Wednesday, June 27, 2012

hot chocolate - chicago, il
1747 north damen avenue
chicago, il 60647

situated on damen avenue in wicker park and known for its impeccable desserts created by chef/owner mindy segal, hot chocolate has always been on my list of places to try. however, while the buzz about the sweet stuff has always been wildly positive, the word on the rest of the food is mixed. having undergone a recent re-concept both in terms of the menu and interior design along with chef segal (who's resume includes, ambria, spago, and charlie trotter's) winning a james beard award for outstanding pastry chef, now seemed like a great time to finally give hot chocolate a chance.
having made a reservation via open table for 1pm, carrie and i arrived almost fifteen minutes late following a rocky first expience riding the "L". luckily our reservations proved to be unnecessary as the restaurant was only about half full, we were quickly seat at a two top near the front. while i can't compare the new interior design to the old, i will say that the space is nice and open with a definite industrial feel to it. at lunch there are three categories; snacks, salads, and sandwiches. with our stomach capacities lower than usual at lunch after tearing through a box of doughnuts from the doughnut vault hours earlier, we opted to split a salad and then each order our own sandwich.
for drinks, things started off on a sour note when carrie asked for one of the cocktails listed on the menu only to be told that there was no bartender currently in the house and as such a cocktail could not be properly made. this is information we should have been given when the drink menus were handed to us. with no cocktails available, we differed to beer, both chosing the 3floyd's jinyx proof pilsner. crisp, dry, and full of bitter hop notes, this was a decent brew that went well with the food.
kicking things off was a salad of beets roasted in olive oil and citrus with shaved cucumber, sour cream and dill salad, and a caraway cracker. while really nothing to write home about, this was a good salad and was quite large even for two people.
wanting to keep things simple, i went with the burger made with house ground heartland beef and topped with organic bacon, widmer four year aged cheddar, and a sunny side up farm egg. served on a garlic-toasted sesame bun with house made chips and a pickle on the side, the burger was fantastic. cooked medium per my instruction, this was a messy burger to eat with both the juices from the burger and the yolk of the egg running everywhere. luckily the bun was thick and substantial and did not get soggy easily. the chips were decent, but when it comes to homemade potato chips i prefer those that are somewhat chewy in the middle instead of being entirely crisp as these were.
stepping out of the box, carrie took a risk with the crab cake sandwich, and was handsomely rewarded. here we have a new england style crab cake, werp farms bibb lettuce, and house made roasted giardiniera tartar sauce all on a house buttered bun. served with the same chips as my burger, i really enjoyed the few bites that i had as the crab meat was sweet in flavor with an underlying note of heat that i really liked.
even at lunch the dessert portion of the menu is by far the most extensive. starting at the top of the menu are the categories of cake, pie, and custard, each of which are available in a singular seasonally rotating offering. next are a pair of segal's signatures that i believe are holdovers from hot chocolate's previous menu. additionally, several types of house made cookies, ice creams, milkshakes, and hot chocolate varieties are available. things get even more elaborate at dinner, when a five course seasonally changing dessert tasting called the "study" is available. with all of the delectable sounding options to consider, carrie and i took a few minutes to make our decisions, and nibbled on a chocolate chip bacon cookie in the meantime.
for me it was one of the revisited signatures, the skillet souffle which was a gooey chocolate souffle with salted caramel ice cream and pretzels. this was actually a pretty easy decision for me as i love pretzels, salted caramel in all forms, and contrasting hot and cold desserts. lets just say i was not disappointed.
carrie's selection was the 'pie' offering, consisting of tcho chocolate pudding, cocoa nib cream, brown butter graham crust, and bananas foster. this was another hit with the crust being particularly exemplary.

all things considered, our lunch at hot chocolate was mostly a hit. the desserts and sandwiches were all excellent, which really just leaves the salad and chips in the category of merely decent. service was friendly but a bit weird however. when giving his recommendations on what he personally likes from the dessert menu, our server actually went as far as to say which items we shouldn't get. while this may seem like a small detail, i felt it was a bit unprofessional and might make some people uncomfortable if they were planning to choose one of the desserts he advised against. regardless, i definitely recommend coming to hot chocolate for the desserts (and the burger), and one could make an amazing night in wicker park by starting with drinks at the violet hour, moving to takashi for dinner, and finishing up at hot chocolate for dessert.

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