Thanks to my sister's friend Cara, I decided to make a trip to try the food at The Bristol, in Chicago's Bucktown neighbourhood. Looking at the menu online, I noted a lot of similarities between them and one of my favourite Toronto restaurants, The Hoof Café. The snout-to-tail philosphy of cooking is one that really appeals to someone who's constantly bemoaning the difficulty of finding a steak and kidney pie in her town. Executive Chef Chris Pandel says, "Like any chef worth his or her salt in Chicago today, we're serving organic and locally grown food as much as humanly possible". 1
There were many tempting options on last night's menu, but after reading diner tips and chatting with my server, Michelle, I ordered the raved-about monkey bread, the duck liver lyonnaise salad, ending with the pot de crème. After this meal, I'll just say, if I could eat here weekly, I would. I'd put it in my top five meals of all time. For real.
Let's start with the Bristol's signature monkey bread. The pull apart loaf comes still warm in a cast iron pot, and is fragrant with herbs. Which of course is a beautiful match for the vibrant green dill butter. The bread is so light and fluffy, it almost melts in your mouth. The melted butter has a subtle yet very much present dill flavour and I had to force myself to stop shovelling the combo into my mouth once my other dish arrived.
Now, I know some of you are like, "A salad? You just had a salad and some bread?". But honestly, this was no regular old salad. Composed of frisée greens piled on top of duck livers, gizzards and kidneys with croutons, a poached egg and bacon lardons in a balsamic dressing. This all made for an incredibly rich and flavourful salad that was more than filling. My eyes rolled back in my head with every bite. So few places cook with gizzards and kidney, which is a shame. If people could taste those organ meats prepared like this, I think there'd be a lot of converts.
As a side note, my meal was accompanied by the 2009 Maipe Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. I chose it because I'm a fan of the big, bold style of malbecs in general, but this worked out great with the strong richness of my salad.
I was very sated at this point, but I figured I had just enough room for a light dessert. Both Michelle and General Manager John Ross strongly suggested I have the caramel pot de crème, and who am I to dispute the experts? Two words: good grief! I had the same reaction to this dessert as I did to The Hoof's Malteser. I wanted to french the bowl, or in this case, the jar. The caramel crème is topped with a layer of café dolce and then some lemon confit. I'm not generally a fan of marmalade flavours, but in combination with the coffee and caramel, the lemon confit worked perfectly. The whole thing was heaven in my mouth. HEAVEN, I TELL YOU!
I'm already looking forward to my next visit to Chicago, so I can return to this place. And with an ever-changing menu, based on seasonally available ingredients, I've no doubt there'll be something wonderful on offer. FYI, if you're visiting The Bristol, they are part of the BYOB program, with a $15 corkage fee.
1 Quote taken from Restaurant Intelligence Agency