Steadfast has lofty ambitions but "still feels like it's getting its footing," writes Mike Sula. The Fifty/50 Group's newest fine dining spot inside the Kimpton Gray Hotel offers dishes "so irresistible you want to order them again ... side by side with some so unappealing they're difficult to look at." To start, a "deliciously weird" sweet foie bonbon is full of "creamy, rich livery" torchon in a dark chocolate shell while the impressive bread service is not to be skipped. Likewise, chicken-fried quail, the fideo and sweetbreads are all winners worth ordering. But some "promising-looking dishes go off the rails," such as "uncharacteristically moist" cider-braised rabbit surrounded by "tough, rubbery" shrimp balls and chorizo-stuffed chicken ballotine garnished with "tasteless" black truffles. Desserts are a "uniform delight" and include a dish of honey ice cream with sage pound cake and bee-pollen-infused whipped cream. Sula thinks the restaurant has to fix the "land mines" before it can reach its full potential. [Reader]
If you can't make it out to Yountville, CA., Next's current homage to The French Laundry is a sublime recreation of the experience. Grant Achatz and his team take a stroll down memory lane and present the iconic restaurant's cuisine, circa 1996, in 12 courses. It starts with Thomas Keller's famous salmon cornet canape before proceeding onto a variety of soups like a carrot soup akin to "sipping liquid carrot." The famous "oysters and pearls" dish is a rich indulgence featuring pearl tapioca and oysters supporting golden osetra caviar while entrees include butter-poached lobster and a "superb" short-rib pot au feu topped by an "unctuous nugget" of battered bone marrow. The meal is finished with foam-topped cappuccino semifreddo in a coffee cup alongside cinnamon-dusted doughnuts and "more mignardises than any normal person deserves." In the end, it's a four-star meal that Phil Vettel has become accustomed to at Next. [Tribune]
Michael Nagrant thinks The Loyalist "need[s] revisions" to make the place "truly top-notch." The "Noble Nothing" cocktail, made with bourbon, demerara sugar, Amargo-Vallet Angostura bitters and lemon verbena, is like "drinking very expensive leather in the middle of a citrus grove" and makes him "feel like a king" but the food is hit-or miss. Slices of ripe honeydew and cantaloupe dipped in crunchy cashew dust is "salty, sweet and funky" and the best dish on the menu. However, an overpriced $8 biscuit rides the "edge of dryness" while a bowl of grilled squid could use a "touch of acidity." It's redeemed, though, by "crackling, crusted, juicy-to-the-core" chicken thighs and a very good burger. If the kinks are worked out, Nagrant believes The Loyalist could really shine.
Pleasant House Pub is as nearly good as it ever was at its new home in Pilsen. The beer list is "fantastic" while the royal pies are still "excellent." The mushroom and kale pie stands out in particular as the "ultimate crack rock-like addictive pastry" and a "deeply savory dish." Lighter fare includes the royal chef's salad that "provide[s] nice contrast" with baby kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, Stilton cheese, walnuts, barley and apples. Fish and chips don't fare as well, coming out "over-fried and dry" but "unimpeachable" lacy crisp cookies are a delightful treat to end the meal. [RedEye]
The Northman delivers a "hefty array of ciders you'll want to drink your way through," according to Elizabeth Atkinson. Calling it an "education in cider," she lauds the "impressive" selection and recommends the Spanish long pour cider or the calvados, an apple brandy. Food is "pleasing but mostly incidental to drinking," with the melt and fish and chips with curried ketchup being highlights. Service is "excellent and knowledgeable" so novices "need not be intimidated, just ready to learn a bit more about apples and how ridiculously delicious cider can be." [TOC]