Casanova Restaurant – Carmel, California

Casanova Restaurant, the most romantic restaurant in Carmel, California

For they could not love you
But still your love was true
And when no hope was left inside
On that starry, starry night
You took your life as lovers often do
But I could have told you, Vincent
This world was never meant
For one as beautiful as you
~Don McLean

When Vincent van Gogh painted “The Starry Night” depicting the view of a swirling night sky from the window of his room at the sanatorium Rémy-de-Provence, there’s no way he could possibly have known that its fame would be spread by the heart-rending lyrics of a song.  In 1970, his painting was immortalized in pop culture on the refrain to Don McLean’s 1970 poignant Vincent.  Throughout his 37 year life, van Gogh’s “suffering for his sanity” was exacerbated by the fact that his work and lifestyle were more widely criticized than they were recognized.

van Gogh spent the last seventy days of his life as a tenant at the Auberge Ravoux, a country inn in a small village some  22 miles northwest of Paris.  The Auberge Ravoux was a favorite among Dutch and American painters and still attracts art enthusiasts from throughout the world.  It also continues to offer traditional food, the type of which van Gogh himself would have enjoyed nearly a century and a quarter ago.  In 2001, the  book  Van Gogh’s Table at the Auberge Ravoux was published as a tribute to the painter’s life and the many cafes and restaurants he enjoyed.  

Al fresco dining amidst flowers at Casanova

van Gogh’s table, the one on which he enjoyed so many meals, now has a home in a private dining room at Casanova Restaurant in Carmel, California.  The table’s presence at Casanova marks a cultural exchange between two artistic communities and two world famous restaurants.  It’s one of the most romantic aspects of a restaurant long  considered the most romantic restaurant in Carmel-by-the-sea, a city world renowned for its European charm and architecture.

Perhaps there may be nothing intrinsically romantic about a simple wooden table, but when you consider that the great painter probably sat there and lamented the many failed romantic pursuits of his life, there’s a Shakespearean quality romantic tragedy in there somewhere.  Most of us can relate to unrequited love, if not to the utter devastation of a bad break-up.  Sometimes not even a great meal at a high quality restaurant can quell the ardor of love gone wrong.

A basket of bread and sun-dried tomato tapenade

Without a doubt Carmel-by-the-sea is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the Golden State. How else can you explain why the legendary Hollywood transplant Clint Eastwood, the most macho of macho movie stars, both directed and took the lead role in the torrid romance Bridges of Madison County?  He was undoubtedly inspired by living in (and once having served as mayor of) Carmel. Eastwood’s Carmel restaurant, the Hog’s Head Inn, by the way, is a veritable shrine to the old west and his spaghetti westerns.

Carmel-by-the-sea has also earned a reputation as the “pet friendliest” town in America,” thanks in no small part to America’s sweetheart Doris Day, a Carmel resident who left Hollywood to dedicate her life to the protection of four-legged children. For my good friend and culinary kindred spirit Sandy Driscoll, the combination of  pet friendliness (she’s the best dog trainer in Los Angeles), a romantic ambiance and outstanding food make Casanova a must-stop during her visits to Central California.  She and her handsome doberman Gunner have dined at Casanova on many occasions.

Gnocchi Casanova: light spinach dumplings, parmesan, ‘au gratin’

Almost anywhere else in America, Casanova would seem out-of-place, perhaps as an architectural anomaly.   It’s almost antithetical to any restaurant in another renowned romantic city, Santa Fe, whose architectural standards and city ordinances mandate such uniformity as to make the “City Different” a model of adobe-hued homogeneity.  Instead, Casanova fits in precisely because it is different, but then so are so many other “storybook cottages” throughout the city.  Architectural styles range from California Mission Revival to Tudor, Gothic and Spanish.  Viva la difference!

