Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Smak Tak - A Hidden Gem in NW Chicago

So this nice Polish restaurant, Smak Tak, place has been around for 10 years, how come we polish food loving folks have never found it until now?? And it's a beloved BYOB!

Nice little bistro type setting on north Elston, an unusual location but near the northern Red Apple. Parking easily available on Elston.

First, the soups. Exceptional! We tried two, the Mushroom for my friend, and Red Barscz with mushroom pierogis for me. Wow, both almost a full meal, the small mushroom pierogis were lovely. The clear redness of the broth very good. The Mushroom soup had lots of mushrooms, great broth, and many other ingredients. If this is all they offered, I would go back again and again.

The dining options included all favorites including a massive plate of hunters stew (old polish style). It included shredded cabbage, veal, sausage, and potatoes, with the meats providing a great smoky flavor. The Hungarian Pancake includes a full serving of gulash. Both were big enough to share or save half for another meal.

We shared a nice paring Biere de Garde from Southampton and a Norwegian stout for dessert. Coulda skipped a few meals after this one, great deal. Give this restaurant an A-, only lacking a bit of decor, but the food is worthy of a try.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Beer Festivals - What I'd Like to See

For this beer blogging Friday, The Session, discussion is on the subject of beer festivals. Now, I'm a relative newbie to good beer, have gotten my current range of knowledge from far looking purchases in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan, and most prominently from the great monthly Beer Academys events at Goose Island, a beer haven I hope to see stand for many more years. I have never been to a beer festival. I do have some personal opinions on what I'd like to see at a beer festival, so here goes:

  1. A tasteless, smell-less sample glass
  2. At each table a brewer or someone who knows details about each offering
  3. A flat entry fee including say 25 tastes for $25, and the opportunity to purchase more
  4. A focus - either by style (say Belgians), or location (Midwest brewers)
  5. A food offering (if only pretzels) at each table
  6. Detail stats on each beer, with suggested food pairings
I particularly enjoy the style tastings at Goose Island,. These Beer academies give you a chance to understand one particular style much better. One tasting that might have been too broad was a German-style Bock tasting in 2006. We tried beers from the Maibock, Bock, Dopplebock, Weizenbock, and Eisbock styles. Now that was a wide range to cover in 11 beers but well done and enjoyed by all. You could offer this type of event on a bigger scale, open to more brewers, and say having 8-10 beers on offer for each style. Great way to learn.

My continuing search for the best beers drives my consumption. I will continue to do it by attending Beer academies, selected tastings and purchasing anything in the smallest format possible (don't want to get stuck with a 6 pack of something objectionable). Twelve ounces is enough to make a judgement, and I'll take 2-3 oz. when available (thanks Will for the Dark Lord tasting!!) Anyway, the search goes on....

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Firkin to Rival Rock Bottom's?

Interesting place. We finally made it to Firkin, an "English-type" pub, at least according to their website. The offerings here would not be seen in England, however, maybe close to the border with Mexico, but more about that later.

In downtown Libertyville you must walk into the back door, the front on the street shows that on a Saturday night around 7ish it is packed. Parking in the back, take the back door down a long hallway from there to the dining area, with a long bar on the left, and some 20-25 tables well spaced. Interesting decor, the posters particularly, mostly from China? Weird stuff hanging from the high ceiling. Nice look, lots of middle aged folks enjoying themselves.

Our problems started as we sat at the bar waiting for a table. The bartender gave us several tastes as we weren't sure we what we wanted. That was good and appreciated. The problem as it turned out was that they were out of 3-4 offerings of the 25 or so listed. Upside, on cask there were 2, but the red ale wasn't that good (didn't try the IPA on offer, probably a better choice). We ended up with a nice Dortmunder from Two Brothers, a Kasteel Red, and a few other nice choices. The website says it's mostly micros (or was it the menu) but many Belgians on offer as well.

The food menu has many pages, a mix of Mexican, bar food, and lots of seafood. Unusual. Best appetizer was the special pork tacos. Guacamole just ok. The burger was loved, the fish tacos so so, the Cuban pork sandwich was very good. But we would not go back for this food if not for the beer list, and that was an issue.

Another bigger problem, lack of response from the wait staff. We had some missed requests on food, the worst of which happened near the end. We didn't like the look of the desserts, so we chose the Fantome Chocolate as our dessert. It came, seemed nice, no chocolate notable. We asked the waiter, he said he didn't know, we said we'd like to speak to their "beer guy". Instead of this guy, the waiter came back and told us that the Chocolate had run out, that it turned out it was the regular Fantome, and that it has "Chocolate notes" so we should like it. We did, but I protested, told him we wanted the Chocolate, especially as I've tasted the regular Fantome before, and for the $27 we paid (about twice retail) we should get what we ordered. We didn't stay for satisfaction, and it's very offputing that the manager would tell the waiter just to placate us. I'm still pissed and doubt we'll return.

Their home website says that our country is thirsting for this kind of English pub. Well, not this type with crappy people who think customers are idiots. I'll take Rock Bottom or Goose Island any day, and maybe these Canadian's haven't heard we already have some nice pubs. Grade this a C+, just for having a nice tap list, but not worth the drive or aggravation.