Category Archives: Menus

A Closer Look: Warm Tomato Appetizer

The month of September marks the first official day of fall, and even though the cooler months ahead bring a variety of things to be excited about (pumpkin spice lattes?), it can also be a sad time for farm-to-table restaurants, as we bid adieu to some of our favorite summer produce … like tomatoes.

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So before it’s too late — and grocery stores will be stocking up on rock-hard, flavorless objects referred to as “tomatoes” — be sure to stop by and order our new Warm Tomato appetizer. JV started the dish by making his own fruit leather, or “fruit roll-up” as he likes to call it. While it was a bit of an experiment, he combined tomato peel and apple puree with some sugar, and then cooked down the mixture until it was super thick. After that, he spread it out on a piece of plastic wrap to set – and voilà! It worked.

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To build the dish, JV sliced and layered a perfectly ripe tomato (that was first warmed on a hot plate), and then followed up with a drizzle of sunflower seed yogurt sauce and a few thinly sliced strips of the fruit leather.

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He finished it off with fresh dill, lots of rich olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and a warm baguette for dipping. All of this can be yours for just $13.

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Remember that scary story about the tomatoes at the grocery store? Come eat this while there’s still time.

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To the City of Brotherly Love (and back)

Nothing’s better than a good, old-fashioned road trip — especially the kind that’s centered around food. So when our executive sous chef, Ben, and JV hit the road last month to partake in the EPIC Cochon event in Philadelphia (remember that huge, saddle-cut of pork?), they made sure to leave enough time to check out some of the city’s best places to dine. From the classic Philly Cheese Steak to modern Israeli cuisine, Ben and JV didn’t seem to miss a beat … and now, you’ll know exactly where to make reservations the next time you’re headed to the East Coast.

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“Philly is awesome. I mean, the whole city is just great,” said JV. “And because they’re so close to New York, they have really high standards and know they gotta put out good food, but it’s also pretty cheap, so it’s accessible to anyone.”

First stop: Zahav. Modern Israeli cuisine that left JV wanting more: “Of all the places we ate, Zahav was just incredible.” Some dishes include: Turkish Hummus with butter and grilled garlic, served warm; Crispy Lamb’s Tongue with snap peas, smoked grapes, pistachio tehina and peaches; Moroccan Chicken with charmoula, freekah and pickled cabbage, and Spiced Peanut Basboosa – a dessert of semolina cake, Turkish coffee ice cream and peanut praline.

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Next up: Pat’s King of Steaks. If you’re looking for that classic Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, this is the place to go. It’s been family-owned and operated since 1930, they’re the “originators and inventors” of the Philly Cheese Steak, and there’s just one location (that’s open 24/7 to boot) — so, you know it’s gotta be good.

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A new take on chicken and waffles, perhaps? Go to Federal Donuts. Gourmet fried chicken. Donuts. Coffee. Two locations. Enough said. Well, wait … you also get to pick your own seasoning and glaze for the chicken (like chili-garlic), every order is served with Japanese cucumber pickles and a honey donut, and if you don’t want chicken, they have lots of “fancy” flavored donuts like strawberry-ginger and banana cream pie. Okay, now — enough said.

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Also, don’t miss while in Philly:

Osteria – Homemade Italian pastas, thin crust pizzas, wood grilled meats and fish. Standout dish: Swordfish speck with grilled figs, pine nuts and basil. “The swordfish was sliced so thin, it almost looked like Lardo … and the way they overlapped the fish created this stunning contrast in color, almost like stripes.”

Brauhaus Schmitz – Philadelphia’s only authentic German Bierhall & Restaurant.

Serpico – Ingredient-driven, seasonal menu that features global cuisine with a playful touch. “There’s definitely an Asian twist to the menu … super well-refined, light and beautiful.”

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Fante’s Kitchen Shop – Every kitchen gizmo and gadget imaginable can be found here. “This is the store where we get our Chitarra from … we were only there about an hour, but we could’ve stayed all day. It was like being a kid in a candy store. The only reason we left is because I had to go to the bathroom.” – JV

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Visiting Pittsburgh, too?

Spoon – Local, farm-to-table, modern American cuisine.

Meat & Potatoes – Gastropub. Open 7 days a week.

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On their way back to Chicago, they paid a visit to JV’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, for a baseball game and some more good eats.

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While there, they were blown away by the Duck Mortadella at The Greenhouse Tavern, a dish soon to be featured on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. They also stopped by Slyman’s Restaurant, home of the biggest and “best” corned beef, and according to JV, it was. “Seriously, the best corned beef on Earth. Hands down.”

