Thursday, June 6, 2013

Doubt Conquered, Hope Shattered (Baume & Brix, Cantina Pasadita)

When Moto was in its hot early days and clients insisted that I take them there, my heart would sink. Test tube salads, ice cream that tasted like fried chicken - everything at Moto seemed like an experiment designed to produce something uniquely undelicious. Though I haven't been back to Moto in years, from what I hear it has evolved into something even more bizarre and less delicious. So, when I see "former Moto chef" on resumes, it doesn't exactly lead me to rush right over. It's pretty close to where I work and I have tried one dismal place after the next in the area, but Baume and Brix had barely made it to my radar screen before I finally tried it this week.

I cast doubt aside after eating the remarkably straightforward and delicious asparagus salad. Thin spears had been charred beautifully and served atop an intense asparagus puree. Asparagus is a strong and distinct vegetable, and I think it marries better with strong and distinct ingredients from other food groups than it does with other vegetables, which tend to get lost amidst the poweful greenness of the asparagus. The gamey chicken liver pate on the plate with it at Baume and Brix worked perfectly. Again, just a straightforward, gimmick-free pate topping some well-toasted bread. Sure there was a poached egg on the plate too, which they insisted on telling me was prepared at a precise 63 degrees in a circulator, but I can shrug that off and just acknowledge that this was one heck of a tasty plate of food with well-selected, carefully-prepared, seasonal ingredients.

The potato chip gnocchi was a bit more gimmicky, but no less delicious. The gnocchi were crisp and feathery, plated with a grown-up take on sour cream and onion potato chip flavors. There were sweet caramelized onions melted into a silky butter puree, thin chives, creme fraiche, and lightly pickled mushrooms that added sourness and a squeaky texture that served as a great contrast to the gnocchi. Good ingredients, thoughtfully combined and very well prepared.

Service was attentive and informed, though I should note that mine was one of just two occupuied tables during my lunchtime visit. I also found the wine list was well curated, with an especially wonderful and somewhat novel domestically-produced Gruner Veltiner which I enjoyed a lot. Baume and Brix surprised and delighted me, and I consider it among the very best of last year's restaurant openings.


When I moved 6 years ago to my current home, there wasn't a single bar or restaurant that could just as easily call Lakeview or Wicker Park its home. Fast forward to now, with Leader Bar right on my corner and Pithfork a block away, this stretch of Irving Park could almost be Wrigleyville. Though I was happy when a Pasadita taco stand moved in a couple of years ago and have enjoyed it many times for a quick, just-fine snack, the largely-Gringo clientele add to a feeling that the neighborhood was trying to turn into Division Street between Ashland and Damen.

None of this bothers me at all, by the way. I like what it might do for my property value and I also like having a place on my corner to escape occasionally from a house of screaming kids to watch a game on some high definition TV's while drinking a pretty good beer. I also like margaritas. A lot. And I like drinking them outside in the sun. So when signs came up showing that Cantina Pasadita, a full-bar, table-service branch of the taco chain was taking over the space across from Leader Bar, with its nice sidewalk seating area, I was hopeful. I met the GM a few weeks before it opened, and he described the coming place as "high-end," with things like "tableside guacamole and a mixology program". He also said that they'd hired a chef with years of experience at well-known local restaurants. "It's going to be nothing like the taco stands," he said. I was skeptical, but really if all the place had were fresh chips and decent margaritas made with real lime, I'd be a regular.

The margaritas are fake and they suck. The chips are stale. There is crazy-expensive guacamole that's completely bland, and the table salsa tastes like ketchup. there's also something called "Cachos," described by my server as "authentic Mexican nachos". Whatever. More stale chips with some cheese, topped with cubes of watery chicken breast.

I hope potential buyers for my condo don't read this blog. Cantina Pasadita is horrible.


Baume & Brix
351 W Hubbard St
Chicago, IL 60654
Neighborhoods: Near North Side, River North
Cantina Pasadita
2958 W. Irving Park Road

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