Thursday, May 17, 2012

Longman & Eagle

After sitting through hours of snowstorm delays from Seattle to Chicago in January, Longman & Eagle was a beautiful sight for sore eyes, a filling feast for a hungry stomach, and a fountain of flavor for a parched throat.  Nothing against left feet, but the second I walked into the place, I knew my trip to Chicago was going to start off on the right foot.

If I ever get to open up my own cocktail and small plates joint, I would take a lot of inspiration from Longman & Eagle, which happens to take a lot of inspiration, in decor at least, from what I would find in Seattle or Portland: wood paneling, flannel button-downs, repurposed bits of furniture and design, affordable prices ($8 cocktails!), and a very casual and friendly vibe.  This is not your typical one-Michelin-star restaurant.  Except when it comes to some very special plates of food.

Steph C., my friend Janice, and I started our 11:00pm snowstorm therapy session with a round of cocktails and a couple Warm Cheese Grougeres.

Like dark, savory Beard Papa pastry cream puffs, these aromatic grougeres' flaky, croissant-like exteriors opened up to a creamy, addictive Dunbarton blue Mornay sauce.  Although the sauce didn't flow out like a poached egg's yolk, the starch soaked up the warm, cheesy, and perfectly salty sauce like a sponge.  Basically, a cheese and croissant lover's dream.

Buffalo Sweetbreads were up next, featuring aerated ranch, hot sauce, Thumbelina carrots, and micro celery.  The sweetbreads were rich, melting in my mouth after crunching through their thoughtfully fried exteriors.  Where a standard ranch sauce would add more heaviness, the aerated ranch had a bright effect on each bite.  The fluffy creaminess of the ranch played well with the punchy, yet familiar hot sauce, while the micro celery and intensely flavorful carrots helped to complete this play on a standard basket of wings and celery.  So, so good, and probably my favorite of the night.

Not to be outshone, the Swan Creek Rabbit Pâté brought an impressive mix of spice, fat, meat, and acid.  The pâté came wrapped in a fatty layer of bacon, while the pâté itself had a noticeably peppery flavor, toothsome texture, and subtle gaminess.  The side of pickled giardinière vegetables sprinkled with mustard seeds and the whole-grain mustard brought some balanced and needed acidity.  Don't bother with the teeth-shattering crostini.  The pâté and pickled veggies stand perfectly fine without the bread, anyway.

I think the whole table agreed that the weakest dish of the night was the Pastrami Spiced Pig Head. This heavy cylinder of meat came with an unpleasantly gooey sauerkraut gnocchi, an unappetizing thousand island sugo, a hard-to-notice shaved pear-watercress salad, and a tasteless sprinkle of dehydrated rye.  While the concept of a delicious take on a pastrami sandwich was there, the largely-portioned pig and texturally deficient components made the dish too heavy and the experience lacking.  But on to bigger and better things.

Like the Wild Boar Sloppy Joe.  Hello.  Sure, this thing was heavy, and picking this up was nowhere near an option.  But this flavor bomb was worth every bite.  The ground boar was laced with a few leaves of fried sage and crispy onion, making the boar something I'd want to have as a ragu on a plate of pasta or a chili on a bowl of rice.  The soft brioche buns sopped up every bit of wild boar juice.  The pickled jalapeño brought more heat than acidity, which was bearable after a few, indulgent bites of the well-crisped and rich side of beef fat fries.  Things were getting dangerously heavy at this point, but we forged ahead.

The Roasted Marrow Bones were also very good.  Topped with some sea salt and red onion jam and accompanied by some sourdough crostinis, the marrow bones were simple, but delicious.

Few things latch onto my heart (I'm talking soul here, not fat) like bone marrow.  And this pair of bones was no different.  Rich, gelatinous, and flavorful.  The sweet onion jam was a perfect addition to each bite, but the sweetness and fattiness of the plate begged for some acid.  Regardless of this deficiency, we slurped up every last bit.  Unlike the earlier crostinis, these were soft and did a great job of scarpetta-ing up any greasy remnants.

The night almost ended with two relatively disappointing dishes.  The Hand Rolled Cavatelli was great for a few bites, but quickly became excessive.  The pasta was unfortunately overcooked, which made the pasta melt into a mush of rapini, chanterelles (a dish with chanterelles that I didn't absolutely love?!), artichoke hearts, truffle butter, grana padano, and matsutake purée.  Like I said, the flavor combination was great for the first couple bites, but after those bites, the dish became unbearably heavy.  Maybe it's because we had just eaten a huge sloppy joe.  Or maybe this dish just got lost in too many good things.

