Sink, Swim, Eat the Way

Time away does the body good. No Facebook. No need to switch into reactionary mode responding to email. No twitching when the phone rings. Even abroad, it means eating without interruption. Oh, but to see how two weeks of stuffing your jaws seemingly fills in your flattened tummy. It’s back to the gym to work extra hard flattening the tummy again and making the abs pop — while showing some love at the many restaurants in Chicago.

Sink | Swim

In the Southern end of Logan Square is Armitage Avenue. What was once a desert is now undergoing a silent renaissance. A year ago I stumbled upon what has become my favourite Italian restaurant in America. And all within walking distance are other swanky shops, cafes, and restaurants that seem to foster community rather than merely being magnets for crowds. Sink | Swim at 3213 W. Armitage Avenue is one of the new restaurants that caught my eye. Had I not been on foot, I would have passed by it without a second glance. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I did.

Cocktail with Gin Base

Cocktail with Gin

Crushed Cucumber Salad

Crushed Cucumber Salad

Waffling between jet lag and ravenous, I scanned the menu and made a quick decision. And just to be punchy, I ordered with the seasons in mind. I started with a crushed cucumber salad and a cocktail that had a gin base. Expecting the salad to be a small plate, my eyes widened when I saw a rather substantial bowl of sliced cucumbers and seaweed served over creme fraiche. The dressing was not heavy, so I could taste the garden fresh cucumbers. The seaweed reminded me of crispy kale. And the cocktail was a splendid complement, refreshing on the palate without any alcohol being overpowering.

Shrimp Toast

Shrimp Toast

Cocktail with Rum Base

Cocktail with Rum Base

For my second course, I had something that I thought would put me in the mind of summer. There was shrimp toast and a cocktail with a rum base. The shrimp toast looked like dainty little sandwiches. Once you got a bite of the shrimp with radish, aioli, and avocado along with a side of summer greens, what you may think is a small plate is not so small after all. I could have had another order of this dish if I hadn’t opted for a small degustation. I was quite impressed by the two savoury sandwiches. And the cocktail with rum as the main ingredient had me thinking of sunsets and recovering from jet lag properly.

Cocktail with Templeton Rye Base

Cocktail with Templeton Rye Base

Whole Gulf Shrimp

Whole Gulf Shrimp

My third course was what I considered my autumn enticement. There was a large bowl of whole shrimp in a white barbecue sauce with fennel and smoked apples. I initially thought the dish looked cute until I bit down into one of the plump shrimp and immediately became addicted. This was the kind of entrée that one would find on the menu at refined Asian restaurants. By the time I got around to working on the third shrimp, I was talking to my food like I usually do. The autumn cocktail I had with Templeton rye was the coup de grace to finalize my deep sleep for the evening. I will have to check the bar menu because the selections the bartender matched with my meals were spot on.

Smoked Chocolate Cake

Smoked Chocolate Cake

And since I was going all out with the dining experience, I had a finale of French pressed coffee with cream and a smoked chocolate cake. The cake was as cute as a button and as rich and decadent as a super moist brownie. Apparently before retrieving the cake from the oven, the chef allows the cake to get exposed to some smoked wood chips. I like different, but I love deliciously exotic and that is exactly what this cake was. Topped with dulce de leche and sprinkled with a generous amount of crushed hazelnuts, I was rather happy that Sink | Swim is in my neighbourhood within close proximity.

Given I was on the hunt for something to eat, I had read a few reviews of Sink | Swim several weeks prior to my visit. There were complaints about the plates being too small, the smell of the sea in the restaurant, and a few other unsavoury points of contention. I asked my server about the small plates and the recommendation that he gave was that they are to be enjoyed with no more than two individuals because of the portions. Ah, yes, that makes perfect sense. A group of five or more having fits over a dish consisting of three pieces is a bit far-reaching. As to the other conniptions pointed out in reviews, the restaurant must have taken those assessments into consideration because what I experienced was a rather divine meal in a swanky atmosphere with top service. While I sank in my bed, thoughts of the degustation of four courses with the flight of three cocktails swam through my thoughts. And it had also occurred to me that I didn’t have a proper smoke afterwards. Oh, wait, I don’t smoke.

