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Review Tue Jun 12 2012

Andersonville's Premise Changes Face of Neighborhood Dining, With Mixed Results


Smoked salmon with cauliflower puree, pickled onion, fried caper, poppy seed, and blis roe

When Andersonville's In Fine Spirits made the transition earlier this year to Premise, I wasn't sure which incarnation to applaud--the warmly lit, accessible space that once served small plates and cocktails, or what it turned into: a much pricier, higher-end operation that clearly jumped on the northbound Red Line somewhere downtown in search of a new home. Is Andersonville ready for River North?

Premise is divided into two areas: the ground-floor restaurant and the dimly lit upstairs bar, which borrows heavily from the Violet Hour: velvet curtains, ambient music, and a menu chock full of eclectic, spirit-heavy drinks with upscale bar food (foie pretzels, anyone?). I tried a Black Thorn, a twist on a classic martini with two types of gin, red sweet vermouth, and a healthy drop of orange bitters -- strong and well-balanced, but maybe with an overly hefty $11 price tag. Drinkers and nondrinkers alike will find something in Premise's drink program, overseen by mixologist Luke LeFiles (formerly of Hot Chocolate), from the on-tap Carpano Antica vermouth to the fizzy lavender soda.

The downstairs restaurant, awash in stark black and white decor, has a much different feel. While the space uses original floor tiles and tin ceiling, everything is so poorly lit or covered up with dark paint that you can't see the ornate work in the bones of the room, which would make the place more relaxing and add some charm.

7331191832_3c5fe00e86_n.jpgThe food itself was a dance of contrasting flavors, some of which worked well -- and some of which were head-scratchers. Flavor combinations from head chef (and Graham Elliot veteran) Brian Runge are surprising and reminiscent (though less exuberant) of what Stephanie Izard is doing over at the Girl and the Goat -- taking on what would be a normative flavor combination, and then deconstructing or spinning it in a surprising (though not molecular gastronomy-style surprising) way. For example, the lamb dish features fairly standard Mediterranean flavors (Greek yogurt, chickpeas), but some presented in surprising ways, particularly the earthy, sticky sesame sauce and the combination of fried (delicious!) and green (overly floral) chickpeas dotting the plate. In such composed plates, it seemed necessary to pile each flavor onto the fork to get the sense of the dish -- bites of each component on their own didn't do justice to the whole, though scraping everything together and portioning out sauce in order to get a little on every bite was challenging.

The menu also relies heavily on sweet flavors at different stages of the meal -- a sorrel soup amuse and compressed melon "salad" dotted with candied peanuts (above) could have functioned better as a light finisher, but the impressive chocolate torte dessert course, which came sandbagged with a salt-inflected heap of ancho crumble, was worth the confusion.

Locals may complain that Premise is incongruous with the vibe of the dining scene in Andersonville, but their entrance into a neighborhood already full of diverse restaurants bolsters one of the strongest selling points of this city: if you don't want the slim plate of fluke tartare, fine; there's a burger with your name on it only a few storefronts south. Everyone shoots, everyone scores.

5420 N. Clark St.

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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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