Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gene & Georgetti

I had to get back to G&G after my first visit during their 70th anniversary meal a few months back for $15 and six courses. This time Erica and I went for a real steak dinner - sharing a filet and some creamed spinach and pasta. For those unaware, G&G must be one of the oldest steak houses in Chicago with great celebrity photos and old murals on the wall. The layout is goofy - with a tiny first floor, large bar and more seating up the narrow carpeted stairs. But the services remains old school classic and extremely attentive with multiple people taking care of your table and doing so in a choreographed manner. The food is somewhat middle of the road though, and the prices are more high road.

We only needed one filet to satisfy our needs but supplemented our meal with some pasta and meatballs, spinach and the included salads and cottage fries. It was more than enough food for the two of us, particularly the huge dish of angle hair and meatballs. Erica did most of the damage on the filet but the few bites I had did not inspire me to ask for more. Maybe it's a sign of the times (and G&G lives in the old world) but I thought a steak was supposed to be good enough to not need sauce. Without asking our server presented both ketchup (I hope for the potatoes) and A1 steak sauce. However, I appreciated him doing so because the steak needed some A1 to register great flavors.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thai Smile

It's not quite Christmas dinner for a Jew if it doesn't involve some kind of oriental meal. I was in Palm Springs for the Holiday weekend to soak up some sun and get a quick break from work. After going to the movies we went to my parents' favorite thai spot in the area. It's a smallish restaurant with about 60 seats but nicely decorated. It was the only place with any life in the shopping center at 8pm on December 25th. We had some good food and some ok food. Even my mother said that it's normally a bit tastier but maybe it was the second team in the kitchen or abnormally busy since not many places are open.

Our starters of chicken satay and some kind of deep fried shrimp roll were the best things on the table all night. I loved the peanut sauce with the chicken and the shrimp roll was very tasty.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

French Laundry

Finally, after two years of getting into the "foodie" world as a blogger, I made my pilgrimage to The French Laundry to help celebrate brother Anthony's big 4-0. We only were in town for two nights, but when one of them is in Yountville, it's bound to be a great trip. Honestly, my  expectations were not through the roof even though everything I had ever read about FL would seem to place it one elevator stop short of heaven. But even if I did expect the world they would have delivered. I've recently become much more aware of how significant the company you dine with influences your overall dining experience. Our group would have had a fun and amazing time if we were eating at McDonald's or In-N-Out but the magical setting and cuisine only added to everyone's joy. It was a five hour meal with delicious course after delicious course arriving with perfect service and delicious wine pairings. There's something different and special when each course arrives perfectly cooked with flavors balanced to perfection. The French Laundry is definitely where cooks go to learn how to make the classic food amazing. It's the base foundation that allows every chef to creatively transform the classics into modern fare (see: Achatz, Grant). Finally, FL is also a required experience for any food lover and anyone that enjoys special restaurant experiences. I'm lucky to have had that experience and continue to expand my palate of comparable experiences. Now all I need is to save up for my next trip to Yountville, CA



Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lao Sze Chuan

I'm a huge fan of Chinatown but my family always goes to the same two places: Emperor's Choice and Phoenix. We love them both that we never had a reason to explore other options - that's why I'm grateful some work friends decided to organize a Sunday evening trip to check out Lao Sze Chuan. As a local foodie I've heard a lot about Tony Hu and his empire but had never experienced it myself. Chinatown is great because it's both authentic yet approachable (and most restaurants have figured this out by having entirely different sections or floors for seating). Lao Sze Chuan does a very nice job of presenting a menu with an overwhelming number of choices with clear labels to steer you on your desired path. Our Sunday night dinner didn't need to go exotic or push the envelope so we ordered familiar dishes and didn't even really flip the pages. Everything we ordered came as expected and tasted great - fully embracing the "Americanized" Chinese food we've come to love growing up on Panda Express :) I'm not disappointed by this because the food was high quality and gave us what we wanted. If we were interested in pigs feet or hot pots we could have ordered those (which is to say if you want adventure, there's plenty to try).



Monday, December 12, 2011

EL Ideas

It's been a LONG time since Erica and I ventured to the 1400 block of South Western Ave to experience a very unique dining experience. My friend Russ had a table for two but couldn't use it so I got the offer just a day or two before our meal. Normally a table for two would not be that big a deal but when there are only 16 seats four nights a week given out lottery style, I took advantage of Russ's poor fortune. The background is that Chef Phillip Foss (formerly of Lockwood) started one of the city's first food trucks called Meatyball's Mobile. Using the same kitchen/prep area as the truck, he turned an obscure catering facility into a 12ish seat BYO "dinner party" experience featuring his creative take on food and local ingredients. The menu is a prepaid cost of $135, features 12ish courses and all the booze you can bring. The atmosphere is extraordinary and fun since your table is mere feet from the kitchen and the only people in the building besides the guests are the three chefs and front of house maestro. You are encouraged to get up and walk around, converse in the kitchen, help plate food, whatever your interests are. When they say dinner party, they truly mean dinner party.

My overall opinion of our evening was that it was a creative and unique dining experience that was a lot of fun but that the food served did not have the necessary flavors to live up the hype or money involved. Maybe I was unprepared but the dinner felt very long. The meal started promptly at 7pm and we were the first guests to leave at 11pm after 2 bottles of wine and 12 courses. I'm all for a multi-course relaxing meal but this seemed to be 1 hour too long. In addition, I'd probably have a slightly different view if I thought every course was fantastic and couldn't wait for the next one. At the end of most courses I felt myself HOPING for a tastier course next time instead of expecting one. Another complaint is that every course's main ingredient looked amazing on paper, but then the plate came with other side ingredient that over powered and focus and left me wondering what happened the focus. There was too much effort to make each dish special and distracted from great flavors.


Since the menu changes almost daily it doesn't do any good to rehash everything course by course. Feel free to email me if you want more detail. I will say though that the first course was memorably because it was a foie gras "snake" custard that was served without any utensils - you had to lick the plate clean. I also really loved the impromptu "buffalo chicken" course with a tiny piece of meat on a small bone served with a shot of PBR. Delicious. I'd have to dig up my menu to remember what everything else was, but we also won't forget the highlight ending of chocolate salty balls on a skewer.  EL is a great place to have a fun and unique dining experience. It's off the beaten path, exclusive and hard to get in, BYO and uses creative ingredients. I can see how a cult following exists/is created. If I had more time and money I'm sure I'd return a lot sooner than I will, but I do think it's worth checking out for those interested in these kinds of meals.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Three Aces

I was the lucky man to have two awesome ladies join me for a meal and drink at Three Aces this week. Since moving to Wicker Park I've always said I would like to spend more time in Italy since it's much closer than living in Lakeview. I've heard good things about 3 Aces from multiple sources and I can add my praise to the list. I've also heard how much more fun it is in the summer with the large patio open - something to look forward to in a few months (that and the Big Star patio). The vibe is great  and the scene is definitely more bar than restaurant with a few tables and loud music and a large bar. The drink list is great and huge with many choices of cocktails and a seriously large beer selection. The menu is organized as "small plate" sharing (I guess that fad is here to stay), but it also works well since most people might come for drinks and get a little food here and there. I enjoyed our food choices but there was some variability in the quality and flavors of what we ordered. It's good enough to enjoy without being too critical and certainly tastes better alongside the drinks. 





Thursday, December 1, 2011

Native Foods Cafe

It's always a pleasure to meet up with good friends Ari and Tali for dinner. We love to try new places, eat good food and catch up on life. Another benefit of going out with the Dermans is that they remind us that there are always "healthier" options on the menu (mostly vegetarian and fish). We decided to go bold and check out Native Foods Cafe - an entirely vegetarian/vegan/organic establishment. The menu is filled with regular looking items like burgers, cheese, gyros and meatballs - but the joke is always on the unsuspecting customer that doesn't realize all of the animal product goodness is replicated with soy and plant based supplements. I love the idea of eating vegan, I really do. You would reduce cholesterol, lower fat and generally eat healthier stuff. But as Erica observed walking out (and speaking from experience as a former vegetarian), there are plenty of options to eat veg. without diving into fake meat replacements (can't get enough pasta, rice, salads, etc). Most of the push back always starts with protein sources - but that is another discussion for another time. Native Foods is a great option for people looking to satisfy the vegan need and eat "normal" food without that animal. I tip my hat to the chef who has the creativity of making a reuben sandwich with corned beef looking substitute and fake cheese. That's taking culinary "art" to a high level, but I think I'll stick to the real deal.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pot Pan

Erica and I are still looking for a go to Thai place in the hood. There are many options, or at least more than we have had time to try. We will all know when Wicker Park becomes the next Lakeview when there is a sushi/thai/noodle/byo on every corner. Thai Village wasn't our favorite so we picked up from Pot Pan the other night on a recommendation (and it's just down the street). It was our standard and simple order - chicken satay with peanut sauce, pad thai for the pad thai queen and my pad see eew.

I said we are still looking for a go to Thai place because Pot Pan was good but still missing that extra umpf (or MSG or something) than makes you want to go back and stuff more tofu in your face. The peanut sauce for the satay was great but the two noodles dishes were just so so. Erica's pad thai was much worse than my pad see but both dishes needed that extra flavor punch. I like my noodles and vegetables - both well cooked and with great texture. But my favorite part of a good thai noodle dish is the sauce, and neither had very much. The pad thai was seriously bland. We'll continue our journey for our favorite local noodle place and maybe give Pan another look. It's close, cheap and the food's decent but not awesome.





Pot Pan Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 28, 2011

Country House

We started the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend with a stop to a favorite local bar and burger place walking distance from home. It was packed as expected for "black Wednesday" or whatever they call the busiest bar night of the year. We just wanted to catch the Michigan bball game and eat a good burger. It's an awesome place to hang out and even more so if you can snag the table in front of the fire place. It's definitely similar to scene out of "Cheers" where everyone knows your name (or that of the person next to you) and the peanut shells flow freely to the floor. I suppose even bars in the suburbs can have some fun :) The beer was great and our service was attentive but everyone's burger seemed to be missing a step. Perhaps the excessive crowd overwhelmed the kitchen a bit though one would expect that on Thanksgiving weekend.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Merlo La Salumeria

Our family has a mini-tradition of going to a "performance" on the day after Thanksgiving. What better way to spend a few hours after eating too much the day before than to sit and watch entertainment? The show this year was Million Dollar Quartet playing at the Apollo Theater on Lincoln Ave in Lincoln Park. MY vote for a dinner spot nearby was Lou Malnati's Pizza, but that was overturned in favor of Merlo (a two location, small and romantic Italian restaurant). The food top to bottom was quite good, particularly the pasta dishes (though very small portion sizes), but our service was some of the worst I've had in a while. We gave ourselves plenty of time to make the show, and let our server know, but for some reason we still waiting forever to get any food, the right food, something to drink, etc. I'm inclined to return somewhere with good food and poor service because everyone has a bad night, but it's hard to have a good experience no matter how good the food if you never receive it. 



Sunday, November 20, 2011

Prasino Dinner

My first trip to Prasino was short and sweet but return was bigger and better to celebrate Jordan's birthday. We ordered plenty and had a great time with good food. Our service was horrible though, with disappearing servers and an unnecessarily long dinner. I guess we're lucky not to have been around when a cab didn't get the memo about no drive through service (Cab Story). As I wrote before, Prasino is a good addition to the neighborhood with a huge space and patio, good drink list and a creative "green" menu (sandwiches, sushi, pasta, flat bread, salad and seafood). I was also impressed with the two desserts we tried, and there were other ones I'd like to try.


My favorite items are still the flat breads and sushi rolls. Both are well made and delicious with nice flavors. I ordered fish tacos as a main dish and was rather unimpressed - I also made the mistake of ordering chips as my side (who orders chips with fish tacos?). Erica ordered an appealing ravioli dish that did not live up to expectations. Birthday boy Jordan ordered the best dish of the table - the pork chop.








There are a lot of interesting menu items I would try on a return trip, and a large menu with something for everyone. However, I'm likely to stick with what I think works best - drinks and small plates of sushi and flat bread (and maybe a burger). Prasino is not going to change your food world but it is a nice option for the local crowd, particularly in summer. If the service issues can be fixed it's a good spot for the trendy "drinks and appetizer" wicker park resident.

Prasino on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cantina Laredo

Chicago is the latest city to receive one of the roughly 30 Cantina Laredos already serving. Technically a "chain" Cantina has more class and charm to be mistaken for a TGI or something similar. The restaurant is quite large and multi-leveled. The decor is interesting, stylish and modern. Seating is mostly large leather booths around the perimeter with four-tops in the middle. Everything reminds me of a grown up version of a classic family Mexican restaurant. It reminds me of a more sophisticated Moe's Cantina or a more interesting Zapatista. The food was solid - not knock your socks off but good all around. I really enjoyed my steak fajitas and the table side guacamole was fun. I ate my weight in chips and salsa, but was disappointed that there wasn't a "hot" salsa available for some reason (they ran out?). The margaritas were classic and tasty and completely fit in with the food (i.e. solid good but not earth shattering). We finished the meal with two desserts that were great and served in a warm cream that fills the restaurant with a tasty cotton candy smell.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tribute

Tribute is the latest modern american restaurant to open and offer traditional "comfort food." When we went it was a rainy October night so the setting was perfect. The restaurant is located in the Green Seal LEED-certified Essex Inn and the decor definitely resembles the new age recycled "green" look. But I'm an environmentalist at heart so a green restaurant is awesome even if there's some style (e.g. cheap looking) deficiencies. The menu is as expected with many appealing and intriguing options. We started with truffle fries and dry rub ribs though many other options looked good (fried chicken salad, lobster roll, crab cakes, lobster mac n cheese, etc).

For our main course our four top ordered mirror images: Erica and I ordered the Yankee Pot and BBQ Salmon which was replicated by Eric and Rebecca. Usually I would demand a recount and require variety but I'm glad we did not because those two dishes were very good. On a return visit (or recommend to others) I would try the Burger, Pork Chop or Chicken Fried Steak. For a side we ordered asparagus.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Next - Childhood


Taking a few days to think and process the meal at Next was probably a good idea. My general take away from Childhood was negative and disappointing, but I don't want to stress on that because one thing I've noticed about this restaurant is that many people can have significantly different experiences. This is always the case with restaurants but it feels more stark at Next. While my personal experience was less than ideal, a few extra days of processing has dulled the edge. I review the menu and realize each item taken by itself was better than the entire experience. Part of that was service, timing, a few bad flavors and an overall sense of poor value. What I know for certain is that Childhood had a lot more food than Thailand and (lots of) great wine. I just wished I liked the food more.  



Saturday, November 5, 2011

Marc Burger

I've written before about my great fondness for the 7th floor at Macy's and the various lunch options. We went today (Friday's are always a good reason to go for something special) and since I've tried Takashi and Frontera, Marc Burger was next on the list. Marc stands for Marcus Samuelsson, and Marc Burger is his farm to table, fresh ingredient burger stand (there's actually two, the other in CA). The menu is simple with eight burger options (basic, pesto burger, turkey burger, bbq, etc), sides, shakes, etc. It's perfect for the space and the lines are never short.

Today we just had a regular cheeseburger with white cheddar. The home made ketchup was pretty good but not quite memorable. The burger was solid but also sort of average. The garlic fries were tasty but since they are somewhat mass produced they didn't seem that fresh. I'd be interested in trying the other burgers, and maybe a shake. It makes me really wish I still lived across the street the DMK Burger Bar. Marc Burger is a good option in the 7th Floor Macy's food court. I still prefer Frontera but Marc is close behind.


Marc Burger on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ripasso


Our service was extremely disappointing. I realize a first weekend opening can have kinks but this seemed a bit over the top. We only saw our server once or twice over the course of the 1.5 hour meal and we ordered within the first 15 minutes. Seemed very under staffed which is surprising considering the owners/operators have done this before.

I wouldn't be as harsh either if the food really made up for it. The meat ball starter was quite good and we enjoyed the simple salad but our pastas and risotto were average. The pasta is well cooked but the rest of the dishes lacked flavor. The risotto was probably best and the other two pasta sauces didn't add enough to the dish.


Monday, October 31, 2011

State & Lake

We're always looking for decent sit down lunch spots to take new team members or celebrate a birthday. My suggestion the other week was State & Lake, a place I had not been to in over a year but remember good things. I'm glad we went because the place is still more charming than an ordinary hotel restaurant and serves good food. The menu is what you expect for a business or tourist crowd - starters, salads, burgers and sandwiches (and a full bar). The burger looked great but I was in the mood for something different and chose the Smoked Turkey Panini (with Jalapeno, Bacon, Havarti, Avacado, Creme Fraiche). It's quite large with many layers of turkey. I enjoyed all the toppings, especially the jalapeno and avocado. Jared even gave me a sample of his turkey burger and it tasted great. All sandwiches come with fries or side salad. With most selections in the $12-15 it's certainly not a fast and cheap lunch but as far as sit down options go it's quite reasonable.

With a small and interesting interior the setting is great for a lunch that fits between casual and power lunch. The food is good and the menu interesting with many options. State & Lake has earned a spot as a regular option for casual sit-down lunches.


State & Lake on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 28, 2011

Quay

What a crazy but interesting space. The last restaurant I remember in the extremely large and sectioned area was De La Costa. I have no idea if anything has been there since. People have written about the three faces/sections of Quay - the front bar, the middle dining room and the back lounge. I liked the vibe of the bar with lots of TVs, nice bench seating and plenty of high tops. The entire place is well designed with funky and new age style. This is especially true in the rather small dining room. We went on a Monday night so I'm not surprised it wasn't packed, but I an also imagine that it might get a little loud and cramped if all the tables were occupied.

I really like the menu - it's approachable, to the point and affordable. Many of the items focus or feature seafood but there's a good balance of meat and vegetable selections too (lots of bacon usage). The four of us all had different tastes that night so we were able to see and try many things. We started the meal with two flat breads (one mushroom and one tarte flambe), tuna tartare and the surf and turf trio of sliders. The flat breads were nice and the appropriate size for a starter. I actually liked the mushroom and goat cheese more than my flambe (i.e. bacon and fromage blanc). Our trio of sliders were ok but not amazing. the lobster roll wasn't bad and I liked the burger but not a huge fan of the short rib.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Capital Grille Fall "Plates" Menu


I had the fortunate pleasure to be invited to try Capital Grille's $15 three course lunch menu. The last and only time I've been to Capital Grille was to sample their "Generous Pour" event in the summer. It was a great event and a great meal so getting another chance to have a free meal of great steak is one I can't pass up. 

The "Plates" menu features 3 courses: Soup/Salad (Porcini Bisque  |  Clam Chowder  |  Field Greens), Sandwich (Mini Tenderloin (2)  |  Lobster Roll  |  “Knife and Fork” BLT) and a Side (Seasonal Vegetable  |  Truffle Fries |  Roasted Butternut Squash with Cranberry Chutney). It's a lot of food, high quality and for $15 a tremendous deal. Most people think of a steak house lunch as only for high powered suits that can afford hours off and bottles of wine. If that's what you want you can still get that, but for $15 you get the same great food and lightning fast service because the staff at Capital Grille understand the value of your time in the middle of the day. 


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Big Star

I didn't know if I already wrote about Big Star but it doesn't matter. Now that I live in the area it's worth revisiting because now I can appreciate it from a different light - a place to go to whenever possible (especially in good weather). The last time we were there was likely the last great weather weekend in Chicago until next April. It was an impromptu decision but with guests visiting and a glorious sunny Sunday, why not spend an hour eating tacos and drinking margaritas before the work week reality sets in? We did just that, ordered a pitcher, some chips and guac, queso fundido and a few tacos. It's a standard selection and we held back since everyone was just arriving after brunch (!).

As expected everything was great. We held back on the margs only because it was 1pm on a sunday with more productive hours left in the day. The al pastor taco was good and one of my favorites but I really loved the queso. There's a great spice/kick to the dish and is amazing. Melted cheese with peppers on tortillas is hard to beat. The guacamole had a little too much lime for my preference but we ate it so fast my picture is of a mostly consumed plate of chips.



Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bistro Voltaire

Last week was tough to find time to update the blog. Oh well, I hope to do better this week. I didn't realize until I started writing that my previous post was also a French restaurant (Paris Club) although the two could not be more different. Eric and I went on a Monday to enjoy the daily special of three course meal for $27. It's a great deal but since the menu is very reasonably priced it ends up equaling a free dessert. Even though there was a special menu provided, it appeared that every item is available to create your prix fixe. I loved the simplicity of the menu with eight options to start, six choices for entrees and four for dessert. There's enough of a mix of salads and classic french starters for everyone to be happy. I went with the Asparagus salad with black truffle vinaigrette. It was delicious and the truffle vinaigrette was subtle and flavorful. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Paris Club

The last and only time I ate at Paris Club was during their soft open pre launch. We were able to sample a few menu items but not everything was available. This time we were coming in for a late dinner/snack after attending an event in the area. The most obvious aspect to Paris Club is that it is a place to be and be seen. the vibe is electric and everyone there is having a good and loud time. For even more fun (and exclusivity) there's Studio Paris upstairs. I've never been but I'm sure it's one of the hottest places to party in the city especially when the roof is open. But we sat down in the bar area for food and ordered a salad, chicken and salmon dish. It's not the largest sample size but plenty of food for our needs.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Noodles By Takashi

Once again we made a trip to the 7th floor at Macy's for a change of pace lunch (and a little splurge). Last time I went with delicious mexican at Frontera Fresco and now I wanted a big bowl of ramen from Noodles (especially after visiting Takashi last June). The menu is very simple - four ramen choices, a few rice plates and sides of dumplings, etc. I can't seem to find the menu anywhere online so I don't have all the options and details. 


I didn't know which ramen to go with, and even though I was more in a mood for a fried rice dish, I figured a first trip required a ramen bowl. The cashier recommend the Shoyu Ramen the most.  It looked the most interesting and unusual. A quote from a fellow yelper states, "It is simple and classic.  A big steaming bowl of noodles dressed with fish cakes, pork belly, bamboo shoots, sheets of nori, and baby bok choy." While I did appreciate the fascinating and flavorful broth, there was just a little too much going on besides noodles for my taste. Even if the Shoyu is a traditional favorite, next time I'll try the more basic miso ramen. 




If the picture doesn't show, the bowl is huge. You pay $8-9 for the bowl but you get more than enough food for one meal. I'd say all in all it wasn't my favorite bowl of noodles but maybe I don't like super traditional japanese ramen? I hope not. I will return to try the other dishes, namely a rice combo. Someone tried an order of dumplings and said they were fantastic so one dish on one visit might not be a full sample size. Next visit to 7th on State might be to Marcus Samuelson's Marc Burger. I've already passed it up twice, three times in not likely. 


Noodles By Takashi Yagihashi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Enoteca Roma Ristorante

We were in search of a solid neighborhood Italian restaurant and found a few options but settled on Enoteca Roma. I'm glad we did because it is top notch good food with a great vibe and a solid menu. The back patio is quite large, even though there is also a front patio. Now that I think about it, there is probably more seating outside than inside - and that includes the connected Letizia's Bakery (same owner). I understand why they had blankets on all the seats for customer use as the weather turns. But the large backyard patio with small candles and blankets is the perfect setting for a neighborhood Italian spot.

We kept the meal simple and classic. There are more than a few bruschetta options and you can mix and match (they even split them in half to share). We ordered a Vinny (gorgonzola, caramelized onions), Emilia (tomato, garlic, basil, prosciutto) and two Napoli (Tomato, Baby Mozzarella, Pesto). All were good and I really liked the Vinny.



Thursday, September 29, 2011

Oasis Cafe

This will be short. Oasis Cafe is a small, great Mediterranean/Middle Eastern lunch spot that is located in the back of a jewelry store on Wabash Ave. I find it hysterical you walk past the sparkly rings and watches on your way to the falafel and kababs. But what's important is that the food you order at the counter is practically ready by the time you pay (similar to scary fast Jimmy John's). The value is ridiculous as you pay $7-8 and they hand you a styrofoam box with 5lbs of food. I went with some kind of chicken combo served on rice with sides of hummus, pita and falafel. Crazy amount of food. The sauce on the chicken and rice was fantastic and I really like the spices too. The meal is plenty big there, but for an after course you can make a falafel sandwich with hummus and pita. I love the experience in the back of the store and the food matches both flavor and price. I look forward to making this a staple on the lunch circuit.


Oasis Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 26, 2011

Prasino

Prasino is exactly what Division street was lacking in Wicker Park. It's a perfect fit with a "green" (prasino is green in greek) focused menu and philosophy as well as highlighting vegan, vegetarian and even gluten free options. I'm still surprised how large the space is, especially the patio (kind of a rough time to open a restaurant in Chicago with such a large outdoor space). The interior decor also fit the neighborhood (the more yuppie upscale hipster side) with a clean design, dark lighting, large communal table and even a glass enclosed fire pit. The menu is a mix of many options: sushi rolls, small plates, burgers/sandwiches, flat bread, salads and entrees. That kind of variety will go a long way to establish Prasino as an every night neighborhood restaurant. I've been told there's also a solid breakfast and lunch menu. I'm not sure how many people will eat there all hours of the day but since this is Prasino #3 maybe they know something I do not. 


The occasion of our first visit is why I think Prasino will be successful. It was a rainy evening, we didn't want to cook dinner and needed something close by that wasn't bbq or pizza or sausages. As I mentioned, a "real" full size restaurant was needed on that block of Division for the locals and this certainly fits the bill. Who knows, maybe it'll be a destination too. We didn't need a large meal and loved the menu variety. Erica ordered a flat bread and I tried a black been burger. We sampled some asparagus to start.


  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Barn & Company

After checking out B&C for their soft opening we decided to go back for a real tasting of the menu and beer. Similar to the first impression, Barn has the feeling of a place you want to be at. It's the same guys behind English and Hubbard Inn so it's no surprise they know how to create a fun and festive atmosphere. Instead of slinging high priced cocktails to people wearing a month's rent on their feet (I'm seriously generalizing to an unfair degree) you get bbq pulled pork and draft beer in a jar. I'm much more a fan of the later and the main reason I can't hang out at Barn more often is location. I also appreciate the other half of the concept is sports bar with more than enough TVs to catch every game and then some. To recap, it's a nicely furnished sports bar serving solid beer and lots of bbq at reasonable prices - sounds like a winning combination in the heart of Lincoln Park.

Even with all the intangibles the food must stand on its own as high quality and tasty. In this regard my assessment is that the food is good enough and nothing earth shattering. It's clearly better than a lot of the other new bbq places to pop up in Chicago but far from the best. I will give ample credit and praise for the homemade sauce selection. There are three choices and each one has its strengths but all are tasty and better than store bought.



Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine

Whenever we need to break out of our normal lunch routines we head to Pastoral. It's like walking into a little slice of Europe - a wine and cheese shop in the middle of the Loop. This makes sense since they describe themselves as a "European-inspired neighborhood cheese, specialty food and wine shop offering the highest quality, cut-to-order domestic and international specialty cheeses, freshly baked breads, perfectly chosen accompaniments and small production wines, along with hand-crafted, cheese loving beers." Sounds pretty good to me - beer, cheese, wine and fresh sandwiches and salads. On a previous trip for lunch I ordered a sandwich. The ingredients are fresh and likely locally sourced. The bread is delicious and the portions are large. I think I also bought some potato chips from an obscure Eastern European country. The prices are high for lunch sandwiches and salads ($9-10) but you're paying for quality. 


On my second visit I ordered the "health nut" salad (Field greens, Podda cheese, cucumbers, avocado, spiced almonds and red wine vinaigrette). It's plenty large and filling with avocado and almonds. I really liked the flavor combinations of greens, cheese dressing and everything. It's a great salad and I would never have thought about spiced almonds in a salad otherwise. 




I'm a fan of all things Pastoral. I wish I could enjoy their extensive beer and wine selection during the day but I'm pretty sure that's not office policy. For now it will remain a nice escape into a slice of Europe when regular lunch spots won't do the trick. 


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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mexique

I've had my eye on Mexique ever since Chicago Magazine named it to the Best New Restaurant 2009 list. Since moving within walking distance there's been even less of a reason not get there and try the food. A description of "modern Mexican cuisine with a French influence" might scare people into wrongly thinking this is fusion gone wild. It's not. Executive Chef Carlos Gaytan does a very nice job of presenting classic Mexican dishes using modern French technique without pretension in an inviting causal atmosphere. The environment is a typical West Town unassuming storefront with a narrow and long dining area with a kitchen in the rear corner. As for the food, if we had been more ambitious I would have liked to try the six course tasting menu but instead we settled for two starters and two entrees. Even that was a difficult decision because there were plenty of items that looked appealing (more entrees than starters but plenty of both). We chose the daily ceviche special (shrimp) and cochinita rillettes (Achiote/Tequila Braised Pork Shoulder Rillettes, Crostini, Purple Pearl Pickle Onion, Rustic Celery Salad and Mango-Habanero Couli). 



Sunday, September 11, 2011

Frontera Fresco

Last week we all had lunch at Frontera Fresco and I realized two things: the 7th floor at Macy's has some serious good food that I haven't explored and for as much as I enjoy and recommend Rick Bayless operations, I've never been to either flagship (Frontera Grill or Topo). I'll need to work on changing both of those deficits. But I suggested Fresca as a change of place lunch option for high quality food. I had been once before and really enjoyed my torta so I went back to the well with a Cochinita Pibil (Roasted pulled pork with garlic-achiote, black beans, pickled red onions, avocado, served with habanero hot sauce). I was disappointed with pulled pork because the meat was dry and the sandwich didn't come with the black beans and avocado (not sure why and I didn't realize until afterward). The habanero sauce was a highlight and had some real nice heat though it's hard to use since it comes on the side. 






Thursday, September 8, 2011

King Fish Restaurant & Tiki - Bay City, MI

I'm a fan of tradition, especially when it revolves around getting together with friends (e.g. Vegas birthdays, Michigan Football, ski trips, etc). The past few years we've managed to turn Labor Day weekend into a football home game and sailing adventure. Last year we ended up at G's Pizza so this year we tried something new with King Fish Tiki bar. Finding a place open on a sunday night during a holiday weekend in a small, family oriented sailing town is no easy feat. In fact, we're quite certain those are the only two places open and that the five of us guys made up all of the potential diners in town. King Fish has the makings of a classic, cheesy, goofy tiki bar in a small town on the water. We were just happy to go somewhere serving drinks and food, especially after our long comedy-of-errors day on the water (ask me later). Our service was very friendly and willing to entertain us even though I bet they would have been at home an hour earlier had we not shown up. The food was fine - bar food with a twist of Caribbean. There were fish tacos all around, jerk chicken, chicken wings and tater tots covered in chili nacho cheese. Yum. I had the chicken dinner with rice and bean and a nice bbq sauce. For some reason I forgot to take a picture but the chicken was well cooked and well seasoned - no complaints. I am glad they were open, I am glad they served us beer and food. We'll probably end up there again in 12 months time unless we discover another gem in the peaceful town of Bay City, MI during Labor Day 2012.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bridge House Tavern

I hope everyone had a great end of summer labor day weekend. Students are back hitting the books and the weather starts to change. The only good thing about Fall is college football. But I digress. For some reason I haven't been as on top of my blog in recent weeks. I'll do my best to get back on track and start with a lunch a company group lunch we had a few weeks back in honor of a co-worker birthday. He suggested Bridge House so that's where we went. I had heard the name but didn't fully realize it is in the former Flatwater Grill space until we approached the steps. BHT has been described as upscale pub food and I wouldn't disagree. It's a great location right on the water with a large patio riverside. There's a nice bar with plenty of TVs and a clean sophisticated white table cloth and dark wood setting. The menu isn't overly complicated and stays within the bounds of pub style. There are nice sharable appetizers, some salads, sandwiches and a few "main courses."

We started with one of their most popular dishes - popcorn. This isn't regular popcorn but popcorn infused with honey, bacon, jalapeƱo, and smoked salt. It sounds goofy but it was quite delicious and the most interesting popcorn I've ever had. You get more than you need for only $4.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Perennial Virant

From an outside perspective it would be hard to recognize anything new at Perennial unless you inspected the menu. The layout is pretty much the same with the great outdoor patio across from the park. And the building length signs still read "Perennial." But that's the point I suppose - a mulligan on the original Perennial with a new chef and new vision. I really liked looking over the menu. They do the very "in" multi-section by plate size separation (small, medium and large) with "an emphasis on sharing plates." There's plenty to choose from but the menu feels small and approachable with many familiar items. My focus was on both small and large plates with a curious indifference to the medium section. We tried five things and found they all came out with relative consistency. Nothing was earth shattering or amazing but there were some interesting flavors. My biggest takeaway was a feeling of goofiness. A strange adjective for a restaurant but each plate reminded me of a trouble making fourth grader - some good intentions inside but not sure there is any organized direction. Maybe it works for most people but even though most everything was "good", there is not anything I would call memorable or would rush back to have again. We had a nice meal outside under the heat lamp enjoying the lincoln park atmosphere (especially since moving across town), with attentive service and reasonable prices.   


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gene & Georgetti - 70th Anniversary

Last month G&G celebrated 70 years of existence - quite an accomplishment in Chicago and considering the economic times now and past. They celebrated by with a special 5 course menu served at 1940s prices, i.e. $15. We received soup and salad to start, a choice of main course, side and dessert plus two glasses of wine. It was without a doubt an amazing deal, but unfortunately likely not representative of the quality of food on regular nights. The service was frantic and erratic taking a long time to get any attention. The food was clearly mass produced lunch line style to accommodate the demand, especially the filet. It's hard to mess up a house salad and soup and both were fine but the steaks tasted un loved. I was most surprised with the tasty sides of cottage fries and spinach. The spinach was drenched in oil and garlic, but that's not really a negative at an Italian steak house. Our dessert of ice cream was also fine, but that too is hard to goof.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Piece Brewery & Pizzeria

Since moving to the new neighborhood I've heard a lot of good talk about Piece. Word on the street was that they make good pizza and brew award winning beer - and there's always a long wait. This thursday we learned all three are true. I'm a Chicago deep dish pizza lover at heart so it's hard for me to get too excited about various thin crust options but piece makes a solid thin crust. They call it "new haven" style but that's likely just marketing. There are no pre-set pizzas to choose, everything is build your own and starts with one of four sauces: red, bbq, white and plain. Even though we arrived on the later end at 8:15 we still waited at least 45 minutes for a table and the place was always packed (maybe for thursday night karaoke??). I loved the feel and decor of the barn/brewery style. I could picture it on the side of a ski mountain out west if you added a fireplace and the loud noise of ski boots. The brand name beer was very good and deserving of the many awards decorating the walls. Ari and I enjoyed a sampler flight to make sure we didn't miss anything. Lastly, the value was surprisingly good. Three pizzas, one starter and some drinks we ended up at $20 a person all in with leftovers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ceres' Table - 2011

One of our favorite meals from last year was Ceres' Table, where we had a three course meal for $25. Every dish was fantastic and we recommended it to anyone that would listen. Since we liked it so much we didn't understand how it took us a year and half to return. This time the three course prix fixe is $40 including a glass of wine and only offered on Wednesdays (I guess the first deal really was too good to be true). Unfortunately something happened between our two visits because they could not have been more different. Each dish that came out was very disappointing and not very tasty. It's hard to believe that there could be such a huge variation in experiences. Either one of our experiences was a fluke, or something has changed inside the kitchen. Either way we were bummed to find one of our favorite meals from last year is not the same today.


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