I’m BACK! Or, at least, I am trying. It’s hard to get back in the groove when you’ve taken three months (seriously? yeah…) off from blogging anything. I make no promises, because honestly I kinda feel obligated to blog more than yay! I feel like blogging! a lot of the time, but I also remember that when I do it with some semblance of regularity I become excited to post, so. Newton’s First Law of Motion. It’s for real, man. Anyway, I’m gonna ease us back in gently by talking about (what else?) food!
A couple weeks ago, we went to see a fantastic production of A Little Night Music at Writers’ Theatre. (It was stellar, but it’s over, so I can’t tell you to go see it. It’s already too late.) We decided to make it a date night and go out for dinner. I was looking for something inexpensive, because we’re trying to buy a house and we’re going to need money for fixing it up (I should totally write a post about that, shouldn’t I?) and also we have a food budget to stick to, but being that Writers’ is in Glencoe, we were limited by The Suburbs. Having ruled out chain restaurants and places that sounded very mediocre, we decided to go all out and took the theatre’s suggestion (and 10% discount) to Restaurant Michael. In summary – amazing food, top-notch service, way lower prices than comparable dining experiences we’ve had before.
Since we were pre-show diners, our reservation was for 5:30pm. When we arrived, we were pretty much the only people there. Now I know it’s not really “cool” to eat dinner so early, but I have to tell you – there is no cheaper way to get private dining. Give it a chance sometime. We were pleasantly surprised to find a prix fixe menu, and while we pondered the options, we were served the most delicious cheese puff ever. I think the rest of this post is best told in photos. Enjoy!
Let’s make this one a mostly wordless post, shall we? I’ll caption the photos so you know what we’re eating, but you don’t really need much description. (Please don’t take this as a sign that I’m about to become a regular Wordless Wednesday kind of girl. Cause I probably won’t.)
In short? The service was outstanding and the food was amazing. We will definitely be back to Chalkboard soon. Possibly for their Fried Chicken & All-You-Can-Drink Champagne Wednesday night special. Want to join us?
I attempt to make my hair look nice by drying it in pin curls. Result? It lies even flatter than when I do nothing. I redeem myself somewhat by wearing a shirt that Julia loves, putting on a skirt (no pockets! Oh, the sacrifices I make…), and going so far as to apply lip gloss.
Julia looks super cute in this skirt she literally made in the three hours before we walked out the door for dinner. She laments not having enough time to add… pockets. Which means it’s a night of purse-carrying for both of us. Well, one of us (me) – because we are good at sharing. Or, as we call it, “Will you carry the purse? I don’t want to.”
Private Dining. It’s what happens when you make your Friday night reservation at an old lady time like 5:30pm. Yep.
Finally using the toasting glasses we planned to use at our wedding. They are really, really nice. Also – heavy.
And? The bubbly was quite good, amazing since we generally find champagne to be too bitter for our tastes. [It was Pierre Delize blanc de blancs, if you’re wondering. We’re told it can be purchased locally at Lush. UPDATE: I was thrilled to discover it is also carried by our neighborhood grocery store, Devon Market (on Devon, just east of Clark St. in Rogers Park) – and for a very reasonable $9.99!]
Chicken Liver Pate, with Toasted Brioche and an assortment of complimentary flavors – white beans, onions, mustard, radish, olives.
Watermelon Salad with grapes, crème fraîche, and some kind of little flowers.
Seared Scallops with vanilla sauce and olives.
Duck breast with Tzatziki sauce and fries.
Hangar steak with white beans and pesto.
HAPPY. MARRIED. PEOPLE. (who happen to be eating chocolate chip cookie dough eggroll with chocolate ice cream.)
Hi friends! Today we have a special treat. Perhaps you remember the other day, when I was babysitting so Keely and her husband P.J. could go out for a fancy birthday dinner? Maybe you recall that they went to Tru? Which I have heard nothing but lovely things about and desperately want to check out? (As soon as I win the lottery…?)
Well. Keely is taking a break from her lollygagging today to tell us about all the lovely things they ate. Please go get a napkin or something to catch the impending drool, and then read on.
The other night, I had the completely overwhelming thrill of dining at Tru. (For the second time, mind you. The whelm has not yet ceased.)
We do not often indulge in four hundred dollar meals – not on a Sunday, at least. However we were in the possession of – as we also were when we last dined there – a few American Express gift cards racked up from copious overspending at places like Cermak Produce and Target. (My husband P.J. and I have decided that this is the best use of our AmEx points, as airline travel remains too pricey and I already own more Hammacher Schlemmer than anyone really needs.)
