Thursday, November 25, 2010

Passport To France

Last week, Mrs. Hackknife dragged me along (ok, "dragged" probably isn't the accurate word to use here as free food was involved) to a social event co-sponsored by her employer (Deloitte Consulting) at the Union League Club of Chicago (65 W. Jackson Blvd. for those of you playing along at home). This event, entitled "Passport to France" is held every year in Chicago by something called the French-American Chamber of Commerce and is intended to celebrate the release of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau wines during the third week of November. Since we here at the Commissary are very enthusiastic about all things France (despite the fact that I personally have no direct lineage to the French people and my wife's family, being part Alsatian, have a tenuous connection at best), I was more than happy to accompany her as she used the opportunity to do a little client schmoozing with her co-workers.

We arrived at the club around six in the evening and headed up to the Grand Ballroom on the 6th floor, suddenly realizing that we'd been here once before for a Catholic Charities wine tasting festival in January 2005 (given that we hadn't yet learned the fine art of bucket spitting when sampling many, many wines in a short time period, the event aftermath went badly for both of us due to, say, excessive refreshment fatigue). Food sampling started out with a table of very French cheeses, such as Roquefort, Camembert, and Brie along with baguette slices. We also at this point opted to try some of the Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau, which, truth be told, wasn't particularly good (for those of you unfamiliar, Beaujolais Nouveau is made to be a very fruity, only slightly dry red wine and it's something of an acquired taste, if not mostly a marketing gimmick). This was followed by a brief photo session with an event photographer, who promptly generated a long sequence of digital pictures of me and the missus in front of various Frenchy-related backgrounds (vineyard, barrel cellar, Eiffel Tower, fountain, etc.), posting them on his video screen for all to watch ad nauseum. After about 5 minutes of this, it began to creep me out for some reason; fortunately, new people came to take photos and they soon replaced us as the display victims.

By now, the 5 restaurants operating tables at the event had started serving their food to the guests. We stopped by LM Restaurant first, which was serving an organic tomato soup (good) and a duck rillette (very good, although the bread underlying the duck spread was exceedingly crunchy). Next was Beef Bourguignon from L'Eiffel Bistrot & Creperie (good broth and veggies, but not particularly tender beef - since this dish is bistro food at its most classic, you would think it should be a slam dunk for these guys, mais non). The house chef at Union League Club provided a nice beef short rib with butternut squash risotto, while Bistro 110's roasted suckling pig w/mashed potatoes was nothing out of the ordinary. Last, but certainly not least, came my most anticipated table: Mexique, a new Mexican-French fusion restaurant that's been generating some buzz of late (for example, their pan-seared skate wing was recently cited by Chicago Magazine as one of the top 25 Mexican dishes in town). At first glance, one might be surprised to find such a restaurant at a soiree celebrating French culture; however, those of you who are world history buffs out there might remember that the French actually occupied Mexico for about a decade in the 1860s in an unsuccessful attempt to establish a sympathetic monarchy there (i.e., in the hopes of countering US hegemony in the Western Hemisphere). Whether or not there was any substantial co-mingling of Mexican ingredients with French cooking techniques during this period is a little hard to verify. Myth or no myth, Chef Carlos Gaytan of Mexique has built his restaurant around this concept, which I found to be intriguing at the very least. He and his assistants were passing out little cups containing dried cranberries at the bottom, topped with butternut squash soup, a few pieces of spicy pork belly carnitas, and a dollop of apple cinnamon foam to finish. It was nice to look at and very tasty to eat, with a great balance of sweet-spicy-tart flavors all in one gulp. Clearly the standout in the room, it was the only item I went back for a second time (Mrs. Hackknife found it to be a bit too spicy for her tastes).

After two glasses of white wine (Chablis and Pouilly-Fuisse) and a couple of nice desserts (raspberry citrus lavender sorbet and Bailey's ice cream sandwich) from Ruth and Phil's Gourmet Ice Cream, we bid "Adieu" to the evening's festivities (Mrs. Hackknife had an early flight to catch and I was hankering to catch the end of the Bears-Dolphins game)....

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