Monday, February 15, 2010

Great menu ideas start as a special and then add the more popular items to the menu!

Chefs stretch ideas for grilled cheese sandwiches in dining trend

Chicago Business ©2010 by Crain Communications Inc.

Grilled cheese is a comfort-food staple that prompts memories of grade school — but it needn't be childish to be delicious. Forget artificially yellow slices on dull white sandwich bread. Several downtown restaurants take a stab at updating the classic, and here we bite into our favorites that you can eat with decorum (really) in front of clients.

And there's even more on the way: We're eager to try the grilled cheese of the day ($8) at newcomer Purple Pig, as well as the trio of grilled cheeses ($12) expected to debut at Bin 36 by month's end.

Cafe des Architectes
At One Sixtyblue, chef Martial Noguier ran one of the city's most impressive cheese programs, and here he brings along his zest for composed fromage plates in the unsuspecting form of a sophisticated grilled cheese.

Hunks of yellow buck Camembert — every inch the buttery double creme you want it to be — are napped with honey truffle butter and sandwiched between thick, pillowy slices of house-made brioche toast ($12). Crystalline, transparently thin apple chips and a scattering of frisee with hazelnuts do their best to assert that this elegant cheese plate is actually a lunch entree — but we know better.

Beyond grilled cheese, there's much to love on Cafe des Architectes' lunch menu. Since Mr. Noguier rebooted the restaurant last year, seasonal and local products star, along with clear, robust flavors. Tuna tartare ($11) gets a fiery sweet hit from piquillo peppers, cooled down with avocado. Bouillabaisse broth ($9) delivers concentrated, layered seafood flavor, heightened and refined by swirls of saffron yellow aioli.

Bistrot Zinc
Yes, the French get our second nod, too. This sunny Gold Coast spot features two grilled cheeses as much worth stopping for as the cafe's neighborly charm. In one, extra-thick toasted brioche sandwiches a thin layer of melted brie and blue cheeses with a bit of tomato and watercress ($8). In the other, also on brioche, brie contrasts with watercress and tart slices of green apple for a welcome element of crunch ($8). The flavor pairings are a delight, especially the apple. (We'd argue for more generous servings of cheese, please.)

Bistrot Zinc rounds out its lunch menu with plenty of French classics, two of which never fail us: mussels steamed with white wine and cream ($13) and a daily quiche with salad that makes a perfect light meal ($12).

State & Lake
State & Lake's grilled cheese and soup combo captures the best of the childhood version — buttery, crunchy sandwich oozing with cheesy goodness; spoonfuls of warm, creamy soup — then adds a chef-driven twist. Rustic sourdough slices, toasted up crisp and brown, encase a thick layer of Gruyere and mozzarella cheeses (the first adds sharpness, and the second melts like a dream). It's matched at the moment with a bowl of the restaurant's creamy yet creamless cauliflower soup spiced with curry ($10).

©2010 by Crain Communications Inc.
By: Alison Neumer Lara February 15, 2010

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