Plus, it was my birthday. And nothing says the big 3-1 like dining at one of the nation’s top restaurants.
We were seated at 8pm and, for the parents of a toddler, felt very grown up indeed. We were immediately presented with our choice of napkin. (That’s right, a color choice. From a tray.) Even though this wasn’t my first rodeo, I choked and chose a white napkin. Even though my dress was black. Thankfully, no fibers embarrassed me.
I treated myself to a glass of absolutely stellar Riesling (did I mention that I’m five months and change pregnant? Judge not. For it really was a good glass of wine). P.J. had the same. At this point we were simply stoked to be sitting at a quiet table and not dicing anyone’s food.
And then they brought us each a fluffy little puff of baked cheese. Just ‘cause. And it was good.
Moments later we were presented with an amuse-bouche (literally translated to: say that with a straight face) of cucumber lemongrass gelee with a decadent soup surrounding it. [Cindy’s Note: actually it literally means “amuse the mouth” and is intended to be a pre-meal palate tease of the snooty French variety.] I love to start my supper with a shot glass- always have. Also, “cucumber” was the word of the day at Tru. (When I informed my sister of this, she asked if I had to yell every time something was brought over, a la Pee Wee’s Playhouse. No.)
Then the bread course! We had our choice between pumpernickel, challah, something really puffy (I’m such a stickler for details) and asiago flatbreads. So we took one of each. Here’s an example of how good the bread was: when we had finished our various carbs, P.J. began picking up crumbs from the tablecloth, one by one. I reminded him that the servers carried table scrapers for that express purpose. He held up a breadcrumb and told me that he wanted to put them in his pocket.
We decided on the three course prix fixe option (and my menu even had ‘Happy Birthday, Keely’ artfully faded behind that evening’s selections). [Cindy’s Note: True story. I saw it. It was lovely. And I said hey should have asked the chef to autograph it.] Here is what I chose: duck confit and foie gras ravioli in some sort of awesomesauce reduction, Maine lobster with madras curry and roasted cauliflower, and a passion fruit mousse with lime, coconut, and dark chocolate. And here is what P.J. ordered: bay scallops on organic polenta with truffles and bacon, the prime beef ribeye with foie gras and wild mushrooms, and an apple beignet with vanilla ice cream.
I realize we had more than our fair share of foie gras. I have guilt over this. I do. Not a lot, but enough.
The appetizers were really, really good. We didn’t speak a word until they were finished, other than, “Oh, did you want a bite?”
My lobster came on a plate with built-in waves. (I really dig that kind of synchronicity.) The roasted cauliflower came on a bed of pureed cauliflower- and while I’m not usually a huge puree kinda gal (again, we have a little kid and she’s the captain of that ship), I wanted to suck it down with a straw. P.J.’s prime rib and foie gras were incredibly tender, but the surprise standout of that meal was the whipped pudding-like potato with curls of saffron. He said it was the ultimate comfort food times a thousand. I said it felt like my mouth was getting a hug.
At the end of the first two courses, we were given a teensy cup of cucumber (ah!!!) foam with vanilla and most likely eight other pivotal ingredients that enhanced the cuke. But all I could remember to type is cucumber and vanilla. (I am not their target demographic.)
Then the mousse came. And it was…exactly as awesome as you’d expect something with those ingredients to be. P.J.’s beignet was light as air, covered a slice of tart green apple, and accompanied by a dish of churned vanilla bean ice cream. We were happy campers.
Then they surprised me with the cutest and bitsiest individual confetti cake I’d ever seen, with a birthday frosting greeting swirled on the plate. (And I never know what to do with the dessert-y words. It seems wrong to mash it up, but it’s downright sinful to leave anything on a dessert plate. So I licked it. Kidding. Kind of.)
And of course, once we had finished our individual bites of heaven, a cart appeared at our table. We were offered little plates of truffles, bon bons and tiny pastel pastries – as many as we wanted. (They SAID.) I chose a rose petal macaroon, a blackberry jam truffle, and a dollop of light lemon meringue custard in a dark chocolate shell. P.J. chose the same, minus the rose, plus a small rum cake. (I called him an old man. But to be fair, it was really good. Obviously.) I think our favorite were the lemon ones, but we certainly weren’t going to kick the other ones off the table anytime soon.
We enjoyed these with a fruity sunset tea and a cappuccino, respectively, and marveled at how much we were able to put away. Also how long we were able to sit nicely at a table without running around the kitchen for various things.
