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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

GT Fish & Oyster

I love going out to eat with friends and trying new places always looking for that next great