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North Pond in Chicago


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I think you can't go wrong at either place. I've never been disappointed at North Pond, but you are right that they receive mixed reviews here. The atmosphere is also quite different at the two restaurants: Blackbird is much louder and cramped. If this is a problem for you, you may want to ask to be seated near the western wall of the building. The wall on the east side has a line of tables with hardly any room between them.

Also, North Pond does an excellent brunch. If it fits in your plans, you might do that, plus Blackbird for dinner.

Have fun and report back on your experience.

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  • 3 months later...
Thanks, Darren, for helping us choose. I'll report back on our dinners at North Pond and Green Zebra.

Tom (or anyone else who's been recently), how was your dinner?

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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We went on Wednesday night, 1/23/08.

North Pond is at the top of its, er, game. Wonderful wine list, innovative menu (it changes constantly - see the website for current offerings), and knowledgeable service. And if there's a more beautiful, unique room in the city I haven't found it yet.

Dress warmly. The walk from Lakeview isn't long (maybe half a block), but with recent sub-zero temps you'll be very cold very quickly. Also, as befits a building of its age, there are some insulation issues. So if you're near an outside wall (or even the wall separating the two dining rooms) you may feel a draft. The good host-valet communication will have your car waiting for you by the time you walk back to the street. Of course, if you're near the fireplace this isn't an issue.

Enjoy, and let us know how the dinner went!

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Tom (or anyone else who's been recently), how was your dinner?

I was there a couple of months ago. Our dinner was excellent. We loved the setting in the park, of course. Even seated in the inner dining room (the one that doesn't have the big windows with the view of the park, but has the open kitchen), it was a lot of fun and very enjoyable. The service was friendly and helpful. The food was excellent. The mains had 3-5 different things on a plate, and typically, one or two were just heavenly and to die for, and the others were very good. I had a piece of fish that was very good, and one of the accompaniments was a crab mousse of some sort that was to die for. I loved one of the desserts, an almond flavored custard of some sort. Although everything was very good, not everything was to die for - that may be why I think one sixtyblue is better, at least in the food department - but it was a very special and very satisfying dinner.

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  • 3 weeks later...

My husband and I went for dinner this past friday 2/8/08 has each had the tasting menu and my husband did the wine pairing with his.

5 courses.

2 amuse bouche.

1 plate of petite fours.

It was delightful and innovative.

My only critique? A bit more salt on the elk loin. But the combination of the elk, the gingerbread coated risotto (arancini) and the pear poached in red wine was amazing.

We sat in the front room, right by the fire place. Didn't have an issue with drafts/heat. And the walk to the valet station wasn't bad despite the "wintery mix" coming down when we walked out.

It was fantastic.

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  • 1 month later...

We went to North Pond last night and my meal was about a million times better than the last time I was there. I came away pretty underwhelmed after my first visit. I suspected that it was because I had ordered poorly because it seems like everyone except me fawns over this restaurant. Well, last night's dinner proved my theory correct.

I started with an appetizer of scallop and pork belly. The scallop was perfectly cooked (I use Sweets & Savories as my benchmark for scallops, and this scallop was as good as any I've had there). The pork belly was a small portion, but was an appropriate size so as not to make this an overly rich dish. Both the scallop and the belly were served on a bed of asparagus and farro.

Next was a salad of arugula, ricotta and pomegranate. The salad was wrapped with several slices of prosciutto. I don't have much to say about this as the ingredients really spoke for themselves. Very fresh and a nice representation of what North Pond is all about.

For my main course I had a lobster and chicken dish. This was half of a very small lobster that had been poached in butter, a cube of skin-on roasted chicken breast, and a small portion of dark meat served in a fricassee of winter vegetables. The whole thing was served with a bacon emulsion. This was a very tasty dish, with the only flaw being the severely oversalted skin on the breast. The star of this plate was definitely the dark meat/vegetable combination. I asked our waitress specifically about this part of the dish and she told me that the vegetables are cooked along with the bacon for the emulsion. No wonder they were so good!

Dessert was something called bomboloni, which were kind of like beignets. They were sprinkled with a couple of different types of sugar as well as smoked paprika. The smoked paprika definitely gave them an added depth of flavor over and above your standard desserts.

