Monday, November 26, 2007

Bonsoiree

There’s something really exciting to me about eating at an out-of-the-way restaurant. It makes me feel like I’m in on a delicious secret. I feel as if others dining with me are sharing this sentiment, and I love the sense of community that exists among diners in such a restaurant. Though none of us know each other, we all silently acknowledge that we’re in this secret club together. After eating at a little-known place that I really enjoy, I always face the ultimate dilemma – do I tell rave reviews to everyone I know about it, or do I keep the information to myself to ensure that little community stays that little community? Since starting this blog, I now feel as if I have an affirmative duty to share these little secrets with you. This one, though, is one for which I cannot take full credit. If any of you should try Bonsoiree, please direct all thanks to my friend Allison.

Bonsoiree is in an unassuming spot in Logan Square, a rare storefront on a street of old factories. The casual space stands in spectacular juxtaposition to the culinary art that pours out from its kitchen. All the better though, since there is less hoopla to interfere with the food. Since it is BYOB we entered with three bottles of wine, an Alsatian Pinot Noir, a Pinot Gris from Oregon and a third of which I characteristically neglected to take a picture. It was red, of that much I am sure. Allison and I were the first ones there from our party, and our waiter made conversation with us while we waited. He was fully interested in everything we had to say, and was not just killing time in between serving people. He could tell that we were a couple of ladies that really enjoy our food, and seeing our three bottles of wine, he suggested we try a tasting menu that the chef would tailor to pair with our wines. Characteristically, again, we accepted.




We began with an amuse bouche, an olive tapenade on crackers. It tasted precisely how you would imagine it would. Nothing too special here, but what do you expect from olive tapenade?



Next we were given Prince Edward Island mussels with sweet Thai red curry, crispy rice noodles and a doughy thing. These were nothing short of delicious. My gripe with Thai curry usually is that the coconut milk makes it far too creamy. This, however, was a great consistency. The coconut milk did not overwhelm the taste of the mussels, but served to mute the spiciness of the sauce to an ideal level. The doughy thing was good, but unnecessary. I would have been more than satisfied with just the mussels, but the sauce was so good I used the doughy thing to sop up the curry.



We proceeded on with braised rabbit with oven-dried tomato, gnocchi, chives and the essence of butter. I’m still trying to figure out what the ‘essence of butter’ is, but whatever it is, it’s fantastic. The rabbit cooked nicely, but though it had great flavor, it lacked a bit of depth. The tomato was probably the most delicious thing on the plate though. The oven drying brought out all the flavors of the tomato and allowed the acidity to cry out unapologetically. It made everything else on the plate taste better. The acidity complemented the subtle flavors of the rabbit. The gnocchi appeared to have been pan-fried, which gave them a really good crunch.



Onward, to my favorite dish of the night – a perfectly seared diver scallop with autumn plum medley and organic mâche (from Michigan, as were so many of the things with which we were presented, as was made known to us by our server). The scallop was cooked to perfection, with a visually appealing brown sear and near raw-ness towards the bottom. The autumn plum medley tasted a lot like haroseth, a chunky apple and cinnamon sauce served at the Passover Seder to represent the mortar that the Jews used to build the pyramids. This dish was the epitome of minimalism, when the ingredients are of such high quality, why mess with them? I cut the single scallop into many, many too-small bites just to prolong my experience with it.




We were next presented with sautéed skate with fall mushrooms, corn cake, red pepper –lime coulis and micro greens (from Michigan, in case you were wondering). This skate managed to achieve everything that it possibly could have. There are so many things that can go wrong when cooking skate, but the chef executed this perfectly. The flaked at the touch of the fork, yet had a delicate crunchiness that made it incredibly exciting. The corn cake was not bursting with flavor, but the texture was perfect, and actually had me craving corn muffins a week later. I have not had a corn muffin in maybe nine years, yet this had me yearning for that crunchy, mealy bite. The coulis lent a lovely aesthetic note, but its brightness was not just visual. The sweetness paired nicely with the earthiness of the mushrooms and also served to nicely lighten up the fish. It perked everything on the plate up, without overwhelming any of it. The texture was silken, a great contrast to the crunchiness of the fish and the corn cake.



Then came the lamb. Two chops were plated beside a tortilla-cheese cake with micro greens and what I believe was a port-like sauce, though I would be lying through my teeth if I were to tell you I remember. The lamb was a just-there medium rare. My problem with lamb is that it has the tendency to taste a bit gamey. This was anything but. The simple spices on the chops were just enough to flavor the meat while still allowing the flavor of the lamb itself to come through. The tortilla cake didn’t wow me, but it didn’t need to. The sauce was light, which was necessary five courses in.



On the heels of the lamb was the cheese plate served with dried black mission figs, nuts and chive crackers. We were given two plates for the four of us, which allowed for a more than generous serving for each of us. I don’t quite recall what precisely each of the cheeses was, but I know that at twelve and three were cows milk cheeses, hard at twelve, triple crème at three. Both were great. The rest of the table didn’t like the soft cow’s milk cheese as much as I did, but I’m a sucker for triple crème cheeses. A six was a hard goat’s milk cheese and at nine a triple crème goat cheese. The triple crème goat was my favorite of the bunch, while the rest of the group stuck to their guns and devoured the hard goat. Well, we devoured all of it, but that was the first to go.



I was filled to the brim, but dessert had not yet found its way out onto the table. In the center is a winter vegetable cake crusted in pistachios with yuzu meringue. The deep red surrounding it was a beet frosting. It was accompanied by two pieces of banana bread pudding and what I think were amoretti cookies. Our side of the table was given this plate, which the other side was given an apple pastry thing. I was happy to be where I was. The cake was akin to a carrot cake, but the pistachios really brought it to another level. While the other side of the table thought it was a bit salty, I was gobbling it up. I think it might be a sort of endowment effect, since they liked what they had been given and we liked what we had, but I’m not about to go into individual preference shortcuts right now. What matters is that I don’t usually like cake. While I like the spiciness that usually comes with carrot cake, the cream cheese frosting usually deters me. However, I do like salt, and the spiciness of the cake itself and the saltiness of the pistachios with the muted sweetness of the meringue, it was all there.

Our server kept stopping by throughout the meal to inquire as to how we liked everything. When we left he asked us which dishes we liked the best and whether we had any critiques. He was conversational and inquisitive, but without being abrasive and obnoxious. He was interested in hearing out truthful thoughts, and I feel as if I had let him down with the sparseness of my impressions on my way out the door, especially since we were, by over an hour, the last people there. What could I do though? It was three bottles of wine later than when we got there.

I know it is a usual complaint after a tasting menu that one is still hungry, but I was so far from having that problem. Actually, any chance that problem would arise was obliterated upon consumption of the skate. I don’t know how my male dining companions felt, but Allison and I could barely move. Such delicious, delicious discomfort.

Bonsoiree Café and Delicacies
2728 W Armitage (between Fairfield and Washtenaw Aves)
(773) 486-7511
www.bon-soiree.com

3 comments:

Nicholas said...

Shelbs -

The lamb and tortilla cheese-cake look delicious. I simply must go!

A la bonne degustation, comme disent-ils, les vrais gourmands!

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Shelby said...

Anon - thanks so much! I only wish I were able to post more frequently...

hope you'll come back and visit again!