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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
20817 N. Quentin Road
LAST VISIT: 12 October 2010
1st VISIT: 6 July 2005
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BETS: Goat Cheese Phyllo; Escargot; Coq au Vin; Petite Pork Chops, Crispy Duck, Tiramisu