A free Monday morning doesn't often come along, so I leapt at Cafe Creme's invitation to breakfast at their recently opened Bucktown location. I suspected this French cafe would have good juju the moment my friend and I took a seat in the bright, naturally lit front room.
The decor was spare but the contrasting color scheme made it eye-catching: white paneling around the counter, white tables, and white bookshelves displaying bottles of beer, wine and cider; bench cushions that were bright chartreuse; and slate-gray walls and matching board with a list 20 deep of different macaron flavors.
Our server announced she made a mean latte, so my friend and I each ordered one along with a plate of macarons. I've had limited experience with macarons; the ones I've eaten have been more like colorful, bland cookies than what a macaron-enthusiast friend calls the "little crispy pillows of joy and sugar that crumble so delicately when you bite into them."
Hotel dining has always seemed like the pinnacle of luxury to me-- perhaps a direct result of my parents denying a younger me any opportunity to order room service, ever. Therefore, I jumped at the invitation to sample a sneak peak of the new summer menu at the Four Seasons Chicago's flagship restaurant Allium.
Located on the 7th floor of this sweeping hotel, Allium is all luscious elegance and modern refinement-- not to mention delightfully generous with its armchairs and plush carpeting. On the current menu one can find the tried-and-true standards-- a house burger, a roasted chicken for two-- but alongside these favorites are some surprises, such as a Chicago-style hot dog and a cheese lavosh, an Armenian-style flatbread.
However, newcomer Executive Chef Steven Wambach, previously head chef at Epic, is eager to put his own spin on the menu and show off some of the hits of summer. In the sun-drenched private events room, cooks busily garnished bites of tuna with artichoke aioli and shaved truffle, white asparagus gazpacho with cucumber and Marcona almonds, and pork rillette toasts with foie gras and caviar. (See! Pinnacle of luxury. I was not wrong.) I have a soft spot for hors d'oeuvres and the attempt to capture so many different elements in a single perfect bite-- crunch, creaminess, freshness, salt, acid-- and Chef Wambach carried this off exceptionally well. In all of the bites, one could taste the brightness of summer ingredients side-by-side with the comforting familiarity of Midwestern flavors. The Chef himself returned periodically to the dining area to speak with guests and assist with plating.
During my culinary tour through Japan, I tried desperately to love ramen. I tried with all my might. I slurped every type of noodle and broth, but after my 20th bowl, I admitted defeat and decided to devote the rest of my tragic life to Maruchan. "What!?" some foodies cry indignantly, pointing their foie-fattened fingers at noodle pictures from some quaint Japanese ramen hut. "How can you not love that?" Because like every good American, I believe the best ramen is FREEDOM ramen.
Ramen is derived from the Chinese term, la mian, which literally translates into pulled noodles. Traditional ramen noodles have spring, chew, and a slight eggy taste. There are four types of ramen broths: shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), tonkotsu (pork) and miso. Each region in Japan has their unique variation of ramen, but they're all fairly similar when all is said and slurped. The Japanese don't stray from the fundamentalist tree, so never expect to see duck confit or green curry in your ramen. However, I'd argue that ramen's greatest feature is how customizable it is.
Chicago's Little Italy 1938. A small neighborhood food stand begins serving what will become a unique and ultimately iconic dish -- Italian beef. Top round roasted beef seasoned with 21 ingredients, sliced thin enough to read through, served on Italian bread dipped in beef jus, then topped with roasted green peppers and/or spicy giardiniera. Opting for a "combo" by adding a charcoal-grilled Italian sausage is optional but recommended. As are the fries.
Food can be regional. Philly has cheese steaks, biscuits and gravy hail from the South, and New England is famous for clam chowder and lobster rolls. Besides Italian Beef, Chicago has gifted us culinarily with Chicken Vesuvio, Vienna hot dogs, Shrimp d'Jonghe, jibaritos, deep dish pizza, rib tips, and the elusive "big baby" and the "mother-in-law" -- South Side sandwiches known to but a few.
"Two more steak sandwiches, pops!" It's 11:30 on a Saturday and Nini's Deli is meeting the lunch rush head-on. The tiny kitchen -- manned by an even smaller kitchen staff -- plates up piping hot sandwiches, homemade empanadas, and perfectly-crisp churros at a superhuman pace. From my perch at the "best seat in the house" (a reclaimed-wood bar area facing out the front window) I watch Noble Square come alive-- and the many, many dogs on parade-- as I mentally chastise myself for missing out on this neighborhood gem until now.
Whenever I start to feel burnt out on food built on buzzwords and restaurant groups with armies of publicity writers (which is increasingly often, if I'm being honest) I go back to the basics: those unassuming neighborhood spots where the food is decently priced and the cups of coffee are typically bottomless. However, while I always appreciate a good ol' standby, rarely do I find myself daydreaming about the meal I had at the local greasy spoon (although it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility). When I first met Juan, the one-man front-of-house talent at the helm of Nini's Deli, we bonded over our love of good food and cool restaurant aesthetics. He urged me to come try out his family's spot, and scrolled through the Instagram account that he says serves as the biggest form of advertisement for Nini's: photo after photo of the sun-streaked interior, plump sandwiches wrapped in checkered paper, and mason jars of multicolored lemonades. Not exactly what I'd expect from a typical neighborhood deli. I promised to come check it out.
Rockit Bar & Grill and Rockit Burger Bar are hosting their 9th Annual Burger Fest, May 12 - 16, as part of their celebration of National Burger Month.
Executive Chef Amanda Downing has created five over-the-top creations paired with fries using flavor profiles from the featured burgers. "For this year's Burger Fest menu, we inspired by recipes that we've worked on throughout the year - including top recipes from our weekly #Burgerlab night, each Saturday, at Rockit Burger Bar," explained Chef Downing.
The DiPaolos in front of Mario's Italian Lemonade circa 1967
Besides the tree in front of my house dropping little gifts of bloom on my car, there's another way I can tell spring has sprung. Iconic Italian lemonade stand Mario's is open for business. The mayor of Taylor Street, Mario "Skip" DiPaolo, is on site with his lovely wife Maria, overseeing and making sure things are just as Mario Sr. (RIP) would have wanted when the stand opened around 1954.
While most of Chicago approaches Sunday thinking about brunch, mK wants you to consider thinking about the meal after that -- supper.
To celebrate their 15th year in business, mK recently launched a new Sunday Supper Series, a three-course casual yet fine dining meal for $30/person or $60/couple crafted around seasonal ingredients and set in their updated lounge.
Upon invite, I skipped the regular Bloody Mary and made plans for their Sunday Supper.
The atmosphere at mK is chic, classy and calm and even on a busy night for Chicago Chef Week, I didn't feel overwhelmed. The waiter took notice of my dinner companion cozied up in a black leather lounge chair.
"You see this gentleman, here," he said, "see how relaxed he is? He sums up everything we're trying to do with Sunday Supper. You sit back and relax, we bring the food. The only thing you need to stress about is what wine to pair with it."
If you're among those who miss having breakfast at Ina's in the West Loop, you have a one-day reprieve. Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook will be hosting a special brunch with Ina Pinkney (aka The Breakfast Queen) on Sunday, March 30 from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm.
Diners are invited to come and meet "The Breakfast Queen;" Ina will be signing copies of her new book, Taste Memories.
Prairie Grass Cafe's Chef Sarah Stegner will make some of her favorite Ina recipes, including Heavenly Hots pancakes, that will be added to a featured brunch menu. Reservations are recommended.
Prairie Grass Cafe
601 Skokie Boulevard
Northbrook, IL 60062
1-847-205-4433 for reservations
It's hard to live in Rogers Park and not know about the Heartland Café. Some might call it impossible. The restaurant is considered the political and arts cornerstone of the area. One of the unspoken duties that come with living in the neighborhood is having a working knowledge of the iconic restaurant's nearly 40-year history. For instance, did you know the Heartland Café is where then Senator Barack Obama announced his intention to run for President? With that kind of responsibility it's easy to see why change might cause a fuss, and there has been a lot of change at the Heartland Café of late.
Many will recall back in 2010 when it was reported that the restaurant was perilously close to shutting its doors for good. A fundraising campaign was started to resuscitate the restaurant and its tiny empire, which includes the the Heartland Studio Theatre, Red Line Tap, and No Exit Café. The unorthodox move worked and the restaurant continues to assert its influence, but the story doesn't end there. More recently the restaurant was purchased by Tom Rosenfeld, a longtime resident of Rogers Park.
Can any marriage be an equal partnership? Bottlefork, a New American restaurant concept from Rockit Ranch Productions opening today in River North, intends to achieve a culinary marriage where food and beverage play an equal role.
Billy Dec, CEO/Founder of Rockit Ranch Productions, created Bottlefork in partnership with Chef Kevin Hickey. Chef Hickey was previously executive chef at Chicago's Four Seasons Hotel for over 18 years, earning Michelin Star and AAA Five Diamond status.
"We're bringing together the elevated food and beverage game beyond being just two complimentary but separate parts of the business, and even beyond advanced pairings to a point where our bar and kitchen talent are connected as a team, free to put elements of the bar in the food and elements of the kitchen in the drinks," said Dec.
If you live anywhere near Rogers Park, then you know how important it is when a new restaurant moves into the neighborhood. For many years your friends and neighbors living on the way far North Side have subsisted with very few restaurant options. Taking a walk through the hood lately, though, it's easy to see that's changing.
The latest addition to Rogers Park's growing culinary selections is the highly anticipated Bullhead Cantina. The whiskey and taco bar, owned by Francisco "Paco" Ruiz, opened its first location in 2012 in Humboldt Park. The Cantina, revered for its atypical taco selection, opened its second location at 1406 W. Morse Avenue on Valentine's Day.
Cicchetti is an Italian word for a snack or a small bite. In Venice, there is a great tradition of stopping by the local bacaro (Ventian tavern) for a glass of wine and cicchetti, exquisitely-made small plates. It is from this tradition that the new Streeterville restaurant, Cicchetti, was born.
Upon entering Cicchetti, the newest effort from one of the chefs from Trencherman, Michael Sheerin, the first word that enters the mind is warm. The bar and the main entry exude warmth. From the dark-stained timber beam construction to the modernist aesthetic to the backlit bar, the space emanates both charm and sophistication with a tip of the hat to innovation. These themes carry through to the bar menu, the hors d'oeuvres, the main plates and the incredibly interesting desserts by up-and-coming pastry chef Sarah Jordan (formerly of Boka and GT Fish & Oyster, Jordan was named one of the best new pastry chefs by Food and Wine Magazine in 2013).
The bar menu is full of interesting and varied spirits, including a long list of grappas (or fruit brandy) and an extensive list of gins, whiskeys and ryes. The wine list is similarly long and lively.
Chicago Restaurant Week launches Friday and for two weeks, nearly 300 restaurants in the Chicago-area will be serving prix-fixe lunch or dinner menus for a mere $22 for lunch or $33 or $44 for dinner. How's a girl to choose?
Of course, there's the big guys like Blackbird and Carriage House and Embeya and Nightwood and Sepia and on and on. But tucked in this gargantuan list are a handful of (mostly) smaller affairs and wine bars, spots where I've grabbed a cocktail or two or a glass of wine with some friends afterwork. Though Restaurant Week is the perfect opportunity to check out a restaurant I've been meaning to get to, at a more reasonable price, it's also a chance to explore more of the cuisine served at a place I mostly just drink, a place I know I already like. Again, how's a girl to choose?
Erika Stone-Miller proves that you can be a food truck owner, novice architect, self-trained chef, and run a successful pop-up at the same time. My multitasking aptitudes are less impressive--I can listen to good music, smile at people, and consume food. And that's exactly what I did at The Octagon Mode, a communal dinner party emphasizing modern fine dining. Located in Uptown, the restaurant name pays tribute to Orson Squire Fowler, a 19th century architect whose octagonal houses were more environmentally friendly than traditional buildings.
This obscure architectural title references Erika's major in architecture, although she spent more than 20 years working front of the house in Chicago's finest restaurants, including L2O and Blackbird. When Erika temporarily closed down her ice-cream truck, Ice-Cubed, for the Chicago winter, she decided that an underground supper club would fare better than an ice-cream parlor in cold weather.
Now that we've collectively survived the coldest recording temperatures in Chicago history (the coldest!), heading out in 20 degree weather feels like a picnic on the beach. Maybe not literally. Either way, around mid-January everyone starts to get a bit cabin feverish, and those who choose to brave the cold will find themselves richly rewarded with an array of neighborhood comfort food options-- all the richness and familiarly of all of that holiday season fare, without the pushy relatives.
Sunshine Cafe, Andersonville
Quiet, cozy and unassuming, this family-run Japanese restaurant is working hard to push Japanese cuisine to the top of the "comfort food" directory. Indulge in seemingly bottomless bowls of steaming hot, deeply flavorful noodles, donburi (rice bowls), and traditional Japanese home-cooked snacks such as shrimp shumai and gyoza ("Japanese potstickers"). Wash it all down with a mug of grassy green tea and wonder what all the sushi hype is about, anyway.
Next unveiled its latest promo video this morning ahead of the debut of its "Chicago Steakhouse" concept's debut tonight.
While most of the ever-changing restaurant's previous concepts sold out most seatings almost immediately, there are plenty of tickets available for early and late seatings this time around. Co-owner Nick Kokonas told Crain's he thought the weather and the weekend release of reservations (tickets went on sale Jan. 4) might have resulted in the low number of bookings -- but one has to wonder if the steakhouse concept in a city filled with steakhouses might not be such a big draw.
Even if this week is about polite, tense smiles over eggnog and awkward conversation, you can strive high for good eating. Here's a breakdown of suggestions for the week:
Celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve at Davanti Enoteca; their seven-course menu has a weeklong engagement at their Chicago and Western Springs locations until the end of the year; $65 per person, served family-style. Osteria via Stato (620 N. State) is also getting in on the action for Christmas Eve; their special menu is $49 per person. If fish isn't your thing, Big Jones (5347 N. Clark) is serving a traditional Creole Revellion ($49 per person). Also, Chinatown is a great holiday destination, and many of the area's restaurants are open both Christmas Eve and Day: Lao Sze Chuan (2172 S. Archer; a second location is in Uptown at 4832 N. Broadway), MingHin (2168 S. Archer) and Go 4 Food (212 W. 23rd) are among the recommended spots.
On Christmas Day, hotel restaurants are your best bet: Allium (120 E. Delaware), Drake Brothers (140 E. Walton), Balsan (11 E. Walton), Aria (200 N. Columbus Dr), and Florentine (151 W. Adams) are solid choices (you might as well get a room while you're at it, right?). If you prefer to stay out of downtown, Ann Sather, Deleece (3747 N. Southport) and Andies (5253 N. Clark) will be open.
Throughout this month, Drive-Thru staffers will be writing about their favorite bars and restaurants to celebrate the holiday, as so much of the holiday is not the day itself, but the days that come before -- the places you end up at after a holiday party, a day of errands and shopping, or just to hide away from the shorter days and colder weather.
My favorite restaurant/bar in Andersonville is Lady Gregory's. It's hard not to think back to summertime and miss having dinner and drinks on their great patio. Though, who doesn't want to hide away with a pint this winter in their back room near the fireplace? Lady Gregory's is always in season. With its warm and cozy Irish Pub feel, it's almost impossible to not think that you've been magically teleported to the Emerald Isle.
They have an extensive beer list which includes 100 beers and therefore something for everyone along the beer spectrum. There's also a full bar for those who prefer to get into the Holiday Spirit in other ways. I recently asked to see their "Beverage Book" as is suggested by their drink menu. Friends. You must do this! I was greeted with a huge (and gorgeous) wooden binder showcasing their 300 Whiskeys.
Throughout this month, Drive-Thru staffers will be writing about their favorite bars and restaurants to celebrate the holiday, as so much of the holiday is not the day itself, but the days that come before -- the places you end up at after a holiday party, a day of errands and shopping, or just to hide away from the shorter days and colder weather.
I was all excited to join a few friends at Quartino for a holiday dinner until I found out there'd be 12 of us total. I saw our reservation stretch on and on for two, three, four hours before we'd be able to leave. Don't get me wrong, four hours of eating is fantastic fun-when most of that time is actually eating. But with huge parties, much of the time is long pauses dragging on between drinks and ordering before the entrees arrive. Getting the bill settled with that big of a group feels like an hour in itself.
I didn't need to worry at Quartino. The small, sharable plates and pizzas came out quickly and steadily shortly there after (it took more time for me to walk up to the second floor bathroom then it did for our wine to arrive) so we weren't bothered by grumbling stomachs between courses or the sumptuous smells of our neighbor's entree wafting around while we waited for our food.
The menu strikes an excellent balance between diverse options that doesn't overwhelm with choices, and it's full of warm, hearty dishes to keep the winter chill at bay: house-made pastas (cavatelli, gnocchi with arugula pesto, ravioli with braised pork, speck and fava beans), eggplant Parmesan, shrimp risotto, salmon, osso buco. With a huge group, you get to taste all of these.
A big table passing plates of food around adds to the slightly chaotic, convivial atmosphere that Quartino encourages. Tables are cluttered with stacks of small white plates, glass bottles of water, carafes of wine, olive oil, Parmesan cheese. There's no raucous music and the TVs playing black-and-white Italian movies are muted so the noise level is actually people just talking to each other.
Quartino turned out to be the perfect spot for group gatherings, during the holidays or otherwise (but especially on the holidays). Sharing good food and conversation take center stage here, where even a huge group can relax with their wine, taste lots of food, and sip coffee with dessert. All this within an enjoyable, surprisingly short two hours.
626 N State St.
(312) 698-5000 Reservations strongly encouraged
Cicchetti, the Venetian small plates concept with executive chef Michael Sheerin (Trencherman), opens today at 671 N. St. Clair St. in Streeterville. Besides small plates, dishes include the Venetian seafood stew specialty plus pasta, risotto, meat and fish. Sarah Jordan (Boka and GT Fish & Oyster) and Phil Rubino (Acadia) are sous-chefs.
The restaurant has a Green Seal certification and is making good use of its sustainable materials with reclaimed wood features. The minimally-decorated bar alludes to a train station, the kind you wouldn't mind waiting in, with the ceiling-high clock facing the door and the tall metal and wood shelves back-lit by bold yellow-orange lights.
Throughout this month, Drive-Thru staffers will be writing about their favorite bars and restaurants to celebrate the holiday, as so much of the holiday is not the day itself, but the days that come before--the places you end up at after a holiday party, a day of errands and shopping, or just to hide away from the shorter days and colder weather.
The first stop on this trip is Lincoln Park's Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co., situated in the narrow basement of a brownstone that supposedly housed lookout gunmen during the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, which took place across the street (it's now a yard for a large apartment building, nothing to see). Gruesome history aside, the restaurant is an experience. Made of cozy, cramped pine booths and a small bar, the place specializes in pizza pot pies that are inverted at the table from their baking pan to reveal a delicious, rich little delight that makes all the frozen discs in the fridge at home cry with envy. THe place also serves oversized grinders; while I was more focused on the pot pie, it was clear that lovers of warm sandwiches will find a friend at this place.
The appetizer, however, is a must-have: the Mediterranean Bread (pictured), a large expanse of thin dough brushed with oil and topped with a blend of cheese, herbs, more cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes that hangs dangerously over its plate. The room is dark, save for the garland and lights that greeted me this past weekend, but the place was packed with people taking a break from turkey leftovers and televisions. The food is delicious, the room is charming and has low lighting: I'm sold.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co.
2121 N. Clark
Brunch is, objectively, the best meal of the day. It's the lazy meal meant to be enjoyed late and eaten slowly with a breakfast cocktail because today you don't have to rush anywhere.
I don't get to enjoy my favorite meal too often because I have one of those nine-to-five office jobs, which means I rush out the door with a slice of toast in my coat pocket. I'm actually a little baffled by restaurants that serve exclusively breakfast/lunch/brunch fare during the work week because aren't most of us tucked away most of the day? Turns out, a few retired people, a couple executive-types, and a smattering of others (including this lucky soul who took the day off because her mother was in town from Minnesota) take advantage of the laid back vibe at a weekday brunch spot.
My mom and I went to Kanela in Old Town (1552 N. Wells St), where we cozied up from the chilly day in one of their milk chocolate-colored booths. I quickly encountered my Big Brunch Dilemma: sweet or savory?
I'm always drawn to the sweet side (stuffed French toast, Kanela chip pancakes, strawberry waffle!), but I know I get overwhelmed by sugar halfway through and can't finish. I sometimes manage to talk myself into eggs but savorier plates just don't have the magnetic pull for me that French toast and waffles do.
If you live in Chicago, then surely you know that you're supposed to do Brunch at Southport Grocery and Café. With items like brisket & gravy (house-smoked brisket gravy on a homemade buttermilk biscuit topped with two fried eggs) and bread pudding pancakes, (pancakes made of gooey bread pudding topped with cinnamon-sugar butter & vanilla anglaise) how could you not? I'd like to let everyone in on a little secret. Southport Grocery also serves dinner twice a week and you should definitely figure out how to get there to enjoy it.
The restaurant, located in the popular Southport Corridor neighborhood at 3552 North Southport, is celebrating their 10th anniversary by offering their trademark comfort food for dinner on Thursday and Friday evenings from 5 to 10 pm.
I visited Southport Grocery recently to sample a few of their new dinner offerings and was not disappointed. The meal began with an apple salad, lobster bisque and a green bean poutine. If I had to pick a favorite of these three I would go with the apple salad. It was a wonderful mix of flavors. The thinly sliced apples combined with pickled pears, kale, peppered pecans, vintage Gouda and smoked onion marmalade (which you can buy in the grocery) was a dream.
Lately Chicago's restaurant scene has been exploding all over the map, with hot new restaurant concepts putting down roots in some off-the-beaten-tracks neighborhoods: Honey Butter Fried Chicken in Avondale, A10 in Hyde Park, Dusek's in Pilsen. However, a recent trend has seen some notable new places spreading across the Western Avenue border. Get ready to make the trip west to some fantastic new food -- if you haven't already.
The Chop Shop: 2033 W. North Ave.
Open for a little over a month, this behemoth restaurant/butcher/events space (separately called the "1st Ward") has booked some noteworthy gigs, including Chicago's beloved Dose Market (which will now be held on a weekly basis as opposed to monthly) and the first annual Donut Fest in January. However, the food and drinks program refuses to be overshadowed: chef Joshua Marrelli of Urban Union has created a hearty gastropub-style menu with prime butchers' cuts as the stars and The Bedford's Dan De Los Monteros orchestrated a cocktail menu based on upgraded classics. Basically, this is your one-stop-shop for food, drinks, and entertainment this winter.
Hunter & Tails: 2700 W. Chicago Ave.
Another new player on the gastropub scene, Hunter & Tails serves up comfort food staples (mussels with sausage, pumpkin risotto) backed by a full bar and 20 rotating draft beer selections -- and don't forget the cocktails. Owner Pablo Ruiz, also behind Bullhead Cantina, takes his newest concept to the Humboldt Park area, where his dining-destination neighbors include Kai Zan and Rootstock. The space itself is simple but cozy, with woodsy tones and even featuring a separate downstairs lounge.
Leghorn: 959 N. Western Ave.
"Socially conscious chicken sandwiches," proclaims Leghorn's bold website -- equal parts menu and social mission statement. The new Ukrainian Village outpost, backed by the Element Collective (Old Town Social, Nellcôte), plans to open in January and will be serving up some refreshingly straightforward fried chicken: your choice of pickle brined or Nashville hot on a buttermilk biscuit or housemade bun. However, the simplistic menu belies a significant cause: 2% of revenues are donated to organizations championing gay rights and Leghorn-branded birth control will be free at the counter.
While Lula Cafe vamps (er, zombies) as Fat Rice today, Real Kitchen, a gourmet-to-go spot in a Lakeview shopping strip, took to the internets to dress up as Alinea for Halloween.
The video shows Real Kitchen's chefs doing such things as juicing chicken to concentrate the flavor, using superglue as a "molecular gastronomy" chemical, and recreating Alinea's infamous tabletop dessert on the front counter and squeegeeing it into a takeout container. The dishwasher/sommelier offers wine pairings.
Although it's just a spoof, Real Kitchen isgiving away free cupcakes today. Stop in at 1433 W. Montrose Ave. and pick up dinner while you're at it.
When Honey Butter owners Christine Cikowski and Joshua Kulp open the doors at 5pm, expect crispy fried, locally sourced chicken, served with the restaurant's signature honey butter, plus "farmer's market-driven veggie side dishes," desserts and a small selection of craft beers from local microbreweries, along with wine and a few cocktails.
Jeni's opens at 11am Saturday, with a full complement of its signature gourmet ice cream, sorbet and frozen yogurt flavors -- including a tamarind-whole goat's milk yogurt that's a nod to Rick Bayless. There's a preview party Friday night from 7 to 10pm, with free samples for everyone and commemorative posters for the first 50 attendees, and owner Jeni Britton Bauer will be in attendance.
Next intended to debut its new menu, Bocuse d'Or, on Saturday, Aug. 31, but Friday's storm knocked out power at the restaurant (as well as the Aviary next door), delaying Next's latest incarnation by a day. However, dining is back on track and reservations are open (if you can land one). Here's a preview.
The Bocuse d'Or menu is based on this year's menus from Team USA's entry into the biennial French cooking competition. Chef Grant Achatz was one of the coaches of this year's team, which finished a disappointing seventh in the highly competitive contest. The Bocuse d'Or is as much about presentation as it is about taste, and the preview video demonstrates how carefully crafted each platter will be prepared for lucky diners.
It took about two seconds of perusing 676 Restaurant & Bar's menu before I took them up on their offer to dine there. I'm a sucker for places with a farm-to-table ethos and 676 has a convincing one. In May, Detroit native Joshua Hasho returned from the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Rey to take the reigns of Executive Chef at 676 and has continued to build up the restaurant's relationship with local farms, where as much as 80% of their purchased food comes from. Their herbs, edible flowers, and strawberries are grown in the restaurant's own rooftop garden.
The location, on the fourth floor of the Omni Hotel on Michigan Ave., far above the Cheesecake Factory and Chile's and all those pizza places, makes 676 a nice spot for a meal downtown. The full, east-facing windows overlook Michigan (I had a prime view of the Apple Store), which the restaurant wisely let do the brunt of the lighting, creating a soft ambiance in the restaurant. The downtown bustle, plus the activity in the open kitchen served as focal points, the primary "decor" so-to-speak, since no one would pay much attention to any fine art with so much movement going on. "Date night" spot, yes, but the elegance in the dark woods and chrome-colored upholstery make it the sort of place you'd take your parents, visitors, or a group of friends for a nice meal (nice, read more pricey than a typical weeknight bite).
The menu's odd ingredient pairings also piqued my interest: brussels sprout flatbread; veggie meatballs, squash noodles, romesco, and basil. I knew full well that whatever image I sketched of, say, squash noodles would barely outline what appeared on my plate. Faced with all these options, I couldn't decide what to actually order. So I did what anyone else would do: asked someone to pick for me. Ditto for the drinks, where my companion and I asked for wine pairings with our three courses, plus coffee with dessert.
It's not too late to pick up a fork in celebration of Julia Child's 101th birthday: Chicago Originals' "Julia Child Restaurant Week" continues through August 31. A dozen restaurants across Chicagoland are featuring attractively-priced menu specials and prix fixe options with a nod towards French classics perfected by Julia. Be a part of the celebration at Mexique, Bistronomic, or one of the other participating restaurants-- find the full listing here. Bon appétit!
Absinthe is the Sweeney Todd of liquors: complex, misunderstood, and seductively dangerous. Distilled from three primary ingredients (anise, fennel, and wormwood), this green-fairy drink was maligned by the temperance movement and other liquor competitors as a psychoactive drug containing a dangerous substance called thujone. By the time scientists disproved such shenanigans, most countries (including the US) had banned it. But thanks to a little something called human perseverance, absinthe quickly made its way back onto the shelves of bars across the world. In fact, one of the largest collection of absinthe in the United States resides within a discreet restaurant in Chicago's hipster Wicker Park neighborhood: the Savoy.
If you're the type of person who is happiest determining where you'll eat they day you're going out, instead of making plans, days, weeks, or months in advance, then you might like TableSAVVY. This new website, partnered with Chicago Magazine, permits you to pick a neighborhood, a cuisine, a time, and the size of your party and find all of the restaurants that fit your needs and make a reservation for you. You pay $5 to the website for making the reservation, the restaurant gets a note that you are a TableSAVVY reservation, and when you get your bill, 30% is deducted. This 30% off only applies to food, not alcohol or tax. Not a bad deal for those who tend to procrastination.
So you think you're a fan of Kuma's -- who isn't? Sure, you love the loud metal, the whiskey on tap, and the outrageous burgers. You may even nod approvingly at the tatted-up staff. But only true fans could pick out whose body art is whose, and only the most hard core aficionados could match the chefs to their respective burger philosophies.
And with that, we throw down a challenge. Match the tattoo to the right Kuma's staff member and you're a legit fan... we'll call you a "medium rare" fan. But correctly match the staff member to the tattoo and what burger topping they would be in an ideal world...well, then you're a pork belly and tortilla chip-topped, Siracha-slathered, mint-garnished, rare and messy mother of a Kuma's burger fan. You require a pile of napkins and a hearty IPA to wash down. You're the kind of fan they might name a burger after -- if you were named after a Def Leppard song.
If I could move to any neighborhood in Chicago, it'd be Andersonville. It's a little microcosm of diversity, with its Swedish roots, fabulous LGBT community, 2-kid-n'-dog families, and thriving Middle Eastern population. Where else can I finish a Turkish pide dinner with a few Toska tarts and glögg? Andersonville. Where else can I experience Lakeview without actually having to live there? Andersonville. Where else can I hit up Edgewater elotes and Argyle pho without having to drive more than five minutes? That's fucking right--Andersonville.
So when I got invited to the Taste of Andersonville, I wept in glorious happiness because not only did it give me an excuse to dine in one of my favorite neighborhoods, but also because the event is an interactive experience. You see, it's like a culinary scavenger hunt, where participants meander up and down North Clark Street for restaurants mapped on their "passports." Diners chose between three "routes": the Salt Route (vegetarian-friendly), the Pepper Route, and the Enchilada Route (a combination of the salt and pepper routes):
It's tricky to put your finger on why one place, bar, restaurant feels comfortable, why you find yourself lingering at one more than another. Troquet, the "neighborhood French bar by LM" in Ravenswood (1834 W. Montrose Ave.) is that place for me, that place I wish was around the corner from my apartment.
It's not much to look at, but that could be part of it too. The unassuming decor of dark woods with flairs of red here and there, wide windows, and music humming as unobtrusively as the TVs above the bar, make this the sort of space you can relax into. It's small, yet lively, with a mishmash of people. The guys in baseball caps eating at the bar, two women with laptops and drinks at a high table, a family eating and friends relaxing outside. I can see myself hanging out at the bar with a book, sipping a glass of wine, or a Kir Royal.
I like restaurants where it's OK to eat solo. I like settling into a bar stool, I like anchoring my book to the countertop so I can read hands-free, I like coffee served in a vessel that straddles the subtle line between "cup" and "bowl." I like poring over a menu and imagining every item: its flavors, its plating, how it would look being swept from the open kitchen to the wooden mosaic of a tabletop. I like the anticipation -- especially when you know it's gonna be good -- fueled by bottomless refills of aforementioned coffee. This is the brunch/lunch experience at Endgrain, and it's delightful.
This new Roscoe Village spot, opened and operated by sibling duo Enoch and Caleb Simpson, has been on the receiving end of flurries of press--most of which heralds Enoch's signature donuts as the newest heroes of Chicago's donut scene. To me, this was exciting, but ultimately misleading: Endgrain features some standout donuts, sure; but don't let the full brunch menu stand by in supporting role. Chef Enoch is also a master of biscuit sandwiches, weaving creativity through the stronghold of tradition, as exemplified in his marbled rye biscuit topped with caraway seeds and piled high with smoked trout.
Last week, I attended the launch of the Old 1871 at GT Fish & Oyster. While hardly local--the new exclusive oyster breed grows in the cold waters off southern Virginia, not lake Michigan (this is a good thing)--presenting distributor Fortune Fish and Gourmet is. The name derives from CEO Sean O'Scanllain's old family brewery, and is meant to hark back to the days of simple protein trade between the stockyards of Chicago and the seabeds of the Atlantic coast.
June, July, and August are not "R" months, but there is something wonderfully refreshing about slurping oysters in the summer. Briny and meaty, they're surf and turf in a single slippery bite, served ice cold or off the grill as soon as their shells pop from the heat. (It's not just me endorsing this idea--Bon Appétit brings it up in the latest issue as well). Old 1871 are a welcome addition to the kumamotos and wellfleets you may already know. Funky and rich, with a buried sweetness, they're deep-cupped, so you get a good slug of seawater with each. With all that salt, you need something to drink, of course. I asked Brooks Reitz from The Ordinary, Charleston South Carolina's buzzy seafood mecca, what he suggests to serve along with oysters.
This past Friday was the first official day of summer, as you could probably tell from the stickiness of the air since then. And I'm happy to announce that along with the humidity and heat, the summer drinking series has returned to Gapers Block! We kicked things off on Friday with a few beers at the Hopleaf, that venerable Chicago drinking establishment, which is benefiting from its 2012 expansion to include a second dining room. A less packed bar makes grabbing a beer and frites much more bearable in the heat, especially since the air-conditioned rear dining rooms escape the wet gasp of air every the door opens--which at Hopleaf, is often.
For my inaugural summer quaff, I ordered a Sofie Paradisi, one of over 60 possible drafts, and a spin on my very favorite Goose Island offering. For this special summer beer, the usual saison-style Sofie is aged in its requisite wine barrels with grapefruit peel and juice, rather than the more traditional orange peel. Grapefruity beer is a trend I first noticed last summer, with Steigel's Grapefruit Radler, and which I heartily endorse. The bitterness of the grapefruit esters seem perfectly suited for a lightly sour saison, and with Sofie Paradisi, the resulting brew is a lovely addition to the beer drinker's ever-expanding fruity summer palate. It paired nicely with Hopleaf's sweet crab and smoky endive salad (with grapefruit segments! it was meant to be) as well as the giant pile of fries I lovingly dunked into aioli all night. Aaaaahhhh, summer. Welcome back.
The Andersonville location of Jerry's Sandwiches, 5419 N. Clark St., opened its new backyard patio today. The multi-level, well-landscaped space has seating for 65 right now, and will eventually be able to accommodate 100. Jerry's is open till 1am, and full menu is available outside.
A good sandwich is about more than what's in between the bread: local Chicago eateries have begun to take the notion of a quick "fast food" lunch and use it as a springboard for change. Sustainable, low-waste concepts were quick to catch on in the realm of fine dining, where guests were willing to shell out a bit more for the promise of environmentally-nurturing grub. However, a handful of passionate "green" chefs and restaurateurs have started to apply the same ideas to a more egalitarian canvas: the humble lunchtime sandwich.
Chef Justin Vrany has an impressive food pedigree--he has previously worked in high-profile spots such as Mindy's Hot Chocolate and the Ritz Carlton. However, his aim with Sandwich Me In is to pare down ingredients to the freshest and most local, and to whip up every menu item in-house. Nearly everything, from the bread to the beverages, is made from scratch. Even more impressively, over the course of a year, the restaurant only generated eight gallons of garbage.
Try: The PB&J calzone, house made black bean burger, BBQ pulled pork.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Great Chefs Tasting Party, a fundraising gala for the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Greater Chicago (UCP). In case you didn't know, cerebral palsy is a "disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by injury or abnormal development in the immature brain, most often before birth...People with cerebral palsy often have other conditions related to developmental brain abnormalities, such as intellectual disabilities, vision and hearing problems, or seizures." (Mayo Clinic). UCP has been helping CP individuals and their families since 1951, providing a variety of different services including professional development and educational programs:
"We help a child with cerebral palsy use technology that lets her speak for the first time. We help a man unable to use his hands or arms learn to do his own laundry and prepare his own meals. We help a woman in a wheelchair roll down her new ramp and back into the community." (UCP website)
The organization does amazing things for the CP community, and their food lineup did not disappoint. There were nearly 40 different participants, and while I could go on and on about each, some of my favorite highlights can be found after the jump...
Despite the mass popularity of the vegan and vegetarian food movements, meat is making a mighty comeback. The recent head to tail movement focuses on utilizing the entire animal by consuming the usually-discarded parts of the animal, especially the organs. In fact, with the rise of artisan butcher shops (e.g. Butcher & Larder) and butchery classes (e.g. Red Meat Market), it's become the latest foodie trend.
Wicker Park's Hash has all of the ingredients for brunch success: an inventive menu centered around a breakfast favorite, comfy prices, and a lot of local flavor.
Their namesake offerings, a selection of six different hash brown-centric plates, come in two different sizes and draw inspiration from the neighborhood's eclectic population: the "Ukie" features pork sausage and kraut, while the "Humboldt" includes fried plantain and a choice of chorizo or meatless "soyrizo." This is the sort of thoughtfulness that I find inspiring and exciting in menu planning: while sometimes I eat out to escape my surroundings (e.g. sushi in the Midwest; I dig it frequently), I have a special place in my heart for restaurants that successfully embrace their location and its roots--especially in a city as densely diverse as Chicago.
The restaurant space itself is open and homey, full of retro patterns and natural light that encourage lingering over your cup of coffee (Dark Matter, one of my local favorites). The easily-customizable menu sprawls across the back wall in chalk script, and counter service is--in my experience--quick and friendly. Delivery is also available!
"We've been in business 19 years, and in 2011 we moved into a building with geothermal heating and cooling," explained Big Delicious Planet founder Heidi Moorman Coudal. "There is so much waste in the food industry, so when I learned about Green Restaurant certification, I looked at the requirements and started making changes." Those changes included such things as switching to a green pest control company, installing appliances with Energy Star ratings, and composting.
Burrata with Petrossian Alverta President caviar, asparagus and Manni "Per Me" extra virgin olive oil
The approach to the host's stand at a restaurant can often be an awkward exchange--party of three, how long is the wait, can we have a drink the bar--but walking into the circular marble foyer of Spiaggia, there's no ambiguity: reservation or not, they know you're coming. At least, that's what the meticulously prepared food led me to believe.
My friend and I showed early on a Saturday evening, expecting to be one of the few diners present for dinner when the sun was still going strong outside; however, as we entered the restaurant's high-ceilinged main room, our table was one of the few open seats in the place. Spiaggia, which expands over several floors in an otherwise nondescript building that looks like it was intended to house a galaxy of conference rooms, has a clear view of the point when a part of Lake Shore Drive splits into the staccato of Michigan Avenue. Thousands of cars swirled by the large, clear windows as we dove into Spiaggia's tasting menus.
North Center's Bad Apple, like so many restaurants, has jumped on the all-natural bandwagon. The restaurant is free of chemicals, pesticides and preservatives, and has been since it opened almost four years ago. Everything has been all natural and as-local-as-possible since the day the restaurant opened its doors. Well, everything except for the ketchup.
Chef and owner Craig Fass opened Bad Apple with a mass-produced ketchup but quickly converted to making their ketchup in-house.
This housemade ketchup is made two to three times a week, 15 gallons at a time, producing over 120 gallons a month. The pot, larger than most toddlers, sits on the stove for six hours. If you're a cook at Bad Apple, here's your routine: put a burger on the stove, stir the ketchup, flip the burger, stir the ketchup, put the burger on a bun, stir the ketchup, add toppings to the burger, stir the ketchup. Get the idea? It's a time-consuming process.
The John Hancock Building is basically Chicago's answer to the Eiffel Tower, with all of the same reasons for renown: it's a landmark seen across the city boasting spectacular views and a swanky restaurant at the top. However, in the past said restaurant -- the Signature Room on the 95th, so named for its roost 95 floors above ground -- has delivered more impressively on window seats rather than on actual menu fare. The Signature Room celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer and has marked the occasion with the addition of a new executive chef: Rosalia Barron, previously of Frontera Grill and NAHA -- the Signature Room's first female chef. I was invited to come sample some of the new offerings.
When I was around 10, I went through a (long) phase where I refused to eat anything normal 10-year-olds ate. Burgers? No. Birthday cake? Hell no. Pizza? Not unless it has fancy toppings on it, so basically, no. When I was first introduced to barbeque chicken pizza, it felt like it arrived accompanied by choirs of singing angels, not to mention the relieved sighs of my parents -- no marinara sauce, no spicy meat products, plenty of cheese and sticky sweet chicken. But childhood memory can be a bitch -- for a long time, no real BBQ chicken pie has lived up to mistily shrouded recollections of picky 10-year-old eater bliss.
Until I tried the Knife and Forker at the new Homeslice Wheel House, Lincoln Park's grown-up refuge from the college-student inundated pizza and beer scene. And McGee's and those snobs at the Local Option had best watch their backs. Homeslice's version is like the Platonic form of barbeque chicken pizza: shredded chicken bolstered with spicy pepperoni, dark sweet barbeque sauce and finely sliced red onion for just a touch of acidity, draped with perfectly blistered cheddar, mozarella and provolone. This, with 12 beers on tap and a cocktail menu! My childhood heart be still, my grown-up liver rejoice.
After the holiday season, it's not uncommon for me to find myself abysmally broke. Going out to eat, usually my most prolific hobby, becomes increasingly uncomfortable as my pocket change dwindles (and then finally disappears altogether). Luckily, there are options. When times get financially tough, I choose to live vicariously through the experiences of others, and I have yet to encounter a better medium for exploring the various microcosms of Chicago restaurants than through cookbooks. My favorite cookbooks are not only compendiums of recipes, but also capture the culture of the restaurant itself--the behind-the-scenes lifeblood that you might normally not experience as a diner. These cookbooks showcase the Chicago food scene at its finest. And all of these titles can be found at your friendly local library branch!
Chicago's Chef Table by Amelia Levin
This book has received a lot of buzz, and for good reason. Within you will find some of the best recipes sourced directly from some of the best restaurants in Chicago: street food to white tablecloth, it's all here.
The Preservation Kitchen by Paul Virant
Chef Virant's Chicago-based restaurant, Perennial Virant, relies on in-house pickling and preserves to create signature dishes that showcase produce at its prime. The Preservation Kitchen makes these techniques accessible to the home cook, with a beautiful balance of the scientific and the sensory.
V-Day is on the horizon, and there's not better day to romance someone through their stomach. We've selected a few places that are bound to impress that special someone. All you have to do is make a reservation and show up. And don't forget the flowers.
Opt for a romantic candlelight dinner at Bucktown's quaint go-to for delicious beef sourced from Wisconsin grass-fed farms. And what's sexier than steak?
Grass Fed's $45 prix fixe menu includes salmon tartare that's so soft and buttery it melts in your mouth, crunchy brussels sprouts salad with almonds, a soothing and addictive glazed carrots soup seasoned with cardamom, and sirloin steak worthy of fist-pumps. Other options on the menu: house-made gnocchi, bone in rib eye and skillet chicken served with butternut squash puree and warm kale salad - and three dessert options, including a rum infused bread pudding that sounds orgasmic.
The menu is also available Friday and Saturday. Call 773-342-6000 for reservations. 1721 N. Damen Ave.
You just can't go wrong at Lula Café. It's cozy and intimate, and it always serves up whimsical plates of food so satisfying, you'll wonder why you'd dine anywhere else. This year they're whipping up a three-course ($45) and a five-course ($75) menu, and each come with wine pairings ($25). The three course menu includes a sea scallop and its roe, duck breast and a fruity confection by Mas Brothers Chocolate. The five course menu includes all of the above, and chilled lobster served in a buttermilk or panna cotta or custard (it's still in the works), dry aged beef carpaccio and brin d'amour cheese. The vegetarian menu will be posted on the website soon!
The two seatings for the evening are at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Call 773-489-9554 for reservations. 2537 N. Kedzie Blvd.
Bit of a Francophile and love Asian food? Do French-Vietnamese at Le Colonial. The ambiance is warm and beautifully decorated in a French colonial theme from the '20s; you'll forget you're in Chicago. The evening's menu ($65) includes pho with oxtail soup and rice noodles, a grilled sea scallop salad with garlic noodles, salad rolls and a seared filet mignon, followed by steamed fillets of Chilean sea bass, sautéed jumbo shrimp, and rice noodles with a choice of beef, chicken, shrimp or tofu.
Call 312-255-0088 for reservations. 937 N. Rush St.
While I gave everything I had every day of the week to all of my staff, vendors, and guests, in the end I found that sustainability - an undying commitment to what that means - wasn't sustainable. While it looked great from the outside, on the inside we faced many challenges. The praise that hangs on my wall and the Internet speaks to my passion, and that will never change.
I could have bought different milk. Different eggs. I could have used non eco-friendly parchment paper. I could sent everything to landfill. I could have used an inferior product. I could have had a Sysco truck deliver my food and have one person work a deep fryer and microwave. I consciously chose to do things one way. Maybe I was stubborn. I was committed to doing what I believed to be the right thing.
Real food takes not just passion, but labor. And these numbers add up. The fact is, I put the same level of ingredients and labor into a sandwich, chips and pickle that my colleagues are putting into a $25 entree. Perhaps we, as a community, are not prepared to take on the challenge of a $15 - $20 lunch ticket, but I know I tried to do it the best way, true to my ideals and focused on creating the best product possible.
Delivery food never tastes as good as when temperatures outside drop to surreal-sounding levels (0 degrees? What does it even mean?), but this upcoming February, get ready to dust off your long underwear--Restaurant Week 2013 will give you a reason to venture beyond the warm confines of your living room.
A friend and I planned a visit to Oiistar for a Wednesday night dinner. I met up with him at the door. "I'm not feeling it," he said immediately. "It's like a club in there. Too noisy." I glanced through the window to assess the interior: full, but not packed. Atmospheric, minimalist decor with lots of woody accents. Classic cartoons projected onto a far wall. The word "trendy" came, almost instantaneously, to mind.
But this being Wicker Park, and Oiistar being one of the newest additions to a specific trend set -- fusion cusine gastropubs -- I decided that my friend's fear was just symptomatic.
RUB BBQ, 2407 W. Lunt Ave., will be moving in a few months around the corner (or just a few steps away if you go out the back door and past the smoker) to 6954 N. Western Ave. They're going to have an 800-square-foot kitchen (how big is your apartment?), which will be large enough for them to cook up a whole mess of the tasty barbecue they've been doing and still have plenty of room to serve it up to an even larger set of tables. But they're also looking forward to adding fried chicken, house-made chips, and house-brewed root beer.
Based on some of the recipes available on their Tumblr, I suspect there are going to be new desserts as well. Not that there is anything wrong with their Texas Sheet Cake, but with this case, more options can only be better.
There's a tiny neighborhood joint in West Rogers Park that plays Israeli music and has waiters wearing kippahs serving a clientele made up of mostly devout Jews. The only thing that looks out of place is the food: sushi. This is Hamachi Sushi Bar, Chicago's first and only kosher sushi restaurant.
The interiors are simple and minimal to the point of almost being clinical -- which is pretty much the opposite of how I'd describe most of the food. The Spicy Seafood soup was the exception. I started my meal with this bland miso soup that had a scant amount of faux crab and shrimp meat. It left me yearning for more flavor.
And flavor I got!
Every starter I tried, from Crispy Rice (a toasty rice bar topped with spicy tuna and pineapple salsa) to Crunch Shrimp (deep fried faux shrimp, spicy tuna covered with a yellow pepper sauce, mixed greens and picked cucumber), was overwhelmingly salty, vinegar-y and sweet at the same time.
It seems that the Wicker Park restaurant formula these days involves trading in the standard black apron for woodsmithing aprons and flannel, and making sure your staff dons an appropriate amount of facial hair while creating a cocktail list with ingredients that you nor your guests will ever be able to decipher (is that some type of fly fishing tackle in my drink and seriously, why does every drink need a bitter in it?) Making sure the people behind those aprons are attractive isn't a bad idea, either. Carriage House perfects at its Wicker Park location, a hop, skip and a jump from its big sister The Bedford.
After three months of refined Japanese cooking with the "Kyoto" menu, Chef Dave Beran and team will celebrate "The Hunt," featuring wild game and an outdoorsy theme, beginning the second week in January. Then in May, the restaurant flips completely and goes vegan, with a focus on seasonal vegetables. In September, Next will compete -- virtually -- in the Bocuse D'Or, the international cooking competition known for its exacting requirements and ostentatious presentations. Chef Grant Achatz is a coach for Team USA 2013, and told the Tribune's Kevin Pang that the Next could involve diners as "judges" by having them select the proteins the chefs use to "compete."
It was also revealed that Next and its siblings, Aviary and Alinea, will open seven days a week starting sometime in the spring. Keep your eye on Next's Facebook page for news about that as well as ticket sales for each of the flights.
Next Restaurant is out of ideas. Well, not really, but they aresoliciting suggestions from future themes on their Facebook wall. As of this writing, 686 comments have been posted, but that doesn't mean it's too late for you to throw yours into the mix.
So far, South Indian, African, historic period American, Grant Achatz's first day at the French Laundry, and an all-vegetarian theme are some of the more popular suggestions. Time Out Chicago and Chicagoist have selected some of their favorite comments, good and bad, so I guess I'll join the fun. Here are a few of my favorites:
How about elevating middle-brow American cuisine? TGINext would be hilarious/amazing.
Next: Elevation. Start at sea level, each course features cuisine of city at increasing altitude of 1,000' or whatever. Finish with dessert at 10,000' or on an airplane or in space.
Atlantis (under water version - seafood from the deep with advanced culture and technology) or Atlantis the Lost City with the Lost recipes, Mayan 2013- Post End of the World (if we live thru it), Swiss Alps circa 1960. If you pick mine, can I get a table for 2 :). Mars or Moon base circa 2050.
I would try anything but "the delicacies of Donner Pass"
I'm thinking taste the rainbow, not because I love Skittles (I DOO!! lol) but because I think it would be fun to start a menu at one color (red) and end at another (violet) and have a lot of fun along the way.
Drive-Thru contributor Brandy Gonsoulin adds, "one fan suggested the chef recreate the experience of regaining his sense of taste by depriving a sense per course (an interesting hybrid of 9 1/2 Weeks, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly comes to mind, but I'm curious why you would want to take away taste). Next hasn't responded yet, but I vote that they do a spin on verb tenses."
The 20th Century Limited ran between New York and Chicago in 16 hours.... in comfort, luxury, and speed -- spanning space and time.
The 21st Century Limited will run a brief engagement between New York and Chicago in September and October of 2012.
And with that, Alinea and New York's Eleven Madison Park last week announced "The Twenty First Century Limited," a kitchen trade between the two famed restaurants. The Tribune reports that chef Grant Achatz and the Alinea team will take over Eleven Madison Park for five nights starting Sept. 26, and chef Daniel Humm and the Eleven Madison Park crew will occupy Alinea for five nights starting Oct. 10. The teams will be doing everything possible to recreate the experience of eating at their home restaurants, right down to tableware.
Tickets to dinners at both restaurants will cost $495 each, not including tax and tip; reservations will be announced on the event's Facebook page in the coming weeks.
On the website of chef Paul Virant's Vie, the event is called the "Old Standby Beer Dinner II," but the restaurant's newsletter puts it more bluntly. Vie is holding its second annual "Shitty Beer Dinner" next Tuesday, July 31.
The $85-per-person dinner brings five Chicagoland chefs -- Johnny Anderes of Telegraph, Paul Fehribach of Big Jones, Leonard Hollander of Marion Street Cheese Market, Tara Lane of the Hull House Kitchen (formerly pastry chef at Blackbird), Justin Large of Big Star and Jared Wentworth of Longman & Eagle -- out to Western Springs to create one course that is paired with the chef's favorite crappy beer.
After a long absence, The Dog Show has returned! Every other week, we'll be exploring Chicago's many hot dog stands, checking out their Chicago-style hot dogs as well as other treats.
To mark the column's return, Lisa White and Andrew Huff visited Susie's Drive-Thru, a classic Mayfair spot that's been pleasing people for 38 years. Set on an odd-shaped lot at 4126 W. Montrose Ave., just west of Elston, it's mostly oriented toward eating in your car -- there are two drive-thru windows and ample parking, while inside there's but a narrow counter along the windows. A couple of picnic tables are set up outside.
The menu is surprisingly long for a hot dog stand. In addition to the standard encased meats, burgers and gyros, there are also all sorts of combinations of menu items -- seemingly anything may be topped with anything else, resulting in such oddities as the hot dogs wrapped in gyro meat, burgers served like reubens, and just about anything on top of cheese fries. Apparently being stuck in tight quarters from noon to midnight every day inspires a good amount of experimentation.
Joy Yee To Go, the new Lakeview outpost of the popular Chinese and bubble tea chain, opened on Tuesday at 1465 W. Irving Park Rd. The new 20-seat restaurant will serve the same pan-Asian food, fruit smoothies and bubble tea as the other locations, although store manager Michael Yang said some of the less popular dishes on the voluminous menu may not always be available due to the restaurant's small size.
Asked why Joy Yee opted to open in Lakeview, Yang said, "A lot of people have been asking for it." With restaurants in Evanston, Chinatown, UIC University Village and Naperville, the North Side was a gap in Joy Yee's network.
Joy Yee To Go is open daily from 11:30am to 10pm, and offers carry-out and delivery. The restaurant is offering a 15 percent grand opening discount right now.
Joy Yee To Go
1465 W. Irving Park Rd.
Even on a normal day, Quick Bite is one of the best deals in town. The standing special a hot dog and fries for just $1.95 (raised earlier this year from $1.75); two dogs, fries and a drink will set you back just a fiver. The shop is open from 11am till 9pm Monday through Friday, 11am to 5pm Saturday. Quick Bite is at 5155 N. Western Ave.
Living in Lincoln Square, one hardly wants for formidable dining options within easy walking distance -- but in the last few years since I've moved to the neighborhood, Italian cuisine seems to be missing a truly worthy representative in the area. Trattoria Trullo and La Bocca Della Verita, both on Lincoln Avenue, are both flatly fine options -- nothing fancy, nothing taste-bud numbingly amazing, but nothing that tastes like its major components couldn't have come out of a freezer either. Just solidly mediocre. And while the area boasts some outstanding pizza (Spacca Napoli what up!), sometimes you just want a bowl of noodles and red sauce -- and have it not taste like something you (or Chef Boyardee) put together on your own stove.
Due Lire opened on Lincoln a year or so ago, offering a classic Italian mix of appertivo, small plates, pastas, and mains, and while it took me a while to finally visit, I will gladly return when the pasta-craving strikes from now on. While the staff wavers a bit between charming and aggressive, and both dining room and back patio are cozy but nothing to write home about, the food is gorgeous.
