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Prairie Grass Cafe - Northbrook, IL


ronnie_suburban
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From Prairie Grass Cafe's official press release...

"This is a very personal restaurant for the three of us," said Stegner, referring not only to Bumbaris and herself, but also her husband, Rohit Nambiar, who managed the Seasons restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. He is leading the wine program as well as managing "front of the house" operations.

The cuisine at Prairie Grass Cafe is contemporary American with a personal touch. "The food will represent what Sarah and I have worked on together for years-our signature dishes but more casual," said Bumbaris. "We will use the best quality ingredients and the same techniques and cooking skills that we refined at the Ritz-Carlton. What will be different is the choice of recipes. The dishes will be more familiar and approachable."

The menu will change monthly, reflecting the chefs' desire to use fresh, seasonal ingredients. Signature dishes will be available throughout the year. Stegner's mother, Elizabeth Stegner, will prepare her wonderful pies as special dessert choices.

The wine list, which includes many of Nambiar's personal favorites, will offer American wines as well as wines from France, Italy, and Australia. Twelve wines will be available by the glass.

With its opening less than a week away, I wanted to start a new thread for Prairie Grass Cafe so that our discussion of it isn't forever linked to the discussion of how it came to be. For that discussion, please click here.

I'm sure that I'll being trying PGC very early on. It's located between my office and my home so it couldn't be more convenient. I really hope it lives up to its expectations. It would be great to have another "go to" spot in the northern burbs.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

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ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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We drove past Prairie Grass last night, and its parking lot was filled with cars.  Pre-opening party, I presume.  We fought the urge to turn in to ask for just one piece of pie!  :rolleyes:

:laugh: LMAO :laugh:

You should have walked in backwards holding a cup of coffee!

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

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ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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We're going to give this a try tomorrow night.  Keeping in mind opening night glitches, I'll provide a full report afterwards.

Looking forward to your report...not as much as trying PGC myself, but almost as much :wink::biggrin:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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We ate here last night, opening night. I'd never been to any of the restaurants that previously occupied the space, so I can't compare/contrast the decor or determine what changes were made to the room. The dimly (but not too dimly) and well-lit space is done with hardwood floors, stone walls, a small fireplace in the middle of the dining room (but, oddly, above the counter which holds the bread warmer). Postmodern paintings of prairie scenes hang on the walls, and flat-screen monitors (must be a new trend) project yet more prairie scenes. Bare tables (the comfortable booths are along the walls) contribute to the casually elegant, comfortable room.

The menu features steaks, fish entrees, "comfort foods" and pastas. Having started a low-carb diet recently, my choices were mostly limited to proteins. I started out with the spicy chicken wings ($8) served with crudite and homemade ranch dressing. The spice was mild, but they were served piping hot. My friend tried the crab cake ($8.50) served with corn relish. Both were excellent versions of the dishes. Entrees consisted of the 12 oz. burger ($13) with blue cheese and crumbled bacon served without the bun (as described on the menu!), substituting the broccoli puree for the french fries (I didn't feel like spending $30 for a steak when all the other entrees were $12-$22); and the "un-traditional" Shepherd's Pie, which was braised beef and swiss chard topped with a butternut squash, parsnip, and potato gratin - it was extremely satisfying and very rich, perfect for a cold night. I caved in to the temptation of dessert, trying the pecan pie and the apple pie. Both were superlative. Chef Stegner's mother makes these pies, and boy, can she make a good crust! She also used Jonathan apples (the best kind for apple pie), and struck a perfect balance of sweet and tart. The pecan pie was just as good, tasting wonderfully of maple while not being cloyingly sweet, a problem with may pecan pies.

Service was efficient (though menu highlights weren't suggested, as they were to The Neitos, who were sitting at the table next to ours, but maybe that was the reason) and friendly. We were made to feel at home and welcome, and there were few, if any, opening night glitches.

I scanned the menu and can e-mail a .pdf if you send me an e-mail request - I don't know how to post it here!

This is a major new player on the north shore dining scene, providing good quality food in a relaxed, comfortable setting. I'd definitely return.

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Awesome, George. Thanks for the report. It sounds very promising.

How full was the place? Is the word out there already? Seems like a lot of people (even some I wouldn't quite describe as food fans) know about PGC.

We're thinking about hitting it tonight or tomorrow.

And btw, I'd love a copy of the menu. :smile:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Awesome, George.  Thanks for the report.  It sounds very promising.

