I first visited The Bristol like a week after it opened. I really wanted to love it, especially since an acquaintance of mine works in the kitchen and talked it up a bit before the opening. But no, I didn’t love it so much. It was fine and all, but nothing stood out, and with the Bluebird a stone’s throw away, it didn’t seem like a place I needed to return to. So last weekend, when my girlfriend suggested going back, I balked. But then she sang me a note-perfect acapella version of Timmy T’s “One More Try,” punctuated at the end by a single, hungry tear, and there was nothing I could do except point the car toward the Bristol.
And, holy god, was I wrong about the Bristol. This joint is really, really delicious. I should’ve waited a bit before visiting the first time around. Lesson learned, though: In the mad rush to be the first to rhapsodize over Chef X’s whale blubber fries w/ aioli made with Paul Kahn’s ball sweat, it’s easy to forget that it takes restaurants a while to get their shit straight. (Best laid plans, and all that.) Traditional food critics typically wait a month or so, and visit a restaurant several times, before reviewing a place. Meanwhile bloggers pick through construction dumpsters looking for menu mockups. Which is not to say that either is necessarily preferred, but that we should maybe keep our panties on when it comes to reviewing new restaurants.
So, the Bristol. Arriving, we found a 45/hour wait, to which I was ready to say, “Eff it, let’s go to Popeye’s,” but fortunately our friendly host suggested we have a drink at the bar upstairs where appetizers and elbow room were available. This we did without hesitation, and shortly were ensconced at two bar seats with a bottle of Bluebird Bitter, a Pisco sour, and a bowl of spiced olives. A much better start than last time.
For dinner, we were seated at a two-top (I’m totally in the industry) under the chalkboard. The place was packed, with barely enough room for the staff to squeeze between tables. But damn, what a staff. I’ve never seen such badass service from a staff uniformed in black jeans and tee shirts. Mu’fuckers provided full wine service, folded napkins when we stood up, reiterated ingredients when food was dropped off (please, please, restaurants, help a glutton out and do this more often!), opened doors, and always gave us the rightaway, even when they had armloads of dishes. Somebody at this restaurant has a service vision, because everybody in the place adhered to the same standard. Totally unexpected and totally tits. Mmmhmm.
And then the food. Last time out, it was stuffed chicken wings that ninja’d past my tastebuds and some other things that I can’t even remember. But there’ll be no forgetting this night’s dinner. I’ve got it stored away right next to my mom’s birthday and the ’84 Tigers starting lineup. The Bristol, like a hooker with cold hands, just needed a little extra time to work things out.
First, a grilled mackerel Caesar salad with parmesan slivers and a thin, crispy crouton. Not sure why Caesar salads don’t get much love in the 00’s, but I for one fancy them. Hell, the only Applebee’s/TGIFridays/chain item I’ve ever craved in my entire life is the Caesar salad at Outback Steakhouse. Not that I’ll ever be back there to find out if my memory’s playin’ me. It’s happened before. I thought I loved Twinkies until I ate one again a few years ago. The cream inside those things is cloying enough to make even George Michael gag. Not like theBristol’s delicious Caesar, which is in another salad orbit. This thing is topped with a big chunk of fishy, skin-on mackerel that is absolutely amazing.
Next out were grilled sardines on chickpea fritters with a spicy aioli that I wanted to rub on my gums. First of all, I’m excited just to see sardines on a menu. And then to have them prepared like this, well, I about lost my shit. I was on them faster than yuppies on roasted red pepper hummus at a Trader Joe’s display. And they did not disappoint: My girlfriend took a bite to taste and then I ate the rest goldfish swallowing-style. I love love love good sardines, and these little fellows were some of the best I’ve tasted in a long while.
Two more plates, then, in quick succession: Lamb loin carpaccio with black lentils and pomegranate seeds, and pierogies. Carpaccio was spot on, as were the moist lentils. Pierogies were delicious but could’ve used some sour cream. And then the night’s crowning achievement. Earlier, as were finishing up our order, I’d called an audible and ordered the burger w/ duck fat fries. Turns out, this was best audible in the last five years not called by Peyton Manning. The Bristol’s burger, friends, is the cat’s whiskers.
- Image from http://www.thebristolchicago.com/.
The duck fat fries were delicious of course, because they’re duck fat fries and the only thing better than frying potatoes in duck fat is having Ronald McDonald himself fry them in duck fat. But the burger: what the fuck? Given a choice between pink or not pink we choice pink (duh) and were rewarded with a medium-rare beef bomb that just murdered. As far as non-short order burgers go (which is a different category with different standards, but that’s for another time), the Bristol’s burger is one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten. And there are burgers that I get weepy-eyed over. This one had all the right things going for it: fresh, pillowy bun; juicy, BBQ flavor; cheddar cheese; pickled onions; and a perfect size, not like the one pound behemoths found on some menus. I mean, just look at that thing. It’s the kind of image I expect to see at the end of a long white tunnel when someone’s slapping me in the face and pleading with me not to go.