In­come Tax you’ll ac­tu­ally en­joy

EDGE­WA­TER NEW­COMER IN­COME TAX FEELS LIKE HOME

Red Eye Chicago - - Front Page - By Michael Na­grant

All-en­com­pass­ing menus are gen­er­ally the prov­ince of Greek din­ers and re­cent culi­nary school grads who some­how fum­bled into an ex­ec­u­tive chef role. As such, I had my sus­pi­cions when I saw the menu at In­come Tax, a new Edge­wa­ter restau­rant from chef Ryan Hen­der­son (Maple & Ash), owner Nelson Fitch and GM Collin Moody. The dishes here are bro­ken down by four coun­tries: Spain, France, Italy and Ger­many. I also no­ticed that the In­come Tax guys dubbed them­selves a “neigh­bor­hood restau­rant,” which is of­ten short­hand for “Yeah, we have dry roast chicken, a medi­ocre burger and some beers on tap.” Things didn’t look good.

The ex­pe­ri­ence

To make mat­ters worse, even though I had a reser­va­tion and the room was rel­a­tively empty when we ar­rived, the host pa­raded me and my crew past a row of puffy ban­quettes and a cozy can­dle-lit bar and sat us at the one com­mu­nal ta­ble in the din­ing room. As you might know by now, I

like com­mu­nal seat­ing as much as Don­ald Trump likes jour­nal­ists. I know the two guys in the party next to us felt the same way be­cause when my young son sat next to them, their eyes bugged out in fear. But the room filled with peo­ple and a friendly buzz grew. Folks bel­lied up to the mar­ble-topped wooden bar and clinked wine glasses. Cocktail shak­ers rat­tled, and soon, the place felt like a se­cret speakeasy party with my best friends.

And in case you’re won­der­ing: The name of the restau­rant was in­spired by a classic cocktail made with gin, ver­mouth and cit­rus that Moody and Fitch stum­bled across in a vin­tage cocktail book.

“Yeah, the name was in­spired by the cocktail, but also it re­minded us of the neigh­bor­hood. In Edge­wa­ter, there are all these mom-and-pop busi­nesses with signs that say ‘mat­tress store’ or ‘hard­ware store.’ We liked the idea of a sign that was stark that just said In­come Tax,” Moody said. “We also joke that while al­co­hol taxes your body, it’s a great so­cial lu­bri­cant that pro­motes a com­mu­nal feel­ing, and that’s what we wanted to cre­ate.”

The ser­vice

The ser­vice only added to the warmth of the room. Along with a tal­ent for in­spir­ing fear in sin­gle hip­ster dudes, my son is also a very picky eater. He barely tol­er­ates chicken nuggets, much less salad Beau­caire, a French plate made with en­dive, beet, cel­ery root and ham of­fered on the In­come Tax menu. I asked our server if the kitchen could maybe do an im­prov plate of but­tered noo­dles. (Note: I ab­so­lutely hate mak­ing asks like this. But I also dragged my son along on this re­view and didn’t want him to starve.) I know it’s not fair to the kitchen, and I told the server to dis­re­gard the re­quest if it was too tough. Still, he came back a few min­utes later and said that the kitchen staff meal fea­tured spaghetti and they could take care of us.

The food

Though you may not rec­og­nize Hen­der­son by name, he’s worked with some heavy hit­ters in­clud­ing Alex Stu­pak (Alinea), Wylie Dufresne (Alder and WD50 in New York) and, most re­cently, Danny Grant (Maple & Ash). That pedi­gree shows. Though he serves a pan-European menu, Hen­der­son ex­e­cutes it with grace. There’s also some method to his mad­ness.

“When I saw Collin and Nelson’s wine list and how it was bro­ken down by coun­try, I de­cided I wanted the food menu to read like an old wine list with selections from dif­fer­ent coun­tries,” he said. “I had thou­sands of op­tions for dishes, but I tried to pick the stuff we re­ally liked eat­ing per­son­ally.”

