A new place in Chicago is BoHo or Bohemian House. The name conjures ups visions from the movie Moulin Rouge, the musical Rent, or the opera La Boheme which the previous two so liberally borrowed. Like most folks, I think of gypsies and starving artists so the thought of a restaurant had me intrigued.
It is somehow mixed with French culture – which is where the Bohemian lifestyle made the crossover into the popular French culture with novels by Victor Hugo and Henri Murger. Bohemia was an area in what is now the Czech Republic. It was nestled amongst Germany, Austria, Hungry and Poland with its capital in Prague. Much of what we think of as Bohemian is based on the craftsman and artists who immigrated to other countries looking to escape political suppression during the 19th and 20th centuries from Bohemia. Nomadic by nature, the Bohemians were/are considered Romani people who are an Indian ethnicity in origin. They looked much like Egyptians with dark complexion – Gypsies became the slang term for them in the 1800s. Nomadic by nature, they travel and live an alternative lifestyle when compared to western cultures. They were artists, poets and free spirits that in the modern-day are reflective in the hippies of the 60s. Jack Kerouac would be someone who one would consider as having free-spirited values and an alternative lifestyle. All that said, your charge as a chef is to express all that artistic expression in a plate of food. That is what BoHo is all about. Located at 11 West Illinois, it sits conveniently to lots of River North hot spots. Look for the ironwork framing the windows. The signage indicating its name is a little easy to miss.
A nod to the surroundings.
The interior is complex and artistic – it reflects the food. This is an artfully designed and well thought out interior. It is very relaxing and rugged. When one first walks in, it is very unassuming and casual. Upon second glance, you really start to soak in how much hand-labor when into each table and fixture. There are some gorgeous turquoise leather chesterfield sofas in the front that make lounging with cocktails just a decadent experience. The light fixtures have a wink at industrialism but are artfully handcrafted. You will want to take them home. So much of the restaurant feels like a creative art explosion. One wants to linger longer at the table or bring the whole table and chairs home with you. FYI — the bathroom wallpaper stopped me in my tracks. I want that at home. Some wonderful aromas are coming out of the kitchen… but as you know, it always starts with a cocktail.
Always one to look at the cocktail list first, I find it pleases me. Please don’t sling me a bad drink as that kills the night right from the start. BoHo does not pour a bad drink. In fact, that should be a tip-off of how good the food is. Bartending is like cooking for those that do not like chewing. So if you fall into that category, they got you covered. They make a fun-filled Whisky in Cider. This frothy mix comes in a brandy glass and has a head like beer. It is light and flavorful but will pack a punch to take the edge off. Their Infused Fashion (a take-off on an Old-Fashioned) is also lovely but a bit more lethal with a fig soaked in bourbon as the garnish. Bohemian Bee packs a sting and is a bit drier with a mixture of gin, honey, lemon and sage. The Prague Rose will leave you very romantic and rosy-cheeked with its mix of vodka, pear brandy, a touch of cranberry marmalade, ginger with bubbles. There is such a fun variety of spirits on the drink menu that it will be hard to narrow down the selection. Go for broke and enjoy. Then move on to the solid dinner.
The real dinner.
One might think this is similar to heavy German or Polish food with copious amounts of red vinegar. This is not heavy. It is actually rather light but savory. Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos has created a lovely menu that has notes of German, Austrian and Czech foods. It is not heavily starchy. It will not sit with you all night. The menu on the starters is quite interesting and has a variety of price options. Starters are $6 to $16. Not a lover of bone marrow, I opted out of the bone marrow and steak tartare combo. Please note: the server was excellent at pointing out things that people would like based on their flavor pallet. She was very good at sizing up likes/dislikes or describing the dishing so people would know what flavor to expect. This latter point was key; some of the flavor combinations are unusual. A dish of deviled eggs with whitefish steers one in a perfect direction. They were fresh, moist but with a crunch of shallots on the top. The first thing one might want to try is their Beef Pierogi. This is their top-selling appetizer. It is so amazingly good that you will really want to lick the plate. It comes with four Pierogi and this should come in an entrée portion but alas it does not. It is so wonderfully rich and flavorful. The beef has a rich sauce accented with sour cream. The vinegar in the pickled onions gives the dish a savory flavor that will leave your head spinning.
The menu is not large on the vegetarian options – you have one option. It is a Braised Mushroom and Barley mix. Like a pasta dishes, this was hearty and more densely flavored than one would expect from a vegetarian plate. Most of the dishes hit a well on the savory spot on the tongue. They may have dill, caramelized onions, prunes and carrots somehow mixed in. The flavor sensations that come from this food is a result of lots of labor. The dishes are not easy to make and result from some multi-step cooking processes. Ingredients get pickled, smoked, or caramelized to turn over flavors that send the palette into orbit. The Duck is a great example. It comes with brandied prunes, smoked hazelnuts, apples and turnips. There is a sweetness that balances out the savory. Far from greasy as it is rich without being heavy. It is not something one could make at home as it is very time-consuming to make as each ingredient has something extraordinary done before it being added. These extra steps make each dish more unusual and something so special to savor.
Overall, each dish is pretty spectacular. The Spatzle was the only favor offering that was less than expected… but at the same time not. The folks who attended this tasting knew and loved smoked beef tongue. I am not a fan thus I not the market base for this. This was more/less like corned beef so the flavor was directed towards a particular palette. For an American taste palette, it was pleasant. I understood what taste would be coming at me. For those who really love and savor beef tongue, it was a bit of a disappointment as it was not what they were expecting. They did not want corned beef or pastrami. You be the judge. I’ll stick with the Duck.
Dessert – which one?
There is not a huge selection. There are three. The fact that they were only three made me try them all. There is a choice of Coffee Gelato with Donut holes, Cheese Kolacky with Plum Ice Cream, or Dark Chocolate Custard with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. Those who have gotten Kolacky in a bakery may think this is a hoe-hum offering – that would be so wrong. These were the best Kolacky ever. They blow anything one has probably ever had out of the water… unless your grandmother knew how to make them well and lavished them on you when they came fresh from the oven. Warm and moist, they disappeared in a NY nanosecond. The cheese is similar to custard and blends well with the plum ice cream. The Donuts were also warm and complimented the gelato well. There were 4 holes (in case you were wondering). These also were like something a grandmother who was amazing at baking would do. There is an overwhelming note of warm and fuzzy love in the desserts. One will miss their Babcia even if one has never had one that could bake half as well. The dark chocolate custard was a bit of a surprise. It was light. Not whipped into a frothy mousse but not heavy, gloppy or dense like a cheesecake. A lot of care was taken to make sure the dinner doesn't slow you down after eating like Thanksgiving dinner.
This is a wonderful restaurant. Prices are not exorbitant for downtown but may seem excessive for the size of the entrees. As I mentioned, you will find this food is not heavy or excessively dense. The flavors are amazing. You will want more. I wish the menu had sides listed. A side of mashed spuds with the duck would have made my day ( that is the Michigander in me showing). Even some rice or a bread basket would have helped. I had no problem with the price of the food. I do have a problem with an entrée feeling like a small plate when it is a large one… thus the desire for a potato. This addition does have the potential of being heavy. Perhaps the sizes of portions were reduced to offset the richness. As I mentioned, the food truly makes you want to lick the plate — I kid you not.
You will love it. The sauce on the duck is like gravy and is to die for. One will want to sop it up with something but there isn’t anything. The same affects the drinks. The infused fashion is heavenly – but the fig takes up a large amount of space in such a tiny glass. That aside, this is a wonderfully romantic spot. It has large tables and enormous booths. Large groups will feel very welcome. One will not feel crowded or crushed in the space. It has a quiet enough atmosphere to have a nice conversation. It is a place not to be missed — in fact, it has been listed as one of Chicago's best restaurants by Chicagobestrestaurants.com. I believe them as my tastebuds agree.
I just heard from a friend this has closed. Covid takes another great restaurant from Chicago. I'm leaving the post up in hopes that Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos will see it and open another spot soon. He has become one of my favorite chefs.