You Better Belize It!

By: Hilary

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Hilary in Belize

If you’re wondering why it’s been a while since we have posted anything, it’s because we’ve both been bitten by the travel bug! Last week, my boyfriend and I went on the Royal Caribbean Independence of the Seas cruise to Belize and Mexico. What a great getaway from the frigid winter temps in Chicago! Belize was definitely the highlight of the trip. We decided to do a snorkeling excursion through Coral Breeze Adventure Tours and it was so fun!

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Waiting to begin our snorkel adventure!

First, we snorkeled along a reef and saw coral and several different kinds of fish. Then, we were taken to Shark/Ray Alley where we snorkeled with nurse sharks and rays! What a unique experience!

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Snorkeling with sharks

After, we were taken to Caye Caulker where we ate lunch at Fantasy Dining.

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Our view during lunch

It was right near the water with a picturesque view and some delicious food.

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Jerk Chicken

I had the Jerk Chicken with steamed vegetables and beans & rice. The chicken was SO spicy but very, very flavorful. Even Faisal said it was spicy, and that means something! I loved it. I can usually handle some spice but not TOO much. This was probably the max amount of spice I can handle but still appreciate the flavor. I scarfed it down but needed the rice and beans to turn the heat down just a bit.

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Lobster Ceviche

Faisal ordered the seasonal ceviche, which was lobster ceviche. It was so fresh and light. The citrus made it very refreshing…perfect after being out on the water all day. We loved it!

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Our time in Belize was short but very beautiful and fun! We hope to return one day when we can really explore and experience the culture.

Flavors from Around the World

Hilary: The new chef was Stephen Gillanders and it was Intro’s first time having an a la carte menu rather than the tasting menu. They had a lot of things on the menu that we were used to so I knew Ashley would be excited. I wouldn’t have to force her to try any more foie gras or raw proteins! Haha

Ashley: I was pretty excited for this menu because it looked so good but I also had trouble choosing just a couple things, so I missed the tasting menu because of that.

Hilary: Something we both noticed is that they finally changed the table settings! They had new placemats, flatware, and dishes. I really loved the new touch. It seemed a little dimmer in the restaurant and the settings were focused around metallics and dark neutrals. Much better than what they had going on before, in my opinion. The only downside was less light for my photos. We were seated at a different table this time and I got to lounge on this super comfortable brown leather couch during the meal. It was very nice!

Little Cornbread

Cornmeal Madeleines

Ashley: We started off the meal with these little cornbreads (Madeleines, made with cornmeal, butter and olive-oil spread). I’m not normally a fan of cornbread because it’s a little sweet for my taste but these were delicious. They weren’t too sweet and they just a hint of spice. The butter added a great flavor to the sweetness of the corn bread.

Hilary: I was in love with these. They were salty and a touch sweet from the corn, with the tiniest kick at the end. An awesome start!

 

 

 

 

 

Dirty Martini & Autumn Bellini

Dirty Martini & Autumn Bellini

I ordered a dirty martini this time rather than something on the cocktail menu because I was really craving one. I am so glad I did! The olives in my martini were soft and not too salty (which is my main problem with a lot of green olives). They even offered me olives stuffed with blue cheese. It was wonderful.

Ashley: I was looking at the menu online with a co-worker and the Autumn Bellini (apple, calvados, sparkling wine) stood out to me, so I knew I had to get it. It was pretty good. Tasted like “adult” apple juice. It was pretty sweet though, so I could only have one and switched to wine after that.

 

 

 

 

Wilted Kale Salad

Wilted Kale Salad

Our first dish was the Wilted Kale Salad (roasted pepitas, jalapeño, cotija). The kale was shredded, which I liked, because I thought it made it easier to eat. It tasted a little citrusy but not too bad…it actually made it taste really fresh. The cotija wasn’t too strong but I could still taste it just enough. I loved the roasted pepitas. It was like sunflower seeds in my salad, which I love to get. The jalapeño added a nice little kick. This was a very light and refreshing salad.

Hilary: The kale salad had a salty, creamy dressing on it. The toasted pepitas really brought out a nutty flavor while the jalapeño provided a crisp bite. There was a nice amount of limey acidity and salty cheese. The kale was in tiny shreds so it was easy to eat. Very enjoyable!

Potato & Leek Soup

Potato & Leek Soup

Next we had the Potato & Leek Soup (black truffle croquettes, cheddar). The soup was so rich and creamy with tiny, tender bites of potato. There was a truffle croquette on the side. The truffle flavor was subtle and there was lots of cheese in it. I was surprised how good it was. There wasn’t a ton of breading, just lightly fried.

Ashley: This was so good! I could really tasted the cheese in this soup…and I loved it. The bits of potato were perfectly tender and it had the perfect amount of salt. I could definitely taste the leek as well, it gave a slight hint of onion flavor. The truffle croquette was nice and crunchy. I really enjoyed this soup.

Black Truffle Salmon

Black Truffle Salmon

Hilary: Our first main dish was the Black Truffle Salmon (cauliflower variations). The salmon was cooked well but it was served with a very thick layer of black truffle mixture on top. I’m not sure what all was in it but it was crispy like tempura flakes and very salty. If there had been a little less of this on top of the salon, I would have enjoyed this dish a lot more. It took away from the natural flavors of salmon that I like so much.

Ashley: The salmon was good but I agree with Hilary that the truffle crust was very salty and thick. It was perfect when combined with the salmon but I think if it was half as thick, it would’ve been perfect. The cauliflower puree had a bit of a lemony flavor to it. I liked it best when I combined everything together.

Sea Scallops

Sea Scallops

Next, we had the Sea Scallops (brown butter dashi, maitake). The scallops were cooked perfectly…they had a nice browning on one side. The brown butter dashi was really buttery tasting, like butter soup. When I ate it with the scallop, it was perfect. I tried one of the maitake mushrooms and I actually didn’t mind the texture. It was almost like asparagus but it had a somewhat sour taste to it.

Hilary: These were some of the best scallops I’ve ever had. They were so silky with no grit and slightly seared. They could have been seared just a tad more, but I still really enjoyed them. There were maitake mushrooms with it, which I am now obsessed with! I basically only knew of baby bella/white mushrooms my whole life and always thought I didn’t like mushrooms. It wasn’t until recently that I’ve been exposed to some different types and discovered that I do actually like some of them! Maitake is now my favorite! It’s a more solid mushroom with an added texture and flavor depth. The mushrooms ended up being my favorite part of this dish with the sauce, that was buttery and a little vinegar-y. This dish was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

We got the brussels sprouts (smoked gastrique, basil), Ashley’s favorite, as our side and I thought it was only okay. They were very vinegary and sour and possibly too tender for me. I wasn’t blown away by these.

Ashley: I was most excited for this dish and they did not disappoint. I could definitely taste the smoke grastique. I agree with Hilary that it was vinegary but I thought the basil actually balanced it out. I loved them with the basil.

Hilary: Overall, this was such a great comforting meal. Very different from our other Intro experiences for several reasons. I will say that I wasn’t as blown away by these dishes and I have been from some other chefs at Intro but then again, we played it pretty safe with our choices, so that could be why. Everything we got was a very solid delicious dish, just not extraordinary.

Ashley: I agree with Hilary that it was very different than our other Intro experiences. I thought it was a great meal but I think the tasting menu is a little more fun and a way for me to try things I wouldn’t normally try. I think this was a great meal though.

