Friday, July 29, 2011

Restaurant Review: Sycamore

  Jess and I were looking for some place special to celebrate our two-year wedding anniversary and, as we'd had really good experiences at Sycamore before, we figured we'd give the place another shot.  Sycamore is classy, upscale local dining establishment, whose 'mission is to provide seasonal, market-driven fare at affordable prices.'  I'm not exactly sure how to classify the style of their food; if forced to describe it, I'd say it's something of a mix of continental European and contemporary American cuisine.  The menu changes weekly (and sometimes more frequently) and features a nice mix of salads, appetizers/small plates, and entrees.  I should mention that, although we've been there 2-3 times now, we've never actually ordered the large plates.  Instead, we prefer to each get a couple of small plates or a small plate and a salad, to share them around, and get a bit more diversity for our dollar.  The wine and beer menus (esp. the beer menu) are phenomenal.  Sanford (one of the owners, and in charge of the bar) loves craft beer and fine wine, and there is literally something on their extensive drink menus to please just about anyone.  These menus, like the food menu, change fairly frequently. 
    Jess started off with a glass of the house merlot ($4), which we've found to be quite affordable and easy to pair with a variety of dishes, while I had a goblet of Goose Island's Fleur on tap ($5).  Our waitress was really attentive, and showed up to take our drink orders almost as soon as we'd sat down.  She was friendly, helpful, and knew the extensive drink and food menus well enough that she didn't write a single thing down the entire night (service at Syc is pretty much second-to-none around here).  While sipping our drinks and munching on the complimentary house bread and sun-dried tomato butter, we picked out our dinner.  For starters, Jess ordered the Greek salad ($9, slices of cucumber, tomato, calamata olives, red onion, and local feta, with olive oil and lemon juice) while I chose the brandade ($7, salt-cod and potato cake, breaded with crushed potato chips and fried crisp, served with artichoke remoulade, capers, and fried lemon).  The Greek salad was fantastic, with lots of fresh, vibrant flavors.  The only downside was that the cucumbers were just a touch on the bitter side.  The brandade was quite tasty as well, though just slightly softer/moister in texture than the last time I'd had it.  The artichoke remoulade and fried lemon slices were to die for.  For our dinner, Jess ordered the gnocci ($9, house-made potato Gnocchi, sauteed shiitakes, Swiss chard, and Parmigiano-Reggiano) while I opted for the duck pate ($8, duck livers and sherry mousse, pickled red onion, cornichons, and buttermilk crackers).  Jess loved the gnocchi, the pasta was rich and decadent, and the only thing she didn't like was the mushrooms (she's not a mushroom girl).  The duck pate, while quite good, didn't impress me quite as much as the country pate they sometimes serve that comes in its own small terrine (as opposed to sliced on the plate).  The duck version was slightly firmer in texture, and so rich that the two small slices was the perfect amount.  The crackers were spiced with a wonderful Indian spice (I'm not sure what it is, small black seeds, that we've often had at Indian restaurants on their appetizers), and the stone-ground brown mustard and pickled onions went wonderfully with the pate.  I ordered a second beer ($3.50), Tallgrass' new Halcyon wheat; it was the only disappointing thing of the entire evening.
   We weren't planning on getting dessert, but then our waitress brought out the menu.  We opted to split a slice of flourless chocolate cake with vanilla bean ice cream ($6) and some espresso ($2).  Absolutely fantastic, on both accounts.
   All in all, it was a great dinner.  Sycamore has never disappointed us (except once for lunch with friends when a waiter got a friend's order wrong and didn't offer her a discount, free dessert, etc, as restaurants will often do) and this time was no exception.  The atmosphere is warm, cozy, and upscale without ever hinting at pretension.  The wait-staff and bar-tenders are absolutely top-class as well.  While it's certainly not a cheap venue, there's also nothing on the menu over $27, and most of  the large plates are in the low-mid twenties.  When you think of it, you can pay nearly this much for steak or seafood entrees at crummy chain restaurants, and the prices have always struck us as quite fair.  If you go there expecting to pay $18 for mounds and mounds of food (increasingly rare even at the big chains these days) you will be disappointed.  The portions are just right, and considering the wide and ever-changing variety of flavors offered, it's easy to forgo the large plates and just share several apps or small plates amongst the table.  (For the record, from what I've heard, their large plates are fantastic as well).  Though we can't swing the cash to go very often (though they do have wonderful happy hour specials on drinks and appetizers), whenever we go to Sycamore, we know it will be a memorable night.

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