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Nov 11, 2010 02:00 AM

uhockey reviews Day 1 Chicago Nov 2010 - Jam, Sugar Bliss, Henri, Pizzeria Uno, Bonsoiree

Another great trip to a great city. Thanks to all the CHers out there for recommendations. Reviews will follow slowly due to my work schedule, but thanks again to all.

Pizzeria Uno
29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

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  1. Jam and Sugar Bliss - Review as below, full pictures in blog.

    The day started like any other in Ohio – early alarm, a trip to the gym, and my typical breakfast…four clock hours later (5 minus 1 accounting for time difference) I found myself seated at a table at Jam in Chicago for the first meal of my most recent trip to the Windy City – this time to see SOFA. With my sister and her art pals coming to town via car and myself flying Jam would be one of my solo meals for the trip and arriving shortly after 8am the place was largely empty. Seated immediately and presented with a menu I ordered a coffee and browsed the scene.

    Owned and operated by Jeffrey Mauro (who was manning the open front kitchen along with a young female,) Jam defines “hipster kitsch” in terms of music (Radiohead to Beach Boys,) layout (Acrylic Chairs,) and menu (upscale brunch classics somewhat reinvented.) It is also cash only. Sipping my coffee, a sturdy blend by Metropolis, I was next greeted by my server and orders were placed – a pastry and the dish described as their “signature.” I will note that the online menu is not up to date, though both the online menu and in-store menu were full of wonderful sounding options.

    Settled in I was first delivered an amuse bouche – a nice touch for breakfast. Slightly bigger than a thimble the apple cider brioche was perfect for the season – loaded with spice and dissolving on the tongue in a manner similar to a gougere.

    Arriving second and plated much more elaborately than I’d have expected from something simply described as a “cinnamon roll” was – well – a cinnamon roll. Served hot off the grill and frosted in the open kitchen the pastry was of similar dimensions to a hockey puck but crisp and flaky seated next to a lovely hand whipped cream and raspberry jam. Somewhere between a croissant and a cinnamon roll in texture, buttery and aromatic – one of the better cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had, and small enough to serve as an excellent appetizer.

    For my main course I opted for the Malted Custard French Toast with Macerated Rhubarb, Lime Leaf Cream, and Pink Peppercorn. Watching the dish prepared from start to finish I will first note that this is some elaborate French Toast – thick brioche was pulled from a large container of liquid and first pan seared prior to entering the oven to be finished. After approximately 10 minutes in the oven the dish was plated and served up piping hot. Unfortunately everything that the toast had in preparation and presentation it largely lacked in flavor. Buttery for sure and interesting in the interplay of lime and peppercorn the dish lacked any sweetness aside from that imparted by the Rhubarb. While this dish may have found a more receptive audience amongst those who prefer a savory breakfast it simply wasn’t my style. Adding to the disappointment, when I was presented with the bill it turned out I could’ve ordered a half-order and thus saved stomach space for another menu item.

    When it was all said and done I settled the bill – just over $20 with a good tip for excellent service – and made my way to the street en route for Millennium Park. While Jam was good, particularly in comparison to the options in my home town, I can’t say I’d rush back – there are simply too many excellent breakfast and brunch spots in Chicago.

    Nowhere near full and having already walked over 6 miles in addition to my workout I decided my next stop would be something to quell my sweet tooth – what better name than Sugar Bliss to accomplish such a task? Owned and operated by Le Cordon Bleu trained Teresa Ging I’d heard fantastic things about Sugar Bliss but had missed out on my previous two trips to Chicago due, largely, to lack of stomach capacity.

    Arriving around 10:00am I was happy to find the shop uncrowded and even more thrilled when I realized they sold minis – what better way to sample a variety? Greeted by a pleasant young lady who couldn’t have been more than 20 years old I asked her what she would recommend and was surprised at her candid answers as she told me exactly which ones she liked and why. Having planned to only try one or two her salesmanship turned that number into one regular sized cupcake, four minis, and a dollar tip - $10 for what was essentially the size of two cupcakes – I told you she was good.

    Making my way to the street I started with a full sized Red Velvet – the method of standardization used in my cupcake ratings. Frosted with a beautiful flower of cream cheese the cupcake was moist and delicate but not the sort that falls apart. The cream cheese was slightly sour and melded excellently with the cocoa. Three bites later the cake was gone and I sat with a smile – certainly one of the best red velvets I have ever tasted.