Casanova is a converted home made to resemble the restaurant owner’s family’s old farm-house in Belgium.  The restaurant both resembles and pays tribute to the great cafes throughout Europe with meticulous attention to detail at every turn.  Both its architectural style and decor are widely imitated and have influenced numerous other restaurants and private homes in Carmel and beyond.  If you’ve ever traveled the European countryside, your first glance will transport you across the Atlantic where quaint cottages often double as cafes and meals are slowly paced to allow for great conversation to couple with great food and coffee.

Selection of House-Made Charcuterie: pickled vegetables & Roman mustard

Casanova Restaurant wasn’t solely a trend-setter architecturally.  Several facets of the dining experience we all take for granted today had their genesis at Casanova. If you enjoy flavored dipping oil for bread, you can thank  Casanova for having introduced that now de rigueur concept in the 1980s.  Appreciate fresh pasta?  Casanova was one of the first restaurants to make their own pasta, transforming a spaghetti and macaroni favoring public to one which appreciated fettuccine and linguini, too.  Casanova pioneered serving cafe au lait and lattes in large French country bowls.

Because of its cool Mediterranean climate, there may be no better milieu for al fresco dining  than Casanova, especially if you like to dine with your canine children.  The outdoor patio abounds in green plants and colorful flowers and is well shaded by assiduous trees.  A basket with bundles of fragrant lavender sits on a wooden bench on the walkway to the restaurant.  Old-fashioned oil cloth tablecloths festoon the tables.  Menus can be plucked out of the basket on the handlebars of a vintage bicycle.

Roasted Lamb Chops: Umbrian ceci bean ragout & marinated favas

The dinner menu is an homage to ingredients sourced locally from small farms and producers, the essence of “California cuisine.”  For someone who’s spent too much time and effort eating (and cursing) the flavors of “homemade” foods sourced from Sysco or Shamrock and served in restaurants throughout New Mexico, dining on garden-fresh vegetables and fruits is a little piece of heaven–even without green chile.  The menu is relatively small, graced by only eight Hors D’Oeuvres, six small plate fruits de mer (seafood starters), eight entrees and two Plats Pour Deux (plates for two).  The menu showcases seafood, Italian, French cuisine prepared in the California style which emphasizes freshness and quality.

It’s only fitting that the restaurant which pioneered flavored dipping oil for bread would excel at both.  The dipping oil during our inaugural visit was a summery sun-dried tomato tapenade redolent with pungent California olives.  It’s an excellent tapenade, the type of which you immerse as much as your bread as will fit in the bowl so you can sop up as much tapenade as possible.  The staff of life served with the tapenade included a hard-crusted baguette, an egg-washed Gruyere cheese bread and several hard-crusted breadsticks.  It’s a terrific triumvirate.

Linguini alla Scapesce: lobster, clams, mussels & shrimp with white wine, Meyer lemon, chervil & crème fraîche

I’ve often lamented the fact that appetizers at some restaurants outshine all their entrees.  That’s almost the case at Casanova where we could not possibly have conceived of an introduction nearly as superb as the Gnocchi Casanova, light spinach dumplings baked with a topping of rich parmesan.  At almost any other restaurant, this appetizer would have been the best dish on the entire menu (and it nearly was at Casanova).  Each gnocchi is roughly the size of a marshmallow.  Bite into the light, delicate exterior and you’re rewarded with a sensual eruption of flavor punctuated by the rich sharpness of unctuous cheese.  There is little of the astringency often found in spinach, because the soft and pillowy deliciousness is so well complemented by the creaminess of the cheese.

The restaurant’s selection of housemade Charcuterie, pickled vegetables and Roman mustard is another superb starter.  It wasn’t so much the haute cuisine of France’s grand, elegant restaurants which won my heart during frequent visits to France in the 1980s, but the more simple family fare–bread, cheeses and meats.  In France, as in much of Europe, the ancient culinary art of charcuterie is still highly revered and well-practiced.  Charcuterie refers to the products made and sold in a delicatessen-style shop, also called a charcuterie.  The operative word here is “made” as in butchering, cutting, salting, curing, slicing, storing and preparing such meat products such as bacon, sausage, ham, pates, and more.  Casanova’s charcuterie plate showcases spek (a smoked and salted bacon), wild boar sausage, bresaola (air-dried, salted beef), pickled vegetables, edible flowers, grainy Roman mustard and cornichons.

