Stockyard Palate’s Lauren Zajac and Johnny Offal dined at the highly anticipated Trenchermen on back to back nights. This Wicker Park restaurant by the Sheerin brothers came with high expectations. Lauren and Johnny sat down and told us what they thought.
Johnny Offal: So, let’s start out by talking about the room. What did you think?
Lauren Zajac: The bar area was really impressive, atmospheric; definitely somewhere I would like to hang out in and have a few cocktails.
We ended up eating in the dining room to the right, which wasn’t quite as impressive in terms of the look. Still, I loved the lighting and wall of wine bottles. The only downside of the dining area was that it was really packed, which made the noise level pretty intense.
Johnny Offal: Yeah, I noticed that it was quite loud too. I liked the brick dining room. The high back banquets are pretty comfortable. There are also two community tables with stool seating. The waiter stations in the center of the room are nice but the dramatic light fixtures that soar from them steal the show.
Service was informed but I noticed a few errors. Nothing serious and all could easily be attributed to the place just having opened. The first thing I found odd was the waiter explaining that the menu was designed for sharing, yet I found that it was a pretty standard appetizer/entrée layout. I also snickered a bit when he informed us of the “curated” beer list. Curated, really? You’ve got 8 beers on the list and you need a curator? I think they’re taking it a little too seriously.
Next, when we ordered a bottle of wine from the short, but nice and reasonably priced list. Our wine didn’t arrive to our table until after our apps were cleared. Also, when it did arrive we were informed that no Burgundy glasses were available – a pet peeve of mine for sure, but come on! At least have proper glassware. It’s like serving all of the dishes on the menu in soup cups.
What did you think of the service?
Lauren Zajac: I was pleased with the service. We had a few small errors, but nothing as severe as what you encountered. Our server was pleasant, enthusiastic, and explained the menu, even though it was pretty straight forward.
I agree 100% with the comments about the menu being for sharing, since I didn’t really see that come into play at all. While I thought the portions were definitely an acceptable size, I couldn’t imagine sharing the Scotch egg or any of the entrées. And yeah, the beer list is nice, but there’s not really a lot on it. I was imagining a much more robust selection, especially with the former ties to Three Floyd’s Brewing.
Nitpicky things about the service: our server only took one copy of the menu and left the other on the table, which drove Pete nuts all night. We looked around to see if that was just their thing, but it appeared to be a small error – again, nothing major.
What did you think about the price points?
Johnny Offal: You know, I thought the pricing was fair: apps in the $10-$17 range and entrées in the mid $20s. The quality of the ingredients in every dish seemed on par with the pricing. $12 for the craft cocktails seemed high given the size. Funny, I’m not the type to ever comment on portion sizes, but the drink I had – ‘The Desperate Vesper’, a concoction of gin, lemon and Malort – while really good, was super small. ‘The Green Hornet’, a celery-infused Gin and Tonic, was also outstanding, but pretty short as well.
What did you drink?
Lauren Zajac: I could agree with the drink price. I had the ‘Baby Momma’ cocktail, which was quite small, but also very sour (due to the heavy use of yuzu). I could see why the drink was this size, as it was more of a sipper than something I would order multiples of. Beer prices were fine; no complaints.
Favorite app and entrée?
Johnny Offal: Favorite is tough to say… Let’s start with apps. We ordered the sepia noodles and bacon-cured sweetbreads. The noodles were really nice ribbons of super fresh sepia served in a bowl garnished with avocado-chive puree and some pickled watermelon. This dish was very subtle and delicate; maybe a bit too much so for me.
The sweetbreads were really interesting – smoky, like bacon, yet not overly so. You can still taste the organ, which is a good thing. I’m getting a bit tired of XO sauce with sweetbreads though. Sure, it’s nice, but I’ve had it with sweetbreads at like, three other places in the past few months. The lime carrots in this dish were amazing though; thinly shaved ribbons of carrot, lightly pickled in lime juice with cilantro leaves and fresh coriander seeds. Wow! I could have eaten a bowl of those.
What apps did you guys have?
Lauren Zajac: All we did for apps was the Scotch egg, which was quite good, flavor-wise. I had a small issue though, with the small accompaniments, one of which was bland, steamed cauliflower. It was difficult to eat with the egg and didn’t add anything to the dish. We were left with questions about how to eat it, as it kept falling off the fork when balanced on the egg.
Johnny Offal: So, what entrées did you order?
Lauren Zajac: Let’s see. We had the duck breast, which was great; perfectly seasoned and well cooked, with a good price point.
