Friday, December 23, 2011

Vincent or Starry Starry Late Morning

The Slow and Savory Review

Not many know that Brandy is deathly afraid of anything that reminds her in any way of Holland.  No one in living memory has even been able to pin down the exact story, but we do know it has something to do with a clogging contest and an arrant windmill blade.  If fact, whenever Brandy is asked to recount the event, she mumbles some thing about tulips and takes a hit from her hip flask.

Perhaps this is the reason she was so wary of visiting Vincent, the so called "American bistro with a heavy Dutch accent," in Andersonville.  Biscuit Brown practically had to drag her there (Biscuit had heard tell of Vincent's famously decedent Bloody Marys), and once there had to deny Brandy's requests to blindfold her. The beautiful clean decor did ease Brandy's panic, especially when she saw the abundance of lit candles, which reflected off the various mirrors hung around the room, creating a stunningly warming effect.

To settle her nerves, Brandy ordered a cocktail called The Getaway, a sort of bitter blood orange flavored punch.  The bitterness did shine through at first, and then finished sweet, which Brandy rather enjoyed.  Biscuit chose the Cheesemonger Bloody Mary, a traditional spicy tomato cocktail which came with what looked to be an entire cheese board, complete with stone ground mustard and pumpernickel bread (another possible option, Vincent's Bloody Ear, a Bloody Mary inspired by the restaurant's name sake Vincent Van Goegh, came with a fried pig's ear.  "I refuse to eat anything I can buy in a pet store," Biscuit was heard to comment.)  Biscuit loved the drink for its spices, but had some issues drinking the chunkier bits through her straw.

After Brandy stopped nervously eyeing a pair of decorative clogs in the corner, she ordered the Fried Oysters over Snert.  Beautifully plated on a cutting board with a fresh hunk of bread and a sea salt dusted mound of butter, Brandy's fear began to subside as soon as she saw the dish.  The snert, which Brandy soon figured out was a sort of porridge like split pea soup, was warm and comforting, with big chunks of bacon and carrots to break up the gentle taste of peas.  The oysters could not have been cooked more perfectly; lightly crunchy on the outside, but supple, fluffy, and briny on the inside, they lent a perfect contrast to the soft snert.  Brandy was left with so much butter after she had finished the dish (it was a VERY generous portion of butter) that she considered asking their lovely waitress to box it for her, so as not to waste it, of course.

Biscuit chose a simpler dish, a Bacon, Cheddar, and Tart Apple omelet, which also came served with a fresh baked biscuit and house potatoes.  The omelet was on the dense side, which Biscuit rather liked, and the mix of textures and flavors was spot on.  The potatoes were soft and tasty, but Biscuit really loved the biscuit, which had just enough crunch on the outside, but was soft and moist inside.  "I know biscuits, and this is most certainly a good one," Biscuit commented as she slathered more apple butter onto the baked treat.

To finish up, Brandy and Biscuit split an order of pancakes, topped with brown sugar bacon, breakfast sausage, and kumquat jam.  The bacon was heavenly; crispy and sweet to the point of almost being like candy.  Brandy desperately wished for more than just the two pieces they'd been provided with.  The sausage was nice as well, with a good snap on the casing and a lovely herbaceous quality to the meat.  The pancakes were not the typical light as air confections most other places strive for, but rather of a more adult density, with nice toasty bits around the edges.  The kumquat jam provided a lovely sour bitterness to the dish that ever so slightly tickled the taste buds. 

After such a filling and warm meal, Brandy's terror of the Dutch had all but disappeared.  "If I had known a little bit of snert was all it took, I could have avoided a lot of awkwardness over the years," Brandy huffed as they left.  Although most of the dishes were over $10, the amount of sides and the generous portions more than made up for the slight priciness.  "Not to mention that $12 for a Bloody Mary may seem expensive until you see the cheese plate that comes with it!" Biscuit pointed out.  With this lovely spot in mind, Brandy has now decided to spend her Christmas at the International Clogging Championship in Holland and she wished us to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of Holidays!

