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Sunday, December 8

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Restaurant Mon Jun 11 2007

Do Your Homework Before Dinner

On Saturday, my family and I went to a dinner at North Pond, a beautiful, Prairie-Style Lincoln Park restaurant with a focus on organic, seasonal and local ingredients. It was my third time there, and my partner and I agreed that it was our best meal at North Pond. It was (of course) mainly thanks to the amazing chef Bruce Sherman and his line of cooks, but there was something else that made us appreciate the food more: we were much more attuned to the season than we'd ever been.

My partner and I had been to the local farmers markets quite often this spring. We'd witnessed the markets grow from a handful of stalls with just strawberries and rhubarbs to row after row of stands with baby dandelion leaves, spiky asparagus, shiny spring onions, plump snap peas, portobella and morel mushrooms, and a wide range of baby lettuces. Just last week, we saw the season's first radishes (still tiny) and turnips. With that knowledge of what's available locally now, reading (and eating) North Pond's menu was much more interesting.

My father's soup was asparagus; my mother's halibut came with baby snap peas and tiny spring potatoes; my partner's first course featured morel mousse and puréed white asparagus; he also had a medley of artichokes with wild leek (ramp), also in season; my main course was a feast of mushrooms: sautéed morels with baby turnips, grilled trumpet mushrooms, and a portobella on a scallion tartelette. Virtually everything on the plates were what's in season now in the region. I knew this when I dined at North Pond before, but that was an abstract knowledge. There's a tremendous difference, I discovered, between finding on my plates exactly what I just saw in the local market and merely knowing, in an abstract form, that certain ingredients are in season.

I've been wondering how horrifyingly limited my dinner table would be if I were to stick to the strictly "locavore" diet. But seeing the spring menu at North Pond, I'm changing my mind: so much is possible with just what's available locally, seasonally. Not that most of the professionally concocted dishes are easily reproducible at home, but at least it's possible to eat locally with a surprising variety and joy--at least in spring. So, my recommendation for those of you who’re planning a dinner at North Pond is to visit your local farmers markets several times before your planned dinner, so you’ll see how North Pond picks and cooks its seasonal ingredients. With the chef being one of the board members, the Green City Market may be one of your best bets. Doing your homework before dinner definitely pays here.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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