Up North (Loop)
Nothing resembles the changing rulerships in France as much as the revolving door in a restaurant kitchen. Already the imported celeb chef of the Hewing Hotel’s Tullibee — the new culinary Versailles of the North Loop — has left the building. But not to worry: his menu and sous chefs linger (at least, for now), so all is well.
The restaurant — and bar, and lobby overflow — should be high on the fire marshal’s watch list; they couldn’t have squeezed in one more body on a recent Saturday night.
Once seated in the North Woods-chic dining room — in sight of the avenue’s parade of cool kids to one side and, on the other, the intent line cooks, moving with the precision of Rockettes — serenity prevails. We unfurled napkins resembling granny’s dishtowels set over mismatched plates as we sorted out the menu.
It’s short and sweet and, as we say Up North, um, “different” … starting with a miscellany of apps (most $11–$17), ranging from duck meatballs to beef tartare to raw horse mackerel. We ordered two that turned out to be the big winners of the evening.
First, slender rounds of lefse bundling rich and comforting pork stew in which winked radish moons — all brightened by the inspired sweet-sharp punch of preserved lime: Norwegian tacos for the foodie crowd.
Next — and don’t miss these, despite the $17 price tag — a pair of lollipops of beyond-lascivious foie gras, still quivering beneath their just-warmed exterior, massaged by spiced honey and a dusting of chopped hazelnuts. If the night hadn’t been planned as a special occasion, it was now! (We order a devil-may-care second round.)
Next, from the trio of entrees ($25–$32) — cod, duck and poussin — we voted for the Wild Acres young chicken. The bird proved adroitly prepared, presented with king trumpet mushrooms upon a sweet skim of carrot “butter,” plus a side dish of “egg yolk fudge rice,” rich and tasty, for sure. But the whole affair is stronger in fancy description than what lingers in memory after the plate is empty. Give me Gavin’s roast chicken at Spoon & Stable any time.
We did love the side of grilled sweet potatoes we ordered to accompany it, however; it’s a concoction of pureed potato elevated from a Thanksgiving staple to a star turn, thanks to preserved-mushroom oil, cashews and an undercoating of gjetost, that sweet cheese spread that’s almost holy to Norwegians. (But $17 for a side of spuds? Come on!)
A reserve list follows — creations of limited availability, ranging from starter-size skewers of pork or shrimp ($14 and $17) to hake ($26) and ribeye (don’t ask), and our selection, Yker Acres pork leg roast, $28. The slices, on the dry and overcooked side, were moistened, but not improved, by whey.
I’d done better at lunch weeks earlier, sampling one friend’s primo burger and another’s fine cod sandwich, plus an order of beyond-decadent duck-fat fries. My own choice of cauliflower set upon green pea puree — yummy — has cycled off the menu.
Finally, dessert ($7–$9). The citrus carrot cake presents a deconstructed assembly of frosting topped with crumbles, spiced with a pungent, ab-fab shot of orange and sided with a scoop of licorice sorbet. Tasty! So was the aerated chocolate, partnered with sunchokes and (of course; it’s a requirement of 2017) caramel.
So … some of the reigning king’s creations are terrific, balanced by some that represent the emperor’s new clothes. But the big fun is just being there, VIPs in the palace.
300 N. Washington Ave.