Best Bites Chicago

This week’s Best Bite: Maple pancakes from Jam and shrimp & grits from Carriage House

Maple pancakes with meyer lemon custard, sugar, citrus, Jam
Maple pancakes with meyer lemon custard, Indian sugar brûlée & citrus rind conserve, Jam
Shrimp, grits, gravy & tasso, Carriage House
Shrimp, grits, hunter gravy & tasso, Carriage House

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I had two excellent brunch dishes this week, and they were different enough – apart from their color scheme, apparently – that it was too difficult to choose a favorite. On the sweeter side, these citrusy pancakes from Jam were like a light lemon crème brûlée with a maple foundation from the cake itself. The toasty sugar and candied rind added great crunch…and don’t even get me started on the bacon-sausage I ordered on the side (that’s right: sausage made from bacon). I think I liked these even better than the decadent chocolate ones I featured from last year – and I also promise that Jam has more than just pancakes!

On the savory side, these shrimp and grits from Carriage House, which I first visited during Restaurant Week, were just the classic I was hoping for. The head-on shrimp were nicely cooked, the grits were creamy, and the gravy didn’t skimp on smoky, meaty flavor. I was also satisfied with the portion size, especially since we couldn’t pass up a little skillet cornbread on the side (I still can’t figure out their secret, but it is delicious).

I fight the sweet vs. savory battle on every brunch menu. Savory usually wins, so I’m glad that in this case, I can call it a tie.

The details: Jam, 3057 W Logan Blvd., Chicago; Carriage House, 1700 W Division St., Chicago.

Restaurant Week

Recap: Restaurant Week 2013

After 10 days of indulgent dining, Chicago Restaurant Week 2013 came to an end on Sunday. While I’m a little forlorn that the week is over, I’m also very grateful for seven excellent meals, and the chance to share them with you here.

My Instagram photo recaps of each meal are shown in the gallery; follow the links below to read more:

Part 1: Blackbird and Carriage House
Part 2: Vermilion and Cafe Spiaggia
Part 3: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, Sunda, and Frontier
View all coverage.

If you participated in Restaurant Week, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments!

Chicago Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week 2013: Blackbird and Carriage House

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week, held February 1–10, 2013.

Lunch at Blackbird

Smoked Arctic char appetizer, Blackbird
Smoked Arctic char appetizer, Blackbird

Best Bite: While no dish was less than excellent, I was most wowed by the starter, a superbly delicate piece of smoked Arctic char. I loved the crunch from cauliflower and pear, and just enough meatiness from the tiny dollop of ‘nduja, a type of spreadable salami. It set the tone for the other unique flavor combinations to follow. See full menu.

Other notes: Gorgeous plating, quiet space, surprising main course accompaniments (onion noodles and buttermilk sauce to go with grilled sturgeon), and decadent dessert (an elegant Nutella-banana mash-up) with coffee service.

Chocolate hazelnut bread pudding dessert, Blackbird
Chocolate hazelnut bread pudding dessert, Blackbird

The details: Blackbird, 619 W Randolph St., Chicago.

Dinner at Carriage House

Crispy braised pork shoulder
Crispy braised pork shoulder entree, Carriage House

Best Bite: The entree best showed off the restaurant’s upscale take on low-country cuisine. The melt-in-your-mouth pork shoulder came with a host of balanced companions: smoked plums, pickled peppers, and celery hearts, atop grits and pork jus. With prevalent vinegar to cut through the richness, it was a pleasantly refined Southern dish. See full menu.

Other notes: Outstanding side of skillet cornbread, divine coffee-fudge dipping sauce for the beignets at dessert, tasty (and strong) rum punch, colorful ceramic dishware, and a table in the cozy porch area, with plaid flannel blankets over the chairs and plenty of candles.

Skillet cornbread, Carriage House
Skillet cornbread, Carriage House

The details: Carriage House, 1700 W Division St., Chicago.