Sink Swim Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I See Food at Devon Seafood Grill

Devon Seafood Grill

Recently, I bit down hard and started a Chicago Alphabet Soup page on Facebook. For all the kicking and screaming I did as far as delving into social media, it was a good idea. There is still something of a human touch missing. Friends had told me to add Twitter, Tumblr, and a few other brand name social media outlets to my repertoire. I will slowly add them. One avenue that I thought would be good would be to actually engage people outside of my inner circle for advice, feedback, and recommendations. So, I found myself on the Meetup.com site searching for some foodist-photographer groups. There was one that stood out since it seemed to focus on the photography aspect of being a foodist. As much as I would love to claim major photography skills, there is a lot that I need to learn still. I figured I would recalibrate myself to hone my still shot skills and then indulge Twitter and other social media after a bit of more polishing. All of that research had left me with an appetite.

X-Rated Martini

X-Rated Martini

Sidecar

Sidecar

I called a great friend and mentioned that I was considering going to Devon Seafood Grill at 39 E. Chicago Avenue for my favourite American culinary fare — seafood. It was early in the afternoon and I knew that going before 6:00 PM would mean getting there before all the nouveau laissez faire parents arrived with their little wicked Damians and Rhodas to make a complete mess of the whole dining experience. Ah, but we opted to sit upstairs in the bar area, which solved the problem of witnessing bad little kids doing God knows what all it takes to get their parents’ attention. My great friend and I knew we would have no disturbances while she enjoyed her X-rated martini and I enjoyed my flight of whiskey cocktails.

Tuna Tartar

Tuna Tartar

Unlike some people we have heard ordering chicken fingers at ethnic eateries that don’t even have fancy baked chicken on their menu, we started with tuna tartar. Served over cucumbers and accented with a wasabi sauce, ginger, and wafers, we were rather glad that we had braved the bite of the wind coming off Lake Michigan. The cucumbers had a faint flavouring of ginger, although not atop the ginger. The wasabi drizzle did wonders on clearing our heads. Of course, there was sipping — my friend enjoying her X-rated martini flavoured with raspberry and lemonade and me mouthing off at how much I was enjoying my whiskey cocktail flight. Having started this whole thing with ordering flights of cocktails at restaurants, knowing that flights are not on the menu, our server lit up like the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza. Turns out she was not only a server, but she was also a bartender. And her talents are top. The Maker’s Market basil and lemon whiskey cocktail, the twist on a mint julep, and the twist on a sidecar left me speechless for the greater part of ten minutes. My friend and I acknowledged that we will request her when we return. If she’s not there, then we’ll come back when she is.

Biscuit and Butter

Biscuit and Butter

Shrimp Tempura Sushi Roll

Shrimp Tempura Sushi Roll

Lobster Tamale

Lobster Tamale

Lobster  Roll

Lobster Roll

Now, I had mentioned that I had an appetite earlier. That was no lie. The warm biscuits that came to the table with the dollop of honey butter put Southern biscuits to shame. There was a shrimp tempura sushi roll that rivalled the same sushi rolls I have had at countless top-notch Japanese sushi bars. When Devon Seafood Grill says that they get their seafood in fresh daily, the wow factor in their sushi is an indication that they are not lying. Another rather substantial appetizer that we ordered was the lobster tamale. This was nothing short of bliss in a creamy gravy and we all but picked up the plate and licked it after we had finished. Still, I must admit that one of my main reasons for wanting to go to Devon Seafood Grill was for their lobster roll. I rolled my eyes with each bite, and I don’t mean as in being cheeky. Add to that my habit of humming when food is good.

