The phrase "Dutch courage" supposedly refers to the bracing shots of genever (aka Holland gin) soldiers threw back before heading into battle in the Anglo-Dutch wars. You have to wonder how many of those opening chef Joncarl Lachman downed before mustering the guts to list something called zaansemosterdsoep as the second item on his menu at Vincent—right after the maatjesharing shot.
The former is a thick, brick-yellow mustard soup with a central archipelago of crab salad, smeerkaas (a soft cheese), and tarragon pesto; it's evolved from a mustard soup that Lachman developed at HB Home Bistro, the Halsted Street spot he took over from the Hearty Boys about five years ago. The latter is a twist on the tequila shot involving the ingestion of a small bite of spiced pickled herring, followed by a tulip glass of that juniper-charged genever and finished with a mollifying disk of cucumber. Actual Low Country conscripts might mutiny over the bartender's failure to fill the glass over the lip, but for the rest of us these starters are a welcoming introduction to Lachman's peculiar recasting of the former La Tache. Bedecked with gilt-framed photographs of bicycles and tulips, it's dark enough to convince you that you're hunched among Van Gogh's potato eaters, sopping up a bowl of onion soup—more abundant with duck confit than onions—with thick slices of black bread draped with gooey Leyden cheese.
It's not that a Dutch restaurant in the middle of historically Swedish Andersonville seems strange. It's that a Dutch restaurant anywhere outside of the Netherlands does. After rijsttafel, gingerbread, and space cakes, the Netherlands are best known for ample but not exactly titillating plates of sausages, cabbage, and root vegetables. All of these make their way onto the menu, and into a three-course $25 prix fixe: pork belly, brown bread, and snert (not some creature hunted out of Seuss, but a thick, Shrek-green split pea soup), smoked sausage and mashed roots, and a cheese course of aged Gouda.
Lachman's portions give you the sense that this isn't just an exercise in nostalgia for his ancestral homeland but also for the cannibal witch who plumped him up during a period of childhood captivity. His charcuterie plate is probably the most generous and satisfying I've run across in town—a raft of paté run through with a vein of charred green onion and two fat slabs of headcheese, each redolent of warm spices and loaded with fruit, apple chunks in one, whole prunes in another.
A fat fillet of beer-battered haddock comes on a mound of snert studded with coins of smoked sausage, while half portions of plump, fresh mussels in one of five preparations (beer and garlic butter, sambal, saffron marinara, apple and garlic, or white wine with tomatoes, capers, garlic, anchovy, and olive) are enough for two eaters to share. A towering pyramid of crispy suckling pig carved off the daily beast (perhaps with some stray bristles remaining) is mounted atop roasted potatoes and apple-cabbage kraut and served with a slab of pork belly that stretches clear across the plate.
You might expect an American interpretation of a cuisine typically written off as bland to be oversalted, but Lachman's cooks achieve that perfect balance where neither its presence nor absence is noticed. That's until you hit dessert: here the crystals are used to enhance the sweet apple caramel sauce that drenches a biscuity tart and also on the chocolate cake sandwiching a peanut butter mousse, a luxe Little Debbie that might make some pine for another aspect of Dutch culture—it's ideal stoner food. —Mike Sula
The website for Davanti Enoteca touts uovo in raviolo "San Domenico" as one of the "larger shareables" on the small-plates menu at the latest restaurant from the Francesca empire's Scott Harris, but I suspect the writer never tried to split the "giant raviolo" (about 3.5 inches in diameter) among four people. We did, and each of us got a tiny bite of pasta with ricotta and spinach, minus most of the egg yolk, which oozed out. We longed for more—especially for $9.
Our meals were enjoyable if unevenly paced at the bustling, rustic Taylor Street wine bar, which has high tables up front and wooden wine racks lining two of the exposed-brick walls in the cellarlike dining room. But several other dishes from executive chef Jonathan Beatty's menu belied the current conventional wisdom that small plates are good for sharing. Sardine ripiene al forno—two small fillets sandwiching braised fennel, pine nuts, and olives—collapsed into bits when we cut it. Stewed baby calamari piled on toast, as recommended by the server, fell right off, and we only got three half slices of toast for four people. Two strips of crisped pork belly yielded eight bites total, and there wasn't enough peach mostarda to perk up the surprisingly bland meat. A vasi—mini mason jar—of smooth, dense ricotta was ample, but we would have liked more than the Lilliputian square of honeycomb on the side.
Easier-to-share options included a vasi of light chicken liver paté topped with dried cherry-shallot compote, wide ribbons of fresh hearts of palm set off by lemon and chile oil, and puddinglike mascarpone polenta topped with a piquant Berkshire pork cheek ragu of the day, spooned onto a wooden board at the table. Also: a pliable puffy-crusted pizza dalla terra, sparingly topped with foraged mushrooms, braised leeks, and Taleggio cheese. Made-to-order risotto carbonara with a raw "farm egg yolk" nestled in the center was primi-plus size. And half a marinated, grilled pollo "Sole Mio" coated with a spunky chile pepper sauce and complemented by crisp romaine salad would be a secondi at a standard Italian restaurant.
The homiest dessert was budino di farro, a warm baked pudding topped with a thick jam of red-wine-soaked dates and thin yogurt; my favorite was the torta bacio, dense and silky chocolate-hazelnut mousse on a crunchy base. House-infused vodkas are on tap, along with beers, but the wine program is the big deal: besides ordering by the glass, quartino, or bottle from a list taped to a giant wine bottle plunked on the table, you can have any wine from the retail list ($13-$85) with dinner for a $7 corkage fee, which is waived on Sundays. —Anne Spiselman
When you walk through the front door of the Gold Coast barbecue parlor Chicago Q, it might be best to just shake off your disbelief as you might rip off a Band-Aid. It stings for a moment, but the sooner you can overcome the disconnect between the posh appointments and the humble fare, the easier it will be to succumb to the charms of the talented kitchen and attentive staff.
Chef-partner Lee Ann Whippen is a veteran of competition barbecue, and you can taste it in her meats. The expertise is especially evident in her ribs, offered in two cuts, Saint Louis-style tipless spares and the more demure baby backs. An extra $11 buys you a chance to sample the limited-supply competition ribs—though when asked what made them special, we were given a tight-lipped if good-natured brush-off. The smoky meat seemed firmer and the ribs more uniform but no tastier than their everyday counterpart. Chicago is a city that favors pork when it comes to barbecue, but the tender Kobe beef brisket here is first-rate. Barbecue sauce is always served on the side, the uncompromising mark of a pro. A choice of crispy fries, dense corn bread, or coleslaw comes with each entree; the tart, creamy slaw stands out among the three.
Frustratingly, some of the dishes that read best on the menu prove less exciting on the plate. Bacon-cheddar hush puppies were bland and dry, and the hominy and black bean salad was a cold, starchy mess. Grilled shrimp over polenta squares might have been better if we hadn't been expecting something closer to a traditional rendition of shrimp and grits. But the complimentary house-made bread-and-butter pickles and proprietary "pig powder" potato chips make perfect starters, especially alongside a not-too-sweet Sazerac made with the ridiculously named but utterly delicious (Ri)1 whiskey. The whiskey list in general is a boozy amusement park for bourbon and rye drinkers.
Hulking desserts insult your better judgment, but the house-made carrot cake, peanut brittle, and apple crisp taste great and seem more manageable when split between friends—many, many friends. —Kristina Meyer