Sunday, July 31, 2011

Barn & Co. - Soft Opening Weekend

I don't want to be critical on an opening weekend soft launch. I just happened to be in the neighborhood for Lincoln Fest and knew Barn was opening but didn't know it would still be pumping at 10pm and serving food. I do like what they've done with the old Grand Central space. I have many memories in that fraternity-ish college hang out but the new space is more grown up and more appropriate. It's kept the sports bar vibe very well with tvs and screens all over the place. The patio is huge and people were playing bags all night. Combining a modern sports bar with BBQ though is pure genius and I'm upset I didn't think of it first.

Our service needs a little work but since it's still a soft opening I won't complain. The menu was simple only offering a sample platter and a few salads. We ordered a Cob salad that was a little disappointing especially compared to the BBQ.  There was a lot of  "stuff" in the salad but not a lot of flavor. The pulled chicken in the salad was in serious need of sauce/bbq/flavor.

The good news is that the bbq itself was pretty good. I really liked the sweeter sauce which is a huge plus for me because that's the first thing I judge at a bbq spot. I ate a lot fries with that sauce and could see myself eating a lot of others things with it. My friends really liked the pulled pork slider. The pork was good but the toasted bun had a nice butter flavor. I liked the ribs because the rub had a real nice kick to it (though maybe more than most people want) and it went well with the sweeter bbq sauce. The meat itself wasn't the best I've had but I did like the flavor overall.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thai Village

We love Thai food (I affectionately call Erica the Pad Thai Queen) and are always on the look out for nearby goodies. I first heard about Thai Village from the Michelin Guide (it received a Bin Gourmand Award) and from my blogger friends Krista and the BYO Bandits. At the time I was still living in Lakeview and didn't need a new Thai place way out in Wicker Park to try. That all changed when we moved to the area. We don't yet have a good go-to Thai takeout place (suggestions anyone?) and figured we should give Thai Village a try. Unfortunately I don't think it made the cut. Maybe the food is better if you eat at the restaurant? I hear there's a great lunch special, so maybe that's the key? We ordered pretty standard fare: pad thai, pad se ew, chicken satay and thai spring roll. The satay and spring roll were very ordinary and typical cheap thai standard (though I did like their peanut sauce). Erica wasn't a fan of the pad thai (and she would know), especially since it had peas (?) thrown in. I didn't mind my pad se ew but I certainly wasn't impressed. The noodles were meh and there was not enough flavor in the sauce or much of a sauce at all. 

Monday, July 25, 2011


It has been well documented that Chicago has had a resurgence of French restaurants. I became even more interested when Chicago Magazine named Bistronomic Best New Restaurant 2011. We had a nice meal but our key take away was that everything was middle of the road good, very consistent and very predictably ordinary. Maybe that's the reason it received the award and other praise as well as success - sometimes not taking any risks or coloring outside the lines is the best way to run a restaurant so long as there are no mistakes. I can see how people would return often if they want a good meal without flair at reasonable prices. I just can't find much to that was memorable or inspiring.

I liked the simple and modern remake of the old Eve space that was more aggressive and stylish. Erica thought the color scheme and fixtures reminded her of Italian bistro, but I suppose it's almost the same thing - European elegance and simplicity. Our service was interesting: at times very attentive and impressive, but then there were times it was completely absent and questionable. For the high level of consistency in the food I was surprised with the inconsistency in the service. I do like the way the menu is organized. The entire back page is the cheese and charcuterie selection ranging from individual choices, cheese flights or melted cheese. The front side is separated into three sizes: large, medium and small. We didn't find anything in the small plate size that intrigued us but the entire medium size looked interesting. To start we ordered an asparagus salad, grilled cheese of the day and a linguini special. We were advised that our large plate order of braised lamb shoulder would be enough food for the evening and I appreciated the advice and honesty of our server. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

IHOP - Janesville, WI

I have not been to an IHOP in years, maybe decades (and I'm only in my third) and that is for good reason. We were in southern Wisconsin for a wedding the night before. What better way to try and cure a night of heavy drinking than with mass produced synthetic eggs, biscuits and gravy and whipped butter topped Belgian waffles? It was a good idea that didn't end being a great choice. My waffle wasn't bad but that's about it. The food is so cheap it should give you pause from the start. Eggs, bacon and hash browns accompanied my waffle without fanfare. Dustin is the brave soul who ordered the biscuits and gravy while Carson went out on a limb with a seasonal crepe. The best however was Holly wanting Eggs Benedict that arrived with a boiled egg instead of poached. Oh well. We ate, we recounted our evening (from our perspective), and made our way back to Chicago. If you have a choice, I'd skip the local IHOP no matter how good the pictures look.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crust - Organic Eater + Lounge

This recent heat wave in Chicago was a pain. Instead of having a few relaxing nights at home to catch up writing and some TV, we ended up sitting in a dark apartment with no air conditioning or internet. The power was out for over 24 hours and two evenings, it was a total bummer.