The other so-so dish was the "Steak and Egg."  The beef short rib was tender and good enough, but the tiring bordelaise sauce and undercooked farm egg and creamed spinach raviolo didn't ooze or contribute to the dish like I wanted them to.  The pickled ramps and mushrooms (the menu said black trumpets, but I think we got something more along the lines of hon shimejis) were tasty, but not enough to carry the dish.  I liked the concept and intention though.

The night ended with a bang, courtesy of their Maple & Bourbon Cornbread Pudding, flanked by a huckleberry compote, date-bourbon custard, charred olive oil ice cream, and smoked olive oil.  The cornbread pudding was just sweet enough for a dessert, but just light enough to not make the meal any heavier than it already was.  The custard was creamy and delicious with the bourbon toning down the typically intense sweetness of dates.  The charred olive oil ice cream was heaven.  Charred olive oil is a flavor I never would have expected to like, but the subdued olive oil flavors were accompanied by a notable nuttiness and flare that made this difficult to not like.  The smoked olive oil was subtle and delicious and the huckleberry compote gave each spoonful a welcome tartness.

Needless to say, the small plates were the way to go in both cost-effectiveness and flavor.  And despite the handful of misses we had that night, the hits were more than good enough to make me soar like an eagle and ensure that I will come here again.  The menu changes somewhat frequently, but thankfully, it looks like all the items I loved have reached a certain permanence on the menu.

Longman & Eagle
2657 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
(773) 276-7110

GET: Warm Cheese Grougere; Buffalo Sweetbreads; Swan Creek Rabbit Pâté; Wild Boar Sloppy Joe; Maple & Bourbon Cornbread Pudding.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Donna Hay's Spinach and Cheddar Soufflé (3/24)

Soufflé number three came from my friend's first cookbook: Donna Hay's Modern Classics Book 1.  She said it's a great go-to soufflé for dinner parties or a quick dinner or snack, mainly because she's always found them to rise and taste amazing.  So she lent me her cookbook for the sake of my 24 Soufflés project.  The picture in the book of the soufflé looked pretty darn tasty, and for my second savory soufflé I wanted to incorporate a vegetable of some sort, so this was perfect.

The recipe serves four people and begins with placing 1 bunch (~14 ounces) of spinach in boiling water for a short minute.

Next, drain and squeeze all excess liquid from the spinach.

Chop the spinach.  This picture kind of looks like the second picture in my Korean Seasoned Spinach recipe, eh?  Well, maybe not.  I guess the only thing in common is that they're both pictures of blanched spinach.

Anyways, get to melting 2 ounces of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add 4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour until the roux becomes a smooth paste.

Add 3 cups of milk and stir until the sauce boils and thickens.

Then remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the spinach, 4 egg yolks, 1/2 cup of grated aged cheddar cheese, sea salt, and black pepper.

At this point, the mixture should smell like a delicious cream of spinach soup.  Take a few tastes to make sure that you get the right amount of salt and pepper.  Leave the mixture to cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Farenheit and grease up your 8-ounce ramekins, or similar containers, with butter.  Sprinkle breadcrumbs to coat the insides of the containers and shake out any excess crumbs.  I was looking to do five servings, so I decided to do one in a baking ring, like I did with the Classic Hot Chocolate Melting Soufflé.

Next, beat 4 egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.

Fold one-third through the spinach mixture and then the remaining two-thirds.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared containers and place on a baking tray for easy removal.  Bake these suckers for a mere 15 minutes, or until they're puffed and golden.  Your kitchen should start smelling like a French patisserie at some point.

Obviously, the better picture of these guys is up top.  These deflated in about one minute, which makes me think that I either over-folded the egg whites with the base, or I didn't leave them in the oven long enough.  I continue to learn...

Regardless of the deflated appearance of the soufflé, the flavor was incredible.  Super cheesy and gooey, creamy like something between a quiche and a creamy soup, and delicious chunks of spinach.  I also added some Maldon sea salt flakes, which added a nice, crunchy, salty kick to those first few bites.

I think it's pretty apparent why my friend finds this to be a great and reliable go-to soufflé recipe.  Maybe twenty minutes to prep as early in the day as you want, another twenty to leave the mixture out to reach room temperature, and fifteen minutes in the oven.  Easy steps, great results.  Thanks, Hana!

Apparently you can also substitute 10 ounces of broccoli instead of 14 ounces of spinach leaves for a different take on the same recipe.  Cream of broccoli in soufflé form, anyone?  Yes, please.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hoosier Mama Pie Company

With Mother's Day in full effect, I couldn't help but write up a quick post about Hoosier Mama Pie Company.  Not only because this place has "Mama" in the name, but also because these are some of the best darn pies I've ever eaten.  Although Steph C. and I only got to delve into one savory slice and one sweet slice, I have no doubt in my mind that the rest of their selection is just as exceptional.

