North Pond

(Chicago, IL) — It has been a long time coming, but we are finally headed back to Bruce Sherman’s North Pond. With a long weekend in Chicago, we are able to corral two friends—we shall call them the Hoodies—for dinner. The drive to the North Pond Nature Sanctuary, just up the way from Lincoln Park, is a beautiful, glimmery parade past well-appointed homes and windswept treescapes. A valet takes our car and we stroll the short way through the park to see what’s for supper...

He Fed:

I am anticipating a wondrous evening. The stars have aligned to give us good weather all weekend, and eating at North Pond is the capper. It’s a breezy evening with the odor of dead leaves swirling all around. The restaurant is beautifully lit, warm and inviting. We go in. A hostess greets us and we are escorted to a table immediately.

Foregoing the traditional “bubbles”, I decide to step up my game by ordering the Aguas Caliente. It’s a cocktail of Mezcal, jalapeno, and sweet/sour...kind of like a margarita with tons of kick. I find it refreshing and lively, though the sweetness keeps me from ordering more. Plus there’s a nice warm feeling in my stomach.

About this time, a gift from the kitchen arrives: raw bass, crisped ever so slightly on top, on a few sprinkled micro-greens. I dive right in, enjoying the succulent texture and crunch of the topping with the greens. There’s a slight fish taste at the end, but it is not off-putting. Four glasses of sparkling wine miraculously appear as well; it seems the "bubbles" are not quite through with me. I think it sets the tone for the meal to come.

Before I left home, I asked a good friend to look at North Pond’s online menu and suggest some items I should order. He came back with three very specific recommendations: charcuterie, pheasant, and Pinot Noir. When it comes time to order, these are my choices.

The charcuterie board is filled with a cavalcade of meats: salty Proscuitto; creamy and spreadable Pork Rillette; discs of fiery Chorizo; chunky, chewy Pate de Campagne (which may be the best rendition of house terrine that I’ve ever had); and a big slab of meaty Frankfurt Sausage. Alongside are sweet grapes, tart pickled onions, and spiced pecans. More nuts are found in a thick slice of Nut Bread. It is such a monstrous portion, however, that I have to share my delicious choice (and I don’t like sharing).

Before our main courses arrive, Chef Bruce pops out to say hello with an offering of Candied Baby Gold and Red Beets, Rogue River Blue Cheese, Wine-Poached Forelle Pear, Sable Cookie, and Walnuts on one dish; Citrus Kampachi Crudo, Ruby Grapefruit, Sastuma Mandarin, Marinated Heart of Palm, Mint Sorbet, and Horseradish on the next; and Pan-Roasted Sea Scallop, Browned Boudin Noir, Riesling Savoy Cabbage, Pineapple Quince, and Hazelnut Caraway Brittle on yet another. The beet salad is earthy with languid, pungent interludes provided by the cheese. The kampachi is artfully delicate and puckery from the citrus. I’m most excited about the Boudin Noir (don't really dig scallops that much) because I’ve been wanting to taste a better rendition of blood sausage than you can get at certain chain Irish pubs. As it turns out, though, I’m just not that into it. I find it flavorful but kind of gritty and dry. Everything else is amazing! Fresh, seasonal and very creative.

Never mind all comes the birdy! My Wild Pheasant with Cabbage arrives, medium rare. It is thickly sliced atop a dark snaggle of aromatic, wine braised red cabbage, celeriac puree, and sage jus. To one side is a length of crispy juniper-cocoa sausage. The meat melts in my mouth, deep richness assuaged by green notes of sage and juniper. Cocoa and wild pheasant is one of those magic combinations, sweet and smoky. I clean my plate.

I must also mention that the 2008 J Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir goes marvelously with my meal. I am a huge fan of Pinot Noir, and this is a satisfying rendition, though a bit more laid back than I usually prefer. It’s solid without any developing complexity that I crave. It is a people-pleaser, however, so I’m able to share it with our dinner companions.

By the time dessert rolls around, we are all full. This doesn’t stop the kitchen from sending out another parting shot: salted caramel sorbet with grape jellies. I'm not a big fan of salted chocolate or caramel, but this is just over the top. Combined with fruity cubes of concord grape juice, the salt adds a nice counterpoint. Stuffed to the gills, we settle up and head out.