How full was the place?  Is the word out there already?  Seems like a lot of people (even some I wouldn't quite describe as food fans) know about PGC.

We're thinking about hitting it tonight or tomorrow.

And btw, I'd love a copy of the menu. :smile:

=R=

When we arrived at 6:30, it was about 1/3 full. Within an hour most tables were filled. I'm sure the crowds will fill it up quickly once the word is out.

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Just came back from an excellent dinner at PGC.

The room is very nice; not too different from it's previous incarnations but much more "mission" with the white tablecloths gone, dark wood tabletops exposed and light-colored leather now lining the banquettes. The weirdest element of the decor was the "wall" of flat panel television monitors (3 facing each direction, lined up side by side) which separated the bar area from the main dining room. Appearing on the monitors were pastoral, moving images of the prairie.

I have to say that I was somewhat astounded by how smoothly everything flowed, considering that the this was only their third night in operation. Of course, we arrived very early--such is the price of dining out on a school night with a 2nd grader. Still, service was excellent; not only doing the expected but the unexpected. We got some good help with the wine list and there were numerous touches that kept us feeling like our presence was sincerely appreciated.

We started with some drinks and appetizers. I had a cocktail, wife had a glass of Echelon Chardonnay.

Here's what we had to eat:

Appetizers

Crab Cake with corn relish and roasted sweet pepper sauce

--excellent. The corn relish was a nice accompanyment and the red pepper sauce was terrific. Solid dish.

Crispy Roll of Medium-rare Ahi Tuna wrapped in Basil with Soy dipping Sauce

--liked it but didn't love it. I just couldn't really taste the tuna very well in this form. Dish was immaculately prepared, sauce was good, but it just missed for me.

Homemade Pate' in a Crock with Apples and Port Wine Reduction

--outstanding. The pate' was excellent and the apples and reduction made for perfect pairings.

Entrees

Un-traditional Shepherd's Pie with Butternut Squash, Parsnip and Potato Gratin over braised beef and Swiss Chard

--I know this term is over-used but this dish was sublime. Absolutely amazing. It was delicious, comforting, simple and innovative. Wow!

Homemade Italian Sausage with Polenta, Sweet Peppers Basil, Arugula and Parmesan

--another winner. The sausage was supremely delicious with just the right amount of fennel. Polenta and peppers were also perfect. A huge portion, even for me.

Kid's Mac & Cheese

Really good version of the old standby. Of course we all had to taste it and give it our stamp of approval. :smile:

Desserts

Mom's Homemade Apple Pie (a la mode)

--liked it but didn't love it. Very flaky crust but it tasted almost undercooked. We mentioned this to our server who explained that it was cooked as intended. I appreciated the textural uniqueness of this item but still felt like it just missed the mark.

Baked Pear in Almond Cake

--awesome, ethereal, delectible. I am generally not a big dessert fan and this really wow'ed me. I was loving every bite of it. Wife and I ended up splitting it and leaving half the apple pie.

All in all it was a great meal. I really can't wait to go back and try a few more items. The menu is large and inviting and filled with tempting dishes. Tonight we simply did not have the appetites or the numbers to go "exploring." I hope to change that in the very near future.

=R=

Prairie Grass Cafe

601 Skokie Boulevard

Northbrook, IL 60062

(847) 205-4433

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

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ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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In my haste to 'report back,' I neglected to mention a few things in my initial post.

First of all, we also ordered a side of Broccoli Puree and it was fabulous. I should have asked what was in it. It tasted intensely of broccoli, but it had the texture of mashed potatoes. Perhaps it was made with some stock or dairy and may have been whipped. I'll eventually find out.

I called the restaurant today to see about ordering lunch. Unfortunately, they will not be open for lunch until mid-November (the 19th, IIRC).

I was delighted to see items like homemade sausages and pate on the menu at a casual north shore spot. Frankly, you just don't see enough of this up here in the northern burbs, where the preferred cut of beef is the filet mignon and "on the side" has become a way of life for most folks. I was also pleased to see the large range of wine choices and their reasonable price points. Many respectable bottles were offered in the $20-$30 range. There were also glasses available for as low as $5 per. I spied one bottle on the list which was nearly $15 cheaper than it sells for at Miramar. Nice.