Our meal ended with a last truffle apiece – dark chocolate with gold leaf, filled with a chilled bitter almond cream. [Cindy’s Note: It’s entirely unfair that I have to read about this concoction without having one available to me for the eating. Someone please remedy this, STAT.] We were advised to take it in one bite, or it would explode into a puddle of uselessness. (My words, not his.) However, despite how gently I [thought I] picked it up, mine cracked and threatened to spill all over the table, my teacup, and my pregnant belly. So I did what any rational diner would do: I shoved it into my mouth and immediately drank the filling from the saucer. And stole P.J.’s spoon to slurp up the rest from the truffle plate. Graceful.
As we exited Tru, we were each handed a small cherry sponge cake wrapped in foil for a take home treat.
I love this place.
I also love the two married ladies who pinch hit babysat for our kiddo that evening and facilitated one of the best meals I’ll ever consume. What say we meet up there for the next big decadent event? [Cindy’s Note: YES!]
Just lemme score some more AmEx points, first. [Cindy’s Note: See above, re: lottery winning.]
Thanks Keely! People, if you enjoyed this post, you will LOVE hearing from Keely three(ish) times a week over at the Lollygag Blog. So please go visit and then come back here. Preferably bearing truffles.
– OR – An Appropriate Day* on Which to Remember This Blog Exists (and Therefore Write Something)
So. It has come to my attention multiple times and from multiple sources this week that, oh yeah, this blog exists. And also? I’ve written nothing in it since October. I could give you excuses, but who cares? The point is, here we are, and I have some food to share with you. And I’m thinking, in the future, I will be sharing other things that I make. Like, clothes and stuff. And maybe some posts just about life, where no stuff is even made at all. [Travesty!] Plus, I don’t believe in guilt.
Five years ago, my hair was short and long enough to be an appropriate length for a Louis XIV-era pageboy. Which is what I was dressed as for schlepping the scenery around Remy Bumppo’s production of Power. Julia had worked on their previous show, and so she decided to come to the opening night to support her friends in the production. At the party which followed the performance that night, our eyes met across the crowd, and we’ve basically been inseparable ever since.**
Anyway…. Julia surprised me with a super fancy dinner at Dale Levitski’s (of Top Chef fame) restaurant, Sprout. Which was AWESOME. Their deal is you get your choice of dishes for an appetizer, entree, and dessert course, and the chef decides on a soup/salad and cheese course for you. Total of five courses, if you’re counting. They also have a wine pairing option, and I have to say – it was phenomenal. I don’t remember exactly what I drank, but I do remember that the food made the wine taste better and vice versa. Here’s the rundown:
To start off, we were presented with a delicious baguette and white bean butter. It was reminiscent of hummus and rather tasty.
For the first course, I had smoked duck breast with foie gras foam, cornbread, and sour cherry sauce served with greens, cucumber, and pickled ramps. Overall, it was excellent, though I did not really care for the foam. It was very… foamy… and not very foie gras-y. Julia had a seared scallop with salmon, pineapple, soy beans and mixed greens. The bite I stole was fantastic.
As you can tell, we enjoyed it, because we both cleaned our plates before it occurred to me that I wanted to take a picture.
Before I tell you about the second course, there’s something you should know about me: I HATE PICKLES. Hate, hate, hate them… a LOT. [Except for that one time a few months ago when I was suddenly craving pickles and so I ate about 5 of them and they were really good. And before you ask – no, I wasn’t pregnant.] You can ask my wife, my sister, my best friend, or anyone else who knows me well, and they will tell you that whenever I’m served something that comes with pickles… I am offering it to them for eating. Because I will not have that.
So, the second course was a soup (Chef’s choice) – a play on Borscht, with a twist – instead of the customary red beets, they used golden beets and it was topped with…
… a pickled pickle!
Well, guess what, friends? I ate that pickled pickle and it was delicious. The soup itself was also wonderful, and I am pretty sure I said something to the effect of, “I may like this better than the really awesome duck I just ate.”
Oh, but then there was this:
That’s rabbit with truffle gnocchi, pistachios, peas, a super-thin sliver of cheese (something hard, maybe Parmesan?) and arugula over some kind of wonderful, creamy sauce. It was rich and wonderful, and I couldn’t stop eating it. Except that I had to take a break about halfway through because it was also quite filling. I wondered if I’d be able to finish it all. And then I contemplated – out loud – the possibility that I might not have room for dessert. Um…. what?? That is unheard of.