All in all a great meal. I'm glad I was able to go back to see what I was missing the first time around.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I recently had a meal at North Pond on a Wednesday that left the whole table unsatisfied.

First, we had a drink at the bar while waiting for the rest of the party (a six top). The bartender was nice and helpful and the selection of liquors was great. I had a hot tea instead of a cocktail and was surprised by a tea bag. The tea turned out to be good, but I do kind of expect loose-leaf tea at a place as beautiful as North Pond- maybe that's my mistake. No big deal, though.

Once everyone showed up we were seated in the back room where only two other tables had been seated. As we looked over the menus the small room filled up. And very quickly the service went from attentive to non-existent. I ordered wine from a menu that I found really limiting and not exciting. We were ready to order the food at that time, but were told that the server would be right back to take the order. It took over an hour to order our meals. By that time, we had finished the first bottle of wine (which nobody at the table liked, but I blame myself for that).

After a long wait after ordering, the appetizers came out. My sweetbreads were really nicely cooked and seasoned. All of the dishes were all beautiful. Sadly, I can't remember what anyone else got (everything was gobbled up quickly as our appetites had grown during the long waits), but everyone was happy enough with their appetizers.

Then the wait...

...and more waiting....

...this was a wednesday and I think only about eight tables were seated the whole night (all in one smaller room, though)...

...we tried to get the server's attention to ask what was going on...

...a busboy told us that the food was on its way...

...finally our server told us that the food was on its way...

And finally entrees were served- except for one guest's because the wrong plate was brought to her. The server took the plate away and tells her that her dish will take a little while. The kitchen sent out a small app to give her something while the rest of us ate (I know, no manners, raised by wolves- we were just so hungry. She insisted).

The entrees looked great. Three of the others with entrees said that their food was "fine." Two of us ordered a plate of chicken (cooked sous vide, I think) with lobster. For some reason, however this entree was about half the size of everyone else's entree. I understand that lobster is expensive and the balance of the dish might be disrupted by adding more chicken, but that portion was just way too small. I have no problem with small plates of food as long as there is some level of uniformity to the portion size. But this was the only dish on the table that had such a tiny portion. And ordering a second entree after such a long wait would have been silly. I can't remember the last time I tried to make myself full on bread and butter. It was embarrassing.

I don't want to complain too much about this meal, but I was expecting much, much more than what I got. The server was completely over-extended, the busboys couldn't make up for the server's mistakes because they couldn't communicate with us (I have no problem with non-english speakers, but the server's absence needed to be ameliorated by someone who could communicate with us). Everything took way too long and the food did not make up for the mistakes of the front of the house.

Pretty disappointing.

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  • 5 months later...

orenlund, I'm sorry to hear you were so disappointed. We had some waiting at our dinner, too, but nowhere nearly as long as you experienced.

Here is an excerpt from my review at the ulterior epicure (picture there, too):

...

I brunched at North Pond a few years ago with two very dear friends. On that balmy summer morning, I recall a cut of chilled smoked salmon so delicate and silky you would have thought it came out of a sushiya located near a campfire. There was also a wedge of warm buttery crust lined with meaty Portabello mushrooms above a thin layer of savory cream. That tart came with rich, tangy balsamic butter sauce. And I do recall committing blasphemy on that Sunday morning with a rum-infused cake.

More recently I saw Bruce Sherman at the 2008 James Beard Awards in New York (he was nominated for Best Chef Midwest). There, he served an “Anise Hyssop and Goat Cheese Sorbet with Rhubarb Relish and Herbed (chive) Shortbread Cookies,” which not only won the award for the dish with the longest title, but was one of the two best things I tried that evening.

Having vowed at our brunch to return for dinner together, we decided that North Pond seemed like appropriate place for a reunion of friends, who three years ago had met at this tiny place out of place, and who, in the intervening years, had strayed to the four corners only to find themselves back in the city wherein they had many culinary adventures together.

Dinner at North Pond is not brunch. It can seem less idyllic, especially if you are seated in the main dining room (as opposed to the “Front Room,” lined with a panoramic view of the city), which has a more tavern-like feel. At night, the restaurant’s flush, bright interior fades to a warm glow radiating from the wood-paneled and mural-covered walls.  If it’s busy, like the night we met, it can feel frenetic, compounded by the view of the kitchen form the main dining room.

