Think Small: Bar Bites at Lake Street Kitchen + Bar

"Tonight, I will eat only starters."

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By David Hammond

Heat does not make me want to eat.

Last week, it'd been raining all day. As we walked downtown at sunset, it was actually getting hot. I really wasn't in the mood for a heavy dinner, I was thinking something smaller would be better.

Tapas is surely the Trend that Would Not Die. Beginning with restaurants that served these small plates in the Spanish tradition, there are now Italian tapas, Asian tapas, and many other ethnic small plates offerings that cater to the current customer preference to control portions and cost. Small plates also provide the opportunity to pack a lot of good tastes into a meal. In warmer months, of course, smaller plates appeal because staring at a huge platter of chow on a hot night is just not appetizing.

Carolyn and I had been invited to Lake Street Kitchen + Bar, and when I saw the menu, I shot a pic of it and declared on Facebook: "Tonight, I will eat only Starters," just appetizers. The response was immediate, with others on Facebook chiming in:

"Seems like a good idea."

"My favorite way to eat out."

"The way to go."

Encouraged, we had a number of Bar Bites…but first, something from the bar.

A mixed drink called "The Oak Park" ($15) is one of the best cocktails I've had in a very long time. It's was bourbon, orange bitters and Licor 43 (a Spanish liqueur made with citrus fruit and herbs). Despite the liqueur, this mixed drink was not sweet, but rather lightly tart, a rather dry before-dinner beverage. This drink, which is served straight up (even though the menu indicates "rocks") was, for me, perfect.

This herbal beverage went well with some Delaware oysters. Now, oysters are expensive (6 for $15), not very filling, and require very little – though definitely skilled -- kitchen intervention. You can learn a lot about a restaurant from the way they serve oysters. Ours were shucked cleanly, without leaving behind a bit of debris though retaining a goodly quantity of oyster liquor. Again, perfect.

Pulled pork tacos (2 for $5) were surprisingly good – and I say "surprisingly" because I'm kind of a pork taco snob. I've visited and written about many of Pilsen's Hispanic palaces of pork, and Lake Street Kitchen Bar pork tacos were very good examples of their kind. Served in soft corn tortillas, with some threads of red cabbage, pineapple salsa and cotija cheese, these are just the kind of little bites one wants with cocktails: not a big meal, just a three-bite taste of good stuff that meshes well with cocktails. 

Some house-made pickles ($5) came to the table, always fine palate-cleansers. The pickles were an assortment of bread and butter cucumber pickles and "carrot pickles," a kind of escabeche, the vinegar-ed vegetables you find at many Mexican restaurants.

Our second mixed drink, a "Quincy Fashioned" ($14) is a take on an Old Fashioned: bitters, cherries and Quincy Bourbon, which is made in nearby Riverside at the Quincy Street Distillery. Unlike the traditional Old Fashioned, this cocktail was also not a bit sweet, and the bourbon helped all the flavors mesh.

With the Quincy Fashioned," we had Stone Hearth Meatballs ($8), which were mildly seasoned (the better not to fight with the cocktail). We had just one meatball each, but that was fine. When you're eating Bar Bites, you don't want a big platter of food. You want a serving of food that's maybe no larger than the drink in front of you.

At Lake Street Kitchen Bar, I liked everything we had in the way of starters and cocktails, and for the summer, think small: a light dinner of a few small plates and a good drink or two is a fine way to close the day.

Click through the gallery above to see some pix of the food we had at Lake Street Kitchen Bar. 

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