Yes, a book about Hot Doug's is on its way. Doug Sohn (who used to work in the publishing industry) posted on Facebook that it will come out next year -- and in the meantime, he's looking for stories from you.
The day has come, my friends. I'm happy to report a book about the restaurant is in the works for a release date in Spring 2013. That said, the success of the restaurant to me is the community--the part of my job I enjoy more than anything else is the interaction with the customers, and I want this book to be a reflection of that. Plus it's less work for me.
So please, send us your stories, photos, memories, drawings, poems ... anything that can go in a book. We'd love to consider including your contribution. Post it on Facebook, or email us at: HotDougsTheBook@gmail.com.
I wonder if he'd like a story about Hot Doug Drop, the delivery service that briefly took orders to locations in the Loop. [via]
One doesn't just casually chat at DMK Burger Bar. Communication requires projection, from the diaphragm, over the loud (however good) music. It might feel like work, but I swear, it's worth it.
Not just for the burgers, a speciality of chef and culinary visionary Michael Kornick (of N9NE Steakhouse, Fish Bar and MK), but for one cocktail in particular. It's summer in a glass: Madame Geneva's Rhubarb Delight. Made with Hendricks Gin, lime soda, a tiny spoon of a ginger rhubarb jam and a lime on the rim. 'Cause they keep it classy. To work the fruit in, I order the bison burger, topped with pickled red onions, creamy goat cheese and-- the best part-- a blueberry barbecue sauce.
Simply put, the rhubarb and blueberry together are the proverbial bomb. Get it.
For those of us who only know Andersonville because of HopLeaf and Swedish pastries (me), In Fine Spirits Lounge at 5420 N. Clark is making over the existing wine bar and lounge into a casual-fine dining restaurant and upstairs cocktail den. IFS will close on Sunday, March 18 and reopen in April as Premise with Graham Elliot trained Brian Runge as the executive chef and a menu that's described as "classic with a modern approach" aka Brian likes Sweetbreads so expect to see something along the lines of sweetbread empanadas. (Sounds deelish). Bourbon and craft cocktails will be joining their wine program and the word is that the designer behind The Girl and The Goat and Balena will be adding her touch to the new interior.
Ps. Don't worry BYOBer's, the existing wine shop will stay open so you can still grab your bottle for the nearby Noodle Zone.
Fish Bar owner, chef Michael Kornick (of MK, DMK Burger Bar), gave you a gift, Chicago. It's called the SatchmoPo' Boy and it demands that you eat it. Delicately fried shrimp and crawfish, roasted garlic aioli, butter pickles and lettuce on perfectly toasted bread, all crying out, "Eat us! We're delicious!"
Wash it down with a Cinnamon Toast: Sailor Jerry-spiced rum and hot apple cider, served in a mason jar with a cinnamon-sugar coated rim.
Fish Bar is located at 2956 North Sheffield and is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:30am to 12am.
I expected Nellcôte's VIP soiree that I attended this past Tuesday to be a sexy event, and when I walked past the wall of lavender through the wrought iron gate archway and got my first glimpse of the interior, I was glad I had switched my riding boots for heels. Sexy it was. The team behind Old Town Social has transformed the former site of Marche into an elegance meets rock and roll concept, a far cry from its predecessor, and the result is a Chicago version of sexy that calls upon LA's Bar Mamout. The signature aesthetic of at least 10 chandeliers lining the ceiling immediately grabs your attention, while the orange halo-backlit bar looks exactly like the place you would hope to be picked up by Ryan Gosling dressed in a Ralph Lauren suit. No doubt it's a seen and be seen place. The restaurant is divided by a downstairs and a slight upstairs that is more casual. Several hidden two-tops set up theatre-style in the balcony corners add a whimsical effect to the traditional restaurant layout.
I didn't know what to expect from the food side but I figured any restaurant on Randolph and a project of Jared Van Camp was going to be aiming high. I first tried a bite-sized taste of pickled salmon with a side of raisins and pine nuts presented on top of a coulis. The combination of pickled salmon next to crunchy pine nut was... different, and I'd like to offer it another opportunity to try it in its entirety. I next tried a warm white asparagus soup shooter with black truffles that reinforced my love for all things green and fungi. It had just the right amount of punch and flavor. There was some sort of foie gras paté that I unfortunately never got my hands on but here's where I got confused, and as Serious Eats mentions that "it is easy to get confused about the concept, which aims to mix fine dining with an irreverent attitude."
Thin crust Neapolitan-style pizza. Huh?
Circulating among the scene of flashy elegance and style was also... pizza. Not even the more sophisticated cousin, flatbread, but straight up 10 inch pizzas. Apparently Jared Van Camp likes his milled flour, and maybe just all things European, so I'm guessing that's where the inspiration for pizza comes from -- but pizza and foie gras? I guess it wouldn't be the first time I had been confused. It's too early to say what Nellcôte will do for Randolph's reputation as a food authority but it's no doubt it will be a popular joint this spring. With a menu under $30 and an interior that makes you feel like you're actually in the mix, I'd recommend checking it out. It bills itself as French American and the soundtrack of Black Keys and everything non-103.5 makes you forgive them for putting pizza next to sweetbreads. But if the fusion of southern Italy and south France and the revival of bohemian chic is your thing, this could be your next dream.
Nellcôte (833 W. Randolph St.) is open for business as of today and reservations can be made at Opentable or 312-432-0500.
Imagine Big Star and your favorite, neighborhood dive bar had an unassuming, yet delicious restaurant-baby. Their cash-only love child, touting, among other things, tacos and whiskey, is Bullhead Cantina. Having recently opened in Humboldt Park (1143 N California), this place is off to a great start-- offering a comprehensive selection of whiskey, beer and tasty, tasty food.
When you order their tacos (as you should), make sure to try the grilled tilapia, glazed with bourbon and tamarind and the pastor, marinated and served with grilled pineapple, pickled cabbage and cucumbers. Their tacos are served with homemade corn tortillas and made-to-order salsas.
Rumor has it, they'll also be hosting the occasional live show. Keep an eye on this place-- great things to come.
Grange Hall Burger Bar (844 W Randolph), is a Rockwell painting. It's charming and simple. It's Grandma's prairie barn-- a kitsch dream, touting a farm-to-table ethic, an homage to family farmers and husbandry. Johnny Cash and Hank Williams croon over the speakers and long, communal tables are set with mismatched cloth napkins. Attention to detail is definitely paid here as every item plays a part-- from the cucumber/lemon water to the bar, balanced over old wooden dressers. Angela and Chris Lee, owners of De Cero and Sushi Wabi, truly know how to set a scene. And now, the scene is open for lunch, Tuesday through Friday starting at 11am, with dinner service, Tuesday through Saturday, from 3pm to 10pm. They also offer a Farmer's breakfast Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 1pm.
The plaid-clad staff is warm and friendly, happy to bring out your local, grass-fed beef burger out on a cafeteria lunch tray, accompanied with cups of ketchup, mustard, mayo and house-made sweet pickle, with options for additional toppings. They also serve a house-ground turkey thigh burger with sage and white onion, and a vegetarian wild rice and sauteed vegetable burger on a toasted house-made bun (gluten-free option available). But, you're there for the beef, which you won't be able to put down due to its tasty factor, and because it's so juicy it may fall apart. You're also there for the many flavors of Faygo, the only soda they carry, and for the Farmhouse chili fries, which you will inevitably order. And when you do, you'll be given a choice of a few local cheeses-- go with the bleu. Your waiter will come to your table to follow up as you, mouth full, are unable to respond and, with Han Solo's confidence, he'll just say, "I know."
They have no doubts about their house-churned ice cream. The rosemary pecan ice cream is strong and clean, incredibly light and not overly sweet. They also have seasonal pies, which they change up monthly-- this month's pie is chocolate pudding pie, and come March, they'll be serving key lime.
Seriously, this place couldn't be more wholesome. Tasty and comforting, worth checking out.
Have you ever actually watched someone eat popcorn? Watch a rational human being become a ravenous animal. It's home and you're comfortable, watching a movie while thoughtlessly stuffing your face, kernel after kernel. What about when you're at the theater? You paid your first month's rent for that movie-goers snack combo #4 and, damn it, you're going to make sure to get your money's worth.
Popcorn can be pretty intoxicating. Once popped, heads perk up like little meerkats in the Kalahari.
"Is someone popping popcorn... anywhere?"
Well, let me tell you, there are ways to make it better still.
Remember how fat makes everything delicious? Remember how everyone (except vegetarians and vegans and folks keeping halal and kosher, and...) loves bacon? Remember how anything cooked in bacon fat is at least 50 percent tastier than before? Well, Revolution Brewery figured it out and jumped on the bacon bandwagon, except they go the extra mile,
not only cooking their popcorn in bacon fat, but adding pieces of delicious, crispy bacon on top, with a veritable snow fall of Parmesan cheese and fried sage leaves. It works. So well.
Next's tribute to el Bulli debuts tonight. As the restaurant does every time it transforms, there's an introductory video:
Eater has a look at the full menu, in Spanish and English. Incredibly, tickets still aren't on sale as of 1:30pm, just hours before the first seating. Keep your eyes on Next's Facebook page and have your credit card ready.
While you're there, enjoying the floats, the marching bands and the Miss Friendship Ambassador -- duh. Eat dim sum! Eat dim sum at the Phoenix. Eat dim sum to your heart's content! Dim sum is, by definition, meant to "touch the heart." In this case, it does. With deliciousness. This place is my most favorite dim sum restaurant in all of Chicago and I invite you to try to change my mind.
Try their regular menu items as well. Want to try jellyfish? They have that. Does that scare you into ordering your old standby, sweet and sour chicken? They have that too.
The Phoenix has a full bar and is open Monday thru Friday from 9am to 3pm, then 4:30pm to 10pm. They are open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 3pm and 4:30pm to 10pm. Their dim sum is now served all day.
The smokin' and savory BBQ joint Lillie Q's will be handing over the kitchen to sous chef Jose Landa for an evening of tasty Mexican fare Tuesday, January 24th.
"This dinner is a way of me saying thanks and honoring not only Jose and the other Mexican and Hispanic members of my current staff at Lillie's Q, but for every one of them I've worked with throughout my career," said Chef Charlie McKenna, the veteran, award-winning BBQ mastermind behind Lillie's Q.
"Even with my background in fine dining, BBQ, and Southern food, my favorite cuisine is Mexican food....Jose cooked us a preview of the menu we're offering for the pop-up dinner last month, and we were all pretty blown away by the food and flavors."
Landa has whipped up a delightfully varied six course menu, composed solely of traditional Mexican treats inspired by family recipes from his childhood. Guests may also choose to partake in a selection of beer pairings from new, Latin craft brewery 5 Rabbit. The cost is $45 per person. An additional $20 gets you four courses worth of beer. 5 Rabbit will exclusively release their new brew, Superstition, "a strong blonde ale that's made with hibiscus, ginger, Illinois honey, Thai palm sugar, and chamomile", at the dinner, making the extra $20 a steal to say the least.
S&M's Underground hosts a five-course meal at an undisclosed location tonight and tomorrow (which has a waiting list); the soup with carrot, ginger, maple, creme fraiche and chives sounds like a great way to pass the time while people wrestle with the weather outside. Tickets $55.
Having successfully anchored the south end of Logan Boulevard's eponymous square, Dunlay's on the Square is celebrating seven years of good luck. Though we are sure that milk has spilled, mirrors broken and umbrellas have indeed been opened inside the restaurant, Dunlay's has been running strong since the day that it opened: Jan. 16, 2005.
In order to celebrate seven years of supportive neighbors and loyal guests, Dunlay's is offering everything on their menu for $7 on Monday, Jan. 16 for lunch and dinner (on the Square location only).
Dunlays on the Square
3137 W. Logan Blvd.
Last night's grand opening was a chance to highlight the wine bar's focus on light and authentic Italian dishes. Displaying seasonal, locally crafted noshes as well as beers and cocktails, the grand opening presented a sampling of everything. From their antipasti -- artisan cheese & charcuterie boards and mushroom crostini (perhaps even more of a crowd-pleaser than their take on the classic bruschetta) -- to house made tagliatelle bolognese pasta and rustic, hand rolled pizza slices. These simple and fresh takes on Italian staples will make you think you hear gondoliers in the background, although the modern and varied soundtrack and a sip of a signature cocktail just might bring you back to the reality of your Chicago surroundings quite quickly. The "love affair" was the signature cocktail of the night -- definitely a drink that heats things up, garnished with a flamed orange peel and fresh basil leaf. If last night is any indication, executive chef and owner Noah D. Himmel will be right at home at this new take on an old classic.
Chef Matthias Merges, after 14 years as chef de cuisine at Charlie Trotter's, will finally have a restaurant of his own when Yusho opens this Saturday, Dec. 3, at 2853 N. Kedzie Ave.
The restaurant brings Japanese-inspired small plates to the Logan Square/Avondale area, with yakitori (or "grilled birds" on the menu), yasai (or grilled vegetables) and kushiyaki (grilled seafood and meat) battling for attention. The late-night menu, served from 10pm on, is a smaller collection focused on hangover-fighting dishes like twice-fried chicken, ramen with crispy pig tail and a duck egg, steamed beef buns and a daily soft-serve ice cream. In addition to a selection of wine and sake, a handful of cocktails are available to pair with your meal.
Yusho is open from 5pm to 2am; the kitchen closes at 1am. Call 773-904-8558 for reservations.
Screw having to track down a food truck that only accepts cash--the best bet for lunch is to head to Andersonville's Big Jones (5347 North Clark) for their newest menu addition, a circa 1933 Boarding House Lunch. It sounds (and looks) heavenly: a family-style setup complete with fried chicken, biscuits with red pepper jelly, red peas and rice, greens, and mashed potatoes and gravy, topped off with apple pie and housemade vanilla ice cream. You'll need a nap afterwards. Runs 11am-3pm, Monday-Friday; $16 per person, kids $1 for every year of age.
The Wicker Park location of organic restaurant prasino, 1846 W. Division St., announced today that it's offering free coffee from 8am to 11am during the entire month of November to promote its new "on-the-go" breakfast menu. The coffee is a custom blend by Bridgeport Coffee Company, and is normally $2.50. All you have to do to get a cup is stop in and ask. There's a limit of one cup per person per day, but no limit to how many days -- which means if you're a serious freeloader you could have free coffee for the rest of the month.
Prasino's new breakfast options include housemade banana bread; breakfast tacos filled with chorizo, scrambled eggs and tomatillo salsa; and oatmeal with dried fruit.
In unrelated news, a taxi crashed into the front of the restaurant this morning, shattering the front window and sending booths flying.
"One woman was in a booth where the cab came through the window, and the booth was thrown across the restaurant," said Michelle Phelps, marketing manager at prasino. "Fortunately, she wasn't seriously injured," but the diner did seek medical attention.
Phelps said upon reviewing security video, it appeared that the cab driver accelerated too quickly from the stop sign at Marion Court and lost control of vehicle on the wet pavement. The driver was arrested taken in for questioning by the police.
Prasino is closed for the rest of the day for repairs, but hopes to open tomorrow morning.
Attention working stiffs: starting today through November 11, you can get a two course prix fixe lunch at four restaurants: Bistronomic, Café des Architectes, Davanti Enoteca and Province. The $20 menus will be available weekdays, and if you happen to have a Chase Sapphire card you'll get a free dessert. Details and menus here.
What did you do last night? If you were like me, you closed down your computer a little before midnight and went to sleep. Bad idea jeans! Next opened up ticket sales for their "childhood" menu a little after midnight, and tickets are already sold out. I found a few for (re)sale on Craigslist this morning, too.
While I somewhat admire the craftiness of releasing tickets at an unconventional time, I think it was a jerky and underhanded move, even if it was possibly intended to not overload their ticket system and cause the same problems of the Thai menu. Some hope still exists, however; the ticket system currently claims that more tables will be released soon.
Chef Dave Beran of Next posted this picture of the menu for the forthcoming Childhood menu (which editor Andrew has edited for clarity, above), which debuts next week. While the handwriting is a little tough to read, I could clearly make out courses featuring cocktails, followed by PB&Js (or PB and banana?), chicken noodle soup, fish and chips, mac and cheese, burger, lunchbox (please tell me there's going to be a Next Lunchable!), autumn scene (I'm guessing it involves burning leaves?), brussel sprouts, some sort of float drink, jello mold, sweet tarts, foie gras/cider donut, campfire (smores?), and hot chocolate.
The frenzy for ticket sales has not opened yet, FYI (trust me, I'm on the lookout).
Sadly today is the last day that Flourish Bakery and Cafe is open to the public. Everything they have left is now half off so you can stock up on your favorites to help make the transition to a Flourish-less future easier to bear. If they have any left, I can't recommend the red velvet anything enough. I firmly believe it was the best in the city and I'll be quite sad to see it leave.
When I lived in Athens for a bit, I always got a kick out of asking for skim milk at the kiosk down the street from my apartment building -- since the label for skim was green, you'd ask for "green" milk. It sounded a lot better in Greek: "To prasino gala, parakalo." So I smiled inwardly when I saw the sustainable semi-chain (they already have two suburban locations) Prasino is set to open in Wicker Park as early as this coming Monday -- though you can get an early look at a CS-sponsored event tonight. From the looks of it though, Prasino will put the chintzy plastic news-stand kiosks and cardboard milk cartons I keep mentally associating it with to shame. Occupying the first floor of that new construction they've been putting up FOREVER across the street from Moonshine, the newest addition to the Division dining scene will be sleek and modern, with eco-aware touches like burnished wood surfaces, corrugated cardboard lamp shades, and chairs upholstered in recycled polyester. (Urban Daddy has a pretty sweet slideshow.) According to their website, the building should be as energy-friendly as it is aesthetically pleasing.
The menu seems to reflect the building's aesthetic as well, with options like micro-brewed kombucha (which I'm not familiar enough with to be excited about); breakfast dishes like "Paris" eggs benedict with ham, brie, a pretzel croissant, and truffled hollandaise (pretzel...croissant? OK, that's kind of exciting...); small plates including a lobster-stuff avocado with chili buerre fondue (...FONDUE?); and a grilled Thai curry pork loan entree (OK. Officially kind of excited). Despite the Greek name and the presence of a few Mediterranean menu items, Prasino's palate ranges far and wide, from French to Tex-Mex style offerings. While they do have green eggs and ham, they don't have green milk. But everything else sounds pretty tasty.
Perhaps a notch too far... Logan Square's Boiler Room had to close for dinner service Saturday due to a small electrical fire. According to Eater Chicago, the restaurant closed just before the dinner rush because a transformer blew in the alley behind the business, causing the electrical fire. Luckily, no one was injured and damage was minimal. Patrons were back to enjoying their infamous "PBJ" special (a slice of pizza, beer, and a shot of Jameson for $7.50) as usual on Sunday. Phew, that was a close one.
Another deviation from shandy-land in this week's entry! Still not an IPA for you hop-heads out there, sorry. But this is an interesting one -- I'd never had (or heard of -- not an expert here, guys, I just like drinking beer in the summer...and fall and winter and spring) Schmaltz Brewing Company until I came across their Coney Island Albino Python, a "white lager brewed with spices" in the cooler at Rootstock earlier this week. I usually gravitate more towards draft beers in the summer for some reason, but wasn't feeling the two options on tap, and decided to give this bottle a try. My first thought was, oooh! cool label! And my second thought was, this beer is TALL. At 22 oz. (and only $9!) and 6% ABV, this is a beer for the seriously parched. Not too heavy, not too cloudy, it departs from the typical summer white beers in its earthy, almost grassy flavor profile. No hibiscus flowers or lemon slices here, thank you. Albino Python is brewed with, yes, orange peel, but also ginger and crushed fennel (I'm assuming seeds, not stalks, but who knows), which gives it a spiciness more on the dark and sour side than the sweet. You may feel a bit dirty when you order this drink out loud, as I did, but it's worth the faint blush, and goes very well with fries at the bar.
Rootstock never disappoints, in either its beer selection or menu. I also tried a sip of the Brauerei Hirt Hirter Privat Pils (a 5.2% pilsner), which was exactly my usual taste in summer beers, all crispness and bright with a hint of lemon sweetness; and one of the draft selections (which now I can't recall! I didn't take notes! See, sooo not a professional) which was incredibly layered in flavor -- just like Rootstock's food. The cheese and charcuterie plate is always a good call, with current features like rabbit rillette, a chicken liver pate crowned with pink peppercorns, barely-solid bloomy Kunik cheese, and tangy Sofia goat's cheese from Indiana. And small plates can either be shared, like the fat, doughy, pizza-ish "crusts," or hoarded all to yourself, like suckling pig with tomatoes, peaches, and sweet corn.
Logan Square newbie wine bar Telegraph has an ambitious summer menu for its debut month. One example - frog legs. Lightly dressed with butter, lemon, cinnamon and smoked paprika served on top of a dilled creme fraiche. Former Avec Chef John Anderes will launch a whole new menu in approximately another month that will lean heavily toward Sicily and Greece, and then Austria and Northern Italy as the weather cools. Which means you should go, like now. Before you feel like you missed the memo.
Today, Bucktown favorite pizzeria/brewpub Piece celebrates its 10th birthday. It seems to me like their wish from blowing out the candles already came true... they were also named the No. 1 independent pizzeria of the year by Pizza Today magazine. The 'za magazine chose Piece from approximately 35,000 other independently owned pizzerias in the US. Go Peace! I mean, Piece!
To the south side of Chicago, that is. Garrett's Popcorn posted on their blog that they'll soon be opening a location at 87th and Cottage Grove. Very exciting to see a local institution open up in the Chatham neighborhood.
Last night and tonight, Revolution Brewing's second floor Brewer's Lounge is open to its Mug Club members. It opens to the general public on Wednesday, though it didn't seem like some exclusive club and we didn't have to flash our plastic card when we checked it out last night.
It's a huge space that features a stage with a tastefully illuminated logo behind it, a fireplace flanked by shelves filled with growlers and surrounded by couches to lounge on, and most important of all, a bar featuring almost all the beers you can get downstairs (except for those pesky cask ales). Don't worry, though, the full food menu and funky lights from downstairs are exactly the same upstairs (though the bathroom does seem fancier).
A message on Lula Cafe's Facebook page revealed that the overnight storm caused water damage to their space, forcing them to close; they hope to be up and running again by dinner tomorrow night, so if you're heading over there, make very boring alternate plans. Update 6pm CT: they're opening tonight for dinner!
The menu of Grant Achatz's newest incarnation of Next, called "Tour of Thailand," is now online; however, the technical overload caused by the small nation of people seeking the first round of tickets earlier today caused the entire buying process to be shut down before it even began. You can see the hubbub from frustrated customers on Next's Facebook page, many of whom suggested alternatives to the ticket system, such as holding physical competitions for tables; several even offered IT services in exchange for free meals. The updated ticket system may be in place for sales as early as tomorrow. Achatz apologized on his Facebook page, saying "demand was way over what we expected." This place is becoming the Cabbage Patch Kids of fine dining, amirite?
I've been noticing more and more happy hour specials around town -- and not just your typical "$10 pitchers and 10 cent wings" type of deals, either. Specially priced small plates and even some petite entrees seem to be increasingly available in the pre-twilight hours between work and sunset. Perhaps it's because patio season is upon us? Or perhaps just because restaurant owners feel like if you're working inside for 8 hours when the weather is so gorgeous, you probably need at least a drink? In any case, as I am a cheap young working stiff as well as a lover of fine foods, I appreciate the availability of upscale after-work snacks for less than I usually pay for River North lunch. For your after 5 planning, here's a round-up of just some of the happy hour specials around town (after the jump)...
Breast Cancer and AIDS programs have millions of people willing to march across cities and countrysides to raise money to fight those cancers. However, head and neck cancer research has Grant Achatz. He has a team of forward-thinking doctors at the University of Chicago to thank for saving his life, and his tongue from very advanced cancer. And in the way he knows best, he's helping to raise funds to support the program's continued research by hosting a dinner where a $2500 donation gets you a 12-course dinner and a kitchen tour of Alinea on Tuesday evening.
Most publications that review restaurants have a guideline that they don't review a restaurant during the first week or two they're open, because the kinks are getting worked out and why judge a restaurant when they're getting still getting into a groove? Some people disagree, others follow this judiciously; I was too excited about The Black Sheep opening to wait. But I also wasn't sure I'd write about it while they were still warming up.
However, on Friday night, just four nights after they opened their doors to a mostly adoring audience, I had nothing to worry about. I can't quite say that the only kinks were those coming out of the speakers, but I can say that the front of house team was definitely a team who worked together and filled in gaps where necessary. Much like you would expect from a band.
The Publican will host a food drive to benefit the Greater Chicago Food Depository on Saturday June 25 from 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. Attendees who donate will each receive one free drink ticket to sample the Zephyr, a beer that is the genesis of a brewing collaboration between Lagunitas,The Publican and Big Star. The team encourages donors to bring items that are canned or non-perishable.
Nothing quite beats a lazy summer day spent lounging in the sun while sipping an exotic cocktail or a light wheat ale. This time around be sure to check out these delicious spots for some ol' fashion relaxin'.
Habana Libre, 1440 W Chicago Ave: This Cuban oasis not only offers light, Cuban platters, it's also a pocket-book friendly BYOB spot. Recommendations from local diners include the Enchilada de Camarones (shrimp sauteed in a spicy sauce), a sinful, dessert-like Empanada made from guava fruit and cheese, as well as their perfectly cooked Carne Asada. Be sure to check out "Grandma's Menu" for traditional Cuban fare.
Big Star, 1531 N Damen Ave: In 2010 this Tex-Mex taco bar established itself at the location formerly known as "The Pontiac," famous for it's outdoor seating. The outdoor area is a great place to work on your tan while sampling from Big Star's extensive beer menu (Legunitas Pilsner and the hipster staple Schlitz are favorites). If you're in the mood for an off the beaten path taco item, try the Tacos de Panza, which is made with crispy pork belly and pairs well with a shot of Four Roses whiskey on ice.
The Frontier, 1072 N Milwaukee Ave: Americana cuisine has never been better than it is at this newly opened Noble Square eatery. The owners are currently working on building an outdoor seating area, which should be open for July. Stop by for their $2 oyster special on Tuesdays, or come in for a $5 bloody Mary to have with your Sunday brunch. The fried rabbit and waffles is to die for!
Are you thirsty? Yes, yes, I know it's not even noon yet. (YET.) But wouldn't a tall glass of beer just make your Tuesday that much more bearable? If you're in the Wicker Park vicinity or have access to the Blue Line, Big Star has you covered -- both tonight, and in perpetuity as they add Three Floyd's to every tap in the joint! Moving forward, the regular beer selection will return but tonight, it's Three Floyds all night long. Gumball Head as the sun goes down. Alpha King as the stars come out. They're pretty psyched too, if this poster is to be believed.
Starting June 6, Big Star will have another new brew on tap, after the Three Floyds madness subsumes. Zephyr, a collaboration between Big Star, the Publican, and Lagunitas Brewery in California, who perfected the idea brewed up here in Chicago. (Brewed! Hahaha, pun.) 200 kegs are on their way to Chicago, and will be available not only at Big Star and the Publican, but your local favorite Lagunitas-carrying bar as well. Word on the street is that Zephyr was conceived as a Prohibition-period style beer -- perhaps hopping on the trend Next Restaurant has started with era-specific eating -- and corn (the grain used to make America's national beverage, bourbon) is used as the base. Which should go just fine with some tacos.
Everyblock was aflutter recently with speculation that Viennese cafe and patisserie chain Julius Meinl was closing up shop in the city, and with good reason: its Lincoln Square location is on the real estate rental market. A Meinl representative assured me that they are in the process of finding new locations in the city--possibly the Loop or Hyde Park--and the owners are also considering opening locations in the suburbs (Naperville and Highland Park are on the short list).
The Lincoln Square location stays open for now, despite the Craigslist notice, which is reportedly due to a political brouhaha between the building's landlord--who is also a shareholder in the restaurant--and fellow investors. The other locations (on Irving Park and Addison) will also remain open.
I'm sure you've all heard of this new Grant Achatz project, which opened in April: menus changing three times per year, each reflecting an entirely different type of cuisine; the ticketing system that might lead people to sell their own children for a chance to reserve a table of two, four, or six (I don't think this has happened yet); the cocktail lounge (in the space of the former Fulton Lounge) attached to the restaurant where people can go for a few expensive, delicious, and strong pre- or post-dinner drinks.
Our friendly captain told us what kind of food we can expect next, after Paris 1906 has run its three-month course: some kind of futuristic Thai cuisine. It's an attempt to celebrate a particular golden age of Thai food, our captain told us, while also imagining what it might be like more than two decades from now. He was unable to share any hints of what diners might be eating: he doesn't even know, he said. Executive chef Dave Beran is still working on the menu.
In some of the best news my Michigander mom has heard in a while, Francesca's Restaurants has just put out the word that they plan to go national.
If you live in the Chicagoland area you've probably eaten at one of their twenty restaurants, and if you haven't, then get out of town; you'll soon have sixty new restaurants across the U.S. to take home a doggy bag from.
Plans to mimic both the classic Francesca's style and the small plates at Davanti are already in the works in California and Arizona, with Raleigh, N.C. on the horizon.
Before you go complaining that the restaurant is leaving Chicago out in the dust, allow me to let you in on a little secret. Wicker Park's Francesca's Forno will be re-opening as a wine and bruschetteria shop under the name Panza, and if that's not enough, a donut shop named Glaze will be opening near the Blue Line tracks.
Not permanently, of course. Chef Gilbert Langlois isn't giving over the reins to his slate, or North Center's best Southern-style fried chicken (seriously -- how do they do it?!), quite that easily. Chalkboard restaurant is being taken over only for the evening of Tuesday, May 10 (a night when the restaurant is usually closed), with a customized menu built on the combined know-how of guests Peter Klein of Seedling Farms and Gale Gand of Tru. Namely, fruit. The proposed menu includes an apple pie soup (inspired by Schwa, apparently), blueberry pasta with duck ragout, and a cider-brined pork with smoked mustard spaetzle. And, of course, desserts by Gand.
Despite living only blocks from Chalkboard, I've eaten there just once. The fried chicken really did floor me, as did an Asian-inflected duck with dried plums, and a scallop appetizer that combined olives and vanilla in a way that not only made sense, but made a lot of what I've seen on Top Chef in recent years sort of relatable (not to mention the Vosges d'Oliva bar, which I think has been discontinued in favor of a different white chocolate combo). The service was surprisingly inattentive for an early evening meal in a nearly-empty dining room, though, and while the wall-mounted chalkboard provides a tidy conceptual framework for the restaurant's often-changing menu, it was also incredibly hard to read from where we were sitting and a printed version didn't seem to be available. A takeover evening, which if the Facebook photos (like the one above) are to be believed, are ROCKIN', might be the right way to get off on the right foot with Chalkboard -- or if your experience was similar to mine, get your foot back in the door.
The price for the takeover menu on May 10 is $65 per person for 6 courses, first seating will be at 6:30 p.m., and reservations can be made online or by phone at 773.477.7144. Chalkboard, 4343 N. Lincoln Avenue.
For one week only at DMK Burger Bar: the Holy Guac-aioli Burger.
Created by C-CAP* student Zorai Arroyo, and perfected in DMK's kitchen with the help of chef Chef Joe Scott, this tongue-twister of a burger features a grass-fed beef patty, chorizo, chipotle aioli, guacamole, pickled onions and Jack cheese. It's only $10, and only available until April 30. All proceeds go to C-CAP. Sorry, no picture of the burger, but aren't the chefs cute?
--DMK Burger Bar, 2954 N. Sheffield
*Oh, you want to know what C-CAP is? It stands for Careers through Culinary Arts Program, and is a national nonprofit that works with public schools across the country to prepare underserved high school students for college and career opportunities in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Like you needed a reason to get a burger at DMK.
Not that you'd know from yesterday, but it's springtime in Chicago, and I think we can all agree that the warm weather brings a welcome return to one of the best things about this city: outdoor dining. And what better way to enjoy this Sunday's hopeful high of 60 than with some roasted pig at Logan Square's El Cid (#2)?
Every 3rd Sunday afternoon through September, hit up the patio behind El Cid for pulled pork tortas, tacos and burritos, along with rotating drink specials. Don't feel like pork? Their regular menu of tasty and affordable Mexican favorites will of course be available as well. And as the season progresses, there will be live entertainment. What a way to spend a lazy Sunday.
--this Sunday from 2-5pm - El Cid #2, 2645 N. Kedzie Blvd.
If you want and/or need another reason to drag your friends out for dinner, Dining Out For Life is as good as any. On Thursday, April 28, get your girls or guys together to celebrate food, friends and a great cause at the 18th annual Dining Out For Life day. The weather should be nice (fingers crossed, Chicago)! Adobo Grill, Blackbird, and Hearty Boys are among the restaurants participating. In 2010, Chicago raised over $100,000 to continue its mission of providing housing with life services to women, children and men living with HIV/AIDS; this year, the goal is $250,000.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters is coming to Chicago, though you can already get the coffee cult favorite at Bagel on Damen, a Stumptown Coffee bar is in the works. Time Out Chicago reports the Portland coffee roaster is scouting locations for a coffee bar, training facility and a Midwest roasting works. Look for Stumptown Coffee to open in an unspecified "attractive neighborhood" in about six months or so.
"People ask me all the time to list my favorite restaurants in Chicago," said [David] Manilow, "so I thought that going from A to Z daily on Twitter made sense." Here you go!
A. Avenues because of Curtis Duffy's amazing creations
B. Blackbird. Smart. Innovative. Memorable
C. Cemitas Puebla - I crave Tony's Taco Arabes
D. Davanti Enoteca. Smart modern Italian. Also "D" for Danny's in Melrose Park for their neckbones
E. When I crave ceviche, snapper & tequila, "E" is for El Barco on Ashland. For fine dining, Everest.
Chef Grant Achatz announced via Twitter that his eagerly anticipated new restaurant, Next, will likely open next Friday, April 6, with its Siamese twin bar, Aviary, delayed slightly. "We want 2 make it great," he tweeted.
Since Next's air travel-inspired booking system is not yet live, the best way to be sure when tickets for dinner are available is to sign up online and follow Achatz and the restaurant on Twitter. Meanwhile, Chicago magazine has an "annotated" look at one of the dishes soon to grace diners plates.
Humboldt Park's Indian-ish and veggie-friendly BYOB spot, Treat Restaurant, will be closing on April 3rd. I'll admit to being a bit sad about this - I've always enjoyed their Daal, Poori & Eggs for brunch, as I'm still unable to master making daal at home.
It's not new, it's not flashy, but my oh my does The Brown Sack make some great food.
I'd never been to The Brown Sack until they moved to their new spot at Belden & Central Park. From the outside the shop is cute and unassuming, and not much flashier inside featuring the menu on a large chalkboard with specials on a card at the counter. The best way to keep up with their specials is actually on facebook, where they post almost daily.
Slow-Roasted Pork Sandwich - the meat is very herbal (their online menu says thyme, I could've sworn I tasted rosemary), and is topped with their apple-ginger cole-slaw, which is also an excellent bet for a side dish.
Corned Beef Reuben - not greasy, and somehow none of the ingredients slipped out as I was eating this! Oh, and it was classically delicious.
Pasta Salad (side) - pick this over the potato salad; it's got the exact right amount of creamy dressing, with small bits of carrot and onion that stick to the curly noodles so you get some in every bite.
I also got the Spicy Pork Pozole last time I was there, which was on special. If I had my say, it would be a regular item on their menu, because it was amazing - enough pork to get a piece in every bite, but in perfect fat matchstick-size pieces; just enough heat as you were eating it, but not enough to linger for more than a few seconds after each bite; rich broth; tender yet firm pieces of hominy.
I have yet to get a shake because I've only been so far when it's been cool out, but I've totally got my eye on the Oreo. Although with Nutella and Nutmeg shakes popping up as specials lately, you never know...
-The Brown Sack, 3581 W. Belden, 773.661.0675 for carry-out or delivery
A week or so ago, Drive Thru got an invitation to try Mercadito's "Tacos for Strength," a promotion where 5% of the taco profits (priced at $12 for three lunch tacos, or $16 for four dinner tacos) goes to support the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. So, it's like eating out, so that others can eat. That's kind of a nice idea, especially at a place, like Mercadito, where the scene otherwise seems to be the main draw. I'd never been to the River North space until today to sample this month's "strength-y" tacos, created by Jimmy Bannoses (Banni?) Sr. and Jr., of Heaven on Seven and The Purple Pig, respectively. If you haven't been, I think it's safe to say that Mercadito is not the kind of restaurant you'd go to for lunch if you have a big, stressful afternoon meeting ahead of you. It's much more the kind of place you might go to for lunch after, perhaps, closing a big deal in the morning and breaking out the margarita mix is all you have scheduled for the rest of the day. The space is colorful and urban, with theater-style colored lighting and graffiti-style wall murals -- but the tacos have a nice, old-school style to them.
For over 35 years, Mr. Submarine, also known as Mr. Sub, has been satisfying the appetites of Chicagoan and Suburbanites alike.
First opened in 1975 in the Old Chicago amusement park/shopping mall in Bolingbrook, this classic sandwich shop is still holding strong despite competition from all of the gourmet and other fancy-sounding sandwiches that have become popular these days -- Potbelly, Quiznos and Jimmy John's, to name a few.
What is so special about these classic submarine sandwiches? The bread, onions and oil. Although Mr. Sub owners brag about the freshness of their "bread, meats and vegetables", there is a delicious mystery to the Turano bread they use. The onions add a zesty twang to the fresh flavor and the "secret" oil tops it off.
Searching for the extra spicy prix fixe to take your foodie valentine on Monday? Sometimes you have got to just go with the tradition and take your darling out for a nice meal. We have a few suggestions for you below:
BONSOIREE: 5th annual Valentine's Aphrodisiac Menu. Just to tease you, course two is five kinds of mushrooms, white truffle, umami sauce and apple gelee. $135 a person, BYOB.
CYRANO'S BISTRO & WINE BAR: five course sharing-oriented meal including silky duck liver mousse with truffles. $55.95 with wine pairings, tax and gratuity.
GRAHAM ELLIOT: "I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight" Rock Ballad Inspired Extravaganza. $100 for six courses. $150 with pairings.
GEJA'S CAFE: four course fondue dinner with 1 glass of rose. $95 including tax & tip. Plus bring a copy of an old love note and the most romantic one read that night wins dinner for two. All participants win a 25$ e-gift certificate.
IN FINE SPIRITS: six courses plus amuse & take home gift including bermuda triangle goats milk cheese. $50 add wine pairing option for $25.
LOKAL: five course Polish cuisine, your choice between two for each course including bison steak with caraway braised red cabbage. $50 with pairings.
SHOKRAN MOROCCAN RESTAURANT: four course Moroccan cuisine including Chicken Bastilla, Talapia Tangine. $25, BYOB.
UNCOMMON GROUND, EDGEWATER: three courses, locally sourced, your choice between two and three for each course including mushroom consomme with celery root tortellini. $35 without pairings.
33 CLUB: three courses including fried kumamoto oysters and five hour prime rib. $39 per person, 33% any bottle of wine
Still not feelin' the heat? Check out Open Table's rather exhaustive list.
I know many who are awaiting the launch of The Southern's travelling Mac'n'Cheese Truck which should be out and about sometime in the next two weeks. I decided to go try their mac'n'cheese in person to see if it really was worth getting a truck of its own, and i have to say that it is. I'm a huge fan of mac'n'cheese, and while I think mine is durn tasty, this one trumps me. It's creamy and a very complex flavor. I swore there was meat in the dish (even though this video on Feast says otherwise) because it was so complex (and part of me still hopes they use bacon fat to make their roux, because I hate being wrong), the shells were cooked perfectly and held a deliciously large quantity of the cheese sauce that was creamy, rich, and without a pasty texture (like some sauces with a roux base can have).
Not only was it good enough that I've thought about it several times since our last visit, but it is good enough that I see myself playing hooky for part of the day just to go track down the truck. Which won't be hard to miss. It's a bit more cartoony than I would have imagined, but I'll forgive that since there is a cast-iron skillet on the van.
Perhaps to go along with the upcoming bone-chilling temps, there are many beer dinners and events coming up in the next couple of weeks. Here, we present you with some highlights:
Lincoln Station, 2432 N. Lincoln, 773-472-8100
January 19 (that's tonight!), 7:30 - Great Lakes Brewing Company dinner, featuring 4 courses (pork belly, smoked salmon, chicken adobo, chocolate mousse) - $40
The Long Room, 1612 W. Irving Park, 773-455-6500
January 20, 7pm - 11th Anniversary Celebration featuring Goose Island Brewmaster Gregory Hall, who brings with him Bourbon County Stout Vertical; samplings of 2008, 2009, 2010 Bourbon County Stout also available for purchase (note: I did this last year and it was fantastic)
Sheffield's, 3258 N. Sheffield, 773-281-4989
January 20, 7pm - New Belgium / Allagash Collaboration: Vrienden tapping
January 27, 7pm - Half Acre: Double Daisy Cutter, Thunder & Son tapping
January 29 - 11:30am - 2nd Annual Two Brothers Brewery Tour - brunch buffet @ Sheffield's, bus leaves 1:30pm, tour starts 3pm, back at Sheffield's 5pm. $45
Table Fifty-Two, 52 W. Elm, 312-573-4000
February 2, 8pm - 3 Floyd's Beer Dinner - Art Smith brings you 5 southern-styled courses + dessert, paired with Munster's favorite brews
Blokes & Birds, 3343 N. Clark, 773-472-5252
February 9, 7pm - Lagunitas beer dinner with 7 courses (English fare, natch) - $60
Mark your calendars and make your reservations now - Chicago Restaurant Week is coming back, February 18-27 (because "Chicago Restaurant 9 Day Period" was too much of a mouthful). As in the past, diners can opt for a prix-fixe lunch ($22) or dinner ($33) at any number of Chicago eating establishments, both new and old. Dining options, including each restaurant's official menu, are available on the website, as well as reservations -- be aware, this is a popular and well-known event at this point, and tables will fill up. So if you really REALLY have you eye on eating at Blackbird, think it and your schedule over now before it's too late.
This year, the event organizers are sweetening the deal by giving away $100 dining gift cards, one every day until the end of Restaurant Week on February 28 (visit their Facebook site and hit "Like" to be automatically entered), as well as providing menu updates, recipes and interviews on their blog. Eat it up, Chicago, indeed.
Some big news from Revolution Brewery in the new year: five new beers, news on the upstairs, and a second brewery?!
First, every Wednesday this month (starting tonight!), they are releasing a new beer. Schedule is as follows:
Jan. 5th: Baracus Imperial Stout (11% ABV) & Triple Fist Triple Pale Ale (9.6% ABV)
Jan. 12th: TV Party Rye IPA
Jan. 19th: Village Green English Bitter
Jan. 26th: Black Power Oatmeal Stout
Next, you may have noticed stairs that lead to nowhere on the right when you walk in. Well, the opening date for the upstairs overflow/event/live music/private party space will hopefully happen in late spring. With renovations one can never be sure, but the upstairs bar is starting to be built, and that's always good news.
Finally, in rumors I hadn't heard because it's cold out and I'm a hermit, Josh Deth & Co. are looking to open a new brewery to produce beers you can take home and/or enjoy out of state in bottles smaller than the current growlers. If by chance you could be an investor or know someone who could loan them big bucks, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Old-Fashioned Donuts on Michigan and 112th, in the heart of Roseland(photo credit unkown)
Strolling up to Old Fashioned Donuts on the Far South Side immediately fills one up with a sense of nostalgia. It doesn't matter if you spent your entire childhood frequenting the no-frills storefront or if it's your first time there, as the simple sight of large tubs of dough being spilled, spun and rolled out in the large glass windows evokes that sense of youthful excitement in knowing a special treat is coming your way. The fritters, about as big as a hub cap, have a perfect not-too-sweet, not-too-sticky texture, and are filled with chunks of warm apples nestled inside its moist dough. Truly impossible to finish in one serving, the fritters somehow get even better when left to sit and settle. It's almost beyond mere description. The fritters from Old-Fashioned become more than donuts, they become institutions.
Yes, it's possible to get this lofty about an apple fritter this good. Go Far South Side and stock up for the season.
So put the Natty Light aside for a moment and swap that drinking cap for a thinking cap.
Now through November 30 you have the opportunity to up your game with a contest from Rock Bottom Brewery in which the winner gets to create their very own seasonal beer.
Simply choose the flavor profiles and style of beer you'd like to see on tap and send your ideas to the bar's brewmaster, Chris Rafferty, via Facebook. Rafferty will pick his favorite entry, and get this -- you will be invited to join him alongside the brewing process and you'll get to name your beer, which will be on tap in early 2011 in Chicago.
Sure beats bragging rights over who got the most blacked out from one too many PBRs during your weekly Friday Night Power Hour, huh?
This time of year seems to bring out the best in most people. Giving to those in need is always heart warming - but it's nice when people take care of you, too.
Al Teatro in Pilsen is doing just that. The authentic Italian restaurant is hosting a food drive from Thursday, Nov. 18 through Wednesday, Nov. 24. Bring in at least three canned goods and you'll be the recipient of a free appetizer.
Diners can drop off their cans anytime between 4pm and closing and receive a complimentary appetizer. This offer is only good for dine-in customers. Al Teatro is located at 1227 W. 18th Street.
Popular and aptly named Wicker Park bagel purveyor, Bagel on Damen, is adding another location -- still on Damen, but about 35 blocks north. The new shop is taking over the former and, I always thought, un-fully realized Damen Kitchen and Cellar space directly under the Damen Brown Line stop. Renovations have been progressing for the past several weeks, brightening up the formerly cave-like space for Monday's grand opening. The new shop promises the same doughy rounds and creatively spiked cream cheeses (white truffle and toasted pine nut, nom nom nom) as its older sister, but will also feature booze, and stay open until 7pm, ready to ply evening commuters with carbs and alcohol as they step off the train. And if that's not intriguing enough, they're also hiring...
As always, the TOC Blog has the scoop on Lula Cafe's annual Halloween costume as another restaurant. This year, Kuma's Corner is the object of flattery by imitation, as Lula's menu transforms itself into band-themed burgers (with a twee, indie vibe -- Kuma's dog mascot gets supplanted by the new, cuddly Luma owl). Judging by Drive Thru editor Robyn and my experience last year, the lines will probably not be any shorter than the actual Kuma's, but it will be so, so worth it. TOC has part of this year's menu posted, if you're interested in how Iron and Wine translates to a burger, or what Tim Kinsella wants on his tribute sandwich.
Luma's Corner will be one-night only, Saturday, October 30 (leaving your actual Halloween free for recovery or trick or treating). Be sure to arrive early and be prepared to wait. Costumes are totally, totally acceptable. Rock on!
Colder weather, darker mornings, the return of squash... It's fall, people, which is just a hop, skip and a snow drift away from being holiday season. If you're looking to combine a night out with your annual philanthropy, consider the six upcoming "86 Hunger" dinners coming to the calendar this fall and winter. The Greater Chicago Food Depository's annual dinner series turns over proceeds from each dinner to their network of food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters -- all of which have seen an increase in use of 64% over the past three years. Here's the dining schedule:
I mean, if you're going to shell out $150 (the going rate for an individual ticket to any of the dinners) at Spiaggia anyway, may as well make it for a good cause, right? Boka will probably put extra gold leaf on your food for being such a good citizen! (No guarantees...) Information on each dinner, including location, time and menu, as well as tickets are available online. (The menu for Sunday's West Town Tavern dinner is up now! Drool!) For more information about the Greater Chicago Food Depository, call 773-247-FOOD.
"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not eaten well."
If Scott Harris of the Francesca family wanted my attention, he had it by opening the menu to this delightful phrase. I'm readily adopting his headliner as my life motto, and voraciously scanning the menu.
Davanti Enoteca is the newest addition to the Mia Francesca's family: a take on rustic Italian food, made available by seasonal Midwest ingredients and made intriguing without being regionally specific. Typically, you think Mia Francesca's and you think mounds of pasta with meaty sauces. Not so at Davanti. The menu reads like the farm-to-table craze that we've all seen before: pork belly, varying bruchetta, farm eggs, meat from Mint Creek and Slagel and yet, something feels different here. Savory ragu roasts are paired with airy light mascarpone polenta and spread on a board at table side. Pizza with leek and mushroom is drizzled with truffle oil and the sharpest taleggio I've ever had. The Uovo, daily made large-style ravioli pasta with ricotta and spinach piped around the edge, egg yolk in the center and served in a sage butter sauce, sits lightly in your mouth.
Jonathan Beatty, who helped open Purple Pig is overseeing the menu as executive chef. And weekly Saturday night specials means he can play with seasonality and ingredients of his choice. The back of the restaurant doubles as a wine boutique. Rather than a traditional wine menu, Davanti allows patrons to buy wine at the boutique at commercial prices and then charges a $7 corking fee. To be honest, I can't tell you how nice it was to drink a glass of wine from a $30 bottle of wine and actually have it cost $30, rather than the standard 2-3 times as much.
The crowd is a good mix of locals and rapidly increasing by those of us being tempted back down to Taylor Street after a long hiatus. The decor is a cozy mix of re-purposed wood, spaghetti western posters, found farming equipment and Chianti chandeliers; the back boutique section feels as if you're sitting in some Italian baron's country wine cave. Harris is working on two new projects in the area and is hoping to re-establish Little Italy to it's former glory, and more. If these others are half as lovable as Davanti, I'll be hitting up T Street once a week.
For a newbie restaurant, Davanti has it all figured out. The food is approachable, the prices affordable, and the staff affable. I'll be headed back next week in order to keep my thinking, loving and sleeping in shape.
Walking down Belmont last night toward Schubas, I saw a banner hanging outside of what was formerly known as Joey's Brickhouse on Belmont. Running late to meet my friend, I only had time to snap a cell-phone shot from across the street -- in case it's hard to read this horrible photo, the banner reads, "Coming Soon: La Gondola."
I'd never heard of La Gondola, but Internet research revealed that, although small, its other location (in a Lakeview strip mall) has a loyal fan following. I'm looking forward to trying it in its new, less claustrophobic-sounding location -- as well as its tripe Florentine.
So I'm a pretty big fan of Devon Seafood Grill. Reasonably priced for its downtown location, their food is inventive (lobster tamale!) and consistently high-quality. An important point for a seafood joint nestled in the tight, land-locked embrace of the Midwest. Anyway, the folks at Devon are holding Pinot Noir event next week, and are offering three evenings of Pinot pairings dishes for a special $29 price for GB readers (actual Pinot pairings are an additional $18, so $47 for the whole kit and caboodle, as the Devon PR team clarified for us after this posting first went live). Call to make your reservation and be sure to mention the blog.
Pinot and poisson, you say?! The light-bodied red plays well with heavy sauces (a seafood standard -- drawn butter, anyone?) and its fruity sweetness complements the freshness of the fish. At Devon's event, the goods will include four Pinots (including, Benton Lane, which the event planners are particularly excited about, as it will be featured in Food & Wine Magazine's December issue) paired with such dishes as swordfish with butternut squash risotto, short-rib with pappardelle and a fig demi glace, a mushroom and goat cheese filled corn crepe, as well as beet salad and dessert dishes.
To try these four wines and entrees, get yourself over to Devon (and peep in the new Anthropologie storefront windows on your way...if you dare. They're getting shoes) next week, October 19, 20 and 21 anytime after 4pm. Remember to call ahead for the special GB price: 312.440.8660.
If you like books, food, and philanthropy, then head to Branch 27 on Thursday nights. Housed in the 27th ward's former public library, Branch 27 has teamed up with Open Books Ltd., a nonprofit bookstore and literacy center. On Thursdays, the restaurant will offer a three-course Open-Branch menu; a portion of the profits will go directly to Open Books. Add the optional wine flight, and even more money will flow to the volunteer organization.
After dinner, go home and winnow your bookshelves -- Open Books accepts donations, and will even come to your home to pick up those unwanted books.
Shortly after their first child was born last year, chefs Timothy and Elizabeth Dahl moved from Chicago to Madison, WI, to start up a new restaurant. The spot opened Thursday, with about 70-80 customers on their first night. Called Nostrano, which means "ours" in Italian, it's a Mediterranean restaurant (with eastern French, Portuguese, Spanish, and, of course, Italian influences) focused on showcasing local, homegrown foods.
The Dahls, both former pastry chefs (Timothy at Blackbird, and Elizabeth at Boka and Landmark), moved up to Madison to be closer to his family. Elizabeth still plans Nostrano's dessert menu, but Timothy was ready to get away from pastries. Nostrano's menu is collaborative--each chef in the kitchen comes up with a dish on the menu, and they all go shopping together at one of Madison's daily farmers' markets for fresh ingredients. Timothy plans to change the menu often. Otherwise, he says, "I get bored."
Lakeview pub Firkin & Pheasant has a Monday is Industry Night special. Diners can bring in their pay stubs to receive 25% off the total bill. So, you can stop in after work for a Firkin burger (or some Firkin bangers and mash) and a Firkin beer, then leave full and happy and less inclined to pepper your speech with F-words.
The Heartland Cafe is in danger of closing if its owners can't raise $50,000 to cover taxes and license fees. As noted in Mary Schmich's column today, the 34-year-old countercultural restaurant, bar, general store and music venue is one of the city's last bastions of hippiedom -- and as such serves as a cultural center for many folks in Rogers Park and Chicagoland at large.
Heartland is offering several incentives to help raise the money, including membership cards that get you a discount on purchases for anywhere from a year to a "lifetime." Read the full announcement after the jump.
Hub 51 is your go to joint. The ladies are great, the food even better, and hey, you don't mind bumping into Jay Cutler every now and then.
Well loyal customer, it's time to head to Paris, but don't take out your passport just yet. A few doors down from the wildly successful joint you've grown to love comes Paris Club (59 W. Hubbard St.), a new venture brought to you by RJ and Jerrod Melman (sons of Rich Melman, founder of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises).
The club is currently slated to open in mid-November, so you have a few more months to rub elbows with Cutler over at Hub.
Tonight C-House will host a private dinner party benefiting Friends of the Fisherman, a Louisiana Fisherman organization. C-House's Marcus Sammuelson and Spiaggia's Tony Mantuano will be cooking up their favorite home cooked dishes from their latest cookbooks and dinner will be served with select craft beers from Goose Island. Both chef's will be available to sign their cookbooks after the event.