Three scoops of housemade ice cream: lavender-vanilla, chocolate and Armagnac with blueberries, strawberries and blackberries

Casanova lets your senses feast on mouth-watering entrees and sumptuous dining experiences you can only have replicated in a past life. Perhaps not since Burford, England have I had lamb chops quite as good as the roasted lamb chops at Casanova.  Lamb chops are the specialty of the house and it’s easy to see why.  These aren’t the desiccated and waifishly thin “lollipop” lamb chops served at most restaurants.  Casanova’s chops are thick and meaty with a profusion of juices at medium rare (the level of doneness recommended by the chef).  Nor is the flavor of these lamb chops obfuscated by sauces.  These lamb chops are  seasoned so that there’s a nice “crust” on their exterior, but they’re not overly salted.  They’re also not gamey as some lamb entrees tend to be.  They’re simply some of the very best lamb chops I’ve had in three continents.  The lamb chops are served with Umbrian ceci bean ragout & marinated favas, neither of which would ordinarily have been my choices.  These are no ordinary vegetables, however.  They’re fresh and crisp with the flavor of freshness.

The Linguini alla Scapesce (lobster, clams, mussels and shrimp with white wine, Meyer lemon, chervil & crème fraiche) is nearly the equal of the lamb chops.  The seafood ingredients have the flavor and freshness of just having been extricated from a net and prepared within minutes.  The linguini is perfectly al dente.  Gloriously long noodles only propriety will prevent you from slurping will remind you they’re made on the premises and not sourced off some store shelf or delivery truck.  The chervil (a mild herb related to parsley) and creme fraiche sauce is applied parsimoniously as it’s done in Italy where the appreciation of a great pasta is akin to a religious experience.

Tarte aux Bananes: Banana tartlet, graham cracker crust, vanilla custard, caramelized bananas, vanilla whipped cream & caramel sauce

If dessert is a sweet prelude to romance, Casanova has several sweet treats designed to get you in the mood–to lick the plates so that you don’t miss a morsel.  One option is three scoops of housemade ice cream in flavors you might not find elsewhere such as lavender-vanilla, chocolate and Armagnac with blueberries, strawberries and blackberries.  The ice cream is rich, creamy and sinfully decadent with each flavor bursting out as a paragon of the named ingredient.  The lavender-vanilla exudes the essential oil flavor profile of memory evoking sweetness.  The Armagnac (a French brandy) is studded with figs and is oh, so delicious.  The chocolate is simply outstanding, a not-too-sweet, adult chocolate.

One dessert you might not want to share even with a loved one is the tarte aux bananes, a banana tartlet crafted on a graham cracker crust atop of which lie vanilla custard, caramelized bananas and vanilla whipped cream with a caramel sauce drizzled throughout the plate.  The caramelized bananas are sliced dime-thin and will remind you of the caramelized sugars on the top layer of a crème brulee. This is a simple dessert with complex flavor combinations that resonate on your taste buds.

Casanova is a restaurant which lives up to its name. The cuisine is outstanding, well-seasoned and beautifully presented. Service is impeccable. Your four-legged children will love it, too.

Fifth Avenue between San Carlos & Mission
Carmel, California
(831) 625-6731
Web Site

: 15 July 2012
: 1
: 26
: $$$ – $$$$
: Gnocchi Casanova, Tarte aux Bananes, Selection of House-Made Charcuterie, Linguini alla Scapesce, Roasted Lamb Chops, Housemade Ice Cream

Casanova Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Gutiz – El Prado, New Mexico

Gutiz Restaurant for Latin and French Fusion Cuisine in El Prado

I recently joked with my friend Lesley King that she is the true New Mexico Gastronome. Lesley, the wonderful author who enthralls readers with her monthly “King of the Road” columns for New Mexico Magazine, likes to say–jokingly–that she “eats and sleeps around,” because her writing assignments require that she sample so many restaurants and accommodations.  She has literally traveled every friendly highway and byway in the Land of Enchantment, dining in as many–or perhaps even more–restaurants than I have while somehow managing to remain svelte and elegant.

I had the great privilege of collaborating with Lesley and Chef Rocky Durham in celebrating the Land of Enchantment’s cuisine in a feature for New Mexico Magazine. The June, 2010 edition of America’s oldest and best official state magazine introduced readers to “New Mexico’s Best Eats,” eight of the very best dishes served in restaurants throughout the Land of Enchantment: Huevos Rancheros, Green Chile Cheeseburgers, Green Chile Stew, Comfort Food, Deli Sandwich, Tacos, Local Seasonal Ingredients and Desserts.  Two versions of each dish–a downhome version and an uptown version–were showcased in lyrical prose.

The wait staff's prep station at Gutiz

The three of us, all New Mexico natives and peripatetic diners, deliberated spiritedly as to what restaurants would fill each category.  Rocky and I, both the type of men who would actually stop and ask for directions, were wise enough to defer to Lesley’s vast knowledge and much broader travel experiences when we were at a loss.  Such was the case in deciding where New Mexico’s best upscale huevos rancheros were served.  While Rocky and I both drew blanks, Lesley buoyantly made a case for a unique interpretation of huevos rancheros masterfully prepared at a small, somewhat off-the-eaten-path diner in El Prado.

Demurely, Lesley admitted that she sometimes wakes up in Santa Fe and wants to drive to El Prado just to eat this “reconstructed” interpretation of huevos rancheros.  All the essential elements used in the construction of huevos rancheros–pinto beans, onions, tomatoes, eggs, cheese, red and green chile and a tortilla–can be found in the dish with which Lesley became so enamored.  The dish–called the Taoseño and served only at  Gutiz in El Prado,–also includes kidney and garbanzo beans, rice and potatoes, all baked and served in a terra-cotta bowl.

Mint Lemonade

Lesley’s enthusiasm for this dish had me wondering if she would channel John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech with a New Mexico twist, “Soy un Taoseño.”  Though she had us at hello, we didn’t interrupt her alacritous delivery which almost literally had us drooling.  On that basis alone, the Taoseño, while not a conventional rendition of the dish, certainly convinced us it warranted recognition as New Mexico’s best uptown huevos rancheros.  Today, a framed plaque on a wall at Gutiz commemorates the Taoseño’s inclusion among New Mexico’s best eats.

Frankly, the term “among New Mexico’s best” could certainly apply to Gutiz as well.  Founding owner and chef Eduardo Gutiz hit upon a masterstroke when he created the inspired menu, a fusion of French and Spanish cuisine made extraordinarily well.  Lesley explained that chef Gutiz was born in Spain, raised in France and has traveled extensively through Peru and Bolivia.  Foodies recognize that Spain, France and Peru (yes, Perus) are some of the most highly regarded culinary hotbeds in the world.  That wasn’t lost on chef Gutiz who incorporated elements of those three nations on his menu.

New Zealand Green Lip Mussels in a garlic, white wine, tomato, Bolivian aji panca cream sauce served over Gutiz potatoes.

Gutiz (the restaurant, not the chef) is housed in an adobe abode the color of earthen stucco (which in New Mexico can be any of several shades).  Window sills and the picket fence enclosing the patio are a sublime shade of Taos blue.  On an upper level wall on the restaurant’s west side is what appears to be a shuttered balcony on which a metallic rooster perches as if to greet the day.  Oval signage indicates you are at Gutiz, the restaurant’s name framed by the words “Latin French Fusion.”

