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Review Thu Apr 28 2011

Banking on a Delicious Meal

IMG_1760-lounge-w-people.jpgThe Bedford, the much-awaited new venture from chef Mark Steuer (most recently, the executive sous chef at The Gage; he also worked his magic at Hot Chocolate for five years), is a restaurant in one of the least-likely of settings — the lower level of an old bank. Housed in the former MB Bank building in Wicker Park, the 6,500 square foot space takes a stunning set of cues from its former life. During a soft opening last night where Twitter "key" contest winners won the chance to "unlock the vault" and enjoy a complimentary preview menu and abbreviated cocktail list, I was lucky enough to sample some of The Bedford's fare.

Bathed in a warm glow of candlelight and softly lit ceiling sconces, patrons were shuttled first into the lounge, which is nestled amongst comfortable arm chairs and couches in the bank's old safety deposit vault. The two vault doors and metal day gates are set open, but the ornate beauty of the dials and bolts are mesmerizing to those of us used to banking at the rather blah bank branches of today. The candles glint wonderfully off the hundreds of deposit boxes as well as the vault's ceiling, all covered in the same patterned copper. A wall of boxes is left open for diners to see the original red metal safety deposit boxes still lying within while they sit and chat comfortably.

IMG_1782-cucumber-cooler.jpgIn the vault, we were offered cocktails off a short menu, either Schlitz or Old Style drafts, or a "Cucumber Cooler" cocktail made either with vodka or gin. There were easily twice as many service staff as patrons as the night started, and I overheard one of the waitresses at their station talking about the correct pronouncement of the word "Schlitz" as one of them, so she said, kept calling it "stilts" by accident. I opted to start with Schlitz and switched to the quite refreshing Cucumber Cooler at dinner.

Once we were seated rather promptly at the top of the hour, we were given an appetizer of deviled eggs, plated with a few drops of hot sauce and served on top of a spoonful of powdered bacon. The yolks were runnier than your aunt's picnic deviled eggs, but had a marvelous creamy texture that made you want to lick your knife. The powdered bacon was surprisingly white and fluffy and helped keep the slippery eggs in place on the plate during service and while you were skewering them with your fork.

IMG_1797-scallop-flash.jpgNext came the main course choices, of either a spinach salad with candied nuts, bleu cheese, smoked chicken, roasted mushroom, and warm honey vinaigrette (an offering that was marked with a (v) for vegetarian, despite the chicken); a dish of hand-harvested scallops served on a leek and mushroom ragout, pickled fennel and fennel front pesto; or a grilled pork tenderloin served on English pea gremolata and apricot mustard.

I opted for the scallops, while my companion had the tenderloin. The scallops had a beautiful sear and had a pleasant mouthfeel along with the large chunks of mushroom. The ragout had a pleasant saltiness and the whole dish had a good toothiness between the smooth heft of the scallop and the bite of the pickled fennel. My companion's tenderloin was quite tasty (though a half order of a regular dinner serving) and well prepared to order with delicious fresh peas. The only detractor was the apricot mustard which though appropriate was a somewhat too subtle dressing.

The dinner ended with a "mock bill" where we did get to finally see what this type of meal would have cost us on a regular night. The deviled eggs were $3 (for 1 egg), the half order of pork tenderloin $12, the scallops $15, and the cucumber cocktails $9 each. We had a different waitress for the beer, so I'm not sure what they would run, but likely $4-$5 each for the drafts. So our meal, while not a decadent one leaving us overly stuffed, but instead pleasantly fed, would have been around $65-$70, which, was almost exactly what I expected.

IMG_1759-door-to-vault-lounge.jpgThe Bedford has a full bar, outside the vault lounge area, and the dining room sports an array of seating including hightop tables, large sumptuous banquettes, and some rather comfortable looking two-person low tables with lounge chairs near a series of yet-to-be-lit fireplaces set into the wall. The arrangement of tables is around a U-shaped room, which helps cut down the sound from conversations and music. In the rear of the restaurant, behind a glass door, is a private room with a ping-pong table (can't wait to see the corporate get-togethers back there). The back area also houses the men's and women's bathrooms (though the way to these desperately needs signage — I walked straight into the men's room [and straight out again, luckily unseen]). The womens' room lies behind a pink-rimmed glass door and has a series of stalls whose doors were repurposed from the bank's old private cubbies for opening your deposit boxes. In the bathrooms, and around the restaurant, there are loads of photographs from live concerts at an array of venues, as well as silk-screened show posters — art which adds a playful club-like vibe to the serious bank accoutrement, and I hope their collection grows and evolves along with the music scene in Chicago.

I'm sure the Bedford's full menu, will have a balance of the familiar and experimental, the fresh surprise and warm memory. Chef Steuer has shown the good taste to not just go in for the cookie cutter experience, like that corner bank branch, where, yes, you can go in and get your check cashed and be on your way just as happy as can be. Instead he's taken a (rather expensive) risk, and opted for adding a dash of whimsy and fantasy to a dining experience that's accessible to almost anyone — if you've got the sense to ask for the key.

The Bedford
1612 W. Division Street
Phone 773-235-8800
Opens Friday, April 29

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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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