This weekend do something different. Get outta downtown and head to somewhere with less traffic, easy parking and incredible food that will NOT break the bank. The North Shore has come alive over the last couple years with a number of new restaurants that have a focus on using high quality local ingredients. They staff culinary trained chefs who are combining classic French techniques and more modern approaches to food. 2nd Street Bistro (1825 2nd St., Highland Park) is the city’s finest example.
Chef Michael Gottlieb and crew have successfully put together an excellent menu and service team for this new “pop-up” BYOB spot in HP – the city’s first of its kind. For lunch the restaurant operates as Stash’s hot dog stand on one side and Bistro on the other; they’re featuring a brand new lunch menu. While at dinner, it splits into the Bistro and an enoteca featuring rustic Italian cuisine. Incredible enough, even working out of a single kitchen, the food surpasses many well run restaurants of larger size downtown.
We dined as a foursome on a Tuesday evening. We brought a white wine from Maison Bleu winery in Washington State. The varietal was Marsanne – a grape indigenous to the Rhone Valley in France. The wine gives off slightly spicy, creamy and even funky aromas. The palate is medium bodied and shows great acidity but also some layered complexity on the finish. We accompanied the white with a Pinot Noir from Brewer-Clifton, a classic producer of Pinot and Chardonnay in California.
The meal began with bread service. Two types of Lavosh – one Parmesan, one cinnamon sugar. Both excellent light airy texture with sharp Parmesan flavor and only slightly sweet cinnamon and sugar.
We went through at least two jars full – everyone loves bread. I know what you’re thinking - we luckily did NOT fill up.
Appetizers were plentiful thanks to chef. The pork belly and watermelon was very nice. One of the more delicate and light belly dishes I’ve tasted. Well plated and full of flavor, the pork was smoky and crispy while the fat on the inside was well rendered. The fresh (seedless) watermelon played so well off the pork, I’d like to try it more often. The refreshing qualities of the fruit cut through the unctuous fat of the meat. A light cucumber salad slaw underneath provided a nice crunch to the dish. A homemade BBQ sauce brought in a tangy element that also accentuated the smoke of the protein. I’d order this again.
As you may have learned by now, Jill is no novice when it comes to mussel consumption and preparation. 2nd Street’s were top notch. Plentiful in portion, the mussels themselves weren’t too big and definitely not tiny either. From Prince Edward Island in Canada, they came across super sweet and briny, taking on the flavor of the red tomato ragu really nicely. There was nice garlic driven qualities in the sauce that weren’t overpowering but still quite prominent. The finish showed off the saline of the ocean which brought the dish back around to the terroir of the mussel itself. Really nice layering of different flavor types.
The mussels were served with two large sections of char-grilled Tuscon bread. Overall, the dish hit on many levels overall – great textures, flavors and portion size. We were lapping up the broth with our spoons when the bread was gone.
Crispy duck confit was a surprise from chef. Not on the menu, he wanted us to try something he’d been playing around with for a bit. The duck came to the table crispy and served atop a bed of Napa coleslaw. Chef came to the table and described the Ming Nao sauce, his own personal creation – and naming for that matter. It was a unique blend of peanut butter, plum, Hoisin, sweet chili, Sriracha and lime juice – really different. We loved the duck. Again, crispy on the outside and juicy and tender inside, the slaw brought some nice acidity to the table that worked well with the rich bird. The sauce, though, was the star of this dish. We ended up dipping the pork belly, mussels and everything else on the table in this special sauce . It really was that good. I’ll take a pint to go!
The grilled calamari was extremely tender having been marinated overnight. Cut into smaller pieces (which we all appreciated) the ‘mari had barely any fishy qualities and proved to be a lighter refreshing appetizer that I would put as a “highly recommended” dish at The Bistro. Lightly dressed with a roasted eggplant puree and pickled red bell peppers chef blends different ingredients that are rarely seen together – yet they work so well. The pickled peppers lend a vinegar tartness that brings out the fresh oceanic aspects of the calamari. A touch of mint and a generous quinoa salad make the dish substantial and bring a totally new element to the plate all together. The quinoa is properly cooked and were actually the most flavorful example I’ve tasted at a restaurant – and most places wouldn’t dream of this unique combo in the first place. A winner.
Risotto is easy to make if you do it using the correct method. You cannot make it ahead of time, and you need to pay attention to the dish throughout its full preparation. Chef does just this. This risotto was one of the best risottos any of us have tried.
The classic incorporation of saffron into the broth combined with the bacon foam that tops the dish shows where Michael is coming from. Classically trained but bringing modern insights to the table. I know this is what the best chefs these days have been doing for a few years now, but it REALLY hasn’t made it that far up North into the burbs besides a few here and there. So for that, I thank you. Back to the food.
Perfectly al dente rice, fresh seafood, saffron and a cool take on bacon powder create a classic dish with a beautiful modern spin. I imagine chef uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the bacon then pulverizes it into a powder – nice.
All this food and we hadn’t even receive our entrees!
We ordered the Skate Wing which came simply grilled and served with a fresh and lively tropical salsa and some plantain chips. A zesty and spicy coconut sauce laid under the fish and provided a hint of spice. The dish was simple and well executed. A great light refresihng fish that suits the summer just right.
The Bistro’s version of skirt steak is unlike any other you’ll find anywhere. Chef uses an edible binder to “glue” three pieces of skirt steak to one another before he cooks it in an immersion circulator – a device that keeps water at a very specific temperature allowing protein to slow cook in an incredibly consistent manner.
The resulting steak is medium rare throughout the entire piece instead of getting more cooked towards the outside. Chef sears off the steak right before hitting the plate. Served atop a bed of smashed garlic Yukon taters with a shallot marmalade, this is one of the better skirt steaks and certainly most unique I’ve encountered. I didn’t think it was even needed, but a Chianti reduction is drizzled atop the meat.
Lastly, the Amish Chicken was actually one of the stars of the dinner. So simply, yet so much time and care went into making this bird the best it could be.
Great extra crispy and slightly charred skin lead to super moist and flavorful white meat that exploded with rustic herbaceous flavors. You can taste each fresh herb that was used both in the marinade and atop the meat.
As if that wasn’t enough food we HAD to order the truffle fries and roasted Brussels (with an ‘S’ – crazy right?!) sprouts – a unanimous decision by the table. The fries were crispy on the outside and airy inside. They were cut shorter than your typical fry which made it fun to pack more than one in your mouth at a time. The truffle flavor was just enough so that it didn’t overpower the beautiful potato.
The roasted veg were cooked properly. They were soft but had just a slight crunch. They were savory and well seasoned. Simple and clean. An excellent addition to the rich meal we had just consumed.
It was difficult to even think about dessert, but we couldn’t pass up the Chocolate Cremeaux and Pretzel Bread Pudding. The cremeaux was a solid pot de creme basically. Rich but light chocolate was topped with caramelized banana slices.
The bread pudding on the other hand, was absolutely mind blowing. We all agreed that it was THE best bread pudding we’d ever had – and I NEVER love bread pudding. The pretzel gave it a more rich, chewy yet tender texture. Just like a pretzel bun with a burger, the pretzel took this bread pudding to the next level. It was so decadent, it basically melted in your mouth with the only slightly sweet caramel sauce it was served upon.
2nd Street Bistro does an impeccable job of serving up city quality food in a relaxed and comfortable setting. Offering a BYOB option allows guests to save some loot and spend it on more food – something I will always recommend doing. Head up North and try something new this weekend. 2nd Street Bistro has something for everyone, and don’t forget to save room for dessert.