The Blanchard

1935 N Lincoln Park W. Chicago, IL 60614(872) 829-3971theblanchardchicago.com

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The chef comes from very good pedigree having worked at some of New York’s finest such as The Four Season (RIP), Le Bernadin and the Gotham Bar & Grill. But now he’s making a name for himself in Chi-town, serving up French cuisine with a twist. And some truffles. And foie gras. And sweetbreads.

Starting with the foie gras, this guy obvious loves it (either that or he hates geese), serving so many dishes with it he ran out of names for them and just starting using numbers. For example “Seared Foie Gras #1” and “Seared Foie Gras #2,” of which I had the latter, crusted with black truffles, candied lavender and in a Madiera sauce. And while it sounds transcendent, it was really nothing memorable, especially when compared to the much less sexy sounding foie gras hot dog, which is doggone delectable. Topped with foie gras mustard, coz why not? Onion confit and served on a brioche roll.

Of the rest of the starters the only other one I would recommend would be the scallops, so don’t fall for your waiter’s swooning praise of the Oueff Outhier. The presentation is certainly nice, basically scrambled eggs put back in the shell with vodka infused crème fraiche and caviar on top. It’s good, but the scrambled eggs at Gato in New York and Bar LaGrassa in Minneapolis both trounce the shell out of this dish.

But the most disappointing of all the starters was the sweetbreads with chicken mousse, artichoke puree and bacon fat. Surprisingly bland for something so artery clogging.

The entrée course faired much better with all three being good. Granted I found the filet of sole to be insanely overpriced. It’s sole people. Not soul. But the dish worthy of the most adoration was the rack of lamb, served with a ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato and eggplant caviar all nestled in a natural reduction. So good Shaun the Sheep would wolf it down.

But as the evening went on, things just kept getting better and better, either that or I was getting drunker and drunker. Or perhaps it was something in between. Well, whatever the reason, dessert was the icing on the cake, delivering three winners in the form of a pineapple galette with passion fruit pastry cream, frangipane (almond paste) and a crème fraiche gelato. This was followed by a crepe gateau with Grand Marnier cream and hot fudge. And the cherry on top was an Ultimate crème brulee, of which I am normally not even a huge fan. But I scarfed that thing down like it was the only thing I had eaten in weeks.

Service is very good, other then the oversell on the eggs. And the décor is very nice. Striking that balance between warm and contemporary quite skillfully. And thus rounding things out for a fantastic four.

4 teeth

Mari Vanna

41 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 777-1955marivanna.ru/ny

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The name alone brings a smile to my face because it sounds a lot like marijuana. The other smile inducer is the décor, dressed like a movie set plucked right out of the 1920’s in post World War I Russia. From the chairs to the plates to the distressed walls and the copper kettle sink in the bathroom, you feel as if you’ve actually just done the Time Warp again.

It’s just a jump to the left. And then a step to the right. Sorry. Getting very sidetracked in a Rocky Horror kinda way. So back on topic, the décor somehow comes off authentic and not as gimmick, partly because it’s very well done and partly because the employees are actually Russian and I want to believe they wouldn’t dare work at a place that turned their culture into a caricature.

The food is also pretty authentic, for better or for worse, because it’s not exactly the most decadent cuisine, most dishes being born out of a need to pack on the pounds to keep warm, or out of poverty-stricken means to survive. This is excluding the caviar, of course.

Starting with the bread, it is served with a customary beet and green onion, along with coarse sea salt, which you are supposed to drag the root veggies through before eating. I took a pass and opted for the bread, because if it’s one thing Russians do well, it’s pain (2 points for the double entendre).

For starters we went with another classic, the Olivier Salad, made with roasted vegetables, bologna and mayonnaise. It was just okay, tasting more or less like potato salad, to be honest. This was then followed by the pickled herring, which was also a bit underwhelming, to be honest. I’ve had much better at some of the Kosher Delis in the city, not to mention the Romanian ones.

But the best starter- no, the best dish in totality, was by far the Borsh. So rich and hearty, the beets were like meat, and the broth like the sweet blood of Sookie Stackhouse. In other words, it’s most definitely an Ultimate.

On the other end of the spectrum, the most disappointing dish of all was the much touted Stroganoff, only offered as chicken instead of beef, which made the dish horribly bland, the chicken, rice and sauce all tasting like shades of the same. Not sure what the Yelpers are thinking on this one, but this strogan was off. So off, in fact, that I actually preferred the meat stuffed dumplings with sour cream. Nothing spectacular, but they reminded me a little bit of the Turkish dish manti, granted they are probably closer to a perogie than anything, in a good way.

The tally is mixed on this one, as you can see, but I’m leaning to the low side because of the slow service and a waiter who swooned about everything on the menu as if it were made with gold. I hate that.

