Sunday, December 19, 2010

Happy Holidays

I Like to Eat will be off traveling in Morocco for the rest of the year. Everyone eat well and enjoy the holidays - let's hope 2011 will bring us as many great meals as 2010. Cheers,

Jeff

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Flying Saucer - Little Rock, AR

The Flying Saucer is a classic bar/gastropub institution on the main river-walk in Little Rock, Arkansas. As soon as you enter you notice the leather chairs and couches, the old world plates on the ceiling, and plenty of beer on the tables in front of comfortable drinkers. It was the perfect place to grab a quick drink and snack after a long day of driving (from Chicago) while we waited for my sister to arrive at the airport. Little did we know that we would make a repeat appearance the next day - partially by chance, partially because we were happy to go back. 

The beer list is very impressive, with multiple pages of options in addition to numerous beers on tap. The food menu is as expected from a bar, with a distinct, home made german influence. Friday night we only had time for a round and two soft pretzels. If you're thinking ball-park pretzel, you're wrong. These are large, deliciously soft, fresh out of the oven pretzels served with a choice of sauces. We went with my favorite - melted cheese.



Thursday, December 16, 2010

Maude's Liquor Bar - Food Pictures

I had the privilege of getting an early look at the food of the yet to be open Maude's. Since they are still working out the final details before opening in January, it would be premature to give a full rundown of tastes and flavors. Some items might not even make it to the final product.

Country Terrine

Cheese of the day with apple relish/jam

Longman & Eagle grabs another award

Fresh off receiving a star from the Michelin Guide, GQ named L&E to their list of Best New Restaurants in the country. Chicago has represented well on this list, with The Bristol getting the nod last year.

The full list is:
  1. Lincoln – New York, NY
  2. Flour + Water – San Francisco, CA
  3. The Kitchen at Brooklyn Fare – Brooklyn, NY
  4. The Tasting Kitchen – Venice, CA
  5. Grüner– Portland, OR
  6. The Walrus and the Carpenter – Seattle, WA
  7. Uchiko – Austin, TX
  8. Menton – Boston, MA
  9. Commis – Oakland, CA
  10. Longman & Eagle – Chicago, IL

Congrats again to our Chicago representative: Longman & Eagle

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mia Francesca

It's hard to argue against the original Scott Harris invention that spawned the Francesca empire. The food is dependably great, the atmosphere lively and the prices right. I probably only make it to Mia once a year, but that's only because I'm a little different and need to try new places. More normal people that live so close to a culinary staple that is Mia Francesca likely go here once a month, and I envy them (especially in summer).

This visit occurred over Thanksgiving weekend after going to the movies down the street. We had a lateish reservation but the place was still packed (and quite loud with the soundtrack). Our starter was a delicious pizza special. My memory and picture suggest it had garlic, arugula, garlic, shaved Parmesan, olive oil, truffle oil and other cheeses. It was the perfect way to start an Italian dinner and the perfect size to avoid ruining our appetite. The ingredients were fresh and it arrived quickly.   



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Nothing screams winter like a warm fondue dinner

Nothing beats the blistering cold weather like a Sunday night fondue dinner with friends. This past weekend our friend Claire invited Jeff and I over for a festive fondue dinner. Since our last fondue dinner at Gejas about a month ago, I have been dreaming about the next time we would be melting cheese, dipping steak & chicken into boiling oil and drinking great wine. Well friends, tonight was the night.

Claire had a great cheese recipe made with two types of cheese, dry white wine, garlic and nutmeg. We cut up some french bread and apples to dip. I probably could have stopped with the cheese course, but we also cut up chicken and steak for the main course, which we all enjoyed. I had no idea how easy it was to make fondue, the biggest challenge is to have the fondue pots and burners. All in all it was a very successful night with a lot of laughs.

The next time you want to throw a festive dinner party or just have a small group of friends over, why not try fondue? I know I will!

Cheese, bread, apples, steak, chicken & wine oh my!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Szechwan North

[Read my update and most recent visit: Szechwan North]

Chinese food during Thanksgiving weekend is a family tradition. Our favorite neighborhood spot is Szechwan North, a suburban institution consistently serving delicious food. We arrived hungry, having come directly from the movies (another great way to spend time with the family). My standard appetizer is steamed pot stickers (non-pork), and these are one of my favorites. We ate them so fast I did not get a chance to take a photo. Spring rolls, egg rolls, and soup are usually on the table. Alyssa wanted to try the scallion pancakes, something new and different. (Not my favorite, mostly just fried dough).

In a rare show of discipline, we only ordered one non-vegetable main course dish - sesame chicken.

 


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Roy's Restaurant

A few weeks ago I joined the Baker family to celebrate Jordan's birthday at Roy's. I had heard many great things about Roy's but never had the pleasure of dining there. Our recent trip to Hawaii only added curiosity to one of the few Hawaiian themed restaurants in the city.

The best part of the meal occurred before we even tasted anything.  We were aware of their 3-course prix fixe selections for $36 but on Monday's in November, you could create your own 3-course with practically anything on the menu. This was an unexpected bonus and we took advantage to the tune of four different starters, four different entrees and three desserts. I felt confident that I tasted most of what Roy's had to offer and I'm glad that I did.

We all contributed to the selection of starters to make sure we had variety. The four choices were crispy lobster pot stickers, short ribs, poke stack and fried calamari. Everything was delicious, though we all agreed the pot stickers were the weak link. The poke was melt-in-your-mouth and fresh from the sea with a light sauce. The short ribs seemed to never end but had a nice balance of tangy sauce and fall off the bone tenderness. Finally, the calamari did not strike me as memorable, but was well executed and accompanied by the best sauce of the meal.






Monday, December 6, 2010

100 Best Restaurant and Dining Blogs

Apparently someone like my blog enough to include it on a list of 100 other dining blogs throughout the country. Thanks to GuidetoCulinarySchools.com for the recognition.

