It was downtown restaurant week last week. During the week, when I talked about this with friends and coworkers, I felt a little like one of only a handful of people who seemed to know this. My husband and I had been slightly alarmed by the money that we had spent this month on eating out (we ARE hoping to send Belle to college someday), so we had thought this was not something we would take advantage of.
That said, I don’t plan ahead and even though we had plans for over a week to try Café Toscano (owned by Giovanni's) in Aurora with our friends R— and J—, I didn’t make a reservation. It turns out everyone else did.
I figured this was a sign that we should make the long drive downtown to be part of the festivities. We decided to go to chef Steve Schimoler's Crop Bistro and Bar, on West 6th. The interior, apparently very similar to when Johnny’s Bistro had it, was spectacular. With its wood paneling and cornucopia tile accents, my husband said it reminded him of old Chicago. The space was highlighted with “earthy” accents, including dried bits of nature displayed in the chandeliers and close-up poster-size portraits of vegetables. (Interestingly, they are very reminiscent of those at Fire.)
The chef is apparently a mover and shaker in the local food culture, and has created a method of employing Sysco to move local food from the farm to the chefs. His menu reflected his interest in the local and the seasonal. The menu was comfort food made fine with a similar sense of humor to Sawyer’s beer tasting menu. (The pasta special is called a “Big Pile of Crop Pasta.” Thank god they have an editor for the menu, huh.)
My husband had the $20 three course meal and I decided not to order a drink and instead get the $40 four course meal. For a starter, I had a seared scallop on a polenta cake. My husband had deviled eggs. Our friends had the beets and Lake Erie goat (oh, how I love you Lake Erie Creamery) and the spinach salad. My scallops were nice, but my husband’s deviled eggs were excellent. Our entrees were mac and cheese with brisket, lamb with white bean cassoulet, four pigs (sausage, pork chop, pulled pork and bacon—though we couldn’t find the bacon). My white beans were very tasty, though calling them a cassoulet made me anticipate some amount of pork in their preparation. My husband’s mac and cheese with brisket was not as enjoyable. Mac and cheese is so commonplace, both in its low form and its high form. So, when the pasta was not very cheesy or special, we were disappointed. It was not that this dish was bad at all, but it was that it was competing in our mind with so much.
We ended with desert. I had vascillated between the carrot cake and the southern comfort assemblage. But, the panna cotta and grapefruit swayed me to the latter. My husband had the orange bread pudding, which he enjoyed. R-- and J-- shared some sort of grown-up snicker cake concoction; its chocolate cake was nice and its peanut ice cream was perplexingly peanuty (but looked like vanilla ice cream.)
In total, the evening was incredibly fun. The restaurant was packed, and it felt like we were part of an urban culture. The food was enjoyable enough that I will go back, especially to see what the chef will do with summer’s plenty, but I know that I will not order the mac and cheese.