Block 44 - Out of Business.

August 02 2006 - 12:06 AM

* Block 44 is out of business.

This was on a recommendation from Josh as somewhere sort of different and off the beaten path (that wasn’t a shady diner).  I think the word “swanky” might have entered my side of the conversation, but you must understand that in my post-graduate world, anyplace that’s not offering a weekly $10 special on buckets of beer is at least well on its way to swank.

A fellow foodie friend of mine was coming into town Friday night and we were in search of tasty, unique food served by nice people who didn’t charge you $30 for a salad just because they shaved a black truffle over it.  We also had a lot of talking to do, so we were hoping for service that respected the time-honored tradition of Girl Talk (not the board game). 

Following various misadventures/detours, we rolled into Block 44
around 10pm.  It was packed, although for a place with maybe twelve or
fifteen tables of varying size, that’s probably not hard to do.  We
didn’t have a reservation, but after standing around a bit waiting for
a hostess who never showed (they’re a newish restaurant so I’m thinking
they still have a few kinks to work out), a very welcoming, friendly
guy who we were pretty sure was the owner was able to seat us at a
really nice table near the back.

The apt, if somewhat utilitarian, name of the restaurant refers to
its location on the 4400 block of North Lincoln Avenue, but also
(post-facto to naming the place, I’m not sure) to the tasting menu,
which consists of 4 courses and 4 accompanying glasses of wine, all for
$44.  There were other things on the menu, but to be honest we were so
hungry and so eager to check this tasting menu thing out that we didn’t
really bother to look at them (seeing as how the closest thing to a
tasting menu in my kitchen is nibbling on random leftovers until I get
real and just go for the ice cream).  Our server was incredibly nice,
and if he was pissed about having to serve us until what ended up being
midnight, he didn’t show it in the least.  He explained the menu to us,
we ordered right away, and noshed on really good fresh bread with some
sort of cracked-pepper butter and a black truffle butter… which was
FREE, suckas.

Between the two of us, we ended up ordering all six options on the “44” menu: 
-Tomato
bisque with a mini prosciutto & mozzarella (maybe it was fontina?)
crostini… yeah whatever.  It was a glorified grilled cheese, and it
was awesome.  The soup was good, but we both agreed it could use some
sort of a kick—whether that was heat, an unusual spice, we didn’t
care.  Just kind of needed something else.  Came with a chardonnay.

-Baby arugula salad with Danish bleu cheese, candied walnuts,
pickled grapes, beets, and black fig syrup.  The pickled grape part
kind of threw me off, but I’m a sucker for bleu cheese and I just
couldn’t pass up the idea of black fig syrup.  Anyway, it was a good
gamble.  The pickled grapes ended up being my favorite part of the
salad.  Sweet and kicky.  Not sure what they were pickled in and it
didn’t matter.  And the black fig syrup was very sexy.  Came with a
rosé. 

-Mussels with chorizo broth and a whole bunch of other stuff I
couldn’t remember.  I tuned out after “mussels” (slimy things not high
on my list of things to consume), but Kelly was a huge fan.  The best
mussels she’d ever had, she said.  I have to say they don’t skimp on
the portions, even though they are indeed smaller than the regular
entrees—Kelly got a nice fat bowl to take down.  Came with a riesling,
I think.

-Skate wing with somethingorother… again, Kelly’s course.  I’d like
to note that neither one of us knew exactly what skate wing was, but we
promptly found out it was fish.  And a tasty one at that.  Obviously
there was some other virtue of the dish described on the menu to catch
Kelly’s eye and soothe her hesitation regarding the mystery fish, which
in this case was the Asian marinade and vegetables that came with it.
Delicate but still very flavorful. Came with yet another white of sorts.

-Barbecue pork tenderloin with chorizo hash.  Two very generously
sized hunks of lean meat in a cavernous bowl surrounded by little
pieces of potato, corn, and chorizo.  Meaty & manly, and colorful
too.  Tasted like autumn—I think apples were involved at some point of
the preparation, and was there cinnamon in there?  Maybe would have
liked to taste more of the pork instead of the chorizo, which also cut
more than I thought was necessary into Kelly’s mussels (yes, I tried
one).  Came with pinot noir, which made me supremely happy.

-aaaaand Filet mignon with bleu cheese mashed potatoes and some sort
of green.  My best guess would be spinach, but it kind of wasn’t worth
looking into.  The meat was great (it’s hard to mess up a filet), but
the bleu cheese mashed potatoes left a lot to be desired—namely the
bleu cheese.  Sort of like a TV dinner, just stacked on top of itself
all fancy-like.  Overall, it was tasty… but predictable, which for me
is disappointing.  Not a letdown, however, was the wine:  a CMS
(cabernet, merlot, syrah) blend and that totally hit the spot.

Our server came by and asked us about dessert, and we caved.  We had
seen a few dessert plates parading around earlier and it seemed like a
portion I could manage to take down after my savories.  If we weren’t
totally up to a full size dessert, we were told that we could do the
“Chef’s Last Bite”, which is literally two or three bites of a given
dessert on the menu.  That sounded like a wise choice, but somehow we
both ended up ordering our own desserts—Kelly had caramelized bananas
with some sort of caramel sauce which I think translated to overall
satisfaction.  I chose the Meyer lemon mousse with blueberry compote
and lavender syrup and totally swooned (I’m pretty sure my eyes crossed
at some point), partly because of the lavender syrup, partly because of
the not-too-tartness of the mousse, and especially because of the “is
that CLOVE?” flavor in the blueberry compote.   

A little tired out from the educational experience (e.g. the great
skate wing debate, among others), but ultimately quite happy and
content (could have been the wine), we agreed that we would most
definitely come back.  It’s great to be able to go out for an
interesting, unique meal without having to drag yourself down through
Trixietown.  The service was outstanding and you just can’t beat the
deal for such gorgeous food. 

Block 44
4368 N. Lincoln
773.868.4404
www.block44chicago.com

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