Tickets are $125 and seating is limited. While it's a lot of money, I am sure the food will be amazing. I've personally met both chefs at different events and they are as kind and gracious as can be! To make a reservation for tonight call 312-523-0923.
And today he took it in a heartbreaking direction, listing the top five best break-up restaurants. Qualities that make an ideal break-up restaurant, according to Dolinsky: low prices, fluorescent lighting, and lots of background noise.
If you're focusing on eating a healthy diet, eating pizza probably isn't at the top of your list of approved foods, and Chicago-style pizza is probably laughably out of reach for you. So it may not surprise you to read that David Zinczenko co-author of Eat This Not That rated the 7 pizzas that were the worst to eat, and a Chicago-style pizza came out in the number 1 slot. The individual sized Uno Chicago Grill Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza contains 2,310 calories, 162 g fat, and 4,920 mg of sodium. Yowza, right? But at least we have someone agreeing that Chicago-style pizza is #1. Right?
Wicker Park's LOKal, 1904 W. North Ave., will be dishing out all you can eat pierogis for only $10 a head every Wednesday.
Hit up the restaurant between 10:30pm and 12:30am to partake in the deal; a rotating DJ will be spinning music while you indulge in the endless fare.
With fillings including truffle, duck confit, butternut squash, pumpkin, potato, sweet and sour cabbage, sweet potato, mushroom, BBQ braised pork and beef you're sure to be saying "hit me baby one more time".
I've always been wary of restauranthype. Like going to see the summer movie everyone's been buzzing about, I find lower expectations (or ideally, a lack of expectations) tend to enhance my final enjoyment -- as with the "Going the Distance," for example. Rarely, the hype turns out to be warranted -- the food (or characterization) really is as good as you keep overhearing, and the expectant excitement of your fellow diners or audience members only seems to sharpen your own experience, magnifying everything you feel and mirroring it on the faces of everyone else in the room. Like "Inception." Or better yet, since I'm not a movie critic, like new West Town sushi and izakaya joint Arami.
Two trips in two weeks and the full effect of what is unquestionably the best sushi in the West Town area (and yes, I'm including both Coast and Mirai in that estimation) has yet to fade into the dissatisfied haze of a fleeting fad. Even upon reflection, it seriously is that good. Let's move on to some spoilers...
The beloved Saigon Sisters, who started their Vietnamese-food kiosk at the Chicago French Market, are growing up. Started in late 2009, their baby is expanding to a real, counter-service, breakfast-lunch-dinner restaurant in the Fulton River District (and don't worry -- the French Market location will still be there). The Sisters plan to set up shop in late fall at 567 W. Lake Street, serving the same kinds of dishes that kept its customers coming back for more phở and bánh mì.
The new spot will include:
A "more inventive" menu, including tapas-style Vietnamese street food -- partly thanks to new executive chef Matt Eversman
Seating -- the restaurant will hold about 40 people
Traditional buffalo wings are a lot of things; they're spicy, they're greasy, they're sloppy, and more often than not they're cheap, so nobody really minds that they're spicy, greasy, and sloppy, especially since they're being soaked in blue cheese dressing. Despite (or perhaps because of) being a no-frills food, people love wings, so one might wonder what would happen if wings were actually prepared with a little more sophistication.
Enter Rockit Bar & Grill's Second Annual WingIT, a week-long celebration of wings where a different specialty gourmet wing is prepared each night. Rockit's WingIT menu includes sauce and dipping side variations inspired by Executive Chef James Gottwald's favorite taste profiles and pairings, as well as his signature Jumbo Chicken Wings.
Michael Nagrant of Hungry Mag spoke to chef of Kith and Kin David Carrier about the decision the owners and brothers, Ash and Moe Taleb, may have made to end Carrier's position with the restaurant. The Taleb's aren't giving much information, but Carrier says he was telephoned, while visiting his family, and told his services were no longer needed because he yelled at staff and didn't change the menu when ordered to. I have a feeling we'll hear more about what happened and what will happen with Kith and Kin, and I think some yelling is to be expected.
If you ever point to your hand when describing where you grew up then you undoubtedly know that Leo's Coney Island is only "like, the best place EVER". Well Michiganders turned Chicagoans, get ready to increase your weekly intake of Coney Dogs and Greek Salads (dressing on the side) - rumor has it Leo's just might be expanding into The Loop.
When he's not cooking for the President, brewing beer with Goose Island, and playing judge to undoubtedly the greatest amateur chefs in the country, Graham Elliot Bowles is prepping his forthcoming restaurant "Grahamwich." Today, after an entire summer of relative silence, Elliot reignited interest by tweeting a photo of the concept art. Despite multiple delays, this is the surest sign we've seen in months that progress is being made and that Graham Elliot knows, well, at least what the storefront is going to look like. We like it, Graham! [via]
Former Carnivale employees (and married folk) Mark and Liz Mendez -- Mark was the executive chef; Liz, the wine director -- are opening a new restaurant, and they've started a Windy Citizen blog to document their experience and reflect on the process. They've only written three entries so far, but one common thread running through them is that they're barely thinking about the food right now: "It's funny," Mark writes, "that now when I go into a restaurant the food is usually the last thing on my mind. I'll ask my wife what she thinks of the space, what the check average is, how many seats, what do you think the gross sales are, do you like the look, is it a good location..."
If you feel like wandering the streets of Korea, but don't have enough dollars to convert into won, Lincoln Park upstart Del Seoul Restaurant will help you get your vicarious travels in when they open up their "Korean Street BBQ" joint on the corner of Clark & Wrightwood.
The restaurant has been gaining a head of steam even before it opens, garnering over 500 Facebook friends, a mention in Chicago magazine, and even notice in the New York Times, as the Korean street food fad sweeps across the nation. Del Seoul is the latest restaurant from the Jeon family, proprietors of Senoya Restaurant in Niles, and will be run by the brother-and-sister team of Pete and Irene Jeon.
With their decidedly youthful approach to Del Seoul, the Jeon progeny will be offering up a menu where one can get their bahn mi, bibimbap, or dumpling dinners all for less than $10. The main focus of Del Seoul though will be their four unique varieties of their take on the Korean taco: soju-soy marinated beef short rib; spicy Korean red-pepper rubbed grilled pork; grilled garlic-soy marinated chicken, and the killer of them all, hand-battered panko shrimp with sesame-chili sauce.
Del Seoul is slated to open in late September/early October at 2568 N. Clark St.
This Thursday, August 26 through Sunday, August 29, DMK Burger Bar is creating a special menu for Scott, a 20-year-old suffering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The benefits from this menu will help Scott, his family and friends obtain a special wish - to attend a Blackhawks or Bulls game in a suite. Crispin is partnering in this event and will have various products featured on the menu, which will include an apple cider salad, cider pork burger and spiked apple pie. Help support a great cause and get some good food!
DMK Burger Bar
2954 N. Sheffield
Chicago, IL 60657
I moved to Lincoln Square a few months ago after five years in the Ukrainian Village, and while I miss the freshly-baked rye aroma rising from my downstairs neighbors in the old apartment, I've been excited to be so much closer to Devon Street. My recourse for Indian food in the past has consisted mostly of Standard India Restaurant off the Belmont red line stop a few times a year (I still think it's the best buffet south of Rogers Park), or leftover Rajun Cajun a friend would occasionally bring back north from Hyde Park. Once in a blue moon, the long trek would be made to Canada, er, Devon Street (mostly to the now-closed Bahbi's Kitchen) if a car and willing driver could be found. Moving close to the intersection Lincoln and Montrose, I was pleased to realize I was within Grubhub range of some of the good stuff up north -- as well as to see two Indian restaurants within walking distance, one with a snack-friendly menu. But it's been two months since I've moved in, four months since Delhi 6 started offering a well-received snack-centric Indian menu, and sadly now, a few weeks since it's closed up shop in favor of an event catering service, according to its website.
My roommates and I are excited that there's a new sushi place at Division and Hermitage -- especially since it's replaced the old Fuel space, whose food was kind of blah and drinks were way more expensive than they were worth.
Below is our e-mail discussion about the new sushi and sake lounge Makisu (1725 W. Division St.). I've abbreviated the names to protect the innocent.
Me: New sushi place, right by us! Very exciting...
E: Finally, something in the old Fuel space! Hopefully it's less douchey:)...
Me: Since they popped up at around the same time, I honestly don't know how Edge is still standing. There's never anyone in there when I walk by.
E: I know, I forget that Edge is even still there.
L: They should move over next to the Boundary. Then they'd be their own little Lincoln Park oasis. Sushi is far better than Fuel.
Makisu's soft opening is today; it officially opens Thursday, August 26.
Months after its anticipated opening, M Burger is still creating lines along Huron street as patrons wait patiently to step into the self-dubbed "fast casual joint" to order burgers, fries and shakes. This Lettuce Entertain You restaurant focuses on just a few menu items, and doing them all right. Similar to the west coast's In-N-Out Burger, M burgers feature a secret sauce (which really isn't a secret as I'm fairly sure it's 1,000 island dressing...), lettuce, tomato and of course pickles. The fries are made to order and the shakes are smooth, creamy and ready to drink (no waiting for the ice cream to melt so you can actually suck it through the straw). While all of this isn't news, the secret monthly shakes certainly are. Each month M Burger creates a shake that is not listed on the menu and can only be ordered by asking for it. This month's flavor: Double Espresso. It's rich, decadent and the perfect blend of vanilla soft serve and two shots of Intelligentsia's Black Cat Espresso. Past flavors have included blueberry and butterscotch.
Stay up to date with all the secret shakes and other menu items by visiting M Burger's Facebook page or asking one of the delightful counter assistants (seriously, they can make anyone's day).
Sure, it was Happy Hour. And, yes, it was Friday. But neither of those circumstantial details diminishes the potency of El Jardin's margaritas. I've had some strong margaritas this summer, most memorably at Cesar's, another Lakeview institution, but El Jardin's went over-the-top to easily take the lead in The Happy Margarita Summer Project's Most Obliterating category.
Let's not mistake Most Obliterating with Best Tasting. They're not bad -- certainly tasty enough to go down without a fight -- but not particularly well balanced. But if what you want is a tequila buzz, you'll get it after just one of El Jardin's generous Classic Margaritas ($9), thanks to the healthy dose of Jose Cuervo Gold Tequila.
Since it was Friday, I ordered a second, this time venturing into unknown territory with the Margarita Swirl, a frozen margarita topped with sangria. I hear Uncle Julio's also serves up a pretty brain-numbing swirl, but I can't say I'm compelled to order another, despite that they are so potent I couldn't even finish mine. I'm just not into the flavor of red wine mixed with tequila mixed with a whole bunch of sugar.
Finally, I should note that we went to El Jardin Restaurant at 3335 N. Clark St., not El Jardin Cafe at 3401 N. Clark St. (El Jardin Cafe is on the corner, El Jardin Restaurant has the nice patio in the back.) Same family, different owners, according to our waitress. So does this mean I have to go to El Jardin, too?
Staking their claim in the former Pili Pili and Aigre Doux space, the folks over at Gilt Bar at 230 W. Kinzie are hoping for some staying power with their mix of dark decor, classic drinks, and simple, yet elegant menu.
Join them Tuesday, August 24th when they team up with local beermasters Goose Island for a 4-course fixed price food-and-beer pairing, all for just $60.
You've been looking longingly at shiny new pencils and today's version of the trapper keeper, but it's time to smarten up, grown up style. Ian's Pizza in Wrigleyville & Sheffield's Bar are hooking up to host their second annual Pizza and Beer School. Your class schedule is as follows:
Mac n' Cheese pizza with Lagunitas Czech Style Pils
Dimo Florentine pizza (feta, chopped tomato, & spinach) with Ommegang Hennepin Saison
Sheffield's BBQ pizza with Robert the Bruce Scottish Ale
S'more pizza with New Holland Dragon's Milk and Framboise half & half
Get schooled Wednesday, August 25th at 7:00 pm ready with $30, an empty stomach and summer-lulled mind.
258 N. Sheffield Ave
RSVP: email@example.com or call 773.716.7200.
Bon Appetit named The Purple Pig one of the 10 best new restaurants for 2010. Which means it's going to be even harder to get in for decadent pork neck rillettes, balsamic-braised pig's tail, chorizo-stuffed olives and one of the better cheese selections in the city.
The hubby and I took a mini-vacation to Evanston on Sunday, packing a picnic lunch from Piatto Pronto in Andersonville -- the Milano sub for him, packed with the requisite Italian meats, and the Sardinia salad for me, a hearty but healthy combination of artichokes, canellini beans, chickpeas, roasted peppers, green olives and shaved grana padano cheese, all on a bed of spinach. After feasting at the beach, we decided to take a stroll around downtown Evanston. And like our cat hearing the siren song of the tuna can popping open, we found ourselves drawn to That Little Mexican Cafe for a mid-afternoon margarita.
We lucked out: On Sundays, TLMC's standard marg is just $4, a real deal, especially considering that (drum roll, please!) ... These are the new top contenders in the Happy Margarita Summer Project.
Not only were the margaritas perfectly balanced -- which for me means a bit on the tart side, with enough tequila so that I can taste it, but not so much that it burns going down -- they were also consistent from the first round to the third. This has not been true elsewhere.
And they were served up by Jorge, the best bartender I've met so far on this summer long sojourn to find the best margarita in Chicago.
Paddy Long's is a fairly unassuming, Irish-inflected Lincoln Park bar with a well-priced international beer selection (charmingly chalked onto the bar's blackboard in approximations of the draught beers' brand fonts). Delirium Tremens and Lindeman's Framboise are both on tap. A Manchester United tin plaque is on the wall. And in the upper left cornice of the bar, a creepy plastic pig mask almost blends into the pleasantly low lighting. But don't be fooled -- pig is big at Paddy Long's.
As previously reported, Paddy Long's is hosting Friday and Saturday pig roasts all summer long, $22 for all you can eat of pork and sides -- less if you have a Groupon or Baconfest promo in hand. The low-key, casual set-up reminded me of the Map Room's International Night dinners, but without the mad scramble at the bar to earn your plate by stamping your ticket and gulping down your beer before the food is dished out. I prefer to scramble for the food and then eat and drink at my own pace. (Also the guy behind the food table doesn't yell at you, unlike the Map Room.) More on the food itself...
Since moving to Chicago three years ago I've been in search for good Neapolitan pizza. I was spoiled in St. Paul with Punch Pizza and have been trying to find a replacement in my new city. There are plenty of good pizza places in Chicago - Piece, Art of Pizza, Cafe Luigi - but nothing beats the fresh ingredients, chewy crust and wonderfully gooey-ness of Neapolitan pizza.
I can't tell you how happy I was to have found Nella Pizzeria in Lincoln Park a couple of months ago - the food is great, people are friendly and the atmosphere is fun. This Italian-style pizza is made with the freshest ingredients - San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil - and cooked for 90 seconds in a wood-fired oven heated up to 1000 degrees.
Punch is still (and probably always will be) my favorite, but Nella is a close second. Try it, you won't be disappointed.
Jack Tripper and the Three's Company gals at the Regal Beagle.
Where the kitschy Reagle Beagle used to stand downtown, a more loungey sports bar has moved in. Over the course of several months, renovations have stripped the joint of its '70s and '80s vibe, and it reopens today as Grami. The name has nothing to do with music awards or your mama's mama--as ChicagoNow explains, "it's a mash-up of its nearby intersection of Grand and Michigan." To draw a happy-hour crowd, they have drink specials every day--I'm going tonight and looking forward to the $4 sangria--and there's a selection of your standard pub food to soak up the booze.
The newly redesigned Cafe Spiaggia premiered last night, but who has an eye on the decor when amazing small plates are being passed around? The atmosphere was welcoming, but as with any top restaurant, the food takes center stage.
I had an opportunity to sample a few pizzas (prosciutto with cherry tomatoes, baby zucchini, and margherita), as well as their fantastic new focaccia with mozzarella and Taggiasca olives inside. On the less-bready tip, there were some fantastic crostini going around: cured sardine on caper pesto, as well as a smoked trout with parsley and fried capers. But the real highlight on such a humid evening was the gelato. I chose the raspberry and chocolate (grapefruit sorbet was a third option), and I was not disappointed -- the chocolate tasted nothing like chocolate ice cream you're used to, it was like a fine chilled dark chocolate bar. And the raspberry wasn't far behind with chewy bits of fresh raspberry throughout.
The new menu is focused on small plates, and would be a perfect post-work spot for a glass of wine and a bite on the way home, yet larger plates are also on the menu if you have the hunger.
Ever since Day One of this project, fans of El Cid on Kedzie in Logan Square have been imploring me and my research partner, Claire, to sip margaritas on the restaurant's spacious backyard patio. "It's like being in Mexico," they said, "and these margaritas are the best in the city." So on Friday we arranged to meet a group of friends right after work to grab a plum patio spot in the prime of margarita-drinking season.
Now this, my friends, is how you drink margaritas: Gather a nice-sized group of buddies and nab a spot in the sun, order a couple of pitchers, snack on some food, order another couple of pitchers, and when everyone has had their fill, say "adios" for the evening. Margaritas are not the sort of drink that promotes bar hopping; on the contrary, a good margarita simply makes you want to sit and savor the company.
El Cid's patio captures this vibe perfectly. While we were unable to fully enjoy its charms due to a pesky severe thunderstorm that shooed us to the upstairs lounge at around 7 p.m., we didn't let that stop us from enjoying these fantastic margaritas -- which, fans will be pleased to know, are now our top contenders.
What makes these margaritas so special is that their balance tips in favor of tart lime and good tequila, with just the right amount of sweetness to make them very, very drinkable. The classic margarita was so good not one person at the table decided to deviate with a frozen or flavored version. We did order both individual drinks and pitchers and noticed a slightly stronger hit of tequila in the former, at least for the first round of drinks. The second, third and, uh, subsequent rounds of pitchers seemed to have more tequila (no, really!) (Side note: I think I'm starting to become immune to tequila hangovers. I feel great today!)
For the salt fiends among us: Claire and I really like El Cid's salt. Big, crunchy salt crystals can detract from an otherwise delicious margarita. El Cid uses a finer grain than some of their competitors, which we think "seasons" the glass perfectly.
We all enjoyed the food, especially the burrito suiza, which is my Logan Square friend's "usual." The chicken sope, which I chose at the suggestion of my friend's daughter Serra, was generous and delicious.
In sum, El Cid took the lead last night, edging out former frontrunner Zocalo, and setting up some stiff competition for the remaining contenders, which include De Cero, Adobo Grill, Frontera, Twisted Lizard, Los Mananitas, Salud, Garcia's, Blue Agave, El Jardin, Mundial Cocina Mestiza, May St. Cafe -- and who else?
By the way, it's starting to become clear to us that this little project may creep into the fall. So many margaritas, so little time ...
The Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival kicks off tonight in Logan Square (Gapers Block is a sponsor!). If you head that way, take a moment to celebrate the combined arts of food and entrepreneurship at Logan Square Kitchen's pop-up restaurant. Located in the middle of the action at 2333 N. Milwaukee, LSK's incubator space will host Chef Bill Kim and Chef Jason Hammel for two days only of urban picnic fare and coffee and doughnuts, respectively all priced between $2-5. Follow the menu details (and voluteering needs) over at their Twitter feed. Time Out also has the full menu on hand. The goods will be cash only, served from 11am to 5pm.
The pop-up food will be designed for optimal portability, since seating is limited. So if you need a place to camp out for a bit, head just to new neighbor Cafe Mustache, which just opened this past Monday and will be featuring both Arts Festival art and music, at 2313 N. Milwaukee.
Okay, it's a silly name. Small e, dot in the middle--not everything has to feel Web 2.0 to be appealing, especially when it's going in your mouth instead of before your eyes, okay?? But silly name aside, e.leaven delivers great food in an easy-on-the-eyes atmosphere for breakfast and lunch in River North. Best-known perhaps, for its bagels, a light also deserves to shine on the chic little deli's sandwiches. Because they're awesome--from a recent monster short rib sandwich (with grilled shishito peppers giving it heat and an almost chocolate-y carmelized touch of sweetness) to what may be the city's best BLT thanks to some goat cheese and perfectly grilled bread, lunch at e.leaven is both hearty (even hefty...) and a step up from your average downtown meat-and-cheese stacker.
Yes, I've been to Perry's, and Manny's, and while e.leaven isn't quite doing the sandwich-as-big-as-your-head or so-authentic-your-Jewish-grandma-would-be-proud route, I would argue that they still deserve a spot in the pantheon. What they do better than anyone is marry Old World deli faves with incredibly fresh and interesting ingredients. No soggy, dressing soaked salads here, cole slaw or otherwise, on your sandwich or your plate! Every bite I've taken there has been perfectly fresh and wonderfully textured--sometimes a deli pitfall. During their recent one-year anniversary celebration, they featured an entire menu of Siracha specials, opening their culinary arms wide to embrace sweet and spicy along with rich and salty. (They also make some of the best cookies I've had in a long while.) What's more, you can keep track of them and their daily specials through their Twitter feed. And if you're working in River North and longing for a better lunchtime option in the $6-$9 range, I think you should.
Located kitty-corner from the Green City Market at Clark and Lincoln, Perennial has first dibs on the freshest local fare all summer long. To show off this good fortune, the restaurant is hosting a free monthly event through September featuring cocktails made with ingredients purchased at the market.
I attended the July event last Wednesday, which set up a friendly competition between Benjamin Schiller, head mixologist at Boka Restaurant Group, and Danny Shapiro, head bartender at Perennial. Whose cocktail was the (market) freshest? Find out after the jump.
Given the Mardi Gras beads dangling from wall sconces and a voodoo mask hanging by the order counter, even if you didn't know that Mac & Min's serves N'awlins-style food, then you'd probably guess pretty quickly. Housed in what used to be Jerry's Sandwiches' West Loop location, Mac & Min's offers a much less overwhelming selection of meat/seafood-and-bread concoctions -- namely po' boys and muffalettas, offered in quarter (muffalettas only), half, and whole sizes. The Jerry's quality (and enormous sandwich size) remains: the joint is owned by the same people, husband-and-wife duo Mark Bires and Mindy Friedler.
With a small outdoor patio, the restaurant, which opened July 5, could fit a good-sized lunch crowd, probably about 40-50 people. I went on a Saturday around noon with my boyfriend, Paul; and our friend Heather, and we decided to eat indoors for some quality air-conditioning time. Brass-band music and New Orleans jazz played over the speakers -- fitting, since the "Mac" half of the restaurant's name refers to NOLA music legend Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, or "Dr. John."
I knew what I was going to get as soon as I walked in and saw the menu above the order counter, but thanks to my indecisiveness, I wavered between some kind of fried-seafood po' boy and the muffaletta -- ham, mortadella, hot capicola, and salami, served with olive relish and provolone. I finally decided on the voodoo fried-shrimp po' boy (what I thought I'd get), served with all the fixings, including a side of refreshing mayo-based remoulade. "Voodoo" means that the shrimp is drenched in buffalo sauce, pretty much impossible for me to resist.
Is is possible the World Cup tourney is really coming to an end? Does that mean work will actually have to get done come Monday morning?
Head on over to Wrigleyville's Bull-eh-Dia and make Sunday's Spain vs. Netherlands final match last forever. Aside from their standard $4 Bloody Mary and $4 Mimosa specials, soccer fans can enjoy $3 Sam Adams and Miller Lites, as well as 1/2 price tapas for the game. Get ready to scream yourself hoarse if Spain wins.
Acting on a reader's tip, the beef convoy made it down to Chickie's in Little Village for a hot beef this past week. Having heard of Chickie's beef supremacy for some time, it is was nice to finally test those claims. The standalone beef stand on 28th and Pulaski beckons like an old drive-in, and the calls of "Juicy hot!" and "Sweet, no dip" being yelled from the register to the grill are like a beef whistle calling you home.
More importantly, the beef here doesn't disappoint. This is a compact sandwich expertly wrapped and filled with thinly sliced, shredded Scala beef and carefully dipped -- but not slathered -- in succulent juices. What really sets Chickie's beef apart though is the large slices of fresh hot peppers that lay atop the beef and add a spicy texture to the beef's juiciness. Truly, a first-class beef.
When I think of Austria and picnics, I think of Julie Andrews and the von Trapp children skipping merrily through the Alps with baskets full of, oh, I don't know, sheep's milk cheese, sausages and berries. For whatever reason, my mind doesn't drift to dreamy Vienna. But with its pocket parks and coffee house culture, it's actually no stretch to imagine a perfectly lovely Viennese picnic.
Perhaps that's the theory behind Julius Meinl's Summer Picnic July 22 at the Southport location, which will feature All-American menu with Viennese touches created by Chef Jeff Adamek, who recently created several new farm-fresh dishes for Meinl's daily menu. For $40 per person ($20 per child), picnic-goers will feast on smoked chicken with sausages, summer vegetable succotash, house made pickles, a sampling of Midwestern cheeses with apricot vanilla jelly, roasted corn with smoked paprika, lime and cilantro, grilled peach salad, potato salad with bacon, mini sandwiches, and something called "bruschetta bowls" that sound so creative, I'm pretty sure I'm going to make a knock-off version for my next potluck.
Last Thursday a few friends and I got the night -- and my vacation -- rolling with an after-hours event, after which the Happy Margarita Summer Project made an unplanned stop at Flaco's Tacos in Printer's Row. The HMSP's rules were flouted. Prior drinks skewed our powers of perception. Thus, the "Extra" on today's Flaco's Tacos review. If I make it back under proper circumstances before summer's end, I'll be sure to update this post.
For now, I've got to give Flaco's props for serving strong, cheap, decent frozen margaritas and really solid food in a casual, friendly South Loop setting. This place is all about bang for your buck. For just over a 10-spot, I had a frozen lime margarita with salt, a tilapia taco with chipotle crema and slaw, and a decent skirt steak taco. Our table shared a basket of excellent, if slightly greasy chips that were the perfect foil to those margaritas. The guacamole is good, as were the tangy tomatillo-based salsa and the smoky red guajillo salsa.
As for the margaritas, they're frozen, so they're obviously made with a mix. But for $4.50 (or $3 if you're smart and come on Mondays, when glasses of sangria are also $3), this baby is as easy on your budget as it is rough on your tolerance. My group sat in the window seat for a couple of hours working on two margaritas apiece, and the entire group agreed Flaco's doesn't skimp on the tequila. In short, I'll definitely keep Flaco's Tacos in mind next time I want to meet a friend after work, and you should, too: It's counter service, so you'll save on the standard 20 percent tip, and they're open until midnight on weeknights.
Now, because I'm on vacation this week, the plan is to head to the lakefront tomorrow to test the theory that margaritas always taste better on the beach. Can you guess where I'm headed? Keep your fingers crossed the rain holds out!
Tonight was the premiere of "Food Buddha," a new TLC show featuring Chicago's own Rodelio Aglibot, head chef at Sunda. The premise of the show seems way over-the-top, but Aglibot's easy-going nature makes it work: In each episode, he visits a different city and hits up three different restaurants. At each restaurant, he orders one of everything.
Yes, you read that correctly: "OOE," as Aglibot says. One. Of. Everything.
By ordering OOE, Aglibot says he gets the restaurant's whole story. (It also prompts some very funny reactions from the chefs in the restaurants he visits, including eye-rolling, swearing and momentary panic.) At the end of the show, he selects the dish that most inspires him and brings the recipe home to Chicago, where he puts a twist on it to serve as a special at Sunda.
I watched the first episode of the show tonight, in which Chef visits New Orleans. One of the restaurant's he dines at is Squeal, a pig-focused joint that serves pork cakes -- kind of like crab cakes, but way worse for you because, uh, they're made out of pork. And filled with cream cheese. Oh, yeah, and they're also deep-fried. The Sunda version was still pork-a-licious, but it was considerably lighter, with braised pork belly, no cream cheese filling, and a pan fried, not deep fried crust.
Food TV addict that I am, I'll definitely tune into "Food Buddha" again. Aglibot is so good-natured, he actually makes it fun to watch a person eat his way through an entire menu. No small feat indeed.
I don't usually have a negative enough experience in a restaurant that I feel the need to immediately run home, fire up the computer and write about it. I also don't usually eat out at two locations in a single evening. So when my evening this past Friday started with one of the most appalling customer service experiences I've ever had, hitting another restaurant on the way back to complete my rage-filled write-up wasn't my first instinct. Thankfully, it saved my evening and restored a little of the faith I still stubbornly have in the institution of dining service. Riva v. Masu, after the fold.
That's the rating that a student of 826 Chicago gave to Hot Doug's on a recent review visit. Several students had to wait in line, in the rain, choose an encased meat product with duck fat fries and write a review about it. And these reviews are quite possibly some of the best and most entertaining food reviews you've read all year. Overall, the reviewers loved Hot Doug's and they loved The Doug Factor.
If you still haven't made it to Big Star -- Paul Kahan's tacos-and-whiskey joint in the revamped Pontiac Cafe space on Damen near Wicker Park (the park) in Wicker Park (the neighborhood) -- the vast, sun-drenched outdoor patio is beckoning you this summer.
People-watching here is guaranteed to put you in a good mood, thanks to the wonderfully eclectic mix of adorable hipster families, sexy singles on the prowl, and puppy-toting dudes just happening by. Chef Kahan's tacos look like modest portions but the rich fillings will get ya, so go easy -- if for no other reason than to save plenty of room for the guacamole, which is arguably the best dish on the menu.
Now, I didn't come for tacos or whiskey. My friend Claire and I gathered some girlfriends together last Friday for one reason: Round Two of the Happy Margarita Summer Project.
Food truck hopeful Chef Matt Maroni opens the storefront version of Gaztro-Wagon at 11am tomorrow, June 8, at 5973 N. Clark St. There's usually plenty of parking along this relatively desolate stretch of Clark, just north of Ridge, though you may have to hunt for space as all the city's food writers descend in advance of the planned proposal of revised food truck ordinances in City Council on Wednesday.
If you are one of the lucky few who won't be chained to a work desk tomorrow afternoon, you might want to consider heading to Logan Square. Longman & Eagle began lunch service this week and they are celebrating on Friday, June 4 with free shots of whiskey and beers from 11 am to 3 pm.
Longman & Eagle
2657 North Kedzie Avenue
In case you missed my announcement earlier this week, my friend Claire and I are taking on the challenge of searching out Chicago's best margaritas. It's going to be a rough (and by rough I mean fantastic) summer.
El Tapatio, 3400 N. Ashland (at Roscoe Street), is so well-liked that the owners situated a bar across the street to satiate the many would-be diners waiting for a table. I've eaten at El Tapatio many times, and I can attest the food is better than average. The a la carte chicken taco, with a healthy portion of perfectly seasoned, cooked and shredded chicken, plus lettuce, tomato, onion and a side of guacamole, was the perfect snack to accompany my margaritas.
Per our rules, we each ordered the standard margarita first, on the rocks with salt. It arrived in style in a lovely hand-blown glass with multi-colored swirls. The salt was a bit unevenly distributed on the rim, but I'm not going to quibble; overall, the presentation was lovely.
Most of the places I eat these days are of the small plates, upscale, gastropub sort of persuasion. (Probably because most places these days are of that persuasion.) Which means I get two things when I go out to dinner: cheese, and an ever-increasing probability of contracting gout. But let's focus on the former. I'm not sure who invented the magic that is the modern cheese board -- probably the French. Bless them.
For me, the sheer multiplicity of it all is just exciting, and so sensual: combinations of blocks, smears and slabs of cheese in every imaginable texture, flavor, odor and origin. Chalky Fleur de Marquis sheep's milk from France with a juniper-terroir rind? Meet gooey, sumptuous, ultra-funky creamy gorgonzola--and voila! Fast friends. Cheese can stand on its own. (Cheese can stand alone, in fact, heigh ho the merry-o.) But what makes the cheese plate is as much the surrounding constellation of spreads, breads, jams, hams, fruits, nuts, pickles, and adorably delicate micro-salads as the main dairy protein itself. And this, to me, is where it gets really interesting. Let's take a few cases in point, shall we? (After the jump...)
Chicago has seen an influx of cheerful frozen yogurt chains from Asia. This season brings something new from Taiwan: shaved ice cream from Cloud 9. Brother-and-sister entrepreneurs Kenny and Gawin Tsai, with the help of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago, have opened a shaved-ice-cream spot in Lakeview. The IJ clinic helped with Chicago's red tape, leaving Kenny and Gawin free to concentrate on the Taiwanese ice cream, also known as Xue-Hua-Bing. They offer a few flavors each day--currently including vanilla, mango, strawberry and chocolate. They're also quietly testing red bean and green tea, which they let my family sample the night we went in to check it out. The vanilla was refreshing, but held no surprises. The mango had a nice tartness, and the green tea had a bite. The ice cream, made in house, is naturally low in fat; it's not made with as much sugar or cream as traditional ice cream. It comes out of Cloud 9's freezer in a disc-shaped block, and after being shaved by machine, it lands in soft layers in a bowl. Like cotton candy, it looks larger and denser than it actually is. The toppings, too, are low in sugar. The fruit syrups contain no added sweeteners, and cut-up fruit, nuts, sprinkles or chocolate syrup are available as well. Each heaping bowl of snow ice is served with a plastic fork, the better to grab the flaky layers with. And, while at first it might seem flaky and ice cream don't belong in the same sentence, by the end of the summer I think many Chicagoans will find they enjoy ice cream in flakes.
If you've been to the French Market, you've probably seen the brightly-colored Raw food stall in the back corner. I visited recently and was not only impressed with the samples I tasted and the willingness of Polly Gaza, one of the shop's owners, to talk and answer questions. I have to admit, I was also really impressed with Ms. Gaza's glowing complexion. It made me want to get rid of my oven, clear out my pantry full of pasta, cereal, and cookies and become a raw foodist. In Chicago, that isn't such a hard thing to do. Besides Raw, which has been open since December, there are a number of caterers, restaurants and even classes offering food (or the chance to prepare food) untouched by mysterious additives or processing.
New Rebozo, the charming Mexican eatery in Oak Park, has been curbing my cravings for years and on my last visit amidst indecision, I learned about their mole sampler. Their homemade tortillas are served with your choice of meat or vegetables and topped with five of their masterpiece moles including: pumpkin (hints of maple), chocolate (cocoa and rose water), hazelnut (brown butter), almond (sweet with hints of cinnamon) and pistachio (salty with hints of shallot), which take a combined 96 hours to prepare. The dish was fantastic and enjoyed with their hand-crafted Patron and agave margaritas, which are large enough to share, but more fun not to.
In addition to the classic Mexican fare, there is always one featured appetizer and entrée presented by Chef Paco, who makes you feel like you're sitting right in his dining room in Puebla, Mexico.
Instead of hoping to have an expense account someday, or waiting for someone in your family to graduate from high school, you can now dine at The Capital Grille any night of the week with the national roll out of their new bar menu.
Whether you pop in for a quick bite, or are famished from enjoying several signature cocktails (try the Stoli Doli), you will certainly find a dish that hits the spot with miniature white-tablecloth offerings such as: the Signature Cheeseburger (vidalla onions and bacon are mixed into the sirloin!), Mini Lobster and Crab Burgers and Lollipop Lambchops, to name a few. Prices range from $9 to $18. The menu runs everyday from 3pm till close.
Until October of 2007, Dodo served Ukrainian Village a lively breakfast and lunch next to the original location of Sweet Cakes. This Sunday, Dodo re-emerges on Fulton in the old Dino's Morgan Inn space and continues on subsequent weekends from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Operator Kim Dalton told me that she'll have the tofu scram I loved from before. "Even people who aren't vegetarian or vegan love this dish." It was one of their biggest sellers. "I mostly eat vegetables even though I eat meat," Dalton added. The menu will evolve over time, and Dodo is open to suggestions.
During the week, Dodo yields the space back to Dino's to serve up affordable burgers, Old Style beer and pancakes, open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Don't expect many, if any, vegan options here - at least at first. "I'm going to have to be ready," Dalton thought ahead, as she told me many requests have come in for vegetarian and vegan options at the new Dodo.
954 West Fulton Market, opening this Sunday, April 25, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Wednesday could be your new night for fine dining. If you miss (or missed out on) the affordable fancy meals that abound during Restaurant Week and Chefs' Week, I've got good news: Zealous (419 W. Superior) is now serving Chefs'-Week-style prix fixe meals every Wednesday evening: three courses (plus an amuse bouche) for $35.00.
This new offering from Zealous's Chef Taus (also of Duchamp) kicked off last week, and I was there to check out the meal. Unlike many limited prix fixe menus, this one featured enough choices for first and second courses that I actually had to think it over. I opted for a Polynesian salad with shrimp and an "eggplant gâteau," as I was eager to find out what that could be.
It's pretty difficult to class up eggs benedict; the tower of pastel layers, the balance of textures, the velvety sauce, all make for a timeless brunch option that won't bust your gut like a three egg omelet. There, of course, is no shortage of eggs benedict in Chicago, but The Publican ups the chic-ness with its deconstructed version.
The sourdough crust holds up well to the yolk from the wine poached egg. Delightfully salty La Quercia prosciutto is served alongside lightly dressed mixed greens, and finished in a fluffy bearnaise sauce. It is early-afternoon perfection.
Other notables are the Publican maple syrup braised bacon, the fried french toast with raspberry jam and maple-fennel-apple sausage, and the smoked arctic char on rye toast, egg custard, watercress and red onion.
Tucked away on Fulton Market, where you can actually still find street parking, The Publican's industrial roots mixed with delicate decor make for an airy Sunday brunch where all you can think of afterward is napping and coming back for dinner!
I've had a limited relationship with Reza's in Andersonville. It was a relationship that was limited but great--I went to Reza's only when I was in the mood for great grilled meats. If I was in the mood for Middle Eastern vegetables, I would go to Andie's, conveniently located next door. Reza's grilled meats were unbeatable (barring Noon o Kabob, which is a bit out of the way for me), and their dill rice was a thing of beauty. As long as I was looking for the right thing (read: meaty things), Reza's never disappointed.
I fear that this relationship--limited but great--may be over. This became apparent when my husband and I recently visited Reza's after a long day at work. We didn't know we wanted grilled meats, but when we walked past Reza's and smelled the smokey, meaty, spicy aroma wafting from their flaming grill somewhere inside, we were instantly craving for their succulent koubideh, ground meat grilled on a stick, so we went in.
Immediately we noticed a little buffet setup in the middle of the dining room--something that wasn't there before. It turned out that the restaurant added the mini buffet of appetizers, salads, soup and dessert to all the entree dishes. I thought it was a bit over the top, considering that Reza's entrees had already been enough to make one dinner and two subsequent lunches (seriously). Who needs Persian salads, hummus, pita, lentil soup, falafels and dessert on top of that? Well, as it turns out, I did; or at least I felt compelled to try some of the offerings. (I confess--I've always liked buffet ever since I was little.)
Special deals like the last week's Chicago Chef Week are usually a mixed blessing. You might be in for a superb meal at a great discount, but there's a good chance that you'll suffer the angry contempt of your server, along with a sub-par meal. You just never know.
If you missed the Chef Week, though, I have a great alternative: Nacional 27's 2010 menu, that's running until the end of the month.
This 2010 deal (via Yelp) has been running for a couple of weeks, and my experience there was by far the best I've ever had in this sort of promotion. For $20.10, you get an appetizer, an entree, a dessert and (get this!) a glass of sangria. Everything we had (pictured are chicken and chorizo "paella," spicy shrimp and scallop "nachos" and steak "arepas" quesadilla with guacamole) was fantastic in all aspects: they were sizable (possibly too sizable), it was evident that they'd received as much creativity and attention as anything on the regular menu, and they tasted great.
Our server couldn't hide all of her disappointment when I asked for the special menu (yes, you have to ask for one), but she quickly returned to her gracious and cheerful persona, and remained so throughout. Big kudos! Catch the deal before it's over on Wednesday.
Yesterday I attended a lunch meeting at a restaurant I had never heard of before (and I like to think I hear about these things), so I looked up the restaurant online before heading out the door to make sure I could find it. After eating lunch, I'm surprised I hadn't heard of Province before. Located in the West Loop, Province was recently awarded the Gold Level LEED Certification by the U.S.Green Building Council and is located in the Chicago Transit Authority building which was the first building in Illinois to be given the LEED-EB (existing building) certification by the USGBC. Province takes sustainability seriously -- a whole page on the website is dedicated to their green efforts and another page lists their local farmers and vendors. The menu is seasonal and the décor is made of recycled and natural materials with bursts of color (vibrant pink accent walls). Province's executive chef and owner is Randy Zweiban, from Nacional 27, and he has created a restaurant where the atmosphere is comfortable and the food is sophisticated.
I'm sad to report that since I was at a meeting, it would have been a big faux pas to take pictures of my food, but it was delicious! My lunch started with a caesar salad with chili-spiked dressing. The dressing was spicier than expected but it wasn't enough heat to overwhelm you before the main course. Then I enjoyed the ten hour braised lamb, which was so tender (so tender!) it melted in my mouth. The cornbread dressing had chorizo and eggplant in it. I'm not a huge fan of eggplant but it worked well in this dressing. Throughout the meal I sipped on jasmine-infused ice tea and I definitely wanted to cry when I had to skip out on dessert because I had another commitment I was running late for.
Province is located at 161 N. Jefferson, Chicago, 312-669-9900 and if this is the first time you're hearing of Province, I strongly suggest you check it out. If you've already been to Province, I'm also sure you've already been back -- I know I will be!
Last night at Moto, Scientist/chef/delightful nerd combo Ben Roche and Homaru Cantu hosted the premiere for their new Planet Green series, "Future Food." Staff served appetizers like cigars (pulled pork sandwiches wrapped in leaves, banded in edible paper, and served in a tray of sesame seed ash) and FedEx envelopes filled with what appeared to be packing peanuts, but which tasted like popcorn. Visual/gustatory discombobulation was the theme of the first episode as well -- the chefs tried to turn watermelons into tuna and commit other sleight-of-taste-bud tricks to convince Chicagoans their faux seafood was the real deal. The show works around these "Mythbusters"/reality television quests and challenges for the hosts as well as the quirky kitchen staff. The show also spends a good amount of time in and around Chicago landmarks, including a future episode's cook-off in front of the MCA. Book your table at Moto now if you want to get in before the foodie rush...some pictures after the jump.
I've been a bad writer recently. Which, in my particular case, means mostly that I've been a bad eater recently. With long hours at my office, little energy in the kitchen and, after finishing my taxes this past week, less cash on hand, eating out has become a recent luxury. Ham sandwiches, yogurts and granola bars have been more of the recent norm than a new dish on Lula's menu or special charcuterie option at Old Town Social (or getting a table after a reasonable wait at Revolution Brewing -- still unsuccessful!) However, a recent business trip has taken me to the westernmost reaches of our fine state, and while there has been little time for much more than work there has, blessedly, been eating out! Should you find yourself across the river from Iowa and looking for a bite, I feel I can now advise your gustatory tour of at least one of the four Quad Cities with a smidgen of authority and the warm glow of an impending food coma.
Über green restaurant Uncommon Ground gets a nod from Treehugger this week for being part of the growing trend of rooftop farms. Uncommon Ground's farm sits atop their Edgewater location, 1401 W. Devon Ave., 773-465-9801. The restaurant's other location is at 3800 N. Clark St., 773-929-3680.
If you've ever been curious about how restaurants take a whole pig, break it down into parts, and then create dishes that permit them to use every part, then Mado Restaurant's Pig Butchering series may be what you're interested in. They have two classes on Sunday March 14th and Sunday March 21st beginning at 12:30 pm. Each class is $50 and you'll get to see Rob Levitt break down a pig, explaining how he does it and what they do with it. You'll also get to take home a sample of pork cuts for cooking and eating at home.
The longstanding hype over Revolution Brewing, Chicago's newest locally-centered brewpub from the folks behind Handlebar, may have you, like me, clamoring to experience their selection of hand-crafted, clenched-fisted beers and upscale eats. In fact, this effect seems to be widespread enough among Logan Squarians, foodies and beeries that the place has been jam-packed since they opened a week or so ago, and February is no month for waiting 90-plus minutes outside until a table opens. So after shuffling around on the sidewalk with your shoulders drawn up to your ears for warmth and your stomach making unconscionable threats for everyone around you to hear, perhaps an alternative is in order.
I hope Sun Wah is fully stocked with Peking ducks, because Phil Vettel's review will have people flocking to the restaurant's new location to order one for themselves. And if you were a fan of the secret, off-menu Mike's Chicken, well, the secret's out. You'll still need to order it ahead, but chances are several other tables will have done the same.
Accompanying Vettel's review was a behind the scenes peek at the Cheng family by Chris Borrelli, painting a picture of three siblings trying to find equilibrium after taking the business over from their semi-retired father. Definitely worth a read.
James Beard Foundation announced this year's America's Classics Award. Among the five recipients this year is Anthony Bourdain-approved smoked fish emporium, Calumet Fisheries. A strictly takeout-only operation, Calumet Fisheries has been a favorite of many a fried/smoked fish lover since its opening in 1948.
Press release says that the award is given to those restaurants that have "carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape" (think small mom-and-pop eateries with decades of history, greasy spoons with devout following, lunch counters serving regional specialties). Fitting, isn't it?
3259 E. 95th St
("95th at the Bridge")
According to Veronica Avila of the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of Chicago, four restaurant workers of Ole Ole restaurant is filing a federal lawsuit against their employer today. The employees, who are members of the ROC, are seeking back wages and assurance that the swanky Andersonville restaurant will comply with the law, guaranteeing that the tips are paid to the workers and proper compensation is made for overtime work.
Longman & Eagle brings vintage charm, gastropub fare and a hearty whiskey list to Logan Square. The team behind the Empty Bottle recently opened this new venture to enthusiastic early reviews and a packed dining room. Taking advantage of the prime location just across the street from the Logan Square Blue Line station, half a dozen guest rooms will be available for rent above the restaurant in the coming weeks.
Kendall College graduate Jared Wentworth serves elegantly presented contemporary comfort food. We stopped in for drinks and shared the House Marinated Olives and the Kobe Meatballs with creamy polenta and parsley pesto. Both were excellent. The extensive drink menu boasts a wide range of whiskey, including a $3 "whiskey for drinking" section, cocktails and good beer selection. Even after the opening excitement dies down, Longman & Eagle is sure to be a mid-priced favorite.
Tribune reports that a devastating fire that started just before midnight Sunday completely destroyed Costas, a Greek restaurant that has been a cornerstone of this Greek corner of the city. The restaurant has another location in Oak Brook Terrace, but whether their histrionic "Opa!" over flaming saganaki will be heard again in its original location remains to be seen.
According to the Trib article, it took firefighters more than three hours to extinguish the fire. While it raged, the fire also heavily damaged the building on the north side of Costas, which houses Athens Grocery, Greektown Gift and Music Shop, and Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop. I used to walk past these buildings daily on my way to and from UIC until a few years ago, and the sight of bushy-eyebrowed old men sitting outside of the Pastry Shop, chatting over tiny cups of coffee and playing chess was as endearing as it could get. This building, perhaps more than any of the restaurants, seemed to anchor the "Greekness" of the area, providing everyday necessities and a place to socialize to the few remaining descendants of Greece.
The area around Greektown has been going through some gentrification with condo towers sprouting up here and there, and I only hope that the damaged building will not push the these businesses out of existence.
Though the wait was long, the burgers - and the fries - were probably worth it at DMK Burger Bar. The house veggie & grain burger was a loosely formed patty made of rice and other hearty ingredients and then fried to create a crispy crust. It was served with a pesto mayo, roasted eggplant and tomatoes. Though the sweet potato fries were tasty, it was the salt and pepper fries (fried in beef fat, according to our waitress) that really stole the show.
Mezé is a new small-plate restaurant serving up an eclectic group of dishes inspired by cuisines from the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Asia, and the Americas. At first glance, I was worried that the menu was too eclectic, too many different styles - but it's the eclectic nature of Mezé that gives it it's charm. The global sampling of flavors is what sets it a part from other small-plate restaurants. And, the menu isn't as opposing as I initially thought - it has several repeating ingredients - red pepper, chipotle, and goat cheese to name a few - that help tie all the various styles together.
Prior to joining Mezé, the executive chef spent twenty-five years at the Ritz Carlton and his expertise shows in the dishes - they are flavorful and mostly unique. I say mostly because there are a couple items that felt too familiar, specifically the potato dishes. The Greek pommes frites and Papas Bravas didn't have that take-it-up-a-notch taste. I've had fries with feta before and while the signature chipotle alioli made the beef sliders, well more than a mini burger, the alioli couldn't help the uninspired roasted potatoes. But those dishes are the exception to the overall fantastic selection I sampled. A few personal favorites - the peppercorn beef with gorgonzola, the pepper-crusted tuna, and the goat cheese and tomato tart. The beef was tender and served with plenty of sauce and crostinis - this dish felt like home, it was comforting without feeling familiar. The gorganzola cheese gave the dish just the right amount of salt. The pepper-crusted tuna is served on a crispy wonton with a wasbai cream. This tuna plate is well balanced and light and would have paired nicely with a crisp white wine. Without a doubt, my favorite dish overall was the goat cheese and tomato tart. Wow-zah! This creamy cheese tart is served over a tomato and basil sauce with crusty bread. I could probably live off this tart forever.
There's a newish burger joint in Evanston called, Edzo's (1571 Sherman Ave.). It actually opened a few months ago, but I decided to give it some time to get the kinks worked out before writing a review. It's gotten a lot of glowing and informative articles extolling the virtues of a regular burger joint where the owner cared enough to grind the meat daily and cut french fries daily.
We were walking past the Looking Glass Theater building last night, when I noticed a sign for First Slice Pie Cafe. Curious, I walked into the Water Works Visitor Center, one of the City's two visitor centers. To my delight, there it was, a new branch of the Ravenswood-based cafe, with a glass case brimming with decadent pies (think velvety chocolate cream and luscious wine-poached pears) and hearty quiches.
I'm deeply in love with their original Ravenswood location. A venture by chef Mary Ellen Diaz, First Slice serves creative salads, satisfying sandwiches and drool-inducing baked goods in beautiful, handmade ceramics (that are created in the clay studio in the same building). And this is only a half of the story: First Slice uses the profit from the cafe operation (as well as a supper subscription program) to serve the same high-quality meals to the hungry. It's a place to get updated comfort food with good vibe--organic, local and helpful. Now we can get their tasty fare downtown.
The person behind the counter informed me that their downtown location has been open for a month or so. Hours are quite accommodating: My lucky hubby who works nearby can get his lunch or early supper there, and I have one more decent lunch option while on my occasional weekend romp around Magnificent Mile. I'm pretty sure we'll be back soon.
I love gruyère cheese so much that if I was told I couldn't have it again, I don't think I could go on living. So when I discovered that the Wit Hotel restaurant State & Lake was serving macaroni and cheese with gruyère, I had to taste it. Made with cavatelli pasta, gruyère and cheddar cheeses, and topped with seasoned bread crumbs, this mac 'n cheese is second to none. Listed on the menu as a side (I am not sure why because it could be a main course) this creamy, scoop of heaven is served up in a cast iron ramekin and priced at only $6. This macaroni is worth a special trip to the Loop and a total lunch-time deal.
I moved to the Edgewater neighborhood in 2007 and have had fun exploring and discovering all sorts of gems like Gino's North, Moody's Pub, Ras Dashen, The Sovereign, the Holzkopf Meat Market, and Standee's.
Regardless of what the sign states, Standee's isn't a restaurant. It's not a diner. It's a greasy spoon, and in the neighborhood, it's one hell of an establishment. With the faux wood paneling, old skool Coco-Cola light fixtures, the faded inkjet printed specials above the back counter, and the brick patterned linoleum, the place exudes a feeling of shabby good-naturedness.
It's the kind of place that your dad would take you. It's the kind of place that terrifies suburbanites. You can see it all here: Loyola students nursing cups of coffee while studying. Folks staggering in from the Granville Anvil and The Sovereign sauced to the gills. Last Halloween I saw one flamboyant young man mince in wearing a mesh top and angel's wings seeking change for a $10 bill, then try to con the waitress by claiming she shortchanged him.
And it's all in our neighborhood. At least until the end of the year.
Maybe you weren't one of the lucky ones to snag an invite to President Obama's first White House state dinner, but that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy the meal.
On Wednesday, December 9, C-House Fish and Chops' (166 E. Superior) Executive Chef Nicole Pederson and Pastry Chef Toni Roberts will be recreating the menu from the November 24th event that they worked on with Chef Marcus Samuelsson and the White House team.
Perhaps you've had your fill of Thanksgiving fare. In case you need a change from the tryptophan (or whatever graced your holiday table), Devon Seafood Grill (39 E. Chicago Ave.) is shaking up their offerings with a new "Low Tides" menu, which is a four-course tasting meal featuring items like seared scallops with crispy pancetta and crispy potato wrapped grouper. Normally priced at $35 (or $50 with a wine pairing for each course), you've got a window of opportunity to try the menu for just $25 ($39 with wine) during a special preview on December 1-3 after 4 PM.
To take advantage of this offer, call the restaurant for a reservation at (312) 440-8660 and mention that you saw the event on Gapers Block.
Nacional 27 runs a special called "Nearly Free Fridays" from 5 to 7pm each week: for $2.27 per person, you get access to a tasting table of tapas and paella in the bar and lounge. That's a pretty great after-work deal that helps keep you from getting overly sloshed on their incredible cocktails. And with holiday season upon us, it's a good incentive to get together with colleagues or friends for some cheap holiday cheer.
As an added bonus, Nacional 27 is sweetening the deal just for Drive-Thru readers: Mention Drive-Thru or Gapers Block when you order the $2.27 tasting and you'll receive a complimentary seasonal mojito! The offer is good until the end of November -- so essentially Nov. 20 and 27. Enjoy!
Glenn's Diner is known as the place to go for fish, and it's true that the seafood menu at this Ravenswood diner is full of great fresh dishes. But brunch at Glenn's is equally tempting, especially because they take reservations, even for Sunday morning, so you can scoot right past the line and tuck yourself into a cozy table without waiting.
On a recent weekend, I ordered a special: the Mediterranean hash. My plate was full of red and yellow peppers, red onions and spinach sautéed up with scrambled eggs. The "house-made potato pancake" that comes with all the egg dishes is moist and flavorful. And there were indeed seafood-centric options on the specials board, such as eggs Benedict with crab, so those craving fish don't have to go without.
