dining-review-Happiness-is-FOUND-in-Evanston

You know when you see a really good movie or read a terrific book, and you can’t wait to share the experience with everyone? That’s how I feel about memorable restaurant experiences. Of course, it is my job and all, but still.

With that in mind, head over to Amy Morton’s FOUND Kitchen and Social House sometime real soon. It’s a place you won’t want to miss—modern comfort food served in a convivial, community atmosphere. And that food? As my daughter would say, nom nom (college-girl speak for delicious).

The old Gio space has been repurposed, and the feel is at once fresh, funky, and most of all, welcoming. You’ll have fun here because it’s clear that they are having fun, too —with the menu, the design elements, the concept—and that’s contagious.

Arranged in a number of small seating areas, the front “salon” is stocked with vintage couches, chairs, area rugs and coffee tables, mismatched and inviting. You could also grab a seat at the beautiful wooden bar, where the full menu is available. Exposed brick walls are laden with antique maps, paintings and photographs from different eras, and it feels like every piece of art and furniture has its own story to tell. The low chalkboard ceiling over the bar area is filled with pithy quotes, which can be changed at Morton’s whim.

Executive Chef Nicole Pederson, formerly of foodie darlings Lula Café and C-House, has gathered together a menu that reflects “local love” for “local food,” an eclectic American compendium that includes small plates, flatbreads, knife and fork sandwiches and a few well-chosen entrees.

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While I knocked back my delightful Shiso Smash ($10), a muddle of blackberries, shiso leaf and cane sugar with gin and Cassis, my husband slurped down his Ginger Storm ($8), a refreshing combination of dark rum, ginger beer, fresh lime and ginger. There are also plenty of reasonably priced wines and craft beers from which to choose.

Our table shared the Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Winter Squash with Harissa ($8), the spicy Moroccan paste tempered by the sweet squash, a winning combination. The Lamb Meatballs with Pistachio Chimichurri and Yogurt ($12) was a soulful winter dish, the tartness of the yogurt amply playing off the rich meat and herby, nutty sauce.

You will need the wet hand towels offered after eating the Twice-Fried Chicken Wings with Smoked Chiles, Lemon and Honey ($11), just the right amount of finger-lickin’ sweet and spice. But messy? You bet.

We really enjoyed the earthy Pearl Barley with Wild Mushrooms and Sherry Vinegar with a Slow-Cooked Farm Egg ($7.50). You break up the egg and mix it in to the dish, where it forms a sauce with the vinegar, which cuts the golden yolk’s richness. A great vegetarian dish.

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Are you tired of flatbreads? I have to admit I am. But I actually liked this one, mostly because the crust was so damn tasty. We tried both the Sausage and Clams ($13) and the Arugula and Parmesan ($8). Nothing soggy about this flatbread; it’s blistery and toothsome, brushed with good olive oil and served on a bread board.

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There are only three “entrees” available: vegetarian, red meat or fish. The Whole Roasted Fish with Vegetable Chips and Charred Lemon ($24) was phenomenal. That day’s local trout was moist and flaky, and the herby green sauce beneath it, rife with soft herbs like chervil, basil and parsley, was delish. And the Grilled Hangar Steak with Pimentos and Smoked Almonds ($25) was meaty and wonderful, served in thick, beefy slices, all medium rare and tender.

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Our resident veggie really dug the Squash and Mushroom Sandwich with Kale Tofu Pesto ($9), which starred Pederson’s house-made fresh tofu and crusty bread. The side of Frites with Chile Ketchup and Aioli ($5) wasn’t too shabby, either.

Desserts are limited to three: a moist Ginger Stout Poundcake ($6) with toasted pecans, apple and cranberry compote and fresh cream; deep dark and decadent Chocolate Pot de Crème ($5) with shortbread and crème fraiche; and the Pumpkin Gelato Sundae ($5) with cream cheese fluff and graham crackers, all parfaited together in a jam jar.

The restaurant is open for dinner only, and is closed Mondays. Our service was surprisingly on point and informed for a place that’s been open only a few weeks.

Full confession: I’ve known Amy Morton for years, so a clandestine visit was impossible. But all around us were people enjoying their experience, including one Evanston couple that was there both times we ate at FOUND, once with their friends, once with family. “It’s really terrific, isn’t it?” they said to me on their way out. Yes. It really is.

4.5/5 stars (A)

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FOUND Kitchen and Social House
1631 Chicago Ave.
Evanston
847-868-8945