The space is small.  Extremely small.  But there is still enough space to seat two parties of two, and one party of four.  We arrived by bus around mid-morning and the place was less than bustling.  But with the amount of activity going on behind the cashier, I can only assume that most of their business consists of take-out.  Or maybe it's because people probably go in, order a pie, eat the pie in thirty seconds, and go on their merry ways.

The minimal decorations are just darn adorbs.  And they have cute prices to match.  A bottomless cup of tasty coffee and a generous slice of pie costs a mere five dollars.  If I lived anywhere near this place, this would dominate my morning routine.

Both pies were simply outrageous.  The first slice we got, by recommendation of our friends Janice and Frances, was from their Chicken Pot Pie.  The crust was insane.  I could have just eaten the crust by itself and called it a day.  Buttery, crispy, and flaky, the crust made for the perfect accompaniment to the pie's innards.

Tender chunks of juicy chicken, beautiful bits of peas and carrots, and a thick, comforting gravy made each bite feel like a good ol' American hug.  The hints of sage and black pepper almost made my soul cry with happiness.  The best part was that nothing was overcooked or soggy.  It was as if this slice was specially made that day, that minute, that second.  For us.  I didn't want this slice to end, but it did.  Thankfully, we had a slice of dessert pie to slow down the regret of eating our first slice so quickly.

The Apple Pear Cranberry Pie was magical.  Neither the buttery crust or the addictive crumble on top were too sweet.  The pie let the natural flavors and sweetness of the fruits sing.  My teeth sank into each gooey gem of fruit with ease.  Like the Chicken Pot Pie, nothing was overcooked.  The apple and pear still had a slight bite and were texturally enhanced by the crumble.  I love a solid apple pie, but I'd take this combination of sweet and seasonal pears and apples and tart cranberries over any apple pie I've had, any day.  I want to say that we took a little bit longer to eat this slice in an effort to enjoy each bite, but I'm guessing we probably didn't.

If you haven't gotten your mom a Mother's Day present just yet, and if you live in Chicago, you have about half an hour to get over there today and make your mom's day.  If you don't have time to hit this up today, or if you don't foresee getting your mom a present in time for the occasion (no judgement! well, maybe a little bit), do yourself a favor and surprise mom on Tuesday (they're closed Mondays) with a belated, delicious pie.

Also, if you live in Chicago, you should probably be going to this place at least once a week.  I know I would.  If you don't live in Chicago, when you visit, do not miss this place.

Next time I go, I kid you not, I am going to get one of everything and spend my entire morning savoring each and every bite.  Or something close to that, at least.

Hoosier Mama Pie Company
1618 1/2 Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60622
(312) 243-4846

GET: Chicken Pot Pie; Apple Pear Cranberry Pie; Everything.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Smoque BBQ

Sometimes nothing satisfies like a good ol' slab of barbecue, especially when that good ol' slab comes from a small, smokey joint in an entirely unlikely city.  But to Smoque BBQ, according to their BBQ Manifesto, Chicago isn't an unlikely city at all.  Chicago should have historically been a barbecue mecca, but for some reason it just didn't catch on.  Until Smoque BBQ, that is.

Smoque BBQ's offerings are presented on a huge chalkboard with neat, capitalized markings.  There are tons of options and a fast-paced line, so if you don't want the pressure of ordering immediately, take a deep breath and step to the side.  My group pretty much decided to get nearly everything by the time we approached and spoke with the cashier.

This was our beautiful spread of delicious meats and sides, served on two durable baking-sheet-like trays lined with parchment paper.  Keep in mind that three of the five of us had already had a first lunch at Hot Doug's.  Like eaters at a true barbecue feast, we kept utensils to a minimum.  Let's start with the meats.

First up, the St. Louis Style Ribs.  I love me some ribs, especially when they're packed with meat, extremely tender, and slathered in a meaningful sauce.  This rack had all three.  Each bite left pieces of meat between my teeth, smears of sauce on my cheeks, and a jaw that felt like it had done close to nothing to latch onto such delicious morsels of meat.  The meat was smokey and the sauce was tangy and sweet.  In a matter of minutes, the bones were clean and bare.  The generous char on these ribs easily made these my favorite.

The Pulled Pork was simply amazing.  Aromatically smokey, incredibly juicy and tender, and smartly covered with some enriching barbecue sauce.  Pulled pork can all too often be very stringy and dry, but something about this preparation made each, rich bite packed with flavor, juice, and delicious porkiness.  Of all the meats, I could see the pulled pork best as a sandwich.