Pause Café has apparently been sold. The venerable coffee shop on Berwyn closed over the weekend and will reopen as Kitchen Sink Café (1107 w. Berwyn) in early December. The new owners, Jeff and Ally, are former Pause Cafe baristas and plan on keeping many of the things that made Pause a great spot, they will continue to serve Metropolis Coffee and offer free wifi for customers. Jeff and Ally plan on stepping up the food menu with gourmet sandwiches and panini, some breakfast items, fresh salads, hot soups and fruit smoothies. The shop its self will be getting a makeover, most of the décor was being sold off during a weekend garage sale, yet some items remain such as the old phone booth, e-mail if interested.
Just a few last thoughts on eating Halloween this year, before the candy corn goes totally stale... Intrepid DT Editor Robyn Nisi clued me into dinner at Lula Café for what has become an annual tradition -- dressing up the entire establishment as another restaurant. This year, Lula briefly closed for zombification on Halloween, only to re-open to immediately lengthy lines as a spooky version of Hot Doug's -- real-life Doug Sohn included, chained to a desk at the front of the line to take orders. The illusion was so complete I had to ask our slightly decaying waitress if the entire Hot Doug's crew had been locked in the walk-in and forced to whip up a service of specialty dogs (or pay the price! or something...). But the entire menu was planned and executed in-house, with Doug's approval before he agreed to lend his name and t-shirts to the staff.
I don't know why hot dogs are my favorite food. Putting Freudian analysis aside, these cylindrical encased meats have been invading my food dreams from a very young age. Growing up in and around Chicago has only fueled this insane love for hot dogs because here it's almost a cultural staple. If you're getting a hot dog in Chicago, it's comprised of a poppy seed bun, one all-beef hot dog (usually Vienna Beef), yellow mustard, chopped raw white onions, green relish (the more abnormal the color the better), tomato wedges, sports peppers, a dash of celery salt, and a pickle on top to seal the deal. When I've taken out-of-staters to my favorite hot dog joints and shown them this amazing meal, they've usually shirked away in pure fear. Hot dogs shouldn't be feared as that strange mystery meat at sporting events and family cook-outs. They're a culinary delicacy that can be dressed up or down for the occasion. In Chicago, it's usually the latter. I say embrace this culinary piece of heaven, and learn the best places to go in the process.
The Dog Show is something for hot dog aficionados and casual eaters alike to find and experience Chicago standards in the art of hot dogs as well as fresh new finds. Though the Chicago hot dog has a standard build there are plenty of restaurants in the area that add their own flair to it. The Dog Show isn't all about finding the best Chicago style hot dog, though that is an added bonus. We're ready to try any encased meat on a bun that's been concocted in the Chicagoland area. Since Chicago has more hot dog stands than McDonalds, Wendys and Burger Kings combined, there is more than enough fodder to explore and sift through. Twice a month I'll dive into the dish that started as a simple meal for poverty-stricken locals during the Depression and evolved into a cultural icon.
Wiener and Still Champion, 802 Dempster St. in Evanston, is one of the rare hot dog stands that doesn't rest on its laurels. Hot Doug's aside, it's a rarity to find innovation in the realm of mom'n'pop fast food joints. But as some new items debuting on this spot's menu today prove that a little ingenuity takes you a long way.
Take the corn dog. Most places offer the same boring version pulled out of the freezer. At Wiener and Still Champion, they make their own "Dippin' Dogs," all-beef hot dogs hand-dipped in a slightly sweet, polenta-like cornmeal batter when you order one. The result might ruin you for inferior corn dogs forever. Now owner Gus Paschalis has taken his Dippin' Dogs to a new, gut-busting level. The top of the line used to be the Deluxe Dippin' Dog (or "DDD," named in honor of the restaurant's appearance on the Food Network show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives"), two Dippin' Dogs covered in homemade chili and Merkt's cheddar cheese. Now you've got the Big Dipper, a 1/3 pound, 10-inch hot dog wrapped in enough batter to make it hard to imagine actually eating.
Last spring one of Chicago's favorite culinary landmarks, Club Lago, was forced to close after a 50-foot chimney collapsed onto its building. Tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 7 the family-owned restaurant will host a grand re-opening party after being closed for six months.
The party will begin at 5 p.m., reservations are recommended.
331 W. Superior St.
Chicago, IL 60610
Blind Faith Cafe (525 Dempster, Evanston) has been providing a vegetarian option to the North Shore since 1979! To celebrate 30 years of providing alternative dining, Blind Faith will provide a delicious meal and let the customer name the price!
From tomorrow, Oct. 1 until Saturday, Oct. 3, customers can enjoy an entree and choose to pay what they want. In addition, during this celebration, Blind Faith Cafe will be hosting a drawing for a complimentary dinner for four. Call the cafe at 847-328-6875 for more information.
The Publican has garnered much acclaim for its minimalist, meat-centric fare. And this approach to dining certainly doesn't stop at dinner. Sunday brunch at the Publican is all about meat: pork, chicken and fish (but mostly pork, like the bacon at left) are featured in almost every dish.
A reservation at Terzo Piano is still hard to come by, even though the restaurant has been open since May. The bright, airy restaurant in the Modern Wing of the Art Institute is only open for lunch most days (except for Thursday, when it's open for dinner until 9 pm.) On a recent Wednesday afternoon, most of the lunch crowd was dressed in suits and heels and had most certainly not spent the morning hiking around Millennium Park and the museum like I had. Despite our informal attire, however, the staff was friendly (if somewhat stiff) and the food was full of flavor.
Any plans for Mexican Independence Day? Head to Pilsen to take part in the second annual Buen Provecho restaurant tour. Over 25 local restaurants, cafes and bakeries will be sharing their favorite dishes as they celebrate the vibrant Pilsen community. Participating restaurants include old favorites like Neuvo Leon, Los Comales and Birreria Reyes de Ocotlan as well as newer additions to the neighborhood like Nightwood, Ristorante al Teatro and Simone's. The event runs from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm and tickets are $25 in advance and $30 the day of the event. All proceeds benefit the Eighteenth Street Development Corporation, a a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. For a complete list of restaurants and to buy tickets online, visit the ESDC website.
You may not get a free lunch, but on Thursday you can get free samples of lunch and breakfast food (and brownies) from Panera bread. In celebration of their new fall menu, all Chicago area Panera cafes are offering samples of the Power Breakfast sandwich; BBQ Chopped Chicken salad (with fire-roasted corn, tri-colored tortilla strips, all-natural chicken and a BBQ ranch dressing); Napa Almond Chicken sandwich (made with celery, almonds and grapes); and two new brownies, one blonde and one fudge. Tastings are available from 6 am to 9 pm at all Panera locations.
Humboldt Park has a new spot for coffee in the form of Knock Box Café. Taking over the former space of Humboldt Pie at 1001 N. California Ave., Knock Box Café is warm and inviting space with plenty of room to stretch out without that feeling of sitting on top of other customers.
Knock Box serves Chicago's own Metropolis coffee brewed by knowledgeable and friendly baristas; one of the things that I tend to look for is coffee made correctly, and this place does just that. You might get a bit overwhelmed by the great smells due to the fresh baked cookies and other pastries straight from the oven, but that's a good thing. They also have sandwiches, utilizing Red Hen Bread and Boar's Head meats, so they can also serve as a lunch spot.
Of course it wouldn't be a coffee shop without free wifi, and Knock Box has that as well, making it a comfortable space to get a bit of work done.
If you are wondering about the name, after every shot of espresso pulled, the barista "knocks" the portafilter onto the knock box to dispose of the espresso grind, making way for fresh espresso and another perfect shot.
On Thursday evening, the National Honey Board invited a group of writers to look "Beyond the Bottle and Explore the Bounty of Honey" with a honey tasting and specially-created dinner by Chef Randy Zweiban at Province. It was an enjoyable evening that combined education about honey production, varieties and environmental concerns with an interesting and inspiring range of cocktails, appetizers and dinner courses that highlighted the wide range of uses for honey in cooking.
That's the assessment my husband and I gave to the students who prepared and served us a fabulous dinner this week at Kendall College. I won a gift certificate to the Dining Room at a recent benefit, and we decided to visit to celebrate our anniversary. We expected it to be good; actually, it was fantastic.
The Dining Room offers a prix fixe three-course meal for $29 Tuesday through Thursday evenings, when school is in session. The menu was full of choices - about 10 different appetizers and salads, seven entrees, and about as many desserts. We didn't hold back; we each ordered our prix fixe options and then chose three extra starters and one extra entrée. Before you judge, understand we had a $200 gift certificate that had to be used all at once. And to answer your next question, no, we didn't even come close to hitting the mark. With tax, our three appetizers, two salads, three entrees, two desserts, two San Pellegrinos, one tea, and one espresso cost - get ready for this -- $132.
However, volume alone doesn't equal value. We could tell we were in for a great tasting meal from the moment our starters arrived. Hubby ordered roasted bone marrow with oxtail marmalade. We took turns liberally spreading the marrow and marmalade on the toasted porcini-orange brioche and sprinkling it with the sea salt that accompanied it. Spread, bite, moan, repeat. We also tried the bay scallops with chive gnocchi, which were well-prepared. My favorite appetizer, though, was the pan roasted perch with cauliflower puree and crispy guancale (pig cheek, i.e., fancy bacon.) Read all about it after the jump.
Sometimes the most interesting part of a meal is the company. The conversation with friends, the revelations between courses, the camaraderie of the table... They're important ingredients for a good meal out. Trattoria Isabella, located low in a passel of high rises just west of the pavement delta where Milwaukee bottoms out into Wacker Drive, relies on these ingredients perhaps more than most restaurants. More after the jump.
Vella Cafe, the popular brunch and lunch place under the Western Blue Line stop, is closing on Sunday, August 23. The restaurant's lease is up at the end of August, and Sara Voden said she and co-owner Melissa Yen have decided to move on. Voden wouldn't go into details about their future plans, other than to say that each will be going her separate way.
There will be no special event to mark Vella's closing, although Voden said, "we will do one last pizza supper on August 14. We'll be sending out an announcement to people on our email list."
Last weekend I had the pleasure of going to Eivissa, a tapas restaurant in Old Town, with some friends for a late dinner. My friend, Esther, is half Spanish and I was excited to go to a tapas restaurant with her.
While we waited for a table outside to open up, we sat at the bar and had sangria. The inside of the restaurant is beautiful and really cozy - rich colors, high ceilings, very cool décor. I ordered the préssec, a white sangria with lavender essence and peach, and it was really refreshing - perfect for the warm summer night.
When our table was ready, we moved outside to the somewhat cramped patio and started with a cheese plate, which was definitely my favorite part of the meal. We sampled three cheeses - enough for two or three people - for $11, which seems like a pretty decent deal to me.
After devouring the cheese, we ordered a few tapas plates - all were pretty good, though small (Esther told us that when you order tapas in Spain, each plate is overflowing with food). To finish we ordered two desserts - both of which were delicious.
Overall, I'd say that Eivissa is a great place for good atmosphere (I'd recommend sitting inside), good drinks and good food. I wish we had tried one of the cured meat plates - the neighboring table ordered one and it looked pretty great. The prices were a little steep for the amount of food served on each dish, but there are certain dishes that are well worth it. Our waitress did a great job recommending items on the menu so I would suggest asking for your server's input.
When you get invited to many a product launch or special event or opening, being part of the media can be pretty sweet. Just picture the event I was at last night: Have a glass of wine, listen to the nice jazz combo...and sink your teeth into the new Angus Third Pounder, McDonald's first new burger since the Big N' Tasty came on the scene in 2001.
Yep, these new burgers are a big deal to McDonald's, so they had a nice little shindig at the 23 S. Clark St. location to celebrate the addition to the menu. I got to sample all three versions of the new burger, meet the chef behind the product, and rub elbows with Ronald McDonald.
When I first spotted Taxim in Wicker Park, I noticed small and quaint tables tucked into a narrow storefront on a historic stretch of Milwaukee Avenue. The look made me think of a relaxing bistro - where you'd duck in off the street to sip a glass of wine and slowly eat a meal. But would anything on the menu be vegan? That's not a question I like to ask when I don't want to turn away. This was a place I wanted to try for its captivating appearance alone. With a little gentle asking, perhaps they'd do something vegan for me and a friend.
This was few months ago. I promptly gave Taxim a try - and then filed away my review without posting it. I'd been waiting for resolution on a simple detail - how to describe the seating in their window. It turned out to be, apparently, Turkish folding tray tables. Here are my first impressions from that April evening.
I asked what the kitchen recommended for vegan. None of the main courses on the evening I visited were vegan. Our server was quick to suggest putting together six of the meze (appetizers) from the evening's menu. There would be slight modifications, but they could easily be prepared vegan. She suggested we take two items at a time for three courses, which was more than enough food, and quite a diverse selection. One of the staff called my friend and I the "nicest vegans." What does that mean to me? Kitchens seem quite willing to accommodate, just as long as you ask nicely.
Frankophiles? Franks for a franc? Cheap haute dogs? Whatever the pun, the deal's a good one: Brasserie JO, 59 W. Hubbard, is selling "French style" hot dogs -- on a baguette with mustard (presumably Dijon) -- for just a dollar between 5pm and 7pm every day in July. Why? Because July is National Hot Dog Month, and hey, why not?
It's worth noting that this is apparently not the prototypical French hot dog. According to Wikipedia's entry on hot dog variants, if you order one in France you'll get a grilled dog topped with melted cheese (usually gruyere) on a baguette, possibly with Ketcepes, a mushroom-based catsup. Sounds like it'd go well with a little wine.
Last week, my husband and I went to the May Street Market to take advantage of the Yelp Eats' prix fixe menu--a three-course meal for $25. As is often the case with these promos, we had to ask for the "Yelp menu," but our waiter was gracious when asked. The selection was intriguing: choosing one each from the two appetizers, four entrees and two desserts was a marginally agonizing affair though we did come out of it in one piece. I chose yellow corn veloute, smoked spring chicken and ice cream flight, my hubby fried green tomato, smoked scallops and cupcake flight.
They were all very tasty, but what stood out was the use of aromatics, unexpected and delightful. Almost every dish had a hidden perfumy surprise or two. My corn veloute (cream corn soup) was scented with orange rind, while the asparagus that came with the smoked chicken had sneaky bits of fresh mint that provided a nice contrast to the earthy, green sweetness of the asparagus. (I took mental note to steal that technique.) The refreshing mint paired surprisingly well with the meaty mushrooms (porcini?) in the same dish. Mint and mushrooms--who knew? My husband's smoked scallops sat on a bed of curried couscous, which, in itself, isn't anything new, but a little drizzle of orange-based sauce lifted the couscous to an aromatic heaven. Desserts didn't disappoint, either; my husband's cupcake flight included one that paired lavender cake with earl grey (I think) butter cream. Yum.
It was early on a Tuesday, so we shared the roomy "bistro" area with only a handful of other groups. Late afternoon sun cast a nice, warm glow on our table by the windows, while the bar sank in comforting semidarkness in the back. Toward the end of our meal, as the afternoon sun gave way to growing cloud cover, staff dimmed the lights and distributed votive candles. We watched the flickering dance of the tiny flame for a while after the meal, sipping coffee. It was a thoroughly relaxing evening with great food--we'll definitely be back.
If you missed the Yelp Eats, don't despair: May Street Market has practically extended the deal. $25 three-course dinner is available Monday through Wednesday for the time being (our waiter didn't know how long). According to him, these three days of the week will also be BYOB nights, meaning no cork fee for wines you bring in.
May Street Market
1132 W. Grand Avenue
Andersonville's La Tache underwent a makeover recently and reopened as La Tache Bistro and Bar. The restaurant's logo and overall design concept has changed, but the food is pretty much the same. On a recent Monday night, a $20 prix fixé menu was offered, featuring standard French fare: steak frites, bouillebaisse, crème brulée. These dishes are what La Tache continues to do best. More exotic dishes, like the walleye with pappardelle in an orange-flavored broth, were less impressive. Nevertheless, this little neighborhood bistro still oozes charm, and because of its location just off Clark on Balmoral, the outdoor sidewalk dining area is relatively quiet and serene, perfect for a warm late spring evening.
Everyone knows that when you go to Gibson's, you should expect a meal of unbelievable proportions. Huge steaks, massive potatoes, and a dessert that can probably be shared by your entire table, and maybe even the next one over.
So when a big restaurant has a big anniversary to celebrate, they're going to do it up right.
Gibson's is celebrating their 20th anniversary this year, and you get to party with them for 20 days in June.
From June 10-29, the restaurant will give away one gift certificate a day worth $1,000. On the 30th, they're going all out with a $25,000 raffle and a rollback menu. One lucky prize winner will receive (pick your jaw up from the table after you've read this):
20 $200 Gift Cards
20 WR's Chicago Cuts (22 Ounce Bone-In Ribeye Steaks)
20 Bottles of Gibsons Reserve Cabernet
20 Australian Cold Water Lobster Tails (12 Ounce Tails)
You can enter the raffle at any of the Gibson Restaurant Group restaurants, and no purchase is necessary.
The rollback menu means you can get a steak for 1989 prices. That's right. A Filet Mignon for $14, a Porterhouse for $24. Dinner's already sold out, but you might still be able to nab a table for lunch.
Bon Bon is a fun Wicker Park storefront cafe serving Vietnamese sandwiches. Its shelves and cooler are lined with treats and snacks like Pocky and red bean rice cakes. I took the portobello sandwich, well-seasoned, with pickled daikon, cucumber, carrot match sticks, and cilantro. I passed on the mayo. It comes on a baguette that has a nice chew inside yet a good crunch on the outside.
"I used to say I wish I didn't have to go to Argyle to eat these Vietnamese sandwiches," a friend told me, "and now I don't have to." Although she'd like to see Bon Bon do a tofu sandwich. (Apparently, the ones on Argyle are great.)
Imagine a sandwich shop with colorful chairs and walls, a nice wood floor, swivel lounging chairs, a sofa at a coffee table, and still plenty of tables to eat your sandwiches. This is the type of place I could see myself pulling out my laptop and hanging out, using the Wi-Fi for a few hours. Their coffee is strong - at least when I ordered it black - with solid chicory tones. They have receptacles to separate recycling from garbage.
Smash Cake, the bakery named for a birthday cake meant for a one-year old to smash, had its grand-opening party on Saturday. The space has been open for about a month, offering cupcakes kids can decorate themselves, sandwiches, soup, coffee, tea and juice. As with sister store Bleeding Heart Bakery, everything is organic, and the store sells not only foodstuffs, but a lifestyle as well. At Smash Cake, there are homemade aprons covered with little skulls and crossbones for kids to wear as they decorate their cupcakes or take part in crafts activities. Similar aprons are available, in children's or grown-up sizes and fabrics, from designer Kerry Vitali. Her cards are displayed, as are the cards of other local designers and printers, along with sample party invitations, so you can plan and prepare for an indie kiddie party in one stop. Artwork is for sale as well. Currently one wall is covered with paintings by Derek Erdman, featuring bright images of neckties, ice-cream cones and school buses.
Starting tonight, Spacca Napoli is open for dinner on Monday nights from 5pm to 9pm, which means you can now enjoy their Neapolitan style pizza any night of the week. They're still closed for lunch on Mondays and Tuesday, however.
Holy Jebus! I just ate the best Wonton Soup of my life. This was accompanied by some life changing chicken wings and some unusually light and fluffy shrimp fried rice.
I've been having tummy issues and when my favorite internal organ isn't happy, neither am I. The one food I am able to consume, no matter how miserable my guts are, is Wonton Soup. I am convinced it has powerful healing properties. My latest slurp of this medicinal goodness was simply amazing; hence, I felt compelled to share. Likewise, I always know when I am truly sick when wine doesn't sound good. So, something is seriously awry in my belly, and rest assured I will take this up with my docs. But enough about my GI track...
Get thee to Great Sea restaurant post haste. This joint has some sublime Chinese chow. Now, I have no idea if its authentic or regional or anything like that. I just know its good. Upon first glance at the menu, its nothin special. Just your usual Chinese take out fare. But lordy lordy, the execution of these dishes really sets this place apart.
Take for example, the Wonton soup above.(Apologies all around for the crappy quality of my phone pics.) Its lightly salty, chicken-ish broth is nice, but its all the added goodies that blew my mind. Wide chinese noodles, tiny shrimp, greens, and wispy threads of egg are in generous quantity. Even the mushroom slices had real texture. Now, there are no dumplings in here per say, but who needs em when you have all the ingredients in tastier form swimming in the bowl?
Oh, and I bet you have an opinion on chicken wings. Really, who doesn't? The Spicy Sweet Chicken wings here will blow your mind. First off, they are trimmed and fried to make a lolipop is crispy chicken form. The sticky glaze is sweet and spicy as advertised and plentful, which makes for a nice drizzle on a side of white rice. Not only are these little treats unbelieveably tasty, but way less messy than you average wings or drummies. The trimmed bone as handle keeps your fingers free of sauce. Next TV viewing party I host, I'm totally ordering up a ton of these. Start angling for your invites now, or hustle to Albany Park for your own.
3254 W Lawrence Ave
(between Sawyer Ave & Spaulding Ave)
Chicago, IL 60625
There's a new place on Franklin Street across from the Sears Tower. Protein Bar lies just a few steps down from the sidewalk, in a storefront that's been carved from the face of a parking structure. It's very hard to tell that cars were, perhaps, parking in this location not long ago. The space looks bright and cheery, and with a nod perhaps to the office tower across the street, a ticker ran along the bottom of a large flat screen on the wall when I visited.
Protein Bar's offerings break down into three categories: blended drinks, savories like wraps, chili and bagels, and third, elaborate bowls of grains like oatmeal, quinoa with fresh peaches, and granola. They offer almond milk, rice milk, skim milk, soy milk and purified water as the base to their drinks. I chose soy in my Wrigley Peeled, which is a blend of chocolate, natural peanut butter, banana and ice. I asked why they don't use frozen bananas. They tried it, but didn't like the flavor as much, they told me. Perhaps it's a trade off between flavor and thickness. Although at home I'm a big fan of enough frozen bananas to make my drink achieve shake-like consistency, my drink at Protein Bar was nicely smooth, with a light chocolately flavor. They told me that many of their other drinks are thicker, however, because they use frozen fruit.
This week, many Chicago restaurants may have a little extra going on in their wine offerings thanks to Riesling Week. While it may not be much more than a PR move to train the spotlight on German, Austrian and Alsatian wines just when spring is beckoning oenophiles towards Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon blancs, and everyone else towards Memorial Day Miller Lites, Riesling Week couldn't have come at a better time. The first few perfect days of spring, a participating restaurant on my way home from work...patio seating. Sold.
Located in the Affinia hotel, C-House specializes in imaginative seafood and features a nicely tiered menu of bites from the bar, appetizers, entrees, and sides -- all of which work in endless combinations to appease big and little hungers, sushi-enthusiasts and anti-raw stalwarts alike. And many of which work really nicely with the sweetness of their featured Riesling flight. Our server noted that rather than pairing each wine with a course, the chef rather intended all three to be tasted with everything we ate to see how the different flavors played off each other with each individual sip. It certainly took the concern out of ordering. We tried various combinations of bites and apps, standouts being the crab salad (wrapped up in paper thin slices of apple to create something resembling more of a candy than a summer salad), lobster club sandwich, and the seemingly grilled and freeze-dried corn kernels that accompany the very popular yellowtail fish tacos.
The wines were a relatively dry 2006 Keller Riesling Trocken from Rheinhessen, Germany; a sticky sweet 2007 Monchoff, Robert Eymael, also German and with a sweet and tart punch that made me think of mead; and a 2004 Schloss Lieser, Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Spatlese, which was the most balanced of the three, though try ordering another one of those after you've had a few. A classic, dessert-friendly Riesling which went really nicely with the tartness of the fish tacos' pickled onions, the buttery richness of the lobster and yellowtail, and the sweetness of the crab salad. Bites at C-House start at $4, and the wine flight runs $22 through the end of this week. Zum Wohl!
Since moving to Chicago a year and a half ago, I have come to love Middle Eastern food and jump at any chance to further explore the cuisine. After hearing friends rave about Maza for months, I finally got around to trying it out. This was my first time trying Lebanese food and I was thrilled with the helpful service and the ease of sampling many of the items on the menu.
The restaurant is very small cozy and I immediately felt the day's tension melt away as I got settled into our candle-lit table and had a sip of the Lebanese wine that was waiting for us. The owner of the restaurant, Joe, greeted us immediately and brought us menus. It must have been obvious that we were a bit overwhelmed because he didn't hesitate to offer suggestions for first-time Lebanese diners.
At the owner's suggestion we ordered the maza (similar to tapas, maza is an array of small dishes) for two and, though we knew it would be a lot of food, were shocked when 26 little plates came out from the kitchen. First though, was the lentil soup and it may have been one of the best cups of soup I've ever had. It was the perfect way to start the evening.
Rumors of Bennigan's demise have been greatly (or partially) exaggerated. The restaraunt chain did file for bankruptcy last summer, but some franchise owners have reopened their shops on their own. Among these newly reborn Bennigan's is the restaurant on South Michigan Avenue, across from the Art Institute and currently the only Bennigan's in the city of Chicago. On Monday, the restaurant launched a "Break Fuel" menu, a selection of wings, fried mushrooms, mini burgers and deep-fried egg rolls, or Stogies, filled with Buffalo chicken or Philly cheesesteak. It's a little surprising that all of the new menu items are fried (even the banana in the Kahlua banana-split-shot), except for the burgers, but in a slight nod to the ever-growing population of health-conscious diners, the kitchen has created a lighter batter for the chicken tenders and zucchini planks. To lure Michigan Avenue office workers, museumgoers and other sightseers, a sidewalk patio will open later in the spring; and if the weather still refuses to warm up come June, the view inside includes 22 new flat screen TVs.
I dream of vegan restaurants that hold their own against non-veg restaurants. My latest inherently biased vegan recommendation goes to Delicious Cafe in North Center. They're an adorable cafe with classic Chicago style "tin" ceilings, chalkboard menus, a back patio coming soon, and a floor of simple large plywood-esque squares laid on a grid angled some 45 degrees with the walls. Delicious has quite smooth coffee, from soy lattes to drip to slow brews. You can sip yours on the couch at the window by the coffee table with an old-school globe of our illustrious planet, or at a window counter or one of several small cafe tables.
My friend looked at my slice of cake, and then said something like, "it looks so fluffy. That's hard with vegan." The humming sounds that soon followed from her mouth suggested a great enjoyment in the cake. Chocolate frosting and strawberries combined with a creamy wet feel like custard, and separated three layers of tender, moist yellow cake. More chocolate frosting topped the slice, underneath chocolate chip-shaped frosting droplets.
It's not exactly a bar crawl, as you'll ride in a trolley and make only two stops. But KDK's Trolley Crawl on Thursday, May 7, offers a chance to try two well-loved Randolph Street restaurants and two stylish South Loop spots all for $50. The tour will include stops at Marche, for a French Martini, Gruyere beignets and mushroom en croute; Opera, for Singapore Slings, dumplings and wontons; Gioco, to sample a South Side Cocktail and wild boar papardelle; and Red Light, where Mango Martinis will be accompanied by Executive Chef Jackie Shen's famous Chocolate Bag. Space is limited for the Crawl, which will start at 6:30 pm at Marche, and end across the street at Red Light. For reservations, call Marche at 312-226-8399.
Alinea made the top 10 in the annual S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants survey sponsored by Restaurant magazine. That's not all that surprising, though -- Alinea's star has been rising steadily since it opened. What's a bit shocking is the continuing fall of Charlie Trotter's. The Lincoln Park institution has been on the list since its inception, but this year it didn't even make the top 100. This is obviously a major blow, coming on the heels of being dropped from New City's own Resto 100. As Michael Nagrant said then, "We don't dispute the fact that his Lincoln Park spot was influential in building the world-class food city we have today, but in recent years he's been a victim of his own success, as protégés and followers have gone on to provide more cost-accessible and innovative quality restaurants by watching him." Apparently that opinion is shared by many.
There's that food that we love, without hesitation. It just completes us. It can differ from day to day. What defines it is that it tastes perfect. We don't have to know that we're going to love it. In fact, sometimes we hesitate to order it. But when we do, we have no regrets.
A friend of mine bought into Handlebar some time ago, but I held a love for the place well before then. I sat out on the patio Friday night, inspired by the newly warm air to sip Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout from a snifter. This ten-percenter holds a smooth but deep molasses flavor with perhaps a caramel-like finish. It lends a warming mouth feel, quite possibly from the high alcohol content, that goes brilliantly with the spiciness of the wing sauce in my Buffalo 'Chicken' Wrap. This soothing feeling lingers in the most comforting of ways.
Handlebar makes the vegan wing sauce and vegan ranch dressing. The sauces combine into a perfectly creamy, but not thick, a little runny, spicy and wet coating for crunchy lettuce, juicy tomato bits, and perhaps most importantly, squares of Upton's Naturals' chicken-style seitan. These squares taste meaty, soft and tender, with just a bit of a crunch on the outside, as if they'd been lightly fried. I hadn't much use for the wrap's accompanying limp pickle. I love, however, the crispy and salty French fries that have been perfect on almost every visit. This time I went for the greens, sautéed with a fair bit of garlic for a good, hearty feel.
Handlebar has an excellent beer selection with equally grand offerings of vegan, vegetarian and some fish options, including brunch at the appropriate times. 2311 W. North Ave., (773) 384-9546. El: Blue Line to Damen/Milwaukee. Bus: 49 Western, 50 Damen, 56 Milwaukee, 72 North.
A couple of weeks ago some friends, Rob and Jess, were visiting from London and we were on a mission to introduce them to everything Chicago. They had been here before a few years ago but somehow didn't have a chance to try Chicago-style pizza. I usually prefer thin crust myself, but I do love Art of Pizza's deep dish. On their last night in Chicago, we ordered a pizza to go and took it over to The Ashland.
A few nights before we found ourselves at Tony's Burritos for some late night eats and Rob ordered two burritos, saying while he was in America he wanted to eat a lot of dirty American food, like Americans. So when we told him we were getting pizzas he told us, half joking, that he wanted his own pie - piled high with meat. When we got to the bar with our pizzas (a meat lovers for Rob and a veggie pizza for the rest of us) and opened the box, they couldn't believe how thick it was. Rob immediately took out a one pound coin and stood it up vertically next to the pizza and took at least a dozen pictures to show everyone in London how thick the pizza really is.
When I was in London last fall, we stayed with these friends, Rob and Jess, and there was a pizza joint just down the street from their house called "Chicago Pizza." They're no strangers to pizza but after just one bite, Rob exclaimed that he had never had pizza before this. After just two pieces, Rob was stuffed and we told him he was falling into a pizza coma. From his spot on the couch at The Ashland he laughed and said, "I like that, a pizza coma."
As the folks at Menu Pages say. Holy. Effing. Shit.
Writer's Theater sent board members and volunteers out to collect some amazing auction prizes. Trips, tickets, dinner at Alinea, etc. Sounds fantastic, and typical. Well, one of their board members is married to managing partner Nick Kokonas from Alinea. So, the world-renowned, award-winning restaraunt is auctioning off: "A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to cook and host your own dinner party for six in the world-class, state-of-the-art kitchen at Alinea." Hence the Holy. Effing. Shit.
I dig a little dinner party action, no matter which side of the table I'm on. But the idea of going to Alinea having a day to prep, and then spending evening time with Nick and a chef who will help you cook and serve sounds like a culinary dream come true. And if being able to call Alinea your home kitchen for a night wasn't enough, you can also purchase wine from their cellar at a discount for the evening.
I know that my budget won't permit me to come close to winning, but if one of you win and you end up looking for a sixth person to round out the evening, I'd totally come and watch you cook.
Rural food in India seems simple and lean. Chutney Joe's, an instruct-them-how-to-assemble-your-meal-at-the-counter type of place, just South of the Loop, doesn't claim to be rural food so far as I know, but it does remind me of that. Their Web site indicates an interest in wanting to change from "Americanized Indian food," and the chickpea masala held especially true to this on my visit. The flavors could be tighter and more mingled, but the essence feels refreshingly simple and lean.
The garbanzo masala, as they call it, isn't oil-laden like so many that I've had eating out in Chicago. It feels brothy, light and simple, and the sauce softly warmed and soothed the lining of my mouth. The chickpeas resisted my bite at first, and then crumpled without hesitation. The gobi potatoes, or cauliflower and potatoes, didn't include diced potatoes, as the online menu suggests, but instead whole, skinned, oval-shaped potatoes, as I probably would have preferred anyway. These potatoes were tender and firm, with a soft touch of oil. The cauliflower still held a bit of its snap. If you "create a meal" of it, like I did, you get your choice of basmati rice or one flat bread. I chose a soft, tender and nicely textured whole wheat flatbread that "should" be vegan, I was told (the other bread options had dairy). Other items are clearly identified as vegan on the menu, and they offer non-vegetarian and other vegetarian items, as well.
Tell me that your veggie sandwich is vegan and has homemade cashew butter, and you've probably got my attention. Tell me that you plan to have vegan scones made in Evanston and baking fresh in your oven on the weekends, and I'll be back. Tell me you threw in some potato salad - it's vegan, you tell me - as you hand me my takeout, and I've already written the start of this review in my head. Birchwood Kitchen opened today with all of this in a quaint storefront on the quieter side of Wicker Park - on North Avenue, a few blocks west of Damen. The feel is warm and accessible: nicely finished wood floors, wood tables, a brick wall, windows visible front and back, and a glass display case with bowls of potato salad, green beens, olives, fruit salad and some meats in front of the open kitchen. They're into local products, including Metropolis Coffee and Co-op Image hot sauce for sale. I left with two of these cashew butter veggie sandwiches for my friend Jessica and I, who continues the story.
Tell me that you'll pick me up a sandwich when I'm exhausted after a mediocre work out, and I'm there. I arrived at Chris' home after a quick shower with a big appetite. First I cracked open a Goose Island reserve beer, and next I unveiled the "Vegetable" sandwich. A veggie sandwich tends to be pretty standard across the board. This experience was unique. The menu describes it as "spiced cashew butter, carrot, cucumber, pickled red onion, sprouts" on multi grain bread. The perks of the sandwich were the cashew butter, pickled red onion and multi grain bread. The cashew butter was dolloped on generously. The tinge of sweetness from the butter effused the veggies and created a multi-dimensional sandwich. The pickled onions gave the package its kick. Chris commented that the onions were what made the sandwich "so funky." I agree. They gave the sandwich funk, in a good way. James Brown funk. The bitter pickled flavor coupled with the sweet cashew butter couched in a hearty bread were what made the sandwich for me. I think it would have fared slightly better without the carrots - they were a bit too thick and cumbersome in the otherwise light, fanciful sandwich. Tell me they have replaced the carrots with tomatoes, and it may become a staple.
Birchwood Kitchen, 2211 W. North Ave., (773) 276-2100
(in the space formerly occupied by Cold Comfort)
Formerly the 27th Ward's local Chicago Public Library branch, and even more recently closed and vacant for ages, Branch 27 has brought new life to the corner of Chicago and Nobel with a buzzing contemporary American restaurant in a lovely typographically inflected space. The latest from what seems to be a fathomless pool of Rockit and Empire Liquors alumni, Branch 27 feels a bit more mature than some of its cousin establishments, and brings a new sense of balance to the ever-expanding Chicago Avenue dining scene. And you can be sure no one will shush you in the building's newest incarnation -- the prevailing mood seems to be celebratory and the place will be crowded, if this past weekend is any indication.
More thoughts on an opening week meal after the jump...
I recently had the perfect Sunday. It began with a cozy skype conversation with a friend in Hungary (and yes, I was); followed by a homemade brunch; wandered into thrift stores on Milwaukee Ave. and culminated in a late lunch. This perfect late lunch was at Letizia's Natural Bakery (2144 W. Division St.).
As I stood in line waiting to order I found myself torn over whether to go with the creamy Tomato Basil Soup or the Bella Capri (A "Grilled Baguette, Fresh Baby Mozzerella, Ripe Tomatoes, with Homemade Basil Pesto"). My friend, Johanna, saved me from my conundrum: "Why don't we split both?" The food was delivered to our table in the sun. It glistened. First: the soup. We each took a spoon, dipped it into the frothy tomato bisque and lifted it to our mouths. I looked over at Johanna and it seemed she was equally moved by the experience. We smiled coyly and lifted our hands to high five in celebration of the flavor. At about the fifth bite (but who was counting?), Johanna said, "I think this may be the best tomato soup I've ever had." I agreed.
Next: the sandwich. This was no ordinary sandwich. The baguette was crispy and tender; the kind of bread that resists your first attempt on breaking through, but eventually gives way and fills your mouth with supreme satisfaction. The fresh ingredients complemented one another to perfection. One might think having both a tomato basil soup and tomato and basil on the sandwich would be overwhelming, but the flavors maintained their distinctness. Once again we took a bite and were forced to clasp hands. Mind you, I do not high five over just any meal. This meal had it all: a great ambiance, a sparkling sun, an enthusiastic eating partner, an affordable price and a delicious bounty of flavors. Some may give it five stars, I give it two high fives!
If you've got a Lettuce Entertain You Frequent Diner Card, Monday is a good day to score some points. Present your card at any Lettuce restaurant on Monday and you will automatically get triple points. Maggianos, Don & Charlies and banquets are excluded along with a couple of other restrictions. Chow down and get closer to those gift card rewards!
Office workers around Chicago, and around the nation, who still have jobs to go to are giving up their daily $10 sandwich or salad deals and bringing lunches from home instead. And with the stylish new lunch-toting options available nowadays, they can carry their food with pride and panache. Whole Foods carries a bento-box lunch "system," on display right next to the overpriced salad bar, so you can fill the little compartments as soon as you've paid for them.
The tiffin carrier, available from Design Within Reach or other online retailers, is an even sleeker vessel. It might look like the tin pail Laura Ingalls Wilder carried to school on the Little House on the Prairie TV show, but the stainless-steel carrier is inspired by the word "tiffin," which means light lunch or snack in parts of Britain and India.
If having a stylish lunch box makes you feel pressured to fill it with healthy, sophisticated foods, there is help available.
In a likely attempt to entice recession-weary customers into their sleek, modern dining room, Aigre Doux, a contemporary Amreican restaurant in River North, just introduced a bar menu. My husband and I had wanted to try this restaurant for a long time, so we decided to use this new bar menu as an excuse. And here's the rundown:
The Good: Most of the items on the bar menu come under $10. The menu includes items that show Chef Mohammad Islam's love of blending classic French techniques with diverse culinary influences and ingredients: braised smoked bacon is served with Asian cabbage and tangerine slaw, while brandade is a classic Mediterranean dish. For the classicists, there's also moules frites. The adventurous might find crispy veal sweetbread with snow pea salad intriguing.
Did you know Hop Haus was opening a second location? Neither did we, until I drove past Clark and Howard this morning and spotted workers putting the finishing touches on the signage at 7545 N. Clark St. The new restaurant opens at 4pm today.
The storefront was previously occupied by Amphora, a Greek/Mediterranean joint; African Harambee still occupies the space next door. Both spaces were once part of the sprawling Gateway Bar & Grill, a favorite hangout of Rogers Park's actors and artists -- it featured murals by the late Ed Paschke.
A manager was not available to comment today, but we can assume that Hop Haus' wide range of microbrews and gourmet burgers will be available at the new location. More details to come.
UPDATE: I stopped by the new Hop Haus tonight for a post-work drink with Chicagoist's Chuck Sudo -- and we inadvertently ended up the restaurants first official customers. The restaurant is quite fresh and clean -- just as you'd expect from Leona's restaurant group's bar and grill concept. A large mural of sports celebs greets you as you enter the bar area, with booths and tables beyond.
The menu is identical to the original Hop Haus; one new addition (available in both restaurants) is the "Egg Burger," which as the name suggests has a fried egg on top, along with Canadian bacon, tomato and romaine lettuce. It's a good iteration of the trend, though the flavor of the Canadian bacon was a little bit lost among the other toppings and half pound patty.
While we enjoyed our burgers and beers at the bar, a young couple came in and asked whether the restaurant was open. They were on their way home and saw the sign -- and were excited to have such a hip restaurant in the far reaches of Rogers Park. Says a lot.
Hart Davis Hart Wine Co., Chicago's fine wine auction house, hosts a BYOB night at Blackbird for a wine friendly dinner paired with the cuisine of Chefs Paul Kahan and Mike Sheerin. Here's an occasion to break out that special bottle you've been saving or some gems from the cellars of HDH. The evening includes a Champagne reception and a four-course meal in the private dining room. Start perusing your cellar or the local wine shops now. Reservations required.
While I'm not too big on getting wasted under a giant green top hat on St. Patrick's day, if someone asks me to get a tasty Irish pub grub or two, I'm game. I confess that my flirtation with Irish pub food doesn't have a long history, and that I don't really know what "authentic" Irish food is supposed to be. (Hell, I haven't even been to Britain, let alone Ireland.) But in the recent few years, I've found some pretty good Irish food on this side of the Atlantic (and of Lake Michigan, for that matter). Here are two suggestions for the upcoming Green Weekend.
Fado, an Irish bar-cum-sports bar on the corner of Grand & Clark in downtown, has a great dish called Trinity Steak Boxty. It's sort of like garlicky, whisky-y beef stew made with plenty of onion and mushrooms, served over Irish potato pancakes (which is what a boxty is, I have learned). The galicky sauce has a rich, caramelized flavor, and clings beautifully to the boxty that's crispy on the outside, tender and starchy on the inside. As I said, I don't know if that's the way it's supposed to be. But it's a great pub food all the same.
Mambo Grill, a River North restaurant of Pan-Latin cuisine, will apparently be closing temporarily. You might think that it's the economy, but in this case, it isn't. The owner, Susan Fresca, says that they were forced to close the door of this 14-year-old restaurant, currently at 421 N. Clark, because they couldn't get a 90-day lease extension from the owner of the building while the restaurant prepares to relocate to 410 N. Wells in summer. Frustrated Frasca says, "Restaurants are closing right and left and Mambo's sales are up 5% from last year. We are rocking and now we have to temporally close until the new space at 410 N. Wells is complete and operational."
While the restaurant will reopen in a larger space in summer, about three quarters of its employees will be temporarily laid off on March 31, when the restaurant close. (The rest will be absorbed by Kinzie Chophouse, which is owned by the same company as the Mambo Grill.) If you are a dedicated fan, make reservation for your last-before-the-move dinner at 312-467-9797 through March 31.
Nothing makes my day quite like a chocolate vegan cupcake. Except, perhaps, when my roommate is kind enough to surprise me with one. She had tasted a sample from Swirlz Cupcakes yesterday at Whole Foods at North and Sheffield, through staffers wearing shirts lettered with the word "happy," which quite accurately described how I felt while tasting their work -- and seems to sum up the sound of Swirlz Cupcake's website.
"It's not like you'd say they're good for being vegan. They're just good." My roommate emphasized "good." The cake is moist and a tag fudgy, and the frosting is thick and creamy, with just the right amount of sweetness to affirm that you're eating a treat, without feeling like you're eating anything too sweet. Swirlz Cupcakes, 705 W. Belden. 773-404-CAKE.
Looking for a cheap vacation destination? Look no further than Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis., which will host the 15th Biennial United States Championship Cheese Contest from March 17 to 19. The event is free and open to the public, including tasty samples of the more than 1,300 cheeses and butters entered by dairy masters from across the nation. If an event touted as the "Super Bowl of dairy product contests" doesn't scream road trip, I don't know what does.
If you'd rather stay closer to home, Prairie Grass Cafe is highlighting local artisanal cheese throughout March. Featured dishes include pizza with arugula pesto; prosciutto and Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese; and chopped romaine and Three Sisters Garden pea shoots with apple, Capriole Farm goat cheese and crispy shallots.
The owner rang me up for my usual as I approached the counter. I've come to Petra Cafe often for lunch in the Loop, and I almost always get a falafel sandwich. I remember the owner almost always, if not always, smiling. This familiarity and friendliness makes me glad to return. I'm a sucker for that. I wouldn't be, though, if their food weren't so good.
The falafel is well seasoned, and fried just enough to brown its outside. Petra's hot sauce is a bit thick and well balanced. This time, for the first time, I also ordered the spinach soup, which they offer Wednesdays and Fridays. Although the broth is translucent, the soup is so thick with spinach that every spoonful seems nearly all green. Wheat was there, too - the same type used in tabouleh. There's definitely a nice salty taste that goes well with what looks like bits of celery that have been cooked until they nearly melted into the stock. It's epic. 331 S. Franklin, (312) 913-9660.
The team behind Northside Bar & Grill, Streetside, Danny's and the Logan Bar & Grill opened Simone's Bar in Pilsen this past weekend. We stopped in Monday night to try the food and check out the completely rehabbed building. The space is enormous, with booth seating, a long horseshoe bar, and a gallery space in back that will be joining the Pilsen 2nd Fridays art walks. The interior is inspired by recycled objects and architectural remnants -- and there are some nice touches like the bar-top made from an old bowling alley lane -- but overall the space seemed a bit cluttered and overly-calculated.
I look forward to trying the black bean & banana empanadas and the potato, Parmesan & rosemary pizza in the future, but we were hungry for a heartier meal. I ordered the vegan burger, which is made in house with quinoa and black beans. The patty was bland, and was just barely saved by spicy mustard and the blue cheese I had ordered on top. My companion enjoyed his regular burger. The fries, a mix of sweet potato and baking potato, were excellent. The dessert list includes the delicious tres leches cake from Kristoffer's and local Black Dog gelato -- a nice touch.
The one thing that will likely bring me back (besides the fact that it is within stumbling distance of my house) is the beer menu -- Rotating Bells, Dark Horse and Three Floyds handles, $2.50 PBR tall boys, Two Brothers Cane & Ebel, New Holland Dragon's Milk, and Dogfish Head 90 Minute bottles.
A review of Simone's seems to beg a comparison to the Skylark, so here it is: The prices are about the same and the service is good at both establishments. If you are looking for a low-key bar, a great burger or a fresh, seasonal salad in Pilsen, I'd still direct you to the Skylark. But, if you are looking for a good beer menu, Simone's might have a bit more to offer.
Well, if Intelligentsia's changes have you feeling a little burned, maybe it's time to trek up to Julius Meinl and try their Pikant drink. The Pikant, which can be either a mocha or a hot chocolate, is made with cinnamon and cayenne pepper. I had the Schokolade version, and the cayenne pepper really made this drink taste pretty awesome. Not only did it spice up my taste buds, but it also warmed me inside. Given that we're back to cold winter weather, this makes for a perfect foil to the chill.
At $4.30 for the Pikant Schokolade and $4.45 for the Pikant Mocha, this drink is pricier than your average cup of coffee, but it's in line with Meinl's other specialty coffee drinks.
You might have noticed the temporary closure of Intelligentsia Coffee's Randolph Street (er, "Millennium") store for Valentine's Day weekend. Chicago's homegrown gourmet coffeebar chain is renovating in advance of rolling out the same controversial change made at the Broadway store in Lakeview last year: eliminating all regular drip coffee in favor of pricey, single-cup Clover drinks. That means, just in time for the New Depression and an unprecedented era of belt-tightening for most Chicagoans, a sub-$3 cup of coffee is now a thing of the past at Intelligentsia. Huh?
Have you ever surprised yourself by discovering a good lunch spot that's been hiding for years just a few blocks from you? Or perhaps you've become excited upon finding a good coffee shop that serves a tasty lunch, only to find they were planning to close up shop in a few days. There's a certain uneasy pleasure and sadness that accompanies such finds, feelings that are quite fresh in my head right now.
To enter my first find, Goodwin's, a lunch spot on Franklin in the Loop, you descend a flight of stairs from a relatively opaque street-level storefront. They made me a good Sloppy Veggie Wrap that held quite a bit of black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, salsa, and - when I ordered it without sour cream and cheese to make it vegan - a nice rich mole that I asked for instead. It comes with chips, salsa and guac that I hear varies in spiciness from trip to trip. I'll be returning again.
Then there's the place that I would love to go back to but has closed. Bean Addiction Cafe was, until a few weeks ago, a coffee shop that made toasty spinach tortilla wraps that you could eat from a comfy lounge chair while watching a small in-wall waterfall. They filled it marinated mushrooms, zucchini yellow squash, red peppers, tomato and lettuce. The wrap was moistened with the soft flavors of red pepper puree and the hummus I'd asked them to substitute for cheese. Whenever I see cheese on what I'd like to order, and I notice hummus anywhere else on the menu, such a request is often a no brainer - for a little insight into my vegan brain.
Goodwin's is at 175 N. Franklin, (312) 634-1134.
Bean Addiction Cafe is no longer, but used to be in the lobby of The Presidential Towers at 555 W. Madison.
Michelle Garcia of Bleeding Heart Bakery distributed a news release today explaining the circumstances surrounding its closure yesterday due to health code violations. The full text of the release follows after the jump.
Despite the shock and dismay that often arises with such closures, the reasons behind them are often more procedural than anything that truly endangers customers' health. In Bleeding Heart's case, some temporary and easily fixed plumbing issues and a late trash pickup were involved, compounded with some missing paperwork regarding employee certification, led to a mandatory closure. If it were just one of the three problems, the bakery may have simply gotten a slap on the wrists and an order to have it fixed for another inspection in a couple days, rather than a week off.
Obviously, if the inspection reported rodent droppings, things would be different. But if you look at the details on this case, it was much ado about not very much.
Chicagoist has been exploring the city's latest culinary superstar, Laurent Gras's L2O. There's plenty of foodporn to be had, both behind the scenes and on the plate (Gras and his team produce plenty of foodporn of their own on their blog). You also get a look at the restaurant's decor. The series culminates on Monday with an interview with Gras himself. If you were intrigued by L2O's appearance on the Chicago episode of "No Reservations," this will only whet your appetite further for an increasingly hard to get reservation.
Walking past Piccolo in the middle of winter makes me long for summer days and gelato. I was recently reminded that this charming establishment has plenty to offer patrons in the colder months as well. The menu boasts panini, Italian subs, soups & salads, and bruschetta -- all made to order with fresh ingredients. (The black forest ham panino with Gruyere and tomato is pictured above with an artichoke heart salad.)
They deliver to the surrounding area and you can place your orders online. (The cafe has a much better design than their website.) The menu lists several vegetarian options and they are also accommodating to vegans. Read Chris Brunn's post on the topic here.
If you've been meaning to try Mixteco Grill but hate eating dinner at 10pm or making a reservation weeks in advance, then be happy. I had a quick peek into their new dining room tonight and was delighted that it looked close to completion. A server confirmed that the second room will hopefully be open next week. It's hard to believe they've gone from brand-new restaurant to doubling in size in 9 months. Impressive. As is their Oaxacan porkchop in mole negro, their empanadas, and their tres leches cake. And hopefully it will be twice as easy to get in. At least until everyone finds out that its easier to get a reservation.
Last week I had a rare craving for Thai food so I went to Duck Walk - a Thai restaurant right around the corner from my apartment. It's hard to believe that I walked by this place without a second thought for more than a year and a half. Thai food has never really been my thing, but Duck Walk certainly is.
I can never, ever resist pot stickers so we started out with an order of six - they were a little doughy but still pretty good. For the entrees I had the Pad Khee Mao and my boyfriend ordered the Goey See Me. Both dishes were full of flavor, fresh ingredients and had a little spice to them (both were pretty mild but they have a fantastic spicy sauce you can use to spice it up). Added bonus: BYOB.
Beyond the delicious food, the service is great and it is conveniently located a few steps away from Belmont el stop. The food is also incredibly cheap - we got an appetizer and two entrees for just $20! Duck Walk has a very warm, cozy atmosphere - with just a few tables the restaurant can fill up quickly. Don't be discouraged if it's busy when you get there - the tables seem to clear up pretty quickly. And, if you don't feel like waiting you can always get takeout.
Last weekend, Merge scribe and local blog diva Jasmine Davila and I headed to the Macy's State Street seventh-floor food court to sample the popular-but-pricey Marc Burger (Yelp link) that recently set up shop there. After two Angus burgers, two frozen custards, and fleeing for our lives before a phalanx of fast-approaching snow plows later that afternoon, we concur: the burgers are alarmingly expensive. But oh, so nom-nommy good.
Not long after turning Cincinnati Jamie onto the Asian hot wings of doom during a visit to Pilsen's Take Me Out one tornadic night last summer, he turned around and clued me into Argyle Street's venerable Sun Wah (see here for Facebook group). Super-flavorful, super-cheap Beijing Duck that can feed three people? Ditch that third person and come with me, I'm sold.
Cru Cafe & Wine Bar is closing its doors next Saturday, Jan. 24, due to the "economic climate," according to owner Debbie Sharpe. If you're in the market for higher-end wines, the cafe will be selling off some of their better bottles this week.
The space will be closed for three weeks for renovations and re-open as a Feast Restaurant + Bar, to complement The Goddess and Grocer next door. A new chef will be announced on Monday.
In related news, Feast Restaurant + Bar and The Goddess and Grocer are expanding to Lincoln Square at 4743 N. Lincoln Ave., right near the fountain at Giddings Plaza. Both are expected to open sometime around June. Feast will seat 120 people indoors, with sidewalk seating for 80 in good weather.
I grew up ice skating on frozen flooded soccer fields and baseball diamonds, where the ice got rougher and more dangerous as the winter drew on -- unless a neighbor or Park District employee thought to revisit the rink with a hose. I don't know that this tradition continues, though I wouldn't be surprised if liability and insurance concerns have made these hand-crafted rinks unfortunate casualties of a more concerned sporting population... Skating in Millennium Park, for obvious reasons, doesn't feel exactly the same as the remembered experiences of my youth. The glow of shining Christmas lights and the sky high faces of the Crown Fountain, the sweeping city scape, and, well, an awful lot more people make for a decidedly more urban experience. But the delightful and terrifying feeling of those first tentative, flailing moments on newly glassed ice is exactly as I remember it. (Here, there's a zamboni to keep that feeling coming back, no neighbors needed.)
And enjoying a hot, ever-so-slightly greasy meal after skating -- well, why stop with tradition on the ice? Michigan Avenue offers slightly more upscale after-skating food and drink options than a dubiously boiled bratwurst served by the local middle school hockey club booster association (located at the counter between the skate sharpener and WWF wrestling video game). The earthy but haute comfort food at The Gage, or slightly more classic American fare at the Park Grill may beckon, but why not wander down to Pizano's Pizza. You either already know this place, or have walked past it a hundred times. If you're in the latter category, stop by for some of the best thin-crust pizza around -- buttery, biscuit-y and deeply flavorful. Make it a great end to a good night of skating, and you may find yourself crafting a new tradition on the spot.
