So hubby and I celebrated our anniversary in Chicago the other weekend (a little early because I am starting a new job). When we go to Chicago, we sort of just plan our meals and then fill in the time around them. Mainly we just wandered around and shopped. Anyhow, we tried two new places for dinner.
The first night we tried Pacific Standard Time, which a pretty new place in the old Tavernita space. They lightened the space up and the chef describes the food as home cooking he might have made with his Chinese mom---all with a California bent. It’s an interesting menu—there isn’t a real theme to it, except for the fact that there is a wood-fired oven, so they do make several items in there.
We started with the shima aji crudo ($19) and the wood-fired pita with eggplant ($14). I enjoyed the crudo—it is a mild white fish and was topped with gooseberries, tiny cubes of kohlrabi, lime and poppy seed. I enjoyed the acid from the lime and the gooseberries with the fish. The kohlrabi and poppy seeds added a nice little crunch, but there was maybe just a little too much of the kohlrabi, so I took some off. A nice light starter though. Our server highly recommended the eggplant with the pita (they also have a tuna and a beef tartare version). We went with it, but this was maybe the most disappointing dish for us. The fresh poofy pita was tasty (especially the piece that was more heavily salted), but the eggplant was just ok. There was a lot of skin mixed in with the dip, which made the whole thing a little too chewy and just a touch bitter. It may be also that I am jaded after eating that eggplant dish at Beholder. I wanted it to be that, and it clearly was not. This version did have a creamy robiola cheese underneath it, which helped with the bitterness, but still, not my favorite.
The two dishes we had as our shared main dishes were much better. We both loved the shrimp and pork dumplings ($16). There were six little dumplings and they were in this delicate scallop broth. There was shredded cabbage across the top. These are the kind of things I could have a serious craving for….and the kinds of thing I also wonder why we don’t see on Indy menus. They were light but full of flavor. An excellent dish. We then had the soft-shell crab ($22), which was their take on a BLT. There was tempura fried crab sitting in a leaf of Bibb lettuce. They were topped with pieces of bacon. little tomatoes, pickled onions a creamy ranch-like sauce. This was also really good. The crab was fried just right, and overall the flavors blended really well. The bacon could be a little overwhelming sometimes if you got a big piece of it in a bite, and I wished for a couple more of these—we each only got a half a crab. But knowing we were going to be on an eating binge all weekend, we thought it prudent to take it a little easy. We also wanted to order dessert as I had read that the pastry chef was from the now-defunct Grace. And we weren’t disappointed with our chocolate tart. It was beautiful and really good—it had roasted peanuts crushed on top and this pretty swoop of creamy chocolate on top.
But the next dinner you guys…. seriously. It was so good. We went to Roister, which is the latest Alinea Group spot—a totally casual place with an open kitchen and a Michelin star. Hubby and I got seats at the kitchen bar and watched all the action. There’s a big wood-fired pit with various meats hanging from it, and then various other stations. I loved watching all the food coming out and the fact that our server always seemed nearby to give us the run down on what everything was. Speaking of which. Our server was awesome. Super laid back and right there when you needed him, but not annoying at all. He was obviously passionate about food as well.
Based on his recommendations, we started with the cheddar rillettes with their house fry bread ($14). This dish is amazing. So much so that I felt sorry for every table that didn’t order it. Hubby and even debated a second order for dessert. So they use this truffle cheddar cheese, mascarpone and mix that up and top it with these tiny pieces of cauliflower that is in a truffle vinaigrette. Oh, and they give you this amazing crisp, salty fry bread to smear it on. SO GOOD. If you ever go, and this is on the menu, this is a MUST ORDER. Wow. I am going to try and recreate it at home. I can’t stop thinking about it.
We also ordered the smoked oysters ($19), which were tasty, and were quite the production—they serve them in the cast iron skillet they smoke them in (wood chips right there in the pan) They are just barely cooked and topped with chipotle butter and epazote vinegar. They are extremely smoky in flavor as well. There were only four of them, so it’s a small portion, but it is loaded with smoky flavor if that’s your thing. They were fine, but my least favorite item of the evening.
For our main dish, I convinced hubby to get the chicken ($67) because it was a shared dish, and while he balked a bit, he gave in and we were both very, very happy he did because man, was this good. They do just the right thing to give you the perfect chicken. They take thighs (they give you four of them) and soak them in buttermilk and then fry them perfectly. They’re lightly dusted in salt and were so freaking good. So tender and shockingly crispy. Perfect fried chicken. Some of the best I have ever had. But for the breast meat, they marinate it in chamomile tea and then sous vide it for an hour and then sear the skin at the very end. Oh my goodness, this was definitely one of the most tender and delicious chicken breasts I have ever had. And now I want a sous vide machine for my house (so feel free and give me recommendations if you have one, because it’s going on my Christmas list). They also give you this house made hot sauce made with habanero chilis and melon. It was hot, but not taste bud numbing. It was good with the chicken, as was the sawmill gravy that they also gave you for dipping. Not that you needed wither, but they were good. The only part of the dish that I thought was not particularly mind-blowing was the part they made with the legs and wings. They did these confit style and then made a chicken salad out of it with sunchokes and sunflower seeds. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t worth the calories when the other parts were in front of us. And it’s a lot of food. Probably better shared with three or four people. I am already planning a return trip with more people to get this and try something else. Seriously, you should see the duck. It was also enormous though. Based on what was leaving the kitchen, I’d say the duck and chicken are the most popular. So, so good.
We had to try a dessert after all this amazing food. They just had a few choices and when went with the cookies and milk ($11), which was milk ice cream. It was really light, almost like sorbet made with milk. And then it was topped with chunks of cookie dough and pieces of sugar cookies. It was the kind of thing I would make at home, as a person who has an obsession with chocolate chip cookie dough. It wasn’t fancy, but it was delicious.
Roister was the clear winner of this trip and a place I will certainly return to when in Chicago. And that says something because there are so many places to try, I rarely repeat. I need those rillettes again though. I just hope they stay on the menu. Pretty sure I would have a hard time not getting the chicken again too. I just need to bring more people with me so I can try other things as well.
Pacific Standard Time
141 W. Erie Street
952 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607