While I was having these dilemmas, Julia was enjoying a seaweed and mussel dish with beef sashimi and sesame broth. As he poured the steaming sesame-chili broth into the bowl, our delightful waiter informed us that the reason it was poured table side was so that it would cook the beef ever-so-slightly as it sat in front of us. Neat. Julia thought the dish was amazing.
Next we had the other Chef’s choice, a cheese course. I was expecting a small assortment of exotic cheeses, but what came out was the fanciest grilled cheese I’ve ever seen. It was made with an organic, aged Cheddar from Canada, coupled with apple slices and caramelized onions. Next to it on the plate was a bit of raisin-mustard to spread on it. I failed to take a picture, but despite my full belly, I finished it in short order.
And then, it was on to dessert. (Now, remember earlier, how I was so full I thought I wouldn’t have room? I definitely didn’t. But that didn’t stop me from trying.) Lately I have been eyeing the rhubarb as it’s started to show up in the grocery stores, so when I saw it paired with strawberries and goat cheese gelato in the dessert choices, I had to have it. In case you weren’t paying attention, I just said goat cheese gelato. Wow. It was a giant plate of yummy.
Which I COULD NOT FINISH. Because I was TOO FULL.
Luckily, Julia was there, and after she finished her dessert, she took care of mine too.*** And by the way – she has a serious aversion to goat cheese. So she really took one for the team this time.
Lillet. It was very good, but more citrus-y than I like my desserts.
After we finished our dessert, the waiter came back – and not with the check! Instead, he was carrying two glasses of champagne, on the house, to help us celebrate five years together. Which, he declared, was a really, really long time in gay years, and therefore worthy of their best bubbles.
– The End –
(of the first five years)
Oh, wait! I almost forgot: once the meal was over, we headed to a theatre because Julia had some costume fittings to do for an upcoming show. It just so happened to be the very theatre whose lobby we’d met in five years prior. So, we had a chance to revisit the night we meant in a very literal sense, and Julia snuck in a card, some chocolate mousse truffle things (which I was still too full to eat) and a strawberry plant. Because a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I saw them outside the grocery store and almost bought them because I desperately want to grow berries and veggies, but didn’t because we only have a porch, not a yard, but then after that, the parents of the girl I nanny offered their yard up for anything I felt like growing… so it was really sweet.
Here are some really terrible cell phone camera pictures of us attempting to look cute in said theatre lobby:
*well, it would have been appropriate if I had actually written or posted this on that day. But I digress…
**yeah, so there was that whole thing where Julia dated another girl for two months while I pursued her relentlessly, but eventually she realized she felt the same way about me as I did about her, and that’s what really matters. [If you want the full story, ask and I will write a post about it for you.]
***Because that’s what married people do – take care of each other(‘s unfinished food.)
And held our simple, but lovely reception at RoPa Restaurant, where they served our guests a 3-course family-style meal, with plenty of wine to share… Fried Calamari, RoPa Salad, Chicken “Chops” with roasted potatoes, Baked Tilapia with roasted tomatoes and seasonal vegetables, Penne with artichokes, olives, and feta in a creamy tomato sauce
…and where we also ate this magnificent cake (made and accidentally squished by Cindy) Top tier: vanilla almond cake with fresh summer berries and pastry cream Middle tier: devil’s food cake with dark chocolate-espresso whipped cream Bottom tier: pumpkin cake with ginger buttercream
Then we got married again. Legally. In Boston. [July 19, 2010]
Naturally, we ate again!
This time, we chose to splurge on a little French restaurant, Bistro du Midi, where for the first time we ate somewhere where professional chefs and true “foodies” would love the food just as much as we did. We started out with a bottle of champagne (compliments of the restaurant – we did just get married, after all!), then had some appetizers of mussels, foie gras, and salad. After much deliberation on the choice of wine, we were finally on to our main courses…
Seared Duck Breast, Swiss Chard, Gnocchi, Black Olives
Grilled Rack of Lamb, Panisse Croquette, Green Olives and Fava Beans
And our friend Rosita had a Ribeye special with Cremini, Chantarelle, and Portobello Mushrooms
…and also some desserts, which we scarfed down so fast we completely failed to photograph them. Cindy had Rhubarb Rose Crumble with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and Julia had a Lemon Tart with Fresh Berries and Basil Ice Cream. Both were amazing. (Hence, the lack of pictures due to complete focus on eating.)
But this blog is just as much about our cooking adventures as our eating-out adventures. In fact, so far this year we have eaten out more rarely than ever before, since our tastes have made us much more discriminating. Plus, we love to cook, and have become pretty good at it, too.
So now that our wedding and mini-honeymoon are over, there are daily occasions to cook and eat great food.