Chickpea, West Town's new middle eastern restaurant, moved into the former space of The Bleeding Heart Bakery in November. While it may be a rough time to embark on a new business, owner Jerry Suqi knows the ropes. With Narcisse, La Pomme Rouge and Sugar under his belt, Suqi hopes to share his mother Amni's traditional cooking with this latest venture.
The space is bright and airy, with Arabic movie posters and advertisements decorating the walls. The prices are modest and the menu offers plenty for meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike. The dinner menu also includes daily "Mama's Specials" like Koosa Mihshee and Mussakhkhan.
Seven dollars bought me a beautifully presented lentil soup ($3) and a falafel sandwich ($4). The service was excellent and the food was simple, tasty and satisfying.
West Town was in need of a restaurant to temper the plentiful bar food and fast food options in the area. Chickpea delivers serving high-quality middle eastern fare at reasonable prices.
2018 W Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622
Monday - Sunday, 11am to 10pm
If there's a time and place for a tropical drink big enough for four, served in a pearlescent porcelain conch shell with giant straws, January in Chicago is it.
The aptly named Rum Giggle arrived at our table near the end of the recent media dinner for Chicago's newly-opened Trader Vic's, 1030 N. State St. Three years ago, the city's previous incarnation of the famous tiki bar and restaurant, then-located at the Palmer House Hilton, closed its doors. For those who never made it there, the Rum Giggle sums up the Trader Vic's experience: festive and sophisticated, but with just the right touch of camp.
Read about Trader Vic's behemoth cocktail menu after the jump.
On New Years Day, a few of my friends and I decided to go out for a holiday brunch. After calling several bars in the Lakeview area and after being let down many times, O'Donovan's (2100 W. Irving Park Rd.) came to the rescue with a brunch special. Let me break it down for you: Multiple varieties of soup and salad, dinosaur-shaped chicken fingers, mac 'n cheese bites, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, potatoes, scrambled eggs, beans, mini corn dogs, sausage, bacon, mini quiche, French toast, two types of pasta, veggie tray and sloppy joes. That was the first set of tables.
Move across the room to find every kind of fruit imaginable, yogurt, granola (amazing!), muffins, bagels, build your own omelet station, ham and roast beef (freshly carved), waffles (made-to-order), marshmallows, whipped cream. This all topped off with a fountain of chocolate.
I'm sure I'm forgetting a few items but this covers most of it - besides, what else could you ask for? This brunch special takes place every Sunday from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.; all you can eat for $13.95. I highly recommend checking it out.
This is a bit of an old news by now, but I'll post it anyway: sometime in late December, my husband and I went to dinner at Uncommon Ground on Devon. We checked our bulky down jackets, and when the hostess handed me the coat tag, it was weird. It was a credit-card sized thing with cute design on it, in brown-and-baby-blue color scheme. It didn't look like a coat tag at all. In fact, it had a name of a restaurant on the back, with a little description. And that restaurant wasn't Uncommon Ground. Why would they use a gift card for a completely different restaurant as a coat tag? We puzzled over it during our hearty dinner (Millman burger for me, bacon-wrapped meatloaf for hubby). Are they owned by the same people? Are the two restaurants teaming up to beef up marketing (pretty clever, indeed)? When we left, we were still pretty mystified.
As it turned out, the "coat tag" was a piece out of à la card, a deck of 52 cards, each dedicated to an independent, chef-driven restaurant in Chicago. You buy the whole deck for $30, and each card is redeemable as a $10 gift certificate at the restaurant it describes. Uncommon Ground is one of them, of course, and among the impressive assortment are Hot Chocolate, Hot Doug's, Spacca Napoli, Naha and Smoque, covering a pretty wide range of cuisines, neighborhoods and prices.
It's a formidable task to conquer all 52 restaurants in a year (the deck expires on December 31), but even if I can't go through all of them, it seems like a fun excuse to try out restaurants that we've been meaning to go to forever and never have. Or, as Mike Sula at Food Chain points out, you can hand out individual cards to "friends and minions."
An inside source tells us that Orange on Harrison, which announced it was closing back in September and then never did, really will be closing after Sunday's brunch service. The owners plan to open a new Orange outpost near Fullerton and Clark in March.
The August 2001 episode of "Check Please!", featuring the then-State Senator Barack Obama and his visit to the Dixie Kitchen will air on Friday, January 16 at 8pm on WTTW. The popular restaurant review show will mark its 100th episode by airing this "lost" episode. (Via Eight Forty-Eight.)
Back in August, I made my first-ever visit to Ohio's Queen City, Cincinnati. Much to my surprise, I was completely blown away by the place--and especially by the chili. I can still picture the shocked look on Cincinnati Jamie's face as I scarfed down five-way after coney seemingly (okay, literally) at every Skyline and Gold Star chili parlor that we passed for three days. It wasn't until I got back to the Windy City that I discovered our one, lonely, yet exceedingly authentic Queen City chili joint. Dear Cinner's in Lincoln Square: you own me now.
A year ago, I was excited when the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant empire opened the third outlet of their modest Wow Bao Chinese (oh, excuse me, "Asian") bun chain at the corner of State and Lake, a five-minute walk from my house. Before they came to me, I'd often walk over at their postage-stamp-sized Mag Mile location at Water Tower Place for some barbeque pork buns and "homemade" ginger ale. I'm glad my walk is shorter now. If only the prices were more reasonable for some of the most popular items on the menu, the place would be perfect. For now, my advice is simple: hold the rice.
The city's best place to get cursed at while ordering hot dogs has been shut down by the Health Department. The Wiener's Circle was closed for not having hot water and storing cooked food at unsafe temperatures. Yeah, fuck you, too.
Morton's turned 30 this year, and to celebrate, you can get free mini cheeseburgers this Sunday, Dec. 21, at any of their locations from 5pm to 6pm. (They also have a $49.95 three-course prix fixe deal if you're interested.) UPDATE: Morton's will also be handing out complimentary steak sandwiches on Friday, Dec. 19 from 4:30pm to 5:30pm at the Wacker Place (65 E. Wacker Place) and State Street (1050 N. State St.) locations.
On the other hand, The Reader's Free Shit blog reports that only half of McDonald's downtown locations are prepared to make good on the promise of free McCafé coffee on Mondays. The others either aren't participating or can't because the new machines aren't set up.
Saturday, December 13 was Santa Lucia's Day. Only I wouldn't have known, if we hadn't gone to Tre Kronor--a popular Swedish cafe on Foster--for breakfast. There was a big Christmas tree with lots of golden ornaments, and everywhere on the walls were wreaths with red and gold ribbons. It was bustling as usual with tons of customers filling the dim room with happy buzz, and we were lucky to get a window-side table for two in a quiet corner. On the table was a long white candle that I didn't remember from our last time there.
When the server guy came over to take our order, he mentioned that it was Santa Lucia's Day in Sweden, which is why they had special "saffron buns" on the menu. Instead of our usual side of cinnamon roll, we decided to try a saffron bun, and ordered from the daily specials. We sipped coffee, watching young servers whisk around plates of omelets and eggs Benedicts. In a few minutes, the saffron bun (called lussekatt in Swedish) showed up--it was shaped like a flower with four petals, two of which held a raisin each. Sprinkled with a few rock sugar candy and dyed with threads of saffron, the yeasty bun was rich and moist. Although this rather bland bread wouldn't be my favorite bread, knowing that it was a traditional item associated with this specific day made it feel quite special. (It made me remember all the traditional foods of Japanese holidays in my childhood that had undoubtedly been special in the old days but my modern palate didn't particularly enjoy.)
My favorite neighborhood restaurant I wouldn't wish on anyone. Well, at least not on the weekend. That's because Emerald Loop, the Vaughan Hospitality Irish pub on the ground floor of downtown Chicago's Jeweler's Building, is a little bit like Sybil. Just when you're ready to sing her praises, she dishes out something completely unexpected. And at times, awful.
Time Out uncovers a very twisted tale surrounding the surprise closure of Mantou Noodle Bar. It seems the owners of the restaurant have been subleasing the space but not paying their rent. Chef Rick Spiros had a crazy profit deal that was basically unworkable, and the owners changed the locks and hired a lawyer.
"The best of the year" issue of Bon Appetit (January 2009) recently arrived in my mailbox.
In the recurring "BA Foodist" column a reader from Naperville, IL asks, "What was the best restaurant dish you ate in 2008?" The reply includes one Chicago selection: #8 Sauteed Maine scallops with soba gnocchi at Takashi.
In a round-up of the best new American taverns, The Publican is listed at #9. "The long-awaited more casual follow-up to well-regarded Blackbird and Avec is finally here. The menu features lots of fish and sustainably raised heirloom pork. The restaurant also has one of the city's most diverse international beer lists."
A friend of mine has been raving about the breakfast at a Guatemalan restaurant, El Tinajon (2054 W Roscoe St.), in Roscoe Village for months now. A couple of weeks ago he took a few of us there to check it out. Chips and salsa for breakfast? This place won my heart immediately.
Back up a second - I started with a cup of coffee and let me tell you, it was the best coffee I've had since I was in Mexico some seven or eight years ago. Dark, smooth and with a hint of cinnamon - I think I had about seven cups. Accompanying the coffee (and on the house) was a glass of warm rice milk - fantastic!
For breakfast I had a delicious combination of tortilla chips, eggs, onions, salsa , cheese and black beans. These breakfast nachos have become my new favorite breakfast. For those who like more traditional breakfast food El Tinajon also offers pancakes, steak and egss and a variety of omelets.
The service was really great and the prices were pretty reasonable. If you're up for an unconventional breakfast, definitely check it out.
Brasserie Jo has been a culinary nemesis of mine for several years. Ever since first visiting Lettuce Entertain You's take on French casual dining for a sorely disappointing birthday dinner (things started well with a duck confit flatbread and hit an unpleasant wall with the Alsatian choucroute, a bland and boring house specialty), Jo has been on my list. Not the good list. I haven't had many bad meals in Chicago -- at least, not many from establishments where I'd been expecting better, and maybe I've taken it personally. But in a city where eating well can be so effortless, I feel like my disappointment has merit.
So I haven't been back. For over three years. I'm not great with second chances. And just recently, I got a notice about Brasserie Jo's new menu, unveiled at the beginning of November, and featuring such additions as striped bass with artichokes and a classic sounding braised calf's liver. I thought maybe things had changed. Maybe it was time to forgive and forget and forage on. Maybe I'd judged too harshly, too quickly. Or maybe not. More details on a reconciliation meal and the final verdict, after the fold.
Earlier this year, Wicker Park's Sweet Thang bakery lost its lease and had to close its doors, Chef Bernard Runo promised to reopen in a new location. And indeed it did, at 2142 W. Roscoe Ave. in Roscoe Village.
Unfortunately, the new Sweet Thang is nothing like the old one. Runo appears not to be involved, as the new location apparently doesn't bake its own cakes and pastries, and prominently features a Chocolate Shoppe ice cream counter.
Wait, does that sound familiar? Oh yes, sounds exactly like the offerings of the late Sweet Occasions chain. And in fact, the new Sweet Thang is in fact a reincarnation of Sweet Occasions, which abruptly closed over the summer in what was later revealed to be a scandal involving unpaid employees, extravagant spending and more. In the comments on a post about the store closures on Edgewater Crime Blotter, a former employee made passing mention of one of Sweet Occasions' owners, Andy Singer, "concentrating on the purchase (with what money, I don't know) and opening of Sweet Thang in Roscoe Village." Reviews in Yelp -- which have been almost universally negative since the new location opened -- seem to confirm it.
Unfortunately, history appears to be repeating. Paychecks began bouncing, and after being confronted on the matter, Singer has closed Sweet Thang.
The employees aren't taking it lying down, however. They have teamed up with the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues to stage a protest and press conference on Thursday, Nov. 20 at 3pm in front of the store, demanding payment (full press release follows after the jump). Maybe they can get some money for all the unpaid Sweet Occasions employees, too.
Whether Bush's economic stimulus checks had any impact on the economy might be debatable, but Open Table's "Appetite Stimulus Plan" will most definitely stimulate our appetite. Between November 17 to 21 (that's Monday through Friday next week), more than a hundred restaurant in the Chicago area are offering three-course lunch for $24 and dinner for $35. Participating restaurants are nicely wide-ranging, from Custom House (steak) and Sushi Samba Rio (well, sushi) to Le Lan (modern Asian) and Aigre Doux (contemporary American). For those of you rooted in the suburbs, the list also includes a nice selection of restaurants outside of the city as well. Sounds like a good time to try out a new restaurant, or pay another visit to an old favorite.
Disclaimer: When an over-critical, hypersensitive chef (like myself) eats at a restaurant, it's hard to put that on the back burner (pardon the pun). While you can take the chef out of the kitchen it's harder to take the kitchen out of the chef. Imperceptible missteps which mean little or nothing to the uninitiated civilian can be elevated to deal breakers por moi.
One pea under the mattress ruins my sleep and makes me a tough customer. Not in a cruel or contemptuous way towards wait staff (very tacky), but most often as an aside to my dining companions.
For instance, I know how much the diver scallops cost by the each and the price of the starch, vegetables and sauce that may accompany them. I know when caramelized onion actually is caramelized or, all too often, simply sautéed trying to pass. Or the difference between wild mushrooms (foraged) and exotic mushrooms (cultivated) -- my particular nemesis and cross to bear.
A menu typo means negligence. A menu description that reads one way and a plate that delivers another is either an insult to the consumer's intelligence, proof of the chef's ignorance or a diabolical plot to cheat the patron.
In a home, I'm quite different, but not, alas, in a restaurant. In a word, I'm one picky bastard when I eat out. My friends, critics all, humor or ignore me. But this perspective can be useful here in this arena, that of food critic.
When asked if I'd be interested in reviewing Eve, I jumped at the opportunity. While I'd heard some good things about Chef Troy Graves, Meritage and Tallulah, I had no firsthand knowledge. That was about to change.
The Thanksgiving 365 sandwich with turkey, brie, and cranberry-horseradish chutney at Hannah's Bretzel called my name at lunch yesterday. It's delicious - and seasonal, if turkey has a season.
It got me wondering what other local spots offer the early bird. A quick Google-search revealed a few:
According to Metromix, Jerry's (with West Loop and Wicker Park locations) will have a Thanksgiving-inspired sandwich on the menu from Nov. 24 to 26, with herb-roasted turkey, mushroom and roasted apple stuffing, turkey gravy, basil, fresh mozzarella cheese, cranberry sauce and Cholula hot sauce on your choice of bread.
The Pilgrim is a regular on the menu at Uncle Sammy's in Lincoln Park. It's got turkey, raisin herb stuffing, cranberry sauce and mayo.
The Goddess and Grocer offers the Turkey Twist year-round, which certainly qualifies as Thanksgiving-esque, with its turkey breast, cranberry mayonnaise and caramelized onions. From Nov. 24 to 30, they're also offering the Thanksgiving Sandwich, with roasted turkey, stuffing, lettuce, tomato and cranberry sauce on whole wheat.
When I decamped from New York to the Windy City almost six years ago I did so with love, instantly going native on many things including food. Except for Italian beefs. Local friends still don't believe me when I try to explain neither Gothamites nor most other Americans grow up eating the juicy bovine wonders. They're a peculiarly Chicagoan palate-pleaser.
Until this year, you couldn't get me to touch one of the soggy sandwiches with a plastic-wrapped ten-foot pole (with or without a wet-nap). Then pastry-chef Chris dragged me to Johnnie's Beef in near-west suburban Elmwood Park and much like my relationship with the flat shores of Lake Michigan, it was love at first sight. Well, bite really.
Starfruit is throwing a "customer appreciation party" tonight from 6pm to 8pm at the store at 1745 W. Division St. Get free fall toppings on your fro-yo (actually, fro-kefir), including apple cobbler crumbles, pumpkin shaped sprinkles and bits of pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. There will also be a raffle to win a free six-month membership to Wicker Park Fitness or Blackhawks tickets.
Whether you stop by the store or not, you can create your fro-kefir and topping combo and submit it on their website (I'd point directly to where to do that, but the site is entirely in very slow Flash) for a chance to be the "Creation of the Month" for November.
I had strolled into Blind Faith looking for a treat and was pretty sure of my selection once I saw the display case, but it was too easy bait. I asked for help, and the cashier steered me another way. A certain vegan cappuccino brownie was looking right at me from behind the glass. A whole troop of them were there, all in formation on a tray, and all luring me over with the thick chocolate bases that I imagined to be luscious, fudgy experiences. Each also had a lighter-looking layer, both in color and density, which must have been the cappuccino. This made me think of some ultimate creaminess, under a topping of a thick, soft chocolate. Still, I doubted the brownie, perhaps because I had now loaded it with enormous expectations that would be hard to fulfill.
I asked the cashier for help. Shall I get the vegan cappuccino brownie or the vegan peanut butter chocolate cake? He wasn't shy about his preference for the cake. But what was the vegan cappuccino brownie like? I don't think he answered that follow-up question directly, but expressed that in his opinion the vegan peanut butter chocolate cake was the best of all the vegan options. Perhaps he was right, but I left wondering about the other vegan treats. There's a thick round dessert labeled vegan chocolate mousse, vegan chocolate cake, a vegan vanilla cupcake that is a toasty looking cupcake topped with swirls of chocolate frosting, a vegan chocolate cupcake with plenty of white frosting, and vegan cornbread. Of course, there are plenty of non-vegan choices, too. But I have my focus.
A second Sonic America's Drive-In location is set to open in Algonquin, or, as I like to call it, Schaumburg 2: Retail Boogaloo. The new location will open in late November along the bustling retail corridor of Randall Road. Sonic has plans to open more locations around Chicago, including Vernon Hills and Lake Zurich, with as many as a dozen in the next few years.
I was quite surprised to see this second location, as I was just at the Aurora store on Saturday after a road trip. I've made the trek a few times now and have been pleasantly surprised by the food. Yes, it's fast food, but it's good, and they have tater tots.
Earlier this month, Potbelly Sandwich Worksintroduceda new sandwich, it's first in five years, a Clubby club sandwich with 30% more meat (turkey, ham and bacon). Now, Jimmy Johns is rolling out a new sandwich as well, it's first new sandwich in more than four years. The creation, the #17 Ultimate Porker, features freshly-sliced applewood smoked ham and bacon, plus lettuce, tomato and mayo on bread baked in house. According to Jimmy John Liautaud, founder of Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches, the shops don't "rely on gimmicks, promotions and new menu additions to fool people into coming in and buying our sandwiches." But the time was right for a new addition, "another option for people like me who like the taste of ham and bacon together and want it served freaky fresh and freaky fast," said Jimmy John via press release.
The sandwich chain wants its customers to help come up with a slogan for the Ultimate Porker. The company says: Jimmy is running a campaign, and the Ultimate Porker is his running mate, representing change for the people. From now until October 24, sandwich (and pork) lovers across the nation can submit a campaign slogan for Jimmy and Porker on their road to sub-premacy at sofastyoullfreak.com. The top ten slogans will then be posted on the web site and voted on. The writer of the winning slogan will get a fully catered Election Day party. So, vote early, vote often, and do so with a sandwich in your hand.
Local foodies will recall on the morning of August 11th, 2008, newly opened and critically lauded Asian hot wings joint Take Me Out got taken out by a major fire in the Pilsen neighborhood. (Much to this scribe's chagrin, I had only recently discovered--and fallen in love with--the place).
I'm happy to report that, according to co-owner Karen Lim (who owns the storefront with husband Nathan), Take Me Out will repoen for business on Saturday, October 18th. This a great boon for anyone who's ever sampled her "little hotties"--Korean-inspired, caramelized, ginger-chili hot wings based on a a recipe borrowed from her parents' longtime North Side eatery, Great Sea. Lim tells Drive-Thru she'll give out the fabulous bird bits for free on re-opening day.
You can read the story of the restaurant and its almost early demise in our previous coverage of the August fire, and browse other positive opinions about the place on Yelp and at the foodie-centric LTH Forum.
Last time I sampled the hot wings, shortly before the fire, I ended up dramatically fleeing from Chicago's mid-summer massive tornado warning. I attributed all the excitement, however, to the hot wings. And if you're wise enough to give them a sample starting October 18th, you likely will to.
Should you become hopelessly addicted to them, don't say we didn't warn you. Welcome back, Karen and Nathan!
As was noted in Merge earlier this week, Potbelly has introduced a new sandwich, the Clubby, to compete with the extra meat options at Quizno's and Subway. The Clubby contains ham, turkey, bacon, provolone cheese and ranch dressing, which is 30 percent more meat than Potbelly's other sandwiches. But how does it stack up compared with what most people would consider Potbelly's previously "biggest" sandwich, the Wreck? Here's a side-by-side comparison, with the Clubby on the right:
You can see that there's more meat (primarily turkey) for a meatier sandwich. But unlike the adding extra meat to a Subway or Quizno's sub, the flavor balance of the Clubby isn't thrown off -- it remains a well balanced bite. And it's not so much larger than I felt stuffed and bloated after eating it, which is a good thing for office workers in fear of falling asleep at their desks from food coma.
The Clubby is $5.39, compared with $4.19 for Potbelly's other sandwiches, but if you skip the chips, you'll hardly notice the price difference -- or the extra calories.
The death of Orange on Harrison continues to be delayed, but according to sources close to the restaurant, the owners plan to open a new outpost near Clark and Fullerton. To timeline for that yet.
Meanwhile, Rockit Ranch Productions is hiring for a "new Asian" concept called Sunda. They hope to open in January near Clark and Illinois. Across the street from Rockit Bar & Grill, something called Theory Sport.Dine.Lounge has begun renovating the old Kevin space; from the name, I think it's safe to say it'll be an upscale sports bar and grill.
Realizing that his fan base wants more of the top-end cuisine he churned out at his days at Avenues, Graham Eliott Bowles has announced that the decor and menu at his self-named restaurant, which opened a few months ago, has been recently overhauled in a (successful) effort to attract more business.
"Because it's fascinating that an omnivore New York native like you would consider a veggie Reuben the best he's ever had."
He's not kidding. While I may have grown up in the homeland of the Jewish deli, where you could swing a cat and hit an establishment doling out authentic corned beef, pastrami, and chopped chicken liver (much like another personal fave in this town, Eleven City Diner), with numbers does not necessarily come consistency. For every terrific corned-beef Reuben I had in my 33 years in NYC, there was always another terrible one, full of gamey sauerkraut or week-old griddle grease, but not much real Reuben love.
Aside from the lack of meat, for Yours Truly the Chicago Diner's Radical Reuben really nails the sandwich down, and in a perfectly consistent way every time I've ever had it--which would be every time I've ever eaten at the Chicago Diner.
Rarely does anything good come of dinner with one's ex. Last week, such was not the case when pastry-chef Chris and I broke bread in Oak Park. Not because of our so-so meal at the has-been Pasta Shoppe on Oak Park Avenue (originally to be the subject of this post). But from finding the truly phenomenal Lido's Caffé, tucked away on Marion Street in the heart of the downtown Oak Park.
When Chris suggested strongly that we visit the newly opened Lido's, given his line of work I expected something good. So let me get this out of the way first and everything else will be commentary: this place is a doppelganger in quality and (almost eerily) appearance of my all-time favorite hometown Italian caffé and gelateria, NYC's Rocco's Pastry Shop on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. A counter lining one side of the long space punctuated by pastry and gelato display cases, an imported espresso machine, locals nestling into their Tribs and laptops while tucking into Italian cookies--this New Yorker had the sneaking suspicion he had just found a convenient new home on the Harlem Green Line.
I know a group of really great people who get together twice a month for dinner. The dinner club was formed two years ago and anywhere between four and 20 people show up at each gathering. A new person "hosts" the dinner each time we go out so we're always exploring new neighborhoods and new restaurants. However, the food is usually ethnic, usually cheap and the restaurant is always BYOB.
Last week we went to Vee Vee, an African restaurant in the Edgewater neighborhood. Immediately after walking in, I felt a strong sense of friendship and community among the patrons. A group of five or six men were sitting at a table, clearly having a great time and enjoying their food. The comradery these men displayed was infectious and, combined with the welcoming atmosphere, made the experience extremely enjoyable. For most of us, this was our first African cuisine experience and our waiter gave us really great recommendations and was excited to share his favorites with us. We tried the meat pies and soup (really, really spicy) to start out with - both of which were great and unlike anything I had ever had before. For dinner, I had the jerk chicken with rice, black beans and plantains - the meat was really tender, there was so much flavor and just the right amount of spice.
The service here is also fantastic - everyone was friendly and shared the same enthusiasm that our waiter had. A little slow at times, but that goes along with the culture and I definitely appreciated it. It was nice to have a slow meal and enjoy each others company.
I hadn't planned on staying at Renegade Craft Fair long enough to get hungry, but Bigbite Catering pulled my friend in with a "Vegetarian & Vegan friendly" sign. She's neither veg nor vegan, but she's a big fan of the cuisine. BBQ seitan tacos were in front of us minutes later, under an umbrella on Division Street in the rain watching wellies and flip-flops go by as the moment's predominate choice in footwear. After hours of looking and buying, we were getting great service steps away at Via Carducci La Sorella by a friendly but down-to-business waiter who'd gone to the kitchen to check if the risotto special could be made vegan.
Bigbite, the catering arm of Bite Cafe, had a tempting spinach pie, but since I'm a sucker for anything with Upton's seitan, my choice was obvious. Sadly, neither of these items is on the menu at Bite Cafe, but I hear that they use the seitan in their hash. I seem to have lost some of my taste on account of a slightly sore throat, but the texture of the tacos was pleasingly moist of BBQ sauce while maintaining the seitan's requisite slight chewiness. Renegade for me was hours of running into friends and browsing the adorable paintings of Johanna Wright, temptingly hip vegan belts of Buncombe Buckles, soothing screenprinted fabrics of Maramiki, and industrial look of rings at Mike and Mary Jewelry. And finally, after the declining sun reminded me how long it had been, there was dinner.
A glass of red wine goes very well with Via Carducci La Sorella's crusty, warm and tender bread. The risotto special's rice was par-cooked with a bit of chicken or chicken stock, so my vegan-friendly friend and I went for their Spaghetti alla Napoletana - spaghetti, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil. She added eggplant and I requested spinach and extra garlic - without any cheese if they topped it off with some. I had smelled a deep, warm garlic flavor on the street, and suddenly couldn't imagine dinner without plenty it. I remembered the last time I'd been here, eating in the cozy gangway on the side. Now, after just one glass of well-tannined cabernet, I'd lost my fork in my pasta. I noticed another fork on my side, but I'm sure it wasn't intended as the backup I used it for. The spaghetti was cooked just right. My only complaint: it could have used more veggies on top. I like generous portions, where the spinach and tomatoes hide the pasta, like I remember by the piano at Orso's.
We each ordered a lemonade (tangy or sweet for $2) and decided to split four of the small dishes. We started with the house made pickled vegetables for $4 and the baby potato salad in spicy mustard and bleu cheese for $4.
The pickle plate contained some wonderful pickled okra, a nice medium-spiced kimchi, and pickled daikon radish that we found so over-powering that we didn't finish it. The potato salad balanced the bold flavors of bleu cheese and mustard well. I am going to try to recreate this pleasing combination at home.
Max and Benny's (461 Waukegan Road, Brookside Plaza, Northbrook, IL 60062) is selling these handsomely tasty cookies. They also have cookies for McCain and have confirmed that starting next week they'll be carrying cookies with the faces of the Veeps on them to in case you'd prefer to sink your teeth into one of them. And these cookies don't just look good, they taste good, too. The icing isn't too sweet and the cookie isn't too dense. Much better than anything presidential you can get a chain bakery counter, lemme tellya. And I can say from personal experience that Obama tastes great with a glass of milk -- vanilla soy in my case, but I'm sure he'd go great with chocolate milk, too.
Each cookie is $2.95 and can be picked up at the restaurant, ordered over the phone (847-272-9490), or through their website. And if you're more inclined to get your face on a cookie, they'll do custom orders. You could always get some with your face, some with Obama's face, and then spend a tasty week eating cookies and drowning your sorrows that you got passed over for Biden.
Last month, I wrote a love note of a review in Drive-Thru to Orange on Harrison, the South Loop location of the popular local chain of brunch eateries. Well sign me spurned, because according to sources at Orange, the Harrison Street location is slated to shut its doors permanently by mid-September.
Apparently, the lease is up and the landlord wants more money than Orange's owners wish to bear, given the allegedly shoddy state (according to Orange) of the building and its HVAC system. Owners are hoping to make up for the loss in business with the opening of a new Orange later this month at Clark and Fullerton.
Say it isn't so. The best grilled cheese in downtown Chicago about to bite the dust? Where will the hordes of weekend students with visiting parents in tow who usually people the place on Saturdays and Sundays go? It's not like Yolk has the space to handle that many gourmet pancake-flight refugees.
I should have seen it coming. My last favorite, Pilsen's Take Me Out, burned down soon after I discovered it. Note to any eateries I've reviewed recently: you may want to cross your fingers for the next few days. Bad news always seems to travel in threes.
In all seriousness, a sad loss this will be for a neighborhood with few other close-by options anywhere near as cool, or with as good grub. Oh well, River North's Kitsch'n. I guess you're my new brunch daddy now.
Some restaurants are like Sybil: some people love them, others aren't fans and it's confusing to try and figure them out. A recent client lunch in Wicker Park gave me the chance to try and get to the bottom of the love/hate relationship many of my friends have with the hipster hood's Italian eatery, Francesca's Forno.
For a chain restaurant to locate in the middle of indie-oriented Wicker Park is a brave move. (There are 14 other "Francesca's Family" restaurants across Chicagoland, mostly in the suburbs). The most worrisome advance comment I had heard about the place came from a local who told me, "I'm never impressed, but my husband loves the place. I asked him why once. He said because he was full." But Yelpers seem to like the food, so I knew there had to be a middle ground somewhere. Perhaps the place was just a contradiction in terms?
My clients were 45 minutes late, so there was much time to peruse the sizable lunch menu. It seemed am ambitious list of selections for a Noontime meal, with no fewer than 43 items to choose from among cold and warm anitipasti, pastas, pizzas, grilled paninne, and cheese-and-meat pairings. For a moment, I flashed on the opening of every episode of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.
There are two kinds of New York City pizza: the good kind; and the kind my mother warned me about during my Queensborough childhood. They're both authentic. Trouble is, oftentimes in the Chicago area, eateries settle for serving up the latter. On an accidental road trip today, I sampled the best and the worst Gotham-style pizza on offer in Chicagoland.
My foodie friend, Jamie, and I had intended to end up at the Botanic Garden in Glencoe. Ninety-degree weather in the northern suburbs had us ditch that plan fast. We opted for a North Shore lunch, instead. I had been meaning to try the lately much-ballyhooed New York-style pizza at Highland Park's recently opened New York Slices and Jamie, a recent Cincinnati expat, had never had the experience of a good Gotham slice. So we pulled up the pizzeria's Yelp listing, pointed our iPhone Google Map apps to it and off we went.
The press on the place promised a pizzeria experience like I had grown up with: floppy thin crust pies; garlic knots; black-and-white cookies; and Marino's Italian Ices, complete with their cute little wooden tongue depresser-shaped spoons. Walking in, the place looked like home. Pre-cooked slices sitting behind a glass counter shield, waiting for the order to be warmed up.
I hadn't thought much of Skewerz, perhaps because I still yearned for Half & Half, previously at this location, where I loved meeting friends for coffee and granola in the morning. Skewerz pleasantly surprised me a bit, despite the corny look of the chairs - made of bamboo or bamboo-like sticks that seem superficially tied together with rope - which appears consistent with the overall theme. That all said, the amazing look of their grilled artichoke was backed up by the women eating it and raving, upon my inquiry, about it being "really, really, really good." There may have been a fourth or fifth "maybe."
The small round tomatoes on my vegetable skewers were bursting with hot and juicy flavor, while the mushroom caps were nicely tender and salted, and the onion slices pleasantly crisp and refreshing. The tofu was relatively plain, but firm and nicely charred. The fried rice was a tad dry, but gladly not oily, and its raisins added a nice sweet touch. The red curry peanut sauce is vegan, mild and thick. The staff member helping us seemed quite well versed in the ingredient contents of all the sauces - not to mention raving about the healthiness of the grapeseed oil they use. It was all good, but the highlight of the experience was seeing a well-heeled and nicely groomed couple, sitting a few places down, drinking two bottles of the Stella they had brought, with their other four bottles in a bucket of ice. I'll be planning a return for their yucca fries with banana ketchup, gilled baby bok choy and the smoothies, and perhaps my own six pack on ice. BYOB. 1560 N. Damen. (773) 276-9805. El: Blue Line to Damen. Bus: 50 Damen, 56 Milwaukee, 72 North.
How far is too far for a restaurant? Five miles? Ten? Twenty? How about 90?
I'm a lazy ass who generally wants her kibble within easy reach of her lair. (This is why I usually end up eating at the just-passable Thai restaurant on the corner after a busy day.) But when it comes to barbecue, I travel far. Way too far. Ninety miles.
I know Orange on Harrison's claims to fame are its delicately constructed rice-and-fruit sushi ("Frushi", pictured) and weekly pancake flights: four mounds of mini-pancakes smothered in a pun of flavors. (This week's schtick, French Dessert toppings: tarte tartin sauteed apples; baba au rhum rum syrup; au'chocolat chocolate ganache and napoleon sweetened ricotta and strawberry anglaise).
I prefer my morning sugar infused in a cup or three of strong coffee. So usually when I hit my favorite downtown brunch palace, I go for the savory side of the menu. At my second of two visits to the eatery this week, the waitress pegged me from my pleading request. "You've been coming here since before we changed cooks, right?"
Right, but I didn't know about the change. A year ago, a staffer told me the eatery was trying to save money by metering butter out only to those who asked for it.
Since then, whenever I've ordered a grilled cheese (my favorite: mild melted white cheddar and mozzarella gluing together two pieces of earthy marbled Rye, zested up with tomato and bacon), or on my rare sweet-tooth mornings, the popular French Toast Kabobs (honey-drizzled coconut French toast and fruit on skewers), I've layed on the begging for an adequate amount of butter to be applied to my meal's griddle of origin. It's long been the only way to make Orange on Harrison's grilled creations more palatable than chewing on cardboard.
Seeking a northern escape from downtown Air & Water Show crowds, foodie partner-in-crime Jamie and I found ourselves at Andersonville's Algerian crepe joint, Icosium Kafe. Opened in spring 2007 as the second outpost of the eatery's mother ship down the street in Lincoln Park, Drive-Thru first dropped in last November and found the place to plate up some out-of-the-ordinary crepe creations.
More used to the thickly sauced, velvety goodness found inside French- or Québécois-style crepes, I reserved judgment for the vegetable-heavy Algerian variety I was about to experience. The menu offers more than half-a-dozen savory and sweet crepes all for under $10.
The newest venture from Michelle Garcia, organic bakery maven and general punk-rock princess, glams up cakes, tortes and other confections for West Lakeview. Chaos Theory Cakes, which threw its grand opening party last weekend, is much in the same vein as its cousin shop, the Bleeding Heart Bakery -- sweets served up with a goth circus flair. As the more grown-up face to the growing Garcia empire, Chaos Theory's cakes feature ingredients as diverse as onions, peppercorns and avocados, as well as more standard Oaxacan chocolate, blueberries, and fluffy whipped cream. Not all in the same recipe, though it probably wouldn't be that much of a stretch. More below the fold.
Karen Lim's popular Take Me Out hot wings joint in Pilsen was heavily damaged by the early morning fire that gutted the 1500 block of West 18th Street on Aug. 11. In its brief, four-month life, the eatery received rave reviews for its "Little Hotties" Asian hot wings.
The mighty wings first arose at Great Sea, the longtime Albany Park Chinese-Korean fusion restaurant run by Lim's parents, but her version are no slouch either. On a recent pre-fire visit, the wings were fried to a succulent, caramelized, crispy goodness reminiscent of roast duck, and smothered with a spicy-sweet mix of soy sauce, chili, ginger and garlic.
I knew the wings would be on my short list of favorite Windy City eats when, after I could eat no more, I had an overpowering urge to suck the sauce from the serving platter with a straw. "I'd say mine were better, but my parents had a 21-year head start, so we're about even," said Lim, standing with husband Nathan in the middle of the shuttered eatery on Wednesday, the first time the police let them inside to see the damage.
Shikago, the chic Asian restaurant on the first floor of 190 S. La Salle, opened around this time last year to overwhelmingly positive reviews from serious amateurs and semi-serious professionals alike. I admit, I drank Kool Aid (not literally -- I think I drank water and black tea) and was happy to count it among my favorite downtown eats, even if I didn't get there as often as I would have liked.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. My most recent trip, after a long absence, was one of the most disappointing lunch experiences I've had in the Loop in a really long time. And yes, that includes a stop at The Great Steak and Potato.
The dining room was still cool and dark, and seemed full of happy lunch-goers, so perhaps I'm judging too harshly the wrong section of the restaurant. But the take-out counter was a train wreck. One harried cook was rushing to fulfill an order for a cranky woman who claimed to have placed an order for pick-up 20 minutes ago, as two bored-looking sushi chefs looked on and tried not to get involved. When another kitchen denizen finally materialized to lend a hand, I was skipped in line, despite standing patiently for 15 minutes. A small tantrum got me service, but only after I'd seen the original cook scoop out short ribs from one of Cranky Lady's to-go bento boxes, replace them in their deli case bin, and sub in some barbeque pork. It may not be a health code violation, but come on dude, at least do it out of sight. If the food had been worth this irritation, I probably wouldn't be complaining. But the tofu tomato and cucumber was all water with little flavor, and the spinach salad (which totally looked like seaweed salad, and how would anyone be the wiser, as nothing in the case is labeled) tasted like a dirty dish sponge. Yeeegh. At least the smoky barbeque pork, sticky with an almost chocolate-y five-spice glaze, was still delicious. But I don't know if it was enough for me to consider going back. What a disappointment.
Now that my heart is no longer aflutter and my breathing has returned to normal, I'm clear-headed enough to write about the encased meat sandwich that lured me to Hot Doug's on Friday. Kevin Haas won Time Out Chicago's contest to have his hot dog made and sold at Hot Doug's. It admittedly wasn't the sandwich I voted for, but I was delighted to try it anyway. I love the concept of combining a variety of different ethnic cuisines into one meal. And it almost works really well. But only almost.
The chorizo sausage is one of the best I've had. It packs a lot of flavor and spice in each bite, and it's not so greasy that you end up with orange juice running down your chin which was nice. Fat may add flavor, but too much fat flattens the flavor and ruins the taste. The spiciness of the chorizo was expected and enjoyable for the first couple of bites, but the spice of the sausage combined with the chili mustard quickly became overpowering and drowned out the flavors of the Asian pear chutney and the paneer. Which was a shame, because the chutney was heavenly and made only better by the chili mustard. The paneer was fried, which I hoped would add a little flavor to an otherwise bland, but soothing, cheese. Unfortunately, the paneer was cold when it was placed on top of the sausage, and served in large chunks, so they mostly fell off while I was eating. If the cheese had been in smaller pieces, so they stayed on top of the sandwich, or if the cheese had been soft and melty so it stuck to the sausage, I think the paneer would have provided the cooling sensation that it provides in many Indian dishes.
So while I had a very, very enjoyable lunch and would even end up ordering this sandwich again, I'd probably split it with someone because by the end of the sandwich all I tasted was the chorizo. Thankfully the ingestion of duck fat fries (which are so amazingly good) provided enough grease to counteract some of the spice so I could eat without sniffling while sitting just a few feet from Anthony Bourdain. Maybe I'm not done swooning after all.
I decided to swing by Hot Dougs today and enjoy the award winning New Chicago dog and some Duck Fat fries. Right after I finished taking a photograph of my encased meat, a young woman came over and asked me very apologetically if I would move over a few seats. "You see, we're doing some filming, and this is unfortunately the seat with the best light." Since I was done using the light for my own purposes, I agreed and asked who was filming.
My belly flopped, my breathing stopped and I was somehow able to mutter "Yeah, but Anthony Bourdain isn't really here? Right?"
"Oh yeah," she replied. "He's waiting in line."
I spent the next several minutes trying to eavesdrop on his ordering conversation with Doug Sohn, owner and head comedian of Hot Doug's, and trying to get a halfway decent shot of him standing in line. And then he came and sat beside me and grumbled about how hungry he was while the camera operators got everything focused and queued up and then he began to eat and talk while he was eating. The eating definitely took preference over the talking and he ate The Dog (what Doug calls a Chicago dog) and he ordered a "Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Mustard, Foie Gras Mousse and Sel Gris", probably just to piss of Alderman Joe Moore for trying to make foie gras illegal and costing poor Doug a fine for selling it anyway.
Honestly, if you've seen one man eat a hot dog, watching Bourdain eat a hot dog wasn't really any different. However, because almost everyone in the restaurant knew who he was, even though they were trying to pretend they weren't staring at him, and since everyone was suddenly "dialing" their cell phones at eye level, even he seemed a bit unnerved by the staring and attention. But he handled it gracefully. I honestly think he's used to being stared at while he eats, but probably not used to being stared at by people who know him while he eats. But he seemed to love his meal, including the duck fat fries (even though the camera operators, assistant and sound folks probably ate more of them than he did). And while Chicago is no Malaysian jungle, this Chicago foodie hopes that Tony enjoyed the rest of the meals he ate in our fair city. I'm not sure about everywhere that he went, but The Food Chain has a few places listed.
An unfamiliar crepe cafe might not be the first place on a vegan's choice of dinner spots. (I typically associate crepe batter as not especially vegan, some exceptions of course). I was strolling along Clark Street in Lincoln Park, looking for food with a friend before a movie at Landmark, and feeling adventurous in the search, so I popped in to see what this one crepe spot's modern but slightly raw look was all about. Magazines announced themselves from underneath glass tabletops. The staff was vibrant, just like the toasted sandwich they made me. The sandwich was filled with well-placed savory finishes throughout, and included a caper berry so large I might have taken it almost for an olive if the chef behind the counter had not set me straight. That chef also expressed keen interest in figuring out a vegan version of their crepe recipe, which made me smile a bit more. Couture Crepe Cafe, 2568 N. Clark, (773) 857-2638.
I'm still in that post-adolescent, pre-"adult" space where, full-disclosure, free food is a major motivational force. So the prospect of a media dinner at Devon Seafood Grill (not to be confused with Devahhhn the street, but rather pronounced after the British seaport) was tempting. But tempered with skepticism. I've walked past the place since it's opened, but have always allowed myself to assume the worst about it. So close to the Mag Mile, so bright and trendy looking -- I assumed it had to be Cheesecake Factory with fish. Which was unappealing on a couple different levels. But the gratuity got the better of me, and I signed on to cover the event. Not to spoil the ending, but I was dead wrong, and Devon is in fact a great alternative to other tourist-trapping Gold Coast restaurants, and probably deserves more tourist and local attention than it currently gets. More details below the fold.
This past weekend while visiting St. Louis for a wedding, my husband and I had the pleasure of dining at Niche--a small, hip restaurant in the Benton Park neighborhood. It also happens to be the home of Gerard Craft, one of Food & Wine magazine's best new chefs of 2008. After reading about Craft and his restaurant a few months ago, I made a reservation. I'm glad I did.
When Urban Cafe, a new breakfast-lunch-and-dinner spot, opened down the block from our apartment at 1467 W. Irving Park a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were thrilled. We love our neighborhood, but the lack of a coffee-and-eggs joint within walking distance has been a bummer on Saturday mornings, especially since we had great options like S&G and Wishbone near our old place.
Urban Cafe is a sunny spot with a friendly owner. We've visited twice, the first time on a weekday for to-go coffees and the most decadent chocolate ganache brownie I've ever had. I told my husband that if he is ever in the dog house with me, he'll have a much better chance of getting out if he gets me one of those brownies.
A fried peanut butter sandwich is just about as good as it gets. At least when the Violet Hour is serving it up with banana inside - and a deep sweetness that just happens to come from honey. (I'm vegan, except that I don't identify with the bees and, while I don't go out of my way to eat their honey, I don't make much effort to avoid it either). I took the sandwich without the bacon that the menu mentions. (I'm more sympathetic to the pigs).
The sandwich reminds me of a donut in the way peanut bits stick to its outside like a coating. It melts in the mouth as if it was specifically designed to deliver maximum comfort. It's super tall, too - perhaps double high. It was hard to tell quite how much bread was involved in the dim light. Violet Hour, 1520 N. Damen. (773) 252-1500. Go early to avoid possible lines.
Mexican chorizo sausage, Asian pear chutney, Indian paneer cheese, chili mustard, served on a multi-grain roll. As the original Chicago dog reflected our immigrant heritage (Greek, Italian and Jewish immigrants), this encased meat reflects our new and future immigrant population. Latinos now account for 1 in 4 city residents, our Asian population is expected to grow over a third in a matter of a decade, and India presents the third largest group of new immigrants to Chicago. This new sausage celebrates this new Chicago.
The New Chicago Dog was created by open source programming consultant Kevin Haas; his masterpiece will appear on the Hot Doug's menu soon. All four finalists were pretty awesome, though, and "Hot" Doug Sohn has said we shouldn't be surprised if all of them — and others not chosen as finalists — made it to the menu at some point.
This weekend was epic. It was one where I had one of my favorite dishes again. Curry, and the velvety coconut-based Thai curry no less. To get there, a friend and I engaged in a typical lunch-place negotiation, something like, "Want to join me?" "Sure, where do you want to go?" Then it came up: "You have more restrictions than I do." I like to think that I could eat anywhere and keep vegan. And that's mostly true, less perhaps someplace just serving steaks. So, I asked my friend, "Well, where would you go if you were by yourself?" After a long pause, the response was, "I'd go home [and eat]." We were soon en route to Joy's on Broadway on bikes for Thai food, when we deviated for Cozy Noodles & Rice on Sheffield, just north of Clark. It's cutely decorated spot with a few tables outside in front.
We kicked lunch off with spring rolls and a salad of crispy tofu, shaved carrots, thinly sliced onion and green onion in a tart sauce, strengthened by the lime wedge we squeezed over it. Our server asked another worker to describe the crispy white bits over the salad, after I'd asked. It was rice, cooked until crispy, and then finely ground. The person describing it added that it had a nice smell. I liked the crunch, too.
We ordered the green curry without fish sauce, per the menu's offering, and not spicy for my friend, hoping for a change from the menu's clear indication that this was a spicy dish. The mild curry didn't look as fun, with potatoes and green peas. We wanted the bamboo shoots, green peas, carrot, basil leaves and Thai eggplant - with tofu. Minus its hot peppers, it was still a bit spicy, but wonderfully creamy, with soft and gentle tones from the coconut milk. Cozy serves brown rice now, for anyone who's tired of white. 3456 N. Sheffield (at Cornelia). (773) 327-0100.
Actually, the Tineka sandwich I ordered last night at Lula was more like a "PBLTCOSSSS," which stands for "peanut butter, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, (red) onion, sprouts, sambal and soy sauce." Obviously, this isn't any ordinary cross between a peanut butter sandwich and a BLT. The "spicy peanut butter" is a homemade concoction which tastes like the best sweet-and-spicy Asian peanut sauce you've ever had, and while the heat is rather tame, the other flavors make up for it. The vegetables are stacked on slices of multi-grain bread, which is slathered with the grown-up peanut butter, and served alongside a pile of their crispy house potatoes. The only thing between you and this sandwich is, of course, the wait. And while you could always go home and open up your trusty jar of Jif, something tells me it wouldn't be quite the same.
I walked in toward a line of people wrapping away from the counter at Freshii, and then I was led into place by one of many helpful greeters. I was about to taste creamy tahini sauce over steamy brown basmati rice. She asked me if this was my first time. It was. She had stepped back and pulled a clipboard with an order form from on or near a wall. Three sections on the paper were calling out to be completed, plus a spot for my initials in two boxes in the upper left corner. This was a task that I thought that I could certainly accomplish with no real effort, but I was wrong.
Just as I'd breezed through the first part of Step 1, the order form illuded me like a surprise question on a high school final exam. I'd wanted a bowl - not a salad, salad-wrap or soup. That much I knew. But I had no idea what to write in the "type" section next to "chef designed." I could skip down to Step 2 and choose my own toppings, but this is not what I'd come in for. I'd seen something on their online menu that looked good. My helpful greeter was still here, and dashed off to bring me a large, glossy menu with the listings. She was like a temporary personal assistant, filling in the rest of the form for me when I couldn't fend for myself. A check in Step 3 went for chili powder, another check for tahini sauce, and "regular" got circled to indicate I didn't want to deviate from the standard amount of sauce. Soft tender avocado chunks made me a fan of the Power House bowl immediately, as did the optional chili powder, but they could have mixed the sauce more to distribute it evenly throughout the rice, tofu, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, tomatoes and red onions. It was perfect on top, and it all tasted super fresh, but the sauce wasn't plentiful towards the bottom. Maybe I just needed to check the box for "heavy" sauce, and then try to mix it myself without overflowing the tight constraints of the little box it came in.
I handed my form to someone at one end of the counter, strolled in line to the other side to pay, and then waited for my initials to be called. I'd chosen a bag of spicy salt and peppered crinkle cut Kettle Chips and a bag of dark chocolate covered coffee beans from an extensive selection of chips, fruit, popcorn, Cliff bars and licorice.
Outside, a band played as I sat at a patio table aside the lawn out front at 311 S. Wacker and gazed up at the Sears Tower next door. The music continues through the summer Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Here's the plan, from building management: July 2 - Mr. Blotto; July 9 - Maryann and the Professors; July 16 - Diver; July 23 - Goodfoot; July 30 - Waterhouse; August 6 - Jack Straw; August 13 - Angel in the Solar System; August 20 - Gareth Woods Band; August 27 - Lynn Jordan & the Shivers.
Chicago’s (and the nation’s) first Kids’ Restaurant Week wraps up today. The idea behind the week was to introduce kids, particularly those who normally eat chicken nuggets and pizza, to different flavors and more nutritious foods. And, a dollar from each meal sold went to Chicago’s Green City Market. It all sounds so fun and progressive.
But in the middle of the week, when I finally had a night when my family of four could make it to a restaurant before 6:30 (the meals were served between 5:30 and 6:30 each night), and I started calling restaurants to find out what was on their menus, I was surprised at how much macaroni & cheese and pizza was being dished out to kids looking for (or being forced into) a culinary adventure.
Serious Eats has a great round-up of other locations to find duck fat fries across the country.
However, the verdict (1, 2) seems to be that horse fat is the best way to go. Selling horse fat in the U.S. is illegal (but if anyone is in Montreal, you can find them here). Has anyone tried horse fat fries?
If, when you when you walk into a new restaurant on a weekday evening, Rick Tramonto is sitting in the window enjoying his dinner...chances are it's going to be a decent meal. Of course, if you have poor eyesight and do not immediately notice Mr. Tramonto in the softly lit confines of Mado, (or even have lingering doubts over the strenuous but whispered protests of your all-but pointing and waving dining companions) you are probably still going to have a more than decent eating experience.
With its exposed brick, wood and gleaming stone appointments, and excellent locally sourced, clean and simple Italian cuisine, Mado is edging fine, trattoria-style dining ever further north on Milwaukee. More details on a great meal, after the fold.
According to chef partner Kevin Dusinski, the addition of the brunch menu to Roy's downtown outpost was to take advantage of the Sunday morning traffic created by the church across the street. Or at least, that was the plan until the church closed. (Okay, to be fair, the Holy Name Cathedral isn't exactly closed, but seems to have shut its doors on State Street during its $8 million renovation campaign.) As the Sunday morning plans of me and many others like me more often include opening a menu than a hymnal, however, I doubt Roy's will have any trouble bringing in the brunch traffic with their Hawaiian inflected takes on weekend morning favorites, and a prix-fixe menu that can be upgraded from three courses (at $26.95) to three courses plus bottomless mimosas ($38.95). Bottomless. Without bottom. Think about it. More deliciousness after the fold.
The July 2008 issue of Bon Appétit arrived at my door filled with recipes for grilling season and one mention of Chicago. Takashi, the new restaurant from Takashi Yagihashi, recently opened in Wicker Park. The photographs of this French-American cuisine on the Takashi website are stunning. Yagihashi also lends his name to Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, a lunch spot in the loop that has received mixed reviews. The Wicker Park restaurant seems to be fairing quite well so far.
Nothin' says summer like a burger. Rockit Bar & Grill's Burgerfest '08 began yesterday and runs through Sunday. A different burger is featured each day, and burgers that receive the most votes earn a permanent spot on the Rockit menu.
Today (6/3): Cayenne Shrimp Burger
Chili lime shrimp, lettuce, tomato, worcestershire mayo, mixed green salad with cherry pepper-tequila vinaigrette
Wednesday (6/4): Duck a la Orange Burger
Grilled frisee, pickled red onion, orange marmalade aioli, parkerhouse bun and duck fat chips
Thursday (6/5): Pork Burger
Maple barbeque glaze, applewood smoked bacon, granny smith apple coleslaw
Epic Burger's cheery staff serves a savory portabello sandwich that's brilliant when you get it with grilled onions. But their fries are really where it's at. Hearty, with some skin still on, they're soft on the inside and a touch crispy outside. With the requisite amount of oiliness, they're the kind of fries that might be mushy and unfun cold. But who cares? When hot like I had them, they're really, really good. On the sandwich, thin slices of pickles take it a notch above just lettuce and tomatoes. I opted out of the sauce to keep vegan and then went for the P.B. Enjoy smoothie - all natural peanut butter, banana, soymilk switched in for dairy, and skipping the yogurt. It was thick enough to make drinking with a straw a little work and quite rewarding. 517 S. State St., (312) 913-1373.
Devon Avenue's Sher-A-Punjab Indian Restaurant has put a buffet in the Loop, onto a comfortable second floor of the 7-Eleven on Washington and Wells with a close-up view of the end of the Washington Elevated platform. Get fluffy naan and eggplant with peas in a thick and rich tomato sauce. Golden potato and pea samosas were nicely crispy and filling, with seconds being eagerly brought to our table with the $10.99 combo, which included a soda in a 7-Eleven Gulp cup (otherwise, $6.99 a pound). There's also rice with peas and carrots and some non-veg options. Service was quite enthusiastic both to explain what was what, and to ask us to bring in our friends. Washington and Wells, southwest corner, inside the 7-11 and up to the second floor.
My husband and I visited friends in Indianapolis last weekend and, frankly, we didn't expect to find anything of culinary note. I grew up in Indiana. Sweet corn season aside, it's not exactly an epicurean epicenter.