The Pulled Pork took second, while the Brisket took third.  While not the absolute juiciest of the bunch, the meat was dense and tender at the same time.  Like a pork steak, the brisket was rich and satisfying.  The beautiful char on the edges of this cut gave each bite that addictive, grilled touch.  Unlike the ribs, however, I couldn't see myself eating more than a couple pieces of this cut.

For good measure, we also threw in an order of the Sausage, even though we had just eaten quite a few at Hot Doug's.  This sausage, however, was notably different, mainly because it had a stronger snap and a much more charcoal-grilled flavor.  The sausage was cooked well, but if I get to go to Smoque BBQ again, I probably wouldn't waste space that could be used to eat more of the other meats.

All of our meats came with some additional sauces.  The one on the left was a thin, tangy sauce that emphasized vinegar more than sweetness, while the one on the right was thick, sweet, and rich with just a slight tang.  They were both delicious on every piece of meat and made each order of meat taste like a duo.

The sides were spectacular.  The BBQ Beans were some of the best I've ever had.  I'm typically not a big bean person when it comes to barbecue, but these were exceptional.  The beans were fully cooked without turning into mush, and the lake of sauce was packed with that sweet, tangy, and smokey barbecue goodness.

I thought the Brisket Chili would be overkill (as if the rest of the meal wasn't overkill enough), but I'm glad we got it.  The brisket fared better in this chili than as a standalone cut, and the rich broth and beans made the chili the most comforting aspect of the meal, especially with the sloshy snow outside.  But beware, Texans, this ain't "real" chili, at least according to your bean-free standards.

The Macaroni and Cheese was great, mainly for its beautifully crusted and breaded ceiling.  The crunch and crisp added a ton to its underlying contents.

The macaroni itself was soft and floppy, as is the case with many macaroni and cheese preparations.  The overcooked pasta was saved, however, by its intensely creamy and cheesy flavor and the crunchy, toasted bread crumbs.

The Cole Slaw was absolutely necessary to our otherwise rich and heavy meal.  And thankfully, this cole slaw was more about vinegar than it was about mayo.  This made for a perfect, refreshing side.

The Cornbread was disappointing.  It's definitely not the worst cornbread I've had, but it's also nowhere near the best I've had.  The bread had a dry, rough, and overcooked texture that only a generous spread of butter could help.  The flavor, however, was great, packed with a particularly sweet corn taste.

The Peach Cobbler was our last side.  Sure, we probably didn't need a dessert to call this meal quits.  But we also didn't need a second lunch, did we?

The apple-crisp-like surface was insanely addictive, packed with sweet crumbs and crispy oats.  The surface opened up to tender, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth peaches.  Comforting, not overly sweet, and appropriately small.  Now if only we could have gotten our hands on some ice cream...

Overall, I'm very glad we got to stop by this unexpected haven of smoked meats.  We returned to the brisk Chicago weather filled to the brim with warm, comforting, and meaty goodness, shocked at how little damage we had done to our wallets.

Smoque BBQ
3800 N Pulaski Rd
Suite 2
Chicago, IL 60641
(773) 545-7427

GET: St. Louis Style Ribs; Pulled Pork; BBQ Beans; Brisket Chili; Cole Slaw; Peach Cobbler.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Publican

Nothing quenches my weekend morning thirst like a solid Bloody Mary.  And nothing satiates my weekend morning hunger pangs like a great brunch.  The Publican does both.  Really darn well.

My three friends (Steph C., Janice, and Frances) and I made it a point to go here while Steph C. and I were visiting Chicago because (1) Steph C.'s parents have raved about The Publican's Bloody Mary, (2) Steph C. and I love Bloody Marys, and (3) Janice and Frances both confirmed that The Publican was worth going to.  Sounds like three pretty amazing reasons to go to if you ask me.

So go we did, and lordie, what a great experience.  The moment I stepped into the restaurant, I felt like I was in a Portland eatery, complete with communal wood tables, fun light fixtures, dishcloths as napkins, booths closed off by swinging wood doors, a well-mustached service staff, riffs on classic diner uniforms, and unique plateware and cutlery.  The service was friendly, casual, and attentive, three things that noticeably added to the experience.

First things first.  I rarely write about the drinks I have at a restaurant, but when two-thirds of the reason we came here was for the Bloody Mary, how can I not.  Tito's vodka, a house bloody mary mix, house-made celery bitters, pickled cucumbers, onion, peppers, and corn.  All this, and a beer accompaniment.  We had the Three Floyds Brewing Co. Alpha King and the Brauerei Spezial Rauchbier Lager.  Both were delicious, but mostly existed to underscore just how delicious the Bloody Mary was.

