Searching for Tony Bourdain

Foie gras taste on a Big Mac budget

beyond the horizon

As most of you know, we’re always on the lookout for unique meals and specials at restaurants in this town. We troll some of the restaurant pages in the RedEye, Reader, and even articles on Facebook and Twitter. A place in West Town (previously known as the home of the runaway train, which we won’t discuss) runs really cool drink specials and a great oyster special on Tuesdays (a dozen for ten bucks) that caught our eye. We resolved to try it.

It took us two months to get there, but we finally made it to The Frontier, a western lodge-themed restaurant in Wicker Park. M and I took the long Blue Line ride to O’Hare tonight to meet a friend of hers so the two of them could go to a wedding in Wisconsin this weekend, and since her friend was coming from Atlanta, we figured she’d want to eat (and drink) when she got here. After we took her bags back to our apartment, we rode the Blue Line to the Division stop and walked south on Milwaukee.

Frontier’s well-lit sign and large glass windows gave way to a large, community-style dining room and bar with loud music, young customers, and a great beer selection. We sat at the bar and ordered drinks and a couple appetizers: deviled eggs and the house-made dill pickles.

Normally, deviled eggs are a joke food. A filler at parties that most people eat just to keep themselves full until the meal arrived. Not these. The flavor of the filling, the right amount of paprika, and the perfect texture made these enjoyable. As for the pickles, they were exactly what a pickle should taste and feel like.

The three of us debated for some time over how we were going to order, and finally agreed that this would be mostly a meal of appetizers. Out of the nine on the menu, we chose four: goat tacos, chargrilled oysters, gnocchi with mushrooms, and lamb short ribs.

The first to arrive was the gnocchi, and I was immediately amazed. The sheer simplicity of very few ingredients (the potato gnocchi, salt, pepper, garlic, and the mushrooms), coupled with the perfect execution of the mushroom and gnocchi together, made it a perfect start, and set the tone for the rest of the meal.

Soon after, the tacos, oysters, and ribs arrived together. The tacos were on hand-pressed tortillas with a sweet mango salsa, and the goat was perfect. Most wild meats like goat and venison are difficult to work with because the flavor tends to be gamey and the texture is tought due to low fat content. I almost couldn’t tell that it was goat, because it was juicy and well-flavored without being overwhelming.

We love oysters. With a passion. Whatever type of oyster Chef Brian Jupiter (the man behind the place) chose to use tonight for this item, it was the best I’d ever eaten. The oyster was still relatively raw but it was well-seasoned and grilled just to the point of tasting cooked. It was briny, flavorful, and smooth, and I wanted several (dozen) more.

The ribs were one of the deciding factors for me in considering this meal as one of the very best. I love lamb, and this was (to use an overused word) perfect. There was no difficulty in tearing the meat from the bone, and the duck fat fries that came with the order were wonderful.

After all this, we were still hungry. We ordered two sandwiches and divided them in three: Venison Cheesesteak, and Pulled Boar, both with perfectly-crisped fries. The venison came with a sweet onion jam and a melted swiss cheese, and it reminded me of a really good cheesesteak I’d eaten years ago in Baltimore, except with more flavor.

As for the Pulled Boar, this put all other pulled meats to shame. The house sauce and the apple and celery slaw gave the sandwich a wonderful texture and accentuated the taste of the boar to another level, and the pretzel roll was the ideal choice for the sandwich.

We also ordered the house five-cheese macaroni, which was wonderful by itself. Until our bartender/server (a fellow Michigan transplant to Chicago, we learned) suggested we try it with hot sauce. The sauce elevated it to a level I’d never imagined by brightening the flavor of the cheeses (I ate too quickly to attempt any kind of identification), and I may be ruined from eating any other macaroni and cheese again. I’m willing to say that this macaroni and cheese, with the hot sauce, may be the single best thing I’ve ever eaten.

I ordered dessert, because when I’m in such a state of culinary bliss as I was tonight, dessert is the only way to end the experience. The chocolate banana bread pudding, with a whiskey gelato and spiced caramel sauce, was mind-blowing. When we told the bartender of our experience, she ran away and came back with Chef Brian Jupiter himself, with whom we shook hands and shared our experience. He is a humble, gracious man, and a rising star in Chicago’s elite ranks. I’m looking forward to many more evenings spent in the wooded, rustic surroundings at The Frontier.

Decor at Frontier features a mountain lodge theme that transports patrons to the Rockies, including exposed ceiling joists and dark, finished woods, as well as an outdoor uncovered patio with a fireplace. If I didn’t know that the street outside was Milwaukee and I was in Wicker Park, I’d have thought I was in Denver. Standing behind the bar is a large stuffed black bear, which means to amuse and even welcome, not to intimidate. Service is top-rate and all the bartenders and other staff were extremely friendly and welcoming, and never seemed rushed. If not for the extraordinarily loud music (which I’ve come to expect from most community-vibe places in this town, especially on a Friday night), I’d call it the most comfortable restaurant in the city.

The Frontier brought me an unexpected evening. I knew the place would be good, but I had no idea that when I walked out of the restaurant tonight, I would have experienced something completely transcendent. In fact, I can say with complete confidence that The Frontier was the single greatest meal of my life.

Rating: Religious Experience

The Frontier is at 1072 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Noble Square.


No comments yet»

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: