Cost: About $30 per person
Guest Post by Maddie "too cool for school" Jones:
Kim and I first met one hot, August morning as we were moving into our Streeterville apartment. Two overly eager first year medical students, we cautiously felt each other out before realizing we would get along as roommates just fine. Since that time we have instituted many traditions, such as daily jaunts to class, weekly Big Bang Theory viewings, and the classic monthly ritual of forgetting to pay our rent. However my favorite tradition is for any visiting parent to take the two of us out for dinner. This is a relatively rare occurrence since we both hail from the East Coast; Kim is from the Old Dominion state (Virginia) and I am from the Greatest state (Maine). So this weekend when Kim’s mom Kris came into town she graciously offered to take me, Kim, and our friend Kayleen out to HB, an unassuming little place up in Lakeview. Armed with notepad and camera and entrusted with posting on Jeff’s exclusive blog, we trekked north for dinner.
The restaurant was very cozy and welcoming when we entered. It is one room tastefully divided by a five foot hemi-wall. The room was painted an understated orange which lent a warm glow to the interior in the setting sun. The restaurant was pretty small and reservations are a must, especially on a weekend night. We were seated at our table as soon as we arrived and the waiter was very attentive. It is BYOB with no corkage fee and the waiter immediately uncorked our bottles. He kept our wine glasses full all night and our courses came out promptly. Towards the end of the dinner as a line accumulated in the mini foyer it got a little bit loud inside however it was by no means distracting. Something to consider is that HB has a prix fixe on Wednesday nights. For $30 you can get a choice of appetizer/salad, entrée and dessert, inclusive of anything on the menu. Considering most entrees run around $20 this is a spectacular deal.
In order to do justice to the restaurant we took a wide sampling of the items on the menu. For the first course we ordered three appetizers to share; almond stuffed dates, crispy fried oysters and cooper’s pate. Kim and Kris are date aficionados and these dried fruits didn’t miss the mark. They were soft and sweet with a salty aftertaste, adding a hint of pork which is conspicuously missing from this decidedly kosher blog. The oysters were my favorite (another Jewish faux paus). They were deep fried and perched on a pillow of grits. The grits were complex with a cheesy bite up front and a nice citrus taste to finish. The pate was subtle and sweet with currants lingering on the palate.
The Cooper's Pate
The Fried Oysters
The Almond Stuffed Dates
The helpings of each dish were generous and after the first round we were all excited to taste our entrees. Kayleen’s crispy ricotta gnocchi was the most surprising of the dishes. The gnocchi were soft and light on the top but had a darkened, fried bottom which added a nice bite of texture. They were swimming in a scrumptious sauce of roasted tomatoes which complemented the starchiness of the gnocchi. Kim went with the wild boar Bolognese. The presentation was quite striking with flecks of green peas strewn among the meaty sauce. This was a hearty, rich dish which exemplified comfort food and was just what she was looking for. The boar was not the least bit gamy and lent a rustic feel to the urban dining experience. Kris ordered the black grouper which was perfectly cooked and nicely flaky. The crust of the fish was overly salted but beyond that the pesto and puree nicely complemented the white fish. My dish, the ruby red trout, was also very moist although the crispy skin was a little salty. The anchovy herb green sauce was delicious however the star of the plate was the sunchokes. Never having tasted these before, I was pleasantly surprised to find they were a mix of artichoke heart with thinly sliced sautéed potato. There were a lot of flavors on the plate however they all came together in the bite without overpowering the fish.
The Ruby Red Trout
The Black Grouper
The Wild Boar Bolognese
The Ricotta Gnocchi
Impressed with the meal so far, we could hardly pass up the lure of dessert. We ordered two for the table; rhubarb bread pudding and coconut white chocolate candy bar. The bread pudding was very vertical and quite striking. It was dense and warm, as a bread pudding ought to be, however the chocolate syrup overpowered the rhubarb. The coconut round was a little hard to break through as the white chocolate top put up a hardy defense however the layers of coconut and graham cracker were a good combination. The tiers melted in your mouth and left you wanting another bite. Overall the desserts got finished however they were nothing special. As an ice cream devotee I was disappointed to learn that nothing on the dessert menu came with ice cream and I think the bread pudding would have been improved by the addition of vanilla ice cream.
The Rhubarb Bread Pudding
The Coconut White Chocolate Candy Bar
Once the meal was over we all decided we’d be happy to come back. Kayleen, who had just been here on Wednesday celebrating her recent engagement (congratulations!), had already borne out that resolve. The helpings were generous, the service was prompt, and we happily cleaned our plates. Besides over-salting the fish and generating a rather uninspired dessert menu, which Kayleen says is not usually the case, we could find little to critique. The ambience was homey and the food was sophisticated without being pretentious. The pacing of the courses was ideal and when we were finished we were allowed to luxuriate in our seats, soaking in the hum of the restaurant and the aromas wafting from the kitchen as we finished off our wine. With the service on point and the food above average, I would give this restaurant 4 pearls.
*Maddie Jones is currently a second year medical student who besides moonlighting for Jeff Eats Chicago enjoys cooking, Steeler’s football, and keeping Jeff awake during class.