    Moving on to the minis I started with a nutty and aromatic carrot spice cake and then tasted a lovely peanut butter and chocolate – each excellent. I next moved on to the strawberry shortcake – complete with a Bruled strawberry and decadent whipped frosting. Finally, and most impressively, was a miniature S’mores – a deep and rich chocolate cake stuffed with smoky marshmallow filling and topped with chewy marshmallow frosting plus a chip of graham cracker. Each mini topping out at a single bite (and $1.50 each or four for $5) they certainly were not cheap, but the quality was worth every penny – to this point the best cupcakery I’ve experienced in Chicago.

    Sugar Bliss Cake Boutique
    115 N Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60602

    1. Henri and Pizzeria Uno - Review as below, full pictures in blog.

      In September of 2009 I ate at The Gage prior to U2’s opening date of the US tour at Soldier Field – it was a great meal in the most unlikely of spaces for someone who doesn’t fancy bars, beer, or “pub” food…and the concert was excellent too. Preferring French to any other cuisine I was particularly interested when I heard that Executive Chef Dirk Flanigan and Chef de Cuisine Christopher Cubberley had decided to expand their line of restaurants one door down from the Gage – a new concept called Henri with a menu “influenced by the refining principles of classical cuisine.”

      Named after architect Louis Henri Sullivan, a huge influence on the Chicago city-scape, Henri sits nicely just off of Millennium Park and knowing my sister and friends would not be arriving until mid-day I made reservations for one at noon. Arriving early I wandered the park for a while before returning to the restaurant where I was greeted warmly and sat immediately – still carrying my bags they were checked at once by a friendly hostess. Offered the option of a table near the front or the back I chose the back – as it turns out there were only 2 tables open in the entire restaurant.

      Led through the bustling dining room and seated at a cozy two-top everything about Henri felt the part of classic French Bistro - heavy drapery, velvet walls, hardwood floors, crown molding, crystal chandeliers, and an oyster bar to boot. With water filled I was handed the daily menu and a cocktail list with my waiter returning shortly thereafter to ask if I had any questions and subsequently to take orders. Without belaboring service I will note that for a “bistro” the service was excellent – water never reached half empty, food arrived with adequate description, and timing was excellent – I was never left to want for anything despite the busy nature of the lunch hour at such a popular location.

      Merely moments after my orders were taken I was greeted by the bread man – a friendly fellow presenting a single option, but an excellent one. Described as a “mini baguette” and served with a sweet room temperature butter the roll arrived warm from the oven and a crispy golden crust yielded a soft and supple interior with a delicate crumb. Akin in texture and flavor to Keller’s Epi at Bouchon I ended up eating three of these rolls and gladly would’ve eaten more had I not been trying to pace myself.

      Arriving approximately 20 minutes after seating my first course was obvious – and at $22 the most expensive appetizer choice on the menu. Served with golden pan-grilled brioche the Torchon of Foie Gras with apricot and aged balsamic would turn out to be every bit as good as I’d hoped. Classic in presentation the liver itself was served in three large slices, each topped with salt and pepper plus flowers for garnish. Perfectly cleaned and nicely textured the unctuous liver paired nicely with the sweet and savory aspects of the fruit and vinegar while the brioche was crisp, warm, and buttery. Quality ingredients, excellent presentation – exactly what I expected.

      Finishing up the Foie Gras I sat back and waited for my main course – my other “must order” on the menu loaded with wonderful choices. Arriving piping hot and with a side of crispy pommes frites and ketchup, the Croque Madame with aged French ham, Comte, and Gruyere on Brioche was every bit as classic as the Foie Gras – and every bit as strong a representation. Thick with a sweet and smoky ham the crisp brioche stood up nicely to Gruyere both inside and out while a layer of Comte coated the top of the sandwich. Topped with a single fresh farm egg served over easy I sliced the sandwich bite by bite with the provided Laguiole knife and was absolutely delighted – a dish on par with my favorite Croque of all time at The Butler and the Chef and every bit worth the hefty $18.50 price tag.

