The Vegetarian Option: Trenchermen
By the end of a recent meal at Trenchermen, the Wicker Park restaurant co-helmed by brother chefs Michael and Patrick Sheerin, I began to see the menu as a kind of urgent food telegram. Each item is summed up with a series of stark, economical nouns. To wit: Japanese sweet potatoes ($10), miso cream, radishes, beer vinegar. The commas may as well be full stops. The chefs have adopted a style (one that perhaps harkens back to Michael's days at Blackbird) in which the complementary and contrasting components of a dish aren't incorporated together so much as they are gathered into coexistence. It lends their food a surprising clarity. It also makes it really fun to eat. Flavors get together right on the palate like actors staging daring improv.
Back to those sweet potatoes, which are one of couple dynamic, thoughtful veggie-friendly dishes on the current menu (with a name like Trenchermen—aka corpulent, hearty eaters—you might think the restaurant specialized in meaty gut bombs; not so). Cut into rough cubes like hash browns, the potatoes sport a shriveled, deeply caramelized exterior yet are not at all overly sweet. Their texture fluctuates between crisp and leathery (in the best possible way), with a center that's oven-roasted chewy. The concavity of the bowl comes coated in the light, tangy miso cream, and paper-thin slices of crunchy, fresh radish mingle among autumn-hued greenery. The color palette is handsome, but it takes building a forkful of all the dish's discrete components to really experience its beauty.
The kale ($11) with edamame dressing, eschabeche, and carrot quinoa bread came together with somewhat less success than the sweet potatoes, but nevertheless delivered some seductive flavors. The bright acidity of the pickled-vegetable "eschabeche" nicely cut against the earthiness of the kale. I wish the volume had been turned up a bit on the mild edamame dressing. But here's hoping the Sheerins don't change a thing about the intriguing carrot quinoa bread, which you discover after poking around amongst the pile of kale. It has the creamy sweetness and fluffy texture of banana bread, but a nutty vegetal flavor. And it was just the kind of unexpected twist that made me excited to revisit Trenchermen in the future to see what else the Sheerins might do with vegetables next.