Lemon Basil Manhattan

Lemon Basil Manhattan

Mint Julep

Mint Julep

Sidebar

Sidecar

But now a good hour had passed and we were ready for more, yet something light. And then came a bowl of mussels to the table with garlic bread. People on self-imposed diets are wishing they had a thread of our hair for their voodoo dolls that they would torture relentlessly. I’m bald, by the way, however, my friend isn’t. There is almost a guarantee to get a batch of mussels full of sand in them. That was not the case with the batch we had. The sauce that they were swimming in was perfect for sopping. With a few more pieces of toast at hand, we made the sauce disappear.

Mussels

Mussels

By now, my friend had finished her martini and I had downed my flight of cocktails and a few glasses of water. My friend had a sip of my sidecar and was so pleasantly pleased that she ordered one of her own. I ordered another one. These were a few notches past ideal with the mixed platter and the plate of halibut. The mixed platter came with sea bass over mashed potatoes, haricot verdes, scallops, shrimp, and crab cakes. For those of you who are based in or around Maryland, Devon Seafood Grill prepares crab cakes the way that they are supposed to be done — with lump crab and a few crumbs to hold the crabs together, not as a cake with essence of crab. The halibut, flaky and wonderful, came with a lobster risotto and mashed potatoes. This was also a few notches past satisfying and all of it went bye-bye in appreciation of its great taste.

Mixed Platter

Mixed Platter

Halibut, Lobster Risotto, Mashed Potatoes

Halibut, Lobster Risotto, Mashed Potatoes

Devon Seafood Grill is one of the incredibly good seafood restaurants in Chicago proper. Yes, there are a lot of seafood restaurants that tout divine food, but quite a few have service that doesn’t balance the output from the kitchen properly, and that often detracts from an enjoyable experience. Devon Seafood Grill does an outstanding job of making sure that patrons’ dining experiences are worthy of return visits. Well, for disclosure, my experiences have warranted repeat visits — barring the episode where a little Rhoda threw her knife, fork, pen, and sticky pad at me in a fit of solidarity against her hands-off parents. One thing I shall note is that the price is not cheap. It is not exorbitant either. For those who go and want to enjoy your meal, I highly recommend sitting upstairs in the bar area. You still get great service. Yet there is an adult atmosphere upstairs where you can also enjoy some great bar service and conversation without yelling if you’re on a date. And if you want to take a chance on getting a flight of some beverage, request a flight of whiskey cocktails. Take your spacesuit because you will shoot straight for the stars thereafter.

Devon Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon Devon Seafood Grill - Chicago on Foodio54

Je suis en amour avec Oceanique

Oceanique

Earlier in February, Chicago hosted what has become the annual Restaurant Week. Many restaurants participated, all pandering to a wide range of tastes: American, comfort, ethnic, barbecue, street, exotic, and more. Thanks to frigid temperatures and work-related travel, I was only to take in about three restaurants. And even then, I opted to have my degustation from their menus rather than partaking of the offering from the Restaurant Week menu. I was not dissatisfied, to say the least. Now, one of the restaurants on the list was Oceanique at 505 Main Street in Evanston, Illinois. Seafood with a French influence, something more to the liking of Southern France along the coast. With an outstanding selection of seafood for the pescatarian in me, I paired the menu choices with a flight of mojitos. Flights are not on their menu, so Oceanique got big ups from me when the bartender complied and came up with a flight that won me over tenfold. Not having my camera then, it was necessary for me to return for a proper blog.

L'amuse Bouche: Icelandic Arctic Char

L’amuse Bouche: Icelandic Arctic Char

Much to my surprise, Chicago was in the throes of Chef’s Week during my return. I was in a mood to be truly experimental, so I had made up my mind that I was going to have another degustation and entrust the server and bartender to create an experience that would make my visit worthier than the first visit. Having secured a seat in the dining area across from the bar, taken the white balance for my photos and video, and happy that I was seated nowhere near anyone, I started with a l’amuse of Icelandic Arctic char ceviche wrapped in leek with a cilantro oil essence. It was served with cucumber, fresh seaweed, and crispy potato. By the time I had finished the l’amuse, a couple arrived and rather than sitting in the main dining area, they chose to sit at the table IMMEDIATELY NEXT TO ME.