Treating Team Rubicon

Ashley: I was really excited for this brunch.  I heard such great things about Avec and I had special guests in town!  My friends Pam, Kendall and Kyle were all in town, so I was excited to bring them along.  I volunteer with an organization called Team Rubicon (a.k.a. TR).  It is a veteran-based disaster response organization.  TR was created as a way to help veterans reintegrate into civilian life by giving them a sense of purpose, community, and identity.  The thing I love most about TR is the fact that we are a family. Being able to introduce my TR family to my sister was especially exciting and meaningful for me.  Now, enough with the feels, let’s get to the good stuff…the food!

Mimosa

Mimosa

 We started off with drinks and I went with my favorite brunch-time drink…a mimosa.  There wasn’t much to it but we had been out the night before, so a little hair of the dog was perfect.

Chorizo Stuffed Dates

Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates

Hilary: If you ask anyone what they recommend you get at Avec, they will probably say the Chorizo-Stuffed Medjool Dates (bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce). It’s their signature item. So, of course, we got an order. The dates by themselves were very sweet but when paired with such bold flavors, the sweetness hid perfectly in the background. I loved how the chorizo had a kick that lingered and the tomato-piquillo sauce added smokiness. I loved the sauce so much that I used the crusty bread to sop it all up!

Ashley: Boy, was I glad we got these.  These were so delicious.  The chorizo on the inside was a little on the mushy side but it had such good flavor and spice.  The date added a bit of sweetness that helped balance the spiciness of the chorizo.  And of course, there was bacon…bacon is always good. 

Baked Egg

Baked Egg

Next, we had the Baked Egg (shakshuka with tomatillo, kale, chickpeas, feta cheese and crispy pita).  This one had cilantro all over it. I may have mentioned before that I do not like cilantro.  Kendall was nice enough to pick it off of one section before we divvied it up.  I could still taste the cilantro in the sauce but it wasn’t too bad.  The sauce had a nice little spice to it.  The egg was good and I dipped the crispy pita in it…just like dip eggs and toast (a Slover household favorite).  This wasn’t my favorite dish but that is just because of the cilantro.  Other than that, it was good.

Hilary: The baked egg was sitting in a green sauce that had the signature crisp bite of kale. The tomatillo was a nice, fresh addition to the kale and I really liked the pops of jalapeno. I loved the salty feta cheese and pieces of crusty bread baked on top but I did not like the chickpeas. They were unexpected in that everything else in the dish was soft and blended together well but the chickpea stuck out. It just didn’t fit with the other textures. Overall, this dish was pretty good.

Paella

Breakfast Paella

We ordered the Breakfast Paella (eggs, shrimp, morcilla sausage, artichokes, and almond aioli) which had blood sausage and head-on shrimp, two things I had only had in Spain. Everyone at the table commented on how weird it was that the shrimp had heads. haha But they were cooked so well, not at all spongey. The blood sausage, on the other hand, was not so great. Yes, I know what blood sausage is…if you don’t, it’s probably better that way.  When I had it in Spain, it was packed with flavor but this one was so bland. The rice had great flavor with many spices cooked into it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste any artichokes. I think they may have substituted fennel for it. I also didn’t see any eggs but I’m assuming they had been scrambled in or something. Honestly, this dish was only okay. It tasted pretty seafood-y and I was really disappointed with the blood sausage.

Ashley: This was a huge dish! And to think, we almost got two of them. This was just enough to fill us up.  I was super excited about this one.  Of course, there was cilantro all over this dish too…but it was easy to pick off.  The rice was cooked perfectly, even had the crusty rice on the bottom like true paella should.  The morcilla sausage was good.  The casings gave it a nice texture with a bit of a crunch. The aioli was good, although I don’t recall tasting almond.  I even tried a shrimp even though I don’t like it.  The texture was good, which is normally my issue with shrimp, but it really just tasted really fishy, so one bite was enough.  I was glad we got this.  It was good.

Hummus

Wood-Oven Baked Pita with Hummus

Hilary: I made sure to taste some of the dishes other people ordered so I had some of the Wood-Oven Baked Pita with Hummus (soft boiled egg, pickled onions, parsley, israeli chili sauce.)  This was my favorite dish of the meal! I love pickled onions…I think they’re beautiful and such a bright pop of color and I also think they taste great. The tangy, bitter bite goes well with a lot of things. The hummus was so smooth and just a little salty with a balance of acidity. The fresh baked pita bread on the side was awesome!! So fluffy and soft. Absolutely delicious.

We had such a great brunch at Avec!  I’m so glad we had a group that was willing to sample several dishes so we could really get a flavor for what Avec has to offer. There were some highs and lows in the meal but the highs were some of the best brunch dishes I’ve had in a while.

Ashley: Everything we had was really good.  I would definitely go back here for lunch or dinner sometime.  I had a great time!

How ‘Bout Them Scrapples?

Hilary: It had been a while since we’ve done a brunch so I was excited to check out La Sirena Clandestina on a Sunday afternoon. It is in the warehouse district of Fulton Market and the inside of the restaurant was very industrial looking. I liked the teal walls with the metal and dark wood décor.

Breakfast Empanada

Breakfast Empanada

The menu is Latin-local fare, and we started out with a Breakfast Empanada (bacon, onions and cheddar). To me, this was like a savory toaster strudel! It had a flaky, buttery crust with cubed chunks of bacon and tons of cheddar cheese inside. I couldn’t really taste any onion. This was VERY good. One was the perfect amount. Any more would have been too heavy. I imagine if I had been hungover, I would have wanted multiple empanadas. Perfect greasy hangover food. (I mean that in a good way.)

Ashley: I can see how Hilary would think this was like a savory toaster strudel. However, it reminded me of a hot pocket. It was like molten lava inside when I bit into it…ha. I could really taste the bacon and cheese…and it was all good. I particularly liked the crust. I agree with Hilary though, one was the perfect amount.

Brown Butter Crepes

Brown Butter Crepes

Next we had the Brown Butter Crepes (apricot preserves, stone fruit, vanilla mascarpone, rum caramel, granola). I was pretty excited about these because I saw the guy next to us eating them and they looked delicious. The rum mascarpone was my favorite part. It was really good and sweet. I could still taste the apricot jelly on the outside but it wasn’t extremely strong. The granola on the outside was really salty and I personally thought it was unnecessary…but I’m not the biggest fan of a sweet & salty combination. I really liked the granola on it’s own though. The texture of the crepe was interesting…almost like a gritty feeling…but now that I think about it, that was probably the mascarpone. The dish, as a whole was a little on the sweet side for me. My favorite combo was just the mascarpone and the apricot jelly.

Hilary: The granola on top of the crepes was actually my favorite part. It was nutty, mapley, and salty. The apricot in the crepes was sweet and the only refreshing aspect of this dish. Everything else was a little heavy. The rum mascarpone was way too sweet for my taste, so I tried to eat bites without it. Every bite I had with granola on it was better than the others!

Linquica Scrapple

Linquica Scrapple

Last, we got the Linquica Scrapple (mustard vinaigrette, market salad, fried egg). Neither of us were really sure what to expect based on the description but it turned out to be a patty made from a mixture of pork belly and linquica sausage. It didn’t really stay in patty form when eaten…it crumbled apart which made it difficult to eat. I liked how the top of the patty was crispy but then the rest of it was a little mushy, which was not as pleasant. It was interesting….VERY salty. The salt was overwhelming to me. I couldn’t eat much. The market salad on the side was arugula and grapes with dressing. It seemed to me the grapes had been grilled or roasted or something because the skin looked a little pruney and they had somewhat of a smoky flavor to them. The dressing was very salty but the grapes added a sweetness almost like bbq sauce. This dish was definitely interesting but I’m not sure I would order it again.

