Down-Home Barbecue and Upscale Comfort Food | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Down-Home Barbecue and Upscale Comfort Food 

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Smoque

3800 N. Pulaski

773-545-7427

Chalkboard

4343 N. Lincoln

773-477-7144

Quince

1625 Hinman, Evanston

847-570-8400

The five fellas behind Smoque are savvy businessmen. They chose a name--clever or annoying, you decide--that got people yapping months before they opened. And they talk a good game too. Their lofty "BBQ Manifesto" (available at smoquebbq.com) displays a respect for tradition and authenticity, and it ought to be required reading for anyone who thinks barbecue is easy to make or that "fall-off-the-bone" Chicago-style ribs are acceptable. In spite of it, I was suspicious, but with a few caveats I'm happy to say the place is a welcome addition to the woefully barbecue-bereft north side. The house-made sides are good: the mac 'n' cheese has a nice tang, and the noodles in it stand up to the teeth. The slaw is thickly cut, crunchy, and lightly dressed; the beans are mingled with chunks of onion that a real human had to have cut; and the two different barbecue sauces play their proper role as accessory, not focus. I won't order the ribs again--overrubbed and briny, they have nothing on Honey 1's. But for a juicy, smoky chicken or decent pulled pork, amalgamated with crispy and fatty bits, you could do a lot worse. And what I'll definitely be back for is the brisket. It isn't the transcendent smoked-beef experience that's so easy to come by in Texas hill country, but as far as I can tell no commercial establishment in the region comes closer. Smoque goes a long way toward endearing itself to customers with a staff that's attentive, knowledgeable, and eager to please. Order that brisket fatty and see what happens. --Mike Sula

Walking into the airy, elegant Chalkboard space, it's hard to believe it was formerly the gloomy Tournesol. But classy as the room is, the menu is decidedly friendly, offering dressed-up versions of classic American comfort food. Daily specials are listed on the restaurant's namesake, a giant chalkboard, but often also on a paper menu that includes chatty asides from chef-owner Gilbert Langlois, a veteran ofRushmore and SushiSamba Rio. The good old combo of grilled cheese and tomato soup, which appears on the appetizer menu as roasted tomato bisque with grilled blue cheese in brioche, was right on: the soup was silky and rich, with added depth from the roasting, the tasty sandwich thoroughly dunkable. A "beef stew" inspired by Langlois' mother's pot roast was actually a juicy, medium-rare steak in beef broth, surrounded by whole baby carrots, potatoes, baby onions, and peas. Seasonal vegetables featured prominently: the chips in the fish-and-chips were made from sunchokes, a pile of Swiss chard accompanied a pink seared duck breast, and tortellini were stuffed with roasted celeriac. The last were handmade by Langlois' mother, and if they seemed a little dense and chewy, well, they had the homespun appeal of lumpy mashed potatoes. The only disappointments on our visit were a server who seemed overwhelmed (the room was bustling on a Wednesday evening) and the chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-stuffed egg roll, a dessert whose novelty has long since worn off. --Kathie Bergquist

Quince, in the old Trio space, doesn't quite have its vibe worked out. It's a neutral-colored room that wants to be homey--a fake log flamed in a fireplace flanked by nearly empty bookshelves--but I recognized a track from Bitches Brew playing on the PA. And the chipper, youthful servers, whose lack of polish was part of their charm, had evidently been instructed to dole out the flatware ostentatiously. Under chef Mark Hannon the upscale American comfort food also gets overly fussy treatment--the short ribs, for instance, were carefully composed in three small stacks on a long, rectangular dish. For all the care that went into the plating, they were less tender than I would have liked, and the Roquefort risotto they sat on made finishing the meal with cheese unthinkable. A trio of Bibb lettuce cups filled with peekytoe crab, similarly arranged, was wan 70s-bridge-club fare; a succulent roasted duck breast with sweet-and-sour glaze, sliced and fanned over pleasantly bitter greens and unpleasantly cinammony poached pear halves, was more cerebral than dig-in delectable. But the shaved asparagus salad--served simply in a big ol' bowl with a fragrant truffle vinaigrette--was delicious. Wine pairings, handled by Alinea vet Joe Ziomek, helped a lot; in fact, if I lived in Evanston and cared more for sweets I might go back for the prix-fixe deal offered Tuesday through Thursday--an appetizer, an entree, dessert, and wine pairings for $45. Speaking of dessert, we didn't order any, but our server presented us with a couple of complimentary snickerdoodles at the close of the meal anyway. --Kate Schmidt

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Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Rob Warner.

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