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  1. I managed to make it over to The Publican with a couple of friends yesterday. I hadn't seen the info on LTHForum regarding the kitchen being fully open at 5:30, so when we showed up at 4:30, we were a little disappointed to know we'd have to wait for an hour to experience the full menu. We consoled ourselves by starting with oysters and ham, and a couple of beers suggested by our server (that were excellent). The ham was wonderful...I actually preferred Benton's ham the most...it was the closest I have come to having lardo in the U.S. with it's rich, creamy veins of fat. Having all three hams at once was interesting because you could really appreciate the differences. I liked the other two hams as well, with the Iberico nosing out La Quercia (the nutty flavor was really striking). 5:30 finally rolled around and we ordered several more items: -Frites: Served in a paper-lined pint glass, these were not as thin as I'd expected, but the flavor was even better. Very crunchy on the outside, not very greasy and with flecks of sea salt...wow. -Mussels: The best mussels I've had in Chicago, period. My francophile (and hard to please friend) agreed, and after the mussels were consumed we were furiously eating spoonfuls of the remaining broth as fast as we could. (During this time, Paul Kahan sptopped by to see how we were doing and introduce himself--he was very nice). -Rillettes: Wonderful, rich and salty, served with an excellent grilled bread. -Potee: Unfortunately it didn't have the oxtail from previous nights, but with port belly, shank and tenderloin was quite good, the pickled veggies giving a great tart contrast to the rich flavors of the meat. -Cavalo nero: We balanced out our meat-heavy meal with this veggie side dish. Ha! Laced with generous chunks of pancetta, this was no light dish. But it was extremely flavorful and one I'd definitely have again. -Country ribs: We were starting to fade a bit by the time the ribs showed up. They were cooked just under medium and the texture was great...there was wonderul tartness and acidity provided by some small heirloom tomatoes and a couple of hunks of watermelon as well. Despite our fullness, we wrapped up with one of three desserts, the cocoa nib panna cotta with pickled plums and ginger snap cookie. The panna cotta was good, but the cookie was the star for me. All in all, great food, although you should refrain from a cholesteral test for several days. The room that seemed a bit stark upon entry (probably because there were so few people there initially) warmed up as it became darker and more crowded. Although it's not a cheap place, I'll definitely be back to try some other items on the menu, as with our focus on pork we unfortunately missed most of the seafood as well as the sweet breads and steak tartare...
  2. From the Crain's article Lenski linked, this sounds more like a fairly big shift in style than just seasonal changes to the menu...taking this more in the direction of fine dining rather than the "bistronomic" idea GEB started out with. UE, since you're pretty tied in here, any insight?
  3. There was a fairly glowing review of Avenues in the latest Chicago Magazine...maybe that will stir up some more crowds.
  4. I'd second the recommendation for Blackbird. The bar is small (similar to Babbo), but that's not a bad thing. Like Babbo, the bartenders are excellent with regards to menu suggestions, too.
  5. smorris291

    NWR: What wine?

    Not much of a wine story, sure, but a great one, especially to someone like me who's just 2 months into my daughter's life...
  6. Can't wait to go. Probably my favorite meal of all of any I've had at a Chicago fine dining establishment was at Avenues in May 07. Bowles is great, and I'm happy to see Michael Muser will be with him on the wine end...he's hilarious and will put together an interesting list (I took a class he taught last year). I know Chef GEB has talked about keeping the prices on the affordable end so that it's not a "special occasion" place...any idea what that means for average entree prices?
  7. I second the recommendation of The Gage for a lunch spot near the Art Institute...I've been there a few times. It's a cool setting, with anything from sandwiches to more ambitious fare (last week I had the lamb stew). It does get pretty busy in there after 12:15-12:30, though.
  8. My vote goes to Avenues...had one of my best meals ever there in May. They knew we were there for a wedding anniversary and really treated us well...
  9. On the question about other gastropubs, I strongly recommend that everyone try The Gage. Since it's located at 24 S. Michigan you might have to face some crowds near Millenium Park to get there, but it's well worth it...beautiful interior design, good beer list, great (and reasonably priced) wines by the 8 oz. carafe, and good food (although I have not tried too much on the menu). If this place were closer to my home in River North, I would be there ALL the time.
  10. You can definitely order a la carte these days. Not sure about the veggie options, but I'd be stunned if none were available.
  11. smorris291

    Castello Banfi

    I'll second Craig's comments about Banfi as a place to visit...it's lovely, but you feel much more like you're in Napa (large tasting room, retail sales) than Tuscany. We did have a wonderful (albeit pricey) lunch in the trattoria there as well, where probably 3/4 of the diners were Americans.
  12. We ate at Smoque last week and thought it was excellent. Our first indication of the seriousness and authenticity was upon stepping out of our car, when we were greeted by that great smokehouse flavor eminating from the building (something I've never smelled walking by Carson's). We went on Thursday at 7:30 and had just a brief wait in line and for our food. As there were just two of us, I didn't have the opportunity to try everything that I wanted to...I had the baby backs (great smoky flavor, loved the rub & the opportunity to control my sauce level, but like RS thought they might have been slightly dry) and my wife had the very good pulled pork. I thought sides were very good across the board--excellent fries and IMO the best baked beans I've had in ages. Coleslaw was VERY vinegary, which I liked, my wife not so much. Overall, I think Smoque is by far the best BBQ place in the city...if I worked/lived nearby I would want to eat there multiple times/week.
  13. We went to Aigre Doux for dinner this past Saturday. Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable evening, and the restaurant, despite a few mis-steps, has a lot of promise. Some impressions: -The room is very attractive and warm. I did find the placement of a few tables out near the bakery-to-be area oddly situated. If you were seated out there, it would be like eating in a completely different restaurant. The noise level was on the loud side, but nowhere near as loud as Blackbird, despite a similar layout. -The wine list was not ordered in any discernable way at first...although it became evident that there was some sort of order after looking at it for a few minutes, it was very cluttered and difficult to find a selection. Although I found the selections interesting, the prices were pretty high, and there could have been some more lower-priced options (May St. Market's wine list is MUCH more affordable). -Service was well-meaning, but needs improvement. It took our server 30 minutes just to find the wine we ordered (they did bring us a complimentary glass of wine after 25 minutes), and even longer to get bread--several minutes after the table next to us who had been seated 15 mins. after we arrived. When we did get the bread, however, it was delicious. On a side note, I always get a little nervous when the servers are better dressed (in a "hip" way) than the patrons. It just seems like they're trying a little too hard to be cool. -I thought the food was excellent. My wife's salmon was nowhere close to the "medium" that it was supposed to be (try rare), but besides that, we loved everything we had. The Crispy Risotto appetizer had creamy, almost cheesy risotto inside a crispy exterior. The duck entree was the perfect sweet (maple)/sour (rhubarb) interplay. And although my "chocolate malted" (custard w/ chocolate malt flavor) had no malt flavor, the sticky toffee pudding was AMAZING. Overall, we had a very good meal...once the service catches up with the kitchen (a problem that may be a result of the restaurant becoming this popular so quickly), it will be even better...
  14. I must admit that I don't feel "experienced" enough to write tasting notes, so I don't think you're off-base there. I am doing my best to drink enough wine that at some point I will feel qualified, though... As far as what I'd like to see in other's notes, Jim does a wonderful thin, listing the price he paid for the wine and an assesment of whether he thinks the wine is worth that cost.
  15. If you like dry aged steaks (as I do) instead of the wet aging that is the norm around here, you might want to try David Burke's Primehouse (in The James Hotel). I've been twice in the last 6 mos. and liked my ribeyes more than just about any other place in town (Gibson's can be better, but it can also be worse). I'm not the biggest Gene & Georghetti fan...the food was quite good, but to me there is definite favoritism in the service to "regulars" at the expense of everyone else.
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