      Impressed by the savories I strongly considered dessert until I received a text from my sister saying they’d arrived in town and I was informed by my waiter that the lemon soufflé was only available at dinner. Sated but not stuffed I opted to settle the bill – a bill arriving with a lemon pate de fruit - and thanked my server and hostess for an excellent experience. While I’m sure the hype surrounding Henri will wane as the restaurant ages I certainly hope the quality of food and service doesn’t change. While it certainly isn’t a cheap lunch, the quality and location justifies the cost and a reservation is definitely worth the effort. With Irish Pub and French Bistro exemplified one can only wonder what is next for Chef Flanigan and team, but whatever it is I’ll be sure to check it out.

      Leaving Henri I received a text from my sister saying they were hungry and headed to Pizzeria Uno as they do each year at SOFA. Having never been to Uno on my many visits to Chicago due to the lines and lack of reservations I texted her back – I’d meet them there – I still had stomach real estate to spare. Turning north and walking quickly I arrived at the restaurant in approximately 20 minutes and found the crew seated at a small table in the jam packed restaurant – an order already placed and due in 20 minutes.

      Regardless of what rumor you believe about the invention of Chicago-Style pizza, whether it be 1941 or 1943, Sewell or Malnati, there is no doubt Uno is the name most folks think of when they think of Deep Dish Pizza and as such I expected something special. Arriving a mere 10 minutes after I sat down the pizza arrived piping hot and thick as expected. With a plethoric crust in a well seasoned pan and sides pulled up high the crust was covered with cheese and then, per my sister’s order, Spinach, broccoli, chunky tomatoes, feta, Cheddar, mozzarella and grated Romano forming the Spinoccoli pizza.

      With servings plated for each of us I took a bite of the hot pie and instantly felt a hint of disappointment. Perhaps it was the choice of pie – certainly not what I’d have ordered – but the taste was largely butter and broccoli, no tomato and certainly no bite. Unlike the spicy and acidic sauce melding with creamy mozzarella at Art of Pizza or the caramelized crust herbal sauce at Lou Malnati’s there was simply nothing special to the pie and I certainly couldn’t taste 2 different cheeses, let alone four.

      Paying the modest tab and making our way to the door we passed by a waiting throng of at least forty – I wanted to tell them it wasn’t worth it – to walk down to Lou’s where there is no wait and better pizza. Obviously I refrained – perhaps someday I’ll go back and try something a bit more traditional – but with so many great places left to try I somehow doubt it.

      Pizzeria Uno
      29 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611

      Art of Pizza
      3033 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

      1. Bonsoiree - Review as below, full pictures in blog.

        The circumstances that led my sister and I to a table at BonSoiree on the evening of November the 4th are a bit complex but I’ll try to explain. When I originally booked the trip I knew I would have 4 dinners available, the 4th was to be Schwa with my sister, the 5th undecided, the 6th an Extended Tasting at Everest with a local friend, and the 7th at The Girl and the Goat prior to my flight home. After much debate I selected BonSoiree over Avenues and Graham Elliot as my Friday meal largely due to the excellent looking menu and tremendous customer service provided by Dozzy Ibekwe – the 13 course menu was selected and I was told the chef would be ordering some “unique” ingredients for the evening.

        Excited as I was, things change. First my friend had to change his date due to family issues, then Schwa called me to cancel my reservation only 2 hours beforehand due to issues in their building (more on this in a future review) – scrambling for an ideal situation I called BonSoiree and asked if my sister and I could come in on the 4th. Speaking with Chef Shin I was told that they’d be glad to have us on the 4th but the 13 course would not be available – instead they could do 10-11 courses – and happily we accepted a reservation for 6:00pm – a reservation for which we’d be 45 minutes late due to rain that became hale and traffic that went from slow to stopped. Finally arriving we drove right past the unmarked restaurant at first but then realized our error, parked for free, and walked back in the suddenly clear weather.

        Entering Bonsoiree we were greeted promptly and given our choice of “any two top” as the restaurants 26 seats were less than 1/3 full. Seated towards the front and away from the kitchen I have to admit I was somewhat taken back by the design of the space – intimate to say the least a combination of exposed brick walls, dangling track lighting, and floral sculptures plus a soundtrack of the kitchen’s sounds were all the ambiance provided and small details such as chipped paint seemed a tad out of place. Notably the hand selected plates at each course were an excellent touch but unfortunately a few were chipped and certainly needing replacement in the coming months, the silverware too was dingy.

