takes about 90 seconds. The fact that the oven can exceed temperatures of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit probably explains how the pizza can cook so quickly.
We watched Nella expertly roll and toss the crust, spread a delectable tomato sauce on it, add fresh basil, a touch of mozzarella cheese, and top with a high quality olive oil. Here she is: 
 
The pizza is then popped in the oven for under a minute and then out comes the delicious, magical final product. 
 
 
I am far from a food photographer, don’t hold it against the pizza. 
 
Like I said earlier, this pizza was a nice change of pace, it was substantially lighter than any of the other pizzas we had sampled thus far. The cheese was excellent but not overpowering and the smokiness of the wood oven and the slight singe-ing (is that a word?) of the crust really put it over the top. The manager told me that there was also a pizza like this that added truffles… I desperately need to try that one. 
 
Pequod’s Pizza was our final stop of the day. I immediately loved it for the Moby Dick reference. It’s also an ‘official Blackhawks bar’… so it very much had the feel of a sports bar, as it was about 1:30 in the afternoon, that was okay with me. 
 
Here we had two more slices of Chicago-style deep dish. One was classic pepperoni and the other was spinach. This deep-dish was different from the pizza that we had at Pizanos, they put sugar in their tomato sauce and the crust is brushed with… I want to say butter? and then caramelized. I vastly preferred the crust at Pequod’s over Pizano’s. It looked slightly burnt but the flavor was extraordinary. I think that the ‘burn’ also kept it crisper than the crust at Pizano’s and I’ve already talked about how I hate a soggy crust. 
 
I was getting super full by this point but I definitely enjoyed the spinach pizza more, perhaps there was less grease and I was becoming overloaded with meats at that point. Of the places that we experienced I would definitely recommend Pequod’s for your Chicago-style deep dish over Pizano’s. Plus, the name, it’s a book blog, right? 🙂 
 
Final Thoughts
 
This was an enjoyable afternoon outing. It feels a bit steep at $60/per person when you’re making your reservations but the amount and quality of the food that you get is definitely worth it. The guide was knowledgable and approachable. We learned some about the city as well as about pizza and he gave us a lot of highlights of the different neighborhoods as we drove past them. He also recommended other must-try Chicago foods. (Apparently these people don’t put ketchup on their hotdogs ever.) 
 
Definitely would be a great family activity and it will take up most of your day. This company also has a Pizza and Cocktails tour which sounded fun, but didn’t start until 7:30 pm and they have a Deep Dish Walking tour (walking tour, in Chicago, in the winter? I don’t think so.). We didn’t get back to the train until about 3 pm. It should be noted that when discussing my experience with my friend who recommend it, she told me that at least one of the restaurants was different, but I trust it was just as good. 
 
Do it. Bring the family.
 
Note: This post was written on Mon, 18 Nov 2013 @ 9:35 PM. It was scheduled to be published later to coincide with Weekend Cooking. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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The Weekend Gourmet: Restaurant Review

Posted 16 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Tru: Chicago, Illinois
Experience Date: Friday, 15 November 2013, 8:00 PM

Tru has been ranked as a one (out of three) Michelin star restaurant for at least the past several years. When looking for decent gourmet eats, trying to find out where your Michelin star restaurants are is always an excellent place to start. Here’s the 2014 Michelin list for Chicago.

I’m joining in on Beth’s Weekend Cooking fun with this post!

Last night my husband and I decided to check out Tru. We were not disappointed. Maybe it’s been too long since we’ve taken the time to seek out a truly exceptional restaurant, our previous adopted city, St. Louis, didn’t offer much in the way of amazing restaurant experiences.

Anyway. The service was impeccable. Sometimes a little coordinated serving and pouring can go a long way to make the evening memorable, after all part of what you’re paying for at a restaurant like Tru is not just the food but the overall experience. The head waiter was knowledgable and friendly, we even discussed the past foie gras ban in Chicago and experiences he had with other restaurants and patrons. He was even friendly enough that after all the wine pairings were poured I had the nerve to ask him what the career path was to become a head waiter at an exceptional restaurant. (It turns out for him, it was networking.)

The atmosphere was elegant and even on a Friday night there were enough empty tables, or the tables were spread out strategically enough, to make the experience intimate. When we walked in through the front doors that are shrouded by heavy black curtains the carpet absorbed so much sound from the dining room it was almost a shock to come in off the road. This was a good thing. When I speak with people about some of my most memorable gourmet stories the tale of The French Room in Dallas usually comes up with the wonderful food but the terrible atmosphere because the whole place is marble, so it sounds like you’re in a high school cafeteria. I digress, the point is that the muted atmosphere inside of Tru was divine.

The dining room itself is tastefully decorated and fairly minimalist. The two(?) story windows are covered by sheer white curtains with the corners covered by black curtains. The table setting was a simple glass plate with the Tru emblem etched on the underside. I was particularly tickled with the waiter that brought by four napkins, two black and two white allowing me to select my color. It sounds silly, but I’d never experienced that before.

My husband and I decided on the abbreviated ‘Tru – experience’ which is seven courses instead of 11. I’m sure that they had an impressive wine list, but I usually prefer to get the wine pairings, which is what we did. Along with the seven courses we added a selection of 5 cheeses before the dessert course, but I’ll get to the cheese tray.

So the amuse-bouche was a tiny pastry with a touch of cheese on the inside, it was bland but perhaps this was intentional to clear the way for an amazing beginning.

#1: Pear + Fennel | Sorrel + Buttermilk | Foie Gras + Honeycrisp Apple
Wine Pairing: margin demi-sec champagne 1st cru nv

The first course consisted of three little bites. There was the pear and fennel ‘soup to sip’, sorrel ‘snow’ with a buttermilk gellee underneath it, and foie gras that was covered with a sweet apple froth.