Although the $85 five-course “Seasonal Tasting” looked fine, we decided to cover more ground and experience a wider range of Sherman’s cooking, for about the same price, by ordering á la carte.

...

First Courses

Corn, Goat Cheese

Egg, Bacon

Beets, Goat Cheese

The warm, butter-yellow corn soup poured around a dome of goat cheese panna cotta studded with large English peas at the table was frothy – almost fluffy ($13). Rife with summer sweetness, we were shocked to learn that it was completely creamless, relying solely on the freshness of the pureed kernels for the velvety rich texture. The panna cotta was more dense than light and a sobering tart anchor amidst the otherwise wanton storm of sweetness.

“Egg, Bacon” initiated what would be a running discussion about the issue of season-appropriateness ($12). Surely all of the elements of this dish - eggs, bacon, (Borlotti) beans, cress and red peppers – were in season, this being the apex of summer. But, to put them together in a hearty ragout topped with that now-ubiquitous cornmeal-crusted egg (what I’ve come to call the “molten egg ball”) seemed a bit heavy-handed for the hot weather. On its merit, it was great – the yolk oozed out on cue, the beans were meaty without being gritty or mushy, and the (cover your eyes) unctuous bacon-infused stew was hearty and robust. Come around to winter, take out the cress and the (pickled) red peppers, this dish still would have been acceptably seasonal yet much more appreciated.

On the other end of the yardstick was my Beets, Goat Cheese, which was a light and delightful summer line up of the usual suspects: chiogga, red, golden, and white baby beets accompanied by a small wheel of minted goat cheese wrapped in a grape leaf topped with a bevy of pine nuts. Other than to say that the combination of mint and pine nuts was a wonderful revelation and that the beets were perfectly cooked and sweet, there’s not much to report that you haven’t already (or can’t) imagined about this dish.

Second Courses

Walleye, Caesar

Lettuce, Radish

Charcuterie, Fruit

There was something strange about all of these “Salads.” “Lettuce, Radish” ($12) was perhaps the oddest: the wedge of butter leaf lettuce and baby red oak leaf lettuce dressed with tart shallot vinaigrette, coated with confetti of shredded radish and chopped Marcona almonds was upstaged (distracted?) by a gigantic basil-buttercream macaron. I mean, don’t let me object to a basil macaron filled (this sucker was stuffed) with buttercream, but I’m not sure I need that sweet, crumbly, and creamy confection appearing on my tart, crisp salad. I can’t say it was a bad combination, but it certainly was an odd one.

Then there was the walleye that swam (from the nearby Great Lakes) into a Caesar salad ($12), with some crispy prosciutto shavings in tow. This really could have been a small main course. The filet had a smoky charred top, which I think was its best contribution to the otherwise pretty straightforward salad.

There was nothing strange about the plate of charcuterie ($14), except that it wasn’t really a salad – in any sense of the word, really. Coppa, lonza, and lardo – all from Acron Edition – and house-made finocchiona and rabbit mousse, lined up, accompanied by shallot-raisin compote, croutons, and cress. Lardo would have been better if it had been served on hot toast – to allow it to melt slightly. Otherwise, the house-made rabbit mousse was my favorite of the lot.

Third Courses

Wild Salmon, Squash

Lamb, Cucumber

Pork, Apricots

Green Beans

There’s always a pork dish at North Pond. This one, featured a triptych: (1) ancho-braised shoulder on a chive shortbread (which appeared as a base with minestra nera) and slices of apricot; (2) roasted pork chop; and (3) boneless rib glazed with slightly sweet (I’m assuming apricot) sauce ($33). Every one of the three preparations was properly cooked and had its own personality. Was there too much activity on this plate like a good friend of mine noted from a recent meal at North Pond? Yes. Did it detract from the overall experience? Yes and no – even now, my mind rotates from one to the other, not willing or able to land on a favorite.

But this raises a good point. My friend’s observation was apt. Bruce Sherman is not a tidy presenter. If plating were an art, he waffles between folk and abstract expressionism.

