Café 103 (CLOSED)

Restaurants, Contemporary American Beverly
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Café 103 (CLOSED)
Photograph: Ben Reed
Caf� 103

Driving around in the Far South Side’s Beverly neighborhood—with its manicured lawns and handful of homes designed by Prairie School standout Walter Burley Griffin—you’d think that smart little bistros serving upmarket cuisine abound. Not so. In fact, for big nights out, most Beverly residents hit the Dan Ryan for the trek downtown. Now they no longer need to.

Café 103 opened about a month ago, and on weekends, the simple, tasteful room is packed. True, there are only 30 seats, but the mix of intrepid North Siders and Beverly boys in blue with wives in tow proves the owners are onto something. Blair and Shirley Makinney also own the adjacent gourmet goods shop Beverly’s Pantry, and in response to customers’ complaints about the lack of dining options nearby, they decided to do something about it.

The Makinneys have entrusted the food to chef Thomas Eckert, who has experience with Indian fusion thanks to time at Monsoon and Vermilion, but shows most of his skill with creative, unique, New American combinations. The compositions aren’t yet successful across the board (and with the average entrée clocking in at $24, you’d be right to expect excellence), but you get the feeling that with Eckert’s adventurous talent, it’s only a matter of time before everything comes together.

Take the pork-cheek appetizer: High-quality Berkshire pig is braised to fall-apart perfection, the boudin blanc alongside it adds a varying texture of richness, Swiss chard takes care of the bitter note and fork-coating maple jus injects sweetness. It makes perfect sense to see corn madeleines as part of this upscale take on a classic country-flavor combo, but their sweet lemony taste clashes. Likewise, a delicious corn soup shows attention to detail—the corn’s time on the grill lends slight smokiness and the texture is right between silky grits and thickened broth—but the lurking black tapioca pearls are jarring, adding only chewy distractions.

Minor missteps aside, the food that Eckert puts out is enough to jolt seasoned diners out of mundane steak-chicken-fish mode. His guinea hen roulade shows expert training, as the complex creation involves skinning then roasting the bird, boning it, binding it together along with herb butter, wrapping it back in the skin, and then pan-frying to seal the package and create a crispy exterior. With smoky lardons, sweetish kohlrabi puree, meaty morels and a peppery watercress sauce, the dish is flawless. The same could be said for the grilled sturgeon, whose meatiness plays perfectly with Okinawa sweet-potato puree, while crispy tempura sea beans complement intense, velvety oxtail ragout.

The only time you get the feeling that Eckert isn’t forging new territory is at dessert, when a $10 banana split is basic at best and a $12 chocolate pyramid evokes memories of dot-com decadence. The best pastry chefs in town don’t charge that much, and even for a BYOB off to a running start, we’d like to see Café 103 take the prices down a notch and hit its stride to ensure endurance for the long haul.

By: Heather Shouse

Posted:

Venue name: Café 103 (CLOSED)
Contact:
Address: 1909 W 103rd St
Chicago

Cross street: between Walden Pkwy and Longwood Dr
Opening hours: Brunch (Sun), lunch (Tue–Sat), dinner (Tue–Sat)
Transport: Bus: 9, 103, 112. Train: Rock Island to 103rd St.
Price: Average main course: $22
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