mk fries...nuff said

Kitchenless, so dining out more….@mkchicago

MK – 868 N Franklin Street, Chicago, IL

I grew up in the suburbs, but left for the northeast in high school.  College and med school kept me out east until 2003 when I moved back for residency.  I distinctly remember shortly after moving back having two nice dinners with my family – the second was at the now-closed Crofton on Wells, the first was at MK Chicago, Michael Kornick’s original outpost before he began his DMK empire.   I distinctly remember sitting upstairs, being impressed by the room and food.  Of course, I didn’t have a blog then, so I can’t remember for the life of me what I ate.

Fast forward nearly 11 years – I had been to a dinner event there, but really hadn’t dined there again until this week – Sara had bought a Gilt City voucher for a custom-built four course meal.  The gist of the voucher is that you answer a questionnaire about your likes, dislikes, etc and they build a menu for you – being easy, we essentially told them to do what they wanted and walked in to see what the kitchen drummed up for us.

Amuse - salami, cornichons, white asparagus, fava bean puree,

Amuse – salami, cornichons, white asparagus, fava bean puree,

The menu starts with an amuse bouche – a slice of peppery salami, served with cornichons and white asparagus atop a fava bean puree.  A bunch of subtle flavors dominated by the pop of the salami, this was a good way to start the meal.

Salmon and Tuna tartare

Salmon and Tuna tartare

The first course was pretty impressive.   A duet of tartares – on the left, a salmon tartare served with salmon roe and topped with a creme fraiche that had a hint of citrus to balance the saltiness of the roe.  The tartare itself was perfectly chopped and textured and beautifully presented.  On the right, a tuna tartare topped with a “crust’ of finely chopped celery remoulade with a side of finely chopped Moroccan olives.  The salt from the olives was a bit overpowering, but the tuna mixed with the celery was a perfect combination of flavors and textures.

Seared Scallops, spaghetti squash, hen o' da woods

Seared Scallops, spaghetti squash, hen o’ da woods

Next up are some perfectly seared diver scallops.  The bed is a nest of shaved spaghetti squash mixed with earthy, flavorful hen of the woods mushrooms and finely chopped pistachios.  The scallops were lightly salted, nicely seared and cooked to a good tenderness.  I’m a big fan of spaghetti squash and it worked well with the pistachio flavored vinaigrette.

bee-son (as our waitress called it)

bee-son (as our waitress called it)

From sea to land we go, a small portion of sliced bison ribeye – cooked on the perfect rarer side of medium rare.  The bison itself didn’t have a huge gamey flavor, and lacked a deep beefy flavor in general.  The salsify gratin was interesting, but didn’t do much for me.  There was also a smorgasbord of sauces, a fairly mild broccoli rabe pesto and a robust sherry sauce.  I think one or the other would work well here, but both together seemed like overkill.  A good dish, but maybe a bit too much going on.

mk fries...nuff said

mk fries…nuff said

A meal at MK is not complete without trying Michael Kornick’s pommes frites – just a bit thicker than ideal for me but perfectly cooked, crisp on the outside, soft but well cooked in the middle.  And the truffle cream served with may be one of the best dipping sauces for fries ever – a medium thick consistency dashed with a perfect amount of truffle to give it that distinct truffle flavor without being overpowering.

Pineapple express (No, no that kind - it's not Denver)

Pineapple express (No, no that kind – it’s not Denver)

S'mores!

S’mores!

So we move on to dessert – and we get two!  The first, affectionately named the pineapple express, was a nicely flavored brown butter tart with hints of pineapple topped with fresh sliced pineapple dotted with dashes of chiles and jalapenos to give it just a bit of a subtle kick.  The lime-coconut sorbet was awesomingly refreshing and balanced out the dish nicely.

The second dessert, called “you’re killing me s’mores” had almost all my favorite dessert elements – a perfectly scattered mixture of textures, flavors, and temperatures.  In the middle, a rich piece of dark chocolate ganache, surrounding by decadent torched marshmallows, served just at room temperature and contrasted by the rich graham cracker ice cream.  The chopped peanuts that are sprinkled throughout the dish are subtle, and maybe a bit unnecessary but don’t detract from the dish either.

I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I went light on the wine pairings – so using the voucher wasn’t a phenomenal deal, but we definitely feel like we got our money’s worth.  I walked out pleasantly full and stuffed, but with enough energy to walk home afterwards.  MK executes well – they may suffer from overindulging in the number of ingredients on certain dishes, but for the most part, dishes are well executed and artfully presented.  The fries in themselves are almost worth a return trip, and are up there with the best fries I’ve had in the city.  .   Service was friendly, helpful, and just laid back enough to make it comfortable – a tough balance to find at a fine dining restaurant.  One of the sous chefs came out to talk to us during the meal – also a nice touch.
At the very least, I don’t think it will be another 11 years before my next trip.

 

 

 

 

 

After a long move, a wonderful burger @DMKburgerbar

DMK Burger Bar – 2954 N Sheffield Avenue, Chicago, IL

So my fiancee Sara finally moved in last weekend!   An exciting but exhausting day left us in the evening wanting to take a much needed break – from moving, from wedding planning, from kitchen planning, and what better way to take a break than to hit up one of our favorite spots – DMK burger bar.  We got there around 6pm on a Saturday night and luckily was able to snag a table within 15 or 20 minutes.

