CHICAGO, Ill --
Navigating the options at 4-month-old Band of Bohemia is rather like contemplating a Venn diagram — you know, the ones with the partially overlapping circles — only with more delicious results.
As the name suggests, Band of Bohemia is a gathering of artists. There is co-founder Michael Carroll, who worked at Alinea before turning his talents toward brewing (and now sells beer to Alinea's sister property, Next). Carroll churns out on-premise, herbaceous and food-friendly brews (offering at least five on any given day) with names like Grilled Apple Tarragon Ale and Persimmon Honey Biscuit. "Before I make a beer," he says, "I think about the food first."
There is co-founder Craig Sindelar, who was sommelier at Alinea and at the short-lived but excellent Pluton. His carefully curated wine list works with Band of Bohemia's food as well as, and sometimes better than, the beer. (I acknowledge a certain pro-vino bias in this regard.) And there's also a very good cocktail program, led by Carlos Matias and Sabrina Kudic.
These specialists, joined by executive chef Matt Dubois (an alum of such forward-thinking restaurants as EL Ideas and Inovasi), don't coalesce into a whole so much as they create intriguing overlaps. Cocktails with crudo. Beer and bison. Not to mention Dave Brandenburgh's desserts with Tom Santelle's coffee and tea program. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Dubois' menu begins with small plates — three quartets listed under the beer to which they are ideally paired, and here the beer is driving the menu. The entree-sized plates are listed with individual pairing suggestions, and the beer necessities are less pronounced.
Highlights among the apple-tarragon ale dishes include the pretty and simple bass crudo, perked up with citrus and pink peppercorn and given a bit of weight by little drops of rich aioli; and a superb composition of roasted carrots, a vegan dish with coffee and black-sesame notes, topped by carrot-licorice foam. Miso-marinated and charred cabbage add interest to another dish that otherwise would be another miso cod concoction.
With the beet-thyme ale, definitely go for the grilled lamb neck, the slow-cooked meat shredded and reassembled into a glazed cube redolent of Middle-Eastern spice; the fun surprise to the foie-gras dish is that the liver is breaded and deep-fried, emerging as a sort of foie schnitzel with sweet figs and port sauce, adding tart notes from pickled onion and preserved lemon peel.
There are no bad choices under the orange-chicory-ale banner; superior-quality prawns enjoy a little barbecue glaze, spicy 'nduja and Old Bay aioli, a fusion that works quite well; scallops, flanking a soft-boiled egg over an aromatic shellfish broth make up a virtual umami bomb; bison tartare topped with mushroom conserva is a treat; and the salsify with fermented cranberries, squash and cashews is another strong vegetarian dish.
There are just five main courses. Thin layers of potato and butter are garnished with romesco and peppers, a sort of potatoes Anna meets patatas bravas dish. The "petite chicken" (actually poussin, but Dubois said the name wasn't selling) is brined, hung over a fire pit — picking up plenty of smoky flavor — and served over a tangle of collard greens and Brussels sprouts; and the steak, available in small and large portions, is dry-aged, grass-fed beef, matched to a very good bordelaise sauce.
My favorites are the tete du cochon, the meat shredded and formed much in the manner of the grilled lamb neck; and the crisp-skin duck breast, with black currant and a subtle ginger jus.
For the main courses, I'd definitely turn toward Sindelar for wine advice. His list contains enough of the usual suspects to put nervous diners at ease, but given the wine's fair prices and Sindelar's easy manner, why not get his thoughts? He's there until closing anyway.
Desserts have some interesting names; approach them with an open mind. The Butternut Squash, for example, offers hidden squash puree over barley streusel and under foamy cardamom creme, surrounded by diced chunks of pickled apple. The vanilla cake arrives in irregular chunks around a memorable fermented-kumquat ice cream. The fewest surprises come from the chocolate mousse with malted ice cream, but it's a fine dessert. And while local Dark Matter coffee is available, there are also novel creations such as rosemary-lemon espresso and a surprisingly good salted cappuccino.
The interior space, more than 6,000 square feet of industrial loft, is broken into discreet environments. There's the kitchen, a chef's dream for the square footage alone, best viewed by sitting at the chef's bar and its lacquered-concrete counter. Off to the side, massive brewing and storage tanks attest to Band of Bohemia's commitment to craft brewing. The long bar, a de facto dining space for all the walk-in customers who wander in (Band of Bohemia encourages this by reserving only part of the room), and the attached coffee bar offer views of the fermenting tanks. The dining room itself is a sea of bustling activity that never seems especially noisy, though I expected it to be so.
Band of Bohemia uses the Tock online ticketing system, but instead of requiring full prepayment, assesses just a $10/person deposit to be applied to the check. As no-show insurance charges go, this is modest and fair to the extreme.