Where would we be in life if we couldn’t Facebook stalk one another? What would know or not know about each other? My cousin now “In a relationship”… The post-marital bliss of a barely-known Trojan alum… Blathering status updates of a colleague’s baby mama drama…
Or an old high school classmate’s shared love of food.
For all the pointless drivel we endure as we meander through the crypts of Facebook, ever-searching for a way to satiate our insatiable curiosity, we sometimes stumble upon that one connection — or re-connection — that makes us grateful for being slave to the Facebook.
V, the then-and-now boyfriend to my old high school friend T (both of whom I hadn’t seen in eight years), found and friended me on Facebook. I happened to stalk glance at his travel photos, he stalked glanced at mine, and a realization of our shared love of travel and food manifested through wall posts and comments. Before you know it, I had a standing invitation to dinner with V&T next time I was in Chicago.
I happened to stopover in Chicago for a few days before the holidays, so I took them up on the offer, promising a homemade batch of salted caramel brownies in return. I had my choice of restaurants. I chose Topolobampo; it was booked solid. T chose Girl and the Goat; it was booked until 10 p.m.
V threw out another option. I had never heard of it. “My friend suggested a place called Longman & Eagle. It’s gotten all kinds of awards and shit.”
Hmm. Awards and shit. OK, then. “Sounds awesome,” I declared.
Turns out V wasn’t kidding about awards and shit. Chef Jared Wentworth was charming the media with his nose-to-tail regional American cooking, shameless in its use of local produce and animal fat. Already it boasted “Best New Restaurant” in Chicago Reader, “Best Bars in America” AND “Best New Restaurant” in Esquire, “Best New Gastropub” in Time Out Chicago, one whole Michelin star… the list goes on. As a former restaurant publicist, I just about had a press-gasm.
A restaurant completely off my radar now had expectations. Big ones. Luckily, Wentworth didn’t disappoint. Especially when the first dish to the table was Buffalo Frogs Legs with Aerated Blue Cheese.
I persuaded the apprehensive T to try a bite. The frog legs taste like chicken, I said. The aerated blue cheese, on the other hand, tastes like heaven.
Its accompanying dish, an innocuous Slagel Family Farms Meatballs with creamy polenta, parsley pesto and fonduta almost got the shaft over my adoration for the frogs legs. But not to worry — we loved you too, delicious stepchild. Just not as much.
The barrage of breathtaking, artery-clogging dishes continued its attack in twos. Next up was Ricotta Gnudi with Asian pear black walnut jam, butternut squash veloute and brown butter sage emulsion, along with Seared Maine Scallops atop braised oxtail, black truffle gnocchi, celery root, butternut squash and fontina fondura. For a moment, I turned my fascination from the aerated blue cheese to the black truffle gnocchi, those puffy pillows of pure sin. The truffle aroma was unmistakeable. In contrast, the gnudi was the angelic version of the gnocchi — light and fluffy versus dense and earthy.
Our final round of savory dishes included the Slagel Family Farm Pork Belly Confit with squash risotto, apples, chestnut and soy caramel. This is what autumn tastes like, I marveled. Sweet, earthy, nutty and fatty — a dish perfect for winter hibernation. But I couldn’t go to sleep just yet. The Wild Boar Sloppy Joe with crispy sage, onion, pickled jalepeno and beef fat fries taunted me from the table. I dipped my fork into the wild boar for a nibble. Salty, but good with the brioche bun. One bite was all I could handle.
I almost ordered the Foie Gras Torchon with apricot jam and bacon lange du chat for dessert, but that would have been pure crazy. Instead, we all split Syllabub Trifle with brown butter cake, eggless saffron lemon curd, gin and honey custard, date cream and carbonated saffron cream. It was the perfect coda to this tumultuous symphony of fat and salt, with only a hint of sweetness, slight tang of lemon and a bitterness from the gin. The carbonated saffron cream — another brilliant use of aeration by Chef Wentworth — helped tame the heaviness of the dish.
It was a long, lovely night. Eight years of stories, relationships, philosophies, old memories and new starts, highs and lows, fears and hopes. Eight years of divergent paths, crossing briefly over a shared love of food and life. All thanks to Facebook stalking. Cheers to that.
Many thanks to V&T for the dinner and company. Can’t wait to visit you in Chicago in better weather! Full pictures here: