House 406: A Restaurant in Search of an Area Code

House 406, named for the area code of Montana (although I never quite figured out why), has noble intentions.

They feature a seasonal menu and promote the sourcing of ingredients from local purveyors and farms. That’s all good. And certainly the sprawling suburb of Northbrook could always use another date-night restaurant.

But whereas North Shore restaurants like Found Kitchen and Boltwood in Evanston, Guildhall in Glencoe or Abigail’s in Highland Park have found the sweet spot in combining farm-to-table with urban cool, House 406 just misses—at least for now.

Northbrook Native Returns

Jennifer Eisen, a Northbrook native, was the longtime right hand of “Top Chef” winner Stephanie Izard (The Girl & The Goat, Little Goat). She’s opened House 406 with partner and Chef Eloin Amador (previously of Mantuano’s and Gioco) and the dinner menu is enticing, filled with happy buzzwords like “confit sliders,”  “preserved lemon” and “beer-brined.” But there’s a general heaviness to the menu—lots of cream sauces, for instance—that seems out of step.

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The wine list definitely needs work. Not the wines themselves, mind you, which appear well chosen, although no vintages are listed, so I can’t really be sure. That might be something that slipped through the cracks, but if you’re asking a patron to put down $145 for a Chanson “Les Clos” Burgundy, that information is pertinent.

The space is dark and clubby; you almost forget you’re in a strip mall—at least until someone parks right in front of the door and their brights shine through the glass doors and blind you. That could be easily fixed with café curtains or a scrim on the door.

Relax with one of their yummy craft cocktails (all $12), like The Hound, a refreshing and citrusy concoction of Plymouth Gin, Pamplemousse Rose, St. Germain and Perrier grapefruit. They feature Temperance Beer and other local brews, a touch I like.

You can’t go wrong with the Duck Confit Sliders ($13) with Plum Slaw, Butter Lettuce and fragrant Truffle Aioli. The duck was a bit dry, but full of flavor. The brioche slider rolls from Highland Baking were pillowy and perfect.

If you’re a Wedge ($9) fan, there’s much to love in 406’s version, including an ice-cold chunk of iceberg lettuce, chopped hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, red onion and avocado, topped with bacon bits from nearby Hofherr Butcher Shop and homemade blue-cheese dressing. A steakhouse favorite, and well priced.

The Harvest Salad ($9), a light and tasty starter, also featured Hooks Blue cheese, along with red leaf lettuce, Brussels sprout leaves, apples, fennel and mint, tossed in a slightly sweet apple cider vinaigrette. Burrata ($12) lovers should enjoy the version here, paired with shaved apricots, fried pancetta, Marcona almonds and arugula, but the sweetness of the fig-shallot vinaigrette was overpowering; a drizzle would have sufficed.

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Entrées here are substantial, and the proteins were well cooked across the board, whether fish, fowl or beef. The problem was the side dishes: nearly every one of which missed the mark. The Halibut ($29) with monk beans, peas, corn, cherry tomatoes and olives was surprisingly bland; the Grilled Skuna Bay Salmon ($26) sounded promising, but while the fish itself was beautiful, the quinoa salad it sat atop was absolutely tasteless. Even the avocado Chimichurri couldn’t rescue the dish.

Beer-Brined Airline Chicken ($22) had a similar problem with the accompanying Parmesan polenta, which was way underseasoned. The star of the night were the tender Braised Short Ribs ($31) with braised bok choy and smashed potatoes. Not the lightest of dishes, to be sure, but full-flavored and thoughtfully prepared and seasoned.

Ignore the siren call of Farm Carrots Elotes-Style ($8), because it tasted like steamed carrots covered in mayonnaise. I saw what they were going for, but the carrots needing a good roasting, the lime aioli should’ve been used sparingly, and more lime juice added for contrast. Couldn’t taste the billed cayenne pepper. The Classic Creamed Spinach ($8) was swimming in cream (even more so than you would ordinarily expect).

Although the Cheesecake ($8) was ho-hum, we found a bright spot in dessert. You might think that a Chocolate Semifreddo ($8) with Puppy Chow was ill conceived, but you would be wrong. The Puppy Chow crust (made of the requisite trio of Chex Mix, peanut butter and confectioner’s sugar) was the perfect texture and flavor foil for the creamy frozen chocolate interior. It was topped with marshmallow meringue (hello, S’Mores!) and drizzled with chocolate sauce. Yum.

I’m pulling for House 406 to succeed. I’m disappointed that this review isn’t more positive; I only wish I had more positive news at this point. But many of these are easy fixes. Open only a month, they have yet to hit their stride. My fingers are crossed.

3 out of 5 stars (B)

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House 406
1143 1/2 Church St.
Northbrook
847-714-0200

Photos by Jesse Lirola.