Blood Orange Old Fashion

Blood Orange Old Fashion

Wild Maine Lobster Consomme

Wild Maine Lobster Consomme

For my first course, I had wild Maine lobster consomme. At most seafood restaurants, there is almost a guarantee of having a chowder or some bisque served. Oceanique deviates from the norm with ravioli of chantarelles, chunks of lobster, cilantro, and chopped carrots in a clear broth. Outstanding! Because I was being daring for what I wanted in my beverage selection, I had requested a flight of whiskey cocktails for my refined palate. The first, which was served with the consomme, was a slight twist on the old-fashioned — a blood orange old-fashioned. Blood orange, cherries, rye whiskey, and Angostura Bitters make for a rather refreshing whiskey cocktail, one that has made the plain old-fashioned fade from my request list.

L'amuse Bouche: Ravioli

L’amuse Bouche: Ravioli

A few minutes passed and then there was a second l’amuse to come to the table. This one was a butternut ravioli prosciutto with parmesan, and crispy sage, served in a brown butter reduction. Considering this was only a palate cleanser interlude, I was in my Food Magazine mode capturing the sight of it before devouring it slowly. Only in my dining experiences abroad have I had a l’amuse interspersed throughout dinner. Even at many of the high-end restaurants in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, there may be one given at the onset of the meal. Oceanique again smashes the norm. Then again, it may have been because I was creative with ordering a flight of whiskey cocktails and the chef did not want me stumbling about after departing the restaurant.

Beet Salad

Beet Salad

Chartreuse Sazerac

Chartreuse Sazerac

The second course was a salad. One thing I have noticed in my restaurant excursions is that many are fans of beets. Oceanique has a beet salad in a mild vinaigrette that comes to life with a dollop of goat cheese. If ever I were to resort to a diet of rabbit food only, recipes like the one in the beet salad creation would become a staple in my salad recipes. Anyone who favours Thousand Island, ranch, or blue cheese dressing on their salad, should try the beet salad at Oceanique. And the whiskey cocktail that accompanied the salad was a Chartreuse Sazerac. This was another masterpiece, one of whiskey, Peychaud Bitters, and simple syrup with a lemon twist. The second course was absolute tops.

L'amuse Bouche: Wild Skate

L’amuse Bouche: Wild Skate

By the time I had completed the second course, another couple had come in and sat at the table on the other side of me. Plenty of room in the main dining area and lots of tables in the room where I was sitting and they needed to sit near and call some friends, who I gathered was supposed to join them. I sighed and after looking at some of the photos and video that I had captured, the third l’amuse arrived. This was wild Maine skate with leeks and carrots in a white wine reduction. Skate has a texture that is reminiscent of sea bass but slightly silkier. It may be different to some palates, but the flavour overpowers the feel of sinking your teeth through a flavoured cloud. If I could describe how love tastes, the wild Maine skate would be my example.

Evanstonian

Evanstonian

Atlantic Char

Atlantic Char

Up to this point, everything had been a winner. The third course is where I began to wonder why Oceanique was not on the candidate list for a Michelin star. Atlantic char served over mushrooms and puréed split green peas in a savoury reduction were all I needed to start my petition to Michelin to do the correct thing by Oceanique. I had forgotten to mention that I am not a fan of pork in my diet, so the dish came with a few bacon pieces that I moved to the side. However, the bloom in the taste was a true winner for the seafood lover in me. I had not enough compliments for the chef for such a divine course. And to the bartender, the Evanstonian that he mixed has now become my favourite whiskey cocktail. Made with Few white whiskey from an Evanston-based distillery, orange bitters, sweet vermouth, and a splash of Creole Shrubb rum, this cocktail was silky on the tongue and without a bite at the back of the throat. It was this third course that will certainly have Oceanique at the top of my list for the Top 10 restaurant excursions for 2014. And I may have to create a list of Top 10 bartender stations for the year also and add Oceanique to the number one spot in advance.

