I did some research on bistros near Chicago on this board and Chowhound awhile back so thought I’d post a report of our experience last weekend. Hubby and I were in Chicago with one-day tickets to the Cialis Western Open at Cog Hill so drove up the afternoon previous in order to have a delayed birthday dinner. I researched several bistros within a short driving distance of Schaumburg. Because of road work on Chicago interstates we took the “country way” to Schaumburg from southern Illinois which ended up adding an hour to our driving time (four hours total driving time) so we decided not to make reservations, rest a little, and then wing it. We were not able to bring our lap top with us and I had forgotten Mapquest directions to the first bistro we researched (Retro Bistro) so we opted for Barrington Country Bistro (BCB) which we knew we would find more easily.
We were going late enough that we hoped we could get in with no reservation which we were able to do. Last year we went to D&J Bistro for my birthday which had the same kind of storefront set-up as BCB – it was ironic that we thought D&J Bistro had a lackluster storefront but the inside was darling, we thought just the opposite for BCB. The inside of BCB was okay but the lighting was awfully bright in our section -- the total ambiance was just better at D&J and had a wonderful happy “clamor”.
Anyway, I always worry when we go to more upscale restaurants that the servers will be nice to us – we are non-drinkers and certainly do not look like wealthy socialites (we do the best we can.................) – but this server was extremely nice to us (and I must say quite handsome). We started off with iced teas since the day had been so hot and started in on the French bread and butter on the table. I’m glad it was butter in a slab on a plate rather than cold silver packets. (i.e. similar annoyance as sugar packets below). There was also a small cup of something that looked like chopped olives to me – we both tried it but it was indeed chopped olives (or whatever formal name that might have) and neither of us are olive lovers, or even likers for that matter.
We started with a shared appetizer – it was one of the specials of the day, I can’t remember the name of it now. It was scallops and shrimp in some kind of a terrific sauce served in two sea shells. I used the French bread to sop up the sauce left in the shells (which my hubby found amusing as I had just sopped an equally good sauce with bread at a wonderful dinner at Roy Yamaguchi’s in February). Hubby had your basic vinaigrette salad – I was caught between the two soups offered (which sounds kind of silly to order on a summer day....), tomato or French onion. I ended up going with the French onion because I had been yearning for a good version after having less than delightful versions at more inexpensive restaurants. His salad was fine – my soup was heavenly. I would’ve liked to have carved ALL the baked cheese off the bowl but manners prevailed! The broth was sublime, not too salty, not too many onions, and a good layer of cheese on the right kind of bread. My one complaint about the soup would be that it was served way too hot to eat – the waiter warned me so I tried to cool off one spoonful, took a tentative sip and burned the heck out of an area on my tongue. I like to cook at home but I’m not a gourmand by any means and I’m not a chef so it may be wrong of me to critique a tough industry but shouldn’t a restaurant know how to serve something at a more proper temp? I had to eat it at a snail’s pace and finally resorted to a couple of ice cubes from my tea.
Hubby ordered the roasted pork tenderloin entrée with pureed sweet potatos. I can’t remember the description of the sauce but I know that blueberries were involved. We always share bites at dinner (well, he shares some of his anyway – I usually order things he doesn’t like!) – the sauce on his plate was wonderful, rich and extremely flavorful, and the pork was wonderfully tender. The only negative for his entrée IMHO was that the sweet potatos were visibly quite fibrous. It didn’t bother my hubby – he said, sweet potatos are that way. But I know sometimes they are not – I wouldn’t have liked them too much if they’d been on my plate but they did have a great flavor.
For myself, the rock shrimp ravioli in clam beurre blanc on the appetizer special menu was really appealing to me so the server had it doubled (three raviolis to six) and served to me as an entrée. I read on the menu that a daily ravioli special is homemade which excited me because I am a pasta fanatic. I loved the pasta part of this dish – instead of being paper thin it had a nice thick substance to it – one half of each ravioli was orange squash colored and the other half plain pasta. The crimped edges of the ravioli were nice and thick and the level of al dente bite, a bit toothy, was perfect for my taste. Boursin cheese had also been used inside the ravioli along with leeks. I had actually never had Boursin so hoped I would like it, assuming it would be a mild cheese with those type of ingredients. I would have been able to pronounce the dish heavenly if the leeks hadn’t been so crunchy. Someone else might have liked it to give the dish different levels of texture but I did not. I still polished them all off along with the delicious sauce! I would have loved to have my own dish of parmesan to sprinkle on but perhaps that was not “acceptable” with this dish/seafood in cuisine rules? I would have enjoyed it nonetheless.
We were stuffed but looked at the dessert menu anyway. Sometimes nothing on a dessert menu will strike our fancy but this time practically all of them enticed us. I wished that our server had let us know ahead of time that two of the desserts required extra time – service had been fairly slow through the evening so by the time we were heading for dessert it was close to closing time. I definitely think that was an oversight on the waiter’s part because one of the desserts was, of course, the all too common these days ubiquitous chocolate cake with the molten center. I adore chocolate, especially warm gooey chocolate so I would have ordered that without a doubt. There was also a “very thin apple tart” that I might have considered which also required extra time. In consideration of time, instead I ordered what I would describe (since I can’t remember the description exactly) as a chocolate mousse terrine that came with vanilla and chocolate sauces decoratively arranged on the side with a scoop of chocolate gelato. I had them hold the raspberry sauce that was also supposed to come with it as I find it an appalling juxtaposition of flavors to put any fruit sauce with chocolate (am I the only one?!) which they kindly complied with. He asked me if it would be okay to include fresh raspberries on top which were delicious but eaten completely separate of the chocolate. The chocolate gelato was something else – it had been made out of dark chocolate and looked like silk in texture, smooth beyond compare. Using the dark chocolate, the intense flavor of the chocolate just about shot one through the ceiling. I sort of like dark chocolate so it was pretty good but I think milk chocolate would probably have been even better. Hubby ordered a fruit tart with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. It was very striking in appearance but both of us thought it was just okay in taste – the caramel sauce was also a version that we thought was not the best.
As if we needed anything further, the check was brought with a little plate of “endings”. Two pieces were sugared jelly – one chocolate, one fruit, and two tiny lemon wafer cookies.
I think we would probably go back to D&J Bistro first over BCB but this was still a good meal/experience. However, we only make it to Chicago once or twice a year so we will be trying restaurants for the rest of our foreseeable lives before we probably go back to one twice. All in all it was nice experience. One other tiny quibble - I always find it amusing when nicer restaurants can serve sugar in nothing better than packets. At a restaurant in Visalia, California, the sugar is served liquid syrup style in tiny glass pitchers – to this day that has ruined me for seeing sugar served in packets when you are paying $100 for a meal. Even dry sugar in little containers with spoons would be better.
Hope you enjoyed this report from a small-town, country bumpkin foodie. Finding good restaurants has been my hobby since high school (I’m 42 now) – thanks for the help with my research! The first thing I do these days when planning a trip is hit the restaurant boards for tips.
....there was a mountain made entirely of grated Parmesan cheese, on which lived people who did nothing but make macaroni and ravioli and cook them in capon broth. And then they threw them down, and the more of them you took, the more you had....."
Bocaccio (1313-1375) 'Decameron' (Day 8, Tale 3).