But we stumbled upon a little gem that I'm going to share with the throngs of people headed south for the Indy 500 this weekend: snag an outdoor table at the Brugge Brasserie and order the fries.
Max's Italian Beef has taken the popularity of its "Ghetto Fries" — french fries covered in Merkt's cheddar cheese, beef gravy, barbecue sauce, hot giardeniera and chopped onions — and expanded to a full line. For $3.19 each, you now have your choice of:
• The aforementioned ghetto fries
• "Loaded Fries," with melted mozzarella, bacon, green onions and ranch dressing (pictured)
• "Pizza Fries," with melted mozzarella and homemade red sauce
• "Hail Caesar Fries," with hot pepper juice, caesar dressing and grated parmesan
Ada's is a familiar lunch spot for many East Loop cube-dwellers, who stop in for decidedly straightforward and affordable takes on diner classics, such as matzo ball soup and the turkey club. Worker bees in the know hit up the joint's 14 Karat Lounge (14 S. Wabash) after hours, to get all that Ada's menu has to offer, plus some of that sweet, sweet nectar.
On a recent visit, I wanted my nectar extra sweet, so I ordered a mai tai. Paired with my usual veggie omelette from Ada's menu, it made for a grown-up twist on a.m. OJ and eggs. The ability to order breakfast for dinner with a tropical drink cocktail isn't all the 14 Karat Lounge has going for it. An unpretentious crowd, baskets of buttery popcorn on every table, and perhaps the most enthusiastic, hardest-working bartender in the Loop give the place a special lustre. My only suggestion is that they turn down the music a couple of notches to make the lounge a less deafening option for friends who want to catch up after work over a drink.
I finally got around to reading the Gourmet Magazine from last month. While I didn't catch any mentions of Chicago in their "Cooking Vacations" themed issue, I was pleased to find an entry on the Republic of Georgia.
Georgia is a country at the top of my travel list. When I spent some time in Russia a few years ago, one of the highlights was the prevalence of Georgian restaurants. Chicago doesn't have any full-fledged Georgian restaurants, but we are very lucky to have one of the only Georgian bakeries in the country.
Argo Georgian Bakery is located in Rogers Park and serves up some of the most delicious breads from their "tone" oven. The main reason I visit is to order their incredible khachapuri - a cheese bread that is unimaginably delicious. Their lobiani are also delicious - breads stuffed with kidney beans, garlic and cilantro.
Orbit Room, Hot Doug's, and Kuma's Corner are getting some diner competition this summer; Urban Belly, an Asian-inspired BYOB eatery headed by Bill Kim (formerly of Le Lan, Trio, and Trotter's) will be located near Belmont and California.
It's a pretty bold move. To not only feature shochu so primarily on the drink menu, but also name the restaurant itself after the Japanese liquor, that is. Shochu, a type of distilled liquor made from things like barley, buckwheat, sweet potatoes and rice, is definitely not the most approachable of Japanese boozes. For one thing, shochu, at around 25 percent, is more alcoholic than wine and sake. The biting sharpness of alcohol is much more pronounced in shochu than in often-smooth sake. For another, shochu often has an aroma that may not be particularly appetizing to the uninitiated. Many Japanese swear by it, and many others avoid it like vermin. Still others venture into the recently rediscovered territory of shochu with ardent curiosity. Once considered a lower-class beverage, shochu has been experiencing a sort of a renaissance in Japan in recent years, with many shochu bars popping up like bamboo shoots after a rain. And that boom seems to be catching on in the U.S. as well. Shochu, a new shochu-and-small-plates bar in Lakeview, is a great place to try out some without spending thousands to cross the Pacific.
I bit into the crusty, toasted bread of an Atomix sandwich. The cheese flowed through tomato and steamy spinach. I'd ordered vegan cheese Tofutti the counter told me. The tofu turkey was sliced in the way I imagine only a deli slicer can do.
From a booth in the back, I heard one man talking to the man working the counter. It was about the turkey alternative they call tofu turkey. I didn't make out the start of it. The counter responded something like, "it's tofu-based." The patron humbly and sincerely asked, why then, is it called turkey? And the counter, in a tone that seemed as objective as could be, answered: because it's supposed to be similar. There was no stress on "supposed to." To someone who hasn't eaten meat in years, the tofu alternative seems to serve its purpose: to provide salty substance with a little chew, and perhaps protein, to a sandwich based on thick, hearty, toasted bread, with plenty of vegetables and a good savory spread like pesto or hummus.
Atomix is the type of low-key, simple coffee shop I come when I want to be free to read a little, nibble on a crumbly vegan coffee cake muffin, or combat the type of strong, primal hunger that demands a dense sandwich and knows how to be patient while they slowly make it.
Let us be very clear: I am not a vegetarian. I am a bacon-loving, steak-charring, carnivorous foie gras advocate if ever there was one. I'm hard pressed to cook anything that doesn't get an extra protein kick from an animal. And it should go without saying I'm about as far from a vegan as a puma. But I've been eating at the new Veggie Bite location on Milwaukee kind of a lot lately. And I'm kind of into it.
I'd like to think I came into Veggie Bite biased, but evenly on both the pros and cons. I'd read some seriously mixed reviews, but also heard some excited interest from among my vegetarian friends. Yes, it's a fully vegan restaurant bringing some pretty restricted dining options down to the average hungry hoi polloi, but at the end of the day, it's just fast food, so how good can it really be? With these qualifiers in the back of my mind, I've now tried Veggie Bite's cheeseburger, cheese fries, nachos, and chicken nuggets, and had tastes of their wrap and milkshakes. (Of course, "cheese," "burger," "chicken," and "milk" are all theoretical terms in this context). For fast food, it's not bad in the slightest. The nachos and cheese fries come slathered in something called Golden Sauce, which does a fair job resembling the barely-dairy cheese sauce at a regular fast food stop. The fake chicken in the nuggets was just as good, if not better, than what I've been avoiding eating at McDonald's for years -- and no troubling, unexpected shards of rock-hard unidentified chicken substance (which are why I'd stopped eating regular nuggets in the first place). I was really impressed with the burger as well, which had the flavor and texture of a single patty nailed -- Golden Sauce replaced the requisite slice of melted American, but it worked. The shakes may be on the sweet side, but they avoid that melted ice cream taste that I always associate with Tofutti.
Granted, there are problems with the service (it's slooooowwwww, my goodness, and on my second visit, my chix-free nuggets seemed to break the deep-fryer and force the folks in line behind me to rethink their dinner options), and the Milwaukee outpost looks like it could be a kindergarten classroom in its free time. But for a fairly cheap snack or dinner on the fly, I'll certainly consider Veggie Bite among my options from now on. Way to go, vegetarians -- you may be onto something.
I've been thinking about this burger for the last three days, and wondering when I'd have the next opportunity to order it. I called a friend and asked about her plans for dinner tonight; she was free, so I suggested we walk over to Kuma's Corner. I needed a Mastodon burger. I deserved a Mastodon burger. BBQ Sauce. Cheddar. Bacon. Frizzled onions. YES.
Apparently the universe thought differently. We walked in and saw the hoardes of people crammed near the bar, waiting for a table. The place was hopping. The wait was almost 90 minutes. We could have driven to Wisconsin (in good traffic) with that kind of time. We looked at each other, wondering where our other dining options were. A small group of people entered and quickly exited Kuma's, disgruntled with the wait; "This is what happens when a cool restaurant gets on 'Check, Please!'," one of them muttered. You don't say? Well, restaurants need to make money, and this place deserves the attention, even if it's a bitch to get a table these days.
We decided to stay our ground and wait it out, but the rumblings from our stomachs were louder than the grindcore playing inside Kuma's. We glanced eastward on Belmont to the gleaming building that sat 50 feet ahead of us. "Okay," she said. "Let's go to Burger King."
I'm not against fast food, and hunger makes the best sauce, so we made it over to BK for a very tasty meal. It was cheap, and we sat there talking for quite a while, well past what any busy restaurant staff will allow during a crazy dinner rush. Best of all, I ordered a Rodeo Cheeseburger, the paste-eating cousin of Kuma's Mastodon; a burger with barbecue sauce, cheddar, and onion rings. While my dinner wasn't exactly what I planned, it worked. Even without Napalm Death blaring in the background.
P.S. We also got word that Kuma's is in the works to open a second location soon--in Las Vegas.
This little sparkling clean Columbian bakery taunts me often with it's wafting aromas of sugary fried goodness. But what caught my eye on a recent visit for sandwich cookies stuffed with caramel was the harlot tray of freshly baked arepas being hoisted into the display case by a stout capable woman in baker's gear. I checked around inside my already stuffed full of bebimbop belly and found there was no space. I made a date in my head. A good friend of mine and itinerant explorer of edibles, S.C., and I went for breakfast a few days ago.
The cafe con leche is perfectly sweet and just strong enough. The arepas were pillowy soft and sweet with a little blanket of slightly chewy white cheese melted on top. Not being able to decide which meat to go with, we got chicharon. Hold the phone. It came out with a little masa cake top hat and a tub of peppery salsa verde. Honestly, I can't pick a favorite, but it lingers somewhere between the simply perfect arepa and the cassava dumpling stuffed with shredded spiced pork. Oh my sweet porky divinity.
We had a nice big cross section of their breakfasty wares and were not disappointed by any of it. Cheesy fried bread, beef empanadas, and perfectly textured flaky pastry slightly sweet with guava and cheese. My head was spinning. I love this place and I plan to go often. It is open from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily. I plan to park myself at the shiny green and yellow tiled counter and dig in till they have to pry me, pork and cheese filled, from the stool.
Just to give you an idea, here's what our receipt looked like:
2 cafe pequeno
1 arepa de queso
1 carimanola (the cassava/pork empanada)
1 empanada carne
1 pastel dulce (the guayaba or guava/cheese pastry)
1 pan de queso
Soy Organic market in Pilsen and the fast food spot called Feed in Humboldt Park were both fun stops on last night's scouting for this year's Veggie Bike and Dine, an event I co-organize as a disclosure. One can get non-veg items at both places, but they're also quite vegan friendly. Soy Organic, a small, friendly grocery on the corner of 19th Street and Paulina in Pilsen, has tubs full of bulk grains, nuts and dried beans, small bags of dried fruit, Swad brand of Indian products, and, my favorite among a couple grocery aisles, meatless soy chorizo in the refrigerated section a vegan version of that spicy pork sausage. It should fry up brilliantly on a hot pan in it's own oil. Throw some tortilla pieces or corn chips in the pan, maybe some crumbled tofu, and you could be reflecting visions of chilaquiles. Oh, and Soy Organic is starting up their smoothie machine quite soon, using real fruit.
Hours later, Feed, on Chicago at California, took care of us with good counter service. Our two orders of our fried okra were vegan they made a special effort to check batter-coated in small, round nuggets. Ditto for the hand cut sweet potato and regular fries, tender spinach, succotash, coleslaw, beet salad, and juicy fried green tomatoes with a super light batter. Yes, they're all side orders, but combined, they're a meal for four people who just pedaled many miles. Sure, we did have some snacks from Soy Organic earlier. Call them tapas if you need convincing that you can make a meal out of such pieces. Two of my companions put tunes on the old chrome jukebox playing vinyl. We had decided to go in after one of us, a scout if you will, went inside to check on its vegan options. This person emerged with a plate of a few sweet potato fries, as a sample. I was hooked.
Life Vegan is the North Side's echo of the famed Soul Veg, the masters of vegan soul food in Chicago, and a South Side beacon for many vegans. Tucked into a storefront on a quiet street in Evanston, it's a short walk from the Purple Line, and a refreshing journey for me onto unfamiliar streets. Life, as they seem to call themselves, stood out with sincerely gracious service and a smiling sous chef. My gyros spread out on a pita that took most of the plate. I poured all of the accompanying sauce over the crispy slices of the fake meat. My dining companion's jerk wrap held plain tofu cubes slathered with intensely savory spices. My salad came with a garlic and nutritional yeast dressing that I couldn't get enough of, my potato wedges with a thick BBQ sauce. You can get the sandwich without these extras for a few dollars less. 1601 Simpson St., Evanston. (847) 869-6379. El: Purple to Foster (in Evanston), and then walk about 12 minutes one block north, and then west on Simpson to 1601.
Just the other day the top quarter of my mouth was utterly violated by an evil minion. Actually, my dentist is rather cute and very capable, but dental work is never a positive experience, especially when the first of four sessions in a month’s time hurt as bad as that one did.
The whole hour and a half that my mouth was pried open and I watched the descent of various tiny metal torture devices into my “open wide” mouth, I distracted myself with the view from the window. Across the street was Tam Popo Japanese Restaurant. I soothed myself with fantasies that some wildly talented quirky Japanese woman was spinning out the bowls of noodles to inspire a great film.
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that the 800 North Clybourn Goose Island brew pub location will be closing at the end of this year due to lease renewal issues. The Wrigleyville location will remain open and the closing is not expected to interrupt brewing services.
In my mind, Spacca Napoli could have made up tonight for one bad review. But what do I know; this was my first visit. Our server graciously stepped us through some of the antipasti, listing ingredient after ingredient when we dropped the vegan word. They cook the eggplant in oil, no butter and top it with good, fresh basil. She told us how the truffle focaccia, which turned out to be a complete treat, and not on the menu, came without any cheese. I wanted to eat those slices continuously, like a child binge eating after sneaking into a closed chocolate store. Instead, my rational side surfaced, and it told me that I could wait, until my pizza came, to overeat just a bit. A sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, blended with salt, made the marinara pizza brilliantly savory, so much that it felt a touch silky. I think I sensed a crispy bit of rich garlic, definitely basil leaves, and with no cheese by default. It's this vegan's dream for a pizza shop to decide for itself to leave off the cheese on a few selections that hold their own without it.
To anyone who has had a bad time here (and all those who love the place), I'll tell you that service was so tops tonight that one of my dining partners strongly argued that it would be unfair not to give props to our server by name. Maybe you will find that Spacca Napoli has completely turned around and improved. Or perhaps you should just ask for Meredith. 1769 W. Sunnyside. (773) 878-2420. El: Brown Line to Montrose. Bus: 50 Damen, 78 Montrose.
We told you several weeks ago that Big Jones Chicago would soon be opening up in the old Augie's space on Clark St. in Andersonville. As of Wednesday, they're officially open for real. Tonight they're hosting a fundraiser for eco-Andersonville, a green initiative run by http://www.andersonvilledevcorp.org/ Andersonville Development Corporation, and $50 gets you a sampling of their menu, cocktails, wine, a preview of the restaraunt, and the knowledge that you're making a neighborhood better.
And I have to commend Big Jones for really understanding the internet. Seriously, folks. I've looked at a lot of restaraunt websites, and frankly most of them suck. But these people get it. You can reserve a table online through them (instead of having to go through Open Table). They have a map, their full menu (that thankfully doesn't involve music or downloading a pdf). And they even have a blog. They're not even open and they have more information on their website than most established restaurants. Oh! and they have tea service! With red velvet cake! Lord have mercy upon my waistband.
Tod Mun and it’s reputation runs the line from much maligned to utterly forgettable. This little fried treat more often resembles the exact flavor and texture of disinfected shoe soles than a delicate lime inflected pillow of deliciousness. It is a tremendously simple thing: fish, and sometimes shrimp also, are pureed with long beans, curry, lime leaves and eggs, made into little patties and fried. They are traditionally served with cucumber dipping sauce. Together the two make a fresh lip-smacking treat, if done right. Somewhere the balance gets lost often, it is easy to make the collagen in fish become spongy and chewy. And taken overboard, lime leaf can taste more like furniture polish than one of my favorite things.
I have tried Tod Mun at nearly every Thai place I have entered in this city, and it has been many…perhaps too many…but that’s for another day.
Honestly, at it’s best it is hands down my favorite Thai treat, well, next to a really well executed green papaya salad. These two dishes require a certain level of skill and sense of balance, which makes them an excellent gauge for a kitchen’s commitment to good solid cooking.
Here are a few of my favorite Tod Mun, and be assured that they are just the tip of the iceberg for these three really special Thai spots:
TAC Quik: Thai Authentic Cuisine. Ask for their Thai menu. So incredibly good, the whole fish is also incredible as is this insane anise scented stew. God love’em, get over there.
Spoon Thai: one in a stretch of pretty good Thai spot on Western, they do these sorta lame lunch specials, but at night when you can get the special Thai menu, it is so good. There are these chive dumplings that are gooey and chivey and just excite me.
Sticky Rice: Um…northern sausage? Coconut water in a shell….I have had some very very exciting food here. Damn…
Honestly I was tempted to say that each of these places has my favorite Tod Mun, but that’s not possible, they are seriously head to head. Make sure to try these little swimmer patties, they are incredibly satisfying and just make you want more.
The serenity of Spa Cafe's decor has long been a neighbor to diners with meat and marinated tofu alike, but the new chef Daniel Asher has taken the vegan friendliness up a level. There's one more menu in front of the ordering counter, one that drops the word vegan. It lists a jumbo (vegan) beer brat, a chik'n sandwich, a Devilburger made of seitan, and a burger of sunflower seeds, brown rice, and veggies. Make sure to ask for no honey mustard if you don't want honey; they'll substitute Vegenaise, if you'd like. I took the beer brat, with crisscut fries instead of chips and salsa. Daniel opened a rotating case to get the fries, soft and slightly crisp on the outside. The brat felt tender and tasted nicely seasoned, with grilled onions and tomato. Maybe they had just fired up the grill for lunch service as I rolled in about 11 a.m., but my order took significantly longer than my friend's non-grill wrap. As I waited, Daniel told me they had vegan, gluten-free cheese for the fries. From the original menu, their marinated organic tofu wrap is quite tender and savory, just add a soup like the sweet potato chipotle to fill up. They carry Alternative Baking Company's vegan cookies in packages at the counter. I'm a big fan of the lemon poppyseed and Explosive Espresso Chip. You can also find the cookies at Kramer's and the DePaul Center Barnes and Noble Café, two other explicitly vegan friendly spots in the Loop, with various seitan-based entrees and fake cheese lasagna in their coolers, Barnes and Noble's coming from the famed Soul Veg. (Disclosure: I casually know the chef at Spa, and I think he knows I write for Gapers Block, just in case this made for any difference.)
The April issue of Gourmet Magazine focuses on the culinary marvels of Italy (with a sprinkling of Passover dishes). Though, there is brief mention of Chicago in the "Letters" section. A reader writes in to request North Pond's recipe for Ramp Soup and Gourmet obliges (page 24).
Don't get me wrong: Dollar Burger Night will always be an old standby for my husband and me. Tonight, though, we upped the ante by checking out the "steak for a penny" promotion at the Drake Hotel's Drake Bros. restaurant.
Here's how it works: buy one steak, and receive a second steak of equal or lesser value for a penny (in other words, bring a friend.) We chose the 22-ounce ribeye and a 10-oz Wagyu flat iron steak, setting us back just $46.01 for two of the most tender, flavorful steaks we've ever had. I'm quite sure we couldn't even buy the meat for that price at our local butcher.
In true foodie fashion, we celebrated our savings by ordering an appetizer, lobster and crab spring rolls nestled in a delicious salad of bitter microgreens, oranges, grapefruits, and citrus dressing that seemed to have a hint of vanilla. The spring rolls were full of crab, if a bit light on lobster, but overall a great start.
Steaks generally come with a salad and side at Drake Bros., but diners taking advantage of the penny promotion must order a la carte. It's a small price to pay, since sides generously serve two and run just $6 to $8. The potato and truffle casserole received our highest "scrape the serving dish clean" rating.
With appetizer, two steaks, side, and two martinis — hey, it was Tuesday, after all — our bill, with tax and a $28 tip came to just $131. I defy anyone to find a better deal for an excellently prepared steak dinner for two anywhere in Chicago.
Oh, and one more thing: spring for the side of wild mushroom sauce for your steak ($2.50). You're worth it.
I'd been to Ras Dashen many times before, always loving the Ethiopian food and the intimacy of their deep narrow storefront, but my last visit raised the bar to a whole new level. The vegetarian combo lets you pick several items from a few areas on the menu, but make sure to focus in on the specials, either pumpkin or mushrooms. The night I last went, the kitchen was cooking up both. The soft pumpkin held a clean, smooth taste. The mushrooms were the prize deep, tender and rich with balsamic flavor like a steak bathed in a rich sauce. A usual favorite, yellow split peas were creamy and mild as usual. A whole lentil version of miser wat was full of flavor and hearty. Our server reminded us to eat the injera beneath what was left of our veggie combinations. Try the coffee for a boost; it's quite rich and powerful, served with grounds in a decorated vessel. They offer vegan ice cream for dessert. Full disclosure: Ras Dashen co-sponsored the Veggie Bike and Dine in 2006, which I co-produce. 5846 N Broadway St. (773) 506-9601. El: Red Line to Thorndale. Bus: 36 Broadway.
Men.Style.com, the "Online home of Details and GQ," has posted an article on the 15 best breakfast restaurants in America. Unsurprisingly, Lou Mitchell's makes the list. I have a special place in my heart for Lou Mitchell's because it was the first place I encountered the incredible combination of apples and cheddar cheese as a kid (in one of their omelets). However, I think any resident could name half a dozen better choices for breakfast in the city. These lists always make me wonder if some author just did a Google search to write the article...
There is a slide show of 5 of the selected restaurants (including Lou Mitchell's). The picture above was the most intriguing to me. It is from Taco Taco Cafe in San Antonio. I love the dishes.
The nominees for the 2008 James Beard Awards were just announced, and Chicago has pretty good representation this year. The Chicago chefs/restaurateurs nominated are:
• Rich Melman, Lettuce Entertain You, Outstanding Restaurateur
• Grant Achatz, Alinea, Outstanding Chef Award
• Mindy Segal, HotChocolate, Outstanding Pastry Chef
• Brian Duncan, Bin 36, Outstanding Wine Service
• Spiaggia, Outstanding Service
• Graham Elliot Bowles, formerly of Avenues, Best Chef: Great Lakes
• Carrie Nahabedian, Naha, Best Chef: Great Lakes
• Bruce Sherman, North Pond, Best Chef: Great Lakes
Tufano’s Vernon Park Tap received a James Beard Foundation "America’s Classics" Award. The citation said, "One of the few remnants of Chicago's Little Italy, Tufano's Vernon Park Tap has been owned and operated by the same family since it opened as a bar in the early 1930s. The small table in the bar's kitchen has since expanded to include two dining rooms that are regularly packed with businessmen, police officers, families, and pre-game sports fans. The restaurant's chalkboard menu offers diners Italian-American classics like lemon chicken, eggplant Parmesan, and fettuccini Alfredo at prices that make just about everyone a regular."
In addition, the Sun-Times' Janet Rausa Fuller was nominated for Best Newspaper Feature Writing without Recipes for her story "Fish Fraud: The Menus Said Snapper, but it Wasn't!"; CBS2 Chicago's Vince Gerasoli's "Table for Two" was nominated for Best Television Food Segment, National or Local; and the WTTW special "Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History" was nominated for Best Television Food Special. Robert Louey Design was nominated for Outstanding Restaurant Graphics for their work on Sepia.
Transmission Editor Anne Holub submitted this review of Andersonville's new Great Lake Pizzeria.
Last night, I had the good fortune of enjoying an amazing meal at one of the newest pizza joints to open up in Andersonville, called Great Lake. The little storefront shop, which offers carry-out or dine-in at their single eight-person table, is just off Clark on Balmoral, and is in real danger of being my new favorite neighborhood haunt. It's a simple restaurant, making a thin crusted, quality ingredient driven, lovingly baked pizza that's a wonderful addition to Chicago's growing roster of pizza masters.
The shop, which sells a few dozen gourmet dry goods, teas, coffees (along with a few locally made screen-printed cards), features just four pizzas on its menu — but oh, you hardly need more than that. Last night, I opted to sit at their extremely welcoming table with a couple of friends while we BYOB-ed a bottle of wine and made acquaintances with my new favorite Italian meat, sopressata. This pizza (#2 on their menu) included the delightfully complex sopressata, fresh mozzarella, olive oil and imported sea salt, along with a fresh tomato puree from a farm in Wisconsin. Our second selection, pizza #4 on the menu, included smoked bacon from Kentucky (infused with a rich smokey flavor that I could feel across my whole mouth with every bite) crème fraiche, onion and fresh sage, along with a generous grind of tellicherry black pepper.
The pizzas we opted to wait to try (not for lack of salivating, but merely for lack of room in our stomachs) include a tantalizingly simple combination of tomato puree, fresh mozzarella and marjoram (pizza #1) and pizza #3, which features cremini mushrooms and wine-cured goat cheese. Believe you me, I will eat these pizzas someday soon, and they will be delicious.
Great Lake pizza is open from 3pm to 9pm Wed-Fri, 1pm to 9pm Sat, and 1pm to 7pm Sun. You can call in your order to 773-334-9270 or stop in at 1477 W. Balmoral Ave.
A piece of the dining mecca that is the small stretch of California between Logan and Altgeld is moving. Sai Mai, the (adequate) Thai restaurant located at 2532 North California, will soon be moving to a new (unknown) location that the management promises will be within walking distance of the current spot.
I announced myself as vegan, and humbly asked about making changes to a few of Avec's items. I thought perhaps I'd have their house-marinated olives, cauliflower and garlic crostini, wood-fired pizza or focaccia. I was up for whatever they had in mind, so long as I could gaze down this narrow restaurant, warm of light wood walls, tables, stools and benches, all cleanly organized in line from front to back. Our server consulted the kitchen, tucked behind the bar, and then suggested the olives, citrus salad and a specially made pasta dish. My friend and I signed up. The olives came with a warm rectangular roll, tender inside and slightly crusty. Curly endive, fennel and halved hazelnuts made the salad's balsamic dance in my mouth, excited by fresh citrus wedges. Spaghetti was brilliantly nutty with almond slivers, with a nice chew from the looks of breadcrumbs, fennel, parsley, hot red pepper and plenty of oil. I wanted another, just a little less slippery. Our server suggested that the kitchen might not take well to a change request to their already customized offering, but they came through. The kitchen had known best though, their way had the more sensational mouth feel. I learned my lesson, wanting to make the original pasta in my own kitchen. I left on my bicycle, my friend sitting on the sturdy Dutch rear rack, my mouth still feeling quite happy. 615 W. Randolph Ave., (312) 377-2002.
A promising new frozen custard cafe has opened in Wicker Park: Just Indulge. While the primary focus is on custard, Just Indulge offers an assortment of fine chocolates, gourmet popcorn and other desserts as well as Chicago's own Intelligentsia coffee. The custard comes in an assortment of flavors with a wide range of toppings, and they even offer a soy-based custard for folks who don't do the milk thing. The shop has a family friendly feel to it, but is equally comfortable to the adult with a more refined sweet tooth.
Chicago has a bit of history with frozen custard; it was introduced at the 1933 World's Fair.
Just Indulge is located at 1755 W. North Ave. and is open daily 11am to 9pm — till 10pm Friday and Saturday. 773-486-6680
My server asked what I, as a vegan, wanted to see her serve. I took that as license to order whatever I wanted that could be reasonably made with what the cafe already stocked: a bagel with hummus and loaded with veggies. She filled in the details. Sunflower seeds loaded my multigrain bagel sandwich, warm and served open-face, each side with hummus and then sliced cucumber, tomato, red onion, red cabbage and greens, perhaps beet greens. She had asked after bringing out my first order, an English muffin on a dainty plate with a dollop of jelly. Sometimes their soup is vegan, she told me.
I became the official doorman at Cafe Ballou near the end of my visit, or so our server joked. I'd been closing the nearby door that had perhaps given up on a long life of reliable latching. Two storefront windows flanked the door, providing clear views of fluffy snow falling outside. Tables on the window ledges lured customers up. Sepia photos hung on parchment colored walls, above a wood floor, and below white tin ceilings. Marble tops set into wooden tables that held small shaded table lamps. In the middle of the cafe, across from the counter, upholstered armchairs stood around a table and over a rug. Free internet. (773) 342-2909. 939 N. Western.
Sipping a glass of Pinot at 11am may only appeal to some, but the new brunch lineup from Juicy Wine Co. will appeal to all. Menu items range from the basic (fresh fruit, organic yogurt and homemade granola) to the extreme (two pieces of fried chicken from Harold's Chicken Shack on top of homemade waffles), so there's something to suit all tastes. Be sure to order the fresh-brewed Intelligentsia coffee, a bloody mary, or a bellini to wash it all down. Best of all, all menu items are $5 -- even the cocktails.
Brunch takes place every Saturday and Sunday, from 11am to 4pm.
Good Magazine recently published an article on America's Tastiest Streets. Broadway in Chicago's Lakeview and Edgewater neighborhoods shares the page with picks in Queens, Houston, Seattle, Miami, Nashville, and Los Angeles. The article highlights the following establishments with a favorite offering from each. See the Chicago list after the jump.
Put some sunshine in your Monday! Make reservations now for a celebration of sunny Provence at copperblue. Enjoy six wines from Peter Fischer and Chateau Revelette along side four courses from Chef Michael Tsonton for just $79 all inclusive.
Menu highlights include:
preserved Seville orange gnocchi with pink peppercorn applesauce, grilled fennel salad, apple cider-lemon thyme vinaigrette
I celebrated Presidents Day a few weeks ago by having brunch at Lincoln Restaurant, which is just north of the intersection of Lincoln, Damon and Irving Park. What better way to celebrate our country's revered heads of state? Aside from the gut-busting portions of eggs, pancakes and breakfast meats, our stomaches were just as full of soda at the end of the meal. At least one of us could not turn down the giant frosty mug full of 32 ounces of root beer (pictured above, behind a regular 12 oz. portion). I don't think Honest Abe himself ever ingested such a large amount of carbonated beverage, but if he had wanted to, he surely would have come to his namesake restaurant to do so.
Since Masouleh opened its door in early February, the tiny Persian restaurant has seen a steady stream of customers--and that's not a surprise.
Masouleh's opening was a welcome surprise in a mostly Mexican stretch of Clark street in Rogers Park. Since its burgundy-colored awning had appeared, we'd waited for its opening with anticipation. Having a place of "fine Persian cuisine with a northern twist," as the sign said, within a walking distance from home seemed fantastic. So, when it opened, we virtually rushed in.
On a recent (relatively) warm winter day, my mom and I ventured out to Oak Park to visit Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio. When it came time for lunch, we headed to Winberie's, a bright and airy yet warm and comfortable cafe on the corner of Oak Park Ave. and Lake St.
Years before I even lived in Logan Square, my mother and I unofficially chose Lula Cafe as our default dining option when we would meet up for the day. During a recent visit we formed impromtu brunch plans with some family and I suggested that we all head to Treat rather than wait all morning for a table for 5 at Lula's. Lula may have the best brunch that I have enjoyed in the city, but in the last few years it has become so difficult to get a table that I just don't bother during high traffic times (which is great for them!).
Next time you find yourself beginning the long wait at Lula's, consider heading a mile south on Kedzie to Treat. The owner and chef, Tamiz Haiderali, used to work at Lula's and uses equally fresh ingredients and beautiful presentations. I recently enjoyed their Mushroom, Tomato & Herb Omelet with Toast and Spicy Potatoes for $6.95 (pictured). While the staff is sometimes less than personable, their food is superb. Additionally, Treat is BYOB and they take reservations!
The March issue of Gourmet Magazine highlights Chicago's Prosecco in their monthly restaurant roundup. "Thirty varieties [of prosecco] are on offer; a minurature flute starts each dinner; and the drink finds its way into chef Mark Sparacino's creamy gold-leaf risotto."
Like otherreviewers, I'm still holding out hope for Andersonville's newest Mexican restaurant. When I ate there the other night, I was not wowed by the food, but the fact that the kitchen is still working off a provisional menu gives me reason to believe that the dishes are still being refined, and that, once the kinks are worked out, La Cocina de Frida will offer a much more satisfying dining experience.
best breakfasts in America," and Chicago is represented by the original Lou Mitchell's on West Jackson.
It’s not because the hostesses ply those waiting for a booth with warm homemade doughnut holes. And it’s definitely not the gratis stewed prunes that appear on the table just after you sit down. No, what elevates this Greek-run West Loop diner above the rest is its authenticity, evident in the faithful execution of founder Uncle Lou’s simple cooking. Long before culinary integrity became a restaurant-industry branding tool, Lou Mitchell’s was baking its own bread and using only double-yolk eggs for its masterfully prepared omelets—which are served right in the skillets in which they were cooked.
I gotta admit, Lou Mitchell's is very good. But the best in Chicago? I suppose that depends on what you're after for breakfast (note that it's not the best brunch in America). Someone really into pancakes might go for Original Pancake House first; others might favor the cinnamon rolls at Ann Sather or the gritty atmosphere of the White Palace Grill. I personally am a big fan of Wishbone's biscuits and gravy (though for my waistline, maybe I shouldn't be.)
So, what's your vote for the best breakfast in Chicago?
Just when you start to think that Chicago might actually lose its reputation as a city run by mobsters, something very questionable happens involving an Italian restaraunt, gunshots, and $15,000 worth of windows.
An all vegan fast food restaurant on the South Side (Mount Greenwood neighborhood) that's known for its vegan takes on gyros, Italian beef, buffalo wings, chili cheese fries and dogs, will soon open its much anticipated North Side location in Wicker Park, at 1300 N. Milwaukee. I rode my bicycle past Veggie Bite's soon-to-be second location yesterday morning, their name and logo prominently and repeatedly displayed in papered windows. (I had long wondered if they would take the iconic one-story building left by Burger King's departure ages ago, on the corner of Milwaukee and Honore, a block south of North and Damen.) Columbia College's Chronicle talks about the restaurant, the differing reactions to its original location, and how they're going for a mainstream eco-friendly appeal with their new Wicker Park address.
Meanwhile, Chicago-area Chicago Soydairy wants you to buy a slice of the vegan pizza that has their new vegan cheese, from the Whole Foods in Lake View at 3640 N. Halsted. Their main product, Temptation Vegan Ice Cream, seems to hold a solid reputation as the vegan ice cream served at several area restaurants, and according to Soydairy, the new cheese melts and tastes great.
• After being closed for a month due to the Montrose Hole, Scot's reopens tonight. Nice write-up on the TOC blog of a benefit for the bar's employees.
• Lalibela, an Ethiopean restaurant at 5631 N. Ashland Ave., opened this past week. Reviews on Yelp so far are positive.
• Further south in Andersonville, Dish reports that pizzeria-grocery Great Lake, 1477 W. Balmoral (next to La Tache), opened Wednesday.
• Also via Dish, Tallulah, an American bistro in the former She She space, 4539 N. Lincoln Ave., has opened ahead of schedule last weekend.
• Union Pizzeria, 1245 Chicago Ave. in Evanston, opened last week. It's owned by Campagnola's Steve Schwartz, so expect gourmet pizzas, small plates and seasonal ingredients. Here's an early review on LTH Forum.
• Aberdeen,1856 W. North Ave., aims to open March 8 in the former Celebrity space.
• Further north on Western, "Kan Pou: Cooking and Baking with spices in the Thai style" says the sign on the former El Palmar space, 4256 N. Western. No word on the opening.
• Yet a little further north, the former Thai Nippon space, 4825-B N. Western, is papered over, and a hand-drawn sign on the door says "Snow Spice Thai" is coming soon.
• Lincoln Park pizza and pasta joint O'Famé's new Lincoln Square/St. Ben's location, 4159 N. Western, looks nearly open -- the paper is literally peeling off the windows -- but a call to the original turned up no answers. Could be weeks, could be months.
When Noodles & Company first opened in the Loop nearly two weeks ago, I excitedly went for lunch, but the line told me to come back later when it buckled at the door, even as a friendly employee handed me a menu and engaged me to ask questions about it. Today, there was nearly no line, minutes before noon. Before I ordered, I asked the cashier if the Indonesian Peanut Sauté was vegan. "Let me check for you," she said as she turned to consult a nearby sheet. Yes, it's vegan, she told me. I asked her for it with tofu while noticing her co-worker using a scale in the background to measure vegetables. With a number card so they could bring me my food, I took a seat on a wooden counter among wooden tables and booths, over carpeting and under framed photos of farm stands and another of people eating. The setting is a hybrid of fast food and sit down. You order and pre-pay at a register but are served with metal flatware and ceramic bowls. "Need anything else," the person who delivered my food asked. The bus person thanked me as I left. Service was great, and my food tasty. The rice noodles were bunched up and sticky with savory peanut sauce. They were steamy, despite one cold carrot sliver among otherwise hot vegetables and cubes of tofu. One broccoli floret tasted especially full of flavor, like citrus, perhaps from my squeezing of lime. I'm curious to go back soon and see what the Sriracha hot chili sauce on the table does for their Bangkok curry and Japanese pan noodles. 180 N. Michigan Ave.
I finally had the chance to stop in The Original PapaNicholas Café, "Chicago's #1 whole bean coffee roaster," and I was presently surprised. Located in the former spot of Frappe Coffee Lounge, this Portage Park coffee shop has everything you would expect from a coffee shop in this day and age, free Wi-Fi, flat screen televisions all in a comfy contemporary space. The Batavia-based company has been roasting coffee in Chicago for years, selling a variety of blends in area grocery stores such as Treasure Island, Sunset Foods and Jewel. This is their first stand-alone café; a few mini cafes have been in area Jewel stores in the suburbs.
The café has an impressive and affordable menu, standards of muffins and scones, deli sandwiches and grilled paninis -- the Grilled Chicken and Apple sounds interesting. One of the more attention-grabbing items PapaNicholas Café offers is Nick's 96, 96 ounces of coffee to go -- most likely a big container of coffee intended for the office, but I could see some monkey trying to drink it all himself.
The Original PapaNicholas Café
4431 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Monday through Thursday 5:30am to 9pm
Friday 5:30am to 10pm
Saturday 7am to 10pm
Sunday 7am to 9pm
On a recent chilly evening I meet my friend my Margaret at Artopolis in Greektown to see her off before she moved to D.C. Conveniently located just a few blocks from the blue line, we enjoyed a warming meal of soup and "Artopitas" (variations on the traditional Greek spanakopita). For dessert we tried their raspberry and mango yogurt mousse (mango pictured). I'm not crazy about super sweet desserts, but the yogurt in this mousse provided a nice tartness to mellow the sugar. The soup, sweets and coffee at Artopolis make excellent complements to a snowy evening and good conversation.
Ambitious chefs are upping the culinary ante in Chicago--and people are taking notice. In the latest issue of Food & Wine, Heather Shouse (editor of Time Out Chicago's "Eat Out/Drink Up" section) suggests adding these new Chicago restaurants to your "must try" list.
Also, keep an eye-out for new spots from these culinary heavy-hitters:
• Marcus Samuelsson's C-House (coming March '08)
• Laurent Gras' L.20 (formerly Ambria, coming April '08)
• Terrance Brennan's Artisanal Bistro & Wine Bar (coming September '08)
Concierge has an article up on their picks for the world's most romantic restaurants. Each location has a compelling photo that, romanticism aside, fuels some serious travel fantasies. Dubrovnik, Croatia is definitely still on my list.
Hey guys, does the thought of making Valentine's Day plans leave you flustered? Does your dream date involve sharing intimate conversation over candlelight in the most romantic of settings? Then you should "wow" your lady this Valentine's Day with a romantic dinner for 2 at White Castle. Reservations are required, so call 708-458-4450 ext. 516 to reserve your spot at the White Castle nearest you.
Hey, if it was good enough for Harold and Kumar, it's good enough for your lady. And who knows, she may enjoy it so much that she'll forget about the fact that you didn't propose to her.
In some parts of Europe, people throw oranges at one another in various Lenten celebrations. I got to witness the Shrove Tuesday festival in Binche, Belgium, a few years ago, where local men dressed in bright costumes toss oranges at one another and people foolish enough to be standing around. I made it out alive, thanks to a friend's husband who blocked most of the flying fruit.
In the Piedmont region in Italy, in a town called Ivrea, the start of Lent is marked by a Battle of the Oranges, where all are welcome to join in the giant food fight that now has established teams and rules.
And, in Chicago ... there isn't any orange tossing. But you can celebrate the Battle of the Oranges at Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar. From the 24th through March 1, Frasca's menu features orange-theme menu items, like a blood-orange and shaved onion salad, and duck and asparagus in an orange-taragon sauce. Just wait until you leave the restaurant to throw fruit at your dining companions.
Serious Eats has a very thorough report on an ingenious new contraption. BBQ Chicken, a South Korean fried chicken chain, has started selling the Col-Pop. This beverage container has a snack tray built right into the top (see Serious Eats' cut-away image) - making your cola and popcorn chicken stop even more convenient. BBQ Chicken is currently only located in a few East coast cities, but I bet other fast food establishments will not be far behind with similar offerings.
Strip mall fare usually falls along the taste spectrum somewhere between "bland but edible" and "foul." About a year ago, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised to discover a definite exception to the rule, La Gondola, a family owned and operated Italian restaurant all but hidden away in the Jewel Plaza at Ashland and Wellington.
La Gondola's handful of tables are consistently filled with regulars who will tell you that a reservation is a must on Friday and Saturday nights. The atmosphere is cozy, if a little cramped, as a carry-out line often fills the tiny waiting area. But everyone's in it together at La Gondola, where the chef has been known to man the register in a pinch on busy nights.
The service is good and the atmosphere genial, but they come for the food.
My friend's sweetie's first solo exhibition opened at Swirl Wine Bar tonight with an artist's reception. The complimentary Cabernet was quite good, but I was hungry. The small veggie pizza on the menu looked good, just without the goat cheese, which seemed like enough of a change to make it vegan. The crust was thin and crispy with a thick tomato sauce and the fragrance of caramelized onions. Slices of eggplant, roasted red pepper and onion covered the slices. James F. Hajicek's paintings of nudes and street scenes show through March 1. 111 W. Hubbard St.
Maybe it's adherence to the weather predictions of rogue Brookfield Zoo groundhog Cloudy (take that, Punxsutawney Phil!), or obeisance to the marketing whims of the great fro-yo juggernaut that is Pinkberry. Whatever the source of inspiration, local lunch fave Wow Bao recently added frozen yogurt to their menu, branching out from their previous dessert selection of sesame clusters and honeyed pistachio pieces. You can now get a cup of icy goodness...topped in sesame clusters and honeyed pistachio pieces! Yogurt flavors range from plain to pomegranate-hibiscus and ginger, and fresh fruit toppings are available in addition to the crunchy snacks. While the current ice monsoon may not be totally conducive to the enjoyment of frozen yummies, when it warms up, rest assured Wow Bao will be there for you.
Montrose Avenue reopened for traffic on Friday, but that doesn't mean the knot of businesses around the Montrose Brown Line stop have all returned to normal.
Glenn's Diner, one of several restaurants and bars closed by the Montrose Hole, reopened today, and the neighborhood welcomed them back with a packed lunch service. Subway and Beans & Bagels returned last week, the latter having used the closure as an opportunity to do a little clean-up and remodeling. Other spots remain closed, including El Torito, Scot's and Roong Petch remained closed, with little activity inside. The water main break severely damaged the foundation of the building housing El Torito, so it's uninhabitable until the city inspects and approves the repairs -- a delay that may close the restaurant for good.
Having moved to Chicago from South Florida, my experience with Vietnamese food was very limited. In the year that I have lived here so far I have taken every opportunity to stuff my face at any Asian establishment anyone recommends and Pho 777 on Argyle was the first one in a very long line.
There is one very simple reason I keep returning to 777. Stock, plain and simple.
Chicago Magazine's Dish has a review of the first breakfast service at Sixteen, the restaurant located on the 16th floor of the just-opened Trump Hotel. The reviewer makes it seem decent, but not overwhelmingly delicious (although she does note that she ordered a rather "boring" breakfast).
Sixteen is currently only serving breakfast but will open for dinner beginning next week on Feb 6.
The Edgewater Lounge is known as more of a summer spot. Its location at Ashland and Bryn Mawr features a sidewalk patio in the warmer months, and while the view isn't great (four lanes of speeding traffic on Ashland, a gas station and Jiffy Lube across the street), the atmosphere is festive and friendly, and the patio is often packed in the evenings. On a recent frigid Saturday night, however, there was plenty of seating indoors.
A serene and mellow atmosphere, the humming murmur of conversation intermingled with soothing indie folk rock playing in the background, this could only be one place — the new Uncommon Ground in Edgewater.
Located at the corner of Devon and Glenwood, the new Uncommon Ground finds itself in the same corner as an ominously blinking police light. Apparently, owners Michael and Helen Cameron aren't deterred by the reputation of crime in the area. Although it was a Monday evening, the place was far from empty; by 8pm it was buzzing with patrons. Hip but casual, this is not a place to see and be seen, as the décor and design — mostly squares and rectangles, exposed brick, luxuriously long leather booths, and earth artwork (nature scenes in wooden frames) is far more interesting to look at than what people are wearing or doing.
The key at Uncommon Ground is cozy. My boyfriend and I were seated right next to a blazing fire; on an evening of blistering winds and rain this was startlingly appropriate. Candles burned brightly on the wooden tabletops all around us. Uncommon Ground is a good place for a conversation with an old friend, or a gathering of pals. I wouldn't say it's necessarily romantic, but socially inviting, yes. The demographic was varied, reflecting the diversity of the neighborhood: a few students, thirtysomethings, gay couples, even two cops on a break were enjoying the laid-back atmosphere.
Have a new sweetie that you want to share Valentine's Day with, but not sure they're worth a $200 fancy pants feast? Or maybe you just want something a bit more low key than the fixed priced menus and disaffected waiters that most joints serve up on the officially sanctioned Day O' Luv. Bittersweet bakery is offering two seatings of a 3 course menu on the 14th for a mere $35 pp. Menu includes an organic greens, beets, and goat cheese salad, your choice of veggie gratin or lamb chops, molten chocolate cake and a glass of bubbly. With seatings at 5:30pm and 7:30pm, you can continue the evening at a swanky bar or back at your love shack with some sweet treats from the pastry case. Reservations are required. (773) 929-1100. Bittersweet Pastry Shop. 1114 W. Belmont Ave.
When Golden Rise Bakery moved into Logan Square they immediately impressed me with their breads, sandwiches and high-quality coffee. However, I wasn't sure how quickly this family-owned business would find success on an often lonely strip of Diversey Avenue. I've been pleased to find Golden Rise bustling each time I visit and I certainly hope this means they will be sticking around for quite some time.
The Farmer's Basket sandwich (pictured above) is delicious and makes an excellent weekend lunch after a late night: Gouda, Muenster and Cheddar cheeses are toasted on sourdough bread with granny smith apple slices, bacon and mustard. Their fresh baked breads are reasonably priced (about $4) and excellent quality.
I invited my roommate out for a spicy dinner on a freezing evening last week to celebrate her birthday. Udupi Palace may be my favorite stand-by South Indian establishment on Devon Avenue. The service is excellent and the food always hits the spot.
We ordered the Gobi Masala Curry and the Mattar Paneer (pictured) for $10.00 each, an order of Alu Paratha (whole wheat flat bread stuffed with onion, potato and spices) for $3.50 and two sweet Lassis to cut the spice for $3.00 each.
What is your favorite South Indian food in Chicago?
We could look down onto the cooks' cutting boards on overhead monitors at Borrowed Earth Café. Looking over the counter, I saw one gal squeezing a hand juicer over a blender and a man command a food processor. A cook was chopping through a big red pail of spinach, cutting batch by batch using his long chef's knife to lift the cuttings into another container.
A-ville Daily tips us to the opening of La Cocina de Frida, featuring "made-from-scratch Mexican food and family recipe cooking," in the space previously occupied by Angel's, 5403 N. Clark. The menu promises fresh guacamole, made-daily tamales and empanadas, pollo en mole negro Oaxaca and other authentic Mexican dishes inspired by Friday Kahlo.
River North's Aigre Doux celebrates its first anniversary Monday with a $75 prix fixe dinner which includes a complimentary glass of champagne and a menu with all sorts of creative delights such as pan-seared diver scallops with sea urchin foam and blood orange vinaigrette, Tasmanian crab cake with avocado and pomelo mizuna salad and bluefin tuna carpaccio with arugula, kumquat and Sicilian pistachio. And those are just the appetizers. Not sold? Check out our review from last spring.
Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. and reservations are recommended (which can be made online or by calling 312-329-9400.
Got the afternoon to kill? Have some tea at Chalkboard, one of Lincoln Ave newest restaurants, where a high tea service was just added to the menu. Tea is served from 2 p.m to 4:30 pm on Saturdays, but the restaurant is planning to expand it into a "full weekend service."
Chalkboard's High Tea Service is now served from 2pm-4:30pm on Saturdays, and they're ready and willing to serve vegan guests, although it's encouraged to call ahead.
This past weekend, I was hoping to use my NPR member card for the first time. This valuable little piece of plastic came with a guide listing all the restaurants where I could flash it to get a free second entree (of equal or lesser value than the first, of course.) Some restaurants have restrictions on the deal, obviously, but many claim to accept the card "anytime." Unfortunately, there are also some restaurants who claim to accept the card anytime (at least according to the guide) but in practice, do not. Unfortunately, La Tache is one of these restaurants.
No dairy, no egg is what we asked for, and that is what we got. I'd forgotten that didn't mean vegetarian until the collard greens came. I should have known at a restaurant celebrating "southern reconstruction" cooking. Ironically, if I had simply asked for vegan straight away, Wishbone probably would have accommodated just fine, as their Web site correctly suggests: ".. a hard-working staff and a restaurant you can feel comfortable in whether you come with kids, stuffy business associates, boho vegans, or senior parents from out of town."
Both Metromix and Chicagoist have reported on Schwa's comeback. According to Metromix, Shwa's chef, Michael Carlson, was just taking time off to spend time with his baby daughter and spiff up the joint.
While Schwa won't be back in business until late January at the earliest, you can pass the time with Naz's foodporn, shot at the restaurant early last year.
Shine Morida's service was tops and courteous. Our server intently placed our water glasses on the table, pausing a moment after lowering them to our table, just before they touched, as if to buffer a clanking sound. We'd asked him to see if the kitchen would make satay with tofu (menu lists chicken, beef, shrimp); but they said no. Meanwhile, he checked to see if some dumplings, edamame shu maiI think, had any egg in the batter. They used egg to seal the pastry, so I turned our problem back on the kitchen, asking our server to ask the kitchen what they'd recommend as a vegan appetizer. I didn't want to go back and forth with questions, and our server very kindly accommodated. Veggie dumplings, gyoza I think, were the answer. They were filled with tender minced vegetables and served in a thickly woven steam box.
• Sweet Occasions opens its third location, on Bryn Mawr at Kenmore, next Tuesday, Jan. 15. Three more locations, in Roscoe Village, Boystown and Lincoln Park, are planned for later in '08.
• The owners of Think Cafe recently began construction on a new restaurant, to be called Knew, in Wicker Park. No opening date set yet.
• At Wilson and Ravenswood in underserved Ravenswood, O'Shaughnessey's is nearing completion; looks to be a couple months from opening. From the external signage, it'll be a standard model Irish pub, unless they're serious about being "tea merchants" and "whiskey blenders."
• Metromix reports that a new beer garden is growing in East Ukrainian Village. The Old Oak Tap is aiming for a September opening.
• Pollo Campero will open its third Chicago location on a western stretch of North Avenue in the coming months.
• Eno, the wine room chain with an outpost in the Hotel Intercontinental, is opening another branch in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel; look for it to pop up in May.
• The beloved, belated Tiny Lounge (formerly under the Addison Brown Line stop) is soon to reopen in the former Charlie's on Leavitt space at Leavitt/Lincoln/Montrose. Let's hope for a quick build-out and open.
My hubby and I did some holiday returns this weekend, and all of those overheated stores and long lines made us hungry. I had dinner plans with a friend, so I just wanted a snack. He hadn't eaten all day, so he wanted something more substantial. To further complicate matters, we were in Old Town, where few options exist besides overpriced bar food and really overpriced fine dining. That's why we were pleasantly surprised when we stumbled upon Old Jerusalem.
I don't know why I've never noticed the place before; it's been a fixture since '76. No matter. I'm glad we found it this weekend. I ordered the combination vegetarian entree, knowing Brian would power down my leftovers. The platter had generous helpings of hummus, tebouleh, and Jerusalem salad; the most delicious and exquisitely smoky baba ganouj I've ever tasted; and three perfectly crispy, piping hot falafil. Brian ordered the shawirma sandwich. The beef and lamb shawirma was tender and, notably, not over seasoned. Plus, the pita was so stuffed with meat and the works that we marveled at how it maintained its structural integrity.
Service was polite and prompt. Despite my dinner plans, I decided it would be worth it to sample Old Jerusalem's sweets. The harisa, a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made mainly of semolina, burst with flavor. Interestingly, the cake was soaked in a milk and honey syrup, as opposed to the more traditional citrus-spiked simple syrup. I like it Old Jerusalem-style, and I'll definitely make a return visit to try the kinafa, which features ricotta cheese, and the baklawa.
Zagat Survey has chosen the top 11 restaurants of the year based on cost, service and decor. It is an interesting mix with only two establishments hitting close to home. All of the restaurants scored a 29 out of a possible 30 points. Has anyone dined at these restaurants?
I had stayed in and ordered Pizza Metro delivered this weekend. When I think of their square cut slices on my dining room table, I want it to be warm outside. I want to sit once more at their sidewalk tables on Division. I'd often grab a friend and share a potato rosemary pizza done with the extra sauce, no cheese. Extra sauce gets some crusts soggy, but not here. It comes out crispy on the edges, and firm underneath. Their sauce comes thick, moist and tangy when you get more of it. Toss on mushrooms, green olives or whatever you want. There's no liquor license, but stores a few steps in either direction that will sell you containers. Pizza Metro here has been glad to provide an opener.
If you absoutely have to go out for dinner on amateur night, best make your reservations right now. Luckily, a quick scan of opentable shows plenty of early res's available at lots of swanky spots throughout the city. They even offer a special page that shows some of the fixed price deals and promos for the big night out.
Standouts include Anteprima, Copperblue, and Naha offering their regular menus and others with special tasting menus and the ever popular Champagne toast. BOKA, Gejas, Le Lan, and Bin 36 all have tasty looking options that range from $50-$135 depending on your seating time and number of courses. The best bargain seems to be The Park Grill with a five course tasting menu, live jazz, and free trolley rides home within a two mile radius all for $55. As an added bonus, you can order $10 glasses of Veuve Clicquot NV all night long.
