Thursday, October 30, 2014

Road Trip: Grace-- Chicago

I am going to write about this dinner, because I need to purge it from my mind, but I am not going to go into tons of detail about it, as I usually do because, well, I just don’t have the energy for it.

Chef Curtis Duffy is an extremely celebrated chef in Chicago—he worked under Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz at Trio and Alinea and has been awarded two Michelin stars at both Avenues, and his current location, Grace. Hubby and I had eaten at Avenues and not really dug it, but thought it was maybe too close to when they ended up closing. Well, as it turns out, we just don’t really care for his food. And seemingly we’re the only ones. But when you spend several hundred dollars on dinner and a wine pairing and for the second time you leave the place fairly nonplussed, we have decided we’re breaking up with Chef Duffy for good.

It’s a 9-course prix fixe menu. The meal started with several little amuse items in a log. One of them was a bruleed banana which would have tasted great for dessert, but kind of killed your taste for the other things in the log. The next course, which really annoyed hubby, was a little jar filled with bits of cod, caviar, lychee and chive. They put it in a jar in the style of yogurt (why, I’m not sure) but when you opened it smoke came out. Hubby inhaled a bunch of it and it was very strong smelling. Food-wise, it wasn’t overly flavorful, which seemed to be something that carried throughout the seafood courses. They were beautiful, like the Alaskan king crab dish (that was just like one we had at Avenues) with the sugar disc that you cracked into to get to the crab below and the tai (a sea bream) with plum and chanterelles. Pretty but lacking.

The first non-seafood dish we had was probably the best of the savory courses. There was a little piece of amazingly tender and perfectly medium rare lamb with some artichoke in various forms—my favorite being the long crunchy piece of artichoke that was crispy. This one had a lot of interesting sauces and various textures. I was excited about the sweetbread course that came next, but again, it ended up kind of bland—there was a lot of crunchy grains mixed in that made the dish a little strange in texture and took away from the creaminess of the sweetbread.

The beef that came next was interesting—the pieces of beef themselves were very nice. Some raw, some roasted and I liked the crispy rice cracker type thing. The slightly sweet peanuts were good as well. There was a lemongrass flavored broth to sip alongside. It had an interesting taste, but it was just too much going on. And the sauce on the plate didn’t really do anything for me.
There were several desserts that were probably the best 3 courses in a row of the meal but still didn’t blow my mind. There was a green chartreuse course, which was a frozen herby liqueur with blueberry, ginger and mint, a peach course with almond and lemon verbena and then a final chocolate course with huckleberry and whisky. They were pretty, but again, don’t stick out a lot. There were truffles as well and honestly my favorite thing, a spicy chocolate bar that they sent us home with.

The tour of the immaculate clean and quiet kitchen after dinner was a nice touch and reminded me of Charlie Trotter, where they also gave tours.

I don’t know, I guess this chef’s style is lost on me. I have friends who rank this place very high on their “best meals” list. Honestly, I’d rather hit Bluebeard on a good night and spend a small fraction of the money.

652 West Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60661
Grace by Curtis Duffy on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 27, 2014

The North End - Revisit

This is another revisit that I feel I need to update after going back after my first post. My son and I were both excited to try the chicken at the North End again because it was just so darn good that first time. We were with my in-laws too, so we got to try a few new things as well.

We had the salmon dip starter ($8) again, which we really enjoyed the first time. For some reason, I wasn’t feeling it as much this time—I realized later it was because I didn’t have the lemon wedges to squeeze on top that I had pilfered from the oysters last time. I would potentially get this again, but it needs the lemon to jazz it up. The thick cut house potato chips are great though—super crisp and well seasoned.

We also tried the pimento cheese spread with Johnnycakes and green tomato chow chow ($7). The portions for these starters are generous. The cheese spread was a big hit with my kids as were the Johnnycakes. Unfortunately, there aren’t really enough Johnnycakes to go along with the cheese. We used some of the potato chips when we ran out. The cheese spread is pretty mild, even borderline bland, but the Johnnycakes were tender and I appreciated the little bit of acid from the tomatoes. Again, this was a dish my kids really liked.

So I was psyched for ordering my perfect combo based on figuring out what I thought were the best things. I got the half chicken with two sides ($15). I had the fries and the mac and cheese. Sadly, the chicken really let me down this time. It was very dry and had none of that amazing juiciness that it had the first time. I guess it’s just a matter of luck and hopefully this time was the aberration rather than the first time. Luckily they give you all those different BBQ sauces to try with it. I decided after trying them all again that my favorite is the “classic” because it has a nice kick of vinegar to it, but still has the thickness of a good sauce (but not so thick that it’s gloppy). The mac and cheese was consistent with the first time—it’s good and I like the addition of the rib jam to jazz it up a bit. Nothing that knocks your socks off, but solid mac. I love the fries—they are hand cut fries and are coated in smoked bone marrow butter and topped with some sliced jalapenos. And even though they are coated in butter, they somehow stay sort of firm. The bone marrow flavor gives them an extra richness. I would say top to bottom, these fries are one of the best things on the menu.

A couple of us got the cornbread as well—it is also a favorite with my kids. It has a big hunk of maple Bourbon butter on top adding to its sweetness. Again, I like it for dessert. 

So there you go, I think the sides have stayed fairly consistent and I feel like I know which ones to order. I’m sad that the chicken was disappointing (my daughter had the sliced turkey, which she also described as dry). I didn’t love the pulled pork the first time so I am not sure whether I will be motivated to go back when I don’t feel confident that I can find meat that I will really like.

