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North Side Review: Bluebird Bistro and Winebar

By Amelia Levin in Food on Aug 14, 2007 9:59PM

Great. Another bar/restaurant with a funky name, overpriced menu, and hipster vibe in the Bucktown/Wicker Park corridor. That’s probably your first impression when you heard of the recently opened Bluebird Bistro and Winebar on Damen in Bucktown. In actuality, though, this casual, rustic spot from owner Tom MacDonald of the popular Webster’s Wine Bar in Lincoln Park will knock those stereotypes right out of the floor-to ceiling-glass window next to the front door.

That’s because with a diverse menu of cheese, salads, small plates and sophisticated yet unpretentious entrees averaging 8 to 10 bucks, the most being $15, Bluebird’s reasonably priced, delicious, and there’s something for everyone here. Wine lovers rejoice in the 100-plus list featuring bottles from around the globe, and beer lovers, take note despite the absence of the word “beer” in Bluebird’s name—there are around 50 bubblies to choose from here, all bottled at the moment. On our visit, we sampled the Ambrio from the Gouden Carolus brewery in Belgium, an amber ale that’s crisp and refreshing with a little spicy, bitter bite and 8 percent alcohol content, plus a couple other strong, Belgian brews, some by tappets monks—you know, the good stuff. We also tried a Dogfish Head variety and a light and fruity, Belgian white ale from the Canadian Unibroue brewery that the bartender recommended for a warm summer night.

08_2007_Chicagoist_Bluebird%20002.jpgThat Ambrio went well with the mini-cheese platter we ordered with Spanish Garrotxa from the Catalunya region near Barcelona, and Spanish Mahon, from the Spanish island of Minorca—both semi-firm, creamy and nutty cheeses. The beer also paired well with the braised rabbit pasta dish (that’s the $15 entrée), a sinfully delicious, but not overly rich, platter of al dente fettuccini pasta topped with chunky meat braised in the same beer we were drinking. Interlaced with sautéed oyster mushrooms, shallots, and crispy bacon bits, the dish had a wholesome, strong earthy and smoky taste, almost like morels and butter with a toothsome bite. Pair that with some parmesan-dusted fries dipped in the accompanying sweet, cumin-spiced ketchup and garlicky aioli, and being on a diet has never been this good. Seriously, the fries were super addicting, and presented nicely in a paper-lined steel cylinder you might find in a French bistro. Speaking of bistro, some might be quick to use that description to describe the food, but truthfully, there are some dishes with Middle Eastern and Moroccan influence, and although others call it a gastropub, we find that word to be grossly overused as of late, simply describing any place serving liquor/beer and upscale, comfort food.

08_2007_Chicagoist_Bluebird%20004.jpg For a Friday night, it was pretty quiet and calm inside, and many, not most, seats at the bar and banquettes along the opposite wall were taken. Regarding décor, think, as MacDonald put it, “rustic meets industrial.” That description is evident by the iron light fixtures, artwork picturing industrial scenes, exposed brick and walls made of large squares of reclaimed, dark wood MacDonald said he snagged from a place in Wisconsin, which also provides the material for the long bar lined with wine bottles and other liquors. Super dim lighting and a few candles here and there create a relaxing, intimate feel that would be great for a date, very reminiscent of the sister spot in Lincoln Park.

Servers and bartenders are knowledgeable of the wine and beer, and there are a few of them behind the bar which helps the attentiveness factor. Overall our experience was pleasant, satisfying in food and drink, and friendly in conversation with the staff. This place ain’t your old trendster, hang out. In fact, it’s poised to be one of those great neighborhood spots packed with regulars and destined to become a mainstay.

P.S. If you're curious about the name, MacDonald says it's a nickname of a friend who has since passed.

Bluebird Bistro and Winebar, 773-486-2473, located at 1749 N. Damen Ave., is open 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday through Friday, and 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. Saturday.