Friday, October 26, 2012

The Monkey's Paw or Perfectly Primative

The Slow and Savory Review

Its funny how some of us can become slaves to our electronic devices.  The portable music device breaks and we suddenly forget how to use a CD player.  The streaming television service stops working and we suddenly have nothing to watch.  The e-reader breaks down and we suddenly forget what a real book looks like.  Brandy had always prided herself on keeping her old ways, to a certain extent.  Yes, she does own a cell phone, but not one of those new fangled smart phones.  "I don't need to own anything that's better informed than I am," she always says.  And as for the portable music? "Have gramophone will travel," is her motto.  But there is one temptation Brandy had given in to; the almighty tablet.  Now in fact, she actually owns this item for our benefit, because, you see, she mainly uses it for making notes on her brunch adventures, from which we compile these reviews.  Unfortunately, Brandy's tablet came into a bit of a misadventure with the edge of a very pointy table one day, shattering its perfect screen and leaving Brandy to take notes the old fashioned way, in an ancient and battered notebook.

It was with this very note book that Brandy wandered into The Monkey's Paw, a charming little corner bar in Lincoln Park.  Though the staff looked up at her and smiled as she entered, no one offered to take her to a seat, which Brandy took to mean she should find her own.  She settled into one of the rustic looking wooden tables, spreading out her old notebook, deluxe fountain pen, ink well, blotter, and a selection of various brass nibs, just in case.  Looking around, she felt the warmth of the wood around her, from the heavily lacquered bar to the high shelves at the back, which held everything from antique looking jars to a obligatory toy monkey.  The music playing gave the room a sort of Celtic country vibe, which Brandy greatly enjoyed.

After a little while, a nice young man came over to take Brandy's drink order.  One particular concoction did peak her interest; the Smokey Maple Manhattan, severed with a piece of bacon on the side.  The drink was nicely sharp and strong with just a little sweetness from the maple syrup, and the meaty bacon matched the smokiness perfectly.

To start off her brunch, Brandy ordered a Yogurt Parfait made with house made granola and seasonal fruit, which in this case turned out to be apple compote and a few fresh blackberries.  The granola provided a nice crunch without being too hard and the apples were soft and sweet.

For her main course, Brandy eyed up the Jonah Crab Cake Benedict.  While its true that Brandy has seen quite a few crab cake benedicts in her time, she had never seen one quite like this, coming adorned with a smoked tomato hollendais and chive belinis in place of the more traditional (and heavy) English muffins.  Upon cutting into her eggs, Brandy was saddened to not see a heavenly cascade of yolky goodness.  The eggs were still velvety, but a little too firm, and the yolks had solidified to the point of being almost hard boiled.  The hollendais might have been too subtle for Brandy's palate, as she didn't seem to detect any of the supposed roasted tomato flavor, but the belinis did make for a nice change of pace.  As for the crab cakes, Brandy found them tasty enough, but sadly lacking any crunch.  Brandy had also ordered a side of grits, which seemed to have been replaced with potatoes.  Glancing over her notes to try and remember if she really had decided on the grits, she soon gave up trying to decipher her own hideous handwriting and tried the potatoes.  She found them a tad bit dry, but very flavorful, with a nice snap to their exterior.

To finish off her rustic meal, Brandy ordered one of the house made Buttermilk Biscuits, which came with a bit of the same apple compote, but oddly no butter.  The biscuit was rather huge; indeed, one side would have served as a good portion by itself.  Brandy found it to be very moist and crumbly with a little bit of a salty hit on the tongue that matched well with the sweetness of the apples (Brandy would have preferred something she could have more easily spread on the biscuit, but there was no denying the two did taste perfect together).

As she sipped the last of her cocktail, one of the genuinely friendly servers approached her table to clear away some dishes.  "I'm a little jealous of your Sunday morning setup," he said to her with a grin.  Brandy looked up at him from her ink splotched notes.  "Pardon me?" she said.  "A little whiskey, a little journaling, a little breakfast.  Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning," the young fellow said as he wiped the table clean.  Brandy glanced down at her stationary set and smiled a little.  "You know?  You're right, young man. Not bad at all," she said, downing the last of her drink and handing him the empty glass.  Leaving just about $40 to cover her bill and tip (Brandy felt the food fairly priced, the at $12, the cocktail was a bit more on the expensive side) Brandy once again headed out into the sunny streets, suddenly not at all anxious to retrieve her treasured tablet.