The Short and Sweet Review

Vincent on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 16, 2011

Crepe Town or Fully Stuffed

The Slow and Savory Review

It's difficult to pinpoint a country Brandy has not sampled the cuisine of a thousand times over.  She has munched on Moroccan, nibbled on Nepalese, crunched on Croatian, sampled Spanish, and even tasted Tanzanian.  She is so well traveled that customs agents the world over take it for granted that there are at least three bottles of wine in her bags at any given time and wave her through without question.  Therefore, it is rather hard to surprise her any more with an exotic ancient recipe from some far corner of the world.  However, there is something which does excite her, something that she rarely sees, and even more rarely sees done right.  That thing is the ever popular Fusion Cuisine; a combination of two or more contrasting international cuisines into one marvelous marriage of mangiare.

It was the prospect of good fusion food that lead Brandy to Crepe Town, a small but hip crepe boutique just off the Sheridan Red Line Stop.  Founded by a couple from Thailand and offering not only crepes, but fusion pasta dishes and a variety of snackables, Brandy instantly found this place intriguing.  The interior was clean and modern with pops of bright color behind the coffee bar.  Soft jazz (which many find hokey and old fashioned, but Brandy feels puts one in the mood for a relaxed meal) played in the background. Brandy found a lovely seat near the window and settled in to peruse the menu.  She found it quite helpful that the crepes had been sectioned off into three categories, "Savory," "Sweet," and "Breakfast."  "If only all the restaurants I frequent had their menus set up this way, I'd be a very happy woman," Brandy mumbled to herself.

She started off with a Green Tea Latte, which came delicately served with cold whipped cream on the top.  The flavor was just as vibrant as the color (the drink was smartly served in a clear glass, so as to see the remarkable shade of green), tasting almost like warm, melted ice cream.  After the first sip, Brandy made up her mind to order a second cup.

After a long inner debate, Brandy settled on the BBQ Breakfast Crepe, a mix of scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon mixed with sweet BBQ sauce and folded into a BBQ flavored crepe.  While the crepe itself was not the delicate French kind, Brandy appreciated its texture when mixed with the filling.  The filling itself was idyllic; the eggs were cooked perfectly and the bacon's smokiness balanced the sweetness of the sauce, just as the sauce's slight vinegar bite balanced the richness of the melty cheese.  A nice side salad was also provided, which was topped with a lovely vinaigrette, which also provided contrast to the BBQ.

Because no brunch is complete without both a sweet and a savory option (and because she can never settle on just one course) Brandy chose the Blueberry Cheesecake Crepe for her dessert.  Once again, the crepe had more chew than a traditional French style crepe, but Brandy thought this added a much needed bit of texture to the dish.  The cheesecake interior was soft, fluffy, and rich, and Brandy relished every fork full.  Topped with not only fresh blueberries but also blueberry compote, the delightful mix of creamy, tangy, and sweet was utter perfection.

Fast, friendly service, relaxed atmosphere, and vibrant food made this stop one of Brandy's all time favorites.  She is quite excited to return and sample a plate of Tom Kah Pasta for dinner, finished with several more plates of Blueberry Cheesecake, and washed down by about 25 glasses of the Green Tea Latte.  We suspect she may be obsessed.

The Short and Sweet Review

Crepe Town on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 9, 2011

Kitsch'n or Camping Out and Up

The Slow and Savory Review

It seems a fairly common thing to attach nostalgia to breakfast more than any other meal.  Most of us have a fond memories of being presented some scrumptious offering on a weekend morning by our parents, whether it was a buffet of French toast, pancakes, and crispy bacon, or a simple bowl of sugar coated, marshmallow dotted, chocolate milk making cereal.  Brandy's own fond memories of her childhood weekend breakfasts (two eggs over easy, a warm buttery crumpet, blood sausage, roasted tomato, baked beans, and a fresh cup of milky tea) have stuck with her throughout the years and definitely influence how she judges a perfect breakfast to this day.

The unfortunate part of this phenomenon is that every single person has a different idea of what those nostalgic breakfasts should taste like.  So when word reached Brandy of the supposed home of nostalgic comfort food, Kitsch'n in Roscoe Village, she placed one eyebrow firmly into the "sceptical" position.  Perennial tag along Biscuit Brown was there to offer the "young person's" perspective (Brandy considers Biscuit to be a young person for the soul fact that she did not live through both World Wars). 

