North Pond Chicago Restaurant Review
I did some extensive research on eats in Chicago, and one thing that constantly came up was their exceptional breakfast/brunch scene. Now, admittedly, I am not one to go out for breakfast or brunch when I’m at home because I have a bit of a “work hard in the day, play at night” kind of approach to life. But when I’m on vacation, there is no work to be done (ha well, that’s what I like to pretend anyways), so it’s all about making time to explore good AM eats.
I had read that North Pond, a mid-high range restaurant in Lincoln Park (just north of the downtown core) was the most beautiful restaurant in the city, and a must-do for a date. Located in the middle of Lincoln Park itself, the all-wood dining room has been crafted using an Arts & Crafts design concept.
Simple, rustic, cozy and natural, the restaurant features a large open kitchen in the back dining room, a round wooden bar at the front, and a separate room lined with ceiling to floor windows and a stunning old fireplace in the front corner. As incredible as it was to enjoy the gorgeous sunshine and warmth on a lovely June morning, I can imagine the restaurant would be equally lovely on the fall or winter night.
Upon arriving for our 10:30 AM reservation, we were quickly reminded by the demographic (older families with men dressed up in nice pants and button downs) that it was indeed Father’s Day. Oops on two accounts here- one, we hadn’t yet called our fathers, and two, we (well, particularly he) was definitely not dressed up. We had actually just walked about 50 minutes from our hotel in the 27 degree sun- there was no way that was going down without shorts, a T shirt and sandals.
Thankfully, NP only requires business attire at dinner, we so were thankfully good to go with that. Being likely one of the smallest parties of the morning (the majority of diners came in families of 4 or more), it was easy to snag our requested two-top overlooking the water. Strangely, however, the hostess asked that he hold back momentarily before she was able to seat us there so as to give the server in that room a moment to get started on the other two tables who were already sat in that section.
So we waited a few minutes near the bar. I would have been just as happy to wait at the table for those extra minutes, but whatever works for them. But the brief wait was totally worth it, as we ended up with a stunning view of the beautiful Chicago skyline and the ducks splashing in the pond just outside the restaurant door.
Soon after, drinks arrived. Assumedly to thank us for our patience in waiting, we were promptly greeted by our server who brought us a couple complementary bellinis to start off our morning. Nice touch. Service throughout the remainder of our brunch was professional, friendly and refined. Our meal was nicely paced (leisurely, but comfortable), and our drinks and cutlery were replaced and replenished as needed.
Aside from the usual boozy suspects (bellinis, Bloody Marys etc.), North Pond also features a selection of sparklings, reds and whites by the glass, as well as freshly squeezed juices and coffees. We opted for a couple really tasty cappuccinos to follow our complementary drinks, which were very tasty indeed.
Crafted by James Beard award winner Bruce Sherman (who many say have been robbed a Michelin star for many repeated years), the food is locally sourced and seasonal ingredient driven, presented with an approachable level of sophistication. It’s familiar, yet inspired, exactly the kind of food I like to eat. Weekend brunch means a $33 3-course prefixe menu, with about 4 options per course to choose from. Knowing we would share, we went with:
Lemon Poppyseed Cake
The cake had a nice moist crumb with a tasty tart glaze on top. A lovely way to start the meal.
Soft Poached Egg, Sauteed Trumpet, Pleuotte Mushrooms, Caramelized Onion-Apple Tart, Greens
This was by far the best dish of the day. The egg was perfectly poached, which when broken, mixed with the umami-rich mushrooms to yield a sumptuously decadent bite. Truly mouthwatering. I think the tart may have been better with a flakier crust, but it was still very tasty, and it’s sweetness balanced out the savoury component well.
Gulf Shrimp, Orange-Hazelnut Crumb, Minted Green Asparagus, Pickled Spears, Citrus
The shrimp were nicely poached, and I loved the contrast between the bright citrus and the herbaceous asparagus. It was definitly a safe dish, but tasty, fresh and healthy.
Sauteed Arctic Char, Radish-Napa Cabbage Slaw, Apricot Semolina, Pistachios, Glazed Ramp, Herb Pesto Broth
This was probably the weak part of the meal. The char had a nice crispy skin, and the semolina was cooked well, but it was a little underseasoned. I also found the slaw a bit wilty and “off” tasting- you know, like when cabbage starts to go and it gets that strong farty smell. Kind of like that.
Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Glazed Spare Rib, Bing Cherries and Gelee, Cheese Grits, Cucumber, Spinach
Much more successful, the tenderloin was, well, tender, but also well seasoned, pairing beautifully with the sweet tart cherries and savoury grits. The spare rib was a little tough but definitely still enjoyable.
Brown Butter Financier Cake, Ginger Ice Cream, Cured Rhubarb Compote, Vanilla Gastrique, Oatmeal
Loved the bright tart rhubarb compost and the fiery ginger ice cream. Again, a very safe dish, but good nonetheless.
Key Lime Tartelette, Ancho Caramel, Coconut Sorbet, Salt and Pepper Streusel, Macadamia Nuts
This was my favourite of the two desserts. The tarte was tangy with a delicate crust, and the sorbet was refreshing and bright. The star, however, was the ancho caramel, which while sweet had a peppery kick on the tongue. A really well balanced plate.
Upon leaving we were given two packages of seed to plant- very sweet touch!
So for two pre-fix courses and a couple cappuccinos, the bill came to $100 for two. Yes, a very pricey meal, and certainly nothing exciting, but I think North Pond would make for an ideal spot for a special family get together or a “safe” date choice. The view was absolutely stunning, the service was professional, and the food was all well prepared. A great last meal on a beautiful day to end our Chicago adventures. Thanks North Pond!