Check out the entire list at: http://www.guidetoculinaryschools.com/tips-and-tools/restaurant-dining-blogs

Thursday, December 2, 2010

One. Six One

What a meal - one that none of the seven us will soon forget. Unfortunately it will be remembered as one of our worst dining experienced. The best part of our evening was that the manager listened to our concerns and did not charge us of any of our entrees. He does get my respect and I appreciate his effort to make the best of a very bad situation.

What happened? Our service was terrible, but I think our server was not a regular (I certainly hope not). We didn't have enough menus and not all of our water glasses were filled. It took forever just to order our first bottle of sparkling wine, which did not arrive for 20 minutes or so. Our second bottle was red wine, and we had to stop him from pouring the red wine into our champagne glasses (without of course letting us check the label or sample the bottle). The food service was also unbelievably slow, but I don't blame our server for that. To add perspective, we were seven of eleven total diners that evening, so it wasn't as if there was a lot of distractions.

In addition to the service we had some major food issues. On the positive side, our starters weren't that bad. We all enjoyed our chicken satay (a nice and spicy peanut sauce, and the mushroom pizette was decent though cold. Their version of a caprese salad was ok but weird. There was plenty of mixed green lettuce (strange for caprese), only two slices of tomato and little mozzarella balls. Pesto was also added for creativity. Not a disaster, just strange.





Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Morton's - the Steakhouse

What could be better than Sunday night dinner at the original Morton's Steakhouse? That's how I started my Thanksgiving week - an over sized bone-in fillet. It's a long story why we were all there for dinner but we had a great time. I don't know if Morton's would qualify as my favorite steakhouse in Chicago, I don't eat at steakhouses frequently so it's not an issue anyone. Dan has a great story about Morton's, specifically Arnie Morton, so we always enjoy sharing a meal there.

We were a table of six and started with the hot platter sampler, featuring grilled shrimp, oysters Rockefeller, crab cakes and bacon wrapped scallops. Everything was tasty, especially the shrimp and scallops. We also had an order of tuna tartare, delicious, which was half gone by the time I could take a photo and eat a piece. The sauce on the plate was a bit salty, but applied in moderation was fine. This was all in addition to the amazing onion bread that's been there since day one.




Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pei Wei Asian Diner

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving break and meal. I stayed in Chicago hanging out with friends and family, and of course eating too much. It's time to get back to work and write about all the good (and sometimes not so good) food.

Long before Thanksgiving Erica and I made a stop into the new Pei Wei Asian Diner. It's located right off of Elston near the Target shopping center. Jed (having grown up in AZ), had heard of Pei Wei, but we mid-westerners had no idea. Pei Wei is a P.F. Chang's China Bistro concept. The description from the website is - Pei Wei Asian Diner (pronounced pay way) is a chain of quick-casual restaurants that serve freshly prepared, wok-seared, contemporary pan-Asian cuisine in a relaxed, warm environment with friendly attentive counter service and take-out flexibility. As soon as I entered it reminded me of a California Pizza Kitchen. Menus were on large LCD screens right when you walk in, you order at a counter and then receive a number to place at a table of your choosing. Drinks are self serve (and they have one of the new cool Coke machines - worthy a visit in of itself).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy this special culinary day with friends and family.

Jeff

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pete's Downtown - Brooklyn, NY

Since our trip to NYC was very short we only had one real meal out. I definitely have intentions of returning for a more culinary focused trip, but this was not the time. Our Saturday night dinner was at Pete's Downtown in DUMBO. We wanted to be in DUMBO (which I learned means Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) for the great views of Manhattan and the bridge, but intended to be at Bubby's. The only problem was that they were closed for a wedding. So we walked around a bit and stumbled into Pete's by chance, someplace to grab a quick bite.

Overall it was meal to forget, besides the company and the views. Pete's is an old school Italian family restaurant. Nothing fancy and all the usual suspects on the menu. Erica and I split the caprese salad to start, served with burrata instead of mozzarella. I thought the cheese was bland and the tomatoes equally boring.





Signpost Website - iPhone app launch

 Last month I posted about a new website called signpost. It's not "new" anymore, but it's still worth checking out. They also just launched an iPhone app: available here http://bit.ly/hXu851

Want to know where the best deals in town are located? Don't want to buy a groupon? Want to share the wealth with everyone else? Signpost.com is that website and they recently expanded into the Chicagoland area. Check it out:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lillie's Q - New Winter Menu Items

I was invited (read: offered free food to try) to Lillie's Q to photograph and taste some new items that will (or have) appear on a winter menu. This was an exciting opportunity because Lillie's is my favorite new BBQ spot to invade Chicago amongst many rivals (read my previous experience). Even though I did not pay for my food this time, my opinion of the high quality and tasty food coming out of the kitchen is unchanged. The various BBQ sauce options on the table are reasons alone to keep returning. The four items we tried were hush puppies, grilled pimento cheese, hot-links and collard greens. 

Hush puppies
A new “For The Table” appetizer. Homemade corn batter is mixed with scallions and pimentos, then formed into balls, and finally deep-fried. The light and crispy hush puppies are served with a homemade sweet potato dressing for dipping. There are nine hush puppies in each order, and each order costs $5.


Erica is more the expert on all things cornmeal and bread and she gave two thumbs up. I liked the sweet potato dipping sauce, though it could have used a bit more kick and it was a little to runny for my taste. When in doubt, reach for the BBQ sauce and life is grand (I can put good BBQ sauce on anything). The presentation is great, a silver cafeteria tray with a small cast iron dish and glass jar. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

'wichcraft - Rockefeller Center, New York

Erica and I made a quick stop to meet a friend for a bite last weekend in New York. We picked 'wichcraft since it was Friday and Ross was still working (in the Rockefeller Center). The story behind 'wichcraft is as follows: Tom Colicchio, chef and owner of the Craft family of restaurants and head judge of Bravo’s Top Chef, founded ’wichcraft with partners Sisha Ortuzar and Jeffrey Zurofsky in 2003. The three had a long history of working together in fine dining restaurants such as Manhattan’s top-rated Gramercy Tavern and Craft, but this collaboration was decidedly more casual. They created ’wichcraft, a sandwich service like no other.

