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West Town Tavern
Drew & Susan Goss' new Restaurant in Chicago

Something (new and) Different in West Town A visit to Drew & Susan Goss' new Chicago Restaurant!

Every May we make the trek to Chicago for the Fancy Food show. And, every year we try to dine somewhere new so we can write about it. On our first trip 3 years ago, we wrote about Zinfandel, a restaurant owned by Drew and Susan Goss, the original owners of Something Different here in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, Zinfandel is no more, a victim of rising rents in the trendy River North area. Luckily Drew and Susan have moved on, again pioneering in the "just beginning to happen" West Town neighborhood where they live.

A Detour to Opera
West Town Tavern was closed on Sunday night so on our first night we ventured into the South Loop to visit Opera, a new Asian concept from the trendy KDK Restaurant Group. And trendy it was. They have converted a 50's building that once housed the Paramount Studios film vaults into a brightly colored, stylized take on a Chinese opera set (if I ever see a Chinese opera, I'll let you know how they did). The real show was the wait staff, who we decided had the highest number of tattoos and piercings per capita we had ever seen in a high end restaurant. They included a bartendress with a tattoo on her back that must have begun well below the top of her low, low cut jeans and ended somewhere under her hair line. However she paled in comparison to the waiter who delivered our entrees to the table. Sporting a shaved head and goatee, he wore a white pleated cheerleader's skirt over skin tight black jeans, a 2 inch wide patent leather belt and a single earring that closely resembled a chandelier. Watching the other diners watch him walk through the room was almost worth the price of admission. Unfortunately, the food was less entertaining. The menu has a decidedly Chinese bent with lots of Thai and Japanese influences. The appetizers proved to be problematic, with a mussel dish offering the largest, toughest mussels we have ever encountered and a dipping sauce for the bland egg rolls that was so incendiary that it was uneatable. The mutant mussels were followed by entrees that included overcooked prawns, well prepared but badly presented Peking Duck and some pretty good braised short ribs. Overall it was a pricey, interesting, but probably not to be repeated, experience.

West Town Tavern
Monday night was much better. Tom (one of the other Wine Guys) and his wife Suzanne, who once again accompanied us to the food show, have known Drew and Susan since the early days of the Something Different Deli at Keystone at the Crossing. And, since I too remember the duck and cashew salad at the deli, this review will make no pretense about being unbiased.

Only a 6 or 7 minute cab ride from Michigan Avenue, this neighborhood bistro concept is a real departure from what they have done in the past. From the outside, it could pass for a turn of the century corner tavern, which is exactly what the building could have originally been. The long, narrow interior also looks the part with hardwood floors, exposed brick and a tin ceiling. The place was bustling when we arrived at 7:00 on a Monday night, with a good crowd at the small bar in the front window, a good sign...

You can tell from the pricing that they are depending upon the locals to keep coming back. The menu is tight and offers six starters from $3.75 to $8.75, two salads and two soups at $5.25 and ten entrees priced from $14.50 to $17.25. The wine list is similarly structured with 42 well chosen offerings and only two wines priced above $45 and most at $30 or less. We began with a Austrian Gruner Veltliner from Domaine Wachau, a varietal that none of us had ever tried! It was light, clean, very dry and a little reminiscent of Pinot Blanc. It complemented my Shrimp Spring Rolls with peanut dipping sauce and was especially good with the Iron Skillet roasted mussels (the small, very tender variety) with garlic and peppers that Linda and Tom choose. The crusty, sesame coated bread was wonderful dipped in the mussel broth. Suzanne couldn't get by the Butternut Squash soup with maple glazed apples and sage, and I have to confess that the taste I got was exquisite.

We followed the Austrian wine with something special (ask your server for Drew's private list if you simply can't find anything expensive enough on the wine list), a bottle of the currently unavailable in Indiana (did you hear that David) Sineann Oregon Pinot Noir from Purdue graduate pharmacist- turned winemaker, Peter Rosback. This serious, dark, black cherry Pinot that Wine Spectator just awarded 93 points, was a perfect match for the heavier entrees that Tom and I choose. Tom's smoked, pulled, Owensburg Kentucky lamb was served over a corn cake and mashed potatoes with an intense, vinegar based, BBQ sauce that really stood up to the flavor of the lamb. My old favorite, the Zinfandel braised pot roast with black vinegar sauce and garlic mashed potatoes also fell into the pretty intense category.

A bottle of the spicy 2001 "The Fifteen" Grenache from Southern France (Wine Advocate 88, $13 here at Grapevine Cottage, $30 on the wine list) better complemented Linda and Suzanne's dishes. Linda's maple-cured pork chop was served with braised red cabbage, sweet potato hash browns and a piquant creamy mustard sauce. The samples I could persuade Linda's to part with were very tasty, especially the crispy sweet potatoes. Suzanne's salmon with orange tarragon butter was prepared rare as requested and served with lentils she pronounced "delicious."

We lingered over the Grenache with dessert, which at 15% alcohol the French wine police force them to label as a dessert wine. And, while the wine was still dry, it certainly worked with Susan's decadent S'mores, her homemade take on the old marshmallow and chocolate campfire standby.

The wait staff was professional and attentive and the service well timed. All in all, it was an excellent experience... and, considering we threw a $75 bottle of Pinot into an otherwise reasonably priced meal, we still managed to really enjoy ourselves for about $80 a person including tip! In fact, I would venture that less hedonistic diners could enjoy a very nice meal and a bottle of wine for under $50 a person.

We finished the evening on the sidewalk with Drew hailing us a cab and Tom begging him to move back to Indianapolis. I think he even offered to invest in the restaurant, but to no avail. Oh well, next time you're in Chicago, trust us, it's worth the cab ride.

West Town Tavern

1329 West Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60642-5769
(312) 666-6175
West Town Tavern