If it’s fine food, an expansive wine list, amazing décor and the best date night out that you’re after, get your butt down to The Boarding House, Chicago!
Eating out in Chicago is problematic. There are just too many places to choose from! We’d heard from a friend before we left Australia that the Girl and the Goat was the place to go.
However, when we asked about reservations at the concierge of our hotel (the W Lakeshore Hotel), we were told the Girl and the Goat was good – very good in fact – but not good enough to warrant how excessively difficult it is to get a reservation. I suppose it’s how things are when new places are making a name for themselves.
Instead our man told us to go somewhere just as good – if not better. Trusting this fellow’s insider knowledge, come dinner time we headed off for our reservation at The Boarding House on North Wells Street, just up the road from our hotel.
When we walked in through the cool conical antechamber of the front door to The Boarding House, we were impressed; we were impressed also when the concierge quickly took us to two spare seats at the great white marble bar in the middle of the room and took our drinks orders too.
We looked up and were thrice impressed by the installation over the bar: thousands and thousands of wine glasses had been suspended in a giant oblong, following the bar’s shape below. There were so many, it looked almost fluffy.
We got our drinks and waited, our impressedness (a real word!) slowly diminishing. Were we to eat here at the bar? Hardly the fine dining experience we’d been led to expect. I had pretty much finished my rather excellent J. Perry’s Moscow Mule when a waitress came to collect us. There’s another level to this place!
We go upstairs to the dining room where we’re seated considerately: at least one table away from other diners – and them from each other. I like that; the staff clearly understand giving people space is much better than squashing everyone in when there’s enough space not to.
We look up and are impressed once more with another installation similar to the one in the bar. This one, though, is enormous clusters of wine bottles hanging from the ceiling. It’s a great idea and looks fantastic.
Our waiter delivers the wine list (longer than a Tolstoy novel) and the food menus. The prices were nowhere near as high as I thought they’d be, I must say.
We gave ourselves over to the trusted wine knowledge of our waiter, who chose a really excellent California red. We’d just come from the Sonoma vineyards, so it was nice continuity.
For food, things went like this:
Appetisers (that means ‘entrée’ by the way!)
Mrs Romance had the duck egg on maple red onions with duck prosciutto grilled celery and watercress $13. The egg was enormous and nicely cooked, the onions were sweet and the prosciutto was surprisingly tasty, though cut into such small pieces it was hard to get a good bite.
I had the squid Ink tagliolini with blue crab, garlic scapes, fresno peppers and uni butter sauce. $19/$29. The pasta was soft and tender, the flecks for crab and the uni butter (a kind of whipped sea urchin butter sauce) made the dish rich and full of umami.
Entrees (that means ‘main course’!)
Mrs Romance had the lamb loin with Moroccan spiced chickpeas, fresh mint and sweet potato mash $33. The lamb was well-braised and pink in the middle, and the mash soaked all the other flavours up and held onto them until you were ready to eat.
I went for the bone-in Berkshire pork chop, which came with braised pork belly, stone ground grits, apricots and roasted hazelnuts $31. This was exceedingly good. The chop was huge and very tasty, the belly was tender and juicy, and the grits fruit and nuts dealt with the gravy, sweet and savoury flavours. A very smart dish.
Mrs Romance’s hazelnut chocolate mousse was divine. Of course, not as good as her own masterpiece, the recipe for which you can find here, but still very smooth and light, yet rich and full of hazelnutty goodness!
My lemon cheese cake with candied lemon pieces was very tasty with a cutting zing that cut through my pork-heavy main. The signature ‘skid mark’ of the dish’s presentation is a bit off-putting though.
The most impressive part of the night though had to be our waiter, who had been filling our glasses from the beginning. He somehow managed to get the last full glass (and equal measures for both of me and Mrs R) from our bottle of Amapola Creek Zinfandel 2010 as we were finishing our last morsels of main course. What timing – and he’d done it on purpose!
The wine really was good – and so it should. The proprietor and master sommelier is Alpana Singh – a lady who hosted the Emmy Award winning restaurant review TV show Check, Please! for ten years. She’s regularly on TV now in a food genius capacity.
We had a lovely meal and, though I’m sure we’d have had a great time at the Girl and the Goat, wouldn’t have changed our concierge’s recommendation for anywhere else in town.
The Boarding House
Open: Dining Room: Sunday & Monday: 5pm – 10pm. Tuesday to Saturday: 5pm – 11pm
720 North Wells Street
P: (312) 280-0720
W: BoardingHouseChicago.com – bookings can be made via the restaurant’s website on Table.com.
What’s your most favourite restaurant? Do you have a special place you’ve been to when you were on holiday? Tell us about it in the comments!