The Bristol is the type of restaurant hard to judge by appearances. The big bay windows (swung wide open in nice weather) show off a classy dining room with smart taste, and a crowd to match. Place it in the northern regions of Bucktown, and you start to get an idea of the place already – fancy finger food, gourmet specialties, and an exotic cocktail bar with special ingredients galore.
That only gets The Bristol half-right. Amidst its finery, the west wall of the dining area is a massive chalkboard menu full of rotating appetizers and entrees based on the no-scrap-left-behind philosophy of the chef. If a fruit or vegetable is coming out of season, you might find something like the watermelon soup to capitalize on it. For the meat, animals are brought in whole – and used in whole (anyone up for sweetbreads?). And chef Chris Pandel pulls it all off – leftovers they may be, but they're served with the panache of anything you find on their paper menu.
On the regular menu, the $3 monkey bread is fun to order and to eat. The cheeky "ELT" puts a slice of tasty eel in the place of the traditional bacon. For a more traditional fish, the grilled salmon with garlic almond sauce and grapes costs $16 – an excellent medley of flavors, but the serving is about half of what you might hope. The regular meat dishes range from $16-$18, including a grilled skirt steak with blue cheese ravioli. Wash it all down with one of their $9 cocktails – the pomegranate and blueberry might sound a bit tart, but it packs a balanced punch. And if you've got room for dessert, the chocolate sabayon "Nutter Butters" are a delicious take on an old favorite.
But since the menu is constantly changing, you'll have to hope the demand keeps them up on the blackboard – otherwise, trust the chef to replace it with something equally fun.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Dan Morgridge