Ashley: In my 7-½ years of living in the Philadelphia area, I never tried scrapple. I knew what it was and it always scared me a bit. But this dish sounded really good, so we went for it. I agree with Hilary, there was a nice crunch on the outside but it was mushy on the inside. There were also random chunks of the meat. It did have a lot of flavor but was definitely really salty. I liked the egg with it but my favorite combo was when I ate it with the market salad. The sweetness of the arugula calmed the saltiness of the scrapple.

Hilary: Overall, I enjoyed our meal. Everything was pretty salty, but I’m a salty girl. I want to check this place out for dinner sometime since that is more their specialty.

Ashley: I agree. It was a good meal and I would like to check this place out again as well.

Stop Thinking of Clams!

Hilary: Aaron Martinez was the third chef in rotation at Intro. The night we went, the Cubs had just advanced past the Cardinals to the next round of the playoffs, so I was celebrating while Ashley was drowning her sorrows.

Ashley: We were both in the mood for some sparkling wine. We decided to try the NV Extra Brut, Pievalta, “Perlugo”, which was one of the wines listed on the pairing list. I was hoping for a slightly sweeter wine but it wasn’t that sweet at all. It was pretty good though.

After the sparkling wine, I decided to go with a red. They didn’t really have anything that was like a malbec, but our server mentioned the 2010 Mouton Noir, “Horseshoes & Handgrenades” as a blend. I normally like the blends, so I went with this. And it was a great decision. It was really good.

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

 

Hilary: Before the meal began, we received an amuse bouche that was a tiny bread-like loaf made with parsley, chervil, fennel, and tarragon topped with a pickled grape and a verjus gel, which we were told was basically grape vinegar. The loaf was salty and definitely tasted like leafy greens with the signature licorice flavor of fennel. I also got a hint of something nutty. It was an interesting start to the meal. Not amazing, but definitely unique.

Ashley: When this came out, I wasn’t sure what it was. It looked like a big rock with gel and a grape on top. Turns out, it was a little cake. The cake itself was a little leafy tasting, as Hilary mentioned, and not as sweet as I was expecting. The pickled grape was a lot sourer than I thought it would be. I definitely tasted licorice in this! The gels were citrusy tasting. This was interesting.

King Salmon

King Salmon

 

Our next dish was the King Salmon (kohlrabi, dill, frozen mustard). The mustard ice cream was just like it sounded…really cold mustard. It was weird. The dill jus was light and tasted a little like pickle juice, and I love pickles. There was a mousse on this and I wasn’t sure what it was but it tasted a little like a light garlic. It ended up being salmon mousse. It was really good. The salmon didn’t really tasted like too much by itself…definitely not fishy, which I was happy about. The server recommended we try the dill jus and mustard together. I thought the mustard was a little too strong and salty. I liked it best with the sorel leaves and salmon mousse.

Hilary: I had no idea what to think of the scoop of frozen mustard. But once I tried it, I actually loved it. Each bite was better than the last. Not particularly on its own, but when eaten with the other ingredients. There was a green sauce that was a salty dill jus. The leafy greens on the plate were sorrel and mustard greens. The matchstick kohlrabi pieces gave a nice crunch and earthy flavor to the dish. The main piece of salmon was subtly smoked and then there was a salmon “mousse” plated as decorative dots on top. This plate was very visually appealing with all of the different colors! I hate to say this because it’s going to sound like a bad thing, but I promise it’ a good thing… When I had a bite with the mustard ice cream, dill jus, and salmon together, it reminded me of a Big Mac. Obviously, this tasted better than a Big Mac, that’s just what it reminded me of. Kind of like…even though this dish was new and I had never had it before, and some of the components were a little weird (frozen mustard, what??) it was comforting because I had had similar flavors before. I loved this dish. Everything was so crisp, light, and fresh. It was one of the top 3 dishes from Chef Martinez’s menu for me. My favorite combination was actually the cold bite of the mustard with the crunchy kohlrabi.

Brassica

Brassica

 

Ashley: Next we had Brassica (razor clams, vadouvan, meyer lemon). I was a little nervous about this because it had curry and clams in it, but man, it was good. A funny little side story about our title…I listen to the Preston and Steve show, which is a local radio station in Philly. Anyway, one of the hosts, Kathy, yelled “stop thinking of clams” on the show one day and she said the word clams in a really funny way. So, of course, all night, I was saying “stop thinking of clams” using my best impression of Kathy. If you’re familiar with the show, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Now, back to the food. The clams were small pieces so it wasn’t too chewy for me. The curry flavor was subtle, and I really liked it. I loved the cauliflower too. This was a really good dish.

Hilary: This was my favorite dish of the night! When they brought it out, I got so excited to try it that I dug in before taking a picture. So, you will notice this dish doesn’t look as pretty as the others. I assure you, it was plated very nicely when they first brought it out! This dish had spinach, green and white cauliflower, French curry, and a cauliflower puree in addition to the ingredients listed on the menu. The foam tasted slightly fishy from the clams, but I mostly tasted curry and salt. The bits of clam were very light and savory, not at all chewy. The cauliflower was toasty and added a great texture to this otherwise light, foamy, brothy dish. I thought this dish was so unique and used ingredient combinations that I hadn’t seen before. And the execution was right on. Each ingredient was showcased with perfect balance. Outstanding.

 

Chicken

Chicken

Our next dish was the Chicken (matsutake mushrooms, foie gras, fennel). The chicken was simply poached and sliced thin, while the foie was seared and diced in chunks. It was all sitting in a chicken boullion. I’m back to my rudimentary descriptions on this one because my first thought was that this tasted like a hot dog soup. Mostly because the seared foie looked and tasted like the very best hot dog I’ve ever had and it was sitting in chicken broth. The mushrooms were very meaty and salty and were chopped a little too big. I thought they took away from the rest of the flavors. Overall, I think this dish perfectly captured “umami”.

Ashley: I was a little nervous about this one because the chicken was poached and I thought it looked weird…and it had foie gras with it. Last time I had foie gras at Intro, it was in the form of a cheesecake and I didn’t really enjoy it. But I had to try it again. It was actually pretty good! It tasted like polish sausage but with a creamier texture. The chicken was also really good. It was really moist and had good flavor. The broth that came with it tasted just like chicken broth with a slight fennel taste to it. I actually tried a piece of the fennel with the chicken and I really liked it. The licorice flavor balanced with the vinegar from the broth and gave it a little sweetness. I don’t normally like fennel, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Pasta

Pasta

Hilary: They always offer an extra add-on course during these meals and this time, we agreed to get it. The extra course was a pasta dish (yukon potatoes and sturgeon wrapped in pasta, caviar). The pasta was hiding under a potato skin foam with shallot and fresh dill, which was light and fluffy. My favorite part was the crispy tempura onions on top. I made sure to have one in each bite! And the pasta was fantastic, not as heavy as I expected. While the cost of this dish was mostly because of the caviar, I could have easily done without it. Yes, I understand that caviar is a delicacy. But this caviar, in particular, tasted fishy and metallic to me. And when eaten with the pasta, the texture and flavor faded anyways. Overall, I enjoyed the combination of the crunchy onions, creamy foam, and silky pasta. I’m glad we went for it.