I want to start with the sorrel snow. Even though it was described as snow I was surprised when it was cold because the sorrel looked like a lovely green moss, it was even garnished with tiny flowers. The taste reminded me of my terrible excursion into the green smoothie fad — if I had known what I was doing with the green smoothies. I found the floral tones to be a little overpowering for my taste, but overall enjoyed it.

The cold pear and fennel soup was a little bland as well, but still enjoyable. The little sesame stick garnish that was served with it added the texture and flavor needed to make it complete in addition to being a beautiful garnish.

The star of this course was the foie gras. Full disclosure: I love foie gras. But the apple froth on top with the sweetness of the honey made the pate underneath it taste more savory.

I found the demi-sec champagne to be a nice contrast because it was a little sweeter than the traditional brut-style champagne. This sweetness also highlighted the savory of the foie gras quite nicely.

#2: Light Sunchoke, Trout Roe, Chive
Wine Paring: Arietta on the White Keys, California 2011

This wins the prettiest dish of the night. The pureed sunchoke was served in a small bowl with a large rim, the chive was liquified and formed the outermost ring of the bowl the sunchoke puree was the color of a light cream, in the center was the trout roe, beautiful salmon pink bubbles.

Served alongside was tall silver vase filled with black and white sesame seeds with roasted artichoke ‘chips’ standing up out of the vase like flames. These chips added an additional layer of texture on top of the delightful bubble bursting of the roe on my tongue. I should have taken a picture of this one, but I really hate being ‘that guy’ in a nice place.

The wine was the disappointment here. I found the Arietta to be too acidic in general, I often drink wines that I normally wouldn’t and when paired with the food they’re fine, this one wasn’t redeemed by the food.

#3: Matsutake Mushroom Two Ways, Rosemary Roasted Veal Sweetbread, Ponzu
Wine Pairing: Sicily Etna i Custodi Rosso 2007

I think I always willfully forget what sweetbreads are. The matsutake mushroom grilled on top of the sweetbreads made for a great contrast of flavor and texture. There was something smoky that I tasted in this dish, and I liked it.

The wine came from the side of a volcano in Sicily, this type of soil made the wine different than a lot of the reds that I usually drink. It was bold without being overpowering the subtlety of the sweetbreads and mushrooms were brought out.

#4: Eastern Skate Wing, Apple + Celery, Black Truffle
Wine Pairing: Vouvray le Haut-Lieu Huet 2011

Fish course! The skate was prepared perfectly and the black truffle shavings on top added just enough flavor to make the whole dish pop. It fell apart on my fork and then melted in my mouth. The apple and celery added just enough sweetness to be offset by the dryness of the wine.

#5: Lamb Loin draped in Black Trumpet, Young Beets
Wine Pairing: Lalande-de-Pomerol Chateau Belles-Graves 2009

This was another course that was beautiful to look at. The lamb was done at a perfect rare-medium-rare it was topped with the black trumpet mushrooms and garnished with what looked like a nice little peppermint candy, it looked more like a radish than a beet but didn’t taste like much of anything so I can’t be sure. Also, this was served on a log, there was glass over the top of the wood, but there was bark and everything. Great presentation.

About beets. I don’t like them but I am always amazed at what can be done with them in the hands of a master chef. The sweetness of the beets offset the earthiness of the mushrooms and the lamb.

Artisanal Cheese Selection
Wine Pairing: J.K.’s Scrumpy Hard Cider

I love when gourmet places sometimes replace a wine pairing with a beer or cider, it’s often refreshing. This was the case with our cheese plate.

The selection of cheese was pretty wide, I’m going to estimate that they had about 15 – 18 cheeses to select from. The majority of the cheeses were cows-milk, but there were maybe 5 goat milk cheeses and one sheep’s milk cheese.

I tend to prefer stinkier, softer, cheeses with a lot of strong flavor. There were no shortages of that! It didn’t bother me, but there did seem to be no harder cheeses, also notably absent was any gouda.

#6: Passionate Marshmallow

The pre-dessert plate. This was also served on a log, with a stick. The intention was obviously to bring out a feeing of fall weather and camping, the marshmallow was lightly toasted on the outside and inside was the magic, it was a passion-fruit sorbet. Delectable. I wish I could have had ten more of these.

#7: Parsnip + Honey, Fig, Port Wine
Wine Pairing: Tenuta Capofaro Malvasia Salina 2010

Well… I liked the port that was served. This was another dish that had lovely presentation. The parsnip and honey ice-cream was drizzled over with a lovely red port sauce garnished with pretty purple figs on the side.

That being said, I did not like the ice-cream. Not here not there not anywhere. I think again it was too much floral and a ‘green’ taste. The parsnip far overpowered the honey. It was a sad ending to an otherwise nearly flawless meal.

Final Thoughts
Tru was a fantastic dining experience. I liked the fact that there was an option for an abbreviated seven course meal, or more accurately my husband and credit card were happy there was the option for the abbreviated meal. The cost was $115 for the meal, plus $85 for the wine pairing, the artisanal cheese were an additional $30. I would highly recommend this abbreviated option for those who don’t want to fork over the $158 for the entire Tru Experience (plus $125 for the wine pairing). Depending on your proclivity for cheeses you may want to skip the cheese plate, or there was also an option just to get three cheeses.

Definitely pencil this restaurant into your visit to Chicago. It should go without saying, but this is not a kid friendly restaurant, that is unless you’re Michael Jordan. 🙂

I have reservations for my sister and I at Alinea next Sunday, so keep an eye out for that review.

Cheers and Happy Eating!

Have you had an exceptional meal somewhere lately? Tell me about it!

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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