Upon entering, one is quite literally slapped in the face with 70's and 80's nostalgia, from the brightly colored walls adorned with various old toys and advertisements for now extinct beers to the coffee mugs, each emblazoned with the diner's afro-sporting logo.  A short wait of 15 minutes or so passed quickly before Brandy and guest were seated at an accommodatingly large table.  "This is not childhood nostalgia," Brandy said huffily, looking around, "At least not my childhood.  Why I was already getting senior discounts when most of these things were current."  "I think its supposed to just be a sort of general nostalgia for the time period.  I loved the 70's personally.  They used to call me the Dixie Disco Queen," Biscuit retorted, wistfully.

The array of odd sounding brunch cocktails immediately attracted Brandy's attention and she decided upon a concoction called a "Tang-tini," which seemed to be some sort of orange flavored powdered drink mix infused alcohol.  The effect was rather underwhelming once the "kitsch" value was taken away.  Biscuit chose the Deluxe Mimosa, which didn't seem to have any difference to a regular mimosa, but was still pleasantly bright and acidic.

After a rather long wait for food (their friendly bespectacled waitress kindly informed them that a problem with a large table in the back room of the restaurant had held up the kitchen, but that she would be treating them to a round of mimosas to make up for it) their entrees finally arrived.  To start off with, they split an order of Coconut French Toast, which came served with an array of fresh strawberries and pineapple, as well as a raspberry dipping sauce.  The toast was soft and eggy, with just a little texture and sweetness added from the flaked coconut coating.  The dipping sauce was also a nice touch, which helped to cut the richness of the toast.

Biscuit's main dish was the Chicken and Waffles, a rather large and flat slab of chicken breast served with a traditional Belgian waffle.  Both elements of the dish was rather bland and under seasoned, though the chicken did have a nice crunch to it (the waffle didn't seem to have anything remarkable about it).  On the side was a sort of delicious honey sauce, which Biscuit really loved.

Brandy chose the Crab Cake Benedict, which came served with a cornbread hash and a small salad.  The hash was definitely a nice and unusual touch, tasting rather sweet and spicy.  The salad came undressed, which Brandy thought was a bit odd.  "I'm used to being the only thing undressed at breakfast," she said.  The crab cakes had a good crunch on the outside and were nicely fresh and light on the inside.  The eggs came just the slightest bit over done (no runny yolk on one, but the other was perfect) and the hollendais was unnoticeable.

While Kitsch'n may not have inspired Brandy's sense of nostalgia in particular, it did make for a nice neighborhood stop with a homey feel, or as Biscuit put it "Like a secret hideout in a friend's basement."  Colorful atmosphere matches the colorful plates the food comes served on, and an all over friendly staff certainly makes up for any waiting for tables or food.  Brandy is rather determined to return, if only to sample all of the entertaining sounding cocktails.

The Short and Sweet Review

Kitsch'n on Roscoe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 2, 2011

Postcards from Bunny


Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner!  Congrats JBo for guessing "Chai Tea Latte!"  You're won your very own Dolce Gusto personal coffee machine!  Email us your name and address to have your prize sent to you.  Congrats again!!!!!!!!

Time for some early holiday fun friends!  Our dear Bunny has asked us to hold a little Happy Holidays contest for you all, and the winner of said contest is going to be sent a brand new Nescafe Dolce Gusto personal coffee machine!  Keep it for yourself, or gift it to a loved one for a holiday of your choosing! 

Here's the rules: as Bunny has been spending time with a cult of mind reading nomads in Mongolia, she has decided to see who among our fans can guess what delicious flavor of Nescafe Dolce Gusto she has written on the inside on this paper.  All you have to do is make your best guess in the comment section and the first person to get it right wins this lovely new appliance!  Each comment should contain one guess, but you can guess up to three times.  The winner will be posted on this space, so keep an eye out.  Good luck and Happy Holidays from all of us at Bunny and Brandy's Brunchtime Blog!