Ashley: This was the first time that I could remember having caviar. I thought it was pretty gross…why do people pay so much money for this on purpose?? It was extremely salty and fishy tasting. We ending up leaving a lot of it on our dish. But everything else on the plate was amazing! The foamy broth was good, like a baked potato soup. The crispy onion that came on this dish added some sweetness. It was almost like an onion funnel cake. The pasta tasted a little like it had pickle juice in it…just a slight hint though. The pasta was al dente, which I really liked. I could really taste the potato. My favorite combination was eating everything together. This was my favorite dish so far.

Berkshire Pork

Berkshire Pork

 

After the pasta, we got back to the regular menu and were served the Berkshire pork (fermented garlic, kale, smoked potato). When I first saw this, it was really pink and worried me slightly. Hilary let me know that it was ok though…she’s always patient with my weird food issues…ha. There seemed to be a lot going on with this dish: boiler onions, black garlic puree, kale puree, potato foam and dried crunchy potatoes on top. I wasn’t sure where to begin. I started with the potato foam and wow. It was so good. It tasted like mashed potatoes with lots of butter and milk. I know it was supposed to be a foam but it was super creamy. The kale puree was salty but tasted like kale. The black garlic puree was a little sweet and not really garlicy, which seemed odd. The pork itself was so moist and flavorful. I tried it with the onion, potato, both purees, and the kale on the side. This dish instantly became my new favorite of the night.

Hilary: This plate looked so cool! All of the different colored purees on top with the crunchy potatoes sticking up reminded me of an underwater scene. The flavor of the pork was like a ham steak…very salty, smooth, and tender. I thought the black garlic tasted a little bitter and was sticky, like a balsamic reduction. The brown sauce on the side of the dish had the fermented garlic in it and it was so salty, but my favorite part. I kept trying to sop it up with bites of pork. The potato “foam” wasn’t very foamy and it tasted like super buttery mashed potatoes. It basically had the texture of yogurt, which I didn’t love. I thought there might have been some tiny bits of chive thrown on top that helped cut the richness a bit. Overall, this dish was very salty and felt like comfort food.

Chamomile Soda

Chamomile Soda

 

As a bit of a palate cleanser, we had the chamomile soda (lemon-thyme sorbet). Mmmmmm. This was such a simple dish but I absolutely loved it. The sorbet was so dreamy, like floating on a sorbet cloud. I never realized how perfect lemon and thyme are together until I had this. The chamomile soda added a pop of sparkle on my tongue and the basil bud on top added a teeny punch. Delightful.

Ashley: This was really interesting. The soda tasted like really bitter soda. The sorbet, on the other hand, was amazing! It was soooo creamy, almost like it had cheese in there. It reminded me of an ice cream float but with different flavors. I would totally get a pint of that sorbet though.

 

Burnt Cinnamon Ice Cream

Burnt Cinnamon Ice Cream

 

The final dessert that came out was the burnt cinnamon ice cream (sunchoke, pear, salted caramel). This was the third dish of the night with ice cream…interesting. The ice cream tasted like rum chata…it was good. Our server mentioned that the cake was a little like carrot cake. It did taste like it but not as sweet. The pears were so good. They were little pieces but they had the perfect texture. I haven’t had a pear in a long time and forgot how much I liked them. The caramel sauce was pretty salty. I tried a bit with everything together and it was delicious. My favorite bite though, was the ice cream, cake, and pear. The sunchoke chips on top were a fun touch as well.

Hilary: The cinnamon ice cream was like my favorite cinnamon candle….so fall, leaving me excited for cooler weather and warm fires. It had a spicy cinnamon kick while the roasted pears gave a great subtlety to an otherwise powerful dish. I wasn’t sure if I had ever had sunchoke before but it was baked in the cake at the bottom of the dish as well as made into chips that topped the dish. The chips tasted a little sweet, in the same way a sweet potato does. I LOVED the salt in this caramel-pear sauce. It was the perfect amount…you knew it was there but it was, by no means, the main flavor you tasted. When I had a bit of every ingredient in one bite…my reaction was, “Awwwww yeah!!!” This was one of my top dishes for the night.

This meal was fantastic. Every course had a great balance of textures, a variety of proteins, and playful, fresh, seasonal flavors. The meal, as a whole, was very well-rounded. I will definitely be following Aaron Martinez to see what he’s up to next!

Ashley: I really, really enjoyed this meal. Chef Aaron Martinez is my new favorite chef from Intro so far. I liked him because his meal was a meat and potatoes kind of meal. Every time I got a new dish, it became my new favorite. I loved everything, even the things I didn’t think I would like. This will be a tough one to beat!

Lucky Number 3!

Hilary: Lula Café has been on my to-do list for years! So, what better occasion to try it out than Ashley’s birthday?? 

Ashley: I was really excited for this meal because it was my birthday celebration!  I was about to turn 33, and my lucky number is 3, so I can only assume that this year will be my best one yet! 

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Beet Bruschetta

We started off the meal with the Beet Bruschetta (black kale, smoked pecans, red onion, whipped goat cheese).  This was amazing!  The bread that came with it was so good.  It was nice and crunchy and warm.  Everything in this bruschetta was so good together.  You could taste everything but nothing overpowered the dish.  The bread was my favorite part though.  Loved it. 

Hilary: The whipped goat cheese was nice and smoky with the earthy beets and kale. I wished there was more cheese though…there was only a thin spread on top. I loved the tangy red onion. The bread was grilled and very crusty, which made it a little difficult to chew if you got a big bite as it was a bit pokey, but generally delicious. There were tiny bits of pecans on top and some kind of tasty vinaigrette tossed in. The best combination for me was the goat cheese with the red onion. Very good!

Pasta Yiayia

Pasta Yiayia

For our entrée, I realllllly wanted to get the Pasta ‘Yiayia’ (bucatini, cinnamon, feta, garlic, brown butter). It sounded so decadent. Ashley was hesitant but ultimately agreed to get it and I’m so happy she did! I’d never had bucatini before but it was like spaghetti noodles hollowed out and blown up. They were cool! There were super thin slices of garlic fried up crispy which added some bitterness and a nice texture. The flavors in this dish were very rich but, surprisingly, not too heavy. You had the salty feta, rich brown butter, bitter garlic, and a splash of cinnamon. I scraped my plate so I could get all of the buttery feta sauce. I would absolutely order this dish again! 

Ashley: When Hilary mentioned the pasta, I was a little nervous that it would be sweet, so I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.  But, we decided to go with it…and I’m soooo glad we did.  It was amazing.  The sauce was buttery with just a hint of cinnamon.  The pasta was cooked a little too long for my weird taste (I like mine pre-al dente) but probably perfect for normal people.  The feta added a bit of salty to the sweet of the cinnamon.  They crispy garlic was the perfect amount of garlic taste.  The noodles were so fun…they reminded me of a pre-blown up balloon for balloon animals.  I still have cravings for this. 

Duck Breast

Duck Breast

When our second entrée, the Duck Breast (blackberries, fresh chickpeas, candy onions, lovage, buckwheat), came out, I noticed how pretty it looked.  There was a lot going on though.  While the duck was good and cooked perfectly, the texture was a little tougher than I expected.  The blackberry with the duck was amazing, and my favorite combo of the plate.  The buckwheat was crispy, like a rice crispy.  The chickpea puree was good too. 