The interior is very small, but very homey.  The front counter does double duty as the wait staff’s prep station and bar complete with bar stools.  Positioned atop a brick facade is a basket of breads baked in-house and fresh that day, their aroma still wafting throughout the restaurant if you get there for breakfast.  A small glass pastry case on one side of the bar showcases artisan cakes and tarts while a beverage cooler keeps the restaurant’s popular mint lemonade in abeyance until you order it.  The walls are festooned with colorful photographs, the type of which glean appreciation from most diners.  In the summer, particularly during monsoon season, the restaurant’s cooling system struggles to keep temperatures comfortable in the sole dining room.

Outstanding, fresh white bread to sop up the wonderful broth in the bowl of mussels

The menu indicates breakfast and lunch are served all day, Tuesday through Sunday from 8AM to 3PM. The breakfast menu is unique and innovative, a true fusion of complementary ingredients from French and Latin culinary disciplines, including some northern New Mexican inspired dishes.  Tapas, small dishes which can be eaten as an appetizer or eaten as a meal are predominantly seafood oriented.  The specialties section of the menu features Paella Valenciana made the traditional Spanish way.  Salad selections meld the flavors of greens, vegetables, fruits and cheeses.  A sumptuous bounty of sandwiches are served on the restaurant’s homemade French bread. French bread, croissants and pastries are baked fresh every morning.

The menu is a refreshing departure from the mundane, a carte du jour worthy of the Bohemian free-wheeling style of Taos.  It’s adventure eating in the most pleasurable sense, a different menu than you’ll find anywhere in New Mexico.  Though chai teas, fresh ground coffee, espresso and cappuccino are available, start your adventure with a frothy, cold glass of mint lemonade.  Its a uniquely flavored elixir which might remind you of a thin mint Girl Scout cookie dipped in a lemonade with equal pronouncements of sweet and sour.  You’ll ask for at least one refill.

The Taoseño, one of New Mexico's "best eats"

Here’s a challenge for my readers.  Name one person who says they don’t like bread and who can back it up.  It’s easy to find people who don’t like vegetables or meat, but I don’t recall ever meeting anyone who dislikes bread…and even if you could find one, they’d be converted at first bite of Gutiz’s fresh baked bread.  It’s because of this legendary bread that we ordered a tapas appetizer of steamed mussels, a large order (about 20 New Zealand green-lipped mussels) of beautiful bivalve mollusks swimming in a luxurious broth of garlic, white wine, tomato, Bolivian aji panca cream sauce served over Gutiz potatoes.

The mussels are good.  That’s to be expected.  The broth is superb, a concordant melding of flavors that go exceptionally well together.  It’s a broth made to be sopped up with the restaurant’s delicious yeasty bread.  The staff of life at Gutiz has just enough outer crust to form a rim.  The rest is pure spongy deliciousness capable of sopping up its weight in broth.  It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll pay a pittance for additional slices to ensure you don’t miss a glorious drop.

Scottish Sausage: two eggs, grilled Scottish sausage and chipotle sauce served with a mixed green salad and Gutiz potatoes.

As for the Taoseño, my friend Lesley may have understated just how good this “best eats” eat is.  No one ingredient dominates the flavor profile; it truly is a marriage of compatibility.  Everything works well together!  The textures, the flavors, the aesthetics of the dish–it’s a dish deserving of accolades as New Mexico’s very best uptown huevos rancheros.  Not even the old school traditionalists would argue that honor after but just one bite.

The best part of waking up might also be another Gutiz breakfast entree, the Scottish sausage plate.  Having had Scottish sausage at a pub just off Princess Street in Edinburgh, I expected a square sausage patty about a half-inch thick and the perfect size for a sandwich.  Instead, Gutiz’ rendition of Scottish sausage is two diagonally sliced links about five inches in length drizzled in a chipotle sauce.  This is a taste bud awakening grilled sausage with a pleasantly piquant bite.  The sausage is served with two eggs any style and Gutiz potatoes, cubed tubers seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, rosemary, paprika and tumeric.  No mater what you order, you’ve got to have a side of these wonderful potatoes.

