Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan or diehard carnivore, here’s a piece of dining advice: Get out your datebook and examine your weekend plans.
It isn’t just that we have less than six weeks of summer left. It’s also that Eagle Rock has a hot, new pop-up——which soft-opened Friday night, with a delicious, innovative tasting menu of plant-based delights and accompanying flights of superbly chosen wines.
It’s not entirely clear whether the venture will linger past Labor Day. Sample the summer bounty gracing the menu while you can.
Former Wine Merchant Enlists Four-Star Chicago Chef
As reported last week in our pre-preview story about the temporary eatery’s debut, Charlie Puffer, former wine purveyor at Topline Wine & Spirits in Glendale, enlisted the help of his friend, Chef Jonathan Harootunian, in planning the pop-up’s culinary offerings, including the five-course tasting menu designed for the preview weekend and sampled for this column.
Harootunian, who helped garner four stars for Chicago-area restaurant Courtright’s, samples a range of international flavors ranging from Japanese to Spanish, Indian to Italian. Each of the five courses offers two to five options to mix and match to taste. The menu notes that vegan options are “available by request.”
Soups to Start
Both of the starter soups were winners.
• Curried Carrot and Cocoanut Soup has a consistency closer to puree; the flavor is simultaneously rich and delicate.
• Chilled Organic Melon Soup is light, intensely flavored, sublimely refreshing—and not too sweet. It seems designed for figure-watching fashionistas—the small square of panna cotta and tiny globes of melon scattered around the bowl are reminiscent of a dotted summer party dress.
Small Plate Summer Salads
• Sautéed Asparagus and Shaved Crimini is a standout salad offering. The asparagus has a toothsome crunch and is dressed with just the right amount of lemon oil, lightened with celery leaves, and accompanied by a slice of Torta de la Serena sheep’s cheese. Whether as light lunch or part of a small plate offering, the dish has “addictive” written all over it.
• Hearts of Romaine, Harootunian’s twist on a Caesar salad, is also satisfying, with a lightly creamy texture and the perfect balance of salt and lemon.
Spring Rolls a Treat for Eye and Tongue
Of the appetizers, expect to love the Vegetarian Spring Rolls, which are as visually appealing as they are delicious. Crunchy, subtly seasoned, roughly chopped vegetables are wrapped like a sushi roll in dark, seaweed nori, which is then visible through the translucent second wrapper of white rice paper. A smear of ginger aioli topped with tomato ginger jam is the perfect foil to the “3-D soy sauce”—three, small cubes of solid soy sauce whose taste is pleasantly piquant instead of overpowering.
Chef Harootunian really shines with the entrees.
• Like the Vegetarian Spring Rolls, the Tapas Negras—the only dish of legumes on the menu—is as lovely to look at as it is to eat. The orange of the poached carrot is brilliant against the small, black curried lentils; the tang of the pickled cucumbers rewards at every bite. And the coconut gives the dish an almost Javanese flavor.
• The Crispy Eggplant offers a range of international flavors in one dish. The thick slice of eggplant is encrusted with Japanese Panko crumbs and lightly fried, then garnished with red and golden beets. Instead of the traditional Italian treatment, Harootunian finishes the dish with a dollop of cardamom honey yoghurt. The last ingredient doesn’t seem like it would fit—but it elevates the dish beyond the sum of its parts.
• The Butternut Squash and Chanterelle Quinoa is the perfect summer’s end supper; the haricots verts and perfectly cooked quinoa offer summer’s lightness while the golden squash, chanterelles, sweet Fuji apples and brown butter hint that autumn is just around the corner.
Of the four sweet desserts, the two that were sampled disappointed.
• Jamaica’s Vegan Chocolate Cake has a thick, rich, glossy frosting. But vegan cake is always a challenge to make and the cake itself was dry.
• The Lemongrass Rice Pudding with huckleberry preserves is an intriguing idea. The flavor, however, was bland and the texture of the mounded rice was dry.
• For a perfect finish to an otherwise splendid meal, opt instead for the Artisan Cheese Plate, with its garnish of figs and spiced almonds. Ask Mr. Puffer if he has Alcyone in the house; the Uruguayan Tannat dessert wine is more rich than sweet, with flavors of chocolate, walnuts and honey.
Puffer draws upon his extensive expertise in wine to create $20 five-glass tasting flights that are perfectly customized to each diner’s five-course meal. Charlie isn’t stingy with his knowledge—and he will gladly tell you why he loves wines from the southern region of France’s Rhône Valley, particularly Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a famous appellation that roughly means “the Pope’s new castle” in French.
The wine list offers good value for the money, with sustainably farmed offerings from Cliff Lede and Mauritson. Dishes and glasses can be ordered à la carte.
co-owners Kim Dingle and Chef Aude Charles slightly remodeled the dining room before Puffer’s pop-up debuted. The dining room, with its chocolate and lavender hues, is strung with fairy lights—and it continues to be one of the most soothing and beautiful venues in town for a romantic date or to linger over dinner with friends.
The preview weekend menu at Charlie Puffer at Fatty's continues through Sunday, August 14.
Reservations can be made for three seatings: 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m., and 9 p.m.
Charlie Puffer at Fatty’s is open for dinner Friday through Sunday, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. through the end of the summer.
Reservations for the pop-up can be made at Fatty & Co.’s phone number at (323) 254-8804.
Editor's note: This story has been changed to include the correct name of Chef Jonathan Harootunian's former restaurant, Courtright's. As reported in our debut article about the new pop-up restaurant Charlie Puffer at Fatty’s, Chef Jonathan Harootunian formerly worked at the Chicago-area restaurant Courtright's, not Courtland.