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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Charcuterie in Chicago

...Meat plate. That's what else you could call it, but why not stick with 'charcuterie'? It just sounds better.

I find myself rather giddy when I know a restaurant serves a charcuterie platter or a cheese plate. After all, we grew up eating preserved deli meats (bolgona, turkey, ham) with cheese on bread almost every day of the week. In Europe, they eat it for breakfast!

Nothing else could be so simple, except maybe some plain pasta with butter or a smeary pb&j. But where did slopping slim cuts of meat on a plate with tart garnishes of pickles, spicy mustard, baguette, and apricot spread come from, you ask? I'll give you the short version and then I'll tell you where to get the best meat plates.

The term 'charcuterie' is a French word, originating in the Latin caro, for flesh or meat, and coctus, or “cooked.” It is meat that is salted, smoked or brined--commonly called "cured". The 'charcuterier' shop was derived from France in the 15th century and is very different from your average butcher shop, which specializes only in fresh meat. Oui, oui!

Charcuterie meats can be preserved over months of time, unlike fresh meat which must be consumed immediately. As you can imagine, this is a refined process where the meat must be edible and flavorful with no signs of bacteria or mold. Yikes! 


I really love a charctuerie plate you can arrange yourself. Hopleaf, Old Town Social, D.O.C. Wine Bar and Fork can make that happen, it's just up to you to decide.

Bluebird // Wicker Park 
DOC Wine Bar // Lincoln Park 
Hopleaf // Andersonville

To see my full list of Charcuterie picks in Chicago, click here

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Just a Taste. A Review of Graham Elliot.

When I was younger and came down with a cold, my mom's go-to cure was hot tea with milk and two pieces of white toast with cinnamon, sugar, and butter. Drifting in and out of sleep, I would wake to a hot white mug of murky tea and toast cut up into four pieces. More often than not, my mom would have nibbled off an edge of toast--as if I were too weak to notice. Hrmph!

She always claimed that she was "testing it for the princess", inherently knowing there really was nothing I could do about it while nursing myself back to health with toast, aspirin, and some time in front of the TV if I was lucky. To this day, when we go out to dinner and someone asks, "who wants dessert?", her automatic answer is, "I'll take a bite out of whatever you get". Of course you will.

Sometimes, that's all we really want--a bite. There are more than several 5 star restaurants that prepare tasting menus, some of which ONLY have tasting menus--no a la carte. It certainly limits the diner's choices, but it gives the chef free range to perfect dishes that complement each other. Some of the finest tasting and prix fixe restaurants in Chicago include but are not limited to: Les NomadesCharlie Trotter (closing soon), Graham Elliot, Schwa, Boka, Alinea, Moto, MK, and Next. Maybe be age 30 I'll have tried them all.

For my 27th birthday... eesh, that looks bad....
For my birthday this year, my boyfriend took me to Graham Elliot. The restaurant has been open since 2008 and in 2010, Elliot created Grahamwich, a high end sandwich shop in River North that we had tried a couple of times. Saving the most exquisite restaurants for special celebrations, this meal was sure to be a first for both of us.

Graham Elliot had an a la carte menu, but the tasting menus (two) caught our eyes. The first menu, "Tasting" was composed of eight courses, while the second, "Repertoire" had a whopping 14 courses! We opted for the "Tasting" and buckled in for our long dinner.

Each course was small but oozed with flavor and immaculate presentation. I honestly loved everything but the first course. The first course was a three-plate mix of foamy fish, a foie gras lollipop covered with Pop Rocks (the candy), and the latter which I cannot remember, maybe a lemon foam. I certainly liked the lollipop but the other two I could have done without. That being said, I think that 7/8 is fair. I can only assume that the people dining at this restaurant have a taste for unconventionally prepared food and have a more adventurous palate than most.

Going into a little detail, the lobster dish was prepared three ways if I can remember correctly: poached, gelled, and buttered. The latter chicken, cheese, and milk(dessert) dishes were also finely prepared and left me neither too stuffed or too famished. The milk course was a take on cookies and cream and it filled those shoes perfectly. There's nothing I appreciate more than chocolate and a dish that tastes as it should. That was a home run for both me and the beau-- you can't argue with ice cream!

The overall experience was worth it, especially with a whole bottle of red wine. I might add that the cocktails here are raved about and you can absolutely find a bottle of wine within reason.

Graham Elliot is opening up a bistro is the West Loop- G.E.B. While I prefer brunches that are closer to my apartment because they are closer to my bed, I hope to mosey on over to G.E.B and see what he has to offer for brunch! Eggs Benedict a la pop rocks?!