Take, for example, the Lamb, Cucumber” ($35), which featured (1) juicy T-bone bedded on fluffy white “Wehani” rice; (2) yogurt-marinated lamb leg – pink and incredibly moist and tender for leg meat; and (3) nuggets of breaded sweetbreads (I’m not going to assume they were lamb sweetbreads, but it would make sense) scattered across a Jackson Pollack backdrop of spiced jus, chopped pistachios, and salad of diced cucumbers, tomatoes and garbanzo beans. It wasn’t the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen, but musky and robust, the entire mess had a hearty Mediterranean appeal if looked at from afar.

Likewise, a side order of string beans (a tad high at $9) looked like an abstraction in a mini cast iron skillet. The tangle of wax, green, and purple string beans were sauteed with fat cubes of pork belly and garlic (until they went crispy) and topped with slivered almonds.

I’m not sure whether or where the polenta appeared on the “Wild Salmon, Squash” ($34) that my friend ordered. The large filet of gently-cooked salmon (I wouldn’t be surprised if it had undergone sous vides) covered a good portion of the underlying mosaic of squashes in a blushing olive oil-tomato broth. The salmon, as I suggested, was extremely soft and silky. Together, the vegetables and broth were delicate yet flavorful, which to me, perhaps of all of everything we ate, tasted most of a farmer’s bounty.

Fourth Courses

Apricot, Sweet Corn

Sorbet, Pie

Cheese, Fruit

-

Mignardises

An ambitious start, our meal ended modestly for my friends. I, on other hand, wouldn’t leave the table without cheese and dessert.

My friends split the “Apricot, Sweet Corn” ($9), which found a quenelle of sweet corn ice cream perched atop a balance beam made of crêpes layered with apricot (jam, I assume). While the “crêpe Napoleon” was fine – a bit dense and wet for me – the sweet corn ice cream was better, and the halved and burnished vanilla-roasted apricot sauced with a “kernel emulsion” the best. In concert – especially with some crunchy popcorn thrown on the plate – it successfully showcased two of summer’s sweetest products together.

The biggest thrill on the “Cheese, Fruit” plate ($12), which featured three cheeses, was the slice of Capriole Mont St. Francis melted on a board of toast. I like strong cheeses and the applied heat helped amplify the funkiness in this wonderful goat milk cheese. It was nice to see something thoughtful done to a piece of cheese other than serving it plain (see here also), or making some silly composition out of/with it, like so many chefs are wont to do.

Given that the Blue Mont Bandaged Cheddar (the only one of the three that I was unfamiliar with) is uncolored, I found the very yellow interior very strange. The rind was even stranger – it tasted of wet rag, every bit the musty bandage that the wheel was wrapped in. The interior was alright – rather dull - but I did not find the rind fit for eating (and I particularly enjoy the rind normally).

The “Sorbet, Pie” was nothing like I had imagined. Instead of a wedge of something molded and frozen, I was delightfully surprised by a colorful trio of quenelles - blueberry-lavender, sour cream, and anise-hyssop sorbets – lined up on a strip of pie dough and dusted with brown sugar streusel crumbs. It reminded me of what Sherman served at the James Beard Awards: anise hyssop and goat cheese sorbet with rhubarb relish and herb (chive) shortbread (the same chive shortbread that came with the ancho-braised pork shoulder).

Tart, sweet, tangy, fruity, and fragrant, together, the effect was very much like eating sorbet pie.

I don’t consider North Pond a fine dining restaurant (for a more polished, like-minded experience in Chicago, consider Vie in Western Springs). That’s not a complaint or an insult. The refinement is in the philosophy, craft, and dedication.

Service is more friendly and casual than choreographed or sophisticated. At times service lagged – after a good twenty-minute wait, we were finally notified that our main courses would take another ten minutes due to a “crunch” in the kitchen. But, overall, our server was efficient, knowledgeable about the menu and wine, and, impressively, upon hearing us discussing the quotes on the wall, whipped out a sheet with all of the quotes accompanied by short bios of their authors.

North Pond is a slight step back in time, offering a more tinted than dented glimpse of a simpler time and place.  Like captivating pangs of nostalgia, the edges may be fuzzy, the details unimportant, but overall impression sweet and deep.

It would probably be months before we three friends would be reunited again, and so we settled into a snifter of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey ($18), and rode out the evening on its a heady cigar smoke and thirty-mile trail of butter.

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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