Hilary: This dish, to me, was exactly the kind of thing I expected from Lula Café based on the raving reviews I’ve heard. Fresh, seasonal, unique, and delicious. Reading the list of ingredients, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the blackberries combined with chickpeas, candied onions, and duck was something I just had to experience. It was wonderful! I’ve had duck breast before that was overcooked to be tough and dry, but this was so, so tender. It had a similar texture to a pork tenderloin. The sweetness of the blackberries combined so well with the slightly caramelized onions, the salty chickpea sauce, and the crunchy buckwheat. In terms of both textures and flavors, this dish hit the spot! 

Roasted Plums

Roasted Plums

Ashley: We decided to get a dessert, and the Roasted Plums (sweet corn ice cream, cashew, plum caramel, bourbon) sounded so good to me. Hilary was eyeing the butter pecan ice cream that came with the peach cobbler, so we asked if we could just get a scoop of it on the side and they said yes.  I’m so glad we did because the butter pecan ice cream was so good and creamy.  The sweet corn ice cream that came with the plums tasted just like sweet corn with a little sugar added.  It was interesting but good.  The plums were pretty sour by themselves but a little better with the ice cream, although you could still taste the sourness.  I like cashews but they were just kind of there.  There was also a cannoli that came with the plums. It was light and crispy with fluffy cream inside.  There was also bourbon on it, which I could definitely taste but not too strongly.  It was pretty good. 

Hilary: The butter pecan ice cream was exactly what I wanted that night. I was wanting something sweet and creamy, whereas the roasted plums were tangy and a little savory. The corn ice cream was pretty weird to me. It left a popcorn after taste in my mouth…a little salty. And the plums were too sour for me. This dessert was very unique and non-traditional, but not really my flavor. The bourbon cannoli that it came with, however, was awesome! It was super crunchy and had a caramel-plum sauce poured over the top. There was bourbon in it but it tasted like it was mixed with maple syrup or something to cut the bite a bit. Ashley let me have most of the cannoli and that made me very happy! 

This meal was excellent. I will definitely be dining at Lula Café again in the future! 

Ashley:  Over all, I really loved Lula Café.  Everything was amazing but I would go back for the pasta ‘yiayia’ alone.  It was a great meal and I was happy to spend my birthday dinner with Herry! (That is my nickname for Hilary.)

Chili, Habanero, a Ghost!

Ashley: Hilary and I headed out to Logan Square to check out Fat Rice. It has a lot of hype, so we wanted to know what it was all about! We read about how they serve a blend of the food of Macau and “kind of Portugese food“. The night we went, I wasn’t much in the mood for an alcoholic beverage tonight, so I opted to just get a coke.  When they served it, it came in a glass bottle and the straw they gave me was huge!  One big gulp and I could’ve finished the whole bottle.

Sweet & Sour Curry Cabbage

Sweet & Sour Curry Cabbage

We started off with some complimentary Sweet & Sour Curry Cabbage.  The cabbage was so crunchy and it had the perfect mix of sweet with a little kick to it.  Every bite was a little different in that it didn’t always have the same amount of sweet, sour, or spicy, so it was exciting every bite! 

Hilary: I loved this little pre-meal snack! It was crunchy, vinegary, and tangy with a kick at the back of the throat. There were some red cherry peppers in it that were my favorite bite.

Fried Rice

Fried Rice


Diabo Ghost Pepper Sauce

Diabo Ghost Pepper Sauce

Ashley: Next we had the Fried Rice (bacon, sweet corn, egg, thai basil, lemon aioli).  Our server described is as a BLT in fried rice form.  I didn’t necessarily get that because it was more than that but it was deeeeelicious none the less.  I loved this dish so much that I just kept eating instead of taking notes.  The first bite I took had a big chunk of crispy bacon, which was amazing.  The rice was cooked perfectly and there were big chunks of egg, which I love in my fried rice.  The pork also had great flavor and the corn and onions gave it a bit of sweetness.  There was also cucumber in it, which was a little strange, but I love cucumbers, so I didn’t mind.  I did think that this dish was surprisingly light considering what all was in it.  They served the rice with a hot sauce made of ghost, habanero, and chili peppers (hence our title).  For those of you that are diehard Friends fans, you have may have gotten our title…if not, we suggest watching this clip starting at 2:50.  This is one of our favorite episodes from Friends and we reference this specific scene A LOT.  I tried a little bit of the sauce by itself before I put it on anything.  It had a slightly sweet flavor to it but with a big kick at the end.  It took a few seconds to hit.  At first I wasn’t going to put it on my food but Hilary said how good it was, so I ended up trying it towards the end of this dish.  This was definitely my favorite dish of the night.

Hilary: I thought the BLT idea was creative, but there were a lot more ingredients in the dish than just bacon, lettuce, and tomato. In addition to the ingredients listed in the menu description, there was also tomato, cucumber, onion, and bean sprouts. While the concept behind this dish fell short for me, the taste did not! The bacon, especially, added some depth and flavor to the dish. The only ingredient I didn’t love was the cucumber. Normally, I love cucumber because of the texture but in this dish, it was a little off. Too crunchy and cut into too big of chunks. They served this with a bottle of hot sauce called Diabo Ghost Pepper Sauce. It was no joke. I was very careful and only put a couple of drops on my plate of rice and it was perfect because it added a lot of flavor to the rice without being so spicy that I couldn’t enjoy the food. I really liked this dish!

Porco Bafassa

Porco Bafassa

Next, we had the Porco Bafassa (turmeric roast pork shoulder, carrots, fingerling potato, purslane, spring onion).  This dish, to me, was like a slight twist on the classic pot roast and potatoes. The turmeric was the main difference in flavor profile and the fact that it was pork instead of beef. The gravy was so savory and salty. I was scraping my plate to get more juice with each bite. Even the fat on the meat was very flavorful. The meat was tender enough to cut easily with a fork but it didn’t fall apart completely. I liked that they gave a hefty amount of meat but there were too few carrots and potatoes. I loved this dish.

Ashley: I really loved this dish.  The gravy was my favorite part.  It was so savory and had the perfect amount of saltiness to it.  The pork was so tender, I barely had to use my knife.  It tasted just like a good pot roast with the potatoes and carrots.  The potatoes were cut super thick.  They were cooked pretty well, a little firmer than I prefer but still tasty.  At the end of the dish, I was using my last few bites of meat to soak up all of the gravy.

Po Kak Gai

Po Kok Gai

Our last dish was Po Kok Gai (Portuguese Chicken – potato, chorizo, coconut curry).  I was a little worried about this one because it had coconut curry in it…and you may remember from our Parachute post that I finally decided I just don’t like curry.  But it sounded so good, that I wanted to try it anyway.  It was really coconutty, which I expected.  The chorizo was a little hard to chew, like maybe it was slightly overdone or something, but still good.  I loved the egg and black olives.  The chicken itself was really moist and flavorful as well.  I forgot that there were potatoes in there, so when I found them at the bottom of the dish, it was like a nice surprise.  They were tasty as well. 

Hilary: I thought this dish was only okay. It was maybe a little too coconutty for my taste. I liked that the cherry peppers and chorizo gave it a nice kick to take away some of the sweetness. The chorizo was nice and smoky. I liked the egg and chorizo a lot and eating the chicken with the peppers and cabbage. The crouton and olives seemed very random to me. In fact, this dish had such an odd combination of ingredients. The chicken still had skin on it and it ended up a bit soggy in the curry broth. That was very disappointing. Who likes soggy skin anyway? haha It was definitely interesting and like nothing I’ve had before.

