The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

A Great New Menu And Chef Make Ukrainian Village's Winchester Shine

By Anthony Todd in Food on Mar 10, 2016 3:05PM

The Winchester has had some tough breaks. There was a fire last year, a change of chefs. Plus, they opened as a brunch-only spot, and, when I mentioned going to dinner there (even two years later), at least two people said to me “Wait, they’re open for dinner?” #facepalm. Despite these challenges, Chef Duncan Biddulph (formerly of Kinmont, Rootstock) is working some magic at The Winchester during dinnertime.

I happen to prefer the space at night. The whitewashed brick walls and twee spools of twine come alive in flickering candlelight, changing from one of those Pinterest pages that makes you feel bad about your life choices into a romantic destination to bring someone on, say, a fourth date. Not the first date (the service isn’t quite good enough to risk making a bad impression), but one of those dates where you want comfort, romance, quiet and truly delicious food.

Because, for the most part, that’s what is coming out of Biddulph’s kitchen. A simple toasted sourdough, which at first glance looks a tiny bit overpriced ($3 for bread?) is a perfect tangy start to a meal, served alongside cultured butter and creamy, homemade ricotta. The bread game remains on point when it’s served alongside cheese or charcuterie—and the Winchester has mastered that sweet spot in the cheese plate Venn diagram of giving you enough cheese at a low enough price ($15 for three generous wedges) to make you feel truly satisfied without ruining the rest of your meal with excess fat. It sounds simple, but it’s usually not quite right.

Food writers toss around the word “revelation” so much that I begin to think we must go through life in some sort of epic trance, but occasionally it’s actually appropriate. That was the case with Biddulph’s composed tartare ($11). Rich, creamy meat was served, lightly seasoned, atop a thick slice of bread rich with the flavors of nuts and fruit. I’d never had tartare served on a sweet base before, and while my companion was a bit put off by it, I scarfed it down and was ready for more. If this is the next version of the toast trend, sign me up.

A lyonnaise salad ($8) was a worthy take on the classic, including hen of the woods mushrooms, perfectly cooked, to give the dish extra texture. Biddulph is good with texture, as it turns out—that salad also has crisp potato slices and the aforementioned mushrooms, the tartare mixes thick bread and tender meat, and the spaghetti ($18 for an entrĂ©e portion) is perfectly al dente with a healthy dose of toasted bread crumbs for crunch.

That spaghetti, which included a combination of sardines and mint that was both refreshing and unexpected, was my favorite dish of the night. Cavatelli ($16) was also wonderful, combining rapini and toasted garlic with sweet golden raisins—another savory dish with an unexpected and successful hint of sugar.

Not everything was a perfect success. The roasted parsnips ($8), one of my favorite vegetables, was topped with a combination of orange and sherry vinegar that was cloying, sweet and tasted like cough syrup. Plus, the Winchester has some service problems. Servers were tentative and fairly indifferent, and dishes took too long to get cleared and too long to come out. Luckily, the prices are very right and the atmosphere is perfect, so while you’re waiting those extra 20 minutes you can stare, hypnotized into the candlelight and think about your last awesome bite.