Knockout Noodles

Reviews of noodle dishes.

Knockout Noodles: Little Market American Brasserie

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[Photographs: Roger Kamholz]

On a recent chilly morning, I was engaged in that telltale pastime of the food-obsessed: skimming restaurant menus online. As I scanned the offerings of Little Market American Brasserie, a newcomer to the Gold Coast installed in the Talbot Hotel and helmed by chef Ryan Poli, something caught my eye that I'd normally breeze past: chicken noodle soup.

Poli, who's a partner now in the Mercadito Hospitality group following the success of Tavernita, explained to Grub Street the concept of an "American brasserie" thusly: "We didn't want to limit ourselves to doing French cuisine, which is something really specific. So we call it an American brasserie, because if we wanted to do an Asian-inspired dish, or a South American-inspired dish, or something regional American, we're not tied to it being a brasserie per se." It would be the casualness and the feel of the restaurant that primarily would signal its a brasserie-ity, Poli went on in the lengthy pre-opening interview.

When I later found myself sitting in Little Market's big, airy dining room, the look and atmosphere did indeed strike a balance between being vaguely French, but sort of American at the same time. According to the restaurant's website, Poli traveled to 12 cities, "including New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Montreal, to cull inspiration for the new restaurant's menu." Basically, any a whole host of European and American dishes could presumably be plunked down on my chunky wood table at Little Market and they'd feel more or less at home amid the subway-tiled walls.

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But back to that cold morning and that chicken noodle soup ($6.50). Possessed by the desire for warmth and fortification, I hit up Little Market for lunch and got myself some soup. In presentation and style, it felt very "American diner": cube-cut veggies, sizable hunks of chicken that looked as if they'd been hand-torn from the bone, and a fresh, fluffy roll on the side for sopping up broth. Thankfully, this bowl is not trying to be anything elaborate or take chicken noodle soup to a new and unexpected place. It's grounded in a solid broth with a nice, mouth-watering celery tang and restrained salinity. The chicken was abundant and flavorful, even while being mostly white meat. The carrots brought a tasty, balancing sweetness to the equation, and the noodles—roughly spoon-sized shells—exhibited a pleasant doughiness while maintaining their firm structure throughout my slurping. I would have liked to have picked up on more herbs, but overall my craving for soothing, restorative soup had been satisfied.

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Sufficiently warmed up, I proceeded to the pasta puttanesca, which at $17 is one of the most expensive of Little Market's lunch offerings. That said, the portion, as you can see, was quite generous. (Perhaps a half order should be made available?) Accompanying the housemade linguini were plump, well-cooked shrimp, a chunky tomato sauce, capers, and black olives. Billed on the menu as spicy, the sauce only delivered hints of heat, but I really liked its bright acidity. Less prominent was the bold flavor of capers, which I had been most excited about. But the quiet capers were thankfully backed up by the more resonant black olives.

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I always applaud housemade noodles. And for the most part, these were solid: light and springy and with a pleasing bite. (Some unfortunate clumping held them back from being exceptional.)

Judging by its tasty noodle offerings, Little Market does evoke a casual, comforting vibe. Calling it an "American brasserie" is just about right.

Little Market American Brasserie

10 East Delaware Place, Chicago, IL 60611 (map)
312-640-8141
littlemarketbrasserie.com‎

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