The Friday Feast: From brioche to borscht

January 15, 2010

For most people, Friday is the day to kick-off the weekend, and start shifting into relaxed mode. While I still look forward to the end of the work week, I also realize that it means I've got a lot on my plate. For instance, today I've got two reports running on ABC 7 - as I always do - one at 11 a.m., the other at 10 p.m.‚  The two stories have nothing to do with each other. Then in the afternoon, I'm usually out, running around to various locations, shooting my stories for the weeks to come. Today is a double-dose of deliciousness, and yet each story has its own unique angle.


Kith & Kin's wild mushroom ragout and hand
cut papardelle (Andrews and Braddy Studio)

 

At 11 a.m., I'm visiting the unfortunately named Kith & Kin ("Friends & Family"). Try saying that five times fast. David Carrier is the Executive Chef, and he's assembled a solid team, including alums from Pops for Champagne. Carrier has worked at The French Laundry, was Grant Achatz's sous chef at Trio in Evanston, back when Grant was just beginning to gain national recognition for his creative food, then he and his wife, Ryanne, moved to Apalachicola, in the Florida panhandle, to work at Avenue Sea at the Gibson Inn for a few years. He recently returned to run Kith & Kin, in the former La Canasta space on West Webster. Talk about a shot in the arm. In a neighborhood that claims John's Place and The Athenian Room as its best dining options, Carrier has brought an almost religious zeal for using the best ingredients (sometimes overlooked ones), and is employing the techniques he's acquired over the years. Spending a few minutes back in the kitchen, watching him assemble a grouper cheek sandwich on homemade brioche buns, you keep hearing the "yes, chef" and "right away, chef" callbacks that are more commonly heard in finer three-star establishments.

One of Carrier's sandwiches has no peer: seven meaty grouper cheeks dredged in a Schlitz beer batter and fried, stacked like a Monet hay bale on top of homemade, eggy brioche - which just happens to be slathered with a zippy, homemade tartar sauce.‚  There's shredded lettuce, some tomato and a cone of thin frites (not made in-house...yet) and on the side, a pickle as perfect as any cucumber could ever ask for, assuming its bath of coriander, garlic and salt were as luxurious as the ones Carrier is drawing.

The Gulf influence is obvious in a dish like that, but then you see his shrimp and grits on the menu, and you just know that this is Low Country cuisine like only Louis Osteen could imagine. Anson Mills grits serve as the pillowy base, of course; their name is as synonymous with artisanal grits as Niman Ranch has become with respect to pork.‚  But then Carrier adds the plumpest shrimp - deveined of course - that are sauteed with cubes of butter and a smoked shrimp stock, rather than anything remotely pork-related.‚  He also wilts some sturdy collard greens in the pan and then arranges all of the components over the soft grits, dumping any and all stock and sauce over the entire bowl.

At 10 p.m., I'm beginning a new, monthly feature, entitled "My Country, My Cuisine." I'm going to ask a friend or colleague who was born in another country, to take me to a restaurant that reminds them of home.‚  As much as I love exploring the ethnic diversity in and around Chicago, my hope is that this process will teach me - and our viewers - a lot more about the local culture, food customs and methods for eating all of these unique dishes.

Since I'm Polish (with a little bit of Russian mixed in), I'm beginning the series in Poland tonight. Well, more accurately, on the city's far Northwest Side, where my good friend Karolina has found a place that reminds her of her grandmother's cooking, when she was growing up in Southeast Poland. You'll be surprised - as I was - there was less emphasis on pierogi and stuffed cabbage, and more attention paid to whole, roasted duck, white sausage‚ topped with caramelized onions‚ and a clear, deep-purple‚ borscht served with a beef-filled croquette that I could swear was an eggroll. Anyone care to wager where this restaurant is?