Dubbing it “The Living Room of Wicker Park,” the folks behind The Bedford want diners to feel at ease in their lively new eatery situated in the basement of a historic bank building.
But “The Living and Dining Room of Wicker Park” would be a more apt tagline, considering chef Mark Steuer is cooking away in the kitchen.
Sure, Steuer, who garnered accolades for his savory creations at Mindy Segal’s Hot Chocolate, is putting out some pretty simple stuff — burgers, chicken wings, deviled eggs.
But there’s also fancier fare — duck liver mousse, duck confit — as well. And even the chef’s most basic dishes include some upscale twists. Hand-cut fries are called frites and served with béarnaise sauce. Grilled cheese features Roth Käse Gruyère, aged cheddar, and onion jam. And the aforementioned wings are glazed with a creamy chili sauce instead of conventional Buffalo or barbecue.
“We wanted it to be an approachable neighborhood place with high quality but familiar food,” Steuer says. “I want people to be able to come here three times a week for a burger and beer. But if you want a three-course dinner, we can do that for you too.”
Whether he’s preparing hand-harvested scallops with leek and king oyster mushroom ragout or a humble burger, Steuer says he uses the finest ingredients available. “If you buy good things and treat them how they’re supposed to be treated, you’ll have a good product.”
Although Steuer works with well-regarded small farmers and artisans, he doesn’t name names on his menu, as is the current trend among chefs.
“It sounds like you’re showing off, and it should be more of a duty than a bragging right,” he says.
And because he gets “bored real easily” and wants to keep his menu seasonal, diners should not get too cozy with Steuer’s creations, nor should they expect him to develop a signature dish. “There’s not one thing you’ll see here in six months,” he says.
So if you’re reading this post six months from now, The Bedford’s menu likely will have changed since I dined here with The Husband and our friends Massimo and Cara.
Frankly, I must admit I was nervous about suggesting The Bedford — or any restaurant, for that matter — for our evening out with Massimo and Cara. You see, Massimo is Italian and a total buongustaio, or foodie. And he and Cara share passionately strong opinions when it comes to dining. (“I spit on [restaurant name],” Cara once said after a disappointing meal at one of the city’s top eateries.)
My anxiety quickly dissipated, however, as Steuer’s tasty dishes proved highly bankable.
Our group started off with a trio of munchable appetizers. Decadent deviled eggs ($1.50 each) with hot sauce and powdered bacon had a wonderful smoky tang to them. Fava bean crostini ($9) came topped with frisée, pickled red onion and harissa vinaigrette, and featured a fluffy, Middle Eastern-flavored bean spread atop grilled bread. Super-creamy duck liver mousse ($12) was richly flavored and served with whole grain mustard, pickles, caper berries and brioche.
Next, we sampled Steuer’s “super seasonal” heirloom asparagus ($13) with house-cured duck ham, soft egg and parmesan. The asparagus is currently among the restaurant’s most popular dishes, Steuer says. “It’s just a nice, really fresh salad.”
Many of Steuer’s entrées were appealing, and it took our group a bit of time to settle on main courses. The Husband ultimately selected pan-roasted halibut ($25) with spicy bacon-fava bean-spring garlic ragout and green olive tapenade. Cara chose amply portioned grilled pork tenderloin ($25) with a delectable English pea gremolata and orangey apricot mustard. Massimo ordered house-made venison sausage ($19) with vinegary mustard lentils, kohlrabi kraut and confit spring garlic puree. Although we agreed the sausage was a bit dry, everybody — Massimo included — found the venison meat to be pleasantly flavored and not at all gamey.
My selection — duck confit ($18) with grits, poached egg and salsa verde — was clearly the group’s favorite, judging from the number of utensils dipping into my bowl. With its perfect combination of super-tender duck, buttery grits, plump egg and fresh-and-herby salsa verde, the comforting dish was delicious down to the last bowl-scrapping forkful.
The Bedford does not have a pastry chef at this point, but instead features a small selection of goodies from other notable neighborhood establishments. We sampled strawberry-rhubarb pie from Hoosier Mama Pie Company ($9) and salted peanut gelato ($2) from the famed Black Dog Gelato. Although the desserts satisfied, we concurred that a restaurant of The Bedford’s caliber should employ a house pastry chef.
Admittedly, that’s niggling. Everybody — Massimo included — had a molto bene time and felt right at home at The Bedford.
1612 West Division Street
Chicago, Illinois 60622