Anyway, the only good news from the recent weather is that al fresco dining becomes a lot more fun at night. If there's one thing I always look forward to in summer it's long warm nights. Last Saturday we took advantage by eating early and outside on Crust's spacious beer garden/patio. It was my first visit to Crust and likely my first visit to an all organic restaurant. As the name implies half the menu is pizza, but there are other choices as well like salads, flat bread and antipasti. Our overall view was the food was fine but nothing to get too excited about. For what it's worth I do enjoy the concept of organic farming and sustainability. We need more of that and I'm happy to support the cause. So that concept alone made my meal a little more enjoyable and might be the biggest selling point to return. The patio is very nice, large, AND they promote bringing your dog along with beer specials for dog owners. It all adds to the environment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Bangers & Lace

Every once in a while a spontaneous decision to walk into a bar with outdoor seating to have a beer and snack is a welcome change to regularly planned meals. The summer heat around Chicago makes al fresco dining at night a treat and preferred to sitting inside air conditioned apartments. As Erica and I walked home from work we passed Time Out Chicago's 2011 Best New Bar with patio seating calling our names. Our intention was a beer before home as the sun set - we stayed for a few rounds of drinks and food. There's been plenty of appropriate praise for B&L. The layout and decor is both neighborhood bar and classy destination. The style is "Midwestern lodge" meets British/European beer parlor. I love the long wooden bar with an overhead chalkboard listing the beer selections. The taps are all nondescript wooded handles fixed into a brick wall. Cool. In case you didn't know “Bangers” is the British term for sausage, & "lace" stand for Brussels lace, the intricate veil of beer foam that clings to the side of the glass as it is consumed, indicating a well-crafted beer and a clean glass. B&L offers 32 draft beers from around the world and a variety of sausage sandwiches and Dogs.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Capital Grille

I know being busy is no excuse, we're all busy. But this week was quite insane with an event/dinner every night - hence my long delay in posting. Monday night Erica and I went to the Capital Grille to learn about their summer Generous Pour event. We were guests (read: comped meal) to hear George Miliotes, Master Sommelier for CG, give a webcast about each wine he selected to feature. I'll give more details below, but The Generous Pour Summer Wine Event gives guests unlimited tastes of nine different wines for $25 per person from July 12 through September 4. That's a steal of a deal for wine lovers and I can say with experience that there are some very good wines to try.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Doughnut Vault

I finally got to taste a doughnut from the "vault." There's not much to describe - it's a walk up window that serves three kinds of doughnuts and coffee. It's an early morning gig and the line gets quite long on Saturdays. Once inventory is gone they stop selling and you're out of luck. The real question is, are they worth it? I'm not a fan of waiting in line for anything, especially food, but you definitely can't find doughnuts like these anywhere in the city. We tried all three kinds - gingerbread stack, buttermilk old fashioned and glazed. The gingerbread stack of 3 was delicious and small enough that you didn't feel too guilty. The buttermilk old fashioned was my least favorite since it seems heavier on the sugar and less on the dough. Our favorites by far were the glazed. These are not your normal glazed doughnuts. Think car tire size. And the doughy middle is more like cake than doughnut, super soft and squishy. I prefer the classic vanilla glaze but the chestnut is also quite good. None of us are huge chocolate fans anyway so we'll let the doughnut fanatics eat that one.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


A few nights ago we had what should have been an Urbanspoon sponsored "podium" night. The top 3 ranked Chicago bloggers (#1 Jeff, #2 Me, #3 Krista ) all got together to enjoy a glorious Chicago summer evening on the new Frontier patio. It was $2 Tuesdays that included beer, oysters, game tacos and deviled eggs. We also had the distinct pleasure of meeting The Nordic Nibbler who is in town on holiday.

I didn't quite know what to expect from Frontier but after seeing the set-up I understand that it's a bar first and foremost with a unique take on gastro-pub/bar food. They highlight the 20 different oyster options, as well as whole animal service for large groups.  Other unique animals featured include goat tacos, pulled boar, bbq rabbit, vennison cheese steak and smoked guinea hen - for examples. I really like the idea of being a neighborhood "bar" that can do a little of everything. There's interesting food, a nice beer list, TVs a plenty, and DJ spinning on the weekends. Add to that a really nice up-scale patio beer garden with a fireplace and it equals a solid hangout for almost any occasion.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar

My buddy Eric and I decided to check out Union one day after work because we had heard it's a funky cool spot with some interesting food. I'd agree on all fronts with varying degrees of success. It's an interesting concept with interesting food, but sometimes "interesting" doesn't translate into well executed food at reasonable prices. You can't help but notice the cool graffiti art on the walls, the second story level overlooking the main floor or the class enclosed robata grill in the middle of the space erupting in flames every few minutes. Then there's the menu - self described as featuring a broad range of Kushiyaki (grilled meat, seafood and vegetables on a skewer) and a variety of sushi and sashimi. What could be better than having tasty sushi with some traditional starters/salads mixed with some grilled meat on a stick? The problem is that our flavors came in waves of really nice with really bland, and on top of that they came at steep prices.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hot Chocolate

What gentleman in the city hasn't taken (or thought of taking) their significant other to Hot Chocolate for a birthday (or romantic) meal. I had the subtle hint that this year it would be nice since it's now within walking distance. Unfortunately our internal hype expectations were a bit too high. We had a nice and romantic meal that was surprisingly filling with great service. The tables are crazy close and packed in and our food was quite ordinary. Even our dessert was pedestrian, though we did see some really good looking options (doughnuts?) as we walked out so maybe we simply ordered wrong. Since Hot Chocolate remains very busy all the time I'm guessing most people are there for Mindy's post meal specialty. We'd go back for dessert only and try many of the items we didn't get to, but we're likely to have the main course elsewhere.

We started with an order of mac n cheese. It's placed near the bottom of the menu in it's own category, but we didn't mind because there's rarely a mac n cheese we won't want to try. We thought about getting another starter or salad but our very friendly and helpful server suggested otherwise if we wanted room for dessert. The biggest disappointment with the dish was that it wasn't hot enough. We asked for a reheat and it still came out luke warm. Either that's the way they intended or someone wasn't getting the message. Otherwise we imagine that the creamy cheese would be very tasty with the noodles.


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