Oak Brook's B. Restaurant shines with well-devised farm-to-table menu
Honey is a theme, mission and flavor building block woven throughout B. Restaurant, the farm-to-table eatery in the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center. And for good reason.
Honeybee hives dot the surrounding grounds, and the harvested crop is a front-and-center ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
B., also known as b.local/b.fresh/b.seasonal, offers rotating lunch and dinner menus with shared plates, charcuterie (prepared by an in-house butcher) and thin-crust pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven behind the bar in what owners call "modern farm cuisine."
According to our server on a still cold but sunny spring evening, produce for the restaurant is grown on-site in the chef's garden. And if they don't grow it, food is purchased from small local farms -- local within a 600-mile radius.
The view of the beautifully groomed grounds isn't overwhelmed by a stuffy interior. A no-fuss dining area with updated midcentury modern tables and chairs are complemented with high-top stainless-steel tables for larger groups or for sharing. The lounge off the lobby, with its comfy chairs and small tables, melds into the bar and dining area in the curved expanse of a wall of windows overlooking a terrace and pond, off the resort's golf course. Televisions above the bar keep patrons up on the latest scores, but without sound so as not to disturb diners.
Greeting us with an offer of specialty cocktails or the workings of a full bar and wine list, our server was ready to discuss the restaurant's aims and answer any questions. He also presented a small plate with slices of chewy, grainy bread with fresh whipped butter and a dish of B.'s signature honey.
What seems at first to be a limited menu, it offers the concentrated efforts of the kitchen without empty filler items, yet offers a variety, too. Several items on the menu are marked with a GF to denote gluten-free.
We started with a special item, not on the usual starter menu. A dense, pumpkin risotto dotted with toasted root vegetable chips. In this case, the risotto was creamy, toothy with a perfect al dente texture. A simple dish of carrots was a temptation that will have to wait for another visit as well as the often recommended lamb meatballs and wood-fired pizzas.
My friend and I wanted to share a salad and so chose the Augustus, one of four options. The kitchen graciously split the dish for us. Tender, buttery, fresh bibb lettuce leaves present a bed for a few strips of shaved romaine cheese and what they called a honey crumble. Going out on a limb and guessing, I'd say a thin spread of honey, say on a baking sheet, is let to dry or baked in a warm oven. Then with a pastry scrapper, broken and scrapped into dust. Anyway, it makes a sweet, crunchy, toasty texture that melts into the Romano, boosting its flavor. A creamy garlic and honey dressing adds a subtle layer of flavor to a thoroughly green and fresh salad.
Some patrons at the bar and in the nearby lounge were enjoying pizza fresh from the brick oven located behind the bar. The enticing smell of fresh-baked crust wafted through the room, and I had to ask which pizza they were eating. Turns out it was the sausage, which includes roasted pear, creamy chevre, sweet drop peppers and roasted pecan pesto.
Other pizzas include a classic Margherita, a Brie pizza with pancetta, a velvety sauce made by combining a bechamel with pureed cooked onions and dates with a honey drizzle, and a duck pizza with sweet potato puree, maple leaf duck confit, sweet onion and fennel cherry glaze.
The menu is set to change any day now with the seasons, but I got in for a last-minute sampling of the best of winter. For an entree, I chose the cider-braised pork cheeks, crispy potato wheel, braised red cabbage with mustard oil and horseradish gremolata. A beautifully styled dish, the pork's savory tender sweetness was the perfect foil for a bite of crisp, crunch of potato. The cabbage was nearly caramelized, but it's underlying bitterness kept it from being too sweet.
My friend chose the Glenarm organic salmon and shrimp with silky butternut squash noodles, Hubbard squash, lemon brodetto, which is a rich silky broth, and tomato jam. The shrimp was toothsome and buttery and the salmon hearty. The lemon broth and jam required a slight dusting of salt to let the flavors bloom, but they did and how.
Perfect portions allowed for a taste from the dessert menu. All the desserts are priced at $6 and are plenty for sharing. That said, Kickin' S'mores Tart was tempting but not tasted on this trip because it looked like enough for more than two people. Truly a platter of beauty with graham cracker dust, toasted meringue dollops, toasted to that elusive caramel golden brown that marshmallows cooked over an open fire never quite achieve. Does burst into flames sound familiar? The plate is finished with jerk seasoned chocolate marquis and chocolate phyllo shards that look a bit like tree bark.
My dinner companion and I thoroughly enjoyed the Milk 'N Honey, slices of tres leches honey cake, B. honey, dehydrated milk foam, honey-oatmeal crumble and white chocolate honeycomb with edible flowers. The dense honey cake was chewy and nutty tasting and not too sweet. The white chocolate and oat crumble added texture as well as flavor. Because we at first chose the sold-out berry crumble, our waiter was able to ask and get us a small scoop of the crumble's accompanying fresh ice cream, too. Delicious.
As the seasons change, it will be worth a trip back to see what B.'s chefs create with the changing palette of produce.
B. also hosts bee-centered culinary events and public tours of the hives as part of the "B. Aware" campaign to raise awareness on the declining honeybee populations.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
B. Restaurantb.local/b.fresh/b.seasonal3500 Midwest Road, Oak Brook, (630) 850-5525, (630) 791-4461, blocalbfresh.com; reservations at opentable.com
Cuisine: Seasonal menu of New American farm-to-table fare
Setting: Inside the Oak Brook's Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort
Dinner prices: $6 to $15 for starters, salads and pizzas; $15 to $38 for entrees
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner
Parking: Plenty of parking in the hotel lot