Chicago’s West Loop is overrun with meat. It is a sausage fest. They have meats you’ve never heard of like pig cheek and chicken hearts.
My experience with the French technique was limited to a reference by Schmidt in New Girl and sampling sliced offerings at my company’s holiday party. I got an invitation from Chicago Food Bloggers to check out TÊTE Charcuterie (1114 W Randolph St.) before they opened to the public on 7 April (as the French would write it). There are few things I love more than free food. My previous perception of charcuterie was that it is glorified lunch meat. Further research showed that the technique was originally a utilitarian method to preserving meats prior to refrigeration. It focuses on prepared meat products, like bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pâtés, and confit. Plus mots que je ne connais pas.
Charcuterie reminds me that I’m at the top of the food chain.
We were greeted and invited to head to the bar. The welcome/tasting would begin shortly. Looking around the warm digs, I spotted the wooden beams that seem to be a focal point of every new bar/restaurant and the old-school light bulbs with the visible filament. Seated at the bar, the bartender offered a drink menu. You can always pick out the fellow food bloggers because they have their phone or camera glued to one of their hands. I always find it comforting seeing that I’m not the only one who photographs my food.
The chefs prepared a few dishes and let us shoot gratuitous close-ups before the dish went to its buyer.
About 30 minutes after arriving the managing partner got up to welcome everyone and give a brief overview of the three-year journey to make this restaurant a reality. The idea was born out of travels in France for two of the chefs. He thanked everyone for their support and announced that some food would be coming out shortly and the bar was open. Those three words are arguably some of the best in any language. Thankfully, we were standing to the side and avoided the stampede to the bar manned by two bartenders. Their drink list had six custom cocktails.
I started with the Two-Tree Days and my date opted for Baden-Baden. The bartenders were swamped with a deluge of drink orders. Once I got mine, I sipped the bourbon-based libation and nodded in approval. I sipped the Baden-Baden and puckered at its tartness. Watching the bartenders try to churn out the drink orders in the foreground was a contrasting juxtaposition of the chef in the background intensely focused on slicing a terrine.
After the drinks were flowing, waiters came out with some samples of the meats. It was too loud to hear what each offering was. All of them were tasty; many being new combinations of meats and nuts. With each visit from our waiter, we tried placing his accent. He sound like he was from Europe, but which country? After the second visit, we asked for hints after he declined being from Russia or any of the Baltic countries. Turns out Carlos was from Mexico.
Toward the end of the night we made some new friends and shared dating stories. The highlight being one of the girls meeting a man at Benchmark in Old Town for a second date only to discover him fondling another woman. At 8PM. There was no mention of a third date.
Thanks for coming. Try some meat.
Meat on a stick
We closed the night out by sobering up at City Winery after the festivities died down at Tete.
TÊTE Charcuterie will serve as a good spot for guys looking to impress a first date, or a trendy spot for cocktails and apps. The menu leans toward lighter fare in lieu of more substantial meals. Cocktails are your standard $10-15. Charcuterie plates ranged from upper $20s to $50. Other dishes were in the $15+ ballpark.
Make sure your date isn’t a vegetarian before taking her to the meat packing roots of Chicago’s West Loop.