Forget about “greatest meals,” for a second. Think about “greatest bites.”
I mean, BITES. Eyes roll to the back of the skull kinda bites. Little apocalypses in your mouth that make you want to move to Valencia and grow what you just nibbled on. Bites that stay with you even after you forget the name of your girlfriend or the smell of her hair. THOSE kind of bites.
I’ve never compiled an omnibus list of my own, but I’m pretty sure two of them occurred this past weekend in Chicago.
I like to joke about the Chicago Curse. If I go there with you, our relationship is forever ruined, in no small part because of said visit. Did it start in the second grade when my dad had to testify in some weird federal court case and I was stuck for two days in some crummy hotel room? It was Or maybe in the eighth grade, on a school trip, when I was left behind at the aquarium. I hadn’t cried that hard since Han Solo was dipped into the carbonite. And don’t get me started on visits since then.
But, we survived the weekend. I rode the El for the first time without a longtime resident telling me what to do. We gazed in awe at the Wrigley Building, squinted at the Seurat, snarked at the Trixies in Lincoln Park, got lost a few times…
And had two incredible meals.
I don’t do many restaurant reviews. It’s partially because I don’t go out to eat very often, and, when I do, it’s typically well known comfort food in Cincinnati’s Gaslight area. But really? Ever since Mallorca shut down I’ve pretty much stayed home. Also, I don’t like taking my camera into the establishment and snapping weird shots of my salad. But that’s just me.
So These Bites. Both, oddly, occurred at dessert and both, even more oddly, occurred while tasting items I did not order.
Bite Number One:
A friend of mine recommended Brassiere Jo, just Northwest of the Loop. Everything about it seemed very… correct. It was as if someone made a list of the typical elements of “authentic” brassiere dining: tile floors, mirrors along the walls, menus that look like Audrey Tatou’s shopping list with the squiggly little fonts and lack of white space.
Don’t get me wrong. The food was good. I ordered a steak frites with herb butter and GF ordered a chicken paillard with a peppery salad. My steak was a perfect medium rare, which takes a LOT of skill for such a thin, traditional cut. Chicken, also very juicy. Had we not ordered dessert, however, I would have left feeling like the place had no anima.
But that changed with the Grand Mariner Ice Cream. I was allowed only one bite, and it fully convinced me. I don’t know how they did it and I do not care. Just enough alcohol was added at just the right time to impart the flavor without adding any harshness. And it didn’t undercut the cream, either, it was so well balanced… sweet and flavorful and orangey and bright and it made my eyes roll back into my head like as if I had never tasted ice cream before. Words fail me.
Bite Number Two:
Café Babareebais just… FUN. I had tapas there a couple of years ago and remembered how warm the place felt. But this time it was all about the paella. Nothing more and nothing less than perfect. You could smell the saffron right as Senior plated us up tableside. What I love about good paella is that the ingredients can remain moist without imparting a sogginess to the rice. And plenty of soccorat to go around. But I’ve had paella before.
But this is all about the last bite. Dessert was almost an afterthought, here, and, I, pedantic as always, opted for chocolate. And while good, it didn’t even compare to Butterscotch Cream.
It wasn’t a custard, or a pudding, or a sauce. Nor did it conform to any other dessert archetype with which i was familiar. It had the consistency of a very loose mayonnaise but with absolutely no rubberyness.
I was allowed, again, one spoonfull. I savored. At first, a luxurious fatty feel, and then the flavors hit you. Sugar, then a bright caramel with no hint of burning or syrup. Then, a long, lingering butterscotch finish, as if one flavor gently cascaded another as it slowly dissolved on my tougne.
This last paragraph? Okay, I write it with a smirk on my face. But seriously. These two bites were not of this Earth.