I could write this review of Browntrout without mentioning how horrific the name is. But let’s be real: In the pantheon of words that no restaurant should ever use in its moniker—Blood, for instance, or scum (gastroenteritis is pretty bad, too)—Browntrout, while new to the list, ranks high. It evokes grisly images of swollen fish from the Chicago River. Worse, it doesn’t even hint at this restaurant’s firm commitment to pure, sustainable fish—or, for that matter, its great staff, homey dining room or its sophisticated and nuanced food. The name allegedly comes from one of the best meals chef/owner Sean Sanders (who worked at BIN 36 before this) ever ate, but it could just as easily be that the guy has a thing for trout. It is, after all, on his menu three times, once as an entrée (cooked simply in brown butter) and twice on the “Browntrout fish trio.” Whatever the case may be, the name works insofar that it’s direct and straightfoward—just like Sanders’s food. Take that trio, for instance. Of the three preparations—cured trout , smoked trout, pan-seared perch—each one exhibited clean flavors that were so impressive it was unusually difficult to pick a favorite. (I did pick one eventually, though: The cured trout was as delicious as any cured fish I’ve ever had.) Compared to such a pleasant dish, the waffle fries that share the appetizer portion of the menu with the trio are, in comparison, clunky and overwrought—they’re served with a bowl of melted Gruyère, which had an overw
Chef Jason Paskewitz is giving the people what they want at this neighborhood bistro: comforting, familiar food, mostly impeccably prepared. Steak frites rise above standard status thanks to the incredibly tender hanger cut and the pool of marrow-rich bordelaise. The house burger is a juicy, messy thing tucked into a hearty pretzel bun. And the crème brûlée is so exemplary—from the satisfying crack of its sugar top to the velvety vanilla custard beneath—it reminds us that the tried-and-true can actually stand out.
Jam is now closed. On the heels of the success of Chickpea, Jerry Suqi opened this charming American spot. This time, however, it’s not his mom in the kitchen but chef (and co-owner) Jeffrey Mauro, a Charlie Trotter’s alum, who is putting out twisted classics such as egg sandwiches with pork cheeks and lamb crêpes with Asian pear. Jam takes a lot of risks, some of which pay off better than others, but the breakfast amuse-bouches (such as a mini raspberry muffin drizzled with honey) always get things off to the right start.
If you ever ate Sarah Stegner’s food during her much-lauded tenure as chef of the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, you understand how happy we are that we don’t have to sell a kidney anymore to eat her food. We’ll even endure the drive to the ’burbs to dig into garlicky, vinegary skirt steak topped with sautéed ’shrooms; her housemade lamb sausage with sweet fennel and warm goat cheese; and her mom’s seasonal pie selection. Great, comforting food we can eat while wearing jeans—perfect.