DMK Burger Bar was the first of many joint projects from restauranteur David Morton and chef Michael Kornick, and while it seems like it was just recently that it opened up, DMK has been a fixture in Lakeview for almost 5 years now.

Fried Pickles and Okra

Fried Pickles and Okra

To start, we got an order of the fried pickles and okra, the pickles extremely sweet and flavorful, Sara took most of the okra, but I snagged a piece – cut in longitundinal slices as opposed to the usual crosswise gives it a different texture.  And who doesn’t love ranch with anything fried?

#4 - Fried Egg, hatched green chile, sonoma jack, Smoked Bacon

#4 – Fried Egg, hatched green chile, sonoma jack, Smoked Bacon

For a go-to burger, this is one of my favorites.  While I’m beginning to think that a burger with a fried egg doesn’t really need any cheese on it, the sonoma jack here gets a bit lost.  Not that it’s a bad thing.  The flavorful, well cooked burger mixes perfectly with the fried egg, and the fresh buns soften up as it soaks up the egg yolk.   The green chile adds just the right amount of spice to the stack.  And I think one of the best parts about DMK is that they don’t overpile the ingredients, and they don’t try to do too much (again, a la Kuma’s)  And as tempting as it to upgrade to a double, I held some restraint.

Shrimp burger, ginger, cilantro, sesame ginger slaw

Shrimp burger, ginger, cilantro, sesame ginger slaw

Sara went with the shrimp burger – the special #15.  She loved it so much, I didn’t get much of a taste, but with one bite, I could tell this was a keeper.  Very original, very tasty – her words.

Fries!  Sweet potato fries and Amish Blue & Smoked Bacon

Fries! Sweet potato fries and Amish Blue & Smoked Bacon

For sides, we went with fries over mac and cheese – got an order of sweet potato fries with a subtle lemon tabasco aioli and the fries with amish blue topped with smoked bacon.  Neither was as good as their cheddar and scallion fries or their parmesan truffle, but both were solid.  The sweet potato fries were well cooked, but not as crisp as I would have liked, and the lemon mayo was pretty subtle and didn’t add much.  The blue cheese and bacon fries were heavily topped and the blue cheese doesn’t spread well and makes it a bit difficult to scoop up the ingredients, but it’s a solid dish.

Based on the quality of the DMK Burger Bar, you can see why the DMK empire is rapidly expanding.  Good choices, solid ingredients, good atmosphere.  The beer list is formidable, and the have a decent selections of bourbon for a burger joint.   It’s not the place for massive appetites, if you’re looking for pure size, go somewhere else, but if you want a good, solid, well-sized burger, DMK is a great option.

 

 

 

 

 

With freezing chocolate sauce

We finally made it to @BavettesChicago

Bavettes Bar & Bouef – 218 W Kinzie Street, Chicago, IL

Bavette’s, like all of Brendan Sodikoff’s joints, is dimly lit with old school decor to make you feel like you stepped back in time.  It sets an appropriate tone for the menu, which has a solid old school feel, almost more so than the Next Chicago steak menu.  It’s a place Sara and I had been meaning to check out for awhile, and I’m glad we finally got around to checking it out.

Now the caveat to this review is that we stayed reasonably modest this trip, avoiding the pricier prime cuts of meat and the shellfish tower (as tempting as it was)

Oysters

Oysters

We did, however, start with a half dozen oysters – 3 Mattaki’s, and 3 Raspberry Point (West and East coast, respectively).   The smaller West coast Mattaki’s were a bit sweet, the larger Raspberry Points had just the right amount of saltiness.

Salmon Tartare

Salmon Tartare

Salmon Tartare

Salmon Tartare

So the picture is obviously dark, an homage to Sodikoff’s lighting scheme, but shows the wonderful plating of the salmon tartare dish, serving a healthy dollop of finely chopped salmon, nicely seasoned with a bit of pepper to give it just a bit of spice that was balanced perfectly by a scoop of creme fraiche.  The thinly crisped lavash provides an excellent vessel to scoop up bites off of the plate.

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

spice mix

spice mix

Sara went with the steak frites – a reasonably sized portion of a flat-iron steak, simply prepared and served with a side of sea salt, peppercorns, and a few other spices that you can sprinkle on.  The Bearnaise sauce was a bit thick and oily, but had a decent flavor, the steak itself was pretty solid and suprisingly tender for a flat-iron.  The fries were a bit limp and sauce, but well seasoned.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

I went with the fried chicken, as Bavettes’ was recently highlighted the dish in an article in Chicago magazine.  Served with a housemade hot sauce and a buttermilk ranch with perfect consistency, the chicken itself was well battered.  The batter itself had a bit of flavor, but it wasn’t anything noteworthy.  The meat itself lacked any real flavor, and it was a bit on the dry side.

