I’ve been to 27 Live twice. Both times, the meals were enjoyable. Both times, the room was virtually empty.
Is that because of the location, just slightly off the beaten path in downtown Evanston (but only two blocks away from the bustling movie mega-plex)? Or perhaps it can be chalked up to the weather, on one night a drizzly mess, and the other with a wintry chill in the air?
Or maybe it’s because Evanston doesn’t yet realize that the restaurant has been open for business since early October. The attached concert venue has been open for a good chunk of time, now, and seems to be doing a brisk business in private parties and events. It is a great space for a party, and I’ve been to a few there already.
The restaurant, which has its own entrance in front of the music hall, has large picture windows looking out onto Church Street, with a pleasant clubby atmosphere. One wall is lined with reclaimed wood; a short bar sits at the far end. The colors are warm and inviting, and the booths are comfy. So far, so good, although I wasn’t feeling the “rock and roll” vibe touted on the website.
The food, “upscale comfort food with a twist,” was actually much better than I had expected. Proprietor John Tasiopoulos also owns the Old Neighborhood Grill on Evanston’s Central Street, which serves tasty but very casual, counter-service grill food. 27 Live is a few steps up from that.
Start with the very generous-for-the-money portion of Chestnut Gnocchi ($7), little dumplings (I saw the chestnut color, but didn’t really taste its distinctive flavor), tossed with nubbins of bacon, roasted celery root and tossed with a brown sugar-brandy glaze, not as sweet as you would think and very effective in the dish. Grilled Octopus ($9) has a pleasant char and chewiness, and is paired with a puddle of romesco sauce (a classic Spanish red pepper-based sauce), and perched atop crispy chickpeas and arugula. Points for presentation on that one.
Three of us split a Classic Caesar Salad ($7) on one visit, and it arrived on three separate plates, each it’s own nice-sized portion. I started to wonder if I had been “made,” since the chef delivered it to the table, but later I saw another table getting similar love. I’m chalking it up to the dearth of diners. I think they were just glad we were there!
Entrees include a Duck Confit ($19), a (kind of scrawny) duck leg roasted in duck fat and served on a small mountain of roasted butternut squash and kale and topped with a sour cherry compote tinged with mustard seeds. It was yummy, but could have been meatier. It’s a lovely winter dish.
We also enjoyed the Pan-Roasted Chicken ($18, pictured below), the moist breast and thigh (that sounds so “50 Shades of Grey”… my sincere apologies) rested on a bed of crème-fraiche mashed potatoes, with a side of roasted root veggies and a light rosemary jus.
Sandwiches are another good option, especially if you’re stopping by before or after a movie for a quick bite. We dug into the Salmon Pinwheel ($10), a rolled and grilled salmon filet on a pillowy brioche roll with aioli, cucumber, arugula and tomato. Given the choice of carrot chips or fries, go carrot. The fries, while well seasoned, weren’t crispy enough, but the carrots were divine, a glorious orange tangle of lightly fried carrot strips dusted with cinnamon.
The Goat Cheese Burger ($10), on that same yummy brioche roll, arrived medium well instead of medium as ordered, so I can’t make a fair ruling. The Braised Shortrib Sandwich ($12) was like an haute BBQ sandwich. I really liked the whipped Taleggio cheese, but fair warning: It’s a strong flavor and not for everyone. The pretzel roll was a plus; the sturdier bun was a necessity.
Desserts were meh. Strangely, the Blackberry-Apple Crumble ($7) arrived in a tart shell, and there was very little fruit. There was, however, an enormous chunk of vanilla ice cream, drizzled with caramelized peach sauce. The Butterscotch Panna Cotta ($7) was served in an Irish Coffee mug and looked more like a latte than a panna cotta. It tasted fine, but the consistency was more of a dense pudding. As for service, one time it was clueless, the next, flawless. So that was a draw.
Please, people. Show this restaurant a little love. At least check them out next time you head to a show in Evanston. Parking is a little easier on that stretch of Church, and a little Evanston secret: If you park around the corner on the north part of Oak Street, it’s crazy cheap at the meters, which are meant for Metra commuters. You’re welcome.
3 out of 5 stars (B)
1012-1014 Church St.