Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Foreign & Domestic

From the get go, I have heard nothing but high, high praise for the new eatery Foreign and Domestic up on 53rd (North Loop) and Avenue H. (Also named newcomer of the year by the Statesman.) I've tried to go once or twice before, but the plans fell through. Finally, the stars aligned! The plan was to met a friend there at 5 pm, right as they opened for service. I arrived a hair before, and discovered she was already there, and while not officially opened, they graciously welcomed both of us in and sat us. The place has a homey, but stylish, diner feel. It's not a very large space, I am thinking back now, about seating for 40, plus some at the counter. The wide open kitchen is straight ahead, and the chef's activities are the focal point of the room.

I will certainly need to go back and try an entree (and as luck would have it, I should be there next week for dinner with a BFF!), but I was beyond thrilled with all of the appetizers we had. Furthermore, their wine list is very decently priced, so we got a bottle of Vino Herminia, a tempranillo/grenache blend. Foodwise, we started with the Gruyere popovers, which come two per order, and are about as big as your head! They come hot, with a fine shaving of Gruyere on top; nice and crusty on the bottom where they sat in the pan, and light and eggy inside.
Now, while the little quilted canning jar and rye bread may not look like much, it was a thing of beauty! If I remember correctly, the waiter said it's about 70% foie gras with the remaining 30% chicken liver mousse combined together to make a velvety spread, with a port gelee and a "crust" of toasted hazelnuts. I don't know if the chicken livers were already in mousse form when blended with the foie, or if the liver + liver = incredibly smooth, succulent, tasty concoction, but THIS is how I'll eat liver! The sweetness from the port gelee plays off the richness of the foie, and combined with the hazelnut crunchies (they called it hazelnut crumble, not sure what it was combined with, but it worked), the texture, mouth feel and not to forget flavor, was truly fantastic. But darn if I had to share it!

Next were what looked like tater tots sleeping under blanket of ham.What they were, were squash fritters. What kind of squash, I am not sure, as it wasn't named on the menu, but I'd guess butternut in this case. So a puree of squash and ricotta salata (an aged, lightly smoked cow's milk cheese), made into tater tot form and fried, sitting on an apple cider reduction with Speck ham on top. The menu mentioned dried shrimp, which I didn't detect, either in the squash or on the plate, but it could have just been there to give more depth and umami-like qualities to the fritters, as opposed to a shrimpy flavor. Nicely fried, good contrast of flavors with the natural sweetness of the squash, the saltiness from the ricotta salata (and perhaps the dried shrimp) with the savoriness and saltiness from the Speck and finally the sweetness from the cider.
And of course, there is always room for dessert! And when bacon is featured, chances are pretty high that I will go for it! So a chocolate root beer float with bits of bacon in it, a chocolate-covered strip of bacon as your garnish, and a fried pork rind on top. That's right, you read it correctly. And it was heaven. Thick and creamy. Nice pieces of bacon in it (tasted like a good quality smoked bacon, not unlike Nueske's, but something tells me F & D probably smokes their own). Not too sweet. Very unusual and very delicious.
Our waiter Ben was very attentive.  Granted we did get there early, and were the only ones in there for the first 15 minutes, but even as things picked up, he would come peer over my companion's shoulder every few minutes to see if any beverages needed refreshing or plates removed. F & D's menu sometimes leaves you guessing at the complete descriptions of the dishes (case in point, the foie gras & squash fritter dishes), which I think is probably intentional on their part. Gives the dishes some mystique. But use your waiter to your advantage -- I asked about the foie dish, and he told me how it was prepared, and the ratio of foie to chicken liver, and I should have asked what kind of squash the fritters were made from. Regardless, everything was delicious. Maybe for dinner, we'll sit at the counter and watch them cook. Either way, I know the future meals will also be fantastic.

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