Briejo (CLOSED)

Restaurants, Contemporary American Oak Park
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“I’m the Jo in Briejo,” the woman said. “Only people have been pronouncing this place Brieho. So I guess I’m the ho.”

And like that, my companion and I were introduced to Jody Andre, the chef and co-owner and, that night, incredibly attentive dining-room host at Briejo. The woman has been around a while, having put in time at Tomboy and the now-defunct Speakeasy. And in the decade-plus that she’s been in the business, she’s become good at judging people. At least, she’s good enough to know when she can tell her guests that she’s a ho.

I loved her instantly. But it took a little longer for me to love the food. The menu at Briejo is the opposite of ambitious—it’s full of clichés like mango shrimp, fried artichokes and goat cheese–marinara dips. I read it again and again, unable to get interested in any of it. I finally settled on some scallops, some duck confit and those artichokes. I felt as if I was throwing in the towel, but it appeared the chefs had, too. So it seemed like the thing to do.

But just as Andre knew exactly what words would win my companion and me over, she also seems to know what kind of food people want. Not what they may think they want, but what they want deep in their core, while the rest of them are too busy following food trends to notice. Take those fried artichokes, for example. The tiny bulbs of hearts turned out to have an ethereal quality about them, and I started thinking about how by the very virtue of their deliciousness they had betrayed their own cliché. But before I could finish the thought they were all gone.

Ditto for the mussels. I just knew I was the kind of guy who doesn’t want his mussels to arrive in a cream sauce so thick I can hardly see the shells. But the garlicky stuff these mussels hid in was addictive enough that I soon found myself scooping it up with a spoon. And though I have an aversion to chefs who use truffle oil like salt, I could not deny that Briejo’s impeccably tender scallops, though doused in the stuff, made for a great meal.

I was not, however, won over by every dish. I found my duck confit a little dry, and when my pork loin arrived immersed in a cloying barbecue sauce, I was crestfallen. I knew from the other dishes I had eaten that Andre et al. could do better. She had managed to make a great mac and cheese, after all (it was the redeeming factor of the pork dish). Her crab cakes were uncommonly expert as well, with a crisp exterior and a warm, creamy middle. And her roasted chicken had the herbaceous notes and juicy texture that all roast chickens should aspire to.

It took dessert for me to nail down my feelings about the place. The list included a chocolate cake, a tiramisu, mini eclairs and, of course, cheesecake. The chocolate cake was overwrought, with icing so sugary I could feel my teeth rotting. The tiramisu and eclairs were merely serviceable. But the cheesecake (pictured above), that dense and wonderfully tart cake sprinkled with sweet hazelnut crumble, made me rethink the genre. The genre of cheesecake, that is. But also, in a weird way, the genre of the generic American restaurant.

By: David Tamarkin

Posted:

Venue name: Briejo (CLOSED)
Contact:
Address: 211 Harrison St
Oak Park

Cross street: Oak Park
Opening hours: Dinner
Transport: El stop: Blue to Austin. Pac. Bus: 311, 315, 320.
Price: Average main course: $19
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