Elotes-style corn

Elote-style corn

The next real highlight of the meal was the side of elote-style corn, which I highly recommend getting as a side no matter what you order at Bavette’s.  It’s bathed in a cream sauce with an  interesting mix of chili powder and lime, giving it a nice spicy-sour taste with hints of parmesan.

Gold Brick Sundae with Malted Bourbon Ice Cream

Gold Brick Sundae with Malted Bourbon Ice Cream

With freezing chocolate sauce

With freezing chocolate sauce

For dessert, we got the gold-brick sundae – another highly recommended item, if you have room.  Two scoops of ice cream served with a magic shell chocolate sauce.  The ice cream was an awesome malted bourbon ice cream and the sauce solidifies in to a crisp chocolate shell almost immediately as it hits the ice cream.

So I can’t tell whether we’re on more of a Sodikoff kick or a DMK kick – I guess DMK edges out the Sodikoff group – with trips to DMK, County, and MK in the last month or two, but a trip to Au Cheval or the new spot opening up in the Dillman’s’ space would even up the score.  I   I would like to go back to Bavette’s and try some of the higher-end prime cuts, and definitely go back for the elote.

 

 

A quick word about @Marcburger

Marc Burger – 111 N State Street, 7th Floor  - Chicago, IL

Shopping for wedding bands down in the jewelry district, Sara and I needed a quick bite – I suggested Chick-Fil-A, but given she works down in that area, she turned me down, so we went to one of our go-to loop spots on the 7th floor at Macy’s – a food court with spots by Rick Bayless, Takashi, and the burger joint by Marcus Samuelsson.

Mozzarella Pesto Burger

Mozzarella Pesto Burger

Mozzarella Pesto Burger

Mozzarella Pesto Burger

I got the pesto burger – a 6oz patty topped with lettuce, tomato, a salty pesto sauce, and a thick slice of chewy mozzarella.  The burger was cooked to a solid medium, suprisingly juicy, but had underwhelming flavor, the pesto sauce balanced that out and the mozzarella was a perfect fit.  The bun itself was a bit dry and the weak point of the burger.

The fries here are medium to thick cut, well cooked but lacked crisp on the outside.   I went with the rosemary parmesan blend, the rosemary a bit burnt and sparse, but the parmesan was heaped on. Samuelsson’s spicy house ketchup was not spicy at all, just mixed with a bit of mustard.

If you’re up at Macy’s on State or in the Loop looking for a lunch spot (btw, it’s closed on Sundays), Marc Burger isn’t a bad choice, but by no means is it a destination for burgers, and the options at Frontera and Takashi are a bit better, but it all depends on what you’re in the mood for.

 

 

 

An unexpected treat @Saigonsisters

Saigon Sisters – 567 W Lake Street, Chicago, IL

A few weeks ago (yes, that’s my backlog here) Sara and I checked out Saigon Sisters for dinner – a hidden gem of a spot in an awkward location underneath the tracks on Lake Street.  I had been there before for lunch and they have solid, if not unconventional banh mi sandwiches, but had never gotten around to trying a full meal there.

The room is small and dimly lit – maybe 10 or 15 tables at most, but the service extremely friendly, inviting, and knowledgeable.  The dinner menu, like the banh mi selection, is a modern take on traditional Vietnamese, tastefully done and well executed.

Shrimp/Pork Spring Rolls

Shrimp/Pork Spring Rolls

We started pretty simply with an order of traditional vietnamese spring rolls – these were crisp and fresh with a good helping of shrimp and a touch of minimally flavored minced pork that added texture more than flor to supplement the nice mix of herbs – a little mint and cilantro, I believe, as the well as the token rice noodles.  Served with a decent peanut sauce, this was a good way to start.

Chicken Wings with Sriracha Sauce

Chicken Wings with Sriracha Sauce

Unfortunately, Sara and I can’t usually turn down chicken wings when they’re on the menu.  A bit pricy at $16 for a handful of wings, these were well cooked and marinated in an interesting sauce that had what seemed like a heavy fish sauce base with a hint of Sriracha that gives it just a bit of kick.  A bit more would have been nice and a larger portion or a smaller price, but it definitely hit the spot.

Ca Hap - striped bass with soy, ginger

Ca Hap – striped bass with soy, ginger

Our last dish of the night was the striped bass – thin, flaky and tender, dressed with an arugula salad and a sharp soy ginger sauce.  Pretty simple presentation, the soy ginger dressing just salty enough, and the arugula ended up being the sharpest flavor on the dish.  Well, something this healthy can also go so far but after fried chicken wings, it makes you feel a bit healthier, right?

Crispy Rice, mango, black sesame paste

Crispy Rice, mango, black sesame paste

And it makes you feel less guilty about getting dessert.   And this dessert – toasted rice served aside a semi-sweet black sesame plate and topped with chopped mango – was well, interesting.   It has a great mix of textures and the mix of the black sesame paste and hints of coconut give it a subtle sweetness that is topped off by the mangos.

Saigon Sisters shows that Vietnamese cuisine can be dressed up pretty well but still be affordable.  Aside from the chicken wings, everything was reasonably priced, and the portion sizes were good.   I’ll definitely be back, if not for carryout, and they still have a solid selection of banh mi sandwiches.