May 13, 2010 - It was our last night in Chicago and some folks from our EIG group, Solly, who was our EIG coach, and his son and daughter, who live in Chicago, decided to have dinner together at the Bristol, located at 2152 North Damen Avenue. Solly's son, Elliott, recommended the restaurant. Based on a few conversations with Elliott, it was clear to me that Elliott is as much a foodie as me or more. He knew exactly where to take us for our final meal.
Keeping with our "pig" theme - while in Chicago, we seem to have ordered and eaten every part of the pig - we ordered the head cheese. I had heard of head cheese, but had never tasted it before and didn't exactly know what it was. Head cheese, I've learned since my trip, is a jellied loaf made from chopped and boiled parts of a pig's feet, head, and sometimes tongue and heart. I am so glad I didn't know this before I tasted it for the first time. I think the description itself would have influenced me to not even try it. I did try it and I didn't like it, despite not knowing the description beforehand. The closest food that I can liken it to is bologna - but more of a cubed version with a weird taste. I'm not a huge fan of bologna either.
Next we ordered something a little more normal, the monkey bread with sea salt and dill butter. The monkey bread was tender and delicious and the dill butter combined nicely with the salted rolls.
We also ordered the duck fat fries, house ketchup and garlic aioli. They were probably the best duck fat fries I had while in Chicago. These fries were crispy and a little thicker than the shoestring variety that I had earlier in the week at Hot Doug's.
Next we shared the bone marrow, served with shallot jam, and toast. Although Bristol's bone marrow tasted somewhat buttery, it had a hard jelly like texture. We had ordered bone marrow earlier in the week at the Purple Pig and it's texture was very buttery and smooth.
Maria and I decided to share an order of the potato gnocchi. I must confess, that I don't remember much about the gnocchi except that they were tender. I've had gnocchi at many different restaurants. It's one of the ways I compare and rank restaurants in my mind. I think because I can't remember anything distinctive about this gnocchi dish tells me a lot about it. They were very good but there was nothing truly memorable about them - I still distinctly remember Michael Chiarello's ricotta gnocchi at his restaurant in Yountville and the potato gnocchi at Palena, a Washington DC restaurant - they are forever burned in my memory.
Finally, we ordered the pig's tail. Now we can talk about a memorable dish. This was absolutely phenomenal. This dish alone was well worth any cab ride to get to this restaurant. The meat was incredibly tender and tasty and literally melted in your mouth like butter. I can say without reservation that this was the best dish I had during my whole culinary adventure in Chicago.
Final note: I would definitely rank this restaurant among the top 3 of the restaurants that I went to while in Chicago. If you go, you must try the pig's tail if it is still available on their menu.