We also had the brisket, which was very tender. The highlight of the brisket was the accompanying pasta, cooked in a light mustard sauce. The pasta was very al dente, which worked well with the tenderness of the meat. The only thing I thought was a little ridiculous, was the ‘Trencheritos’ – which I had imaged being more like a house fry. Instead, we had to ask the server to identify what they were exactly. It turns out that Trencheritos were these small slivers that looked like blue corn chips and tasted a bit like a Dorito. While tasty, they didn’t match up with what we’d anticipated.
Thoughts on your entrées?
Johnny Offal: We had the same entrées! The duck was perfectly cooked – what you get is half a duck breast cooked sous vide then seared. The rice in the dish was really more of a short grain arancini, which was super crisp and tasty. I felt the dish could have used a bit of some sort of sauce; not because of texture or flavor but rather, just to add some depth to an otherwise nicely prepared dish.
While I’m not much of a brisket fan, this was a very nicely done version: tender, beefy pieces of meat accompanied by perfectly al dente, house made garganelli. I don’t recall much of a mustard sauce, but thought that mustard was used to make the pasta. The vinegary cornichon perfectly offset the fattiness of the brisket. What I found odd about this dish was the snap peas; they just didn’t make sense on that plate. They were just sort of on there as if to say “Yeah, here’s a veg.” Again, like the duck, something seemed to be missing from this dish to help it become deeper.
I can’t put my finger on what it was, but while perfectly executed and beautifully plated, each dish just seemed a bit shallow; like it lacked soul.
So, how about dessert?
Lauren Zajac: I’m with you on the idea of “lacking soul”. I loved the brisket, Pete loved the duck breast, but neither of us left dying to come back in a hurry. There’s definitely something missing, but I’m not quite sure what.
Per your recommendation, we went with the churros, which were ridiculous; small, crunchy, and very savory. I loved the idea of the accompanying veggies and liked the bite and sweetness of the apricot ice cream paired with them; probably one of the best ice creams I have had all year!
Our other dessert – the coffee cake – was a bit less to my liking. This was another instance of me having one idea in mind and then finding a taste that wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t a bad dessert by any means, just a bit heavy in bitterness. For instance, the cake element of the dish reminded me more of a wheat toast, and the fried chocolate had a heavy, bitter flavor. I don’t think I’d order this one again.
Your turn for desserts and closing thoughts!
Johnny Offal: Like you, we ordered the churros, which seem to be off the menu already; too bad, because they were one of the best things I ate at Trenchemen. This was a very adult dessert; not too sweet, but really well thought out and balanced. The Klug blueberries dessert was a real disappointment; the only real miss of the night. Not quite ripe berries were paired with dried out cubes of fairly flavorless pound cake and a Gumball Head panna cotta that tasted of nothing and had a tough, almost gritty texture.
The waiter obviously missed an opportunity to upsell by not offering us after-dinner drinks. Sure, the cocktail and “curated” beer lists were on dessert menu, but nothing rang true and he didn’t even ask if we’d like anything to drink even though our wine glasses were obviously empty. Again, I can chalk things like this up to only being open a short time, but another such issue was that every dish ordered was brought to the wrong seat by the runner. Clearly a “we just opened” issue, but still, if you’re going to run this place on a high level, your staff needs to be properly trained.
Overall, I liked Trenchermen, though I wanted to like it more. With the exception of one dessert, the execution was fantastic. I just can’t get away from that feeling that something was missing to give the food real depth and soul.
All right, wrap this thing up.
Lauren Zajac: Closing thoughts: while I enjoyed Trenchermen and the inventiveness and components of many of the dishes, I’d be more curious to see how it evolves over the next couple of months. I’d like to see some changes in terms of the dessert and maybe see more of a connection to the food. I’m not sure what Trenchermen is quite yet – fine dining or more of a bar atmosphere supported by a solid menu?
I will say, for the time being, that the Sheerin brothers are doing some nice work with flavors and components in the dishes. Perhaps over time, with some more refinement and getting past the opening week issues, Trenchermen will find more depth and clarity.
Johnny Offal: Like you, I plan to return to Trenchermen. Upon my return, I hope to find more polished service (it has a long way to go) and pray that the brothers Sheerin can find the soul for their food.
|Trenchermen||The Stockyard 10|
|Vibe||Comfortable. Great place to hang out with an excellent atmosphere.|
|Crowd||Mainly younger folks.|
|Soundtrack||Sadly, we don’t recall. Very noisy room.|
|Drinks||Tasty. Smallish pours. Could use a bit more variety.|
|Cost/person||Roughly $60ish per person|
|Revisitability||B. We’re curious to see what happens over time.|
|Service||C+. Needs improvement.|
|Food||B-. Technically fantastic, needs more soul.|