South Side Food Review: A Pleasant Valley Sunday at Cuatro
By Chuck Sudo in Food on Jan 9, 2007 4:00PM
We've wanted to write about the Motor Row-based Cuatro, one of our favorite restaurants and a staple of the city's "Nuevo Latino" movement, for a while, but didn't feel like we could add anything new or different to the existing dialogue about the place. Everyone loves it, from critics and foodies to our next-door neighbors who never leave the house, but did so just because they heard such great things about Cuatro's scallop and salmon ceviche. For some reason, we took it upon ourselves to be the dissenting voice, but could only come up with little nitpicky things. Like how their back bar is painted in this unappealing flat black that causes their aquarium, with its view into the kitchen, to actually get lost in the shuffle. And, for background music, maybe less Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, more Cibelle and Jorge Ben Jor. See? Little nitpicky things. We've never had qualms about their food or service, which is always the proof in the pudding for us.
We woke up Sunday with a hard-on for some brunch, remembered that Cuatro is open for brunch, and realized that, just as we were about to tear into our soup, we had our camera in our messenger bag and that most of the reviews we read about Cuatro never touched upon their brunch.
Presto, today's review. Brunch, like fixed-price nights, are affordable ways for diners and foodies to go to restaurants that they normally might bypass, because of the cost. Howard Davis and Jerry Kleiner make a habit — and a pretty profit — of the latter for their restaurants. Sometimes, brunch is more than just bloody marys, buffalo wings, and eggs benedict. Well, maybe not the bloody mary, but we like to fake having some class now and then. Lucky for us, the brunch menu at Cuatro provides both the quality of food we've come to expect from their dinner menu, without making us cry poor when we're twenty paces away from the front door. They also have a nice twist on the bloody mary. Cuatro's "maria sangreta" uses Leblon, a super-premium cachaca that's new to the market, which adds a slightly bitter bite you won't find in most bloody mary recipes. As for the rest of their brunch menu, it allows the staff at Cuatro to lower their guard (and the volume of the background music), not have every dish so impeccably plated, while still serving up some tasty food. The rest of our review follows the jump.
We follow a fairly anal pattern for brunch: bloody mary, soup, and entree. Cuatro's "maria sangreta" more than satisfied the first step. For the soup, we ordered the crema de choclon. This soup is a corn and potato chowder. The potatoes are diced, the corn fire-roasted. It's served piping hot with a touch of tomato, for balance of flavor, and epazote. Epazote, also known as "pigweed," is a pungent herb that is used extensively in Mexican cooking as a flavor enhancer, but mainly a carminative. In other words, it helps reduce gas, which comes in handy with this cream-based soup. The soup itself is a wonderful melange of savory and spicy flavors. The roasting of the corn is most prominent, and meshes well with the tomato, dollop of sour cream, and the slight bitterness from the epazote.
Just as we finished our crema de choclon, our main course made its way under our nose. Whenever Chicagoist sees chilaquiles on a menu, we can't resist. We make them occasionally at home, and enjoy the two-alarm blaze that Polo Cafe serves for chilaquiles for their Saturday brunch. The chilaquiles at Cuatro are made from a fire-roasted tomatillo sauce. Tomatillos, like green tomatoes, have a more tart and acidic flavor than their crimson counterparts. To balance this, Cuatro chef Brian Garcia serves his chilaquiles with fresco cheese, crème fraiche, pinto bean sauce, and two eggs served your way (we chose poached). For two dollars extra, we also added adobado chicken slices. Anyone asking for four-star plating of chilaquiles is being nitpicky themselves. As you can see from the photo, this dish looks a mess, but there's a lot of flavor going on there. The chips in the chilaquiles are sauteed perfectly, not soggy in the slightest. It wouldn't have mattered, as the tomatillo sauce used for sauteeing the chips was one of the thickest we've ever encountered. When we asked for the check, we were only set back twenty-one dollars, with room in our budget for a larger tip than we planned on leaving.
As we left, we realized that we preferred visiting Cuatro for brunch than for dinner. The difference in energy between the two is palpable. While haute cuisine and the requisite pretensions of guests that often accompany it are standard there after sunset, we felt ourselves letting our guard down in the laid-back chill of brunch, with no pressing matters on a Sunday. It was like it was truly a day of rest. Whether it was lunch, dinner, or brunch, Cuatro is a destination restaurant. We just loved the overall experience of brunch there. Cuatro is located at 2030 S. Wabash. They open for brunch at 10 a.m. on Sundays and stay open until 10 p.m. Reservations are always taken; call 312-842-8856 to make them.