        Hanging our server her BYO “S.O.S.” beer we were provided with filtered tap water and our somewhat extended menu was confirmed. BonSoiree does not offer bread service or any beverages outside of water and while I will note that service was adequate, it certainly was not on the level of that provided by Dozzy in arranging the evening. Certainly everything arrived nicely and with excellent temperature and adequate description plus I was even presented with a hand printed copy of the menu at night’s end, but plates often sat empty for several minutes prior to clearing, water thrice reached empty, and servers largely seemed disengaged from the diners until the very last two courses.

        Beginning the meal would be the nightly amuse a Frozen Black Grape topped tableside with a creamy Warm White Grape Cider. An interesting texture and temperature contrast this opening volley was simple in concept but dynamic on the palate as it was downed in a single gulp.

        The first proper course of the meal would be Pumpkin Salad with Escargot, White Anchovy, Baby Frissee, and Pumpkin 5 ways. Served on an elaborate plate made of hand-blown glass this salad was a great introduction to the chefs’ style with a unique interplay of sweet and savory, textured and smooth, and French technique meets Eastern styling. With pumpkin seeds, vinaigrette, boiled, tempurad, and pickled forming the majority of the dish the varying styles were appealing to both the eye and the mouth while the nicely prepared Escargot melted on the tongue. Not particularly a fan of Anchovies in general I will note that these were actually quite mild and nicely balanced by the bitter greens and punchy vinaigrette.

        The second course would prove to be the most traditional Japanese presentation of the night, but at the same time not traditional at all in its flavor profile. Titled Crab and Scallop Motoyaki with Torched Ponzu Aioli the dish was served in a shell with sizeable chunks of fresh crab and scallops interspersed in the creamy admixture with hints of soy and yuzu. First cooked in the oven and then bruleed for a crackling crust the dish was potentially the most sweet of the evening, even compared to the desserts.

        Dish number three was perhaps Chef Shin’s “signature,” an item always available at a supplemental cost. Entitled Duck Duck Goose the course featured a nicely prepared slice of Seared Duck Breast atop melt-in-the-mouth and surprisingly un-crispy Duck Confit alongside a seared slice of Foie Gras, fig puree, crabapple, and smooth saffron gastrique. Served elegantly in stackable Plexiglas boxes I was pleasantly surprised that my sister actually enjoyed this rather firm preparation of Foie as she generally does not. A solid dish I must say that as a supplement it really did not seem to “fit” the East meets West theme of the rest of the meal.

        Getting back to the seasonal menu, plate four was a shallow yet enormous rimmed bowl featuring Kabocha and Nasturtium Soup with Tempura Chive Bites, Japanese Cajun Spice, Oberon Caramel, Maitake Chip, and Cognac Apple Melt. Boozy and spicy, sweet and savory, and smooth as silk until you added the tempura bites the nutty sweetness of the Japanese Pumpkin was perfectly highlighted by the multitude of ingredients, each detectable but none overwhelming save for the mild aftertaste of cognac.

        Dish five was another “always available” supplement on the Bonsoiree menu – the Smoking Bacon Box with house cured pork belly bacon, sunny side quail eggs, toasted ouzo marshmallow, and applewood smoke. Served in a small box and opened tableside with a puff of smoke arising from the marshmallow that filled the room with a lovely smell of pork and spice we both found this dish to be far more successful than the Duck Duck Goose – it was the second best dish of the night by both our palates. Crispy and slightly sweet the pork was divine while the egg added its characteristic smoothness – a dish worth visiting Bonsoiree for any time of the year.

        Arriving after the box was my sister’s favorite dish of the night, served in a long hollowed out porcelain bowl, Slow cooked Rabbit with Madeira Beurre Blanc, Pancetta Gnocchi, Tomato Intensity, and Sage Silhouette. Nutty and supple the rabbit was the best I’ve tasted and it paired nicely with the robust sweetness of the Madeira. Flanking the rabbit were two fluffy pillows of savory gnocchi, tomato confit, and dehydrated sage that had been concentrated and melded with gelatin to form a single blade of “sage” that tasted, if possible, more sage-like than the herb itself. While I wasn’t quite as wowed as my sister who was still talking about it days later it was certainly an outstanding dish.