Grilled Goat Cheese Quesadilla

The sandwich menu might pry your eyes away from breakfast and tapas entrees, especially since most sandwiches are served on the restaurant’s fantastic French bread.  A better canvas for a sandwich there might not be in all of Taos county.  There’s actually only one sandwich not made on the divine staff of life.  That’s the grilled goat cheese quesadilla which is made on a flour tortilla stuffed with goat cheese, a touch of Cheddar and Jack cheese.  It’s grilled and topped with diced tomatoes and basil pesto and served with a side of cucumber and roasted red pepper salad.

This is not a common quesadilla! Unlike the oh-so oily, blase and boring tortilla sandwiches crafted from (could-it-be-Kraft) processed cheeses and their de rigueur toppings of sour cream and guacamole, this quesadilla shows imagination and flair.   The basil pesto is a nice touch and much more exciting than guacamole.  The roasted red peppers find a perfect foil in the cucumbers.  These are nice adds all, but the real star is the quesadilla itself.  The goat cheese is  unctuous with an earthy richness we enjoyed immensely.  After devouring each wedge-shaped slice of this pinto pony color speckled tortilla engorged with goat cheese, you might never again settle for lesser stuff.

Pollo Borachon (Drunken Chicken)

The “Specialties” section of the menu is as “special” as you might infer.  Though the wait staff are consummate sales people with ambassadorial qualities, I’ve only heard them use the term “great choice” one time on the items we’ve ordered.  The item which prompted the effusive exudation was the Pollo Borachon (drunken chicken), a stew of chicken, onions, carrots, green peas, pinto beans, mushrooms and bacon marinated in red wine and baked in a casserole dish with a thin bread shell that envelops the casserole dish similar to a pot pie dish.

If that sounds like a Latin-French fusion interpretation of Coq au Vin, the fabulous French chicken stew, it’ll take only one swoon-inducing whiff for you to appreciate the liberties taken by the chef.    If your mouth is as agape as mine was when yours is delivered to your table, perhaps one of the helpful wait staff will volunteer to play “mommy” and cut it open for you as they did for me.  The surgical precision cut at the top of the golden bread bowl releases the steamy fragrance of the dish, exposing nearly an entire chicken, bone and all.  The chicken, purplish in color from the red wine, falls off the bone into the blessed broth which is just tailor-made for sopping up with the bread cover. The vegetables are perfectly prepared, a healthful and delicious mix.  This is a fabulous entree!

Flourless Chocolate Cake

During both my near noon visits to Gutiz, the pulchritudinous pastries I so lusted after were gone (darn those locals who get there early or call in and “reserve” their favorite desserts as you should), but you can hardly call chocolate croissant (pain au chocolat) a consolation prize.  This light, delicate and flaky French-style croissant is engorged with delicious adult (dark) chocolate, but not so much that it oozes out.  Each bite rewards you with the butteriness of the croissant and the incomparably addictive sweet bitterness of dark chocolate.

If you love “adult” chocolate, the semi-sweet variety with a high cocoa composition, you’ll fall for the flourless chocolate cake which is drizzled with confectioner’s sugar and accompanied by whipped cream dusted with cocoa.  It’s gluten-free greatness in every rich, moist, delicious bite.  During a January, 2011 visit, there were three desserts on the table to be split among four of us.  Our 96-year-old friend Patty Sahd enjoyed the flourless chocolate cake so much, we let her have most of it.  She said she’d never had anything like it.

Banana cake

In the summer of 2010, Eduardo Gutiz sold his eponymous restaurant.  We were assured nothing on the menu has changed.  We were glad to discover that the friendliness for which Gutiz has long been known remains a constant in this extremely popular restaurant truly serving some of New Mexico’s very best eats.