It was a perfect spot for a mid-day sandwich. Both Erica and I were in the mood for a melted cheese sandwich, especially considering the chilly conditions outside. My choice was the grilled gruyère with caramelized onions on rye bread. It was simple and good, as expected but not cheap either ( $6).


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ukai Japnese Restaurant

Sometimes change is difficult. One of our local go-to sushi places was Matsu Yama, but unfortunately it closed down without notice. In its place sprang Ukai, another Japanese restaurant using the same basic floor plan as the previous (for all I know it's the same people). Out with the old and in the with the new or same song, difference verse. Erica and I stopped in for lunch to see how our "old" sushi spot transformed into a new Japanese restaurant.

The lunch specials at Ukai are generous. There are four to choose from starting at 9.99 for tempura and California, or the 13.99 four roll special I ordered. Each special comes with soup, salad and rolls. The decor is very pleasing and well done with couch seating, lots of wood and clean finishes. This is not your local sushi shack, but a nice neighborhood establishment.

Our meal was ok, good value and some good flavors. Our maki rolls were a disappointment overall lacking flavor. Even though the names are fun (local sports teams: cubs, blackhawks, etc), the fish and spices did not come through. I was also surprised with the toughness of the seaweed wrap. The presentation was nice, for what it's worth.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pizza House - Ann Arbor

I now have a decent backlog of posts, hopefully I can find time to get through them all. In honor of the past two Wolverine victories, I have a few photos and thoughts from the Illinois game weekend.

Our Friday night, pre game meal was at the ever favorite and reliable institution known as Pizza House. We had a great crew with Carson's Montanan family visiting Ann Arbor. The meal started with deliciously cheesy and loaded with garlic "cheesy bread." Every student has had their fair share of cheesy bread. It was the best thing we ordered.



Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chicago q

I have not been very good at living up to my blog title recently. If I like to eat, why have I only posted twice in three weeks? There is no good answer besides life gets busy when you least expect it to. Fortunately last week I made time to have a good meal with the gang at the latest Q spot in town. We all enjoyed our meal in a fun and different BBQ environment, though felt dissapointed given the hype and awards advertised. I thought the sauces were very tasty, especially the spicy. But the meat was as expected, not amazing and not terrible.

I'm always interested in trying BBQ, one of my favorite foods, and Chicago q presents a unique approach. Located in the heart of the Gold Coast, q is not a BBQ shack but an upscale restaurant. I appreciate the change of pace eating BBQ and there's definitely an opening in the market for such a concept. The interior is well done, with lots of whites, wood, and an interesting upstairs area in the middle of the floor. The bar area in the front reminds me of other Chicago steak-houses (think Morton's), before entering the main venue. The most interesting detail is a very large (20 X 30 feet ish) back lit picture of a car on a road (in the south presumably).

Our service was very good throughout the evening, though the one blemish was the strange introduction. Since this was our first visit we were given the entire story, which felt like a sales pitch about how wonderful Chef Lee Ann Whippen was at cooking and the awards won. Maybe it's overly critical, but imagine sitting down at Alinea, for example, and being told how many awards it's won or how special Grant is. It should either be assumed that we know the headlines on the chef, or let the food speak for itself.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Del Seoul

Street food, Koren BBQ, food trucks, take your pick. These are all the rage right now in the food world. Chicago has been keeping up, and the addition of Del Seoul only enhances our position. The inspiration of Del Seoul "comes from the Korean “street foods” of California, Asia and Korea." Their "goal is simple: to put a modern, unique spin on Korean food." Erica and I went for a walk for lunch today and discovered that Del Seoul succeeds with flying colors. Located on the busy section of Clark St at Wrightwood, the space is a simple but well done store front. The menus are on LED screens above the counter, and after ordering the food is brought to your table.

I really enjoyed the food and flavors at Del Seoul. The menu is small and straightforward, but with enough options. The main decision is Korean BBQ Tacos or Korean BBQ "Banh Mi" Sandwiches. There are also a few specialty and side items. Luckily we ordered a little of everything to try as much as possible. I ordered a spicy BBQ pork and the Kalbi (grilled beef short rib) taco. Erica went with a Kalbi taco and Seoul style street dumplings, and we added a side of fries.

I loved my tacos and would order them again in a heartbeat. The meat was well seasoned but the marinade and sauce stole the show. All tacos are served with a cilantro-onion relish, chili-garlic "salsa", and a secret slaw. Taking all the flavors together I would not be surprised to see Korean tacos become a new favorite. Even though the look small, only two or three are needed for a full meal.



Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sawtooth Restaurant & Lounge

Every once in a while I get lucky, lucky that I don't have to choose the restaurant for an evening out. Eric and I made plans with friends Eric and Juliana but let them decide the location. Sawtooth had been on their list with many false starts, so it was an easy and natural choice for a Saturday night destination.

Located on the far west end of West Town on Randolph, Sawtooth is a new Vietnamese restaurant and lounge. The decor is an interesting modern look with lots of whites and glass. They also have a nice outdoor patio area for the warmer months, the opposite of the rainy chilly night we went. The main dining room is on the first floor while the lounge space overlooks the bar area. It is a rather small dining room and a narrow space, but they have done a good job with separation between tables to avoid the feeling of eating next to strangers.

Our first surprise came on the cocktail list. They have a nice and complete wine list, in addition to a number of beers on tap or bottle. But glancing at the specialty cocktails gave the impression of fruity beach drinks. There was nothing wrong with those options (i.e. dalat-a-love, Summer in Saigon, Mehkong Mojito, etc.), just unexpected, especially on a rainy fall evening in the city. The drinks came out great with high praise.

