Sometimes it's okay to forgo main courses, opting to snack through dinner instead. It is especially encouraged at restaurants like The Bristol, the newest addition to Bucktown's culinary landscape. On an impromptu visit, Dave and I nibbed our way through half of their organic, sustainable, and delicious menu of "snacks." Thankfully, the talented folks behind The Bristol had the intuition to avoid the overused term, "tapas," and even worse, "small plates." Those words alone have turned me off to what are probably very fine restaurants, with very fine food. But I swear to God, if I hear of one more small plates resto opening in this city...
Anyway, I appreciate the use of the term "snack," because that's exactly what these are: a few bites of something tasty that will leave you wanting more and won't allow you to stuff your gut sick. We shared several noshes, and everything was fantastic, but these few are the lovely thoughts running through my head this morning.
House smoked pork butt with celery root custard and shaved pears
In a truly sustainable effort, Chef Chris Pandel will be butchering his own animals and using as many parts as possible to reduce waste. He's curing and smoking his own meats, too. I was hoping for a charcuterie plate, but it's not on the current menu. Instead, we started with a plate of smokey, savory pork butt, shaved so thin that it fell apart in the tines of your fork. A couple of varieties of pears were sliced as delicately, and provided great sweetness and moisture. Shards of crisp radishes added bite. A bed of celery root custard was cool, creamy, and much more subtle than I could have imagined. Together, it was delicious.
Corn on the Cob, Taco Stand Style
Dave pushed for this one, and I'm glad he did, because in September, every time I eat corn on the cob could be the last time, until next season. A succulent ear of corn was basted with butter, tangy lime juice, salt, and ancho chili powder. It was cut into five pieces and arranged beautifully in a deep bowl. A small puddle of limey butter accrued at the bottom, which I happily used recoat my veg.
Roasted Beets with Frisee
One seasonal plate was comprised of smoked salmon (not my favorite), beer cheese (never again, even though the server assured me it was not stinky), homemade saltine crackers (just not exciting), and roasted beets. Dave's a sucker for beets, so our wonderful waiter obliged him a huge mound of them. They were the best beets I've ever had, a combination of goldens and reds, cut smaller than playing dice and cooked to fork-tender. They were perfectly seasoned to taste just like themselves, only better. We gobbled them up.
Chocolate Sabayon with Homemade Nutter Butters
I say Sabayon, you say Zabaglione. I don't care what you call it. If it's rich egg yolks and fine sugar whipped over a double boiler until it's pale and creamy and your arm is about to fall off, it's delicious. Sabayon is truly a labor of love, as the maker stands for twenty to thirty minutes over a bowl of simmering water, manically whisking all the while to prevent the delicate eggs from scrambling. The Bristol served it cold, like custard, with a spot of olive oil and a few fat granules of salt sprinkled on top. Along side were two sizable peanut butter sandwich cookies studded with chunks of nuts, and stuck together with more peanut butter. They were crisp on the outside and softer in the middle. Dave thought they tasted exactly like his mother's recipe, which I need to get.
The Bristol has a really unique cocktail list, and many of the ingredients, including ginger beer and bitters, are made by hand. I had a very nice Dark and Stormy, and Dave tried something with Pear and Elderberry that was pure nectar. It's casual neighborhood setting and long list of snacks make this a perfect spot to grab a little something; happy hour drinks, pre-evening nibbles, dessert and wine. The kitchen stays hot until 1:00 am on the weekends, too. It's rare for food of this caliber to be available at that hour, and I predict that The Bristol will very soon be known as Chicago's Blue Ribbon.