Three New Restaurants- Trencherman, Untitled, Pelago (2012)
I've had the pleasure of dining at three new restaurants over the last 10 days. I'm excited I get to combine these three experiences into one review because each establishment was completely unique and stands out so vividly.
Trencherman in Wicker Park (2039 W. North Ave) just opened its doors in the space that used to be Spring... and formerly a Turkish bath house. The decor is striking. For those of you who remember Spring, prepare to be shocked at the complete 180. The large open room is reminiscent of an upscale saloon with rich browns and woods and buttery leather booths. I got to meet both exec chefs... The Sheerin brothers. Michael and Patrick (of Blackbird and The Signature Room prestige, respectively) were delightful, funny, and incredibly helpful while walking us through their creations. The beverage and food menus are not extensive yet very potent and aggressive. My first selection was a drink appropriately called "El Viaje" (The Trip) as it was a delicious blend of Mezcal, pineapple, and Absinthe (my fave).
We moved right down the menu and selected some of the most interesting looking dishes. First, the Scallops- with avgolemono (egg lemon) sauce and asparagus seeds. Enticing indeed. The scallops were cooked perfectly and the Greek touch of the avgolemono was a pleasant surprise. I've never had an asparagus seed before. They look like peas but are bit more hardy with a very bitter taste. Overall a great dish. Next, the Bacon Cured Sweetbreads. Fantastic. Another first for me as I've tried to put off trying sweetbreads as I didn't think cow glands were my thing...but apparently, they are! The sweetbreads were tender and incredibly smokey and the XO sauce gave it a sweet kick that finished it off nicely. One entree which I thought to be too ambitious was the Black Olive and Sesame Crusted Sea Trout served with hummus and roasted beets. I was really hoping for a heavy Mediterranean flavor but the olive crust didn't really deliver what I was hoping. The hummus was great but the trout was a tad fishy. This dish could use some tweaking. The Braised Pork Belly did not disappoint, however. Drizzled with coconut, vanilla, plums, and sorghum- the perfectly crusted pork belly seemed to adopt the flavor of bubble gum which we found out from the chefs was intentional. Sounds weird... tastes amazing. Overall, incredible drinks and a delicious meal.
Untitled is cool as hell. Look closely for a black double door at 111 W. Kinzie, because it's hard to find. This massive 18,000 sf underground venue on one level tries to bring us back to the speakeasy/prohibition era. Decor and lighting are rustic yet beautiful. They boast several themed rooms such as "The Whiskey Room" which has the country's largest collection of American Whiskey, a martini room, and a live entertainment room with a supper club and a huge stage. The menu was supposed to be a modern take on some throw-back prohibition era dishes. I don't quite see that as I can't quite picture flappers in the roaring 20's dining on Pork Belly Confit with Rhubarb Mostarda...but hey, it's a cool shtick. Regardless, the menu is unique and varied. Some of my favorite items which killed it are the Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad with cured Virginia ham and Goat cheese, the Grit Cakes with tomato jam, the Pork Belly Confit, and the Short Rib and Scallop with herb bread pudding.
The absolute standout is the Crispy Squash Blossoms with truffle honey, farmer's cheese, piperade puree. They're lightly breaded and fried and the cheese and corn mixture oozes when you cut into it, and when mixed with the truffle honey... it's like heaven on a plate. Overall it's a small plate menu with a few main courses. The Bison burger with house-made giardinara, tomato marmalade, arugula, and goat cheese was incredibly complex and literally melts in your mouth. This is a great place for a night out with the girls (or boys) or a great place to take a date. They have live music nightly and the amped up energy will make you want to come back again and again.
Pelago is not a brand new restaurant (just over 2 years old) but it's getting a resurgence from all of the heightened activity at the now hot-spot Raffaello Hotel (Drum Bar). It's a small space with only 60 seats inside, but it's gorgeous. The proprietors are a husband-wife duo, Mauro Mafrici (executive chef) and Kimberly Mafrici (interior designer). The service was friendly and attentive, and after some crisp rose champagne, the menu was upon us. Mauro has Northern and Southern Italian roots and his menu reflects as such. He has a very inventive approach to some of the traditional classics. The Polipo alla Griglia con Capponata alla Siciliana (grilled octopus) had a delicious flavor but was slightly undercooked (I had to try it though because it's Sicilian...gotta represent). The restaurant redeemed itself by presenting the most tantalizing array of pastas I've had...maybe ever. The Ravioli di Vitello in Salsa al Pistacchio(veal stuffed ravioli with pistachio cream sauce) was the most exciting dish i've had in a while. The pistachio was understated and the pasta was cooked perfectly 'al dente' and the veal mixture was light and perfectly seasoned. All topped off with a very high quality nutty parmesan. Complimenting it perfectly was the Fettucini with a truffle cream sauce (a special) , and the Maccheroncini al Ragu`D`Agnello (tube shaped pasta with hearty lamb ragu).
For the main course we tried the Coniglio al Forno Con Patate, Tomato e Salvia (roasted rabbit with vegetables and sage). I was ridiculously excited for this dish, yet unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to my expectations. The rabbit was cooked nicely as were the veggies, however the heavy use of sage and rosemary overwhelmed the dish. A warning: This restaurant is VERY pricey. Overall, it was an engaging dining experience that takes you on a delectable tour of Italy...and if you're in the mood for a very expensive tour of Italy...then this restaurant is for you.
I hope my next 10 days prove to be as much of a culinary adventure as my last 10 days... if so, you know I won't be able to shut up about it. Stay tuned!