Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Postcards from Bunny: Dinner at The Mexican and Hearth

So far, Bunny has no regrets about staying in Chicago to catch up on all the latest in food.  "There's so much out there that I don't know that I'll ever be able to say I've tried everything!" as Bunny put it.

Wanting to balance her fine dining adventures with some more casual fair while keeping her theme of international dining alive, Bunny headed to The Mexican in Lincoln Park, a sit down spot concentrating on authentic home style Mexican food.  On such a snowy night, stepping into the warmth and brightness of this space was a welcome relief, bringing Bunny back to the last time she was in Mexico on the Baja coast with her husband, Benedict.

The meal started off with a few of the house specialty drinks, like the Smokey Mango Mezcaita with a fruity and spicy kick, the Hibiscus Mule and its floral take on a classic, and the Boozy Horchata, which did indeed taste just like the traditional sweet Mexican beverage.

After that, Bunny dipped into a couple of starters; some guacamole and tortilla chips as well as a Street Corn Fundido.  The guacamole had a nice chunky texture with lots of tomato and garlic, and served well as a snack in between courses.  Bunny utterly adored the corn fundido, which had been made with several different cheeses and some smokey chili powder.  She continued scooping up bigger and bigger mouthfuls of it until there simply wasn't any more of the warm, melty, salty, and sweet dip left to scoop.

For dinner, Bunny ordered up some Steak Tacos Al Carbon and a plate of Shrimp al Mojo de Ajo.  The tacos had a fresh, bold flavor, with lots of tender flank steak, salty fresco cheese, and tangy red salsa.  The sides of yellow rice and re-fried beans were also a perfect accompaniment.  The shrimp were deliciously garlicky with a nice flame grilled smokiness, matched well by some white rice with poblano pepper mixed in and a fresh radish and arugela salad.

Rounding out the meal, Bunny sampled two of their desserts, the Tres Leches Parfait and the Coconut Flan, both of which were simple, tasty, and the perfect way to warm the soul before Bunny had to head back out into the snow.  "It's shockingly hard to find good, authentic Mexican food in Chicago sometimes," Bunny commented, "The flavors are often watered down or over done with heat so as to be re-adjusted for an American palate, so I'm happy there are places like this that are presenting familiar things, but done in the right way."

A few nights later, Bunny again ventured out for dinner, this time going north into Evanston to visit newly opened Hearth, a small, but intriguing spot serving eclectic cuisine that was designed to appeal both to discerning foodies as well as members of the local community.  The relaxed, yet refined dining room was small and comfortable, with an efficient and attentive staff that filtered little surprises into the meal, like a starter of warm cheddar and chive biscuits and honey butter.

The cocktails came both from a classical standpoint as well as a modern one.  Bunny opted at first for a bright and zingy mixture called The Robber Barron, made with white whiskey and St. Germain, but finally settled into the London Fog, a spiced vodka infused with one of Brandy's favorite flavors, Earl Grey Tea.  "Oh, I bet Brandy wishes she were sipping on this lovely thing right now!" Bunny giggled to herself.

From the small plates menu, Bunny sampled the tender and delicate Beef Tartare (which had been dressed with greens and a brie sauce, and presented on a crisp brioche crouton), the Crispy Crab Cake (which was fresh tasting and perfectly crusted in panko), and the Utah Prosciutto (with pesto, fried capers, spiced walnuts, and honey), which she found to be the perfect combination of sweet and salty flavors in one elegant bite.

Moving on to the larger plates, Bunny first tried the Mushroom Ravioli, the newest addition to the menu.  This delicate pasta had been filled with a smooth mushroom puree and topped with almonds, crispy shallots, pesto, and an apricot mustard jam that was so special and unique that Bunny proclaimed, "I've never tasted anything like this before!  The flavors, the textures, the contrast... this dish is simply amazing!"  She followed that up with one of the specials of the house, the Svickova, which Bunny referred to as, "A rather fancy beef stroganoff. but still just as hearty and homey somehow."  The tender cuts of tenderloin were served over a garlicky spaetzle, dressed in a sour cream sauce, and adorned with chewy slices of wild mushrooms,

Finishing up, Bunny went for a simple chocolate Creme Brulee, which came served with a few slices of almond cake.  The custard was perfectly done and tasty with the nice little slices of cake to cleanse the palate in between spoon fulls.  And just when Bunny thought the lovely dinner was done, she was presented with a hand made truffle, filled with a Kahlua whipped cream.  "This is such a delightful place!  So full of little surprises and true warmth," said Bunny, and then upon noticing that the restaurant was about to launch a brunch service on January 17th, she immediately dialed Brandy and attempted to relay the information to her friend through a haze of several cocktails and a large amount of rich, delicious food.

The writers of this blog were invited to dine at the restaurants mentioned free of charge in order to facilitate the writing of this post.

The Mexican Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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