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Not many posts in and I get to share my first more “upscale” or at least special occasion meal with all y’all.  Jill searched through my Yelp bookmarks (I have over 1200 around the country) to find something for our quiet dinner for two celebrating her 30th birthday.  Brown Trout (4111 N. Lincoln Ave.) is a quaint spot in Lincoln Square that’s easy to drive by but absolutely should NOT be missed.

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We wanted to keep things relatively reasonable in terms of price and Trout offers a prix fixe menu on Wednesdays for $35 where guests choose ANY small, large and dessert item on their menu – yes, anything.  The deal breaker was the waive of their corkage fee if the wine is more than 10 years old – check – time to pop the 1999 Ridge Monte Bello.  Made a 7:00 reservation for two.

Though outdoor seating was available we chose to sit indoors where it was more intimate.  Service was polite and friendly without being pretentious in the least.  Though Jill was tempted by mussels (as she always is), we went a different route and ordered the Wild Porcini Mushroom & Ramp Risotto as well as the Lake Michigan Duo – smoked Brown trout served warm and smoked King Salmon done cold.  We were a happy boy and girl.

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What I’ve learned about the best Risotto is that it often ISN’T served in Italian restaurants but at gastro pubs and higher end establishments like this one.  The time, effort, execution and quality of product are never sacrificed at a place like this whereas an Italian joint putting out hundreds of plates of food doesn’t have the 20 minutes it takes to prepare a PROPER Risotto.
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The rice was perfectly al dente, the flavors with pronounced and fresh and the ramps were a unique twist adding an earthy herb-driven play we both loved.

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The Duo was spot on.  Both smoked in house the namesake Brown Trout was served warm and with homemade Ruffle style potato chips.  It was in the form of a spread – super creamy and you can tell the fish was quality – great flavor and texture all around.  The cold smoked King Salmon was one of the better more “buttery smoked fish I’ve experienced – texture set this apart from other Lox.  It was dolloped with Salmon caviar, herb cream cheese and fried capers.  The dish was dressed with mustard greens, arugula and a citrus vin.  Great start to the meal – substantial but not overfilling. Ready for the main course…

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The Gunthrop Farms Pork Porterhouse was outstanding.  It isn’t often you get to sample the “filet” and “strip” sides to pork, but you still can absolutely tell the difference.  As in beef, the filet is more tender while the strip section has a little more marbling and flavor.  Perfectly cooked and rich with pork flavor and dressed with spring onions and a sweet b savory rhubarb chutney and bacon jus. The accompanying black beluga lentils were done as well as any lentil I’ve consumed before.  They were al dente and packed with more flavor than one would imagine from a simple grain – we were impressed.

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The Kilgus Farms Goat Trio gave us an opportunity to sample a goat porterhouse, (two Porters in one meal!  Yup) cooked to a medium rare, it was tender and had the right amount of game in its profile to know it was goat and not beef or even lamb.  The house made Knackworst was exceptional.  You can taste each fresh herb that was used in the sausage as well as the freshness of the goat.  It was one of the more fascinating susages I’ve sampled.  I would love to try it on a bun with some mustard and pickled onion or somethin of the sort.  Lastly, and the star of the show, the sous vide (slow cooked) goat belly.  Not quite as rich and fatty as pork belly there was some nice tender meaty qualities of the goat that kinda brougt the best of both worlds together.  Still plenty of savory fat to remind you what part of the animal you’re trying but again it was balanced and tasted more like meat than just belly. The dish was complex finished with baby leeks, goat just and crispy pickled onion whose acidity helped cut through the rich belly.

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We ordered the sole side offered on the menu.  A Butterkase and Cheddar Mac n Cheese – it blew our mind.  On first glance it doesn’t look like anything special – just a standard M & C…uhuh.  This was the cheese devil in disguise.  Using small tube shaped pasta created the perfect cheese to pasta ratio and the creamy mild Butterkase matched well with the more flavorful sharp cheddar.  It was one of the best Macs we’ve sampled in many a moon.

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We rounded out our meal with a cheese course featuring local farms served on a small metal plate shaped like a mouse – nice touch.  It included Hook’s Gorgonzola, Prairie Fruits smokes Chevre, and Mouton Frais from Prairie Fruits which was similar to a Manchego.  Our sweeter selection was the warm Rhubarb Buttermilk Cake.  All of the best desserts are those that aren’t too sweet.  Like salt, sugar when used correctly enhances flavors.  Only when it’s overused do things taste “sweet” or “salty” in the case of salt.  Remember this…man.  The cake was great.  Simple but clearly house made Vanilla ice cream brought the warm flavors full circle.  Candied pistacios was the frosting on the cake…er…yeah.

We were well taken care of and the professional staff recognized Jill’s birthday more than once – key to a special occasion experience.  Everyone was knowledgable and eager to be of assistance - we never once felt rushed.  Thank you very much to Chef Sanders and the rest of the crew at Brown Trout.  We will absolutely be back…and next time we’ll bring friends.  Bravo!

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