22 November 2013

Restaurant Review: Two for Evanston

While performing at a conference at the Hilton in downtown Evanston, IL, I of course decided to spend as much of my free time eating as possible. Evanston is just north of Chicago and right on Lake Michigan's shore (and yes, that made for a rather nippy November weekend), but the downtown area is culturally a world apartfrom the historically blue-collar northern neighborhoods of the city.  With Ivy League-ish Northwestern University within walking distance and crisply ironed chinos all 'round, you can bet there are some overpriced restaurants on every corner. Here's what I found:

Farmhouse.  Housed in the Hilton Orrington at the corner of Church and Orrington Streets, this farm-to-table, locally sourced bit of adorableness sports rough-hewn wood tables and a milky, white-washed interior.  This is the place to go for local beers: there are 36 beers total on tap, and over a dozen come from within 25 miles of the restaurant.  I loved my glass of Virtue Cider from Roscoe Village, which was crisp and dry enough to be champagne. We decided not to get too carried away with healthiness at this place, so our lunch consisted of a shockingly generous bowl of fluffy fried cheese curds (amazingly grease-free on the fingers) with homemade garlic aioli and homemade ketchup for dipping, the pork schnitzel sandwich (fine, but a bit dry) with delicious homemade potato chips, and the roasted root vegetable salad, featuring roasted local mixed beets, spring onions, and radishes, on top of baby arugula and dressed with an incredibly soft, tangy goat cheese and a heavenly mustard seed vinaigrette. Fantastic, and so was the extremely warm service.

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The Cellar.  Run by the very upscale folks at The Stained Glass, The Cellar is their hipper and more casual younger sibling.  Well-crafted cocktails and long, long wine and beer lists compliment smaller portions meant to be shared, a sort of tapas menu with Midwestern roots. From the cocktail menu, we tried All That Jasmine (Effen Cucumber Vodka, Koval Jasmine liquor, Chamomile infusion) and Pure Cucumber (Hendrick’s Gin, crushed mint, shaved cucumber), which were both delicious.  Pure Cucumber was quite dry, so All That Jasmine might be more suitable for frou-frou fans.  The Spanish ALBARIÑO had a complex, almost nutty finish, and Metropolitan Flywheel was a crisp lager with a bready finish.  

To share, we had haricots verts with mint pesto and almonds, tomato and mozzarella salad with huge chunks of homemade mozzarella, the savory-sweet acorn squash ravioli made with homemade pasta, juicy Black Angus micro burgers with delicate, crispy shoestring potatoes, and one of our party ordered the full-sized lamb burger on a dark, glossy pretzel bun. The table fell silent as we devoured everything in sight, and the lively atmosphere in the restaurant added to our sense of celebration as we said good bye to our formerly clean, clear arteries.