Given its Pilsen location, I’ve only made my way down to Nightwood* a few times. However, Nightwood’s executive chef and owner Jason Hammel is also the owner of Lula Cafe in Logan Square, which I like, so I’ve given it a few chances. Nightwood is a nice restaurant, but given how out of the way it is for me, and how many good restaurants there are much closer to where I work and live, I am not likely to be back very frequently.
Nightwood begins the meal with a housemade pretzel bread with leek butter. The butter is light and whipped, with a hint of leek, although it’s a little odd that they serve it with a spoon. The bread is soft and has a faint pretzel taste, really more a pretzel-style bread as they call it than a standard pretzel roll.
I chose the beef tartare for my first course, made with Slagel Farm beef. The tartare is a perfect dice, cold beef against the warm, crispy grilled bread. The aioli spread around the sides of the bowl has a terrific chicken fat flavor, although the dried egg yolk garnish gives more color than flavor. There’s also artichoke in the tartare, which might be the pickled element that whets the appetite. The contrast between the lean meat and the fatty aioli is both smart and tasty.
For the warm second course, I chose the sunchoke clam chowder. It’s super smooth, velvety, and tastes of clams. There’s something slightly acidic about it that keeps it from being too rich, but it also gathers in the back of my throat a little. I’m not positive I like the pancetta and sage garnish, but I really enjoy the soup itself.
Based on the server’s suggestion, I went with the pork loin as my entrée. The pork is served with pea shoots, mustard green, turnips, cauliflower, carrots, shaved radishes, preserved red pepper, and red cabbage. The pork is smoky, juicy in places, and a bit dry in others. Unfortunately, I couldn’t detect the farro: I speared each vegetable chunk individually and didn’t see anything. The dish is good, but it isn’t that memorable. I would have liked something unexpected, something that would have set it apart.
Finally, Nightwood offered one dessert option for Restaurant Week, an apple bread pudding. The bread pudding is warm, not too sweet, and faintly apple-tasting, although it’s not as custardy as I expect a bread pudding to be. Vanilla bean seeds speckle the creme fraiche, which is creamier and less tangy than I generally associate with creme fraiche. The small pile of precisely cut apple, as well as the pine nuts under the ice cream, give textural contrast to the dish. My favorite part of the dish is the rosemary ice cream, which I love and which I discovered for the first time at Green Zebra. Smooth, creamy, and piney, the rosemary ice cream gives an interesting savory note to the dish, as does with the sharp, salty flavor of the two faux Cheez-its.
Overall, it was a good meal, and I really liked some components. But just in term of Restaurant Week meals, Boka was better in pretty much every way for the same price, as well as being a lot more convenient for me. When the Restaurant Week menu is no longer an option, however, the entrée prices here are around ten dollars less expensive than, say, Boka, so that comparison becomes not quite as fair. I appreciate the opportunity to sample multiple dishes during Restaurant Week, but Nightwood just doesn’t do quite enough to make my go-to list,
Restroom Report: Nightwood has single-room gendered restrooms.
Nightwood – 2119 S. Halsted St., Chicago, IL
*Update: Nightwood closed on July 11, 2015.