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We know how overwhelming it can be when traveling to new cities, trying to find the “best” spots to dine; so hopefully, our list here will help you make some good choices the next time you’re headed to Philly … or Cleveland.


In the Pipeline: Fall Desserts

Whether or not we’d like to believe it — fall is creeping up on us.  Juicy, ripe tomatoes and summer squash will soon be a thing of the past, but not to worry, as the change in season undoubtedly brings some of our favorite fall ingredients into play … and our pastry chef, Sarah, can’t wait to get her hands on them.

“I’ve been thinking of what to do for fall desserts for a while now. I typically come up with the flavor combinations and garnishes first, and then build the rest of the dessert around that. My brain works backward a lot of the time, but it works for me.”

Sarah’s been impressing diners all summer long with her selection of confections, particularly the cherry pie with coffee ice cream and this standout sweet corn dish:

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“It’s a sweet corn-vanilla cake with sweet corn ice cream, plum pudding, semolina shortbread crumble, yellow plums and nectarines held in rosemary simple syrup, and then it’s garnished with fresh blackberries to offset some of the sweetness. Again, this dish started with the ice cream and then everything else just fell into place, which is how I’m approaching my fall menu, too.”

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Right now, Sarah plans to create dishes with flavor combinations like watermelon and basil, Mexican chocolate and dulce de leche, apple-cranberry with (most likely) rosemary ice cream, and even mini pears poached in spiced red wine. Yes, please.

“I’ve always loved incorporating herbs into my dishes, like the rosemary and basil. They definitely have their place in desserts, and even though it might freak some people out at first, I try to do it in a way that everyone will like … I have to remind myself that I can’t always make just what I want!”

She hopes to slowly introduce her new dishes to the menu in the next few weeks, so be sure to visit us soon — and don’t forget to leave some room for dessert.


Honey Chili Glaze

If you’ve dined with us in recent weeks, you may have ordered the trout entrée — Wisconsin trout with sweet corn, bacon, green beans, onion and fava bean aioli — which features our house-made, honey chili glaze. The glaze is so simple to make at home and instantly brings life to any white-fleshed fish, like trout, tilapia, halibut or cod. While our recipe only requires four ingredients, you may have to search a bit for the granulated sweet bell pepper. Most specialty food stores/spice shops will carry it, but you could also consider dehydrating your own sweet bell peppers and grinding them finely in a mortar and pestle. If you’re local, dehydrated sweet bell pepper can be found here.

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:: INGREDIENTS ::

  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sweet bell pepper

:: METHOD ::

Combine the honey and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then add the spices. Stir and cook down until thick; then brush onto fish (including skin) if using a sauté pan. If you choose to roast the fish, put the glaze on first.

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We love this glaze because it adds some intense, unexpected flavor … and clears your sinuses, too ;) Chili lovers, rejoice.


Meet Our New Pastry Chef: Sarah Mispagel

Last month, we welcomed a new member to the Nightwood family — executive pastry chef, Sarah Mispagel. And now, we’d like to tell you a little bit about her, her desserts … and her tattoos.

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Background:

Sarah, 27, was born in San Diego and raised in a nearby suburb (Oceanside) by her “California hippie” parents, who encouraged a very organic, vegetarian lifestyle. She later attended culinary school at the Art Institute in Orange County, and after graduation, she took a job at a local vegan, gluten-free bakery. After a year there, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and worked at Delphina’s Bakery (which is considered Portland’s oldest artisanal bakery), where she worked extensively with breads, and croissant and Danish doughs. Then, it was on to Cincinnati; she not only baked for a restaurant group, primarily doing bread production, but she also made wedding cakes part-time at a bakery called SugarPlums.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Sarah and her husband decided to move to Chicago. “We were visiting some of my husband’s family on the North Shore, and I totally fell in love with the city. My husband always knew he wanted to move here at some point, and we needed a change from Cincinnati, so we packed up the U-Haul and drove to Chicago on July 5th.”

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 Life in the Windy City:

Though Sarah didn’t immediately jump into the restaurant scene, her husband, who is also a chef, encouraged her to submit her resume to mk, which led to her first stage ever. “Honestly, I had no desire to work at a restaurant, and just never thought about trying it since all of my experience had been in bakeries. The idea of fine dining was just really weird to me!” Needless to say, Sarah staged a second time and was offered a pastry assistant position two months later. “I worked closely with Tony Galzin, the head pastry chef at the time, and he was a wonderful mentor. It was the first place that I had experienced the camaraderie of a kitchen; it was like a second family for me.”

