Just some random thoughts from meals over the past few days. On Thursday, I finally had dinner at GT Fish & Oyster, the latest project from the team behind Boka, Landmark, Girl & the Goat and Perennial (soon to be Perennial Virant). The GT is Giuseppe Tentori, the Trotter alum-turned-seafood-maven, who, while earning accolades as a Food & Wine Best New Chef at Boka, has been spending the past few months up to his neck in all things ocean-sourced.
Like other seafood-focused havens in town (Shaw's, Fish Bar, etc.) there is the obligatory clam chowder and lobster roll. But Tentori's chowder isn't as thick as the other places, and that's just fine; all the better to highlight the giant clam lurking inside the glass jar, its broth a mellow yet earthy echo of the rendered bacon used to cook the vegetables in the stock. We absolutely loved the little housemade oyster crackers on the side. Same goes for the lobster roll (at $22, a bit on the high side), a generous pound of lightly dressed lobster meat held together in a liberally buttered top-split roll, just like they do on the East coast. There's a lot more here than just soup and sandwiches though. Tentori shows off his skills with barbequed eel, a crab-stuffed agnolotti pasta and even a foie-and-shrimp terrine (pictured, above) that has the most pleasant little mound of apricot chutney and pickled onion salad on the side. My only complaint really - and it's one that I've been painfully enduring at new places like G & G, Bistronomic and even the first floor of Maude's - is that if you're dining here to have a conversation with someone, forget it. I could hear everything the people on either side of us were saying, while simultaneously yelling at my dining companion and then straining to hear her response. It's a symptom of new restaurants that is unfortunate; I'm not one to tell people to follow Lettuce's lead, but at least the Melman boys invested in some high-quality sound-absorbing ceiling tiles at Paris Club, which makes a huge difference.
On Friday, I took my kids to Tre Kronor, across the street from North Park University, on Foster Avenue. This tiny little Swedish gem is a neighborhood favorite, and I usually only eat there in December, during their magnificent jülbord/smorgasbord Christmas feast. But I was in the area, and really had a jones-ing for pickled herring (I know, we all do every now and then) so we got right in, and proceeded to order all of the apps: wonderfully smoked salmon (gravlax) with mustard sauce and toast points; a thick, meaty crab cake in a simple red pepper sauce; the national treasure of skagen (shrimp salad) over toast, and of course, the herring plate (pictured, above) with the regular matjes herring and the mustard-coated as well.
On Saturday, we had to go to the suburbs, and while I was very tempted to check out the new iteration of Parker's in Downers Grove, we only had about an hour, so we got off of 88 at Highland, drove a few blocks East, and wound up at the Oak Brook Promenade shops, to one of my favorite West suburban eating establishments: Labriola Cafe & Bakery.
Labriola puts their wood-burning oven to good use. They crank out thin and crispy Neapolitan pies as good as anywhere in the region, and the bread is, of course, the star. It's featured on every sandwich, plus the bread baskets. Even with my slightly overdressed Waldorf salad, there was a thin and crispy dark wedge of toast embedded with fruits and nuts and dusted with crystallized sugar that I couldn't stop eating. The thing most people don't realize, however, is that Labriola also makes some of the best gelato around. I'm not talking stout/maple/exotica you'd find at Black Dog, but more along the lines of traditional stracciatella, hazelnut and a new one: Belgian sugar cookie. If you find yourself anywhere near highway 88 and Highwood, in that Lombard/Oak Brook/Downers nexus, be sure to drop in and try some.
Late Saturday, I popped into The Bedford, which just opened on Friday night. Chef John Manion was working the door, so if you want to scoot past the line, just tell him how awesome his cassoulet at Branch 27 was. The restaurant/bar in a former bank vault is really one of the coolest spaces in town; I only had a glass of Three Floyds and some deviled eggs (with bacon powder - second time in a week I've seen that, first time was at Kanela Breakfast Club), so I didn't really get a sense of the menu, but I'll definitely be back for dinner (they open at 5 p.m.) and will only be closed on Sundays.
Yesterday, we popped into Fox & Obel for a quick brunch. I had never been to the new cafe, facing the townhouses on the South side of the building. The space has, over the years, been used for dry goods, then an employee area, and more recently, turned into a cozy little cafe. The Fisherman's Plate (pictured, below) offered the best of a few worlds: perfectly-poached eggs with rich, eggy hollandaise, but instead of English muffins, they use two crisp potato latkes as supporting discs, and between the egg and latke, there was a nice layer of shredded, smoked trout to give the dish a bit of depth. My only question was, why would you serve roasted potatoes alongside it, if there were latkes underneath? Seems to be a bit of starch overload, if you ask me. Also, don't come here if you're in a hurry. It took us quite a while to place our orders, and we waited at least 35 minutes for our dishes.