I’m still digging my way out from the culinary posting hole that I got myself into at the end of this past marking period, so this post is also rather belated. But no less relevant or true, despite the delay!
A few weekends ago, Chris and I were looking for somewhere to go for dinner. I had a hankering for some good pad thai, so we drove up to Highland Park, near our old apartment, with the intention of visiting an old favorite, Smiling Banana Leaf. They used to be about a 5-block walk from our apartment, with an affordable menu of really great food. This was still during the days of Chris’s second shift, Tuesday-Saturday job, so sometimes when I needed a little boost, or on a Saturday night when it depressed me to cook all by myself, I would order some take-out and then walk down to pick it up. It was a tiny little place, and it looks like it’s expanded since then.
…But, that’s not the point here. The point is that they were booked with reservations straight through to 9:00. Nine o’clock! And I didn’t even think they took reservations! So, happy for their success but sad for our lack of pad thai, we quickly formulated an unlikely Plan B: we walked across the street to E2. We figured there was no way we would get in, but as luck would have it, we did, and we were rewarded by a perfectly lovely dinner.
This was actually our second visit to E2 (pronounced, as the internet tells me, E-Squared, not actually E-Two). It’s a neat little restaurant, clearly Italian-inspired though with some unique and innovative dishes, that serves good, solid food without taking itself too seriously. (Case in point: their appetizers aren’t labeled with as antipasto or something like that; they’re called OMGs and identified by their main ingredient, whether it be vegetable, cheese, or meat.) The servers have been friendly but not over-bearing, and the atmosphere was just a step up from casual. Last time we went, we were a little more comfortable: it was a pleasant summer evening, and we got a table on the sidewalk outside. While it might not be the most picturesque neighborhood, it was still nice to be outside in the early-evening air. Inside, during the winter, we found it to be a little cramped and a little drafty. But the decor was rustic and homey, with flowers on each table and water served in those large glass jugs reminiscent of glass milk containers that seem to be popular right now. The room had a giant chalkboard gracing one wall labeling the OMGs and desserts for the day, and bookshelves lining the other (if only I could have seen the titles!). They also had a room downstairs in the basement for private parties or extra seating.
On to the food. I don’t remember exactly what we ordered as out entrees last time, except to say that they were delicious. What I do remember, however, is the appetizer. Their system of labeling is fun in that you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get. (And the other nice thing is that they’re priced reasonably enough that you don’t feel bad trying something on a whim. I think the most recent time we were there, they ran from $4 to $6, depending on if they were veggies, cheeses, or meats.) I think ours was listed under prosciutto, and we were intrigued, so we sprung for it. And it was fantastic! It was a prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella and basil, grilled just enough for the outside to be a little crispy and the inside to be just-melted. And it was fantastic paired with the signature grilled focaccia, charred just a bit on the outside but thick and full of flavor.
This time, I was a little let-down by our appetizer but was blown away by my entree–I’ll consider that more than a fair trade-off! We started with roasted carrots, which we just not what I was expecting, I think. They were served cool and crisp, with a heavy dose of cracked pepper and some parsley. They were nicely done, just not what I wanted on a chilly winter night, I think. The entree, however, was another story. Chris got the chicken with radicchio and arugula over a mushroom risotto; he enjoyed it, although said after tasting mine, he was jealous of my choice. I got the special, a pumpkin mascarpone ravioli in a butter-cream sauce with walnuts and prosciutto. It was very heavy, but fabulous. The filling of the ravioli was deeply flavored, between the pumpkin and the spices, and the cheese gave it a rich, smooth texture. The sauce complemented it well, with some crunch from the walnuts and saltiness from the prosciutto–a combination that I wouldn’t initially have thought of but that totally worked.
We were both far too full for dessert, so we left it at that. Between this, Smiling Banana Leaf, and Park Bruges, Highland Park is starting to boast a pretty good restaurant scene along Bryant street, and I’m glad to see it. This is definitely a place to keep in mind for some good, hearty, twists on Italian fare!
*My apologies to Shakespeare for the title of this post. I simply couldn’t help it! 😉