After a year and a half of working with Galzin, learning how to conceive a menu and transition her knowledge as a baker to that of a pastry chef, Galzin left for Nashville, so Sarah applied for — and immediately landed — the pastry sous chef position at Sofitel in September 2012. “I did things there that I never thought I could do, like learning how to properly temper chocolate and make beautiful truffles and macaroons, but it was definitely a different environment; more corporate and sterile.”

Next stop … Nightwood:

Missing that feeling of “family” in the kitchen, Sarah soon began seeking out new opportunities; so when the executive pastry chef position became available at Nightwood, she jumped on it. “Whenever I had a night or Sunday off, I’d come in to Nightwood for dinner or brunch. It had always been one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, so I applied for the job right away.”

After a tasting and extensive interview process, Sarah was officially offered the job. “I was a little worried at first because JV told me there had been a lot of chefs in and out (applying for the position), who obviously weren’t making the cut. I kept saying to myself during my tasting: “Please don’t let this be a pastry one-night-stand!’.” And lucky for her, it wasn’t.

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Her Desserts:

“I like that the menu at Nightwood is focused on seasonality, because it keeps my job really interesting. I’ve been used to menus that only change every few months, so it’ll be fun not having months of preparing the same things.”

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Sarah also likes to play with savory elements, as long as they’re thoughtful. “I cook by flavor, not color, so everything on the plate has its purpose.”

Chocolate Bombe - Mast Brothers 73% Chocolate, Cherries, Bourbon Caramel Ice Cream

Chocolate Bombe – Mast Brothers 73% Chocolate, Cherries, Bourbon Caramel Ice Cream

And now that she’s landed her first position as a head pastry chef, she knows she’s 100% accountable. “I’ve always held myself to a very high standard, but now it’s really just me. I think the biggest difference is that my name is now attached to every single dish I put out there, and even though I have to be prepared to take any criticisms that come my way, it also makes me really happy, as any successes will be mine, too.”

Apple Upside Down Cake - rhubarb, oat streusel, buttermilk rhubarb ice cream

Apple Upside Down Cake – Rhubarb, Oat Streusel, Buttermilk Rhubarb Ice Cream

Fun Facts about Sarah:

  • An Elvis impersonator married her and her husband in Las Vegas.
  • She has two dogs – a pug named Mochi, and an English bulldog named Bacon Samwiches.
  • Speaking of bacon, the first time she ate bacon was while living in Cincinnati: “We had been out drinking all night, and on our way home from the bar, I told my husband I was ‘bacon curious’ … so he ordered me a BLT. It was great.”
  • She ate her FIRST burger (ever) at Kuma’s Corner when she moved to Chicago in 2010.
  • She has countless tattoos, many of which are food and cooking-inspired. Check out her Kitchen-Aid stand mixer!

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Sarah often plates desserts on Friday and Saturday nights, so if you happen to stroll past the counter and see her, be sure to say hello! We are thrilled to have Sarah as a part of the team and can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.


Chicago Chef Week 2013

While you may have spent the weekend drinking green beer and eating corned beef sandwiches in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week is all about celebrating great Chicago chefs. We hope you’ll join us for our 3-course dinner menu at $44/person.

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Chicago Chef Week 2013 begins today, March 18, and ends Friday, March 22. Please call the restaurant at (312) 526.3385 or make your online reservation here.

We look forward to seeing you soon!


A Closer Look: Cured Foie Gras Appetizer

The weekend is nearly here, and if you’ve got plans to dine at Nightwood, keep an eye out for our new foie gras appetizer.

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We start out by curing the foie gras and then pass it through a tamis (fine-meshed sieve):

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The foie is then whipped, rolled tightly in cheese cloth and hung for a week. When it comes time to plate, the roll is sliced into smaller pieces and our housemade fish sauce caramel is melted over the top of each piece. The dish is completed with several components, including almonds, baguette crisps, an apple puree and freshly cut pea tendrils.

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Almost looks too good to eat …

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If foie gras isn’t exactly your cup of tea, don’t fret — the menu is full of new, mouth-watering dishes that are sure to please any palette. Think fresh prawns, chicken-fried sweetbreads, hand-rolled fregola sarda and more. So if you don’t have dinner plans yet, we suggest coming in and checking out the menu for yourself … there’s a lot of delicious food waiting for you!