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

Sienna Mercato

942 Penn Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 281-2810 siennapgh.com

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This place has got a lot of balls. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. But in all fairness, it is true. Three floors of them. Meat balls. Turkey balls. Veggie balls. Risotto balls. Even pecan balls for dessert. All served up in a create-your-adventure style menu broken down by ball, sauce, Panini, hero or just plain ole saucy balls. They have other stuff too, but balls are easily 90% of the menu.

So, being that I was meated out from hedonistic culinary pursuits in the days prior, I decided to go with the veggie balls on a Panini with smoked mozzarella and arribiata sauce. And like the knight says toward the end of The Last Crusade, “he chose…poorly.” Which I did. Very lack-luster at best. But I’m not about to throw Sienna under the bus, after all, I was master of my own domain (not the Seinfeld version).

On the flip side, I made up for it with the pecan balls which are essentially three very large balls of Turkey Hill vanilla ice cream rolled in chopped pecans and places on a bed of hot fudge. Crazy friggin’ simple and really friggin’ good. Granted I’m not so sure the ice cream itself was so good that it needed a special credit on the menu. I’ve had far better from the supermarket, like Steve’s of Brooklyn for example, which blows the feathers off Turkey Hill.

For cocktails, they do a solid Manhattan, albeit a touch on the sweet side (I know what you’re thinking, ice cream and Manhattans? This is how you cut back on the gluttony?). And speaking of sweet, the servers are all very warm and friendly, taking great pride in the bevy of balls they bestow.

2 teeth