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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I was lost till I was at Found Kitchen

Posted By on 12.19.12 at 04:51 PM

The bar at Found Kitchen
Even for somebody who lives in Rogers Park, Evanston can seem a bit far afield—away from the city's nexus of nightlife, and particularly remote from the restaurant scenesters who cure their pork belly in the environs of Fulton Market, Randolph Row, and River North. So I don't know what I was expecting on a recent visit to the new Chicago Avenue (that'd be the other Chicago Avenue) restaurant Found Kitchen & Social House, which comes from chef Nicole Pederson, who most recently oversaw the kitchen at C-House, and restaurateur Amy Morton. It may not have been this: a lively, happy crowd; people at every mismatched set of table and chairs; and a 45-minute wait. Or this: a dining room so haphazardly arranged and yet so inviting that you'd be tempted to wait out those 45 minutes no matter how crowded the circumstances—because, also, did you get a look at that menu? Have you seen those bottles of bourbon behind the bar?

Turns out we didn't have to wait that long. My companion and I were invited to bide our time at the bar, and within five minutes a couple of stools opened up—we spent the evening there. (Reservations are not accepted.) This is a place where you want to take it slow; we were hungry to the point of mutual cannibalization, but even so, an aperitif seemed prudent. There's a menu for that—and a good one—but we were tempted by the little bottles of artisanal bitters in front of us. The friendly, admirably mustached bartender obliged, adding lavender bitters to a lovely pisco sour, and celery bitters to a concoction that included gin, ginger beer, and cucumber. The latter was a misfire for which I take full responsibility. It was so cool and so refreshing that you couldn't help but think of summer—it's the kind of drink that makes you wonder why you've never taken up croquet. Further bourbon-oriented cocktails were more seasonal, and just as good.

You'll find Pederson's plates to be sharable, generously portioned, and a good deal for such swank digs. Another thing: each one will be better than the last, and all will be excellent. A crock of roasted brussels sprouts with squash and harissa is the opposite of the aforementioned cocktail—so warm, sweet, and spicy that I could eat it all winter long. A flatbread with celery root puree and braised short rib looks to be, if that's all it is, just right; but it'll be made transcendent by a big pile of lemon-juice-tossed arugula atop it, the peppery acidity providing just the right counterpoint. You could see the food as a rebuke to the profusion of small-plates places that try to make up in trendy ingredients what their kitchens lack in skill or imagination.

The staff wouldn't personally issue that rebuke, though. They're way too friendly for it.

Also: open-faced pork shoulder sandwich with mashed sweet potatoes and gravy.

Also: chicken wings, fried twice so that the skin is like its own especially delicious form of meat that just happens to be the wrapping paper for this other really great kind of meat. They're like little presents, but presents slicked in a fantastic sauce of chiles, honey, and lemon. Be it noted, too, that those wings come in a big bowl—you could make a meal out of them.

Alas, we had room for no more food, but you should know that this menu also contains, among other things, a chef's board of meats, cheeses, and veggies; flatiron steak; root vegetable stew; fried whitefish sandwich with parsnip-pickle slaw; lamb meatballs with chimichurri; chicken liver mousse with bacon marmalade; and, for dessert, orange pound cake, chocolate pot de creme, and "butterscotch bourbon pecan gelato sundae."

A final thing: If I say the service was "pleasant," I hope that won't come across as passive-aggressive—"pleasant" being, like "nice," an ideal adjective for undermining. What I mean is that it was an unusual pleasure to interact with everybody we interacted with, from the people at the host station to the friendly bartender to the other friendly bartender who gave us wee little glasses of silky rum horchata with our check. They seemed to all be really enjoying themselves; god knows I was.

1631 Chicago, Evanston, 847-868-8945, foundkitchen.com

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