Searching for Tony Bourdain

Foie gras taste on a Big Mac budget

front row seat

For as long as I can remember, it’s been a dream of mine to celebrate a birthday with dinner at the chef’s table of my favorite restaurant. While my birthday was a couple days ago, I had that chance tonight, and it could not have been at a more fitting place.

We went back to Frontier. I’d been telling myself, and whoever does their social media work, that I’d be back soon, but between my work schedule and always trying new places, I haven’t been back since my original life-altering experience a few months ago. So when it came time to plan this event, I knew exactly where it had to happen.

I reserved the table a month ahead, for ten people. Some said yes, others said no, and a couple people didn’t show. And honestly, that’s okay, because it was the first time I’d been able to spend real time with my brother and his girlfriend in a long time. It was just the four of us, and I think if a chef’s table has any more than that, it gets to be less about the experience of being at the table and more of a challenge for an already-overwhelmed kitchen team. This one’s as solid as I’ve ever seen with great leadership and good strength throughout, but on a Friday night in this city, it can get to be too much.

Ty and Veronica came into the city last night to shop and then had lunch with me (at Rick Bayless’s brainchild, XOCO), and after her exam today, Michonne and I met them at our favorite place in the city.

Frontier, as you remember, is homey and relaxed, but not terribly wide. I was expecting the chef’s table to be in a tight area, but it was in a huge open space just across the counter (known in restaurant vernacular as “the pass”) from the small, open kitchen. Chef Brian Jupiter greeted us with his usual smile and handshake, and we started the party. Each of us ordered drinks (Bell’s Christmas Ale is wonderful, if you’re in the market for a good Christmas beer) and then appetizers.

Michonne and I originally discovered Frontier because of the oyster menu. It’s expansive and diverse, and Brian Jupiter is from New Orleans, so he knows a good oyster. We ordered a half-dozen (our waitress recommended a few to us and we ordered two of each), along with the manchego-and-date-stuffed peppadew peppers, wrapped in bacon.

The oysters were perfect–creamy, firm, and sweet and salty enough to be just perfect. The addition of Jup’s Hot Sauce made them even better (as hot sauce is wont to do with oysters). As for the peppers, they were reminiscent of bacon-wrapped dates, but with less sweetness and a more satisfying heat. I could have eaten these all night.

All four of us grew up in Michigan, and we learned how amazing venison can be, especially when it’s substituted for beef in stews and chili. My brother had the venison chili, which I got to try, and it was simple, spicy, and full-bodied but not too heavy. I love venison chili, and this may be the best I’ve ever had. Veronica had the duck tacos, and while I didn’t get to try them, I have a deep and ferocious love for duck, and I will try these soon.

When the time for ordering entrees came (contradicting my last post, yes, but the entrees here aren’t overwhelming in size), I had a tough decision. Rabbit is one of my favorites, but the cassoulet, with four game meats in it (including a smoked boar boudin, which makes me very happy), sounded spectacular. With it being a cold winter night and feeling like I needed some comfort food, I ordered the rabbit and sweet potato dumplings. The macaroni and cheese also made a return appearance, with Jup’s Hot Sauce.

M and Ty both ordered the cassoulet (basically a meat and bean stew), and Veronica had the pulled boar sandwich, which I loved last time. Being that I trust Chef Jupiter and his team to make everything up to his high standards, I know everything on the menu is good, and have resolved not to have the same thing twice (aside from the mac and cheese, which is still arguably the single best thing I’ve ever eaten) until I’ve tried everything once.

The rabbit and dumplings were perfect. Rabbit is a very tender meat and the pulled rabbit in the thick roux-based gravy was the right way to go with this. The light, soft dumplings went well with the smoothness of the gravy, and the total lack of anything resembling spiciness made it exactly what I wanted all along.

I tried my brother’s cassoulet, which was off the charts. I’ve never had anything like this, and it’s definitely on my list for something to have a whole bowl of soon. I was rather amused at the fact that the cassoulet came with a small ladle instead of a spoon. The bowl was huge, so it made sense. Even my bottomless pit-stomached brother struggled to finish. I’m sure having venison chili and then a heavy meat-and-bean stew didn’t help.

Everything at Frontier’s served either in a cast-iron crock or on a cutting board, except for the oysters, which are served on a platter of cubed ice. The name of the game here is “rustic family-style,” which is my favorite style of dining. Everybody’s able to try everything on the table in a non-intimidating fashion, and everything is fresh and perfectly done, so nobody goes home hungry. In fact, we were all so full, dessert would have to wait until an hour or so later, at another place that isn’t nearly as good.

I regret that I haven’t been back to Frontier since our original experience, but everything is as good, as comfortable, and as relaxed as I remember it. My thanks to Chef Brian Jupiter and his amazing team for yet another memorable evening.

Rating: Religious Experience

Frontier is at 1072 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Noble Square/West Town.


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