We started the meal with three starters: spring rolls, pork rolls and banh xeo (Vietnamese filled fried pancake). My favorite was the spring roll served with delicious spicy peanut sauce. The pork roll was very similar, and I don't recommend order two rolls, just pick one. The banh xeo was the least enjoyed and least interesting. It resembles a large, fried hot pocket stuffed with vegetables. There wasn't a lot of flavor, too much fried dough and too difficult to share.





Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Deal Website - Signpost.com

Want to know where the best deals in town are located? Don't want to buy a groupon? Want to share the wealth with everyone else? Signpost.com is that website and they recently expanded into the Chicagoland area. Check it out:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gejas

Last Friday Erica and I decided to have a nice, romantic fondue dinner at Geja's. I'm surprised there are not more fondue places in Chicago. The melting pot is fine but has the obvious feeling of a chain restaurant and none of the charm of a neighborhood gem like Geja's.

Writing a food review of fondue is tricky similar to a "build-your-own stir fry." Many of the flavors are self directed along with your success or failure. However, what separates Geja's, and makes it a fun and worthwhile meal, is the quality of experience. The setting and decor is great, the wine list superb, and the main course options extensive. Geja's does have an a la carte option, but most people choose the full premier dinner - salad, cheese fondue, main course and chocolate fondue. For our meal we both selected the beef tenderloin and scallops, even though each person can pick different "proteins."

Everything was great and we left unable to finish our chocolate (a rarity, but Erica was too stuffed to help me). The cheese course was amazing and it took self-restraint not to kill our appetite on bread dipped in melted cheese. Our meat and scallops were also fantastic, especially when I did not overcook my steak. The main course is served with a variety of vegetables, including broccoli, peppers, potatoes, onions and mushrooms. The vegetables were especially important while cooking the scallops so the scallops did not fall off the skewer. Once cooked you have a choice of eight dipping sauces to flavor your treats. I enjoyed the BBQ sauce (sweet baby ray's) and teriaki sauce for my vegetables and tenderloin, respectively. The butter sauce and dill sauce worked well with the scallops. Everyone has their favorite, but they are all very good. Lastly, the chocolate course is the most well known fondue experience. You get a basket of marshmallows, pound cake, bananas, strawberries, etc to dip into a warm pot of melted chocolate. There is no good explanation why dipping treats and fruit into warm chocolate is so much fun. Marshmallows and bananas were my favorite chocolate transporters.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

LOKal

Monday night is prix fixe night at LOKal and I went to have a catch-up with an old friend. For $40, LOKal offers a five-course meal with wine pairings. It's a great deal with good food, and since I had no idea what was on the menu (they don't even have it in the restaurant, only online), I enjoyed being surprised with each dish. The meal showcased Chef Flowers' talent without taking many risks. Some courses were very impressive, while others appeared interesting but lacked meaningful flavor. The "pan-European" emphasis is present throughout which is something I haven't experience in a while but enjoyed the change of pace. Our service was very good, but some of that could be a result of being the only diners late on a Monday evening. I hope the atmosphere is more exciting on a weekend night.

I wish the menu was posted on the website because I did not meticulously write down each course and pairing. I'll do my best to remember with help from the pictures. Our first course was soup, squash I believe with chunks of feta cheese. I enjoyed the flavors, nothing overpowering but a nice way to start the meal.



Friday, October 22, 2010

Takashi

Mish (lifewithmish.blogspot.com) writes about her great experience at Takashi:

I know it's been a couple of days since I've last blogged. I think it's because I've been consumed with breaking in a new pair of patent leather glossy black winter flats from Endless.com (my Mecca for online shoe shopping--I even purchased a pair of boots last winter, wore them once, hated them, then returned them for a full refund. I'm now a loyal customer for life).

Anyways, last Friday I went to a place called Takashi that I had never heard of before. Well, let me tell you, I've not only heard of it now, but I am obsessed with it and want to go back. Plus I can't stop raving about it. Find this place, and go there. It's on Damen and Armitage in Wicker Park. It's close enough to BlackBird, which is a cute little place we ventured to prior to having dinner with two of our out of town friends (Doug's friend since he was born). I would suggest you try the same (but bring band-aids in your purse if you are wearing new shoes, it's about a 7 minute walk in between the two locations).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lillie's Q - My Turn

Erica and Jed have already been, but I was not with them. Today was my turn. After picking up Erica at the airport, we drove directly to North Ave. for lunch. Finally I have found a solid and fun BBQ spot to enjoy and recommend. The vibe is part old-school southern, part funky hipster. It fits in perfectly with the surroundings and the local crowd. I liked the decor of creative benches, white tile wall, and wooden tables displaying the five types of sauce.Water and beer (a nice beer list too) are served in mason jars, and your napkin is the now fashionable white cloth. Everything works together for the urban barbecue style Lillie's presents.



Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ruxbin Kitchen

Can one city ever have too many fun and delicious BYO spots? My answer is no, and you can add Ruxbin to the list. Walking into Ruxbin puts you in a cheerful mood. The decor is stunning and thought provoking with newspapers, old cookbooks, and stage lights adorning the walls. The larger four-top tables feature re-upholstered theater chairs in bench form. And then, of course, there's the bathroom, a surprise worth experiencing without forewarning. But this is just the vibe of the place: fun, energetic and unique. Luckily the food stands out even after the sensory overload of walking through door. (P.S. Ruxbin does not take reservations and only seats ~30 so arrive early to avoid disappointment.)

The menu is appropriately small and straight forward with four starters and about five entrees. Try and save room for starters after enjoying the bowl of popcorn presented (way better than bread); I know a few people that could eat popcorn all night. We started with garlic fries and their K-Town empanadas. It was a tough choice since everything looked appealing. We were very happy with both dishes and did not send back a single fry. The empanadas were delicious and covered with a unique Chimichurri Crème Fraîche (can't go wrong at $7).


note the empty popcorn bowl in the background

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wine Knot - Kenosha, WI

The next time you venture to Kenosha, Wisconsin for any reason (college town, lake, outlet malls, etc) and need some food, Wine Knot is a very good option. My reason for being in southern Wisconsin was for Carthage College Men's soccer, and Erica, Erica's mom and I needed some food before braving the chilly 40s degree night last Wednesday. The Baker women have had trouble finding satisfactory dining choices, which only added to our enjoyable meal. 

As the name implies, Wine Knot is a small but fun atmosphere wine bar and patio in downtown Kenosha. There is a long bar, two large communal wooden high top tables, and individual tables along the wall. There's fun posters and signage, plus a few TVs to catch whatever game is playing. The menu is simple and to the point, exactly what a down-to-earth wine bar should offer. The wine and beer list looked extensive, though we didn't take time to explore it at length.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chizakaya

There is a trend in Chicago lately revolving around bringing the idea of Japanese "Izakaya" pubs to the city. The track record so far has been mixed, if not bad. Chizakaya is the latest attempt and possible the best to-date, though I never tried the others. However "best attempt" still does not qualify for "great" and I don't know if I'd call it a success.

The concept of Chizakaya is well thought out but lacking execution. It would be great to have a go-to sake bar with great small plates, a change of scenery if you will. What we found was an interesting and difficult menu to navigate serving food most people did not know existed. There is talent behind the counter, some flavors came out nicely, but I argue the talent is misused. Our drinks were pretty good; I enjoyed trying a few sakes, Russ had their version of a mojito while Erica sampled the beer on tap. Our food was hit or miss, mostly just confusing.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Crust is a Must!

Now that I have finished all my CA trip posts I can re-focus on Chicago dining. We'll get back into the groove with  a post from Mish. Enjoy.

Crust on Division is pure awesome. It's so much more than just pizza. I love restaurants that have more surprises on their menu to prove they are far from a specialized at only one area, and can actually offer a variety for their customers.

I liked everything about this place: from the red plastic water cups (boyfriend and I agreed at dinner that we do love a nice plastic water cup, not sure why), to our hippie waiter (that needs a haircut but was personable & practically squatted on the ground when he took our order so the sun wasn't in our eyes in the outdoor patio where we were seated). Most importantly, the food was fresh, and the ingredients well selected to create perfectly executed dishes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Osteria - Palo Alto, CA

I'm finally at the end of my California posts, and it finishes with our first meal: Friday lunch in Palo Alto at Osteria. It was the four of us grabbing lunch before driving into the city. Osteria is a small, neighborhood Italian spot in downtown PA. We had a very nice meal, complete with fresh pasta, salads and bubbly.

Erica and I split a very good Caesar salad. The greens were California fresh, the croutons made in-house, and the dressing did not overwhelm. It was a lovely salad, plenty large to share.

The pastas were also made in-house, and it showed. The noodles were tender and fresh, very well made. My complaint though wasn't with the pasta, it was with the sauces on both dishes. Erica ordered a pesto pasta and I chose a marinara with pork. The first issue was quantity, there wasn't enough sauce for all the delicious noodles on the plate. But more sauce would not have changed the fact that neither dish's sauce contained enough flavor. Alyssa ordered a fried calamari steak that was probably the best dish at the table. I've never seen a fried calamari steak before.

Farmstead - Napa, CA

We made an impromptu stop at Farmstead to meet someone for a drink. We ended up having more food and drink than we anticipated, mostly because it was quite tasty.

The quick run-down of food consumed: meatballs, tomato soup, homemade potato rolls and cheddar biscuits, macaroni and cheese, and finally, a giant bowl of heirloom tomatoes.

Everything was great, and since it was the prime tomato season they were unbelievably fresh. The meatballs and bowl of tomatoes were a gift from the manager, and the meatballs may have been the best part of our meal. Our bread-loving Erica almost didn't share the potato rolls and cheddar biscuits and I don't blame her. They were delicious and fresh out of the oven. I preferred the rolls, served lightly oiled and salted, but Erica loved the biscuits.

We did not eat a "proper" meal, but the small plates we ate at the bar were very good. Next time I'm in town I'll stop by again, and if you're driving through the valley, you should consider it too. Oh, did I forget to mention they make their own wine? That's quite common in wine country, but they do and it's good.

Farmstead on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 10, 2010

MoMo's - San Francisco

Continuing the recap from our week visit to the Bay Area, Friday night's meal was across the street from the Giant's stadium at MoMo's. This was the first of three games again the Padres where a single victory sent them to the playoffs. We wanted to be in the vicinity of the stadium in case they won so we could participate in the festivities. We didn't get the win that night (they would on Sunday), but we still had a fun time.

MoMo's was a recommendation as an institution in the area. I'm certain the vibe is quite different on game-nights than regular nights. We ordered a simple meal but James outdid Erica and me going with the steak 3-course option for $29. I ordered blackened salmon and Erica went with a mushroom flatbread pizza.

Everyone's food was just mediocre. We started with a tuna tartare served on crispy won-tons. I like the tuna, could have done without the won-ton. For entrees, I ordered blackened salmon. It was pretty good, well cooked but extremely over "blackened." The corn side was tasty but the rice was not. Erica's gouda and mushroom pizza was quite good, and we notice many people with pizza on the table, so it is likely the best bet. James did not thoroughly enjoy his steak and did not touch his sides. Our wine was also not great, but that could be as much our fault as theirs.

The Blue Light

I don't usually post about bar food but this was a special Saturday afternoon in San Fransisco. We needed a place to watch the Michigan game while traveling and were pointed to Blue Light Cafe. They were very well set up with signs on each TV detailing which game will be shown at particular times. We arrived plenty early to secure a good seat for our game. When it was all said and done we spent too much money, drank a lot of pitchers and spent a healthy nine or so hours in the same corner. Big Blue beat Indiana and everyone had a great time. Dinner time arrived so I picked something off the menu for nourishment. I ordered mac 'n cheese with a side salad. It was surprisingly good and well cooked given the location. The salad wasn't half bad either. For bar food on game-day Saturday, I was impressed.



There was also a funny cupcake incident at the bar, ask me about it if you want the full story


Blue Light on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Quince - San Francisco

The birthday celebration for Alyssa J. Rapp was a beautiful 20 person private dining affair at a well known San Franciscan destination named Quince. We were treated to a tour of the private wine cellar and a delicious rose bubbly before sitting down to our four course meal.

Alyssa chose the wine pairings which, not surprisingly, delivered a perfect complement to each course and presented a highlight in their own right. The food, however, was disappointing. I realize expectations run high for a one-star Michelin rated restaurant, but I arrived with an open mind. Our first two courses displayed signs of brilliance and quality of exceptional cuisine, but not consistently and certainly not with the main course. Private parties of large size probably present unique challenges to the kitchen, but that is not an excuse. I would also like to see and possibly explore the entire menu, but all I have to work with is our meal.
Our amuse-bouche was a delicious melon gazpacho with mint and cucumber. The first course was a single seared scallop topped with a muscle served over a potato puree. The scallop was perfectly cooked and tender, but I did not see how the oyster or puree added to the flavor of the dish. It was a nice start, but too bland with all the ingredients used.


 


Amici's East Coast Pizzeria

Erica and I went to Amici’s to meet with our long time favorite Colombian friend Camilo Garcia. It was a simple, cheap and fast meal that worked for everyone, especially Camilo since it is across the street from EA.

We ordered a large pizza to share for three, which was a perfect size and quantity. Our taste buds were undecided so we split the pizza half vegetarian and half pollo. Both types were very good and reminded Erica of a local version of CPK. The crust had a nice buttery flavor and the cheese was not a low budget filler. I enjoy eating in California because in most cases ingredients come from local producers and are seasonally fresh. This can be experienced even at a pizza shop. Amici’s is a chain so next time you’re looking for ‘za in CA, Amici’s is a good choice.


Amici's East Coast Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Osake - Santa Rosa, CA

Erica and I spent the day in Wine Country and needed a place for a quick lunch between appointments. We were in possession of the Michelin Guide SF and relied on it for a listing of an inexpensive lunch idea. Osake fit the bill with price, time and location.

We enjoyed a pleasant meal, but it wasn't anything special. The value was quite good since we ordered two lunch specials: an executive bento box and five piece sushi plate with california roll. Each dish came with soup and salad, priced at $15 each.



Sprinkles Cupcakes

What better way to say "Happy Birthday Sister" than to buy a box of Sprinkles Cupcakes? I had never tried them before so it was a double win. The "black and white" cupcake I tried in the store was good, but not my favorite, all-time best, oh-my-god cupcake experience most people reference. For the money ($3.25 each), I'd rather buy baked goods from a local bakery or sweet shop (think Sweet Mandy Bs in Chicago). In any event, we bought them, we'll celebrate and I'm glad to try something that everyone else has talked about.


Sprinkles Cupcakes on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pork Shoppe

Chicago is undergoing a barbecue boom and I am thrilled to try and discover new great BBQ spots. Unfortunately, Pork Shoppe is not one of them. They did some things I liked, but more that I did not. The concept is cool but lacking in execution. My favorite was the beef brisket taco, served with onion, lettuce and cilantro. The meat was great and the flavors all came together. I also enjoyed the mac 'n cheese side dish, served in a small tin, baked with bread crumbs and lots of the cheese. The disappointments were the pulled chicken and pulled pork sandwich, but more generally the sauce selection and value.




Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Free Lunch Today at ROTI

Roti Mediterranean Grill is celebrating its one-year anniversary with a free lunch day benefiting Common Threads. Stop by between 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. (at the Adams St. location only!) to eat well and make a contribution to a leading nonprofit organization that educates children on the importance of nutrition and physical well-being. For the love of cooking and children, Roti will give all proceeds raised during Free Lunch Day to Common Threads. Roti’s Free Lunch Day menu includes Roti sandwiches, salads or Mediterranean plates and a fountain drink.

For more information on Common Threads please visit www.commonthreads.org.
Roti website at www.roti.com.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Emperor's Choice

Chicago's Chinatown is one of the best culinary assets of our city. If you have never been, please do so even if just to walk the streets. I've enjoyed regular family dinners in Chinatown ever since I can remember. There are two places we always visited, Emperor's Choice and The Phoenix. Since it had been an unusually long time between Chinatown visits, we made Emperor's Choice the destination for dinner with Erica and her her mother Jean.

I could end the review now and simply say if you want great Chinese food go to Chinatown and enjoy. We all have our favorite spots and our favorite dishes, but now you can see mine.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More Than Just (HOT) Chocolate

I'm jealous Mish and Doug have experienced Hot Chocolate. It's been on my list for a long time and have no good reason for not making a trip. Here is a quick rundown on HC from Mish Goldstein:

(Mindy's) Hot Chocolate, a charming and hip (yet cozy), cutting edge (yet old school), reasonably priced (while being decadent) Wicker Park restaurant. Despite the name, don't be fooled. This venue is SO much more than a small town bake shop (although with 4 James Beard Outstanding Pastry Chef Nominations for owner Mindy Segal, how could you not think that upon first glance).

In desperate need of a glass of wine & a nice meal with the boyfriend, we ventured to Hot Chocolate on Damen (across from the Dailey Method Studio & Marc by Marc Jacobs, possibly my two most favorite places all consolidated into a 2 story store front! Woo!), where we have been multiple times. This venue delivers excellent service and a non-fussy straightforward menu with ridiculously lip smacking flavors that are absolutely one of a kind.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No Thai! - Ann Arbor

One of the best things that happened senior year of college was that a great Thai quick serve spot opened up down the street from our house. Every time I go back for a football game I try to make a stop at No Thai, but I am only successful once or twice a season. This past weekend Erica and I were driving through town during lunch time so I requested a quick thai meal at my favorite spot. Four years later I am not surprised that they still serve one of the best noodle dishes I have ever had. My go to is the drunken noodles, but the pad siew or pad thai are both delicious. If you like it spicy they can help you, as I only go with medium spice and still sweat while I eat. Whatever their magic formula is still working and I wish they could bring it to Chicago. Even the Pad Thai Queen herself gives No Thai! the two thumbs up. Until next time...



No Thai! on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jam

About a year ago Julia Kramer (of TOC) said that Jam was "Only the best thing to happen to brunch in a long time." With a strong following and great food, this BYO, cash only store-front in Ukrainian village decided to expand to include dinner. When dining buddies Geoff and Ashley suggested dinner at Jam to honor Geoff's birthday, I was thrilled to experience what everyone else had been talking about.

The dinner menu is quite simple with two main choices: a tasting menu of four or five courses, or seven a la carte items. I'm never one to shy away from a well prepared tasting menu and went with all five courses for $37. Ashley joined me with five courses while Geoff and Erica chose the $25 four course option. I appreciated their ability to be flexible with different lengths at one table, and even offered us to mix and match if someone preferred a la carte. Consumer flexibility and service is always appreciated. We had a great meal with friendly service at very compelling value (it helps when you bring your own wine). Total bill with tax and tip came to $160 for four people. We did not walk out stuffed, but pleasantly full from a good meal.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Roof! The Roof! The Roof is On Fire! (Zed 451)

Shout out to any New Trier Trevian out there who remembers chanting "the roof is on fire" during football games or basketball games. Speaking of the roof, let's talk about my experience Tuesday night at Zed 451. We ventured to that location for a work party to celebrate launching new web pages for our company, by consuming large quantities of alcohol. I have always been extremely impressed with the rooftop at this venue, and would highly recommend it to anyone searching for a good party location with a group of anywhere from 20 people to 40 people. We were lucky enough to pick a night where it was supposed to rain but fortunately it only sprinkled for 2 minutes and then stopped. Transportation from our place of work to the happy hour was an easy feat, given that free shuttles were provided and one was waiting outside our building at 20 S Wacker. It was early (which was nice) so Type A Mish was happy. If anyone has seen ridiculous looking black painted shuttles with meats and fire on them, it would certainly be a Zed 451 bus. Not as bad as the Brazzaz outdoor billboard advertisements with Ozzie on them holding meat skewers, but it's still on the medal stand. I must say that, although borderline unnecessary, those darn things certainly help to publicize the restaurant.

Our event planner for the evening (who was wearing a low cut champagne colored crop top at 11:30am when my co-worker and I made our way over there to explore and reserve the space-well done) explained that customer typically start their evening with a choice of salads, soups, charcuterie, and breads from their "Harvest Tables." Shortly following, the entire table of people will receive an unlimited sampling of Zed 451 signature dishes (fire-grilled over charcoal). Obviously that's not exactly what our experience was with 30+ people on the roof Eastern area, but we did enjoy a sampling of a multitude of dishes. I couldn't blog about them at the time, considering that I was soo hungover I didn't really even remember walking home from the blue line, seeing a co-worker on the blue line (or taking the blue line in general--what other person, aside from a penny pinching Jew, would decide to take public transportation from a work party after 6+ glasses of wine?).

Our Menu:
Goat Cheese Flat Bread
Veggie Flat Bread
Meats and Cheeses (the Goat Brie was amazing)
Mini Crab Cake Sandwiches
Mini Veggie Burger Sliders
Mini Steak Sliders with Caramelized Onions
Fried Lobster Bites
Marinated Figs
Apricot Brie Yummies
Corn Salsa Crackers
Veggie Flat Bread
Mango Chutney
Mini Cupcakes (Red Velvet was the best)
Mini S'More bites

Here is the link to the Zed 451 Blog.
Here is the link to the Zed 451 Entertaining Floor Plan(s).


Cheers (and my advise is to not take public transportation home after visiting this venue).
Mish
lifewithmish.blogspot.com

Friday, September 17, 2010

Girl And The Goat

Last night Erica and I showed up for our reservation that was secured over two weeks ago. This place is the definition of hot and buzz worthy. While we enjoyed our meal and experience, there were definitely some aspects that did not "wow" me. I loved the decor and layout, the menu and the service. Everything I've read about Stephanie Izzard suggests the food presented was a direct extension of her personality - bold, fun and complex. Of of the five dishes we ordered, one was sent back, one was great, and three were just good. Everyone that raves about G&G might find the food good value, but from our experience last night I'm still on the fence. The drink and beer list is fantastic and I think the menu is creative and fun, especially the daily changes. I wouldn't rush back to eat the food because it's not my style, but there's no doubt about the talent and effort that goes into each and every dish.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lured by the Folk.

In an attempt to expand "I Like to Eat's" ability to cover the Chicago food scene I've asked for help from other knowledgeable food consumers. I would like to introduce our second guest blogger, a wickedly funny, dear old friend of mine, Michelle Goldstien. Mish (as we affectionately call her) and her boyfriend Doug are two of the most active food connoisseur and know where to find great meals. Mish also loves to home-cook and post her recipes on her blog. Welcome Mish to the "I Like to Eat" world, and enjoy her hilarious takes on life and food.

We were tempted to see if Folklore (in Wicker Park) could hold its ground against sister restaurant Tango Sur (in Lakeview), considering the two have the same owner. A bit skeptical that it wasn't BYOB (like Tango Sur), we headed to this Division street restaurant last night for a dinner with an out of town friend. I'm happy to report that our overall experience was positive. However, I will definitely continue to view Folklore as the little sibling of Tango Sur (I'll elaborate more below), as there were just a few ways it fell short (all smaller things that can certainly be made up through experience).

Smoky Mountain Brewery

The last stop on our road trip before heading home was in Gatlinburg, TN after hiking in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We were hungry and sore and could use some good food and drink. I've found brew-pubs are usually a safe bet in foreign towns for good drink and food.

Smoky Mountain certainly pours very tasty and well made beer as well decent food. The value was incredible and there were no complaints with the friendly and attentive service.

I sampled four of the beers on tap: Windy Gap Wheat, Mountain Light, Cherokee Red Ale and Thunder Road. The season Wheat was my favorite followed by the very light and crisp Mountain Light. We shared a pretzel basket for starters and ordered a salad and ribs for a main course. Either our eyes were larger than our stomach or portions are skewed in Gatlinburg because we ordered conservatively but a lot of food arrived.



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

C-House's Best of the Midwest Beer Menu

A chef and restaurant after my own heart, great food and great beer all in one meal. Through the end of the month C-House is offering a $39 Three Course Prix Fixe Dinner Menu as the perfect way to enjoy the last days of summer. 

The three course menu features inspired seasonal cuisine and craft brews from the Midwest’s best breweries. Executive Chef Nicole Pederson has a unique pairing menu. Starting with the the first course, you choose from Steamed Mussels and Littleneck Clams with grilled bread, root vegetables, espelette aioli and spiced Matilda broth paired with Goose Island’s Matilda. The main course will be a choice of Braised Chicken Cannelloni with sourdough toast and pate or Sweet and Sour Pork Belly with a farro salad - paired with Founders Red’s Rye PA. 

For dessert, Pastry Chef Toni Roberts has put a creative spin on the Black and Tan. Chef Toni has crafted a Butterscotch Panna Cotta and Moloko Stout gelee with pecan sandies to create her own version of the popular cockatil. Try this final course with Three Floyds Moloko Stout, a great complement to the Black and Tan.

C-House is located at 166 East Superior, at the Affinia Chicago hotel
call 312.523.0923 or visit www.c-houserestaurant.com for more info.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Gilt Bar part 87

[Quick Update 9/24/10: Last night's meal featured more great dishes from the menu highlighted by the steak tartare. If you haven't tried this yet you are missing out. Not only is the meat delicious, but the dijonaise sauce is unbelievable. We also had some of my personal favorites, the blackened cauliflower and burrata. I tried the roasted garlic for the first time and wasn't thrilled. I prefer a garlic dish to reek of wonderful garlic and make your breath stink for days. This was not that dish. I know I sound like a broken record praising Gilt, but I have a hard time finding people that disagree.]

I'm not exaggerating, I've been to Gilt more times than I can count, which only speaks to how much I enjoy myself there. I can safely report that even after seven months of operations, the quality of the food and experience are top notch.

One of the reasons I seek out new restaurants is that I enjoy new and different flavors. The only downside to repeat visits to favorite places is that you get stuck in a groove of what you like. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially after some time apart, just something I am all too aware of. Last night fit that mold to a T because it had been a while since my last visit. I ordered my favorite drink(s), an Old Fashioned and Hoffman's of PBR, the creamy and delicious burrata, shaved spring vegetables, the can't-put-them-down fries and two pasta dishes (rigatoni with rabbit confit and the ricotta gnocchi). The night cap was carrot cake.

Chicago Gourmet Preview TwEAT-up

In case you missed my tweets yesterday, Whole Foods hosted a preview of Chicago Gourmet with Mindy Segal of Hot Chocolate and Debbi Peek from The Bristol. They presented two food/drink pairings for us to sample and showed us how it was done. The first was an amazing brioche by Mindy paired with bacon infused bourbon/cider, and the second was a toffe and s'more treat paired with a cafe breve (cognac, espresso, heavy cream and brown sugar, topped with a Stout).

It was a lot of fun to see them perform their magic in person, as well taste those delicious treats.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Yard House

This continues part II of the suburban tour at a place filled with old memories (even though The Glen is relatively new). I went to the Yard to meet an old friend and his wife for drinks and food the other week to catch up after a hectic summer. It's an appropriate location since they live in the northwest suburbs and I'm coming from the city. It also happens to be the location where many nights have been spent swapping stories on vacation holidays during the college years. The suburbs are not know for having "bars" to hang out at, so the Yard House become a de-factor hang out whenever we returned from school. Because everyone's schedule allowed, we were able to meet early enough to take advantage of happy-hour - 50% off most appetizers.

We ordered a plethora of drinks and food. If you've never been or heard of the Yard House, they have the most extensive on-tap beer list that I have ever seen (impressive because it's a chain). Everything tasted good and drank well. We were relaxed sitting on their outside patio trading stories and drinking good beer. I don't' know that I've ever been there for a complete "meal," but I'm sure you'd have a good time if you did.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Frank & Betsie's

I feel like I'm a roll with suburban eating; I guess it's good to change the scenery every now and then. I had dinner tonight with my "aunt" Dianne in Glencoe at a cute little French place called Frank and Betsie's. It was a simple meal with the focus on catching up on life and my travels. The food was tasty and a large menu to choose from. The feeling is definitely small suburban french bistro and I can see how it's been around for 15 years. The bread is served nice and warm with butter (I'd prefer olive oil) with a nice wine list. Our entire meal consisted of three items, Dianne's large soup, my Cesar salad starter and trout main dish.

The salad was great and I could have twice as much. My trout was very well cooked and served with sides of rice and a few veggies. The mushroom, Dijon and dill sauce was a perfect compliment of flavors. Our service was very good, even on a slow night and my only complaint would be the value. But I guess the pricing comes with the territory and even then it's not super crazy (three dishes and two glasses of wine for $50).



The outside patio is a huge bonus for the summer and fall seasons, and I'd recommend going there for a nice, quiet meal in the suburbs. There's a good reason Chicago Magazine named it a best restaurant in 1999.

Frank & Betsie's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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