Valentino Vineyards or A Day in Wine Country

Greetings friends of Bunny and Brandy!  Before we begin with our regularly scheduled blog post, we have exciting news for all of you!  At 2:00pm CST today, Bunny and Brandy will be giving away a Brand New Nescafe Dolce Gusto Coffee Machine as a special holiday treat for our loyal readers!  To win this lovely miracle of caffeinated engineering (which Bunny and Brandy previously profiled in this post), simply log into this space at 2:00pm CST today to find out the specifics.  And now for this week's post:

Today we have a bit of an unusual review for you, dear readers, in that you will not see a single piece of food in it!  That's right, today's post is about a lovely "liquid brunch" Brandy attended.

Outlandish, we know, but this all started when Brandy's dear friend Bailey Blue phoned her up and asked her for some company at a wine tasting at a vineyard in Long Grove.  "A vineyard in Illinois?" Brandy exclaimed, one eyebrow firmly raised in suspicion (it took 20 years just to convince Brandy that good wines were to be found in California, let alone anywhere else in the USA).  "You must trust me on this.  It's going to be a lot of fun! get to drink wine on a Sunday morning without looking like a lush," Bailey insisted, and other such assurances eventually persuaded Brandy into joining her.

The two arrived at the long driveway in front of Valentino Vineyards in Long Grove, IL just after noon, or as Brandy calls it, "The Glass Lifting Hour."  The beautiful winery sat in the middle of the 20 acre estate, surrounded by winding rows of grape vines and other lovely foliage that gave one the feeling of being in the middle of a Christmas card before the snow had been painted in.  Once at the main house, Brandy reported feeling as though she was entering someones house (as indeed she was, as the winery also played home to its founder and owner, Rudolph Valentino DiTommaso, and his family.  The tasting room and wine shop was in what seemed like a converted kitchen that overlooked the back of the estate, which housed even more grapevines and a marvelous little pond where we're told weddings are regularly held.  Brandy, who was still sceptical, but wasn't going to turn down a drink, took her seat with Bailey at a table in the back of the room and awaited the presentation by Rudolph himself.

Leaning casually against a wall as though he was telling an amusing story to a house full of distant relatives, Rudolph explained how his viticulturalism began as a hobby he'd learned from his Italian grandparents, then grew to a reality after purchasing the 20 acre plot of land, originally for development of custom built houses.  He explained with great joy the differences between the variety of grapes he grew and how through a long, laborious, and expensive process his winery had just been certified organic.  Then came the part Brandy had been waiting for, the tasting.

First up was a Seyval Blanc 2006 (retail $37 a bottle, special price $15), a white wine made from a rare grape hybrid.  It's appealing deep golden color hinted at its nutty and appley notes, which Rudolph mentioned goes very well with dishes like sushi and lemon chicken.  The mouth feel was incredibly smooth and the finish pristine.

Next came the Bianca 2005 (retail $33, special price $19), which was more full bodied than the first wine.  Brandy got a sort of caramelly/burnt sugar taste when she tried this wine, which she especially liked.  Rudolph suggested pairing it with spicier dishes like Thai curry.  Bailey mentioned that this lovely wine was her favorite of the day and later bought a bottle of it to take home with her.
Then came the Signature Red 2006 (retail $66, special price $47), a smooth and subtle wine that Rudolph said would go with a simple salt and pepper steak.  The flavor of this wine was just too lacking for Brandy, who likes something a wee bit stronger, especially in a red.

Following that was the Dechaunac 2006 (retail $63, special price $ 46), which was a touch sweeter than the previous wine, with hints of bright red fruits.  Food parings for this wine were said to be salmon, turkey, or anything peppery or grilled.  Apparently, this wine had won an International Medal, to which Brandy responded, "Well I have an Olympic Bronze in Curling, but you don't see me wearing it to wine tastings."  Bailey politely tried to explain that no one in the room was in competition with the wine, not even Brandy.

