After a string of teasing, temperate days, winter has returned with biting wind and low, low temps--this morning the thermometer read -1, and the wind chill assuredly hovers somewhere around -10 or so...
Last night, my friend S- and I decided to brave the cold and head out to a supposedly hip new restaurant in the downtown area. I’ve read reviews that claim that once inside, diners will forget the relatively provincial locale and be tricked into thinking they’re in Chicago...we were in search of innovative cocktails and small plates, as well as an urban social scene.
Unfortunately, the restaurant was empty--due to the influx of diners on Valentine’s day, our bartender B- told us. But, the restaurant is gorgeous--a warm, sensual setting, with long linen drapes, cherry-colored furniture, sleek wood floors, and behind the bar, a wall of one inch tile, all in warm red and orange tones. The lighting was dim yet cozy, and we settled into the high chairs at the bar and listened to B- list the diversely delicious cocktails he could create. We both decided on a Champagne sorbet “martini,” composed of a variety of orange flavored liqueurs, grenadine, and a scoop of the eponymous champagne sorbet. Yumm! As B- promised, the flavor of the drink would change as the sorbet melted.
As the liqueur traveled straight to my head, I suggested we order a small plate of the warm goat cheese, served with marinara and crostini. Usually, I find goat cheese too pungent and earthy for my palate, but I’ve been trying to accustom myself to its flavor profile. Plus, the menu, while innovative and reasonably priced for upscale dining, has nary a vegetarian option, so goat cheese was THE choice.
The cheese, mixed with an array of herbs, was floated in a pool of marinara, and served in a small cast iron skillet. The crostini were still warm, and just the right crispiness, with a slick of satisfying olive oil. And when our crostini were gone, the wait staff brought more (most generous since S- and I both inadvertently flung a toast or two on the highly polished floor).
And then the night became interesting. The 60+ year old barfly sitting next to us took the advantage of S- going to the bathroom to strike up a conversation with me. His son is ostensibly the chef (his other stories seemed rather fabricated, so I remain skeptical). By turns an interesting talker and by turns belligerent, J- continued to chat with us the rest of the night. And, since the bar was nearly deserted, so too did B-, the cute bartender, who was most attentive and flirtatious as the best bartenders are. A high point of the evening involved B-removed his vest after my confession of watching *Smallville* for the obligatory Tom Welling sans shirt moments.
Despite the quiet of the restaurant, I did feel I was in a city for those brief hours we enjoyed our cocktails and conversations, and I hope to see a crowd worthy of Chicago the next time I venture back downtown...Ahh, Chicago, the city where though the wind whips a biting chill through the streets, I’m warmed with thoughts of Rick Bayless’ Mexican cuisine and Katrina Markoff’s creative chocolate bars at Vosges, and, of course, the endless shopping at Bloomingdales....