On this, our second trip to North Pond, it seems Chef Bruce is spreading his wings. I don’t recall this level of creativity and expertly composed dishes from our first visit. It’s exhilarating to be in the presence of such skill. I’m giddy enough to want to go back as soon as possible.
She Fed:

After our first visit to North Pond in 2008, I've been longing for the chance to get back. With newlyweds The Hoodies joining us, the night is guaranteed to be special. In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I admire the heck out of Chef Bruce Sherman. I've had the pleasure of working a few demos with him and he's a delight. Not only does he create fabulous food, but he's one of the only chefs I've met who offers to help clean the demo kitchen after he cooks. (Unheard of.) I also appreciate his seasonal and local approach to food. As we stroll through Lincoln Park to the restaurant, I wonder how unbiased I can be, given my fondness for his work.

We enter and I'm instantly comforted by North Pond's warm atmosphere. We are led through the restaurant, past the semi-open kitchen with adjacent dining room into a smaller dining area with a roaring fireplace. Before we know, our server approaches with four glasses of champagne, the Leclerc Briant Cuvee Extra, a gift from Chef Bruce. It's a lovely surprise and goes quite well with the amuse bouche of crudo bass with fennel pollen that arrives a few moments later.

After we place our orders for starters and mains, three appetizers appear on our table unexpectedly, more gifts from Chef. The beet and pear salad with candied baby red and gold beets, blue cheese, wine poached seckel pears, walnuts and a shortbread cookie is one I almost ordered but didn't so I'm tickled to see it. The sweetness of the candied beets and pear contrasts with sharpness of the cheese. The shortbread cookie is slightly savory and only very slightly sweet. Add in the crunchiness of the walnuts and it's just a real fun salad to eat.

The next dish is the citrus marinated kampachi with satsumas, ruby red grapefruit, hearts of palm and mint sorbet. While the sea bass amuse bouche left a slightly fishy aftertaste, the kampachi is super clean. The grapefruit and satsumas add a pleasant tart sweetness. But it's the mint sorbet that blows us all away. The scent alone is amazing; one taste is a game changer. I've never tasted anything this verdant and purely minty in my life.

Our third plate is the pan-roasted sea scallop with browned boudin noir (blood sausage), savoy cabbage steamed in riesling, pineapple quince and a hazelnut caraway brittle. The scallop has a lovely caramelization is perfectly cooked. I know it's silly, but I have absolutely no desire to experience blood sausage and just can't bring myself give it a try. I settle with a big bite of scallop and leave the accoutrements for others to enjoy.

At this point we realize we still have first courses and mains to indulge in! I opt for a salad with bibb and arugula, peeytoe crab, avocado and a yogurt panna cotta. I love the combination of crab and avocado; it reminds me of Florida and seems super decadent this time of year. The crab, avocado and panna cotta are presented as a tower next to a gorgeous little heap of greens with shaved radishes and a lime vinaigrette. The creaminess of the yogurt panna cotta and the avocado play with the peppery arugula and radishes. The sweet, light crab meat simply gilds the lily.

The parade of dishes continues as our entrees arrive. I choose the Atlantic swordfish, with shrimp a la plancha and rainbow chard. I've never been a huge fan of cooked greens, but I know if anyone can convert me it's Chef Bruce. As usual, he does not disappoint. The chard is combined with pine nuts and raisins, wrapped in a thin pastry and then cut into small rounds. It's not the slippery slimy greens I've had elsewhere, The chard still has bite and is tempered by the sweetness of the raisins. The swordfish and shrimp are both delicious, but I'm getting exceedingly full and can only take a few bites.

We decide to skip dessert, but Chef sends out some fruit sorbets, salted caramels and concord grape jellie candies. What a night! Our North Pond experience is outstanding. Each dish is beautifully plated and presented. The service is top-notch. The Austrian Gruner Veltliner (available by the glass) our server recommends to me stands up throughout the entire meal. North Pond remains a favorite and is well worth a repeat visit. I see after dinner brandies near that fireplace next winter!

Popular Posts