Tim Graham turns Midwestern cuisine on its head at Twain, his new restaurant that “confounds and surpasses expectations.” The recipes are inspired by community cookbooks collected from Graham’s hometown of Columbia, Missouri and “more than a few of them [are] so unexpectedly successful that you wonder what other secrets the churches and ladies’ clubs of central Missouri have been quietly disseminating among themselves,” Mike Sula writes. Ants on a log, a classic snack, is refined with duck liver mousse and bourbon-preserved cherries, while “pleasurable” bone marrow mingles with sloppy joe sauce on a slice of bread.
The menu is a “parade of the irresistibly absurd” and includes a tower of meatloaf with nori-seasoned onion rings and glazed eel that’s served alongside red miso-whipped mashed potatoes. More straightforward dishes include a wedge of iceberg holding up a thick slab of “bacon steak,” and thyme- and rosemary-scented dumplings larded with crispy chicken skin and chicken-fat roux. Desserts “hit the same target as the savory side of the menu does,” especially the “intensely bittersweet” mud pie. Finally, cocktails go “a bit off script” with oddities like the Shrimp Cocktail, a gin-based drink garnished with a whole shrimp. [Reader]
Phil Vettel thinks Free Rein is a hidden-in-plain-sight gem on Michigan Avenue. The St. Jane Hotel’s new restaurant features chef Aaron Lirette and pastry virtuoso Evan Sheridan, a “formidable team” with fine dining pedigree. Madai carpaccio is a “star,” supported by capers, lemon, brioche crumbs, and parsley chiffonade to give it “bright, light flavors.” Cognac-cured, truffled foie gras torchon is a “gorgeous composition,” while a “lovely” pork collar dish with guanciale-amaretto sauce and sweet-potato-pecan puree would be ideal for Thanksgiving. Roasted sturgeon — poached in duck fat and then seared on one side — is also a “star in the making.” Caramel apple tatin served with brown butter gelato provides the sweet finish to the two-star experience. [Tribune]
Pretty Cool Ice Cream “deliciously melds imagination and nostalgia on a stick.” The Logan Square shop from former Publican brand pastry chef Dana Salls Cree has mastered the art of the frozen treat according to Maggie Hennessy. The pops “stand out most for their beautiful density and texture,” such as a peanut butter bar studded with potato chip pieces and filled with “nutty, rich” custard. A Blue Moon variant also tastes “like a concentrated sip of cereal milk from the bottom of a bowl of Fruit Loops.” The best offering, though is a “pleasantly sharp, indulgent” blackberry buttermilk bar that’s a “dead ringer for the summery fruit pie.” [Time Out]