A carefully placed cilantro here, a lovingly placed dish there, Prairie Grass Cafe, located near Chicago, pools all its energies for its guests, and they, in turn, keep coming back
By: Soumya Jain
Posted on: January 14, 2015
A carefully placed cilantro here, a lovingly baked dish there, Prairie Grass Café, located near Chicago, pools all its energies for its guests, and they, in turn, keep coming back
What with molecular gastronomy and exotic, rare ingredients making their way inside restaurants, the business is becoming more competitive day by day. And then you find a gem of a place which gets back simple elements and presents them in ways and combinations you never imagined.
Prairie Grass Café in Northbrook, Illinois is a simple restaurant, without any of the high-trapping frills, yet giving a five-star experience which many of its loyal clients demand and have come to expect. And that is to be anticipated as its team comes with work experience at multitude luxury hotels. “It was while working at Four Seasons hotel in Chicago that I met Sarah. We got married, and soon decided to open our own restaurant,” said Rohit Nambiar, owner of Prairie Grass Café.
Sarah Stegner, Chef at Prairie Grass Café, has serviced in the kitchens of Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. And that shows in her work at the Café too! “We wanted the restaurant to serve Four Seasons quality food, but at better prices and in a more intimate setting,” Mr Nambiar explained. And that is quite true as we saw Mr Nambiar working and talking to guests as much as any other staff member.
The décor is simple with wooden furniture, white cutlery, and circular, contemporary chandeliers. “We didn’t even put table cloths,” said Mr Nambiar. Not that they need to. The food demands all the focus and admiration.
Being a brunch, we started with a flute of Mimosa – orang juice and sparkling wine – and left the choice of dishes to Mr Nambiar. Understanding that we are vegetarians, Mr Nambiar pulled out some of the best recipes from his breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
The lemon ricotta pancake, effervescent with that zing of lemon, and soft to the point of melt-in-the-mouth, made the perfect beginning to what was to come. Fluffy, with a slightly crumbly texture courtesy the ricotta cheese, we gulped it down piping hot because of its irresistibility, and to enjoy every morsel before it became cold. So delicious was it on its own, that we pushed away the maple syrup!
Advancing to other dishes, my husband eyed the Chiliquiles, while I picked up my fork to pierce the Quinoa cake. Coming from the land of burritos and tacos, we hadn’t heard of Chiliquiles before. But now that we did, we thank Prairie Grass Cafe for introducing them to us well in time! Scrambled eggs, served on a bed of tortillas soaked in a sweet-hot salsa (which gave us quite an Indian kick to be frank!), with fresh guacamole and sour cream on the side, this dish was probably our best find of the year 2014. The piquant salsa balanced well with the eggs, as we travelled to Mexico and came back.
The quinoa cake, served with carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips and balsamic vinegar on one side, and purple cabbage, sunflower seeds, raisins and pea shoots on the other, was quite a lesson in healthy eating, albeit delicious. The crispy, crumbly quinoa cake was tasty to the point of disbelief! My husband and I were quite mystified by its preparation process. The veggies on the side added an array of flavours if required, but I was simply happy with the cake only.
On this note, Mr Nambiar also informed us that Chef Stegner is the founding member and co-president of Chicago’s hugely popular Green City Market. No wonder that the menus of Prairie Grass Café are dominated by fresh produce, sourced from local farmers, prepared in simple, alluring ways. The restaurant uses only produce of the season in its dishes. So don’t wonder if the carrots with the quinoa cake are replaced with brussel sprouts for four months.
The brunch menu also serves a variety of benedicts and omelettes. Their Sirloin Burger, which has been acknowledged by Chicago Magazine as number 1 is also on the menu! Some of their other favourites from the lunch and dinner menus also feature here.
A meal is never complete without something to sweeten up the rest of the day, and so our table was furnished with warm chocolate ‘Muk Muk’ cake. A wonderful lava cake, it was surrounded with crème anglaise, in case the oozing chocolate got too much for someone. For my part, I didn’t mind it!
This was followed with a vanilla bean crème brulee, and of course we went gaga over it! It was smooth with a velvety texture as we lolled it around on our palette. With a delicate essence of vanilla, the caramelized sugar on top gave it an added flavor. And that’s not all! We went back with Mom’s Seasonal Pie, made with bananas, prepared traditionally the way Mr Nambiar’s mother-in-law makes it! It was crunchy and soft at just the right places, as our hearts melted with the wholesome goodness of it all.
Prairie Grass Café has been standing in Northbrook for more than a decade, which means something in an era where restaurants open and shut shop everyday, everywhere. While the food is excellent, with a stunning presentation, it is also the service which makes people keep coming back. Each staff member is passionate about food, which we figured out while communicating with our server Umberto. “Luxury in America is not about opulence and beautification, but more about personalisation. I know each of our customers’ by name, and so do all my servers,” said Mr Nambiar. And so, I know we are going back there.
Coordinates: 601 Skokie Boulevard, Northbrook, Illinois