Restaurant review: Algonquin's Black Bear Bistro game for innovative cuisine
By weaving a Latin flair through its creative New American menu, Algonquin's Black Bear Bistro offers some of the most innovative dishes in the far northwest suburbs.
The menu features seafood, steak and vegetarian dishes. But it also highlights less-expected fare, thanks to a chef who knows his wild game.
Chef Santiago Suarez served as executive chef for more than 25 years at 1776 restaurant in Crystal Lake. Today he helms his own kitchen at The Black Bear Bistro, a cozy and simply elegant eatery that opened in late 2018.
White walls and tablecloths lend a brightness to the 48-seat space even in the thick of winter. The minimalist design is a refreshing change from fussily decorated suburban restaurants.
The Black Bear Bistro doesn't have a bar (Suarez is thinking about putting in a small one in the future), but it offers craft and Mexican beers, wine and craft cocktails such as jalapeño margaritas and persimmon mojitos, all under $12.
We arrived early and scoped out the starters -- an array of appealing appetizers that ranged from the vegan-friendly poblano stuffed with quinoa, black beans, spinach, tomato and basil to crabcakes Michoacán style. You can easily make a meal of apps and creative flatbreads, which can be prepared with gluten-free or vegan crusts for a slight upcharge. Flatbreads are named for the chef's family members. Among the interesting options is Santiago Jr's Mexico City flatbread, featuring filet mignon, serrano pesto, oyster mushrooms, onion, Chèvre cheese and balsamic. Samantha's Cabo San Lucas flatbread, meanwhile, was dolled up with shrimp, Chèvre, walnuts, bell pepper and Champagne sauce.
Since we were diving into seafood entrees, we ordered the taquitos starter. Three crisp tortilla tubes -- two with bison, one with chicken -- were framed by a zippy sauce and paired with a dollop of mashed potatoes. The taquitos were light and tasty, and my dinner partner confessed to being tempted to lick the sauce off the plate.
Our friendly waitress said there wasn't a bread course as she presented a small caldron with a warm but underwhelming gluten-free tortilla cut into four pieces.
Small mixed salads sported lovely housemade dressings: a spicy Thai peanut and a mild blue cheese among them. Next time in, I'd go for the black garlic dressing.
On a cold winter night, soups such as the roasted poblano pepper with avocado and jalapeño popcorn draw attention, and Santiago pins the meter at a solid 10 on the comfort scale by offering a flight of three soups for $12.
Choosing an entree from the one-page menu is confounding because Suarez offers tantalizing options. If you like game, there's roasted Texas quail, an ostrich/bison burger or wild game chili. Some nights, you might find elk, wild boar or rabbit in the mix.
Traditional meat entrees are emboldened with modern additions: A grilled Angus filet mignon arrives enriched with bison bone marrow butter and tamarind port glaze, and grilled one-half chicken from local Alden Hills Organic Farm is perfumed with shrubs of rosemary and thyme and fried housemade pickles. Vegetarians aren't overlooked, either, with dishes from grilled farm-to-fork vegetables to vegetarian jambalaya.
The menu is rife with seafood, including a cedar-planked salmon and the much-ordered roasted poblano stuffed with lobster. My dinner mate went for the special fettuccine with calamari and shrimp. Although he thought the pasta was a smidge overcooked, he was thrilled with the perfectly prepared shrimp and calamari rings.
And I was positively gleeful about my Rushing Waters rainbow trout, draped over blue crab and expertly al dente mushroom risotto plus knobs of black garlic.
Both sated, we eyed a tray of housemade desserts that included Bailey's crème brûlée, guava flan, flourless chocolate cake and Key lime cheesecake. Looking to stay on the lighter side, we opted for a scoop of raspberry sorbet and ended our meal on a fruity, refreshing note.
Special dining offers allow patrons to sample and savor during the food-focused Happy Hour. And cooking classes, led by Estela Suarez, the chef's wife and Black Bear's co-owner, showcase some of her mother's recipes, giving home cooks the chance to create and devour their own bistro-inspired delicacies.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
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The Black Bear Bistro
107 S. Main St., Algonquin, (224) 678-9449, theblackbearbistro.com/
Cuisine: New American
Setting: Sleek and minimalist
Hours: 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 4:30 to 10 p.m. Friday; 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday; closed on Monday. Happy Hour: 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday
Prices: Appetizers: $10-$16; flatbreads: $12-$15; soup: $5-$8; salads: $4-$16; sides: $4.50-$6.50; entrees: $12-$36; dessert: $7-$8, ice cream is $3.50 a scoop