Archive for November, 2009

where the meat flows like wine

I decided that it’s a life goal of mine to, whenever possible, eat something I have never eaten before. Most people’s goals tend to be more…important: losing weight, being more spiritual, enhancing the lives of others in some way, but what with my lax gym attendance and virtually nonexistent religious faith, this commitment to being a more adventurous eater seems like one I could stick to with absolution and dedication.

This past Thursday, FDL ventured out in the pouring rain to Custom House. The third in exeutive chef Shawn McClain’s trio of restaurants (which include Spring and Green Zebra), Custom House focuses on fresh, seasonal food and rustically prepared artisanal meats. A delicious and noble concept, to be sure, and the menu–which changes frequently–does appear to be mindful of seasonal vegetables and fresh cuts of meat.

This is the kind of place where rich, unattractive men and the beautiful women they pay for are hugged up on the same side of the booth; where nervous first-daters come to sit and awkwardly converse as they stare at the clean, gray and red interior, and where tobacco-stained, old-school Chicagoans belly up to the bar for martini after martini. This restaurant has a vibe that is so intrinsically CHICAGO it really could not flourish anywhere else except this city.

The four of us were, by far, the youngest patrons in the restaurant, save for a table of chatty Brits sitting directly behind us. Seeing as it was a Thursday night, the tables were nearly all empty and it was serene and quiet. I glanced over the menu, which was divided into three sections, each of which featured three sub-sections. We quickly made our separate choices, though I silently agonized between the braised veal cheeks and the New York strip. The veal cheeks won out in the end, strictly because I was intrigued by the “bone marrow crostini” the menu claimed they would be served with. To be honest, because I was not entirely certain how big a cut of meat these would be, I did a quick Google image search on my phone (for the record, NO, Google and Apple have no financial backing in this blog, though I wouldn’t mind if they did. Anyone who thinks I make money off thisblog thingy is clearly not internet-literate. I get like five hits a day. Where was I? Oh yes.) Turns out, veal cheeks are relatively small; each one just slightly smaller than a computer mouse.

My dish arrived in a small cast-iron dish, braised in its juices. Alongside the dish was a tomato anchovy preseve and the aforementioned bone marrow crostini, upon all of which was drizzled just a slight bit of balsamic vinegar. I took a bite of the bone marrow crostini first, and I hadto ask everyone at the table for their opinion on the taste, because it was just one of those times when I could. Not. Find. Words. It’s fatty, it’s earthy, it’s smooth yet a little bit gritty and was ever so slightly tinged with the tang from the balsamic vinegar. I could have eaten ten more of those things. Moving on to the main attraction: the cheeks. Guys…they melted in my mouth. Aside from bacon, I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I offered J. a taste and she pointed out that it almost had the same consistency as a piece of fatty tuna or other fish; where it’s so tender that you barely even need to chew it.

Accompanied by a small, cast iron tub of creamy Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, my meal took on the kind of sensation that a deep winter meal has; cozy and warming without being disgustingly filling.

Quite honestly, I don’t have the patience to describe everyone else’s dishes, but let’s just say that if you’re  braised meat enthusiast (which I am, wholeheartedly), Custom House is not to be missed. Also, bring a flashlight, because it’s dark as balls in there.

AND! A shout out to Matt’s blog, Twenty Dollars. He showed me some love, and so I reciprocate in kind. Matt, an old friend of mine, happens to be a painfully talented trumpet player. Read his blog, it’s about music and such.