The "farm-to-table" concept has become almost trendy with restaurants. The Kitchen ( 316 N. Clark St.; thekitchen.com/the-kitchen-chicago/ ) has almost become masterful at the idea.
However, this spot is also about community. Mondays are "Community Nights," when a local farmer, brewer or culinary-associated professional is featured. Guests gather around the community table for a four-course, family-style meal that cannot be found on the menu. Twenty percent of these dinners ( priced at $35 ) is donated to the non-profit organization that builds learning gardens in local Chicago schools ( under The Kitchen Foundation, which, according to General Manager Michael Elmore, has 105 such gardens in Chicago ). Also, there's community hour ( actually, two hours: 3-5 p.m. ) Monday through Friday, with sips, plates and various nibbles.
However, all the good intentions in the world do not help if the food doesn't bring the customers back. Fortunately, the fare at The Kitchenespecially the dessertswill do just that.
Chef Johnny Anderes ( a veteran of Avec ) certainly has the chops ( no pun intended ) to run the kitchen. Ingrid's mussels ( named after writer/seafood enthusiast Ingrid Bengis ) were plump and flavorful, thanks to the garlic, chili and thyme that accompanied them. The cannellini bean bruschetta ( with garlic and blood orange ) was also visually and gustatorially appealing.
Then there was the braised pork sandwich with apple mostarda, pickled fennel and mixed greens, coupled with a cider jus. My dining companion and I had mixed feelings about this, as it worked more for me ( although it seemed to have gotten cold quickly ).
However, we both liked the Moser Brothers airline chicken breastand were even more in love with the cannellini bean/chicken-sausage mix that accompanied it. In fact, we both opined that we'd order a bowl of that mix alone.
The desserts we tried, by pastry chef Claire Smith, were simple but impressive. My friend got the chocolate nemesis, a sinful concoction that includes chocolate cake with creme fraiche whipped cream and cocoa nibs. I opted for the sticky toffee pudding with house vanilla gelato; it was one of the best desserts I'd had in a long time. However, others may want something like the lemon tart, which features duck egg custard, pistachio and Meyer lemon.
By the way, there are plenty of options for vegetarians, such as wheatberries, portobella sandwich and the quiche du jour ( greens, lemon and olive oil ).
The decor features lots of various materials ( wood, brick, etc. ) that somehow makes the place feel simultaneously rustic and industrialbut it's impressive, thanks in no small part to the view of the Chicago River. ( The day we went was very bright, so we pulled down the shade as we sat next to the window. )
So give The Kitchen a tryand you can go there whenever you want, as it's the rare restaurant that's open seven days a week.
Photos by Andrew Davis and Ed Negron