I enjoyed Fat Rice and would go back. I now know that the dishes are a little pricey considering the amount of food you get, but it’s all about the experience! We did not get the signature dish, Arroz Gordo (Fat Rice) because we were concerned it would be too much for the two of us to share (based on the high cost and laundry list of ingredients) but I think we could have taken it down. It wasn’t nearly as big as I thought it would need to be for all that it came with.

Ashley: I really enjoyed Fat Rice.  I felt like we got a good mix of flavors in our meal and everything tasted great.  I would love to go back again sometime to try different options on the menu! 

A Marriage of Cultures

Hilary: Beverly Kim is another chef I recognized from Top Chef, back when I faithfully watched each episode. I was excited to hear she was starting Parachute with her husband. It came highly recommended, so we made sure to put it at the top of our list of places to check out. I really like that her and her husband brought their cultures together to make a Korean American menu. My first impressions were that it was so, so dark and very loud…from people talking and laughing and also the music. It is a very trendy place, especially late on a Friday night.

Ashley: I had never heard of Parachute before but I was excited to try it out based on Hilary’s excitement for the restaurant. Everyone that worked there was extremely nice. Our server helped us pick out a bottle of rose and throughout the night, all of the food came out super fast.

Oyster

Oysters

Hilary: Lately, I’ve been getting more into oysters, so we went with the market oysters (soju granita). I used to be grossed out by oysters but now I’m coming around. I’ve had some that I liked and some that I didn’t, so I like to taste different ones to get a better idea of what I like. These oysters were so fresh and crisp. There was absolutely no grit, it was great! The shaved ice on the side was very bitter. At the time, I didn’t know soju was a Korean beverage (I had to look it up) so I had a couple of guesses as to what the granita could be based on how it tasted: vinegar, melon, or some combination thereof.

Ashley: I am not quite to the point of enjoying oysters yet…but I decided to try it anyway. After all, what good is a food blog if you don’t try different things, right? I put a lot of lemon on mine in anticipation of the fishy taste. I was also psyching myself out by thinking about the texture that I thought it would have. I did not like the soju granita. It was too bitter…and I probably put more on than I should have. At first I tried to chew it but I just couldn’t…so I just swallowed it whole. I’m sure this was a great oyster for those that like them…it was just a texture thing for me.

House Pickles

House Pickles

Next, we ordered the house pickles (kimchi, chili chayote, spicy cucumber). My favorite of the three was the spicy cucumber. It reminded me of homemade pickles. It still had the cucumber flavor with an added spice, which I loved. The kimchi was good. It had a vinegar and garlic flavor with a little spice. And I love a good kimchi. I did not like the chili chayote because it had cilantro in it…enough said. Ha.  

Hilary: My favorite was the chili chayote. It was super crunchy and a tad smoky with celery as the prominent flavor. There was cilantro, vinegar, and sugar in the brine. I was obsessed! The spicy cucumbers were okay, mostly because I love cucumbers. But other than being spicy, they didn’t have much flavor. And the heat didn’t even hit until after I swallowed. I liked the sweet carrots mixed in. The kimchi was tangy with a kick. Not quite as spicy as the cucumbers but almost.

Baked Potato Bing Bread

Baked Potato Bing Bread

We made sure to order the baked potato bing bread (bacon, scallion, sour cream butter) because everyone seems to RAVE about it. It tasted like a baked potato but with a very crunchy crust. I really liked the toasty sesame seeds on top. The sour cream butter didn’t taste much like sour cream to me, pretty much just butter, so I was a little disappointed. Overall, this was very good, but I’m not quite sure I would give it as high of a review as everyone else. Maybe just a case of having too high of expectations. I will say that, for some reason, I liked the bread more once it cooled off.

Ashley: I loved this!! It was my favorite dish of the night. It tasted like a potato skin but lighter because of the bread. The burnt ends of the bread gave it a nice crunch. I do agree with Hilary that the sour cream butter tasted more like butter but I did also taste a bit of sour cream and thought that it really finished off the dish. I could eat this again and again.

Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

Next we tried the heirloom tomatoes (tonnato, percorino, furikake). This sounded like a nice light, refreshing dish and the rest of our meal was a little heavier. The tonnato is a tuna based sauce, so it was extremely fishy tasting. It didn’t bother me that much though because I love tuna. The furikake on top was my favorite part. I loved the crunchy texture on top of the firm tomato. Even with the different flavors and textures, you could taste the freshness of the tomatoes. I enjoyed this dish.

Hilary: I absolutely love heirloom tomatoes so I really wanted to try this dish. I was wary that it came with tonnato, because it might be too fishy for me, but went for it anyway. It was very interesting. It did taste fishy but not too much. There was just a teeny bit of salt and I wished there had been a little more. The bits that look like rice were super crunchy and I loved the added texture. Overall, I liked this dish.

Pork Belly and Mung Bean Pancake

Pork Belly and Mung Bean Pancake

The pork belly and mung bean pancake (kimchi, black garlic, hen egg, pineapple) was another dish I had very high expectations for based on reviews. Unfortunately, this was a slight miss for me. The bottom of the pancake was burnt and hard which made it tough to chew. It was also hard around the edges. I LOVED the warm pineapple in the dish. I ended up eating all of it, happily. There were a couple of sauces drizzled on, one was black garlic and the other was kimchi. I thought they made the dish look pretty. I could definitely taste the spice coming through in the kimchi sauce.

Ashley: This one was interesting to me. I think the whole pancake description was throwing me off. Essentially, it tasted like a meat pancake. It was very savory. There was pineapple on top and that helped balance out the savory. The pancake did have a good crisp to it. There was a kimchi sauce on it that I could really taste but I couldn’t really taste the black garlic sauce. I liked it with the egg but my favorite combination was when I had a bite with everything together.

Corn Dumplings

Corn Dumplings

Hilary: We made a last minute decision to add the corn dumplings (collard greens, baby corn, green curry) on to our order because I kept coming back to it on the menu and who knows when we’ll be able to visit again?? So, we got them. I’m really glad we did! The dumplings themselves were similar to cornbread, kind of dense and heavy, but they were sitting in a luxurious sweet green curry sauce. The collard leaves were fried and crispy. This last dish definitely put me over the edge from full to stuffed but it was worth it.

Ashley: I agree with Hilary. I’m glad we got this because I also thought it sounded amazing. I was expecting something different when I saw dumpling but it was like a really good cornbread. I was not a fan of the curry…I have yet to find one that I do like though, so take my review for what it’s worth. The collard greens were bitter but mixed with the sweet of the dumpling, it blended together well.

I did enjoy the meal and I was glad we got to try this place out. I thought everyone that worked there was amazing and I would recommend this place to others. Especially to try the baked potato bing bread. I would go back just for that!

This meal was a bit hit or miss for me. I loved the oysters, chili chayote pickles and corn dumplings. And I really enjoyed trying new flavors, ingredients, and textures. I think we got to see what Parachute was all about! I do wish there had been just a bit more light and privacy (we were seated between 2 other tables and were sitting so close together) though.

Al Fresco in Andersonville

Ashley: I was really excited to go out the night we went to Vincent because it was such a gorgeous night.  When we got there, they had one table left on the patio, so we took it.  They gave us bread that came wrapped in paper, which reminded me of a cute little café somewhere.  The bread was warm with a crunchy crust and soft middle.  It was delicious and I had to stop eating it so I wouldn’t get full before we even ordered!