L'amuse Bouche: Berry Pineapple Sorbet

L’amuse Bouche: Berry Pineapple Sorbet

Allowing time to let the food and cocktails settle, I reviewed more of my photos and video so that I could get an advanced idea of what editing I would do later. Soon the final l’amuse came to the table, appropriately in the form of a berry pineapple sorbet, topped with blackberry and a dash of fresh mint. Having recently become an avid fan of sorbet, I was mumbling “Wow” with each mini scoop. After I had finished the last scoop, the second couple that came in and commenced to place phone calls was joined by two others who spoke in jovial and loud tones. Their need for loud banter became quiet when the bartender approached my table for the dessert course and the chef had come to the table to shake my hand. It had become evident that one of the women was from the South because when she saw the dessert offerings, she rattled off, “I do declare.”

Pot de Creme

Pot de Creme

Whiskey Chocolate Martini

Whiskey Chocolate Martini

The dessert course was for the chocolate fanatic in me — and in all the chocolate lovers who were not at Oceanique with me. The pot de creme is already a part of every chocoholic’s fever dream. This delight was served with blackberries, raspberries, passionfruit, and shavings of Godiva chocolate. You have to enjoy this dessert slowly. To gorge it down quickly would be a crime. Because I was supposed to abstain from desserts until my birthday in April, I initially had a bit of guilt. But I have been good in fending off my dessert desires, so I allowed myself a moment of weakness. To make matters even more wicked, the whiskey chocolate martini was enough for me to be okay with burning in hell. Journeyman wheat whiskey, Godiva white liqueur, half and half, and a splash of Kahlua, and the second woman at the table next to me was clutching her “invisible” pearls and mumbling, “Oh my,” while the men were in a trance.

Ravenswood Rye Whiskey Few White Whiskey Buggy Whip Wheat Whiskey

One thing that my return visit to Oceanique has taught me is that it would be cliché and erroneous to say that if you have gone to one seafood restaurant, you have gone to all of them. The quality of the output from the kitchen is simply divine. Some of the offerings are to be appreciated by a finer palate, though. The term mixologist has been bandied about rather frequently as of late and having discovered that it’s used to reference bartenders, not disc jockeys and emcees, the mixologist at Oceanique deserves an award. The restaurant is not in the immediate downtown section of Evanston, which may make some express surprise when they discover where it is located. The prices are high, as the restaurant caters to high-end and fine dining. With there being a French influence, anything that purports to be French and comes at a cheap price should warrant a rapid dash towards the hills. And as my taxi driver woke me from my snoring on my way home from the restaurant, I paid my fare and spoke in a mock Southern accent: I am in love with Oceanique, I do declare.

Oceanique on Urbanspoon Oceanique Restaurant on Foodio54

A-One Italian-French and A10

A10 Hyde Park

February is speeding with a quickness. And I had thought that I would have visited at least one restaurant per week since the New Year began. Alas, the constant snowing and arctic temperatures when snow isn’t falling joined forces to have me running to the warmth of my condominium rather than to the inviting flavours of any restaurants. That is not a good thing because it means once the temperatures warm up finally and I go outside to venture to restaurants for sampling, I will overdo it and then have issues with the night elves that visit my closet and stitch up my pants such that they’re tight around the belly. Ugh, I hate winter, but I love food enough to brave the chill of the Chicago air every once in a while.

A10 Dinner

A10 Dinner

Baguette

Baguette

A great friend and I had managed to escape to Hyde Park a few weeks ago to sample a new restaurant on the Hyde Park landscape. We were so blown over by the service and the food that the experience had plagued our thoughts and conversations since. After a long weekend of being inside, I had cabin fever. I am not a fan of shopping and long walks along the beach with the wind blowing angrily off of Lake Michigan may be a romantic escape for those who like to play roulette with pneumonia.  But food is my lover and I can stand a walk to the subway and connect to a bus to get to a destination that will take my mind way from the fact that the temperatures never got out of the single digits. So, after making reservations, we went back to A10 at 1462 E. 53rd Street in the new chi-chi fantasy world that has taken over the corner of 53rd Street and Lake Park.

