Bar Pastoral is one of the hot new places on Chicago’s culinary scene, and with good reason. Chef Chrissy Camba was on this season’s of Top Chef, joining the list of Chicagoans who have been contestants on the show. The Top Chef factor combined with the fact that Chicagoans have long been fans of Pastoral’s wine and cheese created much hype for the chain’s new concept.
Bar Pastoral hit the scene about a month ago and has already received much love from reviewers. The restaurant is small and does not take reservations. I was quite scared that we would not be able to get in. We chose to go at 6pm on Friday and scored the last table. I would describe the interior as rustic, cozy, and romantic. Think simple wood tables, wood floors, exposed brick, chalkboards with pairing suggestions, and candlelight. It is exactly the place I would want to be trapped in a snow storm. It is the type of place that is filled with a mix of friends dining in small groups, and twosomes on dates.
At first it may seem odd that such a talented chef chooses to work at a restaurant focusing on cheese, wine, and lighter bites. My husband didn’t think it made much sense until we started to taste the food, which was outstanding. Everything we tasted, including the cheese board was carefully and thoughtfully composed. The flavor pairings were unique, and the dishes were creative.
We started with a cheese board and a bottle of Pinot Noir. The cheese prices are a little steep, but that is to be expected when the menu selections are so carefully curated. A selection of five cheeses is $25. The cheeses are grouped in categories: soft, washed rind, semi-firm/firm, and blue. It is easy to understand and to select cheeses that you know you will like. Our waiter was knowledgeable and assisted in the major decision of selecting our fifth cheese. The cheeses were served with accompaniments including pickled okra, jam and nuts to compliment the flavors of the cheese. The cheese also came with freshly baked bread. My husband and I LOVE cheese. We always have at least 6-12 different cheeses in our fridge. We thought that every single cheese we tried was superb, and we know what we are talking about.
Our next course was the Roasted Cauliflower, which is something Charles wanted that I would have never selected myself. I was very pleasantly surprised by this dish, which is pictured below. This isn’t just cauliflower. The base is an egg in a boat cooked in brioche, with a runny yolk. Then it is topped with the roast cauliflower, an addictively good cheese sauce and chives. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of cauliflower, you should try it.
When I first read the menu online, I noticed that it included a Grilled Cheese with pear, ricotta, saxony, and almonds on sourdough. The combination was just as wonderful as I had hoped it would be. The creamy ricotta and the melted saxony complimented the crisp almonds and tender pear. The bread was fresh and toasted to perfection. The cheese/almond/pear/bread ratio was just right. This grilled cheese is certainly the most sophisticated I have tried.
I desperately wanted to try to Smores Pie for dessert, but was just too full to consider eating another bite. Perhaps ordering 5 cheeses as a first course was a bit aggressive. I will certainly be returning to Bar Pastoral, and saving room for the pie. I hope that it doesn’t become so popular that it becomes difficult to get a table.
Bar Pastoral is located in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood at 2947 North Broadway.