By 7:30pm on a recent Saturday, every seat at Rootstock was taken, and everybody, it seemed, was there to eat dinner. A glass of wine at the bar sans food? Maybe that happened much later in the evening. If it did, I didn’t see it.
The draw to Rootstock’s food can be attributed to former chef Remy Ayesh’s deceptively simple wine bar food. But now Ayesh has been replaced by Duncan Biddulph, a former sous chef at Lula. Biddulph’s menu keeps with Rootstock’s history of stocking the menu with noshes (and then adding some full-fledged entrées at the end). His chicken croquettes are decadent little things, and he’s smart enough to throw in some pickled chile to offset the richness. His country ham “crust” (read: flatbread) has every flavor a good ham dish deserves: smokiness, sweetness (from a squash puree and maple syrup) and an overall mellow savoriness. (When he braises the ham he loses the sweetness, but that’s okay—the dish is remarkable for tasting so clean while in reality being so rich.)
Desserts here are basically an afterthought—the cheese list is the way to go—but when two tiny housemade chocolate truffles were set down in front of me, Rootstock’s true colors really showed. The busy bartender pulled out a bottle of madeira and poured my companion and me about three sips worth each—just enough to satiate us while the chocolate was still around. The message was clear: Rootstock may be better known for its food these days, and rightfully so. But damn if it’s not going to get you with the wine, too. 954 N California Ave (773-292-1616). Bus: 53, 66, 70. 4pm–2am (closed Sun). Average small plate: $10.