Fishing for Sustainable Cuisine

November 24, 2012

To celebrate my sister's birthday this year, my family and I headed to Browntrout in the North Center neighborhood. This cozy storefront restaurant is known for its focus on serving only sustainable food from local farms and other sources.

We were the only party there on the Friday after Thanksgiving at 6pm, but by the time we left, every table in the restaurant was occupied. Browntrout offers a BYOB option with a $20 corkage fee for one or two bottles. We took advantage of this and brought in two bottles of red wine to enjoy with our meal.

Browntrout menu
The dinner menu itself is fairly limited. There is an assortment of cheeses and charcuterie, several small plates and about eight large plates including two pasta dishes. The menu seems to be constantly evolving based on what is in season, so it was not surprising to see the limited number of options.

Smalls and sides menu
We began with a cheese board with two cheeses and chicken liver pate. The cheeses included a very smokey gouda and a ash-aged sheep cheese. Our selections were served with crostini, pickled cranberries and bread and butter pickles, and golden raisin mustard. I appreciated the nice touch of having house made accompaniments.

Cheese board
For our next course, we ordered a variety of small plates. My sister and I chose a red kuri squash salad with seahive cheese, spiced almonds, pickled cranberry and a ginger vinaigrette. At first, I didn't feel the vinaigrette had enough flavor, but as I poked further into the salad, I tasted more of the cheese and vinaigrette. I really enjoyed the crispiness of the sliced squash with the crunchy almonds.

Red kuri squash salad
My dad loves beets so he chose the roasted beets and greens salad. The beats were topped with toasted hazelnuts and fried rosemary and the greens were covered with gorgonzola and a vinaigrette.

Roasted beets & greens
My sister's boyfriend ordered the fish trio featuring smoked crappie with creme fraiche, cured seat trout with capers and whitefish fritters in a mustard aioli. The smoked crappie was his favorite of the trio and I have to agree. The smokiness came through pleasantly and the fish was perfectly seasoned. I enjoyed how each fish had its own pairing as well. The whitefish fritters had a nice texture, similar to a croquette but lacked the flavor of the crappie.

The fish trio
My mom ordered the Maine mussels which were served in a Thom Kha style. I was impressed with how well the mussels went together with the Thai flavors including coconut, cilantro, ginger and kefir lime. The broth included huge chunks of carrots and straw mushrooms, making it almost a dish of its own. Instead of the traditional baguette, this Asian take on mussels included homemade rice cakes that successfully soaked up that deliciously creamy broth.

Maine mussels tom kha style
Our party was divided when it came to the main course. Three of us ordered the pumpkin risotto and two of us ordered the grilled hanger steak. The risotto was offered in full or half portions and I immediately regretted ordering the half portion--not because it was too small a portion size, but because it was so ridiculously delicious, I wish I had more. The risotto was rich and creamy from a mix of brown butter and parmesan but also had a nice crunch from fried kale and spiced pistachios. Complementing the nutty flavors from the pistachios was a nice piece of house made pancetta placed delicately on top.

Pumpkin risotto
My dad and sister ordered the grilled hanger steak which included beef fat fingerling potatoes, local cauliflower, coriander and parsley chimichurri, and pickled shallots. The portion size was generous and the meat was tender and flavorful. I love chimichurri sauce but I felt their version was a little too garlic-y. Usually, I'd say that's not possible, but in this case it was.

Grilled hanger steak
Since we were celebrating my sister's birthday, we had to end the evening with dessert.  We opted for one dessert for the table, a warm apple turnover. The turnover came shaped similarly to a McDonald's hand-held apple pie, but obviously tasted better. It was extremely flaky and paired nicely with the scoop of bourbon ice cream. There were even bits of almond brittle and sliced apples for an extra sweet touch.

Warm apple turnover
Overall, I enjoyed our high quality meal in the warm atmosphere of Browntrout. I think there were a few flaws in service throughout the night but the quality of the food made up for it. Because of the restaurant's name, I was expecting more seafood on the menu, however, I was pleased with my risotto. The two standout items were definitely the mussels and risotto, but I could have done without the squash salad. Browntrout gets 3.5 out of 5 stars for its focus on sustainability, friendly neighborhood feel, and attention to detail and presentation.

4111 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60618
Browntrout on Urbanspoon

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