Taking My Life Into My Own Hands

Michael Nagrant / 08.20.09

I’ve not been especially easy on The Bristol. In an old review, I accused them of cooking mediocre dishes, mixing terrible drinks, and ripping off other Chicago restaurants.

Despite all of that, I’d been particularly intrigued by a plate of thinly sliced rare pork liver topped with bitter greens, toasted hazelnuts, sautéed chanterelles, and fennel vinaigrette from chef Chris Pandel that I ate during my review period. It was one of the best dishes I ate last year. Any displeasure I expressed towards the Bristol was a sort of a fatherly disappointment. In that one dish I recognized they could be so much more than they were at the time.

Well, that time has come.

The drinks program is now killer. A Moscow Mule served in a traditional copper mug had one of the most satisfying kicks of ginger I’ve had in a Mule in years, and the Sazerac, while a tad light on the Pernod for my taste, was a great example of the New Orleans classic.

In fact, all of the food we had was spot on. My only quibble was that the sausage in the Scotch olives (olives deep fried like a Scotch egg) though seasoned with whole fennel seed had almost no taste and could have been anything. The accompanying creamy dipping sauce infused with lemon zest made up for it.

The underlying broth was so slurp-worthy I wish the Bristol would bottle it and serve it by the pint

More than any other single plate though, I was mesmerized by the grilled pork heart served on a bed of sweet corn and chili cilantro-spiked pork broth. The medium rare-cooked lobes were smoky and tender, and the underlying broth was so slurp-worthy I wish the Bristol would bottle it and serve it by the pint at the Bucktown Soup Café down the street.

Chris Pandel might be the best organ meat chef in the city. What I love as much as the flavor of his plates is his fearless presentation. Thus far, most fifth quarter (organ meat) dishes served in town are chopped into little bits and masked beyond recognition. The hunks of thinly sliced meat on this plate were unmistakably a portion of recognizable pig heart. I think that’s how it should be. We don’t think twice about gnawing on a chicken leg on the bone, so why should we make organ meats look like confetti and anonymous blobbish bites?

Not only are they fearless, but the Bristol also has a wicked sense of humor too. Consider the following warning printed on their menu:

The cook county department of health would like to inform you that consuming raw or uncooked foods may, in fact, end your life.

If that’s the case, Pandel’s grilled pork heart may just be worth dying for.*

* I hate the phrase “To Die For” and think it’s the most despicable phrase in all of food reviewing, but I’ve made an exception. It will never happen again.

The Bristol

2152 N Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (map)