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North Pond

On my last leg of my Chicago Four Restaurants in Four Days Tour, I had brunch at North Pond. Besides the myriad of recommendations and loads of reviews I’ve read, I also had a friendly connection to the restaurant, so I knew I couldn’t pass it up.

I woke up around 9:15 AM, after hitting the snooze button twice. I was on a fairly strict schedule because I had a plane to catch and needed to be at the MIdway Airport by 2 PM. I walked outside, excited that the bus stop was right across the street form the hotel. I headed to the Grand and Michigan stop to catch the 151 northbound bus. One small problem. Grand is a non-existent street. Actually, that’s not true. Grand is the street that runs perpendicular to Michigan Ave, but at the point of intersection, it is under Michigan. That’s right, the Marriott that we stayed at was literally on a bridge. After pacing around for about 5 minutes, I realized where the stop was. I waited for about 10 minutes, then I was on my way.

I am a huge fan of the Chicago Transit System but some of the stops are confusing! Google Transit told me I should take the 151 to Stockton & Rosalyn. Well guess what? I did not see that intersection anywhere. For five minutes, my eyes were fixated on my smartphone with Google Maps and MS Live loaded. I was trying to find the next best stop. On multiple occasions, I had actually thought I missed my stop. I passed by many parts that looked like locales for the North Pond I’ve been reading about. Finally, I saw the actual restaurant and quickly pulled the stop request cable. Since it was fairly early morning (about 10:35 AM), and the neighborhood and street was calm, the bus driver stopped in the middle of the street to let me off. What did I tell you about Chicago?! I zipped up my jacket and walked toward the restaurant, stopping only briefly to admire the lake and the fantastic view (more on that later).

North Pond, I heard, isn’t getting much love via the local press lately. Nothing negative, but just not much coverage. This is a shame, because it truly is one of the city’s hidden treasures. The restaurant is situated in Lincoln Park, on the northern edge of a small pond. It delivers an unobstructed view of the magnificent Chicago skyline that is remarkedly different than the one Ted and I saw on top of the Hancock building. In 2003, Chef Bruce Sherman was nominated as one of the Best New Chefs by Food & Wine Magazine. He joined North Pond in 1999 and has been delivering amazing food, with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients, ever since.

I arrive with a few minutes to spare and first asked if Ginger was there. The hostess gave me a funny, surprised look and said she was. I was then asked if I wanted to check in my coat and bag. Now here’s something I noticed about Chicago. I guess since it’s so col and everyone always wears coats, they have coat checks in most/all of the restaurants. It’s not only fancy places like LA. You can check in your coat at the bar, at the club, at the diner. I asked for a seat with a view and she asked me where I wanted to be seated specifically. I explained that this was my first time in Chicago and this was the last restaurant I was dining at before my flight so I’d leave it up to her discretion. She chose a great window seat for me that offered both a view of the park, and the skyline behind the lake.

The waitress came and took my drink order. I saw that they had Intelligentsia iced tea so I got that. As a side note, I love seeing and ordering Intelligentsia products when I see them on menus, but to be honest, I am not sure they taste that much better or different to me. I guess it’s nice to see a respected name brand rather than just the generic “coffee” or “tea” listing, which always conjurs up images of cartons of Folgers or Lipton. The Sunday Brunch menu is sort of fixed. The way it works is you order one item from each of the three sections so you come up with quite a number of permutations. After I placed my order, I told the waitress that I had to be done by 12:30 PM. She made a note of it and said they could accomodate that. In retrospect, I didn’t have to mention anything at all because the meal, even at a leisurely pace, took a little less time than that.

After my iced tea was brought out, I sipped it while starting outside the windows. I saw birds and lots of people jogging through the park. The weather was perfect with clear skies and the sun overhead. There was some good music playing in the background. I couldn’t tell if it was Harry Connick Jr, the soundtrack to Moulin Rogue, or a French or Italian artist I didn’t recognize. Or perhaps, all three? In any case, it was the final element that rounded out the picturesque setting. At that time, there were only two or perhaps three other tables in the room with me. I think they were all there for special occasions and it made me think of the night before when I made reservations. The lady on the phone asked if this was a special occasion. I think that gives you an idea of what sort of restaurant this is; a nice place that you’d go to for a celebration.


