Downgrading My Birthday

Sorry about the delay. We’re now back to our regularly scheduled programming. (We had a bit of a computer issue… well, a lot of an issue as the stupid thing stopped working.) Couple the need for a new computer and a few other financial setbacks, and I was forced to give up my birthday dinner reservation to Charlie Trotter’s. Which is sad because he’s closing in August, but I think I’d be even sadder if I couldn’t pay my mortgage.

Nacional 27 LogoOh wait, it’s not as desperate as all that… Paul and I still went out for a birthday dinner. We just did it a bit lower key. And, you know what? It wasn’t Charlie Trotter’s, but it was still a pretty good night at Nacional 27. (Yeah, I’m probably one of the few people working in Chicago that has never been there for after work drinks.)

The dining portion of the room is pretty interesting—a tiered circle so you’re either sitting above others looking in (as Paul and I were) or sitting below being stared watched. The room’s centerpiece looks like a giant salad bowl. (In actuality, it’s an immense topiary with extremely bright lights. Very reminiscent of a tossed salad.)

What We Ate

The first half of the menu is comprised of tapas and other small plates. According to our waiter, Nacional 27 is named for the 27 countries in Latin America that inspire the menu. And, of course, if you had trouble coming up with 27 Latin American countries, you get the honor of being as geography geeky as me. I could only come up with 21. Wikipedia says there are only 20, but I include Belize. Point is: The menu is Latin American fusion.

We split three small plates:

  • Pumpkin and goat cheese croqueta: Four golf ball sized bits of deep fried fun.
  • Chorizo empanadas: Two empanadas each one sliced in half. In addition to chorizo, they’re filled with queso fresco and pickled jalapeño cream (which I could not taste). They were definitely dry. I’ve had better by a long shot.
  • Ahi tuna and watermelon ceviche: Served in a glass bowl nestled in ice that sat inside a larger glass bowl. Not only was the presentation pretty great, so was the eating experience. Because the tuna and watermelon looked the same, you were never sure how much of sweet or tangy you would get with each bite.

Then, we each had a full entree. I went with the roast suckling pig “cubano.” The quotes are the restaurant’s because this isn’t a sandwich at all. In fact, the plate comes with four piles. (That’s not a very appetizing way to put it, but that’s what they are.) On the top of the plate, is a mound of stewed eggplant with spicy tomatoes (think ratatouille), then a mound of mashed Cuban sweet potatoes with caramelized onions (not yams… but a white sweet potato, so incredibly savory), and then coconut rice with black beans. The final largest mound at the bottom of the plate is the pig in ancho pork jus with chicharrónes. Chicharrónes are pork rinds, but I could detect none in the mountain of meat. If I were to go back, I’d ask to leave off the beans and rice and slap on more of those potatoes. Soooo good.

Paul had the grilled skirt steak. It was served over crispy Costa Rican potatoes (looked like fingerlings to me) and a side of salsa criolla (looked like regular salsa to me). I will admit that Paul’s steak was pretty fantastic. We didn’t even have to argue that we both one the plate game. So, that’s saying something.

For dessert, we shared the chocolate cake with strawberry and Grand Marnier sauce. It had a dollop of very thick whipped cream on top. And, I’m guessing that that is what made me very ill several hours later.

What We Drank

We started at the bar where Paul had a gin and tonic and I tried their passion-ginger sangria. Pretty gingery, but I was disappointed to see it being put together. The fruit is thrown on the top rather than marinated in the wine and brandy.

At dinner, we had to ask if they served wine by the bottle as our server did not bring over a wine menu. And, then we realized why they probably do mostly by the glass—the menu was very short and very overpriced. The least expensive bottle was $38 and I would have called it a $10 buy at the grocery store. I know there’s a mark-up for wine at a restaurant, but more than double is egregious. We still ordered a bottle of something else. It was passable and in no way detracted from my meal. That’s about all I can say about it.

So, is it a decent replacement for Charlie Trotter’s? Not at all. Am I glad that I don’t have to feel guilty dropping a crap load of money for fussy, on its way out French food? You betcha. As my friend said, “Um, $600 is like a trip somewhere warm. Not dinner.”

And, a final note, in case you didn’t know—Nacional 27 is a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant so holiday gift cards are accepted. (Thanks to Paul’s coworker on that score.)

Location: 325 W. Huron. Valet parking is available, but due to the vagaries of construction, we managed to snag one of the metered spots across the street.

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