Gutiz Restaurant
812B Paseo del Pueblo Norte
Taos, New Mexico

(575) 758-1226
Web Site
: 16 January 2011
: 3
: $$
: The Taoseño, Scottish Sausage, Steamed Mussels, Goat Cheese Quesadilla, Pollo Borachon Chocolate Croissant, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Banana Cake

Gutiz on Urbanspoon

Bacchus Nibbles – Kildeer, Illinois

Bacchus Nibbles in Kildeer

In Roman mythology, Bacchus was known as the god of wine and ecstasy. A youthful and handsome god with flowing tresses usually depicted wearing wine leaves or ivy on his head, he represented both the intoxicating and the beneficial influences of wine. Bacchanalian festivals, typified by riotous drunken merrymaking and sometimes orgiastic festivity are still celebrated in institutions of higher learning throughout America (who can forget the hilarious movie Animal House and the antics of the Delta House fraternity?).

At Bacchus Nibbles Restaurant & Wine Shop, in Kildeer, a northwest Chicago suburb, wine can be appreciated in a “wine cave-like” atmosphere of civility and quaint refinement that  an aspiring sommelier might welcome. An impressive assemblage of wine, along with sundry liqueurs and liquors is on display in well organized racks throughout the restaurant.  The stacked wine bottles separate the dining areas.  The cozy restaurant belies its somewhat ramshackle, timeworn exterior which frankly doesn’t have the curbside appeal nearly the equal of its menu.

The interior at Bacchus Nibbles

The menu is a compendium of diverse indulgences not only from the Mediterranean, but from throughout the world.  Appetizers and specials of the day may include such succulent surprises as egg rolls, Norwegian smoked salmon, Thai style crispy duck and even potstickers.  An even bigger surprise is how reasonably priced and wonderfully executed each indulgence is.  You’ll be challenged to find any entree priced at greater than twenty dollars and, in fact, might do a double-take at some menu items priced at around the ten dollar price point.

Deciding what to order is an exercise in painstaking deliberation; the options are plentiful and all so tempting.  A seafood soiree is a possibility with boatloads of options such as bay scallops, half-roasted duck, salmon, coconut shrimp, grouper and more.  If grilled meats are more your style, kabobs, steaks, cheeseburgers and even venison are available.  For the gourmand around town, osso bucco and coq au vin are among the palate-pleasing options.  Best of all, this is  all first-rate continental cuisine at pauper prices, particularly for lunch.

Goat cheese phyllo

Coq au Vin, for example, is available for under fifteen dollars. Featuring white and dark chicken cooked in red wine with mushrooms, pearl onions  and served with roasted potatoes, carrots and garden fresh snap peas, it is among the best “French chicken stews” I’ve ever had. While the origin of Coq au Vin is in dispute (founding claimants include Julius Caesar’s chef), it’s one of the best French dishes when prepared well as Bacchus Nibbles does. A prolific portion size is a pleasant surprise; you can easily share your Coq au Vin with someone you love. The chicken falls off the bone into a wine blessed broth that is perfect for sopping up with the restaurant’s warm signature bread.

That bread is a classic French bread, a small loaf or two sitting on a wooden cutting block.  It’s pre-sliced  and served warm for your convenience and offered with a whipped butter as velvety smooth and soft as possible.  Why so many restaurants bring out frozen butter on a plate is beyond me; all frozen butter does is rip the bread apart as you try in vain to spread it.  Alas, the only problem with bread this good is that it’s easy to eat too much of it and ruin your appetite for the terrific starters, entrees and desserts on the menu.

Extraordinnairy Escargot

You’ll want that bread replenished frequently because you’ll use it to savor each and every drop of the white wine sauce accompanying the goat cheese phyllo appetizer featuring a sharp, sweet Vermont goat cheese and red peppers wrapped in phyllo. Puncture the layers of delicate phyllo with your fork and you’ll be rewarded with light oozing from one of the smoothest goat cheeses ever, a medley of sweet and sharp flavors complementing each other.  The red peppers are a subtle addition, used in moderation so as not to overwhelm the other ingredients.

