North Pond Cafe Review

Last night's dinner at North Pond Cafe, a beautifully restored former skating house in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, was such a treat. We dined with some of our dearest friends, a couple I met eighteen(!) years ago when I was a freshman at Northwestern. DD and D, as I call them affectionately, are the aunt and uncle of one of my best college friends, but I feel really lucky to now just call them pals (and role models and mentors!). In any case, North Pond is one of their favorite spots in the city, and our meal with them was lovely. It was a cold night, and the dining room -all wood and windows in a beautiful arts & crafts style, a fire going in the fireplace - was the epitome and comfort. They emphasize local/sustainable/seasonal food and eating, and the menus are updated daily. The service was terrific, and I had quite a time deciding what to order. Ultimately, I choose the Candied Beet, Cured King Salmon and Tuna Pastrami salad to start (as did D) and the Charred New York Striploin Medallions with Piccolo Farro, Parmesan Cavolo Nero, and Garlic Cream for my main. We also started in on a wonderful bottle of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir which went well with everything!

T and D chose as their entree the Maple-Cured Pork Loin with Black Fig Lyonnaise Sausage, Oregon Chanterelle Mushroom Ragout, Fig Marmalade and Leeks with a Fig Syrup, while DD opted for the Slow-Roasted Halibut with Citrus Butter, Zucchini “Pasta”, Shrimp Mousseline Cadeau, Butternut Crescents and Gold Coulis. She'd started with the Green Butter Leaf Lettuce and Frisée salad with a  Cassis-Poached Pear, Citrus Almond Tuile, Blue Cheese Mousse and a Walnut Vinaigrette.

Unfortunately, as I often feel silly photographing food in restaurants and thus only took two quite secretly and with my phone's flash off, the pics did NOT turn out well. So, you'll just have to imagine the delicacy and flavors in all these dishes. Though I enjoyed the beet salad, it wasn't terribly memorable, and I found myself wishing for a greater a variation in both texture and flavors.

The beef medallions, however, were out of this world. I simply must return to DC and work on the crispy Parmesan cavolo nero (closest approximation in the U.S. would be Lacinato kale, aka Tuscan or dinosaur kale) as well as on the rub and char North Pond managed on the steak's exterior. WOW! And with the farro. Mamma mia, I could eat this dish all the time. It was complex but accessible, and each flavor sang in every bite. A true revelation of a dish!

Tom and D both seemed to groove completely on their pork entrée. And truly, how can you go wrong with anything accompanied by a mushroom ragout and fig marmalade. T said the black fig sausage was particularly scrumptious! DD's cassis-poached pear was unlike any poached pear I've seen before. Because of the color and richness of the cassis, the pear looked as if it had been lacquered and was absolutely gorgeous set against the vibrant greens and rich pastels of the citrus and mousse. I wish I'd stolen a bite. Her halibut was beautifully presented too, and I am remorseful about my refusal to at least turn on the flash for the photo I snapped.

The last highlight of the meal was the Caramelized Pine Nut Tart with Concord Grape Gel and Tuile, Rosemary Ice Cream, and a sprinkle of Beurre Noisette Powder. Oh.My.God. I loved this. And dear readers, you might recall that just a couple weeks back, I created that Double Grape, Rosemary and Pine Nut compote so felt positively cutting edge when I saw North Pond's similarly flavored dessert offering last night. Cool.

In any case, this dessert was just beyond. The pine nut tart was insane, and the rosemary ice cream was another element of last night's meal that I will try to replicate when I return home. It would be a sublime addition to any Thanksgiving table.

And so, as I wrap this up (T is getting antsy and wants attention :) but really restaurant debriefs take time), I leave you with this: if you find yourself in the Windy City and want a beautiful meal with the freshest of ingredients, thoughtfully prepared and graciously presented, if you want to eat in an intimate, beautifully done but not remotely over the top restaurant, consider North Pond.