The Local Tourist kicked off the 2015 Chef’s Table season with a superb dinner at Birchwood Kitchen. The 27 attendees enjoyed a fantastic multi-course meal at this BYOB, Wicker Park/Bucktown gem located at 2211 West North Avenue.
Since 2009, Birchwood Kitchen has billed itself as a “neighborhood café” with a mission to contribute to the vibrancy of their neighborhood. Located just off the normal beaten path a couple of blocks west of the Damen Blue Line stop, Birchwood Kitchen is definitely worth a visit – or a return visit – since their menu changes seasonally and it’s BYOB, so you can bring in your favorite beverages for pairing.
The inventive yet accessible cuisine that comes out of the kitchen is helmed by Chef Jesse Williams. Food has always been an important factor in Chef Williams’ life. Cooking alongside her mother and family friends, she learned that food is not just sustenance, it is a way to bring people together and create memories. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, Jesse returned home to Chicago and began cooking in restaurants. She credits the five years she spent cooking at Lula Cafe with shaping her palate, her passion, and her overall approach to food. At Birchwood Kitchen, you can taste her dedication to seasonality, feel her passion for cooking, and see her love of feeding people.
For the recent Chef’s Table, the multi-course meal started with several of Chef Williams’ house-made appetizers. The hors d’oeuvres included the following:
- Handmade Pickle Plate – A zesty combination of beets, cauliflower, carrots, and fennel made in-house. My table was filled with beet-averse people, so I was luckily able to eat all of the beets in our dish. They don’t know what they missed.
- Deviled Eggs with Smoked Salmon – I am a huge fan of deviled eggs and these were some of the best I have had in a very long time. The smoked salmon was tender and flaky but the touch that made these perfect was the addition of a small piece of crispy kale on top.
- Root Vegetable Pancakes with Ginger Apple Sauce and Za’atar Yogurt – The root vegetables were shredded and lightly pan-fried. The sauce had just a hint of heat from the ginger, but the excellent yogurt offset that heat. The root vegetables are a great wintertime treat.
The fantastic meal prepared by Chef Williams continued with the following courses:
- Radicchio with Greens and Apples, Almonds, Manchego, and Quince Vinaigrette – On first glance, this looked to be a standard salad. Upon tasting, however, the flavors were a surprise. Everything was rather subtle, but the combination of bitter greens, tart apples, crunchy almonds, salty cheese, and slightly sweet vinaigrette was a genuinely delightful and refreshing palate cleanser between appetizers and main course.
- Sherry and Mustard Braised Chicken Thighs with Herbed Spätzle – This is a time for comfort food, and what’s better than an excellent braised chicken dish? Nothing, if the dish happens to be this one. The boneless thighs were fork-tender and the diced vegetables still retained some of their native crunch. The taste of the herbed spätzle was very subtle, but was a nice accompaniment.
- Swiss Chard Gratin – Who knew that Swiss Chard could come out tasting nearly sweet? The cheese was just enough to complement without overshadowing, and whatever Chef Williams did made the chard itself shine through with a hint of bitterness, but with a nice balance of sweetness as well.
- Herb Roasted Mushrooms with Sherry Butter and Hazelnuts – I love mushrooms and this is one of the best preparations I have ever had. That is not hyperbole – it truly was that good. The sherry butter and crunchy hazelnuts added some sweetness and a nice dose of savory to the woody, umami notes of the mushrooms. If you’re a fan of mushrooms, this is a “must try.”
For dessert, we were treated to a sampling of Mini Lemon Bars, Walnut Fudge Brownies, and Salted Butter Cookies. All of the desserts were superb, but special kudos must go to the cookies, a melt-in-your-mouth buttery concoction with just enough salt to balance out the sweetness. It’s hard to describe just how amazing they were!
Birchwood Kitchen is located at 2211 West North Avenue, just two blocks from the Damen Blue Line stop. You can reach them at (773) 276-2100 or at [email protected]. Visit their website, follow them on Twitter, and like them on Facebook for more information. The restaurant is BYOB, so be sure to pack your favorite beverages for your next visit.