I have to say that the wait staff at PGC has saintly patience. Next to us was a table of what was, quite possibly, the fussiest group of diners imaginable. It probably took them close to 15 minutes to get their drink orders worked out. If I learned that they were plants, sent by Ashton Kutcher himself, it wouldn't have surprised me one bit.

First, they wanted to try one of the wines by the glass...."we like a dry red, but full-bodied." The taste was rejected. Next, they ordered margaritas. The server was a total pro, asking them every conceivable question: "blended or on the rocks?", "with or without salt?", etc. Shortly thereafter the waiter came back with the margaritas but they were not to the table's liking. They sent them back for some sort of reworking. Upon redelivery, they were found to be acceptable but "we're not really in the mood for margaritas anymore." At that point I lost track of what was happening but did notice that there were now 2 servers assigned to that 3-top instead of one. Reinforcements had, appropriately, been sent in.

The next thing I heard--attempts to tune out the catastrophy had failed--was one of the servers saying "so you don't want the bacon with that?" At this point I could barely contain myself. I know that there are people like this all over the world, but they seem to be concentrated in restaurants in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Here we were in a 3-day-old restaurant, with a large and tantalizing menu and the "special order brigade" was doing everything possible to put their stamp on it. If all these folks want is a broiled chicken breast and a side of steamed broccoli, wtf do they bother going out? What is the purpose of going to a restaurant and asking them to cook you the same meal you can make at home or get somewhere else? It was all I could do keep myself from getting up and stabbing these people repeatedly with a steak knife. I realized that my family needed me, so I resisted. :biggrin:

But in all seriousness, these are the types of things that restaurants must deal with on a constant basis--even more so on the 'north shore.' Staying in the restaurant business is tough by any measure and these are the sorts of things that complicate it further. There are simply times when the customer is not right, but smart business people--especially those in the service sector--accomodate them nonetheless. It's quite possible that these diners (or others like them) could leave PGC completely unsatisfied and without ever having tried anything that was actually on the menu. Because they couldn't get their dinner, their way, they blast the place without ever letting it do what it set out to do.

Luckily, our meal had ended and we left before we had to overhear anymore of this disgraceful behavior. I hope that PGC grows their business to the level where they can tell people like this to "stick it" but they are total pro's and would probably never do such a thing. Regardless, I'm sure the staff all had a bunch of good, long, private laughs about these folks throughout the evening. But, seeing that these people are out there, made me nervous on the restaurant's behalf. These are simply unpleasable guests. If there are enough of them out there, your restaurant fails even if you do your absolute best to accomodate them. Surely, these industry veterans knew this type of stuff was coming, right? I sure as hell hope so.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Thanx for the appetizing report. I must try this Shepherd's Pie when I go. Seems like a seasonal thing. Big fan of the squash. Was this dish expensive? And what was your cocktail?

Shepherd's Pie was $14.75 for a rather large portion (we brought some of it home) and the cocktail was my usual, Stoli on the rocks, wedge of lime. I also, later, had a glass of Firesteed (Oregon, 2002) Pinot Noir, which was delicious.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

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ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Shepherd's Pie was $14.75 for a rather large portion (we brought some of it home)...

I wonder if they have to go. I want more high end restaurants with to go options.

My guess is yes, based on the quality of the packing materials used to convey our leftovers.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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It's quite possible that these diners (or others like them) could leave PGC completely unsatisfied and without ever having tried anything that was actually on the menu. Because they couldn't get their dinner, their way, they blast the place without ever letting it do what it set out to do.
But, seeing that these people are out there, made me nervous on the restaurant's behalf. These are simply unpleasable guests. If there are enough of them out there, your restaurant fails even if you do your absolute best to accomodate them. Surely, these industry veterans knew this type of stuff was coming, right? I sure as hell hope so.

Fear not, IMO they will survive despite customers like this because of their combined Four Seasons training. I know (as an FSH alum) that the customer experience is fore front, whether it is a plain piece of chicken with everything on the side to upstanding restaurant patrons, like yourself. This is never an easy job, but I would be willing to bet the farm that this is a group of people who are probably more prepared than most to handle very fussy clientele and create positive experiences for them, as well.

Patrick Sheerin

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It's quite possible that these diners (or others like them) could leave PGC completely unsatisfied and without ever having tried anything that was actually on the menu. Because they couldn't get their dinner, their way, they blast the place without ever letting it do what it set out to do.
But, seeing that these people are out there, made me nervous on the restaurant's behalf. These are simply unpleasable guests. If there are enough of them out there, your restaurant fails even if you do your absolute best to accomodate them. Surely, these industry veterans knew this type of stuff was coming, right? I sure as hell hope so.

