September 18, 2012
2039 W North Ave. Chicago, IL | www.trenchermen.com
I do not often find myself dining at a new establishment without at least one of two things: A recommendation from a friend, or a strong preceding reputation of the chef. Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood welcomed in a restaurant recently that had both of these qualities. Trenchermen, the collaborative effort of the Sheerin brothers, had appeared on my radar after a friend of mine sent me a link to a few articles regarding its recent opening. I had been in the midst of planning a Labor Day weekend visit to Chicago, and after learning of Trenchermen’s background I promptly reserved a table.
Located just a block away from the Damen-O’Hare stop of the CTA Blue Line, Trenchermen is a fairly easy restaurant for visitors to find. The exterior of the building is rather unassuming, but once inside you will find the beautiful and expansive design of the restaurant to be quite inviting. The restaurant feels intimate – especially in regards to dim lighting – but maintains a very relaxed and casual atmosphere.
Michael and Patrick Sheerin have long ago established themselves as well respected Chicago chefs. Each of them have embraced the techniques of modern cuisine while maintaining the heart of Midwestern farm-to-table focus. Trenchermen’s menu features an eclectic range of dishes that showcase the broad scope of culinary experience of its two chefs.
“Tren·cher·man (noun): a hearty eater” – Merriam Webster
The name of the restaurant intrigued me and after looking up the definition it is certainly apropos. Diners will find it hard to not over-order at Trenchermen due to the quality of the food and the deceptively small plates. While my wife and I consumed our way through eight dishes (mostly my doing I must admit), a couple could certainly do with appetizers to share and one entree each. As the name of the restaurant implies, each dish is hearty and satisfying.
To begin our meal we ordered a few dishes that our server described as “small plates” or appetizers. The first to make it out to us was this presentation of fried chopped liver. The liver were served very hot and fresh from the kitchen. The minerality of liver is balanced beautifully with the refreshing and bright flavor of yuzu. Crisp kholrabi adds texture and a slight sweetness, while the wasabi provides a spicy contrast.
Our next dish is a play against preconceived flavor notions. While the tots were crunchy and oily as one would expect, the flavors of red onion yogurt and dill come through strongly, cutting through the fattiness of the fried potato. The dill and vinegar provide great bite to the plate. The flavor of chicken is intensified through the bresaola preparation, while also adding a little sweetness.
The tortellini in this dish were very al dente, a bit more than I would have expected. The flavor of corn is subtle, but easily overtaken by the bold and earthy eggplant consommé. Additional earthy notes from zucchini and asparagus come through along with the mildly acidic flavor of tomato. While I enjoyed the consommé, I felt the tortellini themselves were a little lost in the bolder flavors around them.
A brilliant, seemingly simple dish that features noodles made from cuttlefish. The chewiness of the noodles were reminiscent of al dente pasta, but gave the seafood flavor of cuttlefish. Creamy avocado and sweet watermelon help balance the briny nature of the cuttlefish. Crisp garlic rounds out dish with contrasting texture and flavor. All combined the flavors work wonderfully together. This was easily one on of my favorite dishes from our whole trip.
Perfectly cooked ducked breast with crispy skin is the centerpiece of our first entree. The gamy flavor of duck is deliciously savory. The nasturtium leaves provide a hint of bitterness while the umeboshi surprises the palate with bursts of acidity and sourness. The addition of umeboshi really makes the plate. The kim chee mortadella fried rice is flavorful, but I didn’t pick up a lot in the way of kim chee flavor. Nevertheless the combination of umeboshi and duck is wonderful.
Bubble gum and pork belly – a combination I’ve certainly never seen before. Crisp and tender pork belly pieces are rich, fatty, and delicious. The sweetness of apple and coconut help cleanse the palate after each bite of pork belly. The bubble gum sauce is an interesting flavor addition, adding a somewhat mint-like candy sweetness to the mix.
As a fairly savory dessert, bitter notes of coffee and the spice of chai are the stars here. The ice cream is spiced but very cool and refreshing. The slight smokiness of the meringue adds another level of savory flavor. This was an interesting and not overly sweet dessert.
In our final plate, light corn donuts are combined perfectly with the natural sweetness of peach. The mascarpone sorbet is sharp and tangy, playing off nicely against the fried donuts. The strong sugary notes from the tomato molasses are balanced well with the rest of the plate. A very enjoyable end to our meal.
Service throughout the evening was steady and attentive. Our two servers did an excellent job with checking in at our table and helping us place subsequent orders for more food throughout the night. While there was a longer-than-expected gap between our appetizers and entrees, the atmosphere of the restaurant is very conducive to conversation so we didn’t feel the wait was excessive.
My visit to Trenchermen was every bit as delicious and enjoyable as I had expected coming in. The food here is well conceived, executed, and flavorful. Each plate in it of itself was in keeping with the theme of the restaurant and its name. Chefs Michael and Patrick Sheerin have done an excellent job in preparing their new restaurant for success, from a beautiful interior design to a great menu. Over time I expect that Trenchermen will become a very well-established and notable Chicago eatery.
2039 W. North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647