My wife took me out for a wonderful meal for my 30th birthday. For her birthday, I had to reciprocate.
I want to apologize for the lack of pictures on this one. My camera was screwy that day and the lighting was much too low to get anything worth publishing.
Home Bistro is located well north of downtown Chicago right across the street from The Chicago Diner – a vegan staple since the mid 90s. I had purchased tickets to a show for after dinner and was looking for something in the neighborhood. Home Bistro was conveniently a 10 minute drive to the theater and Yelp recommendations were extremely high.
I knew nothing of their menu, their chef, or their ambiance when I called for a reservation. I didn’t really bother to check the website because I would inevitably find something that I didn’t like about it. I called around 2pm and received a voicemail strictly for reservations. This made me feel pretty nervous not speaking with a live person considering my wife’s birthday happiness was on the line, so I hung up and called later in the night when I knew they would be at the end of dinner service. The hostess was very polite, took my name, phone number, and asked if this was a special occasion. “Actually it is,” I said. “It’s my wife’s birthday.”
“That’s our fourth birthday of the night,” she exclaimed with glee. Meanwhile, I felt like a shit on the other side for not being original in my birthday meal. “I also want to let you know that we are a BYOB restaurant. You are welcome to bring your own bottles, soda, or juice with no corkage fee.”
“Really?” I started to feel a little better. Sure, I wasn’t original, but at least I could supply my own libations.
I went to the store and purchased a bottle of Hard Cider (my wife’s favorite) and skipped anything for myself. I was driving and I knew she probably wouldn’t finish the whole bottle. I could drink water and still enjoy my meal all the same.
Our reservation was for six, giving us plenty of time to eat three courses, sit around for a bit talking, and still have time to drive to the theater. I was 5 minutes late. Blood pressure = 160/110. I’m a stickler for arriving early and Chicago traffic was against me at every turn. We were seated promptly in the back of the restaurant and was just starting to get comfortable when the manager asked if we would like to sit in the window. My wife immediately said yes. I was not so eager.
Home Bistro is lovely. It’s quaint. It’s a little quirky. It has a small amount of tables to provide intimacy. The window tables, however, are situated as a live display of how good the restaurant is. The tables (two tables of four) are elevated up about a foot and sit virtually on top of the sidewalk. Everyone that walked by could take a gander at who was eating there and quickly establish the type of people that ate there and the quality of the food based on their facial expressions. This skeaved me out at first, but I quickly got over it. It was, after all, my wife’s birthday, and I focused on her and less on who was walking by. Except for the guy in the black chevy.
Outside the restaurant was an idling black Chevy with a heavy set gentleman in a suit jacket and tie. Just sitting there. Doing absolutely nothing.
My wife ordered first the Cooper’s Pate. It came as two large triangles that resembled uncured charcuterie. It was served alongside pita chips, whole grain mustard, onion jam, and homemade pickles. This in itself is worth going back for. If you’ve eaten pate before, you know it as a smooth spread bursting with flavor and gets an extra kick of flavor from loads of butter. This, however, relied on pork fat for an extra kick which melted on buy tongue beautifully. This was perfection.
I ordered the Fried Oysters served a cloud of grits and garnished with a chili vinegar. I quite like oysters, but found that much of the rich flavor is lost – like most things – when fried and I couldn’t really tell the difference between this and fried quahog clams. Obviously these were bigger, but I missed the briny goodness. The chef was wise enough to serve some of the liquor underneath the grits. However, I am still a big fan of this dish and found the chili vinegar to be a wonderful accompaniment and bring much needed acidity to the fried flavor. The grits served as a dipping sauce tying everything together.
For her entree, my wife ordered the Amsterdam Style Mussels steamed with a beer broth and served with Truffle Fries. The mussels came in an enormous bowl (at least 2 pounds), but the taste was pretty basic. Although tasty, plump, and masterfully seasoned with just a hint of anise, we did not feel that the mussels rendered much flavor from their beer bath, but the Truffle Fries were to die for. Not only were these fries perfectly cooked, but they were served with a truffle aioli that should be mass produced, bottled, and be a requirement that everyone try at least once. This is the kind of condiment that freaky people go to Vegas and pay somebody a lot of money to bath in while being fanned with palm leaves by scantily clad individuals. This aioli made a meal just that much more memorable and something we still think about when planning our meals at home.
I wanted to go a little more adventurous and ordered the Braised Oxtail with Ricotta Gnocchi. If they allowed me to the back of the kitchen, I’d kiss the cook for this one. Oxtail is literally the tail of cattle and therefore extremely tough. When braised for a long time, the bone releases its marrow and the meat breaks down and becomes rich. I wasn’t too sure there was enough food on my plate when it arrived, but these big, bold ingredients quickly filled my stomach. The gnocchi were not traditionally rolled, and I have to say that I rather prefer these to any Italian version I’ve had in the past. I will say that I think the chef over seasoned this dish a little bit, I still finished the whole bowl and wiped the sides with bread. True comfort food at it’s best.
I bet you’re wondering by now: Where does Rahm Emanuel come in? Remember the guy in the Chevy. He’s about to do his job.
Our desserts arrived (not even worth mentioning – skip this course) and the guy jumps out of the chevy. He stands in front of the restaurant and begins to talk into his sleeve. I’ve seen enough political movies to know whats about to happen. Somebody really important is about to show up. Within two minutes, two black Lincoln Navigators pull up in a No Parking zone. Out jump four guys with earpieces. One proceeds to cover the front entrance, two go to the sidewalks, and the fourth opens the door for Rahm Emanuel. He waits for his wife to come around before proceeding into the restaurant. Rahm (may I call you that?) gets maybe two steps in before somebody recognizes him.
“Hi Mr. Mayor,” someone from the back calls out. Rahm gives scans the room, gives a quick wave and then in true political fashion, flashes a smile and nods in my direction. He is quickly whisked away to a back table where he is joined by another couple. Just another night out with friends for Chicago’s fearless leader.
Sitting in the window table, I got to see all of this. The guy in the Chevy checking out the place, the speeding Lincoln, the assassin thwarted, the illegal choke hold…okay not that last part. But it was pretty cool nevertheless. On our way out, the security detail opened the doors for us (they were just standing there anyway) and we walked out into the night air.
So perhaps I didn’t really get to have dinner with Rahm Emanuel. But he did show up at the restaurant that I picked for my wife’s birthday, waved to me (and everyone else in the room), and sat in the back of restaurant right next to where we were originally supposed to sit. That’s good enough for me.
Home Bistro is a win and I will certainly go back there for more meals in the future. I love the idea of BYOB because I think you get better food at a better price because there is so much less overhead. You can bing whatever you want and not feel bad about it. BYOB means no judgement and you get exactly what you want so the restaurant can focus on the food. This is a great idea. Home Bistro does sell a $30 Prix Fixe menu on Wednesday that is booked about a week ahead of time. I do recommend calling ahead and if you’re feeling up for it, ask to be seated at the front window table. While definitely too exposed for Rahm (may I still call you that), there is a delightful elegance to sitting there.