The most recent issue of Bon Appetit highlights three local establishments. Smoque BBQ is hailed as a stand-out option in a city that apparently has a "dearth of good rib joints." Lovely Bake Shop's adorable mini-pies and down-home ambiance charm the writers into comparisons to New York's Magnolia Bakery. And Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi, located in the former Marshall Field's building, has received decidedly mixed local reviews, but Bon Appetit highlights this new establishment in an article on U.S. noodle bars. Perhaps we Chicagoans just aren't ready to spend $10 on a bowl of broth and noodles. Personally, if you are looking for a nice lunch in the loop, I would recommend the gem that is Frontera Fresco in the same location.
3800 N. Pulaski
Lovely Bake Shop
1130 N. Milwaukee
Noodles by Takashi Yagihashi
111 N. State, 7th floor
111 N. State, 7th floor
My sweetie and I stopped off at Usagi Ya for dinner while biking back from the MCA and took a table against a soft bench along a bubble like-textured sidewall across from the sushi bar. Our waiter said vegetarian might be hard, that he didn't see many come in, and admitted he wasn't quite sure what vegan was.
The small stretch of California Avenue from Logan to Altgeld has changed considerably in the last years with the addition of Provenance Food and Wine, Buona Terra, Sai Mai, and Hachi's Kitchen; however, there's a new restaurant that opened this week called Rustik (2515 N. California, phone 773-235-0002) that balances out the flavor of its neighbors with more American dishes, like meatloaf, pizza and macaroni and cheese. Billing itself as "putting a new spin on comfort food," the interior of the restaurant looks very high-end and Straight Outta Aspen--beige everything, dim lighting, stone wall edifices, and chandeliers fashioned from antlers--but the menu prices seem reasonable, and the location alone is promising for the restaurant's success.
After only a few short months, Cyberia Café has closed down. It saddens me that an independent coffee shop I recommended, or at least introduced, didn’t make it past the six month mark. The River North shop had a bit of bad luck early on. Someone broke in after hours and stole a large flat screen television as well as some other items — all caught on tape, but as far as I know, the suspect was never apprehended. The window he used to get in has been boarded up since, as the owners insurance wasn’t active at the time of the burglary.
The closure of a coffee shop so soon isn’t all that uncommon, I was once told by a café owner that most independent coffee shops don’t make it past the six month mark, but if and when they do, the chances are much better they will be around for a longer time.
A good friend was headed to my place with Thai take-out from Roong Petch. Savory red curry went down warm - just what I wanted on a snowy night. The Double 'O' Tofu's "top-secret chili sauce" made me feel hotter. I loved scooping up the sauce with my spoon. Edamame cooled me down. The egg rolls snapped crispy with tender insides, just like expected. They made it all vegan. For next time, I'm imagining dipping their banana rolls into the syrup they come with - banana and shredded coconut inside deep-fried spring rolls. I'm told service is quite good. When my friend was in the area more and used to frequent Roong Petch, a server remembered her, consistently volunteering to substitute cucumber salad for a non-veg item she didn't want from the $5.50 lunch combo menu. 1828-30 Montrose Ave., (773) 989-0818. El: Brown Line. Bus: 50, 78.
Those interested in getting a first-hand look at this new establishment should check out the offer posted on Chicagoist for this weekend.
Connoisseur is located at 1041 W. Grand, a wise choice just off the blue line. The unassuming building was flanked by a doorman who welcomed me out of the cold into their cozy space where I met several courteous individuals involved in the project. Juliana Angel, the Wine Program Director, brought me the Alfredo Roca Pinot Noir, Medoza 2005 ($10/35), the Morgadio Rias Baixas, Albariono 2006 ($12/40) and the Bollinger Special Cuvee ($120).
Samples of their menu offerings were also available. Of note were the Crawfish Rolls: Spicy sushi rolls with ginger and plum sauce ($12), Lobster and Chile Ceviche: Lobster ceviche with grapefruit, hearts of palm, cilantro and key lime ($16), Grilled Asparagus: Marinated, grilled asparagus with toasted walnut and gorgonzola ($11) and truly luscious Sweet Potato Soup ($8). Dan Deaton, the Executive Chef, would like the menu to push his guests to try something new, while still making them feel comfortable.
Connoisseur is a nice addition to the higher end market, providing a refined environment for conversation, a small meal and a glass of wine from their thoughtful selection. Connoisseur felt refreshingly unpretentious to me, but I do wonder if the type of patron who frequents such an establishment might desire more glitz from their surroundings. A few small changes could give the space a more upscale feeling and I believe that Connoisseur will have to make them in order to compete in the luxury market.
1041 W. Grand Ave.
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 5pm-2am, Sat. 2pm-3am and Sun. 2pm-2am
Toasted oil-touched bread gave way with a crisp and chewy crumb, and then came fresh green lettuce that broke sharply with my teeth, luscious seitan with juices of fresh tomato wrapping around my tongue, sautéed peppers and onions, and a mild tang of a vegan cheese. That's the sandwich that much talked about co-owner Michelle Garcia brought to my table from the kitchen - the Chicago cheese steak (or cheese seitan for vegans like me) - just after she'd arrived through the front door with a big hug for me. Moroccan couscous salad came on the side - thick Middle Eastern style couscous tossed in an olive oil vinaigrette with square red onion slices, pieces of eggplant, tender zucchini and thin slices of red and orange peppers.
When I began working in West Town a few months ago, I quickly fell in love with Fiore's Deli. Access to a corner store where I can buy ripe avocados, Vitamin Water, high-quality Italian pantry items and homemade tiramisu has certainly improved my life. Their deli counter always has a surprisingly steady stream of customers given their residential location, but until recently I had not tasted any of their offerings.
The first snow this week was by all accounts a fairly gentle introduction to winter, however I still felt unreasonably interested in moving slowly and staying warm. The two-block walk to Fiore's for a hot sandwich proved to be the perfect quick lunch. The scrambled eggs were rich and creamy, dotted with hearty slices of cooked green and red bell peppers. The sandwich is served on Italian bread and comes in three different sizes. I ordered the 7-inch for $4.50. Not a bad deal for a truly comforting meal.
Fiore's Domestic Import Deli
2258 W. Erie
I'm referring to Cincinnati chili--an almost sauce-like chili that consists of finely ground beef and a blend of spices. And while I've lived in Chicago my entire life, Cincinnati's chili holds a special place in my heart (and I don't mean in the form of cholesterol).
If you're not familiar with Cincinnati chili, you should know that it's not your average chili. It's served on top of spaghetti and topped with a huge portion of shredded cheddar cheese (3-way, the classic) and onions (4-way) and kidney beans (5-way). And to Cincinnatians, chili is no joke. According to the Greater Cincinnati Convention and Visitors Bureau (as posted on Wikipedia), Cincinnatians consume more than two million pounds of chili each year. That's a lot of chili.
I recently heard a rumor about a Cincinnati native who was planning on bringing some of that chili-love to Chicago in the form of a restaurant named Cinners. But much to my dismay, the restaurant--which will make Lincoln Square its future home--still isn't open, but they do have a website. Until then, I'll continue to make my own using chili seasoning packets that I pick up during trips to Cincinnati to visit family. Not planning on visiting Cincinnati? Order your own and try it for yourself.
Chances are, you've tasted Metropolis coffee. It's now served at many Chicago restaurants and coffeeshops. But maybe you haven't made the trek up to Granville to the Metropolis Cafe. Yes, it gets crowded with Loyola students and local residents, but there's a reason for that. The coffee is always hot and fresh, and the food is pretty good as well.
Milk and Honey Bake Shop became more vegan friendly after a nice email exchange with the owner in October. While their food menu is limited compared to their main Division Street location, the bake shop started offering their portobello sandwich without cheese. (I'd been told the sandwiches were pre-made before). They sell granola by the bowl now, too (not just by the bag), available with soy milk. Strict vegans note, the granola contains honey. Of course, they also serve espresso and coffee. This location is geared toward take-away customers, but a few tables stand with stools along the windows.
Milk and Honey is located across from Half and Half's now closed location.
1543 N. Damen Avenue.
El: Blue Line to Damen/Milwaukee. Bus: 50, 56, 72.
This guest review comes from reader Rosamund Miller. If you'd like to submit a review of your own, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I love Chinese food. Growing up in San Francisco, I ate a lot of it. Much to my mother's surprise and delight, my generally picky 6-year-old self had no trouble putting away a carton of ma pao tofu, mu shu pork or even scaly, mysteriously delicious chicken feet at dim sum. After a number of years in the culturally and culinary different Midwest, I've come to the conclusion there are four kinds of Chinese restaurants: really bad dives, really good dives, high-end places with average food, and the excellent but at times elusive middle. The middle has great food and surroundings to match. You can go for a nice dinner with visiting relatives or collapse into fried noodles at the end of a long night. Prices are reasonable. The food is the main priority, but atmosphere isn't too far behind.
The opening of English, the River North gastropub, was met with much fanfare last summer, but the verdict reached by most reviewers was that the food was mediocre and the beer list was a little lean. That's why I wasn't expecting too much when I had dinner there last week. Fortunately, I was in for a surprise.
Korean mixed vegetables with rice, or bi bim bop, seems incongruent with my notion of a typical greasy Chicago diner. I imagine the type of place where I could order bacon and eggs, cheese dogs, meat on toast, and pizza puffs at a walk-up counter. Hound Dogs Burgers & Teriyaki has all that, plus teriyaki sandwiches and bi bim bop. I ordered the rice dish without the typical egg and beef. At a place where meat seems to take priority on the menu, anyone wanting to order vegan should assume the responsibility for ensuring their dietary guidelines are met. I stick to the basics. I asked for a vegetarian bi bim bop, no egg. They told me, sure, one bi bim bop, no egg. Hmm, I thought, I better make sure about the meat. No meat, I said, and more notes went on the kitchen's ticket.
The second location of Icosium Kafe, on the corner of Clark and Foster, opened this past spring and promises to have more staying power than previous occupants of the space. The crepes on the menu are not your run-of-the-mill, ham-and-cheese-filled French variety but rather more substantial, heavy-on-the-vegetables Algerian style crepes.
I spent the morning reading a profile on NY chef David Chang and his recent success in the foodie and media circles concerning his and business partner Joaquin Baca's Momofuku restaurants. It's the kind of place that seems to exist primarily on the coasts: superior worldly ingredients cooked at a high level which produces what some might call the New American Cuisine. A combination of small plates and large, communal dishes at a very affordable (almost student cheap) price, a lack of reservation options, no dress codes and chefs being cooks, servers and host, all in one.
The question I have for Chicago is this: we're in an amazing place right now for food culture -- Alinea is here, Paul Kahan's Blackbird and Avec, Hot Doug's and Kuma's Corner -- so I ask the readers, where's some really exciting high level cooking going on right now?
The secret is out. My favorite neighborhood BYOB has been mentioned in Chicago Magazine's 124 Best Meals. It's funny when you love a place so much that you don't want it to get too popular, yet you realize that it needs that popularity to stay in business. Sigh...
I'm talking about Semiramis--a Lebanese gem in Albany Park. The consistently delicious food, very reasonable prices and excellent service put Semiramis at the top of my list. And while the rotisserie chicken got Chicago Magazine's attention, I keep going back for different favorites.
I start with the kibbeh trio appetizer, a blend of ground lamb and spices encased in a crust of potato, corn or the traditional bulgur wheat. Keep an eye-out for the chilled yogurt soup appetizer--a tangy seasonal favorite consisting of a creamy yogurt base, diced cucumber and grape halves. For my main course, I almost always order the chicken shawarma with fattoush--a chopped vegetable salad that's tossed with mint, sumac, olive oil, lemon, and toasted pita bread, and then topped with house-marinated chicken. And if I've successfully finished my wine (BYOB, $3 corkage), I'll finish the meal with Arabic coffee spiced with cardamom. Ahhh, happy tummy.
So if the next time I go to Semiramis and find myself waiting in line, I'll have this post to blame. But that's OK--it's too good not to share. 4639 N. Kedzie Ave., 773-290-8900.
The possibly cursed restaurant spot near the CTA Blue Line station at 1560 North Damen is going for one more try following the recent closing of coffee shop Half and Half. An extension of the upscale deli The Goddess and Grocer is opening Monday, November 19.
Out front ZK Food tonight, a sign mentioned new lunch specials. By dinnertime, they'd run out of lentil burgers, but they still had vegan Creole soup. I took a cup to go. The man working the front told me one of their four daily soups is always vegan. He also told me that they have brought in someone who works or worked at Green Zebra, the swanky spot on Chicago Avenue known for it's celebration of the vegetable - so look for more new vegan options in coming weeks. As for my Creole soup, it gives the kind of nice, sharp sting on the back roof of the mouth that's perfect on a cold winter day. It has a rich tomato flavor. I see slices of onion and celery and chunks of tomatoes. Bits that seem to resemble pears, apples or some kind of pale vegetable feel soft and tender. I don't know what they are and I almost want to call and ask. But I'd rather just enjoy my soup.
1633 N. Milwaukee Ave., (773) 278-9600, Blue Line at Damen and Milwaukee.
Half and Half at 1560 N. Damen is closed. The inside looks gutted. No cabinets. Electrical conduits are all that are left of the counter - they rise up from the floor with outlet boxes at their tops and look as lonely as a few trees in an otherwise barren landscape. A sign on the door sends us thanks for years of business, and tells us that Feast (a block north on Damen) will have Half and Half's breakfast sandwiches as of Monday.
Earwax Cafe and Film is now just Earwax Cafe. A new door blocks the downstairs entrance to what used to be the cafe's video store. They couldn't compete with Netflix, someone coming out from the closed downstairs told me. I'm going to miss a guru of movies who used to work there. The cafe remains open.
I know my fiancée loves me above all else, but coming in a very close second is a plate of extra-crispy diner-style hash browns.
Maybe I should take offense at ranking just above a plate of fried potatoes, but I don’t, and here’s why: proper hash browns seem deceptively simple to make, but much like light-as-air Southern biscuits or flaky pie crust, they can be maddening to master. While I consider myself confident in the kitchen – I roast a mean chicken, am not intimidated by cream sauces, and brine and deglaze with the best of them – I’ve given up on at-home hash browns. On the many occasions that I’ve tried to deliver a homemade plate of crispy ‘taters to my love, I’ve never come close to the real deal. The day I dissolved in tears over yet another sticky, oily, starchy pan of ruined spuds was the day I declared that any and all hash browns consumed by our household would be purchased and eaten in their rightful place: the diner.
I'm so in love with the energy and the old school family diner feel of Eleven City Diner that they could have served me just coffee and I would have raved. I hear they do have a good cup of it, too. I also hear that the wait isn't always some 30 minutes as it was the Sunday at noon I came. It was full of families and art students alike. I wouldn't had been there had I not raced to catch up with my roomie Liz and our pal Andy. They were on their way, and I had to go with after seeing multiple tofu items on the Eleven City Diner’s menu online.
I mentioned earlier this month that Kuma's Corner would be on "Check Please!" soon, ensuring egregiously long waits for your heavy metal burger. Get in there before Friday or be prepared to wait.
Your reward for going this week is a pair of new items on the menu: the Goblin Cock (formerly a chalkboard special) and the Minsk. The Goblin Cock, named for this band, drops a split char dog on top, along with a dose of pico di gallo and a special mustard; the menu warns that use of ketchup is punishable by expulsion. The Minsk is essentially a Reuben on top of a burger. (You might want to bring some antacid.)
I recently received a delivery menu for the Byron's hot dog stand near my office. Fairly standard, run-of-the-mill menu, really, until I flipped it to the back. There, in small type so it'd fit on the half-page, was a poem. An ode to "The Friendly Frankfurter."
The gentle frank all red and white, I love it with all my soul.
It gives me meat with all its might to eat upon a roll.
It's tasty, toasted - It's racy, roasted - It's full of iron and phosphorus.
It's the favorite ration of all our nation.
And mustard is the sauce for us.
The frank's the friend of every man, proud,
It's curve is pure American, and full of eating beauty!
Thanks, thanks for excellent franks.
That are practically always digestible.
The dickens with chickens or steaks on planks.
The frankfurter's my comestible!
This masterpiece was unsigned, which is a shame, for it is a poem for the ages. Almost makes me hungry for a hot dog.
It's a gray, dreary morning, almost bone-chilling. It's been unseasonably warm for the past few weeks, and I'm utterly unprepared for the chill. As I walk a few steps from the car to the door of Tweet, breeze from the lake stirs up the few fallen leaves on the pavement, and I bury my chin in my fleece jacket. Once inside the restaurant, though, the scene undergoes a drastic change: it's warm, cozy and welcoming.
Franchised coffee shops don't seem to be doing to well in Chicago, with the Coffee Beanery on Damen breaking ties and becoming the independent Bucktown Beanery and now the apparent closure of Saxbys Coffee. The Saxbys Coffee on the corner of Jefferson and Lake was seized by the Cook County Sheriff's Department recently and the location, as well as the local Saxbys Training Facility, is no longer listed on the Philadelphia based companies website. A Plano store is open and operating, but a second location in Chicago was to open on North Clark but never came to fruition. From what little information I was able to gather, the owners or manager of the Lake Street store may have had issues in regards to paying employees — as in not paying them. Saxbys has been billed as an alternative to the corporate giant Starbucks — a location of which is coincidentally across the street.
UPDATE 7/26/09: John Larson, former owner of Saxbys Coffee, contacted us and offered the following letter of explanation regarding this case:
I am John Larson, Founder of Saxbys Coffee. Many posts have appeared after this article was written and I wanted to take this opportunity, given to me by the Editor of Gapers Block, to set the record straight.
I started Saxbys Coffee in Windsor, Colorado in January 2004. The concept was simple; a coffee shop which would eventually rival Starbucks Coffee. At the time there were no other coffee shops which were expanding aggressively and as a result Starbucks began raising prices on their products often and offered less service (they actually stopped stirring the drinks). Saxbys Coffee was designed to give superior customer service at a price which was lower than Starbucks. I used my over $400,000 of my own money to grow this company (which I would never get back).
In order to challenge Starbucks we would have to franchise the business and grow through Area Developers (mini-franchisors of Saxbys Coffee). This was not in any way a get rich quick scheme as one post states on this page and was a legitimate business set up to catch up to Starbucks in half the time it took Starbucks. For the most part the first two and a half years were successful for everyone.
Due to personal family issues I stepped down as an Officer and Director of Saxbys Coffee in September 2006 and Nick Bayer was voted in as Sole Director and Sole Officer which effectively gave Nick Bayer total control over Saxbys Coffee. Nick Bayer went on a rampage and set out to cancel many Area Developer contracts and close down many franchises that Nick Bayer felt remained loyal to me.
Nick Bayer then, as Sole Director and Sole Officer of Saxbys Coffee, fraudulently sold all the assets of Saxbys Coffee (which totaled over $6,000,000) for a mere $5,000 down and $300,000 to be paid in three years to Saxbys Coffee Worldwide LLC which is a corporation formed by Joe Grasso just days before the fraudulent sale. Joe Grasso "rewarded" Nick for his part in this "sweet deal" by giving Nick a job as President of the "new" Saxbys Coffee along with bonuses and jobs for Nick Bayer's father, mother and best friends. They were all given back pay as an added incentive.
One of the first actions the new Saxbys Coffee did was to stop paying rents and employees at all Chicago locations in an apparent effort to embarrass me (I lived in Chicago and the new Saxbys Coffee was in Philadelphia). As a result all the landlords evicted Saxbys Coffee in the Chicago locations.
Nick then continued his "witch-hunt" for all the other Area Developers and franchisees he wanted closed and Nick succeeded in ruining many lives through financial devastation (including mine).
Please take the time to read everything that happened with Saxbys Coffee and you will find that everything "bad" happened AFTER I stepped down in September 2006. Also please take note that I have filed two lawsuits against Nick Bayer, Joe Grasso, and Saxbys Coffee Worldwide, LLC for the fraudulent sale. One case is in the Chicago Circuit Court in Illinois (filed in July 2007) and the other is in Philadelphia and was filed this year. I will provide court case numbers and witnesses to anyone who asks.
This ordeal has financially devastated me, my family, my friends, and several hard working and honest Area Developers and franchisees that put their trust in Saxbys Coffee. Stepping down and giving Nick Bayer control was my mistake and one which I will regret for the rest of my life.
The court cases will go on (justice is slow) but we (the shareholders of Saxbys Coffee, Inc.) will be victorious. As a side note, ne of the reasons the court in Chicago is taking so long is because Nick Bayer, Joe Grasso, and Saxbys Coffee Worldwide, LLC, refuse to pay their attorneys. As a result the attorneys fire Nick Bayer, Joe Grasso, and Saxbys Coffee Worldwide, LLC. As their clients and the judicial system allows several months for new lawyers to be acquired and get caught up to speed o the case. This has happened on three occasions already.
People like Nick Bayer and Joe Grasso should be sitting in jail with the other fraudulent executives who cheat honest people.
I am including my email address and cell phone number for anyone who wants or needs additional information. I am doing this because I have nothing to hide, I am not afraid of any slander lawsuits as I only tell the truth, and I have documents to back up everything I say. My cell number is 312-515-9272 and my email address is johnlarson[at]jetgroup7[dot]com. Feel free to contact me regarding anything in this case.
To the bloggers who post things when they don't know the facts, I have one simple question. Why don't you use your real first and last name when you recklessly slander someone with no regard for the tole it takes on their life? You don't because you're afraid of a slander lawsuit because what you say is not the truth. My hope is that the readers of this article take that into consideration when reading the mean spirited posts following this article.
The lively and colorful Dodo will see its last day of breakunch - as they call their breakfast + lunch service - at 935 N. Damen on Sunday, October 28. They plan to reopen with air conditioning at 2003 W. Fulton in early 2008. I've written about their tofu scram twice (in April and my first time in January), and have more recently enjoyed venturing to order that savory fill with half seitan and half tofu. I will certainly miss it while Dodo moves.
Chicago's homegrown Argo Tea has a new brand of vegan muffin made by the same company, Bake 'n Joy, that makes their conventional ones. I think I remember a gal behind the counter at Argo on Adams telling me that the staff there thinks that these new vegan muffins taste better than the non-vegan ones. I must qualify that with: I'm vegan, my note-less memory could have blurred, and she hadn't tried them herself. Thinking about the taste of the apple caramel variety and already pedaling home, I adjusted my route home to pass another Argo in order to try the other vegan flavor, blueberry. Both types tasted tender and moist, with a soft, slightly spongy mouth feel that sparkled with a touch of sweetness. Either would be brilliant with a morning's tea or coffee.
American contemporary Butter, tucked into a side street not quite part of the Greektown scene and too far from Randolph Street to be considered part of that world, is nevertheless quite well thought of by most diners and consistently gets good press. Its menu is adventurous and tasty, and its service is impeccable. I stopped in on Saturday night with my family after a nearby event, and we were treated wonderfully and even received an amuse bouche, even though we were only having desserts.
So imagine my surprise when I learned from an industry friend that Butter had abruptly closed its doors Sunday. True, the restaurant was mostly empty at 9:30 on a Saturday night, but it didn't seem like it was in that bad of shape. I called this morning and was informed that Butter had indeed closed, but only for ala carte service — in other words, no reservations, no walk-ins. The woman who answered the phone informed me that the owners had decided to focus on hosting private functions in the space.
If you're interested in booking the space (or have any questions), the old phone number still works: 312-666-9813.
UPDATE: Another contact familiar with the situation says, "That's their spin, but really the "just for a la carte" thing is trying to save face and hang onto what little banquets they had booked. The staff has been released and the remaining dates will be served by servers from other Really Nice Restaurants with a different chef. The location will be either sold or launched as something entirely different next year."
I didn't know how well mashed sweet potatoes accept the smoky flavor of chipotles before La Encantada schooled me last night. My dining companion suggested they'd be brilliant for Thanksgiving. We shared an order of two enchiladas banana - hers with cheese, as it comes, and mine without. Its thin mole moistened well. Plantains inside tasted of rich caramel. A side of sautéed spinach with mushrooms and onions refreshed while tasting grilled. Service was great. Look for this crisp and clean storefront Mexican restaurant under a bright awning on an otherwise gritty block. Don't be turned away at night, when surrounding shops close and the bakery across the street only has its window sign lit. La Encantada serves wine, beer, margaritas, sangria and other drinks.
According to Time Out Chicago, Schwa officially closed yesterday. No word on any new projects from Chef Michael Carlson but he tells Time Out that he will return to cooking in Chicago "after dealing with personal issues." I'm sure all of Chicago joins me in wishing him the best.
While it may still meteorologically feel like the dog days of summer outside (a little better today, but I'm still skeptical and wary to unpack my corduroys for at least another week until the weather makes up its damn mind), Chicago is at least gastronomically starting to feel like fall. Apples and squash finally, blessedly, are taking a strong stance in supermarket produce bins and specials around the city are taking on that long-shadowed earthy autumnal flavor, with pumpkin and cream sauces, comfort food and rich dishes creeping onto menus.
For a great shot of autumn that also complements the current atmosphere, check out Lula Cafe's heirloom squash ice cream with cranberry sorbet and apple cider semifreddo. It's like Thanksgiving in a bowl, served up in several icy scoops, with tart apple slices and a honeyed crisp with a consistency somewhere between bread and cookie and a great delicate sweetness on the side. The ice cream is all cream and nutmeg, and the squash is sweet without being overpowering. The two glassier scoops of sorbet and semifreddo (an Italian-derived form of half frozen food, in this case, basically a cider sorbet) are full of strong flavors true to their fruit components and neither too sweet nor too tart, though very very cold.
Lula's menu rotates regularly, so try the ice cream dessert special while you can, and while the warm weather permits. Soon enough it will be cold enough to be craving your squash and cranberries served hot.
Chain restaurants typically don't lure me, but I like Macaroni Grill. Their service is fun. Servers write their names on butcher paper that's used as a tablecloth. Somehow that doesn't seem cliché there - at least not to me. Perhaps it's because various colors of crayons let you play as you sip large juice glasses of a rather smooth house Chianti and tear apart gratis focaccia. The bread is best mopped around in plenty of olive oil that's been peppered, salted and squeezed with fresh lemon. Customize your pasta. A sauce of garlic olive oil really brings out the flavor and texture of sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, spinach, pine nuts and broccoli. They say to choose up to three (PDF), but will gladly add more on for a few cents. A rigatoni's thick tubes have just the right size hole to help your fork scoop up all these veggies.
21 Blanchard Circle, Wheaton (also in Hoffman Estates)
If you can put up with the abusive wait staff (and the abundance of 7-year-olds celebrating their birthdays), it's worth it to take a trip to Ed Debevic's in River North just to get the mini sundae at the end of your meal. Plus, where else do they give you a paper hat when you walk in and scream at you when you hesitate over your drink order? The mini sundae isn't on the menu, but you can ask for it, and as you can see, it's a lot easier to finish than the full sized portion.
Lovely Bake Shop's chocolate cupcakes are vegan when they're naked - that is, before the buttercream frosting goes on. And they're often naked ones lying about in the morning. Why are the cupcakes half-vegan? One of the owners, Gina, told me that she picked a great recipe for the chocolate cake, and it just happened to be vegan. She and co-owner Brook, both came out of Chicago's French Pastry School. The next day, I sat at the bar, chatting with Brook, hearing that they make the gently sweet apple butter I was having with natural peanut butter on a famed H&H Bagel from New York. The bagels come par-baked, and they finish them every morning. Lovely also makes lavender-peach preserves and berry jam. Gina walked by and remembered me as the chocolate cupcake guy. Gina and Brook are both fun to chat with, especially when they were playing a 1980s mix just before closing. Lovely sells DIY wares on a sidewall. One piece of furniture is a holdover from the Casa Loca furniture store that used to be in Lovely's space, next to a nook high in the corner that keeps a cruiser bicycle. How fun is that?
Lovely is on the way biking into the Loop on Milwaukee. A tin ceiling painted green and wooden floors set the scene for an old general store wooden table in the middle and a refurnished wooden bar on the side. The bar sits across from an espresso machine on a wood counter along the wall, below a wooden cabinet. The cabinet's doors are open, showing brightly colored coffee cups in red, green and blue. It sits on a ledge over a short rise of white ceramic tile. Newly vinyl covered stools alternate between showing white polka dots on pale green and flowers of pink-red and yellow-orange with greens against white. Charming glass and wood cases show off their bakery items.
My dining companions and I hadn't noticed Uru-Swati before. It has the sort of bright and simple interior that you might expect from a new place where you'd grab a quick meal on Devon Avenue. The menu - all vegetarian - offers quick bites ($2.25 to $4.25), from samosas to dosas, as well as "mini meals" and typical entrees. The samosa chat came with chickpeas, sauce and crunchy fried bits topping a smashed dosa. I asked that they hold the ghee on all items to make them vegan, but I forgot that the samosa chat could include yogurt. It did, and I chalked it up to my fault and carried on. I'm sure it's tasty either way. Vegetable Upma for $4 is quite a large serving - at least when you're ordering it as one of many items from the mini meals section of the menu. Think of a savory cream of wheat. It's fluffy, yellow from turmeric, a little spicy from chili, and savory with mustard seeds, corn kernels, chopped carrot, green peas and cashews. A large slice of a bright red tomato topped mine; it made me remember their menu's tag line: healing through food. Service was extremely attentive, with immediate help for any of our questions or requests. While the menu they gave us is all in English, descriptions aren't given for the native names of the dishes. The servers seemed more than glad to help describe the offerings. If in doubt, order boondi laddoo from the sweets section of the menu - or go up to the counter and look in the case. These sweet round balls made from chickpea flour have a dense texture and a very good crumb. We had them for dessert, but you can buy plenty to take home. They sell their sweets by the pound and they ship anywhere in the U.S.
A couple recent closings of note:
• Dish reports that Wolfgang Puck Grand Cafe in Evanston closed without warning on Sept. 16, citing rising food costs. On the other hand, Puck's kosher cafe opens in the Spertus Institute downtown on Nov. 30.
• Also noted in Dish, Delicioso y Sabroso Grill, semi-itinerant chef Geno Bahena's most recent restaurant, closed already after the sale of the building. Bahena is working on a new spot on Randolph Street.
In my never-ending quest to find new coffee shops, I tend to rely on many different sources, word of mouth, the Internet and sometimes dumb luck, as was the case with Sweet Bean and More.
I first noticed a sign in a window almost six months ago about this new addition to the Lakeview neighborhood and made note of it in one of many notebooks since lost. Recently, I drove by on a whim, and, lo and behold, people milling about and patio furniture outside signaled that they were open. Lucky for me it was their first day open and worth the wait. Situated below the newly-constructed Diversey Station condo complex at 1855 W. Diversey Pkwy, Sweet Bean is one of the most elegant shops I’ve seen of late, very comfortable and inviting with rust and gold wall treatments, hand-laid tile accents and a gorgeous wood and marble bar. This new offering just begs for people to sit and enjoy the day, and with plenty of outdoor seating for the warm months and free wi-fi, who could blame you? Sweet Bean serves Chicago’s own Metropolis coffee and espresso as well as a nice variety of baked goods both savory and sweet.
Sweet Bean offers a breakfast daily until 10:30am, the open-face sandwich on French bread with mushroom, red onion, feta and scrambled egg, as well as a variety of salads and sandwiches all decently priced around $8. All of the sandwiches and salads are prepared in-house to order. Sweet Bean is also offering a weekend brunch from 8am to 2pm with a special, elegant menu.
Sweet Bean and More is open daily 6am to 8pm Monday through Friday and 7am to 8pm Saturday and Sunday. It is located at 1855 W. Diversey Pkwy. (773) 857-3100
I just noticed The Coffee Beanery on Damen has changed its name to The Bucktown Beanery. Upon further investigation, I found the location is no longer listed on The Coffee Beanery’s franchise Web site, so I stopped in to see what was up. Apparently the shop was sold and the new owner didn’t like the whole franchise thing so he closed up, did some remodeling and opened up as The Bucktown Beanery. Featuring Metropolis coffee, the shop is now a fully independent coffee shop, something I’m a big fan of.
The Bucktown Beanery is located at 2158 N Damen Ave.
I have never eaten a pannekoeken, but I'm familiar with the Dutch dish, which is a thin, large hybrid of a crepe and pancake that can be topped with savory or sweet items. I realized that very few restaurants in the city actually sell pannekoeken, so when Pannekoeken Cafe opened in Lincoln Square (4757 N. Western) I was all over it.
Somewhere between Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park, I forget just where the line is drawn, lays Star Lounge Café. Open for just about three weeks, this 20-seat coffee bar is yet another new offering to the Chicago coffeehouse scene. Down right comfy and warm, probably due to the orange hued walls, dark wood floors and the wood bar that runs half way down the shop, Star Lounge offers a bit of a different feel than the regular coffee shop. It’s more like going to the local pub than waiting in line for a double tall half-caff latte at some chain store. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable about coffee; I talked to the barista, who seemed more like a bartender than coffee jockey, mostly about other coffee shops around the city and about different roasters around the country. He seemed to know what he was talking about.
Star Lounge offers a variety of breakfast and lunch items named for Chicago neighborhoods and streets, such as the Grand Avenue, crunchy peanut butter and sliced banana on your choice of bagel from New York Bagel & Bialy, or the East Village Veggie Delight, an iron-pressed flat sandwich, hummus, tomato, black olives, red onions on white or wheat. Star lounge even has a bit of a kids menu with PB&J and grilled cheese sandwiches. They serve all the standard specialty coffee drinks one would expect from a coffee shop: cappuccino and lattes, as well as some none coffee stuff like Jones Soda, Naked Juice and a variety of teas. The Cosmic Creations, like the Peppermint-mocha Macchiato, a traditional latte macchiato layered with a splash of peppermint flavoring and marked with espresso and chocolate sauce, are worth trying. And you’ve got to love a shop that calls there espresso blend “Dark Star.”
Star lounge has a few other things going for it as well, notably the backyard patio, for that chilling’ at home kind of feel as opposed to sitting on Chicago avenue watching cars speed by, and of course free wi-fi, the hallmark of any new coffee shop. Hours are a bit limited; they're open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. according to Menu Pages. Hopefully the hours will expand in the future. Of all the new offerings the city has at the moment, Star Lounge Cafe is well worth checking out.
Star Lounge Café is located at 2521 W Chicago Ave. (773) 384-7827
Celebrated food writer, cookbook co-author and Bourdain partner-in-crime, Michael Ruhlman wrote a while ago about how the classic Caesar salad was no longer really a Caesar salad in the modern American restaurant (or rather, chain).
Blu Coral has been open for a few months now, but they're only just now getting around to a grand opening tonight. But the wait is worth it: RSVP on the site and get on the guest list for free sushi and appetizers from 6pm to 10pm, along with a ribbon-cutting at the beginning and drink specials throughout the night. [via]
As per our usual Sunday mornings, my spouse and I went out for brunch. We tried to hit up the newly-opened Pannenkoeken Cafe (4757 N. Western Ave), but found a crowd gathered on the sidewalk. It was 10 a.m., so we expected nothing different, but when we asked how long the wait was we were told, not one hour, forty-five minutes, or a half hour, but "quite a while." I suppose that being so new, they're unable to make those sorts of determinations, yet.
We were starving (one can only go for so long on two big cups of coffee), so we walked over to Café Selmarie instead, where we feasted on the following: Chilequilles Casserole and pancakes with all sorts of goodies such as cinnamon streusel and fresh whipped cream.
Did anyone get to try out Lincoln Square's newest quaint addition to the restaurant scene?
The super fabulous Concord Grape Tart returns to the menu at West Town Tavern for a limited time. Make sure you save room for this tasty treat that made the Time Out Chicago "100 Best Things We Ate" list when you go. Also, catch Chef Susan Goss for a live demo of two recipes at Green City Market tomorrow at 10:30am.
Plenty of opportunities to have fun with fish this fall with The Fish Guy. Take a sushi class from Hiroko Shimbo on October 14, 15, or 16 for just $100. Class includes lots of sushi and sake as well as signed copies of both of her cookbooks. You can also snag a coveted reservation at the once a week restaurant Wellfleet on September 7, 14, or 21 if you act quickly. Sign up now and get a free Caviar Wellfleet for each couple. 773-283-7400.
The flagship Ann Sather on Belmont is closing temporarily, as soon as next month. Alderman Tom Tunney has sold its building and has begun renovation on 909-913 W. Belmont, the building just east of the entrance to the Sather's parking lot (and former home of the alderman's service office).
So what's going into the old building? Well, upstairs has already being converted into the latest home to ComedySportz, and downstairs? Word is, Panera Bread. Sigh. The suburbanization of Chicago continues.
Incidentally, this isn't the first move for Ann Sather. The diner has been in at least a couple other spots along Belmont, including next door to the current location. Though it certainly looks like 929 W. Belmont has always been a Swedish diner, it was originally a funeral home -- and it's possibly haunted. Many Sather employees say they've heard footsteps and doors closing in the empty upstairs (where the embalming room once was) after hours.
I asked if Piccolo would make a panini vegan and got what I thought, for an instant, was a rude response. But I was wrong. I thought he had said no - as in, we won't make one vegan. But when I asked why, he answered something like, because we didn't think of it when we made the menu. I realized he might have thought I'd asked if they had anything vegan on the menu - much different than, can you switch something up a bit to accommodate me? That misunderstanding yielded a tasty sandwich. Fig-olive tapenade in my panini was thick and pasty, and a little sweet - a bit like dessert. It went well with the juicy warm tomato, arugula, and chopped asparagus I picked from ingredients across their panini menu. The sandwich showed the indentations of well-pressed panini. The bread tasted lean - this was no deep fried sandwich. My choice of side: three bean salad with green beans so crispy they snapped. While we sat at the counter waiting for our order, they came out to ask my friend if butter would be OK in the onions she had ordered atop her bruschetta. The check-in suggested that the staff considers dietary restrictions - well appreciated. I highly recommend the sorbet. I tasted both the slightly fluffy blueberry peach and the half sweet, caramel-reminiscent plum. For next time, I'm thinking of their white bean spread. Ask for what you want if you don't see it on the menu.
Julius Meinl has been one of my favorite bakery/coffee shop in Chicago. Their European-style cakes are always fantastic (excellent on the palate, beautiful on the eyes), and the airy interior always makes me feel as if I were on a trip in Europe. Only nice bike ride away in Lakeview, but everything about the coffee shop puts me in the splendor of faraway continent. Furthermore, Meinl is a special place for me--it was where I met my partner for the first time.
So it pains me to say that I've been a little worried about the operation there. It's not the food quality that I'm concerned about; it's the service that seems to get especially iffy at weekend peek hours.
Do you already have Labor Day weekend plans? No? Well then get out of town for a quick trip up to America's Little Switzerland, New Glarus, Wisconsin, and visit the New Glarus Brewing Company. They offer free, self-guided audio tours every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and a tasting room where you can get four, 3-oz tastings of their beers for only $3.50. The Web site says only three tastings, but our experience was slightly more plentiful. Of course, you'll want to spend a lot more purchasing cases of beer after the tastings: New Glarus isn't sold outside of Wisconsin. Be sure to get some Dancing Man Wheat and Copper Kettle if they're available. Both are nice wheat beers, the former being lighter and brighter in flavor and the Copper Kettle darker and maltier (check out RateBeer for more detailed and informed opinions on the brews).
In addition to the souvenir tasting glass, the brewery will also give you a coupon for a free small beer at a local restaurant. My suggestion: go to the Glarner Stube where you can enjoy big, steaming pots of cheese fondue, puffy fried cheese curds and my favorite, roesti, a dish of fried grated potatoes laced with Swiss cheese. While your heart my stop on your drive back to Chicago, I-90 is well traveled and rescue crews will be able to reach you quickly.
Intelligentsia is raising the prices of their drinks. Like Starbucks , Intelligentsia is citing rising costs of milk, paper goods and other raw material for the price hike. The Chicago institution hasn’t raised prices in some time, and it is something they don’t take lightly; the increase is between five and nine cents, a mere drop in the coffee cup. The average retail price of a gallon of whole milk in August was $3.87, and depending on what report you’ve read, the price may go above four dollars in the fall.
The attentive staff at the elaborately decorated Nacional 27 brought us many little tastings along the way to dinner. They mentioned that each came from the chef. As my dining companion pointed out, that conjured thoughts of the chef watching over our table knowing just what to send out and when. First came two servings of guacamole - each on a long, deeply crispy fried potato chip. Blended into the avocado, smoked chili pepper gave a wonderfully fragrant woodsy flavor. Long and flat cumin-cilantro bread sticks were given to us sticking from a glass. A thick, deep red but mildly spicy chili spread accompanied. They took care of my vegan wishes by offering their Latin vegetable tasting or modern Latin vegetarian rice. The latter filled me well. The kitchen formed corn, mushrooms, roasted peppers and chayote into a tightly formed cone shape. It tasted newly picked. Salsa dotted the perimeter, with larger concentric spots of oil separated out. Another gratis treat had come just before that - a mixture with baby octopus or squid (I don't recall) on small spoons with long, hammered metal handles. Perhaps the chef forgot I was vegan. No worries - my friend told me the finely diced celery in them was amazingly fresh. For dessert, we shared a snifter of richly sweet El Dorado rum. Two cakey chocolate truffles came with. I'm guessing they weren't vegan either, but the gesture was appreciated. I'd return, perhaps for their Friday or Saturday salsa nights as soon as I learn to dance. In the meantime, I'll try their house-made bitters.
River North has a new coffee shop in Cyberia. This 30-seat shop on Wells, opened in early July, occupies a space that has been a few other places, including the Italian spot Calabria Coffee and before that a Seattle's Best. As you may have guessed, Cyberia offers free wi-fi with purchase and access to about a half dozen computers for a nominal $5 an hour, with print and fax services at a buck a page.
Cyberia serves Chicago's own Intelligentsia coffee and teas as well as an array of sandwiches, soups, fresh salads, cakes and pastries. With its comfy couches, warm and friendly space, attentive and friendly staff as well as good coffee and Internet, Cyberia is a welcome addition to Chicago's burgeoning coffee shop scene.
Cyberia is located at 701 N. Wells St. (312) 573-2789
I'm not a pizza person. Thanks to a three-year-long tragedy involving free Dominoes Pizza on "production nights" at my college newspaper and too many all-around bad pizza experiences, I generally avoid eating the savory pies, no matter what the foodies say about Crust or Spacca Napoli.
Apart Pizza in Lincoln Square has changed all that for me. Their thin crust is more than just a bottom layer for more tasty ingredients to sit upon. It's flavorful and manages to be both crunchy and chewy in a way that sates both pizza lovers and (former) pizza haters. The ingredients are fresh and the pies are served without an ounce of pretension. The small are only $5 and are plenty of food for one person. An added bonus is that you can get fountain drinks for a mere 50 cents.
It's a tiny joint, the space being occupied mostly by the oven. Seats are scarce, but it's located directly across from Wells Park, where you can plop yourself in the grass or sit on a bench and turn pizza night into picnic night.
Finally I can do away with the doggie bags: Governor Blags has signed legislation that would allow dogs to accompany their owners to outdoor seating areas of restaurants. The law, which will be reviewed by city aldermen later this month, would also forbid employees from handling the dogs; prohibit dogs from sitting on a seat, table or countertop; provide disposable towels and liquid hand sanitizer for you and your animal, and require cleaning of all spilled dog food. The law also states that pets can't be inside any restaurant or food prep area. Restaurant owners are not required to observe this law, and will have the right to refuse service to the dog owner in case the dog shows aggressive behavior.
If you haven't noticed by now, Uncommon Ground is setting up a new shop on Devon in the former Speakeasy Supper club space. Expect everything you get from the original: an eclectic menu featuring natural and organic ingredients often locally supplied, live local music and art-oriented events. The new location promises to be just as green as the original, and then some, with reclaimed woods for the décor and furnishings, a roof-top collection well for rainwater re-use in plants and toilets, solar panel heated water and a roof-top garden to grow vegetables, plants and herbs for the kitchen.
Expect Uncommon Ground on Devon to open in early fall.
Uncommon Ground on Devon is located at 1401 West Devon Ave.
Uncommon Ground is located at 3800 N. Clark Street
That there are "secret" menu items and other "menu hacks" at fast food joints and chains is pretty common knowledge now — but what about stand-alone restaurants? At a recent outing with friends, we discovered that the Daily Bar & Grill will substitute its tasty tater tots for the tortilla chips in their excellent nachos. Deeelicous, to say the least.
What secret menu hacks have you come across at local restaurants?
This weekend, Califone and the Ponys are rocking West Fest on Chicago Avenue and the Midwest Buddhist Temple hosts Ginza Festival. Meanwhile, the 12th Annual Chicago Korean Festival fills Bryn Mawr between Kimball and Kedzie with a bandstand plus food and advocation tents in typical street fair style. I took the Homan/Kimball bus north from North Avenue, met up with my pals and popped out of the fest and into Tofu House (3307 W. Bryn Mawr) for a meal. The commercial corridor of the Korean enclave seems to span just the few blocks of the festival. It's a delightful find, not too far from Arabic cafes, restaurants and stores on Kedzie near Lawrence. Tofu House's steamy tofu vegetable soup is full of spice, just like I asked for, and brought to the table simmering - perfect inside air conditioning on a hot day. We're in a room off of the main wood paneled room that's under a ceiling of dark wood slots. The wood lends a wholesome feel that becomes humbly charming with the dark, almost forest green that paints chairs and the table frames that hold medium-stained wood tabletops. Service is attentive, and includes a current Korean fashion magazine to admire while we wait. Across and down the street, through the festival's table tents and wrestling sand pit, sits a modest looking Lawrence Fruit Market (3318 W. Bryn Mawr). Packaged goods like soybean paste, barley flakes and rice paper for spring rolls sit in shelves around a table with crimini, shitake and oyster mushrooms and okra and coolers with organic tofu, broccoli, leeks and more. Fresh plump and deeply sweet figs and lychee wait at checkout. The back of the store seems reserved for unpacking. On the sidewalk, my pals and I peel the lychee's round, prickly outside and appreciate the sticky, grape-like sweet inside. I spit the pit into a trashcan and get lost on a side street. The bungalow-lined streets are pristinely manicured. Down an alley, friends point out a Korean backyard garden. Gourds and cucumbers hang from a trellis, homemade from electrical pipe, that makes me think of going home to unpack the veggies I just bought.
Potato Salad, Protein Tidbits and Lentil with Cornbread.
Nestled among Grand Crossing's cozy bungalows at 75th and Indiana, Soul Vegetarian East cooks some of the tastiest, most filling all vegan comfort soul food and serves it wearing ethnic clothing. Soul Veg, as it's affectionately called, is the local outpost of the worldwide restaurants run by the African Hebrew Israelites. Sunday breakfasts include pancakes or fluffy biscuits, fruit or maple syrup, savory tofu scramble, a heavily seasoned sausage-like bulgar patty, juicy "down-home" grits, hash browns and organic apple juice. Dinner specials often offer tender and savory collard greens as part of a full plate. This time, BBQ Delights were the protein. I had my choice of thick soup of the day (the lentil finished with a nice black pepper glow) with cornbread or a salad with a thick dressing, with a side of creamy and mustardy potato salad. Gyro sandwiches are succulent with a thick and cool dressing, slightly chewy protein tidbits are fried crispy like their other finger foods, Carrot Supreme salad coolly refreshes, and the fake steak sandwich is battered and fried like chicken fried steak. Take the Red Line to 79th Street and transfer to the eastbound 75th Street bus. Or find their take-aways wrapped up in the cafe at Barnes and Noble in the Loop.
From August 16-22, Mon Ami Gabi is whipping up some awesome corn-inspired French dishes during Corn Festival. Check out the menu:
- Amuse: Complimentary Mini Bags of Popcorn with Brown Butter, Parmesan and Herbs
- Corn Bisque
- Corn Meal Crusted Halibut Sandwich
- Soft Shell Crab with Succotash
- Grilled Veal Skirt Skate with Arugala and Grilled Corn Salad
- St. Andre Cheese with Warm Cornbread
- Corn n' Cream Ice Cream with Caramel Corn
You can still order from the regular menu, but why bother? Corn ice cream? How often does that come around. For more info, call 773-348-8886.
It's hard to believe, walking past bright and shiny new Ukrainian Village panini and gelato spot Piccolo, that just a few scant months ago it was the Lava Lounge. Gone are the pulsing, sweaty darkness and dance beats, and now light streams into an almost oversized open space accented with dusky brick and green walls the same inviting hue as the roasted pistachio gelato in the front freezer case.
It's always a bummer when you plan a trip to a new "hot spot," only to walk up to the door and find a sign in the window telling you there's a private party going on inside and the general public won't be allowed in for another 3 hours. No matter, though, since this particular stretch of Broadway just north of Lawrence has become "quite the destination" all of a sudden, and several other dining (and drinking) options quickly presented themselves. The one we chose was Fiesta Mexicana, with it's tidy fenced-in patch of sidewalk and bizarrely tall set of tables and chairs. We weren't expecting a whole lot from the place, so we were delightfully surprised by the pitcher of margaritas, which wasn't a bad deal for $23. We got almost 2 full rounds (8 drinks) out of the fat-bellied clay pitcher and decided we'd have to come back on Tuesday, when the same pitcher purportedly goes on special for only $15.
I really don't ever order off the menu. I'm not well-versed in the cuisine of other lands to flippantly describe a favorite dish to a waiter and have any confidence that I'll get what I asked for. The native dish of my people is cheese -- not much you can do with ordering off the menu with cheese. And granted, a friend and I did once accidentally order aloo gobi off the menu from Bhabi's Kitchen (we were ordering over the phone, didn't have a menu -- much more inadvertent than studied restaurant ordering technique) but since they had the ingredients, they made it for us anyway.
In any case, when I'm offered an opportunity to order off the menu, I usually jump at it. And on a visit to Coast Sushi last week, ordering off the menu paid great dividends with a brand-new, just created special summer wasabi apple roll. Behold its glory, and continue on after the fold for all the sweet and spicy details.
A good quaint Italian restaurant reminds me of the places my grandpa would take me to. They were fine, humble, had great service, and usually a pianist through the night. Orso's takes me back there. The piano plays most nights, the lighting is romantically dim, the ceilings of Old World tin, and they take care of me changing up the menu to meet my vegan whim. Their amazingly succulent portobello lying in a juicy red wine balsamic reduction needed no change. Hearty with plenty of rosemary, its deep flavor suggested molasses. After that starter, I asked for penne in olive oil with peas and mushrooms. Again, the mushrooms were fabulous, and they were in plenty. Penne came perfectly al-dente, in plenty of well-salted olive oil. Multiple wines are available by the half carafe, and they check in on you quite well. Leaving on my most recent visit, my sweetie and I had a fine time walking around the quaint streets of Old Town Triangle a few blocks up, feeling like I was in Old World Europe.
Il Fiasco (which means "flask" as well as "flop" in Italian) is Andersonville's newest Italian restaurant (following quickly on the heels of Anteprima). It is located at the corner of Clark and Carmen, in what used to be Rioja. Already, Il Fiasco is getting some goodpress, which is why I was slightly disappointed by my underwhelming dinner there last night. Fortunately, as Joe Gray writes in his post for The Stew, the prices are more than reasonable. Most pasta and pizza dishes are $10, and the tasty house red, at $7 for a quartino (about 2 glasses of wine), is quite a steal.
River North has a new gastropub, English. Located in the historic Furla Photography building on LaSalle Street, this new offering from the people behind Union Park, Bar Celona and The Central, caters to the local lunch crowd during the day with a menu consisting of sliders, burgers, pressed sandwiches, salads and some higher-end entrees such as the Earl Grey tea encrusted center cut filet served with a black currant demi-glaze. English also serves as a neighborhood night spot for late-night lounging, boasting three floors, the first featuring a 30-foot main bar and casual dining, the second for more formal settings and the two free pool tables, and a third for private parties.
Though I think the beer selection needs a bit of work — most are pedestrian offerings in my beer snob mind — the standards of Coors, Bud and Miller and some English brews, St. Peter’s Porter among others — English looks like a nice place to lunch and a relaxing place for late-night hanging out.
• The waitstaff and bartenders at Kuma's Corner are donating their entire salary and tips on July 27 to the preservation of the Wicker Park Dog Park. What better time to eat one of the city's best burgers?
The only way to start a birthday is with a special meal, which is why I hauled my cookies this morning up north to Andersonville to ring in a new year with friends at M. Henry. As usual, this place did not disappoint.
It seemed like a bad day for the man behind Half and Half's counter who spilt my bowl of granola as he poured it - and a temporary disappointment for me because it was the last of it. Without that though, I might never have tried one of their vibrant bagel sandwiches. A week later, I still remember the crunch of an everything bagel contrasting well against the soft hummus that coated it. In the filling, wedges of avocado came tender and ripe, a tomato thin and juicy, cucumber fresh and crisp, and slices of red onions shaved thin enough to impart just a fraction of the usual raw onion smack. I drank my coffee outside in the sidewalk section that, this year, has expanded to wrap around the building towards the Blue Line entrance at Damen. The train, three bus routes passing by, and a mix of hype make the location quite busy and ripe for people watching. Many pedestrians and bicyclists converge here.
I was walking past 444 N. Wabash earlier this week, so figured I'd see how things were coming along at the Jackson Park Bar & Grill, the 9,000-square-foot Beaux Arts-styled restaurant planned by Chef Jason Paskewitz, a star of the Chicago restaurant scene (formerly of SushiSambaRio, Nine, Wave, JP Chicago and others). One of the windows was open for construction access, so I peaked in with my camera; this is what I saw:
A lot can get done in a couple months, but I'm not sure they're going to make the "Summer 2007" delivery date posted on the website (most news articles are now saying early fall.) But hey, at least they've got their hours figured out, and the menu sounds delicious.
With all the blog chatter lately on BBQ, you may be hankerin for some ribs. Every Wednesday night, Chef Susan Goss is serving up a Texas-style pork spareribs special with sides of fried potato salad and black-eyed pea relish for just $18.75. If you really want to do it up, visit on July 18th for their official BBQ rib kickoff. On that evening, you can add a glass of Murphy Goode Liar's Dice Zinfandel 2004 for $10 and Chef will throw in a piece of her famed Lemon Chess Pie on the house. Plus, every diner that orders the Q special will get a packet of her BBQ dry rub spice blend to take home. Best make reservations just to be safe. 312-666-6175.West Town Tavern. 1329 W Chicago Ave.
