I ride my bike to the windy city's hidden gems, lost goldmines, new kids on the block, and old standbys then tell you what to think and what to order. Check, czech, Česká it out...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We're Just Ordinary People: Part 5, Longshanks (1 of 2)

It has come to my attention recently that many of you don't know about Longman and Eagle. Selfishly, I love this. But, as spreader of the good word, I hate it. This Logan Square gastro-something/share-plates1 specialist has not only been around for a couple years but they've also earned a Michelin Star in that brief time. It's not that they need your business (despite having a strict no reservations policy, L&E manages to pack 'em in night after night), it's just that if you like food you'll like eating there.

Before I get to the food I have to mention that I plan on going back to L&E again (hence the "1 of 2" bit in the title). On the this first trip I didn't order any of their very tempting entrees. I instead stuck to their small plates and bar snacks which, despite their names, can easily be made into a very satisfying meal.

––Slagel Farms meatballs, polenta, parsley pesto, fonduta––

These rustic Italian knockoffs were as good as anything I ate in Italy. Each meatball was cooked with the precise attention one usually gives a prime cut of beef; a perfect medium rare. I was flabbergasted. Three sauces–the fonduta (read italian fondue), a herbaceous pesto and robust tomato–laced together beautifully. The creamy polenta, though it's good enough to stand on its own, was glad to join the mix. I would've made a meal of this dish if I didn't have so much other shit to try.

––smoked Becker Lane rillettes, cornichons, mustard––

This simple pub dish was salty. The cornichons (French for smallish pickles) helped with their acidity but were also salty. The stone ground mustard was nice and spicy but also a bit salty. Once I took a few slugs of water I was able to appreciate the prociutto-like esters of the rillettes and its creamy and gamey flavors. But, overall, it was pretty salty.

––roasted marrow bones, red onion jam, sea salt, sourdough crostinis––

The barbarically straightforward presentation of this plate took my friends by surprise and, admittedly, I remember my first bone marrow experience being a little intimidating too. But it was the the pronounced and simple flavors of the components that won the day in the end. The red onion jam tasted sweet and authentic (not like that out-of-the-can onion jam your mom used to shove down your throat) and coupled well with the saline/creamy marrow when spread across the beautifully toasted crostino (it's not a crostini!!).

––porcini agnolotti, sweet corn, crispy chicken skin, pea shoots, Grana Padano––

This dish was a dazzlingly effective marriage of southern comfort food and italian finery. The little mushroom stuffed pasta pillows were happily submerged corn infused sauce and topped with the best version of parmesan-esque cheese I know. The perfect bite was astringent up front with a middle that consisted of Church's Chicken-like crunch and fresh midwestern corn. This was all wrapped up nicely with earthy, slightly bitter notes from the porcini.

––gulf prawns and grits, george's organic egg, braised collards, black pepper shrimp gravy––

The first question I asked was what the hell is a George's organic egg? Turns out it's an organic egg that been cooked using the "one-hour" method, meaning the whole egg was cooked sous vide (for much more on this check out this NY Times piece) for an hour making the white the same creamy-firm consistency as the yolk. The shrimp tasted like they were pulled directly from the sea's of south Asia (rather than Louisiana) and their sweetness was contrasted by the bitter collards and comforting grits. To this blend of deep South and Asia I say Do Work!

––rabbit pâté, giardiniére, sourdough tartines––

With a rich and refreshing flavor that distinctly reminded me of a good summer sausage, my initial skepticism about this dish withered like I imagine the red and green peppers of the giardiniére did when introduced to their vinegar bath. This was true charcuterie and I couldn't be happier that someone at the table was bold enough to order it.

––wild boar sloppy joe, crispy sage, onion, picked jalapeño, beef fat fries––

Representing the a class of dishes that sound a lot more interesting than they taste, I could've done without this largely mediocre sandwich. On the plus side the hovering low-level heat, lovely implementation of fried sage and beef fat fries mostly made this plate disappear (none of us had enough room left to finish it off). Otherwise it was a sloppy joe. Sloppy joes can be good, sometimes, but I never crave them and no amount of fancy game meat is going to change that.

Brass Tacks
They say Little Red Riding Hood didn't get lost on her way to her grandma's place. They say she was lost long before she left her house2. The same can be said of Longman and Eagle. Actually, I'm not sure how that applies to Longman and Eagle, I just thought it sounded like a snappy lead in for this section. But I digress. Though I didn't find every plate at L&E toothsome, the items that worked really worked. I thoroughly enjoyed the cozy atmosphere and, though I didn't talk about them (because I failed to take notes on them), the craft cocktails were spot on as well. So please don't be deterred by its relative remoteness or its relish for attracting members of the ever-expanding hipster nation and give Longman and his faithful bird a try. Or don't, it's hard enough to get in as it is.

1. These days it seems like every new restaurant worth eating at has shunned the traditional appetizer-salad-entree-dessert format in favor of a tapas-like experience of everybody sharing a bunch of small plates over the course of a meal. I'm here to tell you that I'm a fan of this and you should be too. What you lose –the ability to get exactly what you want, how you want it, and not have to share it with anyone– is far outweighed by what you gain; a social experience where interaction and conversation are facilitated rather than hindered and the dining experience is marked by a series of wonderfully diverse flavors and dishes rather than one outstanding (or maybe mediocre, or maybe bad) plate. So give it a try, for Pete's Sake!
2. I'm not sure if this makes sense. I'm not willing to expand on this thought (no matter how profound it may seem). And I'm not sure who "they" are or if anyone has ever uttered this vagary before. If not then I just thought-vented it and want royalties!

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Longman & Eagle

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