The Marechal Foch Reserve 2005 followed (retail $54, special price $39), a burgundy style wine with a deep garnet color.  This was Brandy's favorite of the reds, as it had a deep earthiness with hints of black cherry and just the tiniest bit of chocolate.  Brandy found this wine very easy to drink like the others, which was explained when Rudolph mentioned that his wines were low on sufites, thus giving them a more natural smoothness and preventing headaches for those who were sensitive to such additives.

As a bonus, Rudolph threw in his White Port, which Brandy had been eyeing on the wine list (retail $69, special price $49).  Fortified with Cognac, the port had a lovely floral bouquet, and was brilliantly sweet and light with no thick syrupy mouth feel one sometimes gets with red ports.  As with most ports, Rudolph suggested it pared well with fruits, cheeses, and chocolate.  This was Brandy's winner of the day, and she was so impressed with it that she purchased a bottle of their Limone Dessert Wine to sample at home.

Brandy's worry about an Illinois based vineyard has since been dispelled and she has been raving about this friendly, inviting, and educational visit.  Unfortunately, Bailey was still unable to convince her that wearing a medal to a wine tasting is not the "in" thing to do, unless you are yourself a bottle of wine.

P.S.  You know you're getting close to the winery when the little fellow in this picture appears outside your window.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Hot Chocolate or Marshmallow World

The Slow and Savory Review

It isn't often you meet someone in Chicago who actually like the cold and the snow.  Who among us truly looks forward to digging out parking spaces, putting on five layers of clothing, or sloshing through the street slush?  Well, if there is one thing in this world that Brandy loves without complaint, it might be winter weather.  Snow?  "Nature's glitter," she calls it.  Bone chilling cold?  "You can always put more clothes on, but when its hot, there's only so many clothes you can take off without causing a riot."  In fact there is little anyone can do to convince Brandy that there is anything bad related to winter weather.

Since the snow and cold are still a little while off, Brandy decided to wish them into being by going to brunch at Chicago's favorite dessert bar, Hot Chocolate, the brain child of multiple James Beard Award winner Mindy Segal.  It's funny, for as well known as this establishment is, there are more than a few people who don't realize that they serve anything other than dessert, let alone weekend brunch and dinner every night.  Accompanying Brandy was her old friend, Biscuit Brown, who sat with her in the lovely lounge like waiting area while a table was prepared.  In the intervening 15 minutes or so, Brandy and Biscuit admired the interior, which was done in simplistic chocolate, caramel, and cream shades and dotted with extraordinary original art works.

After being seated at their table (which was a bit of a tight squeeze) Brandy and Biscuit set about ordering their cups of hot chocolate; for Biscuit, the Pumpkin Spice, and for Brandy the Black and tan (a milk chocolate hot chocolate with hot fudge at the bottom).  Both were rich and delicious, with a velvety smooth texture, and both came served with a house made marshmallow.  The Black and Tan was served in a slightly smaller portion (which made $6 a cup seem a little over priced) but the richness of it made it perfect for small sips.  The Pumpkin Spice was truly extraordinary, bringing not only the "spice" portion of flavor, as so many other pumpkin drinks do, but also a true pumpkin taste.

For starters, the ladies split some Warm Donuts, which came served like cinnamon sugar covered breadsticks, perfect for dipping into the bright, house made raspberry preserves.The donuts weren't as melt in your mouth as Brandy would have expected, but in fact they were almost cake like, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

For her entree, Biscuit chose possibly the most interesting and non-traditional brunch item, the Braised Beef Brisket, a tender hunk of meat served in a flavorful broth with two eggs and some fresh made bread.  Biscuit could hardly even scoop up the beef, it was so tender, and the broth was incredibly rich and warming, which only became richer when the yolks of the eggs were mixed in.  "It's so rich, I wager I could pan for gold in it and come up a millionaire!" Biscuit exclaimed.

Brandy chose the Duck Quiche with a side of grits.  Another $6 for the side of grits again seemed like a lot, but this time the portion matched the price.  The grits were very creamy and peppery with just a little bit of crunch, which is just how Brandy likes them.  The quiche, which came in a huge slice with a small salad of greens on the side, was lighter than air with an almost invisible buttery crust.  Compared with the fluffy custard of the egg, the hunks of smokey duck meat and nuggets of cheese were like hidden treasures.  Even the little salad of greens was nicely dressed and refreshing.