Benromach Scotch Whiskey

Benromach Scotch Whiskey

Templeton Rye

Templeton Rye

Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey

Elijah Craig Bourbon Whiskey

There is always the request for what one would like to start with drinking. My friend tried her hand with an old-fashioned whiskey cocktail since I had it on the first visit and apparently wouldn’t shut up about how much I loved it. After her first few sips, she had kept mentioning how it was an excellent option. I was in a rare mood — no rarer than usual, though. I requested a flight of whiskies. You can hear all the beer connoisseurs mumbling through upturned sneers, “Snob.” With a baguette in front of us served with a plate of olive oil and balsamic with garlic cooked such that it was spreadable, we were off to a smashing start.

Garlic Soup

Garlic Soup

For starters, my friend had a bowl of roasted garlic soup and I had a Portobello mushroom pizza. The soup was hearty and full of flavour. I recommend it highly if you are all about being heart healthy. Even if you are one of those fans of vampire movies and you fear one of the pretty actors with polished fangs may come to you one night to bite your neck, a bowl of that soup would  be perfect for fending off those wicked vampires. The Portobello mushroom pizza was more like grilled toast with cheese, sautéed onions, and pickled carrots. Giordano’s what? Eduardo’s what? Lou Malnati’s what? Domino’s what? Pizza Hut what? The Portobello mushroom pizza was a blast.

Portobello Mushroom Pizza

Portobello Mushroom Pizza

My taste buds had me in a mood for seafood. Fortunately, A10 doesn’t disappoint when it comes to seafood offerings for my palate. I ordered a cold smoked trout that was served over whipped garlic potatoes. Wow! Having had trout fried, having it smoked such that the fish was flaky and meaty has now moved it up into my Top 5 Fish Loves. Because it was all so fantastic, I worked my knife and fork in slow motion, trying to make the moment last as long as possible without letting the dish get cold.

Cold Smoked Trout with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Cold Smoked Trout with Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Many of the specials had pork in the recipe, which was not something that appealed to my friend. Instead, she ordered blue crab ravioli with fried green tomatoes. During the first visit, she and I had shared a bit of our dishes and when I had tasted the ravioli that was bursting with blue crab, I understood fully why she ordered it again. This was not a case of “when all else fails,” but one of “you are certain not to fail by ordering the ravioli dish.”

Blue Crab Ravioli and Fried Green Tomatoes

Blue Crab Ravioli and Fried Green Tomatoes

We sat for a while after we wrapped up our entrées, reminiscing about how Hyde Park used to look. It appears that change is taking over the landscape of Hyde Park in a rapid fashion that would otherwise eradicate charm in other neighbourhoods because of poor execution. However, Hyde Park has been a bastion of diversity and change, so the new look doesn’t feel out-of-place. By the time my friend’s coffee and my cappuccino arrived, we had recounted where old establishments were that have gone away to give way to a shinier, dynamic Hyde Park.

Cappuccino and Biscotti

Cappuccino and Biscotti

In addition to our coffees, there is one dessert we had that I think that everyone in the Chicago metropolitan area, as well as visitors to the Chicago area, must try. It’s soft serve ice cream — and I don’t mean that cold foam you get at McDonald’s. It’s homemade ice cream, but accentuated with almond granola, a honey drizzle, and thyme. I have prepared my share of savoury ice cream, so this dessert was clearly a winner to me. This was my guilty pleasure dessert in advance of my birthday. I had an allowance for something sweet, yet not sugary and definitely not saccharine. It would be a lie for me to say that I was not in love after the very first scoop.