The Short and Sweet Review

The Monkey's Paw on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wildberry Cafe or Brunch Gone Mild

The Slow and Savory Review

It was a long night at the monthly meeting of the Elderly British Ladies of Chicago Society (or EBLCS, pronounced "Eblecks," for short).  It had been Brandy's turn to host, which meant it was her duty to provide the bottle of port and wake the other members when the meeting was over.  Unfortunately for Brandy, this meeting turned out to be particularly spirited when the ladies got into a rather heated discussion about brands of American tea.  "You're completely barmy, lass.  That tea tastes like water from Loch Ness!"  "Don't you get sarcy with me, you old cow!  You might as well suck on a damp cleaning rag rather than drink that tea of yours!" And so went the insults, flying back and forth until well into the early hours of the morning. 

When at least Brandy had escorted the last of her fellow EBLCS out of her home, she found that she didn't have enough time to sleep before attending Chicago Society of Eldery British Ladies meeting (Brandy had to keep her association with CSEBL, or "Cybil" a secret from the EBLCS, as the two groups were essentially mortal enemies).  Knowing she could not show up to the CSEBL meeting half asleep without giving up her secret, Brandy decided to seek out a good brunch instead of taking a nap.

She eventually settled on Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe in the heart of the Loop.  Greeted at a huge host station, Brandy was whisked away to a table off in the corner of the large, modern looking space.  Lots of wood tones with pops of red made the room bright and cheerful, while still feeling a little chic.  Spying a huge mug of coffee at the table beside her, Brandy immediately put in an order for a Coconut Mocha with her friendly waitress while she looked over her menu. 

Having placed her order for food a bit after that, Brandy was shocked when the plates arrived only five minutes later.  Her entree was a Cranberry Turkey Sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries.  The first bite of the sandwich was quite a surprise as the pretzel bun on which the sandwich had been made was soft and warm, while the slices of turkey were cold.  Brandy loved this contrast in temperature.  The bacon on the sandwich was nicely crunchy, though rather flavorless, as was the cranberry mayo, but Brandy still rather liked the sandwich.  The fries were perfectly crisp and sweet, but hardly piping hot, which Brandy found odd.  After finishing the first half of her sandwich, Brandy began glancing around the room, looking for her waitress, as her coffee had still not arrived and her eyes were beginning to droop. 

After finishing off the sandwich, there was still no sign of the coffee, so to stay awake, Brandy plunged in to her dessert, Red Velvet French Toast.  Though the gigantic plate looked very appealing, Brandy once again found her dish lacking in flavor.  The slices of Red Velvet tasted more like pound cake, not having the signature tang of the aforementioned Southern specialty.  The toast had been stuffed with a soft of cream cheese filling, which did make for a nice rich indulgence, and slices of strawberries helped to break up the richness of the dish.  Just after finishing her first slice of French toast, Brandy finally tapped the waitress for her missing coffee (Brandy was more than a little annoyed at this point, not only because she could barely stay awake any more, but also because the bill had already been delivered, counting the absentee coffee as part of the total).  The waitress apologized profusely and offered to have the drink made again, but did not take it off the bill. 

When the drink did finally arrive in a gigantic mug, Brandy was over joyed.  Sadly, the beverage was less than tasty.  What was supposed to have been a Coconut Mocha, tasted neither of coconut nor of coffee, but rather watered down hot chocolate.  Still, knowing she was being charged $4 for this drink, Brandy powered her way through it, picking at the French toast in hopes that her waitress would present herself so that Brandy could ask for a box.

When the waitress did not come back, Brandy, bleary eyed, prepared to leave.  Just as she had put on her coat and stood up from the table, the waitress appeared, offering to box up the rest of her meal.  Brandy plunked herself down again and waited while the nice woman readied her take away box and tried to resist the urge to lay down on the banquette.

Having finally left Wildberry with her wallet significantly lighter (the bill came out to about $30 after tax and tip, which Brandy didn't quite feel matched the quality of the meal) and her body significantly less caffeinated than she had hoped, Brandy managed to make it through the CSEBL meeting with her exhaustion unnoticed by anyone, that is except for the policeman who had to rouse her from the bus stop bench on which she fell asleep while waiting for her ride home.

