Serious Eats: Chicago
Neighborhood Charm is Still on Offer at Bite Cafe
Any write-up of Bite Cafe in the Ukrainian Village is required to mention its "neighborhoodsy" nature: that's how it is, and I won't buck tradition. The place got a face lift a few years back: slight renovation, revamped menu, and the like, but what hasn't changed is the restaurant's laid back, welcoming feel.
I purposefully planned my visit around Tuesday Steak Night ($20.00). The 8 oz. Bistro Filet is well-salted and medium rare as requested, with a generously charred crust. However, as the steak is served whole, it required a good deal of sawing to separate out bites. I usually prefer cutting steak myself, but when said steak is a fist sized hunk of mostly medium rare meat, it makes for a pretty wobbly time. Fanned out slices, in this case, would prove more successful.
A Chopped Iceberg Salad replaces the as advertised wedge salad, and while not as toweringly impressive as my favorite salad ever, it still screams old fashioned steak house side salad. Crisp lettuce is joined by a generous sprinkling of tomato, chopped bacon, bleu cheese crumbles, and croutons. Lightly dressed with a sweet vinaigrette, it more than hit the spot, and as a bonus, I didn't have to take fork and knife to it.
The Potato Gratin is nothing like the from a box versions I grew up with. Plenty cheesy and rich, it still managed to retain a semblance of nuance: I think I tasted the nutmeg in the bechemel, even!
Years of weeknight Sauteed Spinach have all but ruined the dish, but the garlicky version here proves an able redeemer. Not wilted past oblivion (and did I mention the garlic?), I'm inspired to give hearty greens the night off and revisit the classic at home.
The Crispy Duck Leg Confit ($13.00) features tender and rich meat and well rendered skin that is crispy and still slick from all that duck fat. However, the Brussels sprouts and butternut squash puree with maple syrup detract: the former were under roasted and under salted, while the latter was way too sweet from all that syrup.
The Mac and Cheese ($6.00) includes Parmesan, cheddar, American, and a broiled slice of Gruyere cheese, though the topper is left off if the dish is intended for a child. Ours was, and that final salty punch was definitely missed. Next time, I'd like to give it a try intact.
I'm a sucker for a good brownie sundae, and the Salted Fudge Brownie ($6.00) mostly hits the spot. The brownie itself is salty, thin, and dense, and it would've benefited from a quick warming through. However, the generous scoop of vanilla ice cream and thick drizzle of chocolate sauce rights all wrongs.
Bite Cafe serves pretty good food, in style, to the neighborhood. It's the kind of place you feel equally comfortable stopping in straight after work or stumbling from flush-faced after a night out with friends. And though I'm technically not a neighbor, I certainly felt like one by the end.