Left: Bubbles & Flowers; Right:

Left: Bubbles & Flowers; Right: Spirit Animal

I was in the mood for something light and fun to drink.  I decided to go with the Bubbles & Flowers (bubbles, elderflower, lemon peel).  The drink tasted a lot like champagne, which worked for me because that was really the main reason I got it.  It was a little on the sweet side but it was really the perfect drink for the mood I was in.

Hilary: Ashley is right, it was the perfect summer evening for a lovely dinner outside. This place was very classy and elegant feeling while still having a casual vibe. I picked the Spirit Animal (parce bourbon barrel rum, cynar, lime, mint, orange) to start off. I liked the combination of gin and mint…it made it a little refreshing but overall the drink was a little too stiff for me. 

Polenta

Polenta

Ashley: Our first dish was the Polenta (grilled asparagus and spring onion, pickled shallot, white beech mushroom, lemon mushroom glaze, shaved parmesan, crispy parsley, poached egg).  It was a lot lighter than I expected.  It had a creamy taste with a little cheesy flavor.  The asparagus tasted like it was grilled.  The egg on top was good but not as exciting as I expected.  I really liked this dish though.

Hilary: The polenta was so creamy! I thought the asparagus was cooked very well…a little tender but maintained a bit of crunch. The mushrooms had really skinny stalks…I don’t know if I had ever had this type of mushroom before but I really liked it! Much better than a baby bella or cremini, in my opinion because it had a better texture. I thought there were fried sprigs of thyme mixed in, but the menu said parsley so maybe I was confused. It was interesting. The onion was a little under cooked which made the bites with onion a little pungent. Overall, this was a great dish and, I think, without the egg it would be even better. There were so many fresh, seasonal ingredients that the egg was unnecessary.

Burrata

Burrata

Next, we had the Burrata (spring onion & green garlic mojo, arugula, sorrel, cara cara orange, shaved radish, shaved jalapeno, maldon sea salt, balsamic reduction), which was one of my favorites! When we first got the dish, I was a little disappointed to see we didn’t have any toast or anything to eat the burrata on. But, we dug in with our forks and I didn’t even end up missing the toast! Everything was so fresh and wonderful on its own. All of the crisp vegetables were so light and nice. I loved the bite of the onion with the sweetness of the orange and the saltiness of the cheese. Everything went very well together.

Ashley: I am never disappointed when I get burrata.  It was so creamy.  You could really taste the jalapeno in the sauce but there wasn’t much spice, which was perfect for this dish.  I could really taste the arugula as well but the sweetness of the orange offset the bitterness of the arugula.  My favorite was combining the burrata and arugula. 

Hilary: At this point in the meal, we had both finished our cocktails and decided to switch to wine. Our server was very helpful and helped us understand some of the French wines on the menu and suggested a bottle that might fit our, often conflicting, wine preferences. It was a Chenin Blanc and it was very good. Perfect for that summer evening on the patio.

Roasted Amish Chicken

Roasted Amish Chicken

Ashley: Our first main course was the Roasted Amish Chicken (charred cara cara orange, fava beans, spring onion, lardon, white asparagus puree, red wine-cherry reduction, shaved fresno chilli). There were a lot of ingredients! The chicken was really juicy and had a sweetness to it.  It also had a grilled flavor though.  The beans gave a nice balance to the sweet of the chicken which was my favorite combo. The orange was interesting. This wasn’t really my favorite dish.

Hilary: I loved how the wine reduction added a sweetness to the dish while the peppers had a good strong kick. However, the spring onions were whole and were really tough…I wasn’t able to bite or cut through them. I wish they had been cut into bite sized pieces. Other than that, I really liked this dish. The chicken was nice and tender and a little on the sweet side but the added components kicked it up a notch.

Whole Rainbow Trout

Whole Rainbow Trout

Ashley: Our next dish…was delicious.  The only thing about the Whole Rainbow Trout (salmon & fennel stuffing, fingerling potatoes, spinach, lemon caper beurre noisette) that threw me off was that it still had a face on it!  But man, it was delicious.  The fish was nice and light.  The salmon/fennel stuffing tasted like crab dip.  Everything was so light, so when I combined it with the capers, it provided the perfect amount of salty.  I forgot that there was spinach in this dish, so when I saw it at the bottom, I got excited all over again.  It really made the dish for me.  The potatoes were okay but I could’ve done without them.  I really loved this.

Hilary: While I really enjoyed the trout, it didn’t blow me away. I did like how the skin was crispy and the lemon caper sauce was very tasty. However, the stuffing was a little bland to me. My favorite part of this dish was eating the roasted potatoes and spinach that were hidden under the fish with the lemon caper sauce. It was a nice acidic, salty, garlicky bite.

I thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Vincent. Everything was so comforting and the atmosphere was wonderful for enjoying a summer night in Chicago. I would absolutely go back!

I liked going to Vincent.  Everything was delicious and the service was great.  It was such a nice night and I loved being able to sit out on the patio.  I would definitely go back for the trout again.

The French Rodeo

Hilary: After loving absolutely everything about CJ Jacobson’s meal during his time at Intro, I couldn’t wait to go back and experience the second chef, Erik Anderson. The concept behind Intro is that every few months, the head chef (along with the menu, theme, and décor) changes. Based on the fonts and the strong focus on whiskey, I thought maybe the new theme was rodeo (I was thinking elevated bbq or a lot of “game” animals or something) but then the food menu was heavily French. This struck me as odd. Not to mention, when we got to the restaurant, it was decorated with animal carcasses of different kinds around the restaurant (ducks, bears, etc.) I’m not well versed on French culture, but these things together seemed a little jumbled to me.

Ashley: We had such a great time at Intro the first go-round, so I was extremely excited to try it again. I remember seeing the menu though and getting a little freaked out because I knew there was going to be a lot of soft and/or gooey textures in this meal. I would like to preface this write-up by saying that I’m not a fan of softer textures anyway, but that night I was having one of those days where it was extra hard for me to swallow (pun intended).

Six Corner Sling & Serotina

Six Corner Sling & Serotina

Our server told us that they brought in a group from Bittercube to custom make their cocktails, so I knew I had to try one. I went with the Serotina (Blume Marillen Apricot Eau-de-Vie, Honey, Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters, Seltzer). I don’t know what exactly I was expecting when I ordered this drink but this was not it. When I first tasted it, it reminded me of medicine. I did just brush my teeth right before I left my house so maybe that had an effect. I kept drinking it but it just never really tasted good to me. The more I drank it, the more it tasted like black licorice (if that’s your thing then you would probably love this drink). I just didn’t know what to make of this drink. I finished it because I felt bad and I’m sure it was a well-made drink.

Hilary: I opted for the Six Corner Sling (Old Overholt, Lemon, Punt e mes, Green Chartreuse, Orange Bitters, Seltzer) and it was a good drink. Orange citrus was the main flavor but it had a slight bitters after-taste. 

Island Creek Oyster

Island Creek Oyster

Our first course was the Island Creek Oyster (gin, pickles.) Our server explained to us that the inspiration for this dish was a Gibson’s martini. It had a green sauce in it that I think was the pickle, some tiny bits of raw onion, and a gin gelette. I really liked the crunchy onion with the slippery oyster, it was a wonderful contrast of texture. I did not taste the gin gilette at all, which was probably a good thing since I’m not a huge gin fan. I think the fact that it wasn’t the dominant flavor was a good thing, even for gin lovers. A simple, salty start!