Fear not, IMO they will survive despite customers like this because of their combined Four Seasons training. I know (as an FSH alum) that the customer experience is fore front, whether it is a plain piece of chicken with everything on the side to upstanding restaurant patrons, like yourself. This is never an easy job, but I would be willing to bet the farm that this is a group of people who are probably more prepared than most to handle very fussy clientele and create positive experiences for them, as well.

I assume and hope that you're right. We're talking about highly successful industry veterans with literally decades of experience under their belts. Plus we're talking about folks who have repeatedly received accolades from both their peers and the dining public over the years. Still, I was horrified on their behalf last night. I wish them all the luck in the world. Tough crowd. :smile:

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Sometimes miserable people are unable to be pleased. It must be terrible living in a world where nothing is ever right. I pity people like that, and those who must wait upon them. :sad:

Let me add that my usual Grey Goose up with a twist was a mere SIX DOLLARS! That's a new low for ANY restaurant, let alone a nice place like this. Hell, the last time I went to Red Star Tavern each of my drinks was TEN DOLLARS, which was unconscionable. In friggin' GLENVIEW! Please note that I said, "the last time I went to Red Star Tavern." In friggin' GLENVIEW! I had a $9 hamburger and $20 worth of drinks. In friggin' GLENVIEW! :angry:

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Sometimes miserable people are unable to be pleased.  It must be terrible living in a world where nothing is ever right.  I pity people like that, and those who must wait upon them.  :sad:

Let me add that my usual Grey Goose up with a twist was a mere SIX DOLLARS!  That's a new low for ANY restaurant, let alone a nice place like this.  Hell, the last time I went to Red Star Tavern each of my drinks was TEN DOLLARS, which was unconscionable.  In friggin' GLENVIEW!  Please note that I said, "the last time I went to Red Star Tavern."  In friggin' GLENVIEW!  I had a $9 hamburger and $20 worth of drinks.  In friggin' GLENVIEW!  :angry:

So, you mean "last" as in final? :wink::biggrin:

The drinks at Miramar aren't much cheaper than that, but they are still cheaper. $10 is really pushing it--yes, especially in Glenview.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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So, you mean "last" as in final? :wink::biggrin:

Damn right! :rolleyes:

The drinks at Miramar aren't much cheaper than that, but they are still cheaper.  $10 is really pushing it--yes, especially in Glenview.

The same drink at Miramar is $6.50. At least it was when we went after they opened. To be honest, I haven't paid the check the last several times I've been there to see if they still are - maybe their price has been, er, adjusted.

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The same drink at Miramar is $6.50.  At least it was when we went after they opened.  To be honest, I haven't paid the check the last several times I've been there to see if they still are - maybe their price has been, er, adjusted.

Last time we were at Miramar, a mojito was $7.50 and the wife's glasses of wine were $9 each. Can't remember for sure but I think the martinis were $8.50 each--with Bombay Sapphire and anchovy-stuffed olives.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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I'll be up that way at my mom's in Evanston next week, with toddler in tow. We already have plans to brave Trio Atelier with an 18 month old. Ronnie, how's the kid's menu look at Prairie Grass, beyond mac and cheese?

Things I never thought I'd be worried about when choosing a restaurant.

What do you mean I shouldn't feed the baby sushi?

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LOL! I thought the kid's menu at PGC was quite functional and reasonably priced...

-Combo Plate $4

(sliced apples, carrots, bananas, chunks of cheese and cucumbers)

Spaghetti with tomato sauce $5

-Mac and Cheese $4

-Breaded chicken cutlet and mashed potatoes $5

-Mini cheese pizza $4

-Petite 4 oz. filet mignon with twice baked potato $12

(all of the items come with a mini side of vegetables)

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Something on that list will appeal to my little foodie, though I guarantee you, I am not getting him a freakin petite filet. Folks who've been there, how easy is it to bust out of there fast if I find myself dealing with a meltdown? (Why yes, I do plan ahead, so that I don't ruin other people's meals).

Though let me say, the thought of inexpensive quality cocktails makes my heart sing with even more joy than the thought of that glorious shepherd's pie.

What do you mean I shouldn't feed the baby sushi?

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