Friday, March 25, 2011

#174 - Taxim

Last Monday, after postponing it for a disappointing visit to Coco Pazzo two weeks ago, we finally made it to Taxim (1558 N. Milwaukee), a delicious Greek spot in Wicker Park.

Beautiful space, Byzantine was a description I saw and that nails it.  Pillows line long benches straddling the length of the each wall of the narrowish restaurant that never feels crowded leading back to the kitchen.  High ceilings that lead to odd lighting at first but we quickly warmed up to it.  Dark wood, copper accents and comforting, relaxed, even quiet with a welcoming low-key feel.

But it's really about the food.

It's not country Greek, more urban Greek with refined, modern touches and the use of local ingredients to achieve the effect.

From the website:  Farmers:  Iron Creek, Gunthorp Farms, Mint Creek, Nichols Farm & Orchard, Heritage and Green Acres Farms. All of our breads, pastry, phyllo, charcuterie, preserves and yogurt are housemade.

No skimping here.  No shortcuts.  Well-sourced and it tastes like it with every bite.


Baby arugula, cucumber, dill, pita chips, shaved radish, kefalograviera, sumaki vinaigrette

Heaping mound of arugula, seemed like a medium-sized portion but just kept going, loads of sumac that changed the salad to something new and darker, fresh and good as an accompaniment to the rest of the spread

Pureed chickpeas, lemon, garlic, fresh green chickpeas, house-made pita

For the hummus jones, it sufficed.  Great olive oil, solid housemade pita and restrained hand in the seasoning.  More of a supporting cast member like the arugula but, like the arugula, tasty stuff.

Roasted red beets with greens, Thracian-style walnut skordaliá, feta

The unquestioned star of the first wave of food.  Must get.  Roasted beets still with a great toothsome bite to them.  Earthy, dark and tasted essential to the meal.  A bite with all four ingredients will be the bite I remember the most from the meal.  The delicious beet greens were the shock of the night.

Wine:  Tselepos – “Villa Amalia” Moscofilero ($55) 

A sparkler that's nothing special but not too shabby either.  Dry, subdued lemon notes everywhere with enough vibrancy in the bubbles to keep it refreshing.  Even a tart angle on occasion.  Nice.

Kappadókia-style lamb sausage, kasseri, pickled cayennes and pearl onions

Lamby and raw in the best way possible.  I could taste every ingredient put into the sausage patty with each bite with it ending with that sort of great lamby creaminess when everything came together.  Nice to have on the table.

Wood-grilled octopus, fennel root and red onions

Tough.  I'd eat the beets again in a second but the octopus was the most interesting plate of the night.  Tasted like I was 12 years old, at a BBQ with the family and eating something char-grilled over wood chips.  Instant taste memory and evocative as hell.  Barely knew it was octopus but we didn't care (and don't love octopus anyway).

Baby okra, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh coriander, olive oil , semolina bread

Had okra.  That was the response.  Touch slimy.  Coriander hit was nice.

Split entrée:  Duck gýro – spit-roasted Gunthorp farms duck breast and leg rubbed with pastourmá spices, mint yogurt sauce, Pontian satz bread, pomegranate reduction, pickled cucumber salad, duck fries

We're duck snobs.  Need it medium-rare.  And probably need pinot noir with it.  That said, we enjoyed it for all it was.  Huge portion.  All the flavors melded together into two gooey ducky phyllo pockets with a heaping mound of duck fat fries.  Liked it.  I'd even have it again.

Wine:  Boutari – 2004 “Grand Reserve Naoussa” Xinomavro ($52)

Only the second 100% xinomavro we've had, the first just last week.  More of that wonderful stewed tomato quality (darker tomato this time) with plenty of fine tannin to go around.  Touch of tar even.  At times a bit clunky but served us well enough with the lamb sausage and duck gyro.  Oddly great with the char notes in the octopus.

Final bill was $209 before tip.  That's stupid cheap for two bottles of wine, six small plates that never seemed small in the least, a massive entrée, a shot of ouzo and two Greek coffees (good stuff, fulfilling the yen for Turkish-like coffee mud but never got to the point of great Coffee Mud).

In the end, we couldn't have loved it more.  Fresh ingredients with herbs and spice all over the place, all integrated with purpose.  Confident food with five or six bites I want right now and again tomorrow.  We had seven plates and we'd go back really soon, order a completely different set of plates and never feel like we missed something, knowing it's going to be good and never feeling the need to fall into what was ordered before (except the beets).  It's the best sign of a good restaurant when you read the menu and know that there's going to be so much missed that sounded so damn intriguing.

Mostly, we were surprised by the range of flavors, expecting lemon and maybe copious amounts of herbs to be a Greek crutch.  Didn't get that.  We got confident, assertive, fresh flavors that tasted Happy. Great service as well.  Professional and knew when to see how we were and when to leave us alone.

We like home food the most but Taxim is easily a place where we'll be checking their menu semi-regularly and probably return for a couple of visits a year.

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