leave your inhibitions at the door
Part II of my post-Lollapalooza eating adventures in Chicago… Upon the recommendation of Miguel, I went to this Bucktown eatery that describes itself as “playfully progressive” and “a marriage between the refinement of global flavors and the wholesome nature of American cuisine”. Not exactly sure what the hell that means.
I have to admit I was a little hesitant to go in because there was a group of cougars at the bar getting silly with a guy who can only be described as a classic douchebag. Now, I toss that term around a lot and have nicknamed one of my contributors that (although he isn’t one). But I don’t usually provide any details. The usual dbag that I refer to are those young meatheads with tight graphic tees, spiked hair that can often be seen wearing sunglasses indoors. Think Jersey Shore. Or Guy Fieri.
Anyway, this guy at Duchamp didn’t dress that way –khakis and a buttoned down shirt, hair somewhat normal. I often like to sit at the bar when dining alone, but one look at this guy and the drunken cougars and the Spidey senses were tingling. I opted for a table and, while going through the wine selection with a server I heard some yelling and commotion. It was the bartender telling the guy to leave and dbag screaming expletives back. I actually applied some journalism skills and asked, “WTF was that?” Here’s the lowdown:
– Strike one – dbag came in hours earlier with the cougars proudly carrying his own drink.
– Strike two – throughout the night, he kept on dissing the bartender by saying stuff like “that drink sucks” and “he doesn’t know what he’s doing”
– Strike three – dbag pays for drinks and cougars leave the tip. He proceeds to grab the tip saying it’s too much. Bartender says it isn’t his money to take back and it escalates from there.
So here you have a guy who appears normal and moderately successful. Yet he pulls three of the biggest jerk moves whilst sporting the utmost pompous smirk on his face – all in an effort to try to impress his friends. (He wasn’t trying to pick them up as, while apologizing later, his friends made several references to his girlfriend who wasn’t one the cougars). So there you have it – douchebag wolf in sheep’s clothing. Guess my douche-dar was fine-tuned that night.
The staff was very apologetic and gracious, although there was no need to be sorry for what happened. They felt so bad about it they even sent out an order of the ahi tuna tartar on the house. Not sure if it was because it was a freebie, but it was a tad smallish. But hey, I’m not going to complain. Not a whole lot of manipulation to it with sauces and mix-ins as they let the tuna speak for itself. Kudos on the knife-work to get the fine mince.
I was intrigued by a few things on the small plate side of the menu, so I opted for a few of those.
First up – Grilled & Confit porkbelly with mustard greens and black sage honey glaze. I thought nothing could top the porkbelly in Paris in 2005, well before it became the hot menu item here in the States. But this was easily the best porkbelly I’ve ever had. I asked how the hell they did it and the sous chef said it was first brined, then braised, confited, pressed, and then grilled. (I’m definitely putting this on the to-do list to try to replicate.) The combination of the tender texture from the braising with the crispiness and charring of the grill was downright thrilling. I got so excited, I had to do a six-to-midnight before the waitress came back.
Next up – Seared foie gras on pine nut whiskey cake and spiced rhubarb. One of the big news items after we moved away from Chicago was a foie gras ban in 2006. Yes, I can see where the process of making foie gras can be cruel, but I don’t think proposing, debating, enacting, and enforcing a ban on it is a good use of government time. If people really wanted to ban the sale of something cruel, how about telling Cracker Barrel to stop selling shitty Christmas sweaters?
So up comes the ban and the city becomes comedy fodder for the likes of Stephen Colbert and generally looks pretty silly. Even sillier when restaurants came up with creative ways around it – selling it as regular-fed ducks or giving it away as an accompaniment to a salad (i.e. they weren’t selling it). The city came to its senses two years later and lifted the ban.
I haven’t had it in quite a while – don’t know if it’s just not popular in A2 or if the animal-loving hippies got to the restaurant owners. This was a terrific reminder of what I’ve been missing. Deep, deep caramelization had me worried that it was overcooked. Nope, they got it right.
Final course – I was looking through the dessert menu and couldn’t really decide. So I opted for the grilled octopus with chickpeas, radish, and romesco. (Do I need to explain that it’s really not a dessert? I actually did choose this after looking through desserts, though.) I wasn’t much on what was served with it, but the octopus was excellent. Love the presentation.
What I drank
I wanted something that could go with the tuna and the pork belly and, not knowing the preparations, went with the server’s recommendation of an ’09 Elki white from Chile. It’s made from Pedro Ximenez grapes which are mostly used to make sherry. The bright acidity and crisp finish went well with the tuna. It did cut through the richness of the belly but, in retrospect, I probably should’ve gone with a pinot noir.
I was done with the white before the foie gras came out. While poring through the wine list, the server alerted me to the 2006 Chateau le Tuileries Sauternes on the dessert menu. Bingo! Foie gras and sauternes – a match made in heaven.
Despite the ugliness of the first five minutes, it was a terrific meal. As always, tell ’em I sent you. You won’t get anything but if enough of you go, I might.