Soft Serve with Honey-Drizzled Granola

Soft Serve with Honey-Drizzled Granola

A10 is relatively new, perhaps only a few months of being in business. Unlike a lot of restaurants that are still in their neophyte stages, complete with fumbling and blaring presentations of overcompensation, A10 has the air of a well-oiled machine. It is also quite obvious that the residents of Hyde Park are appreciative of the restaurant gracing 53rd Street, as there is a constant flow of those from the neighbourhood coming in to partake of the menu offerings. For this to have been my second visit, I have been a minimum of ten notches past impressed. It’s not that the hostesses remembered me. It’s not that our first server came by and spoke. It’s not that those on the hospitality staff welcomed my friend and me back. It’s that they got it right. And for that, I say, “C’est bon et bravo!”

A10 Hyde Park, Bar

A10 Hyde Park, Bar

A10 on Urbanspoon A10 Hyde Park on Foodio54

I Come From Another World

HarvestBerwyn, Illinois, is surprisingly becoming a suburb for those who have no compunction about indulging tasty food. A former colleague who lives in Berwyn has introduced me to a few restaurants that have shown themselves worthy of repeat visits. There supposedly was a feature on television for a restaurant that is out of this world. Autre Monde, translated as “another world,” and at 6727 Roosevelt Road, was touted as a must-go-to eatery for those whose palates enjoy cuisine with a Mediterranean flair. My former colleague had gone to the restaurant and had spoken to how you cannot describe the taste — you simply had to experience it. Well, that was all I needed to hear to know that I wanted to be transported to a another world where people relished at aromas that tickled the noses and flavours that danced about the tongue like lords a leaping.

Autre Monde has a look and feel that is rather common among a lot of lounges in the immediate West Loop and Near North Side sections of Chicago. The lighting is dim, giving a muted orange glow. Everyone is glamorous, almost to the point where you wonder if it hurts to be so beautiful. The atmosphere is intimate. It is always recommended that you make reservations well in advance for the assurance of a seat and you arrive for the time that you have made the reservations, lest you relinquish your seat. The restaurant fills quickly. Of course, the service is outstanding and they will accommodate you if you visit without a reservation. But once you are there, be prepared for one of the best dining experiences of your life and a recognition that Chicago suburbs are, per the current urban lingo, on and popping.

Hummus and Fava Beans SpreadHaving the Christmas season upon us, my former colleague and I were in a festive mood. This was going to be a gathering before I departed to spend Christmas with my family and she to spend it with hers. With the restaurant filled, bearing others who came with co-workers and other friends dancing and doing things a notch short of embarrassing, we figured we would really get started with something from the drink menu. There is a drink called Harvest that is nothing short of autumn in a glass. I never would have imagined that whiskey and cider would be a great combination. Add a dash of cinnamon and you have a winning drink. Because we had saved our appetites for Autre Monde, we were careful not to imbibe the Harvest as though we had been crawling across the desert and were ridiculously thirsty. We tempered ourselves and placed our orders to cater to our degustation wants.

The first course we opted to sample was a plate of hummus and fava beans. There is no reason to ever go to a Mediterranean restaurant and not order any hummus. It is a staple in the Mediterranean diet and with some pita bread, you can fall in love with those creamed chickpeas, olive oil, and spices. Now, add fava beans to the mix and this was nothing short of Silence of the Gino, Mediterranean style. I have had fava beans with fish, chicken, pork, and in a complete vegetarian meal. I have even had them with a Chianti. Having it prepared as a spread was a new experience and one that I enjoyed more than I can put into words. It may be that it was something completely different to my palate. It may be that it was really that delicious. We’re not talking a dish that was heavy-handed with spices enough to be the glaring complete antithesis of a boring plate. It was a perfect start.