The North End
1250 E. 86th Street
Indy  46240

Thursday, October 23, 2014

96th Street Steakburgers - Revisit

96th Street Steakburgers is a quick place that our whole family can agree on. It’s borderline fast food, but about as close as I get on a semi-regular basis. They do cook the food to order and even the French fries are fresh.

I haven’t written about it in a few years (holy moly does time fly) and since it is a fairly regular spot for us, I figured I’d do a quick revisit. The burgers are tasty—my favorite part being the special sauce they use. It’s got a little bit of tanginess to it and gives some extra depth to the burger. I get mine with cheese pickles and the sauce—hubby usually adds lettuce and grilled onions. Both options are tasty. It’s a fairly thin burger, and they cook them all the same, but the maintain a fairly juicy inside and have some crispy edges. The burgers are around $4 for a single and around $6 if you make it a combo with a drink and fries.

Like I said, the fries are freshly cut and cooked—they can vary slightly in how crispy they are, but they have a good flavor. I love it when they’re really crisp, and the last couple of times they have been. Sometimes they can be a bit greasy though. The portions are generous with the fries (our family of four usually splits two orders). My daughter loves the milkshakes (around $3) and usually gets the chocolate. 

Anyhow, it’s a good place to get a quick bite at what is basically an independently owned fast food joint. You don’t see too many of those.  The service (counter service) can be a little gruff at times, but they’re quite fast. The place never seems very crowded though. Whenever I go I wonder how they maintain such a big place on the amount of business they have.

What do you guys think of it?

96th Street Steakburgers
4715 East 96th Street
Indy  46240

Monday, October 20, 2014


Of course I have been anxious to try Milktooth and as soon as I asked my friend Suzanne if she’d meet me, she said yes yes yes! She had been to both the preview brunches at Recess and really enjoyed them. I had been trying to wait my obligatory couple of weeks, but could barely stand it.

First of all, this place is pretty darn adorable. Very shabby chic—lots of reclaimed and vintage pieces throughout, mismatched china, etc. I thought the chairs at our table looked familiar and then was told they were from the library at IU Bloomington. I probably sat in those same chairs! Even the tables were made by the chef himself from reclaimed wood. I also liked that although cute, the chairs were comfy. Also, hallelujah for a parking lot. It may not hold all the cars when the place is full, but it holds a lot of them I’m guessing. Food-wise, they’re sourcing much of the ingredients from local purveyors.

It’s a brunch place so naturally, there are eggs everywhere and I was completely overwhelmed with deciding what to order. It all sounded good. We ended up settling on the sweet tea fried chicken and biscuit ($14) from the “Classic” side of the menu and the Chilaquiles roja ($14) from the “Divergent” side of the menu. Of course we needed to try something from the “Adjacent” section as well and chose the latkes ($5).

Ok, this place lives up to the hype (and there has been a fair amount). Everything was good. Really good. If I had to choose a favorite, it was probably the fried chicken. So, here’s the set up: really good, chunky, chorizo gravy on the bottom of the bowl topped with a freshly made biscuit, several pieces of the fried chicken (my piece was a boneless thigh) and a perfectly beautiful sunny side up egg. The egg was seasoned well and the flavor of the chicken was so, so good. Rarely do I eat an egg and not want to season it a little. This needed nothing. The spices in the chicken were my favorite part and I wanted to dole out a little bit with every single bite. The biscuit was buttery and somewhat dense and the gravy gave it just the right moisture. It was all perfect together.

We also had the chilaquiles, which were made up of hunks of lamb carnitas and collard greens. Normally when I have had chilaquiles in the past, crispy tortillas were part of the dish, and this was more of a saucy meat base, but quite good. I liked the slight bitterness from the collards mixed in and when you got just the right bite with the meat, some egg (another perfect sunny side up egg), a little of the guac and sour cream on the side and a few of those julienned (very lightly pickled perhaps?) radishes, it was a wonderful bite. I only wished for a bit more of the sour cream to go around with every bite. It was the kind of dish that could be very spicy, but this wasn’t. It had good spice flavors, but not in the hot kind of way.

The giant potato latke was fantastic. It was super crisp on the edges, but not in the least bit burned. It had a wonderful buttery taste to the potatoes and the drizzles of harissa ketchup and aioli were perfect. A little spicy kick to a familiar ketchup flavor and a little bit of tanginess from the aioli.

I am amazed at the amount of staff working here—they have got baristas making their special coffees (my macchiato was delicious although I did sorta want two sugar cubes vs. the one they brought me when I asked for sugar) and there was one person who looked like he spent most of the time pressing fresh OJ. We sat near the bar where you could watch every dish come out of the busy open kitchen and wish you had ordered that too. The place is lovely to look at and so is the food. And the flavors measure up to the presentation. I can see some people potentially complaining about the portion sizes being small though, although I found them just fine. I found the “modifications are politely declined” wording on the menu fine as well, but am a person who is happy to eat a dish the way the chef wants to prepare it. Others might be less so, but go in knowing this is not your average “2 eggs any style/choice of meat/choice of bread” kind of diner. Put yourself in their hands though, and I think you’ll be happy. I certainly was.

Milktooth is a great addition to Indy’s food scene. And how badly did we need a great brunch spot (and there’s booze too)? I hope maybe they add a night or two of service because I’d be happy having dinner here as well. 

I am anxious to hear what people think about this place and how your experiences have been (and what you ate!), so leave me a comment and let me know.

540 Virginia Ave
Indy  46203
Milktooth on Urbanspoon