With a name like Nightwood, how can a restaurant not be cool and automatically great? But ever since I heard that chefs behind Lula Cafe, Jason Hammel and Amanda Tshilds, were opening a second spot, I was already intrigued and couldn’t wait to check it out. It’s located in Pilsen, just a block away from the divey Skylark Restaurant (perfect place for an after-dinner nightcap complete with rolling chairs, kitschy mirrors and a photo booth).
Just like Lula, I knew there would passion and thought behind the place, not to mention a seasonal, local focus and the kind of menu you want to experience with 6 close friends so you can try everything and share. But unlike veggie-friendly Lula, Nightwood seems to focus more on meat, pork and poultry dishes on the entrée side, with short ribs, chicken liver and pig trotters making an appearance on the appetizers. For other not-so-light starters, deep-fried mozzarella nestles up to mustard greens and shallot marmalade, english peas get chummy with bacon (see pic) and egg yolk joins ricotta in a raviolo with sage and brown butter. But a personal highlight was fresh burrata with lovage, roasted fennel, and toast points loaded with a mound of soft, spreadable garlic. English peas and their purée covered the plate, easily spread with the soft, creamy burrata. We asked for more crispy bread after we polished off the first two pieces, but we would’ve happily cleaned the plate without it.
After coming to the conclusion I could live on the burrata appetizer alone (the menu changes daily at Nightwood, so pray this one stays in the rotation), we moved onto entrées, another tough decision that involved a spit-roasted half chicken, wood-grilled Wisconsin trout, hand-cut basil pasta with cauliflower, almonds and chili oil and a buttered pork panino on brioche with turnip greens, cherry mustard, smoked bacon and sunny-side up egg. I took our server’s advice and went with the meat; spit-roasted pork loin with butter roasted apricots, cabbage, crème fraîche and olives was a delicious, generous bone-in loin with a smokey barbecue flavor and perfect tenderness. The roasted apricots on the side also picked up the crispy sweetness to the pork. Oy, I tried my best to take a decent shot as night fell on the outdoor patio, but this just doesn’t do it justice.
Dessert could be another round or two of the fantastic house cocktails, like strawberry-basil gimlet or the lavender Collins, which tastes like a Tom Collins with a dose of flower. But we opted for chocolate and hazelnut custard which was exactly what it sounded like, with housemade whipped cream on top of a rich, creamy concoction of milk chocolate and hazelnut, like top-of-the-line Nutella on over-drive, taken even more over-the-top with a garnish of crunchy hazelnuts.
As mentioned, there’s a great outdoor patio lit by lanterns and candles, but the interior looked just as enticing with seating around the bustling open kitchen, a wall of fire-wood and wooden two-tops. Whether I sit inside or out, no doubt I’ll be back try the rest of the ever-changing menu at this Pilsen gem, just as long as they keep bringing back the burrata. Nightwood, 2119 S. Halsted, 312.526.3385