The Short and Sweet Review

Wildberry on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 12, 2012

Jam or Egg Whites are the New Black

The Slow and Savory Review

Ah yes, autumn.  The extraordinary season when the world fills with jewel toned colors and the wind takes on a special kind of crispness.  This is, perhaps, Brandy's favorite time of year, if not for the changing of the leaves, but for the changing of the menus.  "The arbitrary addition of pumpkin to anything and everything is one of the greatest joys of the year for me," she often says.  Fall also seems to be a time for things like pork roasts, nutty mushrooms, rich risottos, and tea.  Blessed tea.  During the months of October and November, Brandy is usually to be found wiling away the mornings sipping on a good cuppa, whether its from a porcelain cup in her breakfast nook or from a tartan thermos on a park bench.

The desire for a little tea drove Brandy into the chic looking Jam in Logan Square one brisk morning.  One look at the clean white interior with pops of lime green was enough to heighten her senses and her expectations.  The friendly hostess took her straight to a table by the large front window, so that she could gaze out upon the beautiful color changing trees outside.  After a little bit of a wait (the hostess came to apologize before her temper even had a chance to flare, indeed, Brandy had barely noticed any lack of attention) Brandy ordered a pot of Gun Powder Green Tea, which came straight away, smartly served without cream or sugar, as green tea should be, but Brandy wouldn't have minded a bit of honey.

Soon Brandy was presented with an amuse bouche, a small blueberry muffin topped with caramel frosting.  This delighted Brandy, as she had never been presented with an amuse bouche at brunch before.  A bread basket, certainly, a scone on occasion, but never such a regal presentation!

To start, Brandy put in for a half order of Malted Custard French Toast.  The toast itself was quite well done, with an extremely creamy center, but what really made the dish were its toppings.  Served with macerated cherries and a lime whipped cream, then topped with cracked pink peppercorns, this was truly the most unique French toast Brandy had ever had.  The cherries were delightfully tart, which blended nicely with the key lime like cream, and the peppercorns added an unexpected burst of floral herbiness and spice.

For her entree, Brandy had eyed up something called Guisado Verde, but was informed that the dish had already sold out for the day, so instead she ordered a plate simply entitled Egg Whites and a side of bacon.  The dish was so beautifully plated that Brandy almost gasped when it was set before her.  A pave of root vegetables proved to be very tasty indeed with alternating slices of creamy and crisp tubers and the sweet and sour red cabbage on which it sat was pleasantly tantalizing.  The egg whites however, the title role in the dish, were rather disappointing.  Though their texture was perfect, their flavor was totally absent, save for a few unevenly seasoned bites (the plate had been sprinkled with what appeared to be smoked sea salt).  Brandy felt that she really could have done without them altogether and would have been happy with just the veggies.  The side of bacon was quite greasy and more of a ham steak than a traditional slice of bacon, but Brandy quite enjoyed its intense meaty flavor.

To finish off her last cup of tea with, Brandy ordered a Blueberry Almond Turnover.  The pastry took quite a while to arrive, but this was explained as soon as it was set down in front of her.  "Fresh from the over," the kindly hostess said, and Brandy could tell it was true from the enticingly warm aroma.  The pastry wasn't quite as flaky as Brandy had expected, though it was rather doughy and moist.  The toasted almonds on top lent a nice crunch, while the fresh blueberries in the middle was wonderfully bright without being too sweet.

All in all, Brandy certainly wouldn't have minded ordering a little more tea to sit and sip upon, but didn't wish to take up a table and deprive someone else of tasting such extraordinary food in such a peaceful environment.  Though a tad on the pricey side considering the portion size, Brandy thought the quality of the meal to be a good match for what was paid (the bill came to exactly $30 before tax and tip).  And so, Brandy bundled up once more and headed out to find a park bench upon which to sit and continue sipping on her tea until the cocktail hour called.

The Short and Sweet Review
Jam on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 5, 2012

Festival Report: Chicago Gourmet

And now for something a little different...

