Taking Stock

Rootstock, a Humboldt Park favorite, gets a talented new chef

The migration from Lula Café to Rootstock continues.

First, Duncan Biddulph left the perennial Logan Square favorite for the petite Humboldt Park wine bar. Three years later it was Mike Simmons' turn.

Since joining Rootstock in early September, he's tweaked the menu almost nightly. Go before Simmons replaces the broth that anchors a bowl of Maine mussels ($10). It's made with heirloom tomatoes, simmered with fennel and leeks then finished with bacon and miso. It's superb–a sweet-savory taste of waning summer.

Chef Mike Simmons | Chicken liver mousse (Photos: Kaitlyn McQuaid)

We're happy his chicken liver mousse ($6.50) won't flee with the season. Cooked with Madeira and coated with floral pink peppercorns, it's one of the finest we've tasted. Order a glass of the 2012 Occhipinti SP68 ($12), a juicy, raisin-y Sicilian red, to sip alongside.

His bowl of gnocchi ($13) is an especially Lula-like dish, tossed with pork sausage that's bursting with green coriander seeds, and braised cardoons, a bitter and rarely seen Mediterranean thistle.

Simmons errs on the side of complexity, occasionally leaning too far. On one visit, salt cod was lost in a too-sweet tangle of spaghetti squash with brown butter, black walnuts, sunchokes and a barely warm soft-boiled egg ($9).

But we applaud his creative energy and his sublimely simple dessert: dark-chocolate truffles.