Bite-size treats offer big flavors

January 6, 2009 11:28:57 AM PST
Several new restaurants have opened in Chicago recently and a few of them are offering smaller bites on their menus.You could call it "upscale snacking," but really, it's a way for modern restaurants to give diners a lot more options than the traditional appetizer, entree, dessert progression.

We found a couple of places putting considerable effort into these bite-sized treats.

While the food at the new eco-friendly Province in the West Loop certainly is enticing, you don't have to order the traditional appetizer, entree and dessert. Chef and owner Randy Zweiban has also added small bites to the menu, allowing for upscale snacking.

"The bite idea to me was to sort of take hors'devours, and bringing them to a restaurant setting; and I also thought it would be fun while people peruse the menu and sort of decide what they want, people are usually ordering a cocktail, and it's at that point that you really want something to eat while you have your cocktail," said Province Chef and Owner Randy Zweiban.

How do some peeky toe crab toasts sound? Or bite-sized bocadillos - that's shredded pork between brioche buns. Even the taquitos are tiny - stuffed with local Red Kuri squash. One of the sharable small plates includes a Spanish blue cheese fondue, laced with smoked onions, arriving with a few herbed crisps for scooping.

Over in Bucktown, The Bristol has been packing foodies in for its constantly evolving menu and some of the best bar snacks around. Think picholine olives wrapped in Italian sausage, fried, served with creme fraiche and honey; or homemade salt cod that's dipped into brandade - a blend of potato, cod and garlic - then made into fritters topped with a "slaw" of Spanish black radishes, heirloom apples, capers and jalapenos.

"A few dollars on the menu goes a long way, and the small plates allow people to share a whole lot of everything," said Bristol Chef Chris Pandel.

"We have over 60 beers on the list and the goal was to kind of have a little section on the menu that would guide you towards something great with a solid beer," said Pandel.

One of their signature snacks are the stuffed chicken wings - a riff on Buffalo wings - but these are a bit more labor-intensive: the wings are de-boned, stuffed with homemade chorizo sausage, then rolled to resemble giant scallops. First poached then pan-fried to get crisp.. they're plated over blue cheese cream and topped with a salad of celery stalks and leaves, parsley, lemon juice and harissa oil. The perfect snack with a great beer.

"We just wanted to do a place that has no pretense, you can come as you are, sit down with your friends, family, business partners, whoever, and have a great meal at an affordable price," added Pandel.

Another restaurant with a serious snack menu is the gage - across from Millennium Park - where you can nibble on fried chicken livers or even homemade fondue.

The Bristol
2152 N. Damen Ave.

161 N. Jefferson St.

The Gage
24 S. Michigan Ave.