If it’s been awhile since you’ve experienced The Stained Glass Bistro, it’s time to stop in again. The redesign by new owner Jason Balla injects the space with a vitality that perfectly reflects the inspired cuisine of Executive Chef Victor Hernandez. Much like Hernandez’s innovative upscale twists on established menu crowd-pleasers, the new space crosses the urban, exposed-brick-and-beam loft look with the refinement of a chateau, marrying the two spaces while moderating the acoustics of the room, keeping the space intimate. Balla would know about acoustics and design. He’s been a tenor with the Lyric Opera of Chicago for 20 years and operated his own design business, Jason Balla Designs, for 12.
We settled at our table and started our evening with the two most-ordered appetizers. Tried and true, one of the oldest items on the menu, the Foie Gras “BLT” is a dish that defines Stained Glass as destination dining for many of their regulars.
It arrives in disguise, on the plate looking very much like a traditional BLT sandwich, cut in two for sharing, but the flavor is fine dining at its finest. With crispy applewood smoked bacon, microgreens, fresh tomato, and a thin layer of seared foie gras sandwiched between toasted brioche, it carries the classic comfort flavor of a BLT with a rich, creamy through line, the perfect union of decadence and diner food. With a tangle of fried potato strings and a dab of white truffle mayonnaise on the side, this could easily be an entrée for one.
The Baked Artichoke is a better appetizer if you’re looking to split one as a group. The artichoke leaves are spread to act as spoons filled with portabella mushrooms, sautéed spinach, Gorgonzola cheese, and an herb Parmesan crust. The whole plant sits in a brown caper butter sauce that gives it just a touch of lemon tang against a bleu cheese bite and the warm earthiness of spinach and mushroom. It’s a surprisingly hands-on and organic-looking approach to delivering on the expectations of an artichoke dip with a fun and unique Stained Glass spin.
We paired each of our entrees with a Stained Glass Wine Sampler, three half-glasses of wine assembled around a common theme culled from the curated wine list.
With the Three to Tango sampler—a trio of Argentinian reds—we had the Australian Rack of Lamb, cooked to a fork tender-medium and sliced off the rack into individual bone-in chops for the ease of the diner. Its sharp mint pesto sauce defines the approach to this dish.
A subtle hint of Hollandaise threads underneath, and it’s accompanied by buttery al dente green beans and a cake of savory Parmesan and white truffle crème brûlée, very evocative of polenta minus the grainy texture. It’s a mixture of hearty, succulent meat pulled by subtle elements of herb, mint, and cheese.
With the Wonderous Whites sampler—three increasingly sweet and fruity white wines—we sampled three presentations of tuna on one plate in the aptly named “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna.”
The tuna sashimi is sliced thin and layered underneath a pickled vegetable salad with greens, strips of carrot, and a mild dressing. It plays more like a salad with a chilled sushi element as protein.
The tuna tartare is light and mild, diced, chilled tuna so mild the flavor
of the forkful hinges on a razor-thin cucumber slice and the candy sweetness of a balsamic reduction. The champion tuna entrée on the plate, however, is a peppery pastrami spice-crusted tuna, warm, sliced, and riding the flavor of pickled red cabbage slaw. It has a smokiness that separates it from the rest of the plate and elevates the dish as a whole.
Though each of the sides look outstanding, our favorite of the night had to be the Brussels Sprouts. With a pronounced garlic bent, they deliver all the garden goodness of the en vogue vegetable with a gourmet flare and a lasting flavor.
Dessert was insane. Though I was initially skeptical, Chef Hernandez’s version of a dessert Grilled Cheese is irrefutably exceptional. Grilled slices of pound cake bookend melted, soft ripened brie cheese on a pool of rosemary-key lime custard, topped with raspberry jam and a dollop of whipped cream. Though it has elements of cake and key lime pie and strawberry shortcake, the combination of elements results in a dessert that defies comparison and needs to be experienced.
New to the menu are the housemade donuts. Tantalizingly warm and soft, they come in two flavors, maple-rum with bacon or dark chocolate frosted.
Served with a blueberry jelly, these are delicious artisan donuts. They also appear on the new weekend brunch menu at The Cellar, Stained Glass Bistro’s casual counterpart around the corner. The brunch offers up new items like Donut French Toast and a sampler of house-cured bacons like Tequila/Jalapeno, Maple/Bourbon, and Chinese Five-spice. The evening menu is draft beer and small plates that carry Chef Hernandez’s particular brand of inspired flavors.
Between The Stained Glass Bistro and The Cellar it seems like Balla and Hernandez have created a tasting menu of casual and upscale evenings all on one Evanston corner. We’re planning our next visit already.
The Stained Glass Bistro is located at 1735 Benson Avenue in Evanston, 847-864-8600, thestainedglass.com.