Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Lunch Break

Having graduated from college in June, I’m currently holding down my first “real” job as an Assistant Account Executive at Chicago’s illustrious Leo Burnett. It’s AWESOME to be a young professional in the city—to finally be able to support myself independently, to have a 9-to-5 schedule, to live in a Lincoln Park apartment, to be surrounded by little shops and restaurants and movie theaters and …. not reeeeeally have enough money yet to experience it all. BUT, there are certainly ways to try, without bouncing any checks. One strategy I recently discovered is going to nice restaurants—for lunch. You’ll probably pay at least $20… but it’s nothing to the $60 or more you’d pay for dinner. A welcome compromise.


I recently found out that a friend of mine named Jeremy moonlights as a waiter at Bistro 110… one of my FAVORITE finer-dining establishments in Chicago… and I was delighted when he said we could do lunch on his employee discount. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, and after a rousing game of phone tag we finally made it up there for lunch this past Monday.

Bistro 110 offers “authentic French bistro fare with an American accent”. Basically, delicious French-inspired dishes that I can pronounce (or at least give it a spirited try)! Located just steps away from the famous Chicago Water Tower, it’s pretty much at the heart of Chicago—or at least the shopping district. It’s also a favorite of my family—whenever my mom is in town, we usually make a point to stop by, even if it’s just for a spot of wine and puff pastry.

On Monday, Bistro 110 was buzzing with the business lunch crowd. Luckily Jeremy was able to pull his “strings” and get us a table in the front room. Despite the sophistication of the food, the place has an unpretentious, energetic, and friendly feel that I really appreciate. Our waitress promptly brought us a basket of warm crusty French bread with Bistro 110’s signature Oven-Roasted Whole Garlic (see recipe below!), and we tucked in while we pondered the lunch menu.

For appetizers, we both got soup: Jeremy, the famous French Onion Soup, which I’ve had (AWESOME!), so instead I tried the soup du jour, Roasted Red Tomato, which had a nice texture but was not very flavorful. The restaurant also has a lengthy wine selection, and we ordered a lovely medium bodied syrah (I believe), but I don’t remember the vintner.

Our lunch entrees were definitely the highlight of the meal: at Jeremy’s prodding, I got the Ravioli de Champignons, Sauce aux Morilles – “Wild mushroom-filled ravioli in a savory sauce of morel mushrooms and port wine”. Now I am not a mushroom person… which is why I hesitated… but this dish was UNbelievable. The chewy, supple mushrooms had a potent, earthy flavor that was very nicely complemented with the ravioli and the sauce. The sauce is really what makes the dish—it’s robust, creamy, savory flavor was perfected by the touch of port wine. Generally, wines in savory sauces are something I love (need to spice up the sauce? Throw wine in it!) but this pairing was especially nice.

Jeremy got Seared Sea Scallops with Rosemary Polenta – “Jumbo sea scallops roasted in our wood burning oven served with rosemary polenta, spinach, and a green peppercorn sauce”. As far as seafood goes, scallops are one of my faves, especially when they’re pan-seared and crispy on the outside. Jeremy let me try one, and they were quite delectable—very well seasoned, and complemented nicely in flavor and texture by the polenta and spinach.

We didn’t have time for dessert (as we were both already running late), but my favorite Bistro 110 desserts are the Crème Brulee (voted #1 in the city, and with good reason) and the Profitiroles (puff pastry filled with ice creams).

All-in-all, a really great special-treat of a lunch. It definitely beat Subway!

Oven Roasted Garlic
By Dominique Tougne, Executive Chef, Bistro 110

4 medium garlic heads
olive oil

Using a sharp knife, remove the top of the garlic head to expose the inner cloves. Brush heads with olive oil and place in a shallow casserole or au gratin dish. Fill dish with 1" of water and cover. Bake in preheated oven at 350° for 45-60 minutes until garlic is soft and light brown. Check garlic for softness since oven temperature may vary and your oven may cook faster or slower than Bistro's ovens. Serve with baguette slices. To eat, remove garlic from its skin with a knife and spread onto baguette rounds with butter.

YIELD: 4 Servings

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