There are a lot of great­est hits on of­fer, such as Span­ish ta­pas fave pan con to­mate ($6) and French clas­sics coq au vin ($20) and mac­arons ($4) for dessert. But there are also sur­pris­ing gems like the afore­men­tioned Beau­caire ($12). The salad was a tonguede­light­ing melange of bit­ter, acidic and sweet fla­vors that closed with the salty porky sal­va­tion cour­tesy of La Quer­cia pro­sciutto.

“The New York pub­lic li­brary has this huge col­lec­tion of old menus. I found that dish from a 1930s menu,” Hen­der­son said. “We mod­ern­ized it. In­stead of us­ing mayo, we dressed it with a bro­ken vinai­grette.”

But the best dish at In­come Tax is a house­made car­rot ag­nolotti ($16), fea­tur­ing silky car­rot-in­fused pasta wrap­pers stuffed with roasted oys­ter mush­rooms and tangy sour cream. Pur­ple car­rot slices from Ni­chols Farm & Or­chard added a nice raw crunch, and crispy nub­bins of fried sweet­breads dot­ted the plate. Chi­tarra pasta ($15) is made with a burnt onion puree that turned the noo­dles black, mak­ing it look like they were in­fused with squid ink. The puree also raised the pH of the dough so that the fin­ished noo­dle pos­sessed a sat­is­fy­ing chew. Tan­gled in the noo­dles were juicy Smurf-sized lamb meat­balls smoth­ered in a tomato-red pep­per sauce dot­ted with re­fresh­ing bits of mint. The sauce could have used a touch more salt.

It may sound like the name of par­tic­u­larly ec­cen­tric Ger­man dude, but flam­menkuchen ($9) is ac­tu­ally a fa­mous sa­vory Al­sa­tian tart. If you want a de­cent poor man’s ver­sion, try the one from the Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle. If you want a deca­dent rich man’s ver­sion fea­tur­ing an olive-oil in­fused flaky cracker crust stuffed with creamy fro­mage blanc fon­due (this dish should come with a free an­giogram) and stud­ded with hunks of ba­con and sweet soft pearl onions, head straight to In­come Tax.

The drinks

The wine list is fan­tas­tic and fea­tures tons of small pro­duc­ers and in­spired selections. I es­pe­cially dug a yeasty dry sparkler petil­lant na­turel from La Ferme du Plateau ($14). Ac­cord­ing to my server, the stuff was pro­duced by a goat farmer. I’m now con­vinced that all my bub­bly should come from shep­herds.

The Hon­ey­moon cocktail ($14)—a mix of ap­ple brandy, or­ange liqueur, Bene­dic­tine and lemon—was as bright as a sun­rise and popped with cit­rus and bit­ter notes. Less suc­cess­ful was a spritz ($10) fea­tur­ing Amer­i­cano Rosa and prosecco. It was flat and re­ally needed a bit more sweet­ness. Moody says they have re­jig­gered it since I vis­ited.

The dessert

Last year I wrote a love let­ter to the canele at Cel­lar Door Pro­vi­sions in Lo­gan Square. At some point, I may do the same for In­come Tax’s of­fer­ing ($3). It fea­tures the same con­trast­ing crunchy outer shell and cus­tardy in­nards as Cel­lar Door Pro­vi­sions’ ver­sion but wafts a haunt­ing pine per­fume cour­tesy of a dous­ing in sapin liqueur.

Bot­tom line

I may give a restau­rant three or four stars, but that doesn’t mean it’s nec­es­sar­ily a per­sonal fa­vorite. About once or twice a year, I dis­cover a restau­rant that I know I will return to over and over again be­cause it speaks to my heart, the kind of place I visit when I’m not on the clock as a food writer. Restau­rants in this cat­e­gory have in­cluded Vera, Cel­lar Door Pro­vi­sions, Gi­ant and the now-de­funct Night­wood. In­come Tax falls into this group. You might re­mem­ber from few weeks ago that, though I liked it, I thought some­thing was miss­ing at Publi­can Anker. It felt too trans­ac­tional. In­come Tax has what Anker is miss­ing. It’s small and its crew takes care of you on a very per­sonal and de­lib­er­ate level. It feels like home.

LENNY GIL­MORE/REDEYE PHO­TOS

In­come Tax

Hon­ey­moon cocktail

Flam­menkuchen

Canele

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