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SPOON MAGAZINE

  An Evanston Staple

 

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MICHELIN GUIDE 2013

All are welcome to worship at the altar of the wine grape here, where wines by the glass, on tap and in flights are served nightly. Exposed ductwork and beams snaking across ceilings lend an urban-chic feel to the romantic, pendant-lit space warmly lined with wooden racks.

Complementing the global drink list is soul-satisfying American bistro fare with eclectic influences, from a foie gras BLT with applewood-smoked bacon and white truffle mayonnaise, to crispy-skinned barramundi paired exquisitely with a creamy pea, artichoke, and fromage blanc crustade. Dessert may feature Chocolate3 or a trio of decadent treats. A true community gem,

 

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ZAGAT 2013

At once comfortable and classy, this high-end Evanston New American turns out creative, uniformly delicious cuisine complemented by an extraordinary wine selection (including imaginative flights); you can trust the advice from helpful servers and prices are deemed reasonable given the quality.

 

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One glance at the expansive, ever-changing wine list here and you'll understand why patrons at Evanston's casual wine bar and bistro often select a meal to complement the wine instead of the other way around. The list of 32 wines available by the glass provides a challenge for even the experienced oenophile; however, Victor Hernandez' broad eclectic menu is no less diverse. Start things off right with the gorgeous watercress and blue cheese salad cleverly served in a hollowed-out roasted apple, or a decandent spin on BLT involving foie gras, toasted brioche, applewood-smoked bacon and white truffle mayo. Australian rack of lamb awakened by fresh mint pesto follows nicely, as does snow-white halibut crusted with almonds and Parmesan. Finish with Mexican chocolate, vanilla and pumpkin creme brulee trio.

 

The Stained Glass Bistro

by Jake Jarvi • February 15, 2016
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If it’s been awhile since you’ve experienced The Stained Glass Bistro, it’s time to stop in again. The redesign by new owner Jason Balla injects the space with a vitality that perfectly reflects the inspired cuisine of Executive Chef Victor Hernandez. Much like Hernandez’s innovative upscale twists on established menu crowd-pleasers, the new space crosses the urban, exposed-brick-and-beam loft look with the refinement of a chateau, marrying the two spaces while moderating the acoustics of the room, keeping the space intimate. Balla would know about acoustics and design. He’s been a tenor with the Lyric Opera of Chicago for 20 years and operated his own design business, Jason Balla Designs, for 12.

We settled at our table and started our evening with the two most-ordered appetizers. Tried and true, one of the oldest items on the menu, the Foie Gras “BLT” is a dish that defines Stained Glass as destination dining for many of their regulars.

It arrives in disguise, on the plate looking very much like a traditional BLT sandwich, cut in two for sharing, but the flavor is fine dining at its finest. With crispy applewood smoked bacon, microgreens, fresh tomato, and a thin layer of seared foie gras sandwiched between toasted brioche, it carries the classic comfort flavor of a BLT with a rich, creamy through line, the perfect union of decadence and diner food. With a tangle of fried potato strings and a dab of white truffle mayonnaise on the side, this could easily be an entrée for one.

The Baked Artichoke is a better appetizer if you’re looking to split one as a group. The artichoke leaves are spread to act as spoons filled with portabella mushrooms, sautéed spinach, Gorgonzola cheese, and an herb Parmesan crust. The whole plant sits in a brown caper butter sauce that gives it just a touch of lemon tang against a bleu cheese bite and the warm earthiness of spinach and mushroom. It’s a surprisingly hands-on and organic-looking approach to delivering on the expectations of an artichoke dip with a fun and unique Stained Glass spin.

We paired each of our entrees with a Stained Glass Wine Sampler, three half-glasses of wine assembled around a common theme culled from the curated wine list.

With the Three to Tango sampler—a trio of Argentinian reds—we had the Australian Rack of Lamb, cooked to a fork tender-medium and sliced off the rack into individual bone-in chops for the ease of the diner. Its sharp mint pesto sauce defines the approach to this dish.

A subtle hint of Hollandaise threads underneath, and it’s accompanied by buttery al dente green beans and a cake of savory Parmesan and white truffle crème brûlée, very evocative of polenta minus the grainy texture. It’s a mixture of hearty, succulent meat pulled by subtle elements of herb, mint, and cheese.

With the Wonderous Whites sampler—three increasingly sweet and fruity white wines—we sampled three presentations of tuna on one plate in the aptly named “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna.”

The tuna sashimi is sliced thin and layered underneath a pickled vegetable salad with greens, strips of carrot, and a mild dressing. It plays more like a salad with a chilled sushi element as protein.

