Tortoise Club menu full of American classics

January 26, 2013 8:50:03 PM PST
The latest restaurant to hit River North is actually a throwback. With its old-school vibe, the Tortoise Club is hoping to restore a sense of old Chicago. That means a menu heavy with American Classics.

The crowd at the new Tortoise Club in River North looks as though it sprung from the pages of a society magazine. But no matter what the crowd looks like, the food on the plate is standard-issue, all-American.

One of the menu items takes a stab at reinventing chicken pot pie.

"Chicken pot pie is one of those things that everybody knows, everybody is familiar with; a lot of people love to eat and we wanted to make it a little more interesting," said Tortoise Club Chef Gray McNally.

McNally decided to alter it by using pheasant, as well as tweaking the filling and adding an extremely rich foie gras sauce. He begins by pouring chicken stock into a deep pan with parsley root, carrots, parsnips and herbs.

"We poach the pheasant in the oven, about 250 degrees for two-and-a-half hours, 'til they're tender, falling apart," he said.

Then he chops up sturdy root vegetables, sautéing them with garlic and thyme.

"Well it's wintertime, so we're using some seasonal, root vegetables; we have celery root or celeriac, parsley root, carrots and onions," said McNally.

The cooked pheasant is torn up by hand, mixed into a thickened, blonde-colored roux, which also has the benefit of the roasting juices. After 20 minutes or so, the cooked vegetables are added to the pheasant-and-roux pan, and heated up with parsley and chives.

McNally rolls out a savory, paprika-laced dough, fits it into a shallow baking dish and fills it with the pheasant and root vegetables. He seals a top crust with the tines of a fork, then brushes it with an egg wash to make it glisten. While it bakes, lobes of Hudson Valley foie gras are seared in a pan; their fat is added to a pan of caramelized onions.

"In order to brighten up the dish and cut through the richness we deglaze the whole sauce with some cognac and a little sherry vinegar."

The foie and caramelized onions are emulsified in a blender, then draped over one side of the pie. For a final touch, crispy-baked pheasant skin is planted in the middle, like a flag on the North Pole.

"Some people take it home, a lot of people polish it off, including some petite young ladies," he said.

Now the pheasant pie is available on both the lunch and dinner menus here at Tortoise Club, same price on both menus - $32 - but it's a pretty rich dish, especially with that foie gras sauce on it, so there's no shame in sharing it with a friend.

Not all of the dishes on the menu are that rich.. They also have plenty of salads and lighter options, especially on their lunch menu.

Tortoise Club
350 N. State St.