 Ashley: I was pretty surprised by this one because it wasn’t as chewy as I expected. It was perfectly salty and had a nice crunch on it with the pickles. I actually liked this a little.

Preserved Foie Gras Tart

Preserved Foie Gras Tart

Our second dish was the Preserved Foie Gras Tart (salted strawberries, hazelnut milk, radishes). When it came out, it looked just like a slice of cheesecake, however, that is not how it tasted…like at all. Now, I knew that it wasn’t going to taste like cheesecake but I think the look of it was throwing me off so much…I mean, it even had strawberry topping on it! It was really creamy like cheesecake but the taste was very earthy and salty. The hazelnut cream and strawberries were really good but I just couldn’t finish the foie gras. After multiple attempts, I think it’s safe to say that I definitely do not like foie gras.

Hilary: This dish was one of the prettiest plates of the night. The bright red of the strawberry and the deep maroon of the flower petals with the clean white foie slice. After my first bite, I was a little taken aback and how heavy and salty this tasted while still being fluffy and creamy in texture. I agree with Ashley that that aspect of it was a little off-putting. However, after my first bite, I got over it and started to enjoy the dish. It was VERY rich…there’s no way I could have eaten more than I did. But, I really enjoyed it. I especially loved the sweetness of the strawberries and the crunch of the hazelnuts with the foie.

Cold-Smoked Ocean Trout

Cold-Smoked Ocean Trout

The third course was the Cold-Smoked Ocean Trout (Tapioca, shellfish and squid ink jus, garlic). It was another visually pleasing dish because of all the different colors on the plate. There were a lot of components. There was the cold smoked trout, a celery root and lemon sauce, tapioca “caviar” in squid ink jus, little crunchy beads made of celery, and a sorel jelly. Then, on the side in a little glass was a garlic custard with roe on top. Our server recommended eating that separately, so that’s what we did. First, I tried each component by itself. I thought the trout was a little soggy, but tasted smoky and good. I really liked the celery root and lemon sauce and the crunchy celery balls because they added a pop of refreshment and lightness. The tapioca “caviar” was like warm Israeli couscous but black. Once I tried everything together, it was incredible how much better things tasted! The sauce is what made this dish for me. As for the garlic custard on the side, that was like a party in my mouth! The roe was like an edible version of bubble wrap because they popped as I chewed. The custard was VERY garlicky but that’s probably as good thing or else the roe may have been too fishy for me.

Ashley: This dish looked very good when it came out. The sorel jelly tasted light and refreshing. The tapioca pearls with the shellfish and squid ink jus were warm, which I wasn’t expecting, but they didn’t really have much flavor to them, they were just a fun texture on the plate. The celery root and lemon jelly definitely had a strong celery taste to it…and I like celery. The smoked trout was good. It tasted like it had some sort of spice to it…cumin maybe. I could really taste the smokiness to it as well. It was a little on the mushy side though. I liked it best when I combined the trout with the celery ball and tapioca pearls. I almost forgot about the little mousse that came with it. This tasted like pureed garlic with little bubbles on top of it that wouldn’t pop. It was strange.

Ribeye

Ribeye

After testing my gag reflex with all of the strange textures of the meal so far, I was ready for the meat (that’s what she said)! Our fourth course was the Ribeye (black truffle, peas, asparagus). It was amazing…and my favorite part of the meal by far. The meat was so tender and melted in my mouth. It had a good saltiness to it (there was a lot of salt in this meal). The seasoning on it was also perfect. The asparagus tasted just like asparagus…but who doesn’t love asparagus? There was a little tiny bowl shaped thing on the plate with the potato and pea mixture. It tasted just like peas but not as strong and mushy. When I ate the pastry bowl together with the potatoes and peas, it was even better. The crunch and extra salt gave the puree that extra something. I loved everything about this dish and would eat it again and again. Hilary even gave me some of her steak. She’s so sweet.

Hilary: I felt bad that, so far, Ashley hadn’t liked much of the meal so I did give her some of my steak. Not because I did not enjoy it…I loved it! But, I was already getting a little full. My favorite part of this dish was the little puff pastry with the potato-pea puree and pea tendrils with the red flower on top. It was so pretty! Also, the little black truffle hole punches were so visually interesting to me for some reason. Like Ashley said, the ribeye was wonderfully tender. It was almost like the texture of moist cake. I know, weird comparison, but really that’s what it reminded me of. And the red wine and truffle sauce was the shiz-nit! I kept trying to sop it up with each bite. The asparagus was really lovely but I thought it was comical that we only got half a spear of asparagus per plate. Regardless, this dish was one of my favorites.

Roasted Hay Custard

Roasted Hay Custard

Ashley: For our first dessert course, we got the Roasted Hay Custard (fresh crème, maple syrup). This again was a surprising dish. I was expecting sweet but the custard was actually salty. The crème was really sweet though, so it balanced it out a little. There were some crunchy pieces at the bottom that were a little sweeter. I’m assuming those were made of maple syrup. I couldn’t eat too much of the custard though, it was just too strange and salty for me.

Hilary: Wait, did she just say hay? Well, that definitely supports the rodeo theme. At first bite, I thought I really liked this. But the after-taste was blah. There were crunchy things in it that tasted like plain rice krispies. In fact, the whole thing kind of tasted like plain rice krispies and I thought it needed something more. I also wasn’t impressed by this presentation.

Burned Sugar and Rosemary

Burned Sugar and Rosemary

Thanks goodness there was a second dessert to make up for the first one! The second one was Burned Sugar and Rosemary (sable, oats and buttermilk ice cream) and it was awesome!! There was caramel custard, a shortbread cookie and pecan crumble, and little balls which our server told us was whiskey that had formed a natural coating around it. I’m not sure where the rosemary was…maybe it was in the crumble. Everything tasted so delightful together! The one exception was the buttermilk cream. I chose not to eat the cream because it dulled the rest of the flavors. This dessert was sweet, rich, had a soft base with a crunchy topping, a pop of booze…everything you could want in a dessert! Plus, we had coffee with it and it was a delightful pairing.

Ashley: I really liked this dessert. The oat crisps sticking out of the dish tasted just like oats…and they were good. The buttermilk ice cream tasted like a light sour cream (meaning light in flavor, not the “low-fat” version). There was a pecan and shortbread crumble on the dish that was my favorite part. It was like a sweet mix of chopped pecans. I could eat that by itself all the time, it was that good. The server told us the balls of whiskey were like a tiny shot…and she was right! When I bit into it, I got a shot of whiskey. At one point, I found three of the whiskey balls left on my plate, so I ate them all at once…I’m such a rebel. The caramel at the bottom was just a hint of flavor, not overpowering. I liked eating the caramel, pecan and shortbread crumble, and the oat crisps together, but again, I would take that pecan and shortbread crumble by itself any day.

I realllllllly wanted to love this meal but it was too full of soft textures that just didn’t sit right with me. I also felt like every dish was very surprising in that it looked like it should have been sweet but it wasn’t…and apparently, I just couldn’t get passed it. I still love Intro and am glad to have had the chance to try Chef Erik Anderson.

Hilary: There were definitely highlights on each plate during this meal but my favorite plates, overall, were the Oyster, Ribeye, and Burned Sugar & Rosemary. I thought this meal was delicious and I loved being able to try so many new and  interesting things. However, everything was very rich and salty. I was a little disappointed that Erik never came to the table himself to present any of the dishes. Regardless, I’ll continue to check this place out with each new chef because I love being able to experience new talent!

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