A relaxed atmosphere with fine dining sensibilities, the service at Hot Chocolate could have been a little friendlier, but food came warm, on time, and the napkins were even found folded when Biscuit and Brandy returned from the restroom.  And while the prices may have been a tad on the high side, one is definitely paying for quality and quantity at Hot Chocolate.  Brandy briefly considered ordering another one of the signature hot chocolate drinks, but with a stomach full to bursting, she decided against it, choosing instead to wait for that magical first snow to return for her next cup of chocolate brilliance.

The Short and Sweet Review

Hot Chocolate on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

Bittersweet or The Pastry and the Pudding

The Slow and Savory Review:

Believe it or not, there was once a time where one couldn't just go to the grocery store and pick up a steak and a cake at the same time.  Brandy often yearns for a time when she used to visit her green grocer for the finest fruit and veg, her butcher for the tenderest loins and roasts, her baker for the softest loaves of bread, and of course her haberdasher to buy the finest hat to wear to brunch on Sunday.  Gone are the days of milk and eggs from a local farm delivered to your door step and Brandy feels there really is something sad about that.  But now a days it seems convenience has won out over artistry. 

It might be that this is why Brandy feels so strongly about this week's destination, a beautiful European style pastry shop and baker in lovely Lakeview called Bittersweet.  From the enticing cakes in the windows, to the titillating tarts found inside, everything about Bittersweet screams "lovingly crafted."    Along with the dazzling array of treats on display, Bittersweet houses a modest cafe (about ten small tables, which are first come, first serve) that serves a different selection of sandwiches, salads, soups, and quiches each day.  In truth, Bittersweet has been a favorite of Brandy's for many years, mostly because she says it reminds her of all her favorite things from Paris, but she has been hesitant to share this little spot for fear she may never get a table!

Brandy started off with Bittersweet's house Hot Chocolate, a frothy and cinnamon spiked version of the cold weather classic.  Served on a dainty tea tray, one is presented with a pot of rich, dark hot chocolate and a generous dollop of nutmeg scented whipped cream.  The beverage on its own is spiced and warming beyond belief, and the whipped cream only serves to guild the lily.  Brandy absolutely adored the experience of pouring her own portion of chocolate and watching the thick cream slowly  disappear within it.

Next, Brandy moved on to a cup of Thyme Mushroom Soup which came served with a healthy chunk of artisan bread.  The soup had nice mushroom flavor matched with a creamy richness, and the croutons on the top lent a wonderful bit of crunch to the dish.  The bread was thick and hearty and perfect for dipping.

Following that was a modified BLT, coming served with a little bit of avocado and some chipotle mayo.  The bread was soft and scrumptious, reminding Brandy of the kind of thing she used to make cucumber sandwiches with during tea time.  Crisp, smokey bacon combined with the thinly sliced, juicy tomato, creamy avocado,and crisp lettuce to form a perfect combination of textures, and the little hint of spice from the mayo really brought out all of the best flavors from the simple ingredients.  A lovely selection of fruit was also provided as a side.

Finally, Brandy finished the meal with a beautiful Pumpkin Creme Brulee, which came with a sweet little gingerbread cookie.  The top of the dessert had that excellent crack one looks for in a creme brulee, and the custard inside was cold, light, and delicate.  Combined with the crunchy cookie, the pumpkin custard brought out all the best flavors of fall.

Brandy could have spent all day hogging up one of Bittersweet's bigger tables, which she might have since the lovely girls that roam the room serving tables also man the pastry counter, occasionally causing long waits for food or a check.  Of course, one's day is not complete without purchasing a few tarts, cupcakes, cookies, or breads to take home; Brandy highly recommends checking out the homemade granola, the slices of flavored angel food cake, or for a great deal there's the "broken cookie" bags and the previous day's cupcakes are always 2 for the price of 1.*

*Editor's note: We suspect that Brandy requested the bakery deals be pushed so that more people might satisfy themselves with those goodies and leave a table free in the cafe for her.
The Short and Sweet Review:

Bittersweet on Urbanspoon