Review: Wood Chicago
Wood, my husband's pick for pre-concert dinner on Saturday, is on Halsted. They have been around for over 3 years. The executive Chef is Ashlee Aubin, winner of 2013 and 2014 Michelin Bib Gourmand Award. The place is intimate, with great modern decor and rather interesting light fixtures. It's a long, narrow space with booth seating along the windows, and the bar running all the way down the opposite wall. One look at the bar and its bartenders and you just know that the drinks will be out of this world (the Lily Pad Lullaby that appeared on the table next to us came with a floating orchid, and blue cheese olives are hand stuffed at the bar with a piping bag).
I had a Moscow Mule (with Ketel One vodka) and it's the best I've had so far. And I've been tasting my way through Moscow Mules lately so I've gotten rather particular on flavor.
The seating is bar height, the booths are semi-private. You sit really close to your neighbors so this isn't a place to divulge state secrets. The benches are upholstered in peachy iridescent tufted leather. The lighting is very well placed: enough to see what you're eating over the booths, cozy and intimate at the bar. There is a passthrough to the kitchen: you see chefs from chest up and you see the wood-fired (thus the name) oven. It's not big, but there is always some ingredient that passes through that oven in every single dish. The whole place is minimal, a touch retro, and totally chic. Oh, and their music selection rocks.
The service is top notch. They know their food extremely well, can pair the wine beautifully (Terry had a wonderful white that went well with all our dishes), and they don't push you out the door. So if you want to sit there for hours eating your way from left to right through the menu, go right ahead (and I highly recommend it). We had the pleasure to have Kevin as our waiter.
Kevin told us that the menu was updated recently because they didn't want to have a reputation as a tapas place. Which they are absolutely not. The menu is designed with a left side and a right side. Left is your appetizers and right is entré. Or small plates and big plates, if you prefer. We decided to have several small plates so we could try different things. They grow their own herbs in a private garden, butcher their own meat, make their own pastas and sausages, and buy produce locally. The menu changes based on produce availability, which means they get very creative in winter.
We started with Surryano Ham. Served with a big slice of gorgonzola, fresh pears, frisee lightly dressed with balsamic vinaigrette, and topped with walnuts. The ham comes from Edwards Virginia Smokehouse in Surry VA, and is hickory smoked. It is basically a serrano ham (serrano, surryano... you get the picture), but a lot more flavorful (thanks to the prize-winning purebred and rare heritage hogs). Wood slices it very generously, presenting you with nice substantial slices. Perfect bite is ham+pear. Eat the cheese on its own right after.
We continued with Burrata Cheese. This dish was recommended by Kevin. I think it is pretty safe to say that they pull the cheese in-house as well. You just can't get burrata like this from a store. The outer mozzarella shell is stretchy but not rubbery, the inside is filled with perfect little curds. The ball of cheesy perfection is topped with house giardiniera, sliced green olives, and fresh arugula. A plate of warm, just out of the wood oven, lightly buttered and toasted bread is served on the side. The arugula leaves were the largest I have ever seen and so fresh they were crunchy. The giardiniera is mild, which balances the cheese perfectly. Perfect bite is a piece of toast, slathered with burrata, topped with an arugula leaf, giardiniera, and a piece of olive. Requires some construction skills, and you will lose some pieces on the way up. Don't worry, the busboys clean your table and refresh your plates and utensils extremely fast.
I had to have the Foie Gras as soon as I saw it on the menu. Wood's comes from Hudson Valley. The foie gras is offered as an addition to any dish, but since we were sampling, ours arrived all by itself on a very large plate. It was a glorious small sautéed morsel. Perfectly blackened crust on the outside, soft on the inside. Sprinkled with little chives on one side. Now, before we put the first bite into our mouths, Kevin brought us a cordial of port. He said that it was the perfect way to eat it. I'm not a port drinker, but he was right on the taste combination. A bite of foie gras, followed by a sip of port. Out of this world. (Not to mention their bar is extremely well-stocked, port including, so ours was very good).
We continued with Bone Marrow. I was curious about the dish, Kevin highly recommended. And, if we had a dog, they would wrap up the bones for us to take. No dog, and lizards don't eat bone. The bone (one bone, cut in half) is topped with apple mostarda* and a parsley salad**. It comes with parker house rolls (which are sweet). You need a spoon to eat the marrow. So this is how it goes: take a piece of bone, slather with mostarda, put some parsley salad on top. Now take a spoon and start digging out the marrow. You might have to hold the bone in place with your free hand, otherwise it slides all over the plate. If you ever had to dig out meat from shellfish, same principal. Once you have your marrow, load it up on the piece of roll. Eat. Repeat. The French are right, is it very delicious. And is extremely good for you!
We had room for one more plate and decided to go with desserts. I went with Blueberry Panna Cotta, which Kevin pronounced as "life changing", and Terry went with a Creampuff with Apples and Sea Salt Caramel Icecream.
Oh boy, was Kevin right about the panna cotta! It was bright purple in color, with fresh blueberries on top. In the middle, stood a shard of lemon meringue. The blueberries were topped with three dollops of lemon curd. I can't even describe it, you'll just have to get it and experience for yourself.
Terry's creampuff was huge (no dainty creampuffs here). The apples were baked. According to Terry (we didn't share our desserts), it was the perfect combination of warm and cool.
I saw a Ceasar Salad walk by – there was nothing "small plate" about it. The lettuce leaves were huge and it will require a knife and a fork to eat it. Also, Country Ham Flatbread looked very interesting (split that one, it's the size of a cutting board). The Double Cheeseburger was very tall, will probably require utensils. I would skip the Artisan Cheeses, unless the selection varies, it was very traditional in presentation and rather boring looking (marcona almonds, concord jam...).
Overall, Wood was fantastic. Grab your significant other and start your datenight there. It is definitely worth it. I believe they have valet parking, we took a cab from downtown and were able to easily catch a cab back. Make reservations. You can eat at the bar as well (that might be where the walk-ins get seated). We dined at 5 pm on Saturday, by 6 it was full. And, in case it matters, the waitstaff is hot, especially the bartenders. We will definitely be back, there is still the right side of the menu to explore. Terry chose very well.
*Mostarda is a preserved fruit with mustard seed. Wood's looks like apple jam with whole mustard seeds and caramelized onion. It is the perfect condiment for bland meat (like the bone marrow) and is of Italian origin.
**Parsley Salad is parsley with shaved slices of red onion, tossed with olive oil. It is an interesting way to top a meat.
3335 N. Halsted St.
Chicago Illinois 60657
773 935 9663
Bar Hours: Sun-Wed 5 pm - 12 am, Thur-Sat 5 pm - 2 am
Open for Dinner: Sun-Thur 5-10 pm, Fri-Sat 5-11 pm
Sunday Brunch: 10 am - 2:30 pm
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