Another artful appetizer choice is Bacchus famous escargots in garlic butter and sun-dried tomatoes. These escargots are reputed to be among the very best in the Chicago area and we can attest to never having had better (though the escargot served at the long defunct Marmiton may have been the equal of these).  As at Le Marmiton, these escargot are removed from their shells and served in very small cups with even tinier forks with which to extricate the luxurious snails.  Served three to an order, these snails are rich and buttery–so good you will want a dozen or so.

Bread and whipped butter

My Chicago born and bred better half of more than 25 years rarely visits a restaurant in which she doesn’t order pork chops when they’re on the menu.  In the Chicago area, this typically means Flintstonian-sized bone-in chops at least an inch thick.  She considers the waifishly thin pork chops served at most Albuquerque restaurants to be a heretical shame, but surprisingly ordered Bacchus Nibbles’ petite pork chops marinated in garlic and herbs. These chops may be petite in size, but they’re prolific in taste. Best of all, they’re moist and tender, almost fork-tender.

During our second visit she surprised me even more by ordering a Thai inspired crispy duck floating atop a peanut sauce along with julienned vegetables (green beans, carrots, zucchini and red pepper).  The crispy duck is moist and delicious, each of several breaded fingers redolent with flavor.  The peanut sauce has a slightly sweet, ever so lightly piquant flavor that makes the duck sing.  The vegetables are perfectly prepared.  The carrots are in the French style, buttery with more than a hint of ripe sweetness.

Coq Au Vin, food of the gods

Some entrees are served with roasted in their skin potatoes seasoned in a Greek style with a hint of lemon and other spices.  The potatoes are perfectly roasted and served in smile-sized wedges.  Potatoes seem to be a Bacchus Nibbles specialty if the Hachis Parmentier (Shepherd’s Pie) is any indication.  Layers of mashed potato, ground beef and mushrooms and carrots topped with mozzarella may not hold completely true to how this dish was created and is still served in England, but as you’re swooning in between bites, it’s unlikely you’ll be thinking about tradition.

Crispy duck with peanut sauce and julienned vegetables

The dessert menu is a seven item line-up of rich deliciousness. So confident is ownership in just how good the creme brulee is that a gauntlet is thrown down.  The menu brags that the creme brulee is of “no comparison to any creme brulee you’ve ever had.  If you don’t like it, Matt is buying.”  The creme brulee is indeed special.  It’s thicker than most and better than just about any I’ve ever had, so good we were tempted to lick the plate.

The tiramisu (espresso and rum-soaked lady fingers, mascarpone and cocoa powder topped with whipped cream and berries) is also just a bit different.  In parenthesis behind its name is the warning “lift me gently” and indeed, the tiramisu is light and delicate; a fork can send it tumbling if you’re not careful.  This cake sits like an island in a sea of fruity frothiness, a sort of liquid fruit cocktail that, while different than you’ll find with other tiramisu, is surprisingly complementary.

Tiramisu (Espresso and rum-soaked lady fingers, mascarpone and cocoa powder

The “Nibbles” portion of the restaurant’s name may be the reason this wonderful restaurant doesn’t get the respect its menu warrants and based on portion size, is certainly a misnomer.  It’s a wonderful restaurant with a creative menu of delicious indulgences, a restaurant for which we eschew visits to other area restaurants.

Bacchus Nibbles
20817 N. Quentin Road
Kildeer, IL
(847) 43-3212
Web Site

LAST VISIT: 12 October 2010
1st VISIT: 6 July 2005
COST: $$
BEST BETS: Goat Cheese Phyllo; Escargot; Coq au Vin; Petite Pork Chops, Crispy Duck, Tiramisu

Bacchus Nibbles on Urbanspoon

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