2 teeth

 

Mint Premium Foods

19 Main St. Tarrytown, NY 10591 • (914) 703-6511

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I’ve always loved this place ever since it was on the other side of the street and just a specialty shop, so when I heard they picked up sticks and crossed the street to open a restaurant I was all “yoinks!”

And when I saw what they had done with the place, “ooo la la!” Not in a fancy shmancy way though. More like an authentic quaint shop you might expect to find in Provence.

Now I know some people complain about the price/portion size ratio but I have to say, the Truffle Eggs Benny was anything but small. Pricey, perhaps. But let’s be fair, it’s covered in lox and caviar. If you want to stay under 10 bucks go grab an Egg McMuffin. So where was I? Oh yes, the salmon and the caviar over potatoes and English muffin with the headliners, of course, poached eggs and Hollandaise. It sounded like the stuff foodgasms are made of, and I typically loves me the caviar and eggs thing, but for some reason this didn’t meet expectations. Somehow the truffles brought out too much of the fishiness and saltiness of the caviar. The English muffins, which looked like Thomas’, were overpowered- should’ve used a more substantial, homemade muffin or bread. The potatoes needed more seasoning, because they disappeared into the sauce. And the H-sauce could’ve stood for some more kick to cut through. But this is all getting very nitpicky. It’s still good, it just doesn’t hold up to the raves. There is similar version at Joseph Leonard using crème fraiche as opposed to H-sauce and it blows this away. Or as they say in France… coups il loin. I have zero idea if that’s an accurate translation or not. But if not, blame Google.

So, when all is said and done, I still feel compelled to give Mint 3 knives, regardless of the over-hyped Benny, because truly love the market side of things. So many great cheeses and cured meats, and olives and artisanal jarred goodies that it’s enough to carry them over line of three-dom.

3 teeth

 

The Ultimate Deviled Eggs

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The Libertine – Indianapolis

The deviled egg is peculiar dish, primarily because it seldom lives up to the intent of its name, which is to be hot-as-hell-spicy. But usually it’s packed with more “flavor” spice than “hot” spice, and thus the “devil” really only comes through in the form of “devilishly good.” And while it saddens me as a heat seeker, I am getting over it with the help of The Libertine.

Their eggs are not only incredible and edible, but they lie somewhere between heavenlish and devily. Made so with their wonderful balance of creamy blended yolk topped with jewels of savoriness. Jewels like caviar of sturgeon, salmon roe and whitefish salad. Each one more delightful than the next. And now that eggs aren’t the cholesterol bomb once feared (according to recent studies), you can feel free to order seconds with reckless abandon.

The Libertine

38 E Washington St. Indianapolis, IN 46204(317) 631-3333libertineindy.com
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Ya gotta love low expectations. They never cease to amaze. Sure, call my skepticism snobbery, I’ll admit it. But c’mon, it’s Indianapolis. It’s not exactly runneth over with culinary cred. However, cred is definitely something Libertine doeth haveth.

From the moment you set foot in the bar-ish restaurant, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Or Indianapolis. Same diff. A bit on the narrow side, but made up for in spades with healthy does of cool. Feels like a mod version of something out of Sweeney Todd, granted that could’ve been partly due to our server’s attire.

Speaking of service, that was one of my major nits. First, she missed placing not one, but two different orders and then, to make matters worse, she brought a dish that we didn’t even ask for. Which would’ve been fine if it were awesome, but sadly it failed on my other major nit- too many over-cooked dishes. Three to be precise: the burger (which we didn’t order), the brisket and the parpadelle. The flavors in all, however, where very nice, they just need to learn when to take it off the heat.

Wait a second. This review isn’t going as intended. I actually loved this place. So, as Chris Martin would say, go back to the start, with the cocktail… The Rose Anonymous. Well, Rose is about to get famous, because it deserves nothing but accolades and exclamation points. Made with 4 Roses Bourbon, rosemary, lemon and ginger beer. It’s drinks like these that make cabs a necessity.

Then, right on the heels of my cocktail came the trio of bacon- pork, jowl and lamb. Accompanied with harissa, sweet apple and cherry mustard. Definitive proof that three is a magic number.

Keeping pace, were the heavenly deviled eggs. Groan away, but just make sure you get them, because they are ultimate worthy. Topped with whitefish and two types of caviar. Which equals three types of awesome.

And like the Beatles, the hits just keep coming. The lamb ribs were so moist a saucy it was ridic! If my tongue could marry these ribs I would be happy attend that wedding.

Even the Scotch egg was mighty fine. Done with a slightly thicker crust than usual, but it held up nonetheless. Crispy on the outside, gooey and yolky on the innards. And yummy-ass-yummy all over.

