Friday, May 13, 2011
Last Wednesday, I went to an impromptu dinner at Leopold with some friends. Ever since I heard of this place, I'd been meaning to try it. Leopold is in West Town and is focused on Belgian food and drink. According to the website, their culinary inspiration "draws from the elegance of French cuisine and the heartiness of German". I'd say that's a fair assessment.
Good things about Leopold include a diverse menu of interesting dishes that you can't get just anywhere (steak tartare, sweetbreads) and a cute interior. Bad things (in my humble opinion) include the highest fat content menu I've ever seen, somewhat aloof servers, and the absurd omission of Goose Island's Belgian beers from the drink menu.
I included the menu as both a good and a bad point. Let me elaborate. There are only about 16 items on the menu, which is fine, except virtually none of them are healthy in any way, shape or form. Now, I know that when most people go out to eat, they aren't necessarily looking for Lean Cuisine or anything. But it's nice to have some balance. Some salads, some light soups, something to balance the ungodly amounts of unsaturated fats. I felt overwhelmed by fat. Here's what we had:
Kusshi oysters: This was my first (and favorite) bite of the meal. Kusshi oyster are very clean, tasty, oh-so-mildly briny, West Coast oysters. They are flown in daily and they really were quite good. Maybe the best oyster I've had in Chicago.
Mussels and frites: The mussels were fine. Nothing spectacular but nothing wrong with them either.
Veal sweetbreads w/ roasted mushrooms, chestnuts and sunchoke puree: So sweetbreads are tricky. As you may know, sweetbreads are usually the thymus of a baby animal, often veal. As you may not know, they also can be the pancreas. At Leopold they were the pancreas. Here's one place where the server lost points in my book because when asked by a member of our party what they tasted like, he said a chicken mcnugget. Really? When you have somewhat unusual items on the menu, it behooves you to educate your servers about how to describe these things. When the sweetbreads came out, however, I understood his reference. They were fried! In my opinion, frying something is a way of masking it's true flavor. Indeed, these sweetbreads were sub-par.
Steak tartare: I haven't had this in ages, so I don't have a recent comparison, but I enjoyed it. Nice presentation, tasty w/ just enough flavoring to provide flavor but not mask the high quality of the meat. Served appropriately w/ a raw egg on top. Yum!
Homemade pierogi w/ farmer's cheese, onion, potato, brown butter: This was very tasty but OF COURSE IT WAS! Look at the ingredients:)
Braised shortrib: good but a bit pricey for what it was. Go to West Town Tavern if you want some rich red meat.
(We avoided the poutine, and I'm glad we did. I know it's all the rage right now, but seriously, cheese, gravy, eggs, meat on top of fries? Gotta draw the line somewhere.)
I would be amiss if I didn't (re)mention that Leopold doesn't serve Goose Island. They used to. They don't now. They think they have a good reason. I think they are wrong. They are all about locally sourced food so it seems absurd to not include local beer. Enough said.
I would say, head to Leopold if it is convenient or if you want to try steak tartare (raw beef). Don't go out of your way.