The tuna tartare is light and mild, diced, chilled tuna so mild the flavor of the forkful hinges on a razor-thin cucumber slice and the candy sweetness of a balsamic reduction. The champion tuna entrée on the plate, however, is a peppery pastrami spice-crusted tuna, warm, sliced, and riding the flavor of pickled red cabbage slaw. It has a smokiness that separates it from the rest of the plate and elevates the dish as a whole.

Though each of the sides look outstanding, our favorite of the night had to be the Brussels Sprouts. With a pronounced garlic bent, they deliver all the garden goodness of the en vogue vegetable with a gourmet flare and a lasting flavor.

Dessert was insane. Though I was initially skeptical, Chef Hernandez’s version of a dessert Grilled Cheese is irrefutably exceptional. Grilled slices of pound cake bookend melted, soft ripened brie cheese on a pool of rosemary-key lime custard, topped with raspberry jam and a dollop of whipped cream. Though it has elements of cake and key lime pie and strawberry shortcake, the combination of elements results in a dessert that defies comparison and needs to be experienced.

New to the menu are the housemade donuts. Tantalizingly warm and soft, they come in two flavors, maple-rum with bacon or dark chocolate frosted.

Served with a blueberry jelly, these are delicious artisan donuts. They also appear on the new weekend brunch menu at The Cellar, Stained Glass Bistro’s casual counterpart around the corner. The brunch offers up new items like Donut French Toast and a sampler of house-cured bacons like Tequila/Jalapeno, Maple/Bourbon, and Chinese Five-spice. The evening menu is draft beer and small plates that carry Chef Hernandez’s particular brand of inspired flavors.

Between The Stained Glass Bistro and The Cellar it seems like Balla and Hernandez have created a tasting menu of casual and upscale evenings all on one Evanston corner. We’re planning our next visit already.

 

Friend dates are the best, don’t you think? I mean, sure romantic dates can be nice, too, but they can also be very very not nice (don’t we all have stories…).  Date-dates carry with them expectations, whereas friend-dates more often than not mean guaranteed laughs, lots of stories, and no inhibitions because friends don’t require impressing. They love you for you, just as you are.

It’s been a month of good friend dates for me, and last week Lemon and I took the opportunity to check out a new-to-us restaurant in Evanston. For those of you that don’t know, Evanston is a charming little town just north of Chicago that houses Northwestern University. I rarely head north to go up there unless for work, but we took the opportunity to visit The Cellar, and we both left full and happy and glad we did.

There are so many great things about The Cellar that I don’t even know where to start. The cozy bistro is welcoming from get-go, with dim lighting, pillowed benches and without any air of pretension.   The wine list is seasonal and apparently constantly changing.  The perfect any-date atmosphere.   

Let’s talk about the food because that’s why we’re all here anyway:  the menu is globally eclectic, serving dishes lobster rolls to curry to weiner schnitzel (with spaetzle!), all in small plate form that are just begging to be shared, because nothing can ruin a friend-date or a date-date like food envy. You know I’m right.

We opted for none of the above, but were taken in by the butternut squash gnocchi, chorizo stuffed bacon wrapped dates, the Philly cheesesteak flatbread and truffle fries (because fries for the table really should always be a thing).  Yes, this is a lot of food. Yes, there were only two of us.  Yes, we ate almost all of it.  What,?  It was all ah-mazing.  Like I said, no judging on friend dates.

The very helpful and attentive staff steered us in all the right directions and when it came to ordering, but especially with dessert, when we just weren’t allowed to just try one.  First, a tale of two donuts:  a rum maple bacon and a cocoa nib with blueberry compote.  A note on the latter:  no matter how much blueberry I slathered on that donut, I couldn’t taste it, but rather it only made the chocolate taste stronger. I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand. Science is weird and cool.

And finally, I think the star of the night, was the grilled cheese sandwich. Yes, a dessert.  It goes like this: pound cake-brie-key lime curd-raspberry jam-whipped cream.  Ohmygodyes.  

From beginning to end, the evening was fantastic and I can’t wait to go back and eat the things on the menu that I didn’t get to try this time around. If you’re ever in the Chicago area, I highly recommend checking out The Cellar. Or, if you’re in the mood to be a little fancier, check out The Stained Glass, the wine bar next door.

For all of you that live too far and wide to make it to Evanston, I thought I’d throw together my version of that last oh-so-memorable grilled cheese sandwich.  We’re starting with a cardamom pound cake, filling it with a thin layer of brie, baking it until gooey (because I just can’t get grilled cheese to come out in a pan- anyone got some advice?) and topping it with some rosemary lemon curd and raspberry jam. And of course, whipped cream, because who are we kidding.