While eating brunch with a friend recently, I found a hair stuck to a piece of bacon. If I was home, I'd forget about it quickly, as I'm the only one frying the bacon (and bringing it home, I might add), but obviously I'm in a restaurant, so my reaction was different. The waiter apologized and quickly brought over a replacement plate. My experience was minor compared to some of the horror scenes that city health inspectors encounter when visiting restaurants, such as parades of cockroaches, mountains of mice droppings, and poorly refrigerated or stored ingredients. An article in today's Tribune dicusses the number of restaurants in Chicago that have been permanently or temporarily shuttered due to health violations in the past year, and how to notice the warning signs of a poorly maintained eatery. Another resource you can use is the city's online database for researching inspection status of restaurants.
Though Devon Avenue is known for its Indian and Pakistani restaurants and sari stores, Indian subcontinent isn't the only region represented by this always jam-packed street in West Rogers Park. Further west, you start to see Jewish grocers and Russian bookstores. And among them is the Argo Bakery (2812 W. Devon Ave). With its round, tandoori-like oven proudly squatting in the middle of the totally unassuming bakery, Argo Bakery bakes excellent Georgian-style breads and pastries.
Fun at Fox & Obel's cafe comes in various forms. You might enjoy their Harvest Vegetarian sandwich, a hummus and avocado combo on multigrain with tomato, mushroom, cucumber, spinach and shaved red onion. The most enjoyment I had though was from eating food on the patio cafe that I'd already purchased inside. Juicy fresh cherries from the produce section are bright. The candy-like crunch of "cinnful coco pecans" from the they-serve-you bulk section is especially tasty. At a hefty $14.99 per pound of the nuts, a $4 snackful is all you need. You can watch the buses go by for free.
Tapas fans are in for a special treat this week: Haro Tapas & Pintxos, 2436 S. Oakley, receives the first shipment of Pimientos de Padrón today, direct from Spain. Says Haro owner Amor Montes do Oca:
"We are always on a search for the best of Spain. Such is the case with the famous (and rare) Pimientos de Padrón. In the city of Santiago de Compostela, people flock to tapas bars to savor these unique peppers that are lightly fried in olive oil, and then sprinkled with sea salt to create a delicious snack or tapa. Following the tradition of the little village of Padrón, the farmers select only the small young peppers, because the larger, more mature peppers are always hot."
Andersonville is getting a new coffee shop, The Coffee Studio, and they’ve been keeping a blog about the trials and tribulations of opening one, from the conception, the build-out of a space and choosing just about everything else. If you have ever wondered just how much work goes into opening an independent shop, you should take a peak at this blog. The Coffee Studio plans on opening sometime in July. Stay tuned for more information regarding just when.
Iggy’s3 will be opening in early July in the former Chicago Rib House space. If you were a fan of the original Iggy's (now Juicy Wine Company) you may be pleasantly surprised as this new incarnation promises to be more like the original River West location. Expect blood red walls, horror movies and artwork featuring sock monkeys (the true face of evil), and a menu that seems to be closely related to the original with favorites like grilled calamari, artichoke-heart fritters, bowtie pasta and, of course, lots of really big martinis.
Iggy's3 is located at 800 N. Dearborn St.
And speaking of former locations, Chaise Lounge is now open as a BYOB in the former Wicker Park locale of Iggy’s. Chaise Lounge comes from the same people who revamped Hunt Club and features a seasonal American menu with a bit of international flair. Newly remodeled with a South Beach-inspired décor (the sock monkeys most likely have made the trip to Iggy’s3), summer nights on the patio and yet to be opened rooftop sound even more appealing. Expect the liquor license to come through in late June.
Chaise Lounge is located at 1840 W. North Ave. 773-342-1840
Thursday night a friend and I ate at John's Place, on the corner of Racine and Webster. The restaurant bills itself as serving "Regional American Cuisine" so I guess we shouldn't have been surprised to find the BBQ chicken tacos on the menu. Despite the blasphemous addition of sweet and sticky (and very American) BBQ sauce to what is ostensibly a Mexican dish, we couldn't resist giving them a try... and then of course attempting to replicate them in our own kitchen the following night.
Using fair amounts of pink, The Breakfast Club on Hubbard closes a long stretch of colorless and sleepy low-rise brick commercial buildings from Damen to Noble. Without pink, this simple two-story white-sided frame building might itself fade away into the block of new walk-up condo buildings from Noble to Ogden. Its gleam comes from pink window awnings, a pink door, a pink canopy covering tables on the side, and a covered passage extending from door to sidewalk that is also all pink except "BREAKFAST CLUB" on its sides in white block letters and a little white trim. It also exhibits perhaps the only installation of sidewalk tables on Hubbard until Mart Anthony's Italian Restaurant across Ogden.
8 a.m. Thursday: Hubbard is a virtually car-free expressway for trickles of bicycling commuters into the Loop, and my sidewalk table was a front row seat to many sorts of people pedaling by. Some went in office attire rolling by on cruisers with baskets or panniers, others in racing bikes with spandex, as well as plenty of hard-helmeted riders with messenger bags on simple street bikes.
As someone from Japan, I enjoy watching Japanese food gain popularity in this country. When my partner and I walked down Randolph this evening, I was pleasantly surprised that there were at least four trendy-looking sushi bars within five minutes' walk from each other. Our Friday dinner at one of them, Sushi Wabi, however, was a disappointment.
To be honest, I hadn't expected the food to be excellent. Given the location and the clientele, I'd figured the sushi restaurant would be focused more on atmosphere than the actual food. I was right; with cranky old school chairs, bare ceiling and a DJ, the atmosphere of the restaurant was decidedly hip. And the food was not that great, if slightly experimental.
Unfortunately, when it comes to ambiance, Coffee Chicago in Edgewater is not the first coffeehouse that springs to mind. Its location, on the southwest corner of Broadway and Berwyn across from a Blockbuster and a Payless shoe store, doesn't provide the greatest setting for a leisurely afternoon spent sipping a hot beverage. With a Starbucks on every corner and a host of more interesting cafes close by (Pause, Kopi, Sweet Occasions, and Metropolis Coffee, to name a few), I often walk by Coffee Chicago without giving it a second look. Recently, however, I noticed a sign in the window advertising free wireless internet, and I couldn't help but feel envious of the happy-looking customers sipping their drinks at the outdoor tables. So a friend and I decided to give it a try.
On Saturday, my family and I went to a dinner at North Pond, a beautiful, Prairie-Style Lincoln Park restaurant with a focus on organic, seasonal and local ingredients. It was my third time there, and my partner and I agreed that it was our best meal at North Pond. It was (of course) mainly thanks to the amazing chef Bruce Sherman and his line of cooks, but there was something else that made us appreciate the food more: we were much more attuned to the season than we'd ever been.
Maiz is tucked into a storefront just south of Humboldt Park (south of the park itself, but in the neighborhood by the same name), a block south of the BYOB tofu-serving diner Flying Saucer and a door down from bakery TipsyCake. The menu's introductory text reminds us that today's Mexican food developed from the combination of two highly developed cuisines, that of the Mesoamericans, and that of the Europeans. Maiz emphasizes the delicious kinds of food you'd find on a street or in a market. And in that style, they make their tortillas by hand.
My first time here, my dining companion and I started with two corundas (triangular tamales) - one topped with cheese and sour cream for her and one topped with just their mole sauce and sesame seeds for me. They were dense and hearty, with the cornmeal texture you'd expect from tamales, and served on a banana leaf. The mole was light with a bit of a bite. According to the menu, corundas are "one of the most popular street foods in parts of [the Mexican states] Michoacán and Guerrero." Meanwhile, she sipped her Jamaica, cold hibiscus flower water. The drink came topped with the kind of foam you get from fresh juicing, pink presumably from the hibiscus. They served it in a large goblet, like they do the mango juice that's also a bit frothy.
Adding a bit of culinary class to the underbelly of the Western Blue Line Stop, Vella Café has recently opened as great brunch spot in a somewhat sparse area of the Chicago weekend-daylight-dining scene. Not that Margie’s Candies, Arturo’s and Lazo’s don’t rock in their own gustatory right, but sometimes the morning after requires more than tacos or sundae to get things jumpstarted. Plus, Green Eye is merely steps away and their bartender will call you and all of your friends "lovelies" if you stop by for a hair of the dog before stumbling another few feet to breakfast. Everyone likes being called lovely.
Vella’s panini-centric menu and genesis from sustainable grocer Green City Market's team have been fairly well discussed at this point. So let’s talk about their gruel. Seriously.
Even though the Goose Island Brew Pub on Clybourn does not have an outdoor patio, it's not a bad place to go for lunch on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. The best deal by far is the beer flight, a selection of 4 5-oz. servings of many of the brewery's beers (some cost extra) for just 6 bucks. My dining partner chose Dead Goat Porter, Smoked Maibock, Summertime Kolsch Bier, and Pennant Race Red Ale. I was a big fan of the Summertime (recently voted a reader's choice beer of the week at Chicagoist). It was light and refreshing, perfect for hot summer days. My dining partner preferred the porter, however, because it was rich without a chalky aftertaste. The Pennant Race Red, which was our least favorite, was overly smoky, while the Smoked Maibock was similar to Fat Tire but not quite as sweet.
The Nhu Lan Bakery (2612 W. Lawrence) opened just off Lincoln Square this winter. The Vietnamese shop specializes in an inexpensive sandwich called the Bhan Mi—a product of the culinary collision that evolved during France’s fifty-odd year colonization of southeast Asia. Fresh baked demi baguettes are filled with a distinctly Asian mix of pickled vegetables, a touch of tangy fish sauce, and a variety of meats like fried pork, ham and baked chicken. There’s even a vegetarian option, though, it’s reportedly the weakest offering of the bunch. While the subs are fresh, healthy and extremely tasty, ours looked a bit wan, and could have stood some plumping. I’m not talking a Potbelly’s greasy meat explosion, just a bit more of the excellent ingredients; enough so they can compete with the bread, at least.
Though I'm usually an unrepentant meat eater, I have a tremendous respect for Indian vegetarian cookery. Rich, aromatic, complex and spicy, Indian vegetarian food can satisfy me even when I'm in the mood for something meaty. So, when I found Arya Bhavan, an Indian vegetarian buffet place at 2508 W. Devon, I was quite delighted.
The buffet table at Arya is long. And loaded with such familiar dishes as aloo gobi (potato and califlower), chana masala (chickpeas) and veggie samosas. But there are others--dishes whose ingredients I cannot even guess, let alone their names. (It would be nice if they bothered to put up names of the dishes; I love looking up recipes online after I eat out.) When we ate at Arya, there were slightly sour, stewed baby cucumbers; winter-melon-like vegetable in rich, thick sauce; and something that resembled grits, with mustard seeds and other spices. They were all very good, perhaps with the exception of slightly dried-up naan. We had trained ourselves not to return for seconds--not large seconds, at least--as we explored Indian buffets along Devon, but Arya Bhavan successfuly destroyed our restraint that was the precious fruit of our long struggle. And every bit of those seconds was, well, fantastic.
My favorite vegetarian restaurant along Devon still remains to be Mysore Woodland (ah, their avial!), but I'll definitely be going back to Arya Bhavan. I just have to re-train myself not to gorge...
As most of you may have noticed, Saturday night was hardly the ideal night for a BBQ here in Chicago. So a friend and I headed to Fireside, a bar/restaurant tucked in among the condos and warehouses on Ravenswood a few blocks north of Bryn Mawr. We started off at a table on the "All Weather" patio but found ourselves getting dripped on, so we moved into the quieter dining room.
Many have been waiting for Crust since the Chicago Reader exposed how it stood to become the country's fourth certified-organic restaurant last March. Opening night Thursday was teaming with great service that was hip to the vegan thing, a mix of hipster and blown-dry hair patrons, bicycles out front, and some of the best crust around - crispy and chewy at the same time. People sat down on the curb waiting for a table. Crust seems to be growing their own chard in the window behind them, and someone moving out from an apartment above was navigating a red sofa through a maze of Crust's sidewalk tables.
Service was tops, with our server introducing himself, checking in on us often and being fun and courteous - playfully suggesting we keep an eye on the bottles yielding $9 vodka infusions up on the wood shelf behind the bar as he went to check on something for us. The bus staff refilled our water whenever they dropped a few inches. A few mistakes were appropriately handled. An order that came to our table before we placed one did seem to go on to its proper destination. And we were put on the waiting list for an inside table instead of an outside one I'd asked for. But it was all handled quite pleasantly. When the chef wouldn't put cheese on just half of the pizza - it's too small they said - our server seemed sympathetic.
Potato and cauliflower sandwich on bread, instead of pita
To get away from the bustle of the Loop's financial district on La Salle, I used to walk south to Printer's Row, to a gritty cafe called Gourmand with vintage sofas, chalkboard menus, local paintings hanging and hiply-dressed employees. Gourmand closed for a bit, then re-opened as Café Mediterra, a clean looking spot with framed lithos on the walls, a bus person wearing a polo shirt tucked into khakis, much more proper service, and no couches. The person who delivered my sandwich to the number card I put on my table also re-filled the water I had taken. There was no self-service bus tray in sight. A few patrons on laptops reminded of the many student-looking laptop users from the old spot. But the ones who used to congregate in Gourmand, a block from Columbia, wore tight jeans, stylish shoes and slept-in hair. The new crowd seems, from my one visit, older and more conservatively dressed in standard-issue black stretch office pants with matching clean-cut knit long sleeve sweaters, suits, button down office casual shirts, relaxed fit blue jeans and even the occasional Coca-Cola T-shirt.
Why did Gourmand go away? Apparently, we didn't buy enough. Two owners behind the counter told me why Gourmand changed. One was a clean-cut fellow identified by the other as the owner of the late Gourmand's sister, Filter. It went something like, people sat around Gourmand for three hours and just ordered a cup of coffee. After asking how that differs from Filter, where people seem to sit around a lot, too, the answer was simply that we buy more at Filter. Ironically, in case you haven't heard, Filter is closing, too.
Over the weekend, Centerstage's Misty Tosh raved about Mazza Barbeque, a new spot along Devon Avenue. Her review confirmed my opinion of the restaurant and the food: it's a worthy second choice for diners not able to get into Bhabi's or Hema's, and has the potential to become a destination itself.
I stopped in by myself a few weeks ago (it's not far from my home, and I was bacheloring it for the night), shortly after Mazza opened in a space formerly occupied by a sketchy looking cafe. I was the first customer of the night, as far as I could tell; the waiter seemed almost surprised to see me. He handed me a menu, which promised Indian, Pakistani and Uzbek cuisine. Like Tosh, I'd be hard-pressed to identify the specific Uzbek dishes, but no matter.
River North's Sushi Samba Rio is not known for its brunch. What comes to mind instead is a trendy lounge/ night club where pretty young things go to see and be seen. Sundays at 11 am, however, the scene is decidedly different. Brunch is served "family style," so a group can choose 4 dishes off a menu of about 12 options. The dishes are brought out in entree portions, but each portion is meant to serve 2 or 3. It's a great way to taste what the kitchen has to offer, but dividing up the dishes can be a bit awkward. Still, the food is a giant step up from what you might find at your local diner. Choices like fillet mignon with fluffy scrambled eggs and shredded potatoes make for a brunch that is much more exciting than two over-easy with a side of bacon. Before noon, the cuisine at Sushi Samba isn't upstaged by the clientèle, so come early and let your taste buds be the judge.
One nice thing about bicycling to work is that you can cycle out for lunch, and venture much farther than you might otherwise be able to in a reasonable lunch hour. I pedaled up State Street from Jackson to a modernized Indian restaurant called Vermillion on Hubbard in a few minutes. I sat in the beautifully warm sun at a sidewalk table, sipping tamarind carbonated water from a red and orange floral patterned patio glass as my pant legs were still tight rolled to keep away from the bicycle chain. I sipped quickly to keep the ginger-like burn from dissipating in my mouth. Red patterns on the table umbrellas matched the glasses, and went with the bright red door and sign.
The pani puri or artichoke pakoras sounded tempting but not filling, so I ordered a modified thali from the dinner menu: three items, plus rice and sauce. Pieces of soft melting purple-skinned eggplant came - spicy with a nice thick burn in plenty of ground spices suspended in oil. The second item, chickpeas with greens, weren't as flavorful as they should have been. But the thick eggplant chili coconut sauce really made up for it. The mango rice refreshed. And then came the modification, the artichoke pakoras - breaded and fried artichoke hearts - as the substitution that made this thali vegan.
This weekend, I joined two friends for brunch at Over Easy, my first trip there since it's reopening after last summer's fire. As was expected, at 9:30 a.m. we were told there was a 40 minute wait for a table. Fortunately, our caffeine headaches were assuaged by the delicious, self-serve Julius Meinl coffee station outside Over Easy's door. It's pretty genius to provide patrons with good, free coffee while they wait. It's like sitting at the bar during dinner time while you wait for a table at any other restaurant. Mood-altering beverages equal less cranky customers.
The last time I enjoyed brunch at this place, I ordered the vegan chilequiles, which I had read were out of this world. Expecting bits of tortillas mixed in with srambled tofu and the salty, spicy tang of a sauce of pureed tomatoes, onions and chiles, I was dissapointed by a basically bland and oily scramble of tofu sans the tortillas. It was no match for the Vegan Epiphany I love to order at M. Henry.
So, this time, I embraced my inner omnivore and ordered Sassy Eggs, eggs (any way you like them) over a chorizo-potato hash topped with fresh guacamole and ancho ketchup (I ordered mine on the side, because of my love/hate relationship with any kind of ketchup). While enjoyed the savory flavors of an urban brunch spot's take on sausage and eggs, I wasn't overly impressed. Everything tasted good and fresh, but I wasn't wowed by this dish nearly as much as I was by the Banana Spiked French Toast, and I am not into sweet breakfasts. Berries aren't my thing, and I get a toothache even thinking about all the sugar in pancakes coated with fruit compotes, maple syrup and powdered sugar. But this French toast had a bit of a crunch to compliment the smooth flavors of banana and rum caramel drizzled over the top. There was no need for the maple syrup brought out to my husband. It was the first time I ever experienced regret for ordering eggs!
Over all, Over Easy is a good spot for weekend brunch. It's average priced and the food is tasty. I'm really glad they reopened and even happier to see that the neighborhood is, too.
Anteprima opened a few weeks ago in a former nightclub space on Clark St. between Berwyn and Summerdale. It's small and cozy with exposed brick walls and dark wooden tables. On a recent Friday night, when a friend and I arrived shortly before 7, the place was already packed. We managed to snag the last open table in the room. The menu is not long or complicated, and there were at least as many if not more appetizers than entrees. The wine list, on the other hand, is more overwhelming. All the wines are Italian, and many are offered in both full bottles as well as in "quartinos" or small carafes which contain about 2 glasses worth of wine.
Torta with portobello, avocado, caramelized onions, poblano chili and bead spread
When I walked into Bombon Cafe in the Loop, I was expecting a crowd of large deep booths aside a glass pastry case and a counter with stools looking back to a kitchen. I think it was Chicago Journal that published a photo like this with an article announcing the opening of Bombon's Ashland location some time ago.
I was really hoping for an authentic French meal at Edgewater's recently opened Cotes du Rhone Bistro. Unfortunately, I didn't get one. I did, however, get a hefty portion of mussels, which were delicious in their light and brothy cream and shallot sauce, but the sea bass, which I ordered as a main dish, lacked a certain something. Luckily, the flourless chocolate cake more than made up for it. Still, despite the tasty appetizer and dessert, I don't think I'll be back. The decor was dreary and uninspired, the waiter struggled to pronounce almost everything on the menu, and I just can't bring myself to respect a French restaurant that offers a cheese plate as a first course. Quelle horreur!
Opening soon in Clarendon Hills is Maijean, an upscale French-inspired bistro from Chef and owner Nadia Tilkian, formerly of Chicago's Bistro 110, Barrington County Bistro and Zinfandel. With an Art Nouveau-inspired interior and an intelligently crafted menu of country French fare — roasted Cornish hen with pancetta, garlic and red lentils or tartare of ahi tuna in a white balsamic vinaigrette as well as some inspired deserts, warm berry soup with goat-cheese vanilla ice cream — Maijean might be worth the trip to this sleepy suburb.
30 South Prospect Ave. Clarendon Hills 60514 (630)794-8900
Filter coffee shop, in the congested heart of Wicker Park/Bucktown is shutting its doors to make way for Bank of America, as reported in Gapers Block. But just down the street, where the sidewalks aren't choked with hipsters and tourists, just beyond Scoop NYC and before the Green Eye Lounge, there's a new spot for caffeine and lounging--though the caffeine here is of the loose-leaf variety. Tea Essence opened a few weeks ago in a big and airy space, helping to lead the way in the coversion of this gritty industrial strip. The owners, Tanya Govert and Heidi Brown, both left behind their former day jobs for their new jobs: helping each person to find his or her own tea. At the front of the shop there's a table with little glass jars of tea, so before ordering a cup, you can inspect the leaves and perhaps even sniff. There are green teas, white teas, black teas, herbal teas and teas blended with fruit or flowers. The teas, once ordered, are steeped in a French press and then served by the cup. In addition to the hot beverage, Tea Essence serves scones and other pastries and soups and sandwiches from Kitchen Chicago. And, as part of their commitment to passing on to the public the benefits of tea, Tanya and Heidi are also hosting meetings for a local tea club, with tastings and visits to other tea shops. This is the perfect place to stop on your way to a show at Gorilla Tango Theater, either for a snack before the show, or for detox tips after taking in the interactive show, "Bye Bye Liver: A Chicago Drinking Game."
With a flaky, buttery crust and wide variety of filling options, the empanadas at Nandu (2731 W. Fullerton Avenue) are a perfect little meal, especially when paired with their refreshing sangria. Named after an ostrich like bird native to South America, Nandu specializes in Argentinian cuisine, and their empanadas are some of the best in the city. Two or three per person can easily make a meal, and you have a nice selection to choose from, including vegetarian options. Try the maiz or the espinaca if you want to go meat free, both are savory, gooey delights. Meat and seafood options abound as well. Dipped in a bit of tasty chimichurri sauce made with parsley, garlic and olive oil (spicy and not-so-spicy versions are both offered), the empanadas are really a tasty treat. This little restaurant is a homey, friendly place where you can enjoy a culturally rich evening without breaking the bank, with fantastic live music on weekends and a festive atmosphere featuring plenty of original art.
While enjoying excellent seats at Wrigley Field on Monday, I was obligated to indulge in some gameday grub. I gleefully put back a few vapid Bud Lites and stuffed my face with a couple of brats that looked and tasted like they arrived to the ballpark in someone’s back pocket. But it’s all about tradition at ball games and if I hadn’t gone for the Bud Lite and hot dogs, it woulda been Old Style and peanuts. So, price aside, I had no complaints… especially since we split well before the Cubs’ inevitable collapse.
It wasn’t until later, at the Hopleaf Bar in Andersonville, that I had the opportunity to right the evening’s previous culinary wrongs. Still being a bit full from the doggies, I kept it light by ordering the famed muscles mussels appetizer and a pint of De Koninck Bolleke ale. The slightly fruity, slightly malty, crisp brew was an excellent foil for the succulent, nautical sweetness of the Hopleaf’s mussels.
It may not be as warm today as it was yesterday, but it's still a fine day for an icy treat. Lucky for you, Soupbox in Lakeview (2943 N. Broadway) is officially reopening its Icebox alter ego today, and is celebrating by offering free scoops of their famous Icyfruit! Stop in before 10pm and get a free cup of lemon, raspberry, strawberry or chocolate ice. [via]
Veggie Gyros, Fake Cheese Fries, Fake Buffalo on Rye
Usually, I like to advocate for bicycling or CTAing there. But this time, my pal Erin took me on a South Side drive from Wicker Park. Veggie Bite at 3031 West 111th Street near Kedzie was our destination. Vegans like this spot for greasy vegan versions of classic fast food; it's all vegan. "Buffalo on Rye" reminds me of a fish sandwich. It's battered and fried tofu - one side generously given thousand-island-style sauce and the other a tangy ketchup (like French dressing as Erin pointed out). Gyros come filled with a messy combination of white-colored, greasy seitan, lettuce, tomato chunks and a cheesy sauce. The cheese fries have the same sauce. Its pungent taste comes from nutritional yeast, which adds a bit of chalkiness - and lets some people claim it tastes like cheese. This implementation is thick, suggestive of tahini, and tasting of hints of paprika. But it's not stringy or gooey. It tastes good - just don't expect cheese. Nutritional yeast fake cheeses often take a thick liquid form that thickens as they cool. But they're about to cheese what carob is to chocolate: not the same but something I've told myself is good enough (instead of cheese, but not chocolate). Veggie Bite's German chocolate cake was tender and moist, but not rich; and the frosting was more fluff than flavor. Some people can't seem to wait for Veggie Bite's anticipated North Side location to open. I'm excited for them. If the person I overheard working there is to be any indication, they seem quite moved to make food that's respectful of our animal friends. I think that helps us be a little more compassionate. And that's good for everyone.
Marigold is an Indian fusion restaurant a few doors down from Green Mill in Uptown. From the street, it stands out as a beacon of swanky interior design shining through the windows. The Uptown Theatre next store provides a heavy contrast; the theatre needs some life blown into it. While most of Marigold's food that I tried was quite tasty, it didn't convince me that the premium I was paying wasn't just for the decor. You enter down a hall with candle cutouts in the wall before coming to a host in front of a lavish tile mosaic. Inside you see white linen, fine fabric seat coverings, cube-shaped frames that divide booths and oblong ducts hovering above.
My thali's spinach was excellent - very smooth and well seasoned with the right amount of chili to leave a subtle but lingering burn in the mouth. Ditto for the Andhra-style eggplant - the kind I loved tasting in my pal's Mom's home cooking in Bombay. An accompanying pyramid of saffron rice was fun. The beet salad was refreshing, but the chana masala tasted bland with its chickpeas oddly very soft. If I recall correctly after finishing my Maharaja pilsner, the crème brûlée on the dessert list seemed out of place, even if it might have included Indian favorites pistachio and saffron. My friend Amod's dal soup was a fine implementation of the classic - very smooth and creamy. His samosas had a nice outer edge - long and flaky, coming away from the mass of filling like pizza crust does - but were a bit bland inside. Marigold was especially fun when they expanded our line-up of tables as our party trickled in. Perhaps I'll return sometime for the crusty samosas, a plate of spinach and eggplant over a beer - especially if I'm hungry before a show at Green Mill.
Reviews of the newest north-west side BBQ restaurant Smoque aren't hard to come by. (We've already covered it here, in fact.) It seems everyone has an opinion when it comes to barbecue, and I am hardly qualified to throw in my two cents. What I do know is that this place is still packing 'em in, so they must be doing something right. When I arrived at quarter to 7 on a recent weeknight, the line at the counter stretched almost out the door. Tables were scarce, but the management was doing its darnedest to make sure everyone who wanted a seat got one.
I sat in a deep corner booth under the cozy dim light of Pick Me Up Café with three foodies who I had just met. We'd come together to talk about increasing neighborhood access to fresh produce. And I ate well doing so. Pick Me Up's Humbolt Country tofu scram comes loaded with hearty potatoes, torn spinach, mushrooms and onions. It's a lovely and well-sized serving of freshness, but the taste is a bit flat, even after adding salt. The pepper shaker took it towards where it should go. The tofu could have been marinated for more flavor, but this didn't bother me because Pick Me Up is a great gathering spot. It reminds me of late night and early morning diners - the kind you visit to fill up, drink coffee and hang out; plus it's vegan friendly to the max. I was having a wonderful time with these new friends, thanks in part to the calm setting that's conducive to melting away into private conversation.
Hummus and fresh veggies on whole wheat - plus eggplant
The Cosi chain took care of me on my most recent trip with a hummus and veggie sandwich, loaded with tomato, cucumber, basil and onion on whole wheat - plus eggplant that I asked to be added. They bake their crispy bread fresh at each location and have bits for you to nibble on while you're waiting. The eggplant slices always seem just a bit tough at Cosi shops, but they're still quite a nice and hearty addition. The hummus that's spread on the bread - a filling two scoops this time - has a nice thick, rough texture. Chips or carrots: your choice with sandwiches.
In this week's Tribune Magazine, there is a short article on Harold's Chicken Shack, which draws mostly from a longer article "The First Family of Fried Chicken," which was published this week (correction: a year ago) in the Reader. The two articles point out that Harold's, despite being a chain, is really just a series of loosely-related chicken restaurants, each with its own particular appearance and modifications to the original fried chicken recipe.
In addition, each franchise that appeared after the original store was opened in 1950 has offered different menu items, which explains the often loud advertisements in the windows for fish, burgers, pizza, and other items you wouldn't normally expect to find at a chicken restaurant. Apparently, each store has its own assigned number, even though the numbering scheme makes no real sense and once one store closes, a newly opened store may be given the number of the closed one. This all makes for a quirky, heart-warming story about the triumph of local business-owners over the uniformity of fast food chains, but the problem is in the unpredictability of the product. According to Mike Sula, who wrote the Reader article, there's no telling "which ones fry good chicken." Therefore, eat at your own risk.
Here's a scoop: Aigre Doux, one of the city's hottest new restaurants, is adding brunch on Saturdays and Sundays starting next weekend, April 21, and and will now be open for dinner on Sunday nights.
This is great news to anyone who can't get a reservation for dinner, especially since Chef Mohammed Islam was named best new chef and Aigre Doux one of the best new restaurants in the "Best Restaurants" issue of Chicago magazine — the issue is already out to subscribers and hits newsstands shortly, and the restaurant's already seen a jump in reservations.
As anyone who's ever been there can tell you, a trip to the Brauhaus just isn't not complete without a sip from the boot. At $22, it ain't cheap, but the glass boot holds 2 liters of any beer off the menu, so you definitely won't go thirsty. For those who are a little squeamish about sipping out of a communal vessel, there are liter and pint-size glasses available as well. The food really isn't anything to write home about, but if you like sausages and sauerkraut, you won't go hungry either. And there's one more compelling reason to spend an evening at this bastion of the German community in Lincoln Square: the musical stylings of Gody, who sings and strums his guitar for the many who come regularly to cut a rug on the restaurant's dance floor.
Colorado based Spicy Pickle will be opening a store in Lincoln Park sometime in late spring at 2312 N. Lincoln Ave., just across the street from Children’s Memorial Hospital. Spicy Pickle belongs to the “fast casual” market, the convenience of fast food with a casual dining feel — think Chipotle or Noodles & Company. Primarily a sandwich and salad shop, Spicy Pickle could put a dent in some of the other lunch places, such as Chicago’s own Potbelly or even the Jimmy John's down the street. With some interesting paninis — the Sausalito Bandido sounds interesting — and boasting some 150,000 build-your-own sandwich combinations, Spicy Pickle could be a welcome lunch spot to the neighborhood.
Sure, there are lots of Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, but it turns out that almost all of them of them (like the vast majority of Chinese restaurants in the US) serve Cantonese food. Now I'd never disparage Cantonese cuisine, which can serve up some real delights, but its the spicy Sichuan dishes that really capture my heart, so I've always been a little disappointed with Chinatown here in Chicago... that is, until a friend told me about Lao Sze Chaun.
Specialty's does a vegan sandwich - called the Vegan no less - so well that it's the only thing a few of my non-veg friends order there. "I've ventured out a couple of times, but there's no reason. It's the best thing on the menu," my pal Arline told me. Another close friend, John, has been there more than ten times but hasn't tried anything else. He introduced me to the place saying, "I found your new favorite vegan sandwich." And he was right.
I've returned twice in just a few weeks, and each time I've eaten somewhere different. You can eat at tables inside, faux-outdoor-style among plants in the building's lobby or outside on the benches of 333 W. Wacker Drive - where Wacker turns with the river. You can also have Specialty's bring loads of Vegans to you. As Arline said looking at their delivery trolley, "I always get excited when I see one of those because I know someone's going to get totally hooked up."
After paying, get your sandwich from the opening in the wall towards the back (but pick up soup at the register). Peek through the wall and you will see anonymous hands making your sandwich. The low height of the top of wall's cutout obscures the face. I watched hands spread avocado all over the flaky focaccia bread that held together a lovely mess of savory Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, mushrooms and fresh basil. It was creamy and dreamy with bursts of flavor. All for just $4.
Stacks of stainless steel steamers cooked the "hot Asian buns" mentioned on the outside window of Wow Bao. The glass window of the takeaway cooler displayed the campy text, "Take Me. Heat Me. Eat Me." Someone offering expedient service wrote our order on a clipboard. After navigating the line, my pal Rose and I mixed peanut sauce into the noodles it came with. The sauce ran thin but packed a touch of heat. Our vegetable potstickers and dumplings (so far as I could tell, the steamed version of the pan-fried potstickers) included a few nicely crunchy bits inside. These ran out quicker than their dipping sauces (a yellow sauce with more horseradish-style burn than mustard flavor, one sweet and another spicy), so we each picked one to help kick up the noodles. "Fresh ginger ale" snapped of fresh ginger, hibiscus iced tea smoothly refreshed, and both came lightly sweetened, just as I think they should. A side of coconut almond crunch finished the meal with everything the snack's name claims, plus a hint of caramel. One downside: our meal, even ordering it "for here," contained more plastic containers than I care to think about.
Tofu Scram at Dodo (available at times as a weekend special)
Talking to a server at Dodo on Saturday, I found out that their chef had woken at 2 a.m. that day, if not consistently. Then, I saw that TimeOut Chicago named Dodo's Kim Dalton "Best chef to wake up to." None of this should come of any surprise if you've ever experienced Dodo.
Many things bring me back to Dodo. They show kind and down-home style service. Their food is nothing short of amazing. The setting is humble, vibrant and indie. Local artwork (apparently some created by residents upstairs) hangs in the restaurant and the adjacent gallery that you can "hang out in" while you're waiting for a table, as co-owner William put it on a previous visit. Tables are simple. You can see the cooks at the stove and in the back prep room. Servers and bus staff make sure to check in on everyone often. And when something went wrong, like when the kitchen lost our order, our server knew just how to make it right with genuine apologies, complimentary drinks (they don't serve alcohol) and slices of lemon poppy seed pound cake.
Calo's has been serving up Italian food in Andersonville since 1963.Their menu features everything from pizza to fried chicken to BBQ ribs. The first time I went, I was disappointed with the pasta dish I had (doughy gnocci) so this time, I chose two appetizers for my dinner: a small antipasto plate and an order of mussels.
Brett's Kitchen aside the 'L' tracks at Superior and Franklin - and now under different ownership than Brett's Cafe in Roscoe Village - loads their vegetable pita so thick I don't think they can't fit it all in. They slice the pita bread down the middle into two pieces, and stack it like a sandwich. I lost the cheese and got avocado, and the slices were quite thick, soft and ripe. Order it like my pal Rose does, "No cheese dude. Hook it up with the 'cado." Sprouts, tomato and super green lettuce make good appearances. I understand they finish it with a fine sesame dressing. It's available every day. Except the day I came. The Dijon mustard worked quite well instead.
People always recommend Cedars (or Cedars of Lebanon as it was previously known -- that's a story for another post) as the best spot for middle eastern in Hyde Park, but I've always liked The Nile even better. It's a much cheaper and less ambitious restaurant, but the hummus is the best I can remember having anywhere, and the sandwiches are both delicious and massive.
Want sushi in the Loop? You can eat some tasty avocado rolls, miso soup and inari at the counters of either Osaka or Tokyo Lunchbox. Or you could cross the river to relax with table service in the clean, smooth space that is Oysy Sushi, designed by Garofalo Architects. Oysy means "yummy" in Japanese. The restaurant has squarecut wood tables, curvy orange chairs, food plated in clean white dishes or black red-outlined trays, hiply well-dressed servers and restrooms so clean-looking I really have no idea how they got the floors to shine so much.
In the week before I moved out of my Lincoln Square apartment, in the summer of '04, I gathered a few friends and set out on a tour of the neighborhood's bevy of Thai restaurants. There were at least six within a half-mile radius of my place. We ended up hitting three of them over the course of a few hours. We called it the Thaiathlon.
One of the participants was my out-of-town friend Sarah, who was back in town this week, and who suggested we organize a reprise. While it would have been easy to find a new cluster of restaurants to try, the north Western Avenue Thai corridor was close, easy to get to, and still our favorite place to eat Thai, so we headed back to try it again. In order of consumption, here's what we found:
The debate over the country's best humburger will likely never be settled. Recently, Raymond Sokolov of the Wall Street Journal embarked on a cross-country expedition during which he tasted many of the nation's most renowned burgers. He sampled the goods at both Rosebud Stakehouse in the city and Nick's Tavern in Lemont along the way. Although he declared the "ghetto burger" served at Ann's Snack Bar in Atlanta the best of the best, he found the only decent fast food burger in southern California, at the In n' Out. Devotees of the chain are intensely loyal to the the double double, animal style. For those of you who have had the chance to compare, are there "fast food" burgers in Chicago that can match the In n' Out burger? One of us has already weighed in.
Chicagoland Bicycle Federation and EarthSave Chicago are planning this year's Veggie Bike and Dine to celebrate the Pullman district. My co-organizer and friend Arline and I pedaled past expansive lots of bungalows and long lines of row houses, stopping at the some restaurants that we're asking to participate. On 79th Street, Yassa African Restaurant was filled with well-heeled guests watching a dance act via satellite from Senegal. Live music was thumping in this restaurant’s adjoining space. They had it going on; one server told me something like, "You’ve got to because its life." If this visit’s any indication of the liveliness and tasty food to come on this year's Veggie Bike and Dine, it’s going to be amazing. They served us graciously. We drank an amazing juice party, starting with baobab juice. It's smooth, deeply rich and slightly chalky in a creamy way. And it goes down so well I almost didn't realize I'd taken the last of it. Arline understood, "You simply can't be blamed for loving the baobab." The ginger juice might be sharp enough to wake one up in the morning - and was more pleasant before I stirred up the bitterness from the cup's settlement. Last came warm bissap juice - they had been steaming it to get the juice out as we drank the others. As Arline pointed out, it's tart like cranberry and sweet like grape juice. Then, there's the Senegalese cuisine that we didn’t try - like the atieke (yucca) with a tomato, onion and green pepper sauce, the aloco (plantain), and the Senegalese vermicelli with black and red pepper and traditional spices. I can't wait to try these, because, as a server said, "food has to be tasty."
I went to Del Toro with my pals Laura and Satya to cover the food before they closed last Sunday. I felt like I couldn't stop getting a fix from the combined pleasures of this restaurant - the food's tantalizing mouthfeel, the space's romantically inspirational combination of deep warm textures and colors in low light aside clean lines and smooth surfaces. So I went again later that week with my pal Lena. Both times, I made sure to also cover a couple glasses from their wine selection. The first time, a velvety 2000 Condado de Haza Tempranillo Reserva left my mouth feeling soft like it does after good dark chocolate. On the second trip, their quite soft blend of syrah, grenache and carignan by Can Blau relaxed me. Del Toro's wine selection was just as fun as their food.
"I'm in love with these," Lena told me as we ate the "crispy fried" chickpeas with "citrus and chilies". They made them special, vegan, without the buttermilk. We're going to have to figure out how to make these, perhaps with a pesto or marinara to drizzle over them as Lena suggested. The chickpeas' batter pleasantly reminded me of that of fried chicken. I've been eating veg for years, but I can appreciate a good batter. A "traditional," as they said, Catalan starter kicked off dinner automatically without the asking: good bread with garlic, then tomato, to rub all over it, plus thick granules of sea salt and olive oil for the sprinkling - all in a lovely do-it-yourself style box. Both trips required the "patatas bravas," cylinders of tender potatoes fried crispy with a well of savory warm tomato sauce that bursts into your mouth when one takes one in all at once - minus the aioli to make them vegan. Lena "could live on these." The "escalivada," or "Catalan grilled vegetable salad" was a marvelous tangle of red peppers and zucchini shavings with "tomato confit" and "baby greens" in black olive oil and overall a nice hint of char that reminds me of eating street vendor corn cooked right on the coals in India. The roasted beets in an "anise vinaigrette" were the smoothest beets I remember tasting, and very tender to boot. Laura held our table's candle to brighten them up for a photo. I didn't need anymore food, so perhaps it was good that the second time they were out of the nicely caramelized Brussels sprouts with toasted hazelnuts. I still had tender mushrooms and truffle oil on crispy bread slices coming.
Julius Meinl serves coffee the way coffee should be served: in a big round mug with a glass of water, a slim, elegant sugar packet and a small square of chocolate on the side. The whole shebang is delivered to the table on a silver tray, tiny spoon balanced delicately atop the water glass. This definitely ain't Starbucks.
I'm pretty certain that what I'm about to say will make some people mad.
So, after having lived across the street from Pizza D.O.C. for the past year (and within a few blocks for the past four), I finally made the trek across Lawrence Avenue to dine there for the first time. And you know what? Spacca Napoli has nothing on this place! I know that Spacca Napoli is the darling of the Chicago food world and all, but my experience there was so disappointing I can't imagine ever returning. I was rather excited when I first learned about it and invited two friends to dinner within weeks of its opening. However, all three of us were sorely disappointed. Sure, our food tasted fine. But that's all. Just fine. And we all commented on the blah-ness of the décor. We felt like we were eating some generic Italian chain. The nail in the coffin was our server. What a jerk! My friend asked for a pizza cutter to cut his pizza. Although I didn't think a pizza cutter was necessary, his request wasn't completely unreasonable. Our waiter scoffed, looked down his nose at him, and replied with a tone that intended to shame my friend. "These knives are special pizza-cutting knives flown in from Italy." I nearly stood up and said, "Oh yeah? Well these fists are special jerk-punching fists flown in from Yousuckistan." Instead, I looked down at my meal as if we had all been scolded.
Potbelly's is a Chicago institution. Some go for the sandwiches, some for the shakes. Me? I like the pickles. For $0.99, you get a giant pickle sliced into 4 wedges, perfect for sharing. It's crisp and fresh, and it actually retains some of its cucumber taste. It is the perfect foil for one of the hot, melty subs the place is known for. Recently, though, the restaurant began serving salads as well at all of their Chicagoland locations.
The Handlebar in Wicker Park - one of The Reader's Top 50 and one of my go-to eateries - now opens weekdays at 10 a.m., offering a breakfast menu that just about copies their weekend brunch menu. An espresso machine has also come into the picture, which could add a whole new level of leisurely outdoor coffee drinking once the back patio opens for the season. I'm a big fan of the nicely sweet "orange marmalade maple syrup" that covers the vegan French toast so well that I didn't know what to do with my cup of regular syrup - not that I didn't try. Potatoes and avocado make the breakfast burrito hearty - another solid choice for breakfast or brunch. And you can get it with either seitan sausage or eggs. Handlebar's lunch/dinner menu has plenty of meat analogs, but perhaps you'll enjoy it here if you want the vegetables back in vegetarian, too. The groundnut stew brings a warming combination of sweet potato, coconut, zucchini, greens and brown rice; and the black beans maduro layers plantains, rice and beans in a chipotle sauce. Bonus: Chicagoland Bicycle Federation members get a free quesadilla between 4 and 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. Bicycle parking is abundant, including some in back.
"Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whaleboat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests." (Moby-Dick, Ch. 27) In reference to Stubb the second mate of the Pequod, and for whom Stubbs Coffee is apparently named after, Starbuck was the first mate, I love a bit of literary reference in the shops I visit, not to mention the subtle jab.
Stubbs is a nice quiet shop that’s a refreshing change to the other reference from the same book. Decently priced drinks, beans supplied by local roasters Fratelli Coffee, the coffee was quite smooth and flavorful for the medium roast I had. They feature a line of sodas from Filberts Flavors, also a Chicago brand, as well as some of the other sodas you may have seen at other independent coffee shops. Stubbs offers fresh made sandwiches, the Texas toast grilled cheese with cheddar & pepper jack is a good bet, as well as other light fare including pastries from Bennison's Bakery in Evanston. Stubbs also offers free Wi Fi, so it’s a nice place to chill and get some work done.
Stubbs Coffee is a welcome addition to the Chicago coffee shop landscape and will put a smile on your face, even if you don’t smoke a pipe like second mate Stubb.
Stubbs Coffee is located at 3827 N. Lincoln Ave.; Phone (773) 477-9840; Hours: 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Save for a very few places, I have a general distaste for restaurants that serve explicitly vegetarian and/or vegan foods. It's not that I dislike this kind of food; it's quite the opposite. I can count on one hand the amount of times I've bought meat in the past year. What I don't like about these establishments is how oxymoronic the food they tend to serve is. Vegan ribs and vegetarian "meat" loaf send me running in the opposite direction.
When my husband suggested we go to a Korean vegan restaurant last week, I was hesitant, but I was hungry and indecisive, so I agreed. The way Amitubul could put the vegetables in back in vegetarian with dishes such as the Tibetan High Noon (a vegetable medley "steam stir-fried" with noodles and an interesting curry sauce) and Chop Chae Bop (sweet potato noodles with assorted mushrooms and mixed veggies), and a cup of ginger tea with a kick that nearly knocked me out of my diner-style booth, I soon forgot the odd décor and thanked Buddha for the omition on the menu of any kind of vegetable protein smothered in barbecue sauce.
Despite claims that no oil is used in the preparation of their food (the steam stir-fry), the amount of sodium in Amitubul's "all-organic homemade sauces" is questionable (there has got to be a catch with vegetables so extraordinarily fulfilling), the food is so fresh and vibrant and colorful that I'm convinced it cancels out any adverse effects. Seriously, my food was so delicious that I began to crave my leftovers no more than 15 minutes after we left the restaurant, leaving me to wonder what kind of addictive substances are used in "Zen meditation cooking energy." No matter. As long as Amitubul keeps serving food this tasty, I'll ignore my skepticism and use my normal old mental energy to plan my next visit.
If you’re into that whole eating healthy thing, eating veggies and the like, you might be interested in Veg-Out, an all-salad restaurant in Lake View. Starting with a choice in greens such as baby spinach, romaine or mesclun mix, you custom design your meal with a selection of toppings; think salad bar with someone else doing all the work. With some appealing dressings, avocado-dill and chipotle ranch, you are sure to have an interesting meal.
Seating is limited, a few tables and a bar at the front window, so take out is a nice option, as many people did while I was there, but I suggest taking in the fresh smells and having a seat. A bit pricey, a salad and a soda at about 11 bucks, but well worth it as the bowls are big enough for two. The friendly staff makes this a nice and different place for a light lunch or dinner.
Bleeding Heart Bakery has rearranged their display cases and tables once again, but amazing food remains in the same adorably pink space. Owner Michelle Garcia offers an incredible selection of cookies, fruit tarts, hearty scones, cakes, teacakes and cupcakes with the vegan offerings done so well that they should tempt your anti-vegan pals (Bleeding Heart was among Chicago Magazine's Best of Chicago last year). You'll find bagels with vegan cream cheese and granola, too.
Michelle's husband, Vinny, makes the savories (vegan and non-veg). Weekend brunch choices include a sweet potato hash, tacos, pancakes, vegan biscuits and gravy, and my favorite, the tofu chilaquiles that comes in a thick, deeply flavored sauce aside refried beans that look like they were handmade in the back. Soup and sandwiches are available anytime.
While on vacation this past week, my first priority was to reconnect with my beloved In and Out Burger, a chain that is way too noticeably absent in Chicago. While I can certainly list the number of good sit-down restaurants in the city to get a burger, the number of good fast-food places is regrettably small; you can view an interesting debate on the topic at LTH Forum.
My solution to this problem is simple. Open up a Culver's. If you have never been to Culver's, allow me to say the golden word: Butter Burgers. The specialty of this Wisconsin-based fast-food chain is their great custard, but the buns of their burgers are toasted and buttered, setting them apart even more from their peers. I have high hopes that my Wisconsin favorite will finally get their act together and open a store in the city, due to their teasing TV commercials of late. But until then, suggestions are welcome on how to handle this dining crisis.
I've had to run to catch up with it, but I'm jumping on the "People Who Write About Food Who Are Excited About Smoque BBQ" Bandwagon. Having spent many years in San Antonio and Austin, Texas and many more near the Virginia-North Carolina border, I feel as if I have a thing or two to say about barbecue, and what I want to say right now is that a barbecue joint with a manifesto ain't jokin' around.
Fodor's Travel Wire reports that The Greenhouse in the Chicago Ritz Carlton offers an $18 all-you-can-eat cupcake buffet from 9pm to 11pm on Saturdays. "Executive pastry chef Anthony Chavez avoids Duncan Hines-style confections in favor of inventive flavors like coconut tres leches, hazelnut praline, and raspberry Sacher. Those seeking to limit their sugar high can indulge in two cupcakes for $8 or four cupcakes for $10."
When I moved to Chicago at the end of last summer, I discovered Bibimbop, the Korean dish of rice, vegetables, marinated beef and a fried egg. It’s not normally associated with a Japanese restaurant, but Edo Sushi in Lincoln Park, where I discovered the dish, makes one of the best in the city, according to Centerstage. And me (in my limited experience).
On my second night in town, I was enjoying a big bowl of Bibimbop at Edo, when my wallet was stolen. It was sitting in my purse, which I’d hung on the back of my chair, as I’d done for 15 years in New York City with no problem. The guy at the table behind me was able to unbuckle my bag, find my wallet and then go fall into The GAP, as I blithely ate my rice and vegetables. It was a horrible blow. I was already sore about leaving behind a job, friends and a city I loved to follow my husband to Chicago. All of a sudden, I also had no access to cash; I was unable to drive; and unable to have my name on the new checking account we had to open the following morning. Oddly enough, when I called the police to report the theft, the detective on the phone told me that he loves Edo Sushi; he eats there all the time.
That was all months ago. I’ve since reassembled most of my identity. And, all the while, I’ve continued to go back to Edo for the Bibimbop. Apparently so have many others. On my last visit, the waitress told me that Edo Sushi is going to close in the next week or so, and reopen as a Korean restaurant. It will be bittersweet to lose the place that welcomed me to Chicago. But I can’t wait to try their new Korean offerings.
I work way out in the suburbs some days, and yesterday was one of those days. On the way home I pass the new Westin North Shore in Wheeling — you know, the one that Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand created not one but four restaurants for. So I figured I'd stop in at Gale's Coffee Shop to pick up a sweet for my sweetie on Valentine's Day.
My disappointment began as I looked for parking. The Westin is so valet-oriented that despite four lanes of valet staging lanes in front of the hotel, there was no short-term parking to be found. To make matters worse, the only (currently accessible) self-park lot is about a short city block away from the door, on the other side of a pond. I ended up parking in a valet section just so I wouldn't have to walk a quarter-mile in the cold.
I wasn't able to do more than peek into Tramonto's Steak & Seafood and the RT Lounge on my way to Gale's, but it looked very elegant. Lots of dark-stained wood and rich ochre and red highlights. The attention to detail in there made the contrast in Gale's that much stronger.
Have you been to my favorite Mexican restaurant? No, not Topolobampo. As much respect as I have for you and your food and your show, I think that Los Nopales takes the Trés Leches cake. Personally, I'm addicted to their tilapia tacos, lightly seasoned and seared pieces of tilapia accompanied by an avocado slice and tangy pico de gallo, enveloped in warm, soft deliciousness (two pillowy corn tortillas). The chorizo tacos are also simple but still can bring tears to your eyes. The sweetness of the meat (it has hint of cinnamon) is perfectly matched with the bite of the finely chopped red onions and fresh citrus notes of cilantro, generously sprinkled on top. The tacos used to appear on an a la carte menu at $1.65 each, but it was recently removed from the dinner menu. To get the tacos in the evening, you'll have to order the taco plates (three tacos with rice and beans).
Celebrate Holi in high style at Vermilion (10 W. Hubbard) from Monday, February 26 through Saturday, March 3, 2007. Although there will be a special “chaat & mithai” (street fare and traditional sweets) celebratory menu, and Holi cocktails in a myriad of colors served all week, the celebration will climax with an all-out bash and dancing on Saturday, March 3. DJ Ice will spin Holi songs, dhol (Indian drum), and a mixture of Indian (Bhangra, Bollywood) and club music. Guests are also invited to participate in the festivities by dressing in their colorful best to win the Vermilion “Holi Couple.”
A few weeks ago, a buddy of mine, Mike Sula, wrote an expertly crafted piece that appeared in the Chicago Reader about Mark Mavrantonis, the now legendary “Oyster Whisperer” and Executive Chef at Fulton’s on the River. Sula’s article traced Mavrantonis’ journey through the California juvenile justice system and the American military, to a moment of epiphany when he found his true calling in a half shell. Now, Mavrantonis feels he has an intimate connection with the mind of the sea creature; when the oyster won’t open for him, “He caresses the bottom of its shell and speaks to it softly…(When) he reminds the oyster of its position at the bottom of the food chain, he says, it will relax and accept its fate.”
Sula’s article came out about the same time as an LTHForum.com posting by a mutual friend who goes by the screen name of Pigmon, who wrote that “Fulton’s is a place to be taken seriously by any true raw oyster fan, thanks largely to Mark Mavrantonis and his fanatical approach to procuring and properly serving the best oysters he can get his hands on.” (http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=10988).
Chef Mavrantonis himself has written extensively about the beautiful bivalve, and his philosophical and highly practical musings are contained in his Oyster Manifesto (http://www.chicagoreader.com/oystermanifesto/1/), a beautifully written primer that’s of immense value to both the novice oyster sucker as well as the raw bar aficionado. Mavrantonis knows all his suppliers (a critical characteristic for sourcing the best) and he even tracks their respective sea beds with googleearth.com to make sure water temperatures never rise above specified target levels (and he will never serve or eat an warm water oyster).
In January, when Schwa moved to closing on the weekends and opening on Mondays instead, I managed to obtain a much longed-for reservation. Schwa, in some way, is a hidden gem of cult status sorts — those who know about it rant and rave and those who don't wonder why they never knew about the place in the first place. They're not lacking for diners though but somehow remain manageable for "those in the know". Given the dining experience at Schwa, I can't imagine any other way for them to operate — which is just about perfect.
If you've waited until now to make Valentine's Day dinner reservations, you may not to be hip to the fact that you're basically screwed. Luckily we're here to save the day. One of the most romantic and hip restaurants in the city still has a few tables left. Impress your sweetie with a fantastic Mediterranean inspired meal at Copperblue accompanied by a bottle from their reasonably priced wine list. Sure you'll have to take 5pm or 10pm, but it's way better than Chile's. You'll have to act fast, like NOW, but opentable should be able to hook you up. If you strike out there, call the restaurant direct and see if they have any cancellations.
I was using Rick Bayless' restroom, I mused, staring up at the ceiling window that was projecting a heavenly beacon of light upon my less-than-angelic duties. I could barely distinguish Rick's faint murmurs through the orange walls, something about how... Read this feature »