On the mortal side, the bok choy was also very good. Refreshing amidst the see of decadence on the table, with it’s bright hit of vinegar.

The mussels were also good, but compared to the waves of bliss before them, it was hard to get out of my chair for yet another standing ovation.

And naturally there were a few misses as well. The toast with chorizo is a big blah. And both desserts (there were only two options) were very unsatisfying. A beer, not of the root variety, float and a shortcake with blueberry compote. Both were so lacking that it both literally and figuratively left a bad taste in my mouth after such an awesome meal. A crime almost punishable by three knives- but considering how many hits there were, I’m squeaking out four… but barely.

4 teeth

The Ultimate Risotto

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Risotto is like the caviar of pasta. And yes, I’m aware that it’s actually rice, but it tastes more like pasta and this is my blog, so drop it. Now as I was saying, it’s awesome. So rich and creamy and artery clogging- and easy to fuck up. I have had more poorly cooked risotto dishes in restaurants than any other dish in existence. At restaurants all up and down the hoity-toity scale. And it saddens me that one of the best places to ever make it in the world is no longer open for business. Fraiché in Los Angeles (RIP). Fortunately, the other one is.

L’Affable – Cannes, FR

Now they don’t always have it on the menu, but if they do, order it. I don’t care what’s in it, just order it. Even if you’re allergic to it. Pop a pill or get 911 ready to go on speed dial. It’ll be worth it. Not just because it is cooked masterfully, but because the chef pulls a richness out of it that is incomparable to anything you’ve ever had, regardless of what’s in it. It could be a simple asparagus risotto and I swear you’ll find it every bit as substantial as pork belly or short ribs. Part of his secret is the beef stock he uses. The other secret is that he’s a really phenomenal chef. So next time you’re in Cannes, down on your luck because you didn’t win anything at the award show, order a bowl of his risotto and you’ll forget all about those silly trophies.

The Ultimate Caviar

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Momofuku Ko – New York, NY

Once upon a time this would’ve been a two-way tie with Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA (RIP), but since it has closed its doors Momofuku Ko is the last man standing.

So, how do you take something like caviar and make it the caviar of caviar? Well, like Cyrus, Momofuku has figured out two very important pairings. The first is a brother from another mother, a chicken egg. In this case, soft boiled. There is something about the egg to egg combo that takes fish roe to the highest plains of Nirvana imaginable.

The other key is warm, fresh baked bread. But Ko forgoes the blini in favor of a homemade sourdough, which they serve with their very own transcendent radish butter. And once the coupled eggs sit atop this bread and butter dais, prepare to see the back of your skull, because your eyes are about to roll over in ecstasy.

Momofuku Ko

163 1st Ave. New York, NY 10003 (212) 500-0831momofuku.com

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If I could give it 6 knives I would (which I suppose I can, it’s my blog after all, but that would require I go back into photoshop, add more categories- it’s a process). And I would give it this rating mostly because the level of difficulty was so high, having to live up to such massive hype and ballooned expectations. So, for it to not disappoint is a feat in itself.

This is not to say that Ko is flawless by any stretch, but it’s faults are simply overshadowed by its screaming successes. For example one nit would be the décor, or the lack thereof. It is as basic as basic gets. A lot like Pearl Oyster bar back in the day, before they expanded. Primarily a wood bar with twelve uncomfortable stools. But to be fair, it’s also part of its theme, and charm. It’s the lack of expensive real estate and lavish decor that allows them to offer a world-class meal at $100 per person.

The other nit, was the service. While they are extremely friendly and helpful, the first time I went they were a touch too aggressive with plate removal and a bit overwhelming at times with the delivery of courses. Sometimes placing  4 and 5 at a time in front of you. Which, if you become aware of it, and I was, detracts from the experience. Fortunately upon my second visit they must’ve gotten the message from my Yelp review (kidding!) and were significantly better about it.

But with nits aside, it is definitely an experience worth every last penny. And one I will HAPPILY return for (and did), regardless of their minor transgressions.

Now for the things that rocked my world. Of the dozen or so courses between both outings, these are the ones that reached god-like status (many of which are Ultimates):

  1. The Cajun inspired crawfish soup with orange and brioche
  2. The soft boiled egg with caviar served along side fresh baked sourdough and radish butter (also Ultimate bread & butter)
  3. The agnolotti with tofu and sweet corn (Ultimate tofu dish)
  4. The honeydew melon cold soup with avocado and macadamia nuts (Ultimate cold soup)
  5. The shitake mushroom soup amuse bouche
  6. The Halibut with ??? – sorry, I was tad inebriated on sparkling Saki by this point

So, that’s it. Stop reading and start clicking away online to get a reservation. It’s a pain in the ass trying, but your mouth will kiss you for it.

5 teeth