Mussels au Sete
Then we moved on to Mussels au Sete. I wanted muscles. I got some now. My arms are noticeably larger than they were several months ago. But I wanted mussels that tasted award winning in a savoury gravy. Lucky for me, I was already at Autre Monde and was happily obliged. It had to be the light gravy that made the mussels have an unforgettable taste. Heavy enough on the garlic but not enough to send a vampire running back to his coffin, my former colleague and I dipped the complementary toast in the sauce and devoured the delicate mussels with a tempered hunger. After all, we had more in mind to sample.

Moroccan Chicken WingsThe third menu item was one we saw going to other tables. The patrons were baring their teeth, frowning, and gnashing away with an animal intensity that made Sally in “When Harry Met Sally” come across rather tame in her mockery during the famous restaurant scene. Moroccan chicken wings landed on our plates and we topped them with cucumber yoghurt and a light pepper syrup. The combination of cool and hot was not something that my dining companion and I were going for but mixing the cucumber yoghurt and the pepper syrup really made the chicken wings scream. Even without adding the yoghurt and syrup, the wings had a flavour that held its own. The crust on the wings was delicate, nothing like the harsh crunch that you get on most fried chicken and definitely not a case of the Kentucky Fried Chicken sort, where the batter is almost feathery. We were contemplating ordering more of the wings, but that would have taken away from the degustation sampling we had planned. We were happy to have bared our teeth, frowned, and gnashed away on the wings that we had the way everyone else had.

Fontina and Wild Mushroom FlatbreadWe then graduated to fontina and wild mushroom flatbread. The whole concept of flatbread is all the rage in Chicago and has been for years. There are restaurants that make sandwiches with flatbread. Some pizzerias use flatbread as crust. There are even a few speciality cafés that serve it with dips and spreads. But when it is done right, it is an absolute showcase of talent. Looking at the fontina and wild mushroom flatbread, one would think it was pedestrian fare. It is anything but plain. The recipe apparently was well-balanced enough that the herbs and spices were present without overpowering the fontina cheese and the mushrooms. And let me not miss expressing the fact that you could taste the mushrooms, not simply chew them and know that they were on the flatbread.

Because the fontina and mushroom flatbread was so amazing, we wanted one more flatbread. An option was the spicy duck sausage flatbread. We immediately flagged this flatbread as a mandatory reason for a future repeat visit. Sun-dried tomatoes and seasoned duck sausage on flavourful cheese. It also found its way between our fingers, rising up from the plate, up towards our mouths where it entered and our teeth went to work. Smiles. Smiles as though we were on Fantasy Island. But it was no fantasy. If I had to choose between Chicago style pizza, Brooklyn style pizza, and the spicy duck sausage flatbread, Autre Monde would be happy to know that their little belly happy menu item would win.

Spicy Duck Sausage FlatbreadFor the finishing touch, we had pot de crème. Many people seek a pot of gold. If I want happiness, I only need the chocolatety hazelnut flavour of pot de crème to paint my face with a smile. So delicious it was that we intentionally took almost half an hour to eat all of it. There was no reason for us to rush through such a perfect dessert. The hazelnut influence in the chocolate custard had the right ratio to let you know that there was the presence of hazelnut but not such that it competed with the chocolate. After all, there were shavings of hazelnut on top with the homemade whipped cream. There could not have been a more fitting sweet.

Pot de CremeAutre Monde is, to put it succinctly, out of this world. For Berwyn to be such a homey suburb, you would never think that a restaurant with high-end atmosphere and top billing cuisine would be there. A few years ago, Berwyn was primarily a walk-up café haven where you were guaranteed some authenticity in the food you ate. The addition of Autre Monde and a few other restaurants will eventually have Berwyn filled with foodies seeking their Holy Grails of dining experiences. The price is commensurate with the quality of the output. The first time I went to Autre Monde, I did not have my camera and wished that I did. There was no way I was leaving home the second time around sans my toy to capture the culinary impressions. Actually, I wished that I had a camcorder to record my thousand faces of happiness as I ate. While I was able to capture the menu items that my former colleague and I had, and a picture is worth a thousand words, you will find that there are a thousand ways to express bliss for something delicious from another world.

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