Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Round-up: Lazy Writing or Too Much Dining?

Written by Peter

As someone who’s written for pay for many, many years, I know the value of the “round-up”—a valued chestnut in any writer’s toolkit. A “round-up” allows a writer to avoid delving too deeply into any given subject, providing instead the ability to create a pastiche of impressions or convey short little nuggets of information. You’ve all seen and read countless of these puppies: “10 New Boutiques With the Best Beads,” “5 Toe-Tapping Tapas Bars,” “8 Mystery Novels From Florida Writers.” These kinds of pieces allow any writer worth his or her salt to go on auto-pilot.

In this case, however, it’s all about wading through volume. We eat out a lot. A whole lot. And if we reviewed every restaurant, writing reviews would be all we’d do. Hence, the round-up below. Perhaps instead of the headline above, maybe we should call this one: “Receipts Found When Cleaning out My Wallet.”

Landmark Grill + Lounge
This is our kind of place. Beautiful woods, soaring ceilings, a killer wine list, good-looking clientele (present company included, of course) and, most important, great food. This restaurant really deserves its own review, but, well, you read the introduction. Some highlights: The lobster bisque was smoky and deep, not as creamy and rich as its traditional preparation. Although I do love the cream-soaked decadence of classic bisque, this update was a welcome change. The pork chop was even better and ranks now as the tastiest I’ve ever ordered (an honor previously held by Jean-Ro Bistro). It came barbequed with a light glaze, served on top of white corn grits. The salt of the chop and the sauce dripped to mix with the grits, creating a delightfully salty stew. The chop was brined then cooked to perfection and although Angie doubted my ability to eat the entire portion, I yet again showed her why I may have a future in eating competitions. A final highlight (this is a round-up, remember?) was our shared goat-cheese ravioli. I’ve become a big fan of English peas and this dish featured those in a big way. The raviolis, soaked in a parmesan soup of sorts, threw together some big flavors and with a few more on the plate, would have made for a satisfying entrée. 1633 N. Halstead St. 312.587.1600.

Las Palmas
We eat a lot of food from south of the border. And be it burritos from the Burrito House at the corner of Lincoln and Addison or guacamole from Lalo’s, we almost always love what we have. Las Palmas was no exception, but offered something extra in an atmosphere that was both visually stimulating and fun. We stopped in at this Bucktown location after jewelry shopping. Angie’s been on a jewelry buying kick lately, and she received word that one of her favorite designers was having a sale. So we hopped in the car, found a hell of a parking spot and walked to the boutique. After buying a few items, we kicked around the neighborhood, in a conscious attempt to avoid the piles of work waiting for us at home. It was Cinco de Mayo and a few of the tequila lounges were already in a festive mood, and the streets were clogging with young families and urban hipsters. And us. We were going to stop into Piece for a few slices of pizza, but when we passed this place, we just turned right in. Burnt orange walls. Large paintings (we sat underneath El Diablo) and ducts wrapped to look like palm trees greeted us. The restaurant is large; we, however, sat in the smaller and funkier front room. It was too early (by our standards) for tequila or anything alcoholic so we had a couple of juice blends. Angie had “agua fresca,” a mix of strawberries that was not as thick as a smoothie and much more interesting. As is our custom, we had the guacamole mixed tableside and our server was fun and friendly as she prepped one of our favorite foods. The salsa that accompanied it was deep brown and smoky, which is how I prefer it. Our entrees were tasty, although non-transcendent. Presentation, however, elevated them above standard fare. Each items was given its own space on the rectangular plate, a far cry from the usual “ingredients soup” that some plates become. 1835 W. North Ave., 773. 289.4991.

King Crab
Is it a bar? Is it a restaurant? After three bloody marys, who cares? We stopped in here after an event at the Steppenwolf theater (to see Grant Achatz no less) and didn’t expect a whole lot. And that’s fine. Who says every time a fork passes our lips it needs to transport us somewhere…like Alinea? This place serves food as you’d find it on the east coast: pulled from the sea and set on your plate unadorned. I had a fish sandwich and it…it…filled me up. Angie’s seafood salad disappointed her. It featured less than fresh greens covered in just a few meager shrimp and crab bits. But what I would recommend here are the Bloody Marys. Served with a skewer of shrimp and a lot of booze, they more than make up for any culinary shortcomings. 1816 N. Halstead. 312.280.8990.

Brownstone Tavern & Grill
Yet another fine find within walking distance of our house, perched on a busy corner between of Lincoln between Addison and Irving Park. Angie and I set out for a walk on a warm evening, became hungry and voila, we found ourselves standing in front of the Brownstone. We opted for a table outside and found ourselves within a classic mix of north-side types: young families with kids running around the tables enjoying the warm evening, people with dogs sitting quietly and waiting for scraps and handsome couples…oh, wait, that’s Angie and me. The food is a solid cut above bar variety. We shared the Reuben rolls, lightly fried little dumplings stuffed with corned beef and sauerkraut and, of course, tangy thousand island dipping sauce. My chicken tortilla soup was rich and red, and as the sun was dropping along with the temperatures, just what I needed to keep warm. Angie had the seared salmon. This was served in a cold cerviche and provided a spicy counterpoint to the sedate salmon. We’ll be back here often, as this place has proved that not all of our dining-out options need to take us a few blocks south to Roscoe Street. 3937 N. Lincoln Ave. 773.528.3700. Look up the restaurant at

Paula Deen would love this place. If she were funkier and urbanier (yeah, it’s a word—look it up). Southern cooking with a city twist is what this place is all about. And yep, it’s yet another swell place we can walk to. The first thing you notice when you walk in is how big the place is, especially for this part of town. There’s fun art on the walls (a couple of pieces we may buy, actually) and fun people in the booths and tables. Everyone seems to be in a good mood here, and why not? The sun streams through the two walls of windows and the food comes fast and filling. It was the brunch hour when Angie and I stopped in, fresh from a good walk around the neighborhood. In my battle between lunch and breakfast, I decided to stay on the middle path: I ordered the North Carolina crab cakes. The two small cakes were more crab than breading and dipping each bite in the hollandaise sauce side made for a bite so rich that I was afraid Angie would give me the “you’re fat” look. (She did, ultimately, but only when I suggested we split an order of bacon.) A big corn muffin and cheese grits rounded out my plate. How can it get more southern than that? (I suppose a mint julep would have made it so, but we had more walking to do.) Angie went with red beans and rice with a side of apple sausage. It was as good as it sounds; again, one of those dishes from which a diner doesn’t demand too much, just some solid filling-upedness. (Yep, that too is a word.) This was our second meal here (we cured our New Year’s Day hangovers here months back); it’s a fave of ours and I’m sure we’ll wander by and in many more times. 3300 N. Lincoln Ave. 773.549. 4105.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Finally a write-up from Peter! Totally worth the wait. Well done you!