This drink had everything I love about a Bloody Mary: spice, texture, and delicious pickled toppings.  A well-placed kick of pepper and spiciness with each sip, not too sludgy and not too watery, and perfectly acidic and mouth-puckering toppings to cure even the worst of hangovers.  Definitely a Bloody Mary to be reckoned with.

Our food came out relatively quickly, and before I knew it, our table was covered with plate upon plate of delicious food.  First up were some Spicy Pork Rinds.

Sizable pieces of airy, crispy, and addictingly cheezy bites.  Unlike many versions of pork rinds, these did not battle with my molars.  In fact, they practically submitted to them.  With just the right amount of porkiness and spice, these rinds accompanied the beers better than the Bloody Mary did.

Our table also shared some crispy Hash Browns.  Two orders were not enough for the table, but only because we scarfed down the beautifully golden and crunchy portions in mere seconds.  These were so tasty that adding ketchup was unthinkable.  But I added some anyways.  Hate on me if you want, but I freaking love ketchup.

First up, the Duck Confit Hash, because honestly, who can resist a hash with duck confit?  The dish came topped with two parmesan-dressed sunny side up eggs that opened up to a fragrant mix of caramelized cabbage, white beans, and cheesy potatoes.

The shreds of duck confit infused each rustic bite with just a hint of game.  The beans and potatoes were perfectly cooked, adding heft and depth to the dish.  The cabbage brought just the slightest bit of crunch every few bites.  The eggs were perfect, dousing the entire dish with its generous, rich yolks.  While this dish wasn't my absolute favorite of the meal (there were quite a few top contenders), I would definitely get this again, at least to share with the rest of the table.  Something about duck confit in an eggy breakfast hash makes me melt.

Another dish that was quite good, but that I probably wouldn't get again, was the Maple-Glazed Pork Shoulder.  The two main reasons I wouldn't get this dish again is because the large serving of pork shoulder was a bit overcooked for my taste and the grits were a little too stiff.  Don't get me wrong, this dish was still darn delicious, but the combination of the slightly dry pork and stiff grits made this dish a tad difficult to finish.

Everything else on the plate sang.  The eggs, like every other egg that meal, were delicious, selfishly wrapping its yolk around every other ingredient.  The kale was sweet with caramelization.  The pickled red onions were crisp and punchy.  The maple glaze on the pork was just sweet enough for a very savory dish.

The other dish that didn't quite live up to its potential was the Farmhouse Cheddar Biscuit, but only because the biscuit was a bit dry and because there was nothing particularly special about the dish.  The biscuit was, however, really great with the corny, spiced creme fraiche.  The sausage was standard, but well-cooked, and the egg, again, was delicious.  The citrus frisee salad was necessary, giving an acidic lightness to the plate.

The Red Wine Poached Eggs, however, was easily one of my favorites of the meal.  The eggs stole the show and indelibly poached my memories in its deliciousness.

Like lava, slowly descending the side of a mountain, the yolk oozed out of its purple-tinged encasing and consumed first the creamy béarnaise, and then the fragrant sourdough base.  Really, the béarnaise and egg could have been a dish on their own, but the bread did add that nice, starchy sourness to each bite.  The side of La Quercia prosciutto didn't hurt either.  Combining all these components with a couple leaves of well-dressed, vinegary arugula made it difficult to pay attention to the rest of the food on the table.  Surprisingly, the dry red wine found its way into the back of each bite.  So, so good.

My absolute favorite of the brunch was the Bucatini alla Carbonara.  I absolutely love bucatini because its long hollow center gives this pasta an unusual ability to cling to the sauce while also showcasing the flavor of the pasta itself with each bite.  The bucatini was the textbook definition of al dente and the eggy sauce was subtle and flavorful.  Add some perfectly salty and fatty pork belly, parmesan, and some seasoned pepper and you've got yourself a knockout dish.  Comforting, not too heavy, and absolutely addictive.

Drinks like the Bloody mary and dishes like the Red Wine Poached Eggs will permanently define The Publican as one of the best places to grab brunch in Chicago, and dishes like the Bucatini alla Carbonara make me think that The Publican is just as amazing for dinner.  If only I lived in Chicago...

The Publican
837 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 733-9555

GET: Bloody Mary; Spicy Pork Rinds; Hash Browns; Duck Confit Hash; Red Wine Poached Eggs; Bucatini all Carbonara.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...