Mini scone with dried fruit and sugar glaze

Before the first course was delivered, I was given a small scone. It was the best scone I’v ever had in my life. No joke. It was diminutive in size but it turned out to be the perfect three or four bite piece. The top had a nice sugar glaze (sort of like a donut), and the dried fruit (which I think were cranberries) were sort of crispy and soft at the same time. The crust was hard and the inside was soft, like perfectly baked brownie. It really set the tone for the rest of the meal.


French Toast, Bacon; Citrus Brioche French Toast, Bacon Lardon, Roasted Pineapple, Whipped Creme Fraiche

For the most part, this dish was a winner. There was a nice large mint leaf on top that actually served a purpose. When I took a sniff of the dish, the heat from the French Toast, released essential oils from the leaf and I could really smell a freshness from the dish. thin this really works well to highlight Chef Sherman’s commitment to fresh ingredients. The dish was made with brioche which I think is pretty much the only choice for good French Toast, besides croissants perhaps. It was at least an inch thick and very custardy. I think perhaps, a little too much. I think it would have been better if it was left to drain after being dunked. I also think that since it retained so much of the custard base, it was very hot to eat. This is not a big deal and works itself out with time, but it was a minor and surprising annoyance. The syrup, which had a strong dominating flavor I later found out was fennel seed in the batter, was delicious mixed with the pieces of bacon. I was first exposed to combining bacon with sweets via Vosges’ Mo’s Bacon Bar, and I am glad to see chefs serving this combination. I could have done without the pineapple. I don’t think it really added anything to the dish.


Vidalia Sweet Onion Veloute Soup; beets and micro-chives

This amuse was brought in a tiny cup, “compliments of the chef.” It was plesantly tangy and sweet, but not as sweet as French Onion soup. The tiny cubes of beets offered a nice contrast and reminded me of home. A small problem I had was it was impossible t get a little bit of beat with each sip of soup. In fact, all the beets flowed into my mouth with the first gulp, leaving half the soup beetless.

I should take a moment to mention the service here. My iced tea and water were never more than half empty before they were refilled. The silverware was constantly replaced with fresh sets in anticipation for the next dish. I witnessed coordinated deliveries with the other tables throughout the whole brunch. It has every indication of a fine dining experience in a more comfortable setting.


Beef, Potatoes; Spice-Rubbed Hanger Steak, Olive Oil Poached Potatoes, Trumpet Royale, Balsamic Glaze, Shallots

This dish was a winner. The shallots were fried so they were sweet and crispy. Fried onions is simply a wonderful addition to any meat dish. The steak was perfectly seasoned, with noticeable specks of Fleur de sel on top. I am starting to learn there’s nothing wrong with displaying seasoning. There was a strange, large, leaf on top as a garnish. I thought it was a bay leaf but now I am not sure. Maybe a lemon leaf. I am not a huge fan of inedible garnishes. The mushrooms were delicious and so sweet. I didn’t remember reading what type they are and as I type this, I am on the verge of going to Costco to pick up a carton. We’ve cooked with Trumpet mushrooms before but they didn’t taste this good. I wonder what the secret is. I felt there were too many asparagus tips. I am a big fan of the vegetable, but it there was too much. Finally, how can you go wrong pairing a balsamic glaze with red meat?


Mocha, banana; Chocolate-Coffee-Banana Mousse Cake, Caramelized Bananas, Coffee Tuille, Chocolate Sauce

First of all, I love bananas. I know many people don’t like it because of the texture. I have no problems with it. I love it raw, mashed, in pie, in bread, as a cream. This cake was amazing. The layers were perfectly even which showed an incredible amount of craftsmanship and attention to detail. The plate was nicely composed. The best part, however, had to be the texture. It tasted like eating a banana! Just take a minute and wrap your mind around that. They took a banana and used it to make a cake but the cake tastes and feels like a banana. Stellar.

[seeds]

With my bill, I was given a small packet of seeds. What a nice touch!

Total for one: $50

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