This past weekend, Brandy forewent her usual brunch adventure and instead saved some room in her stomach for the delectable bites and beverages to be found at the annual Chicago Gourmet Festival, presented by Bon Appetit Magazine.  For those of you unfamiliar with this fancy festival of fancies, Chicago Gourmet brings together the best of Chicago's restaurants, celebrity chefs, high end caterers, and beverage experts into one glorious venue in the heart of Millennium Park for one weekend each year.  Unlike the popular Taste of Chicago festival, Chicago Gourmet charges a pretty steep ticket price, but all food and drinks come included with that golden ticket, along with access to live chef demos, classes, seminars, and lots of other hidden surprises.

Brandy was fortunate enough to attend the festival last year, but having never been before, she had no idea what she was in for.  "It was like that scene in the movie about the chocolate factory where everyone walks into this magical wonderland," she would tell anyone who would listen, "Except instead of a river of chocolate, all I could see was wine.  The glass they gave me did not stay empty for long."  But this year, Brandy came with a game plan.

Firstly, Brandy toasted to the success of the festival with a few choice VIP's like Chef Rick Bayless, Chef John Besh, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Editor and Chief of Bon Appetit Adam Rapoport was also on hand, and with a broad smile on his face, he asked Mayor Emanuel if the beautiful weather they were experiencing that day was typical for Chicago.  "Oh yeah," the Mayor drawled, "Seventy two degrees and sunny 365 days a year."

After that, Brandy headed straight for the chef tasting pavilions; large tented areas where 3-4 restaurants get crammed together to serve their best faces on a plate.  Right away Brandy spotted two of her favorite people, Chef Richie Farina from Moto, serving up carbonated pineapple and grapes (or as they like to call it "Soda of the future!"), and Chef Homaro Cantu from Ing with edible business cards printed on tortilla chips and served with pico de gallo.  Brandy could only shake her head and laugh at these two for not only keeping things simple when others chose much more elaborate food, but for actually bringing along a sense of humor (this was later demonstrated at their cooking demo, where more things were inhaled, smoked, vacuumed, melted, and decorated than actually cooked).

Of the bounty of food on offer that day, Brandy did gravitate towards a few special dishes.  The Brie Burger from Rockit Bar and Grille was a particular delight, with juicy, perfectly cooked beef, melty brie, and caramelized onions on a soft bun.  Brandy also enjoyed the Grit Cake with Tomato Jam from Untitled Speakeasy, which had the perfect combination of sweet, sour, crunchy, and creamy.  There seemed to be an awful lot of pork dishes out and about, perhaps because of the fast approaching fall weather.  Various squashes and sweet potatoes also found their way into quite a few plates.  Brandy particularly enjoyed the Butternut Squash Soup served with a cup of local apple cider from the Hilton Palmer House.  She also adored the Pumpkin Pie from Southwater Kitchen, one of the few desserts being presented, which had duck fat crust, ginger whipped cream, and a pumpkin seed brittle.

The amount of wine was overwhelming, even for Brandy, who was more in the mood for a quick grab and go drink, as opposed to stopping to talk viticulture.  Because of that, Brandy tended more towards the cocktail tents, which were featuring lovely concoctions with every ingredient under the sun (plus little to zero lines made these stops even more enticing to a woman who was determined to miss nothing). 

After finally feeling full, Brandy settled into a comfortable spot to watch some of the chef demos.  In addition to the chemistry lesson from the Moto/Ing boys, Brandy also took in some expert advice from Chef Tony Mantuano from Spiaggia, Chef John Hogan from Keefer's Restaurant, Chef Dirk Flanigan from The Gage and Henri, Chef Tony Priolo from Piccolo Sagna, and Top Chef darlings Chef Stephanie Izard from Girl and the Goat and Chef Sarah Grueneberg also from Spiaggia, all of which were thoroughly entertaining.

There were so many other delights that Brandy just couldn't get to, such as the Grand Cru, which featured some of the finest wines available, all chosen by expert sommeliers, and the pig roast, where cooks from The Purple Pig roasted a whole animal on a spit in the middle of the park.  But rest assured, dear readers, Brandy will surely bring you even more exciting tales from next year's festival, which she has already started dreaming of (and planning her outfit for).

To see all of Brandy's pictures from Chicago Gourmet, make sure to take a look at our Facebook page.

*The writers of this blog attended this festival for free as members of the media