        For our “main course” we saw a return to Shin’s French meets Asian ingredient style in the form of Pumpernickle Crusted Lamb Loin with Karashi, Japanese BBQ, Furikake matchsticks, nori-roasted sunchoke. Not a fan of mustard in 95% of instances I certainly could have done without the karashi, but aside from that small detail this dish was quite good, albeit not quite as adventurous as others of the meal. Nicely prepared the lamb itself was excellent and ample in portion. Flanking the lamb loin was a lamb-neck meatball with spiciness reminiscent of chorizo and crispy sunchokes plus matchstick “fries” both tasting somewhat briny. Served horizontally on an unfortunately chipped porcelain plate the dish was potentially the most oriental “looking” of the meal.

        Moving on to our cheese course, my favorite of the night, the 8th dish of the evening featured Uni Grilled Cheese with Candied Brussels Sprouts, French Onion Dust, and Pomegranate Molasses. While my sister did not fancy this dish, largely because she does not prefer the unctuous nature of urchin, I personally loved the manner in which the uni butter and small section of mollusk accented the aged white cheddar. Featuring untraditional cheese-course sides like a crisp candy-like Brussels Sprout and intensely fructose molasses I could’ve eaten about 5 of these instead of the two I ended up having.

        After a short break and chit-chat with our neighbor (a single female Chicagoan who’d obviously been to Bonsoiree multiple times but had never heard of Alinea) we were informed it was time for dessert – the first of which was served on a simple white plate and entitled Boston Cream Beignets with Cardamom Fudge, Almond Icing, Charred Nectarine, Creme Brulee Ice Cream. A stunning dessert in all ways this dish featured a Cocoa Laden Beignet coated with Almond Icing and a Vanilla Cream Beignet with a gingery fudge situated atop a drizzle of smoky nectarine puree. In a small cup sat a smooth frozen custard topped with a crystal chip – it too was delicious, but almost “too sweet.”

        The final course of our evening was served with instructions – specifically to “break” the yolk and to eat the “Button” last. Clever and whimsical the Eggs Benedict with Sweet English Muffin, Candied Bacon, Lavender Hollandaise, Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, Encapsulated Mango, and Sansho Pepper Button looked very much like its namesake breakfast dish. With a scone-like muffin sliced lengthwise and topped with candied pork, a ring of smooth vanilla, and a Moto-like fruit capsule the true star of this dish was actually the Hollandaise – a thick and creamy sauce with excellent floral tones that seemed to bring everything to a peak on the palate. Having never experienced Sichuan (Sansho) pepper in the past I have to admit I was a bit curious on why we were instructed to eat this last and separate from the dish but a single taste set aside all question – talk about the ultimate palate cleanser.

        When it was all said and done the total with tax and tip was approximately $140 per person – certainly not cheap, but also not out of line when compared with other 9+ course tasting menus in the city (Avenues, TRU, Moto, L2o, Alinea, Graham Elliot, Schwa, etc.) Settling the bill I thanked everyone for a great meal and for being so accommodating, but I still felt somewhat guilty for changing plans last minute – I still wonder what could’ve been had we done the 13 course with specially ordered items.

        That noted, I feel Bonsoiree sits amongst the top 10 restaurants I’ve experienced in Chicago and the setting and price point (especially for those who choose to bring alcohol) is quite nice for both the shorter and longer menu. An excellent reservationist and a talented chef could very well net Bonsoiree a star when Michelin hands out rankings in a week but considering Shin’s talents I rather wonder if they could aspire for more by focusing on the little things like silverware, plating, and service. Overall I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Bonsoiree for a nice night out – but I’d also not rush back before returning to a number of other Windy City top tables.

        1723 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614

        2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

        Moto Restaurant
        945 W Fulton, Chicago, IL 60607

        2407 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

        Graham Elliot
        217 W. Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654

        4 Replies
        1. re: uhockey

          Wonderful review, uhockey. I love Bonsoiree and think it is one of the city's most under-rated, under-recognized restaurants.

          1. re: chicgail

            Location likely has something to do with that - I'd really like to see what they could turn out on the 13 course some day, but Schwa was just too big a deal to pass up. Overall there are small changes Bonsoiree could make that would put it on the level of "best" in the city, but they're doing a damned solid job as they are.


            2728 W Armitage, Chicago, IL 60647

            1. re: uhockey

              Uhockey, I enjoy your reviews immensely, but I admit to being TOTALLY AMAZED by your gastro-capacity. Breakfast, cupcakes, lunch, and then deep dish pizza? Awesome.

              1. re: dulcie54

                I've begun to realize that it is a tad abnormal - but I'm glad for it. :-) Glad you enjoy the writing.