Sunday, October 29, 2006

X/O in Chicago has exes and OHS!

Last night was fine dining night here in Chicago with our friends and we headed to X/O just north of downtown (3441 N. Halstead and while we had a most enjoyable time, there were a couple of flaws that did not make our evening as perfect as we had wanted. Our server was most helpful in explaining the menu with its basic choice of three courses plus dessert (all a la carte) as we ordered a bottle of MARCEL DEISS "Bergheim" PINOT GRIS 1998 from Alsace. While Will thought it a bit sweet, this wonderful terroir-driven wine is full of tasty fruit and pairs perfectly with some of the very spicy dishes (also would be great with foie gras; see later remarks).

The smallish wooden tables have a plastic mesh insert that manages to catch all the crumbs and pieces of food which is dumb, but our server explained they are redoing them all very soon. The wooden chairs are reasonably comfortable and the room has a nice ambiance if a bit too heavy on the volume for the music. While no amuses came, there was plenty of excellent focaccia with a choice from the superb PESTO CHERRY TOMATO, Rosemary, Parsley, SeaSalt & Grapes, and Fennel with Golden Raisins. Luckily, we were only offered once chance to pick two or we would have really filled up on this treat.

Our first courses were all truly excellent. The Pinot Gris was sheer perfection with my SPICY ROCK SHRIMP & RICE NOODLE SALAD with Chili Lime Vinaigrette, Seaweed Salad, Green Onions, Carrots and Toasted Pinenuts, with the accent on SPICY! Another treat was the tender GRILLED OCTOPUS SALAD marinated in Lemon, Garlic, Olive Oil, Oregano and served simply chilled and tasty.

We moved on to an almost wimpy bodied Oregon Pinot Noir from MAYSARA "Jamsheed Vineyard" 2004 which is a wine that offers little forward fruit or excitement. For our final red we asked for a bit of punch and got it with a superb BODEGAS ESTEFANA "Tilenus" CRIANZA 2001 from Bierzo that really warmed our insides and was truly satisfying.

The middle course featured a HOUSEMADE RAVIOLI stuffed with BRAISED RABBIT, Ricotta & Swiss Chard in a TRUFFLE Jus topped with Gremolata and Pine Nuts, the spicy plump PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND MUSSELS Steamed with Lemon Grass, Garlic, Ginger, Shallots, White Wine, Diced Tomato & Cilantro. Again, some spice entered into my yummy GARDEN FRESH (and they were) WAX & FRENCH BEANS Stir-Fried with Thai Chilies, Peanuts & Water Chestnuts. Oddly enough, the menu featured FOIE GRAS, which has been banned in the city of Chicago. Our server explained that the management of X/O has decided to ignore the ban, and has NOT been fined at all at this point. Bravo to Chef Aaron Bischoff and his staff!

The downpoint of the night was when the entrees arrived at lukewarm to cold temperatures. Will sent back his delicious GRILLED PORK TENDERLOIN with Red Thai Coconut Curry, Pineapple & Green Onions as it was literally below room temperature. A replacement arrived soon, and we were NOT even charged for the dish; this was welcome treatment, but did no improve the other three dishes that came lukewarm to tepid, even though they were all delicious:

CAJUN-STYLE Organic Free Range CHICKEN BREAST ROULADE with Crawfish Rice Stuffing and Braised Collard Greens (braised in Ham Hocks), Tomato Roux & Lobster Veloute was a southern style treat. An excellent tender GRILLED 10 oz. NY STRIP STEAK with Blue Cheese Potato Gratin & Rosemary-Horseradish Veal Sauce was definitely tops, and the blue cheese mild enough to not be imposing. Roasted RACK of LAMB with Fresh Herb-Lemon Felafel Cake & Cabernet-Currant reduction does not do too well when chilly, but was another wonderful preparation, despite the slightly dry felafel cake.

We opted to all four share one dessert- CHOCOLATE ORGASM which was easily sharable with its delicious COCONUT CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES, slightly dry Chocolate Madeleines Cookies, White Chocolate Panna Cotta, Chocolate Ice Cream in Crunch and the tastiest BEIGNETS in Chocolate Sauce.

Would I return to X/O? Probably, yes, but I would demand the dishes come warm. The excellent service and perfect spacing of the evening's dishes made for a truly enjoyable time with good friends!