When Betsy Simson, long-time owner of Jerry’s/Corner Cooks in Winnetka, sought to sell the business in the fall of 2014, Chef Steve Leviton stepped in. Having spent the past few decades cooking in the kitchens of Kiki’s Bistro in Chicago and Highland Park’s Exmoor Country Club, as well as management stints for various catering outfits, Steve knew the North Shore clientele well. He kept Jerry’s running for a few months, then closed after New Year’s to rework it into his own vision, Taste on Chestnut.
Leviton’s menu is filled with sure-fire crowd pleasers, and while there’s nothing overtly original or particularly exciting on the menu, it’s the kind of food you want to eat: updated comfort food made with high-quality ingredients, treated well.
The meal starts with a tasty amuse bouche, on this day a small chunk of creamy burrata cheese drizzled with pesto-tinged olive oil, salt and pepper, accompanied by a marinated and finely diced tomato salad with crispy crouton shards. Well done! The complimentary (not always a given these days) breadbasket is filled with house-made grissini (pencil-thin breadsticks) and herbed parchment bread, both quite addictive. There’s no cocktail menu—an easily remedied oversight—but between the full bar and the respectable wine list, you will hardly go thirsty.
Starting on the Right Foot
I was surprised by just how tasty the Lobster Spring Rolls ($14, pictured right) were, packed with shredded lobster meat and Asian veggies, crisped perfectly in the fryer, and served with cilantro-mint vinaigrette and colorful dots of sriracha and wasabi sauces. Like much of the menu, it was beautifully presented.
The “Chef’s Pick” Baked Flatbread ($12) on our visit was spread thinly with fig jam (just enough) and topped with melted Brie and paper-thin slices of Granny Smith apple. Happily, it was well balanced, with just the right amount of sweet, creamy and tart. The crust was a bit soggy in the middle; a minute more in the oven was all that was needed.
Among the appetizers we tried, only the Crabcake ($14) fell short of the mark. The small Bibb lettuce salad, fine carrot threads and swath of mustard mayo garnishing painted a pretty picture but the crabcake itself—though meaty and mercifully short on fillers—was slightly fishy and needed another few minutes in the sauté pan.
My New Favorite Salad
I found my summer salad here, the one I will order once a week at lunch and crave when I don’t. The Chinoise Salad ($12) was enormous and crammed with roast chicken, peapods, scallions, carrots, bok choy, crispy wonton noodles and sesame seeds, all drizzled with Asian mustard vinaigrette and cilantro-mint aioli. At least the second time it was; it was wildly overdressed the first time around, but when dressed more judiciously, truly delivered the goods.
Prices are far steeper when you venture away from the sandwich and salad portions of the menu. The luxurious Shortrib with Mascarpone Polenta ($30) and mushroom “conserva” was all kinds of yummy, each umami-filled forkful impelling you to eat another. The meat was oh-so tender, and the polenta sinfully rich.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we felt downright virtuous eating the Grilled Branzino ($32) with cauliflower puree and broccolini, gilded a bit with lemon-garlic-white wine butter. It was every bit as satisfying as the shortrib, and perhaps a more appropriate choice for the upcoming (fingers crossed!) summer weather.
Less successful was the Pesto Pappardelle Pasta ($24), which sported a kitchen sink worth of garnishes, including four jumbo shrimp, tomato jam, spinach, yellow squash, goat cheese and pesto cream. The missing ingredients? Salt and pepper. The judicious use of salt in the pasta cooking water would’ve helped, as would the seasoning of the dish itself. And skip the side dish of Truffled Gnocchi ($8), a very generous portion, but too doughy with a thick, floury sauce and a too-heavy hand with the truffle oil.
Make Time for Dessert
For the sweet ending, there are currently only a few dessert items, recited rather than printed on a menu. The Molten Chocolate Cake ($7) has plenty of dark chocolate flavor, but lacked a lava-like center. Perhaps it wasn’t warm enough to generate the Vesuvial flow that makes this menu regular so popular. House-made Carrot Cake ($7) is moist (and full of raisins, not my fave) but topped with a buttercream rather than cream cheese icing. That needs to change. Our favorite was the warm Apple Tart ($7), a very generous individual tart topped with a big scoop of Homer’s vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. The streusel topping had just the right amount of crunch.
Look for me on your next visit…I’ll be the one in the corner with a glass of rosé, a good book and that tasty Chinoise salad.
3.5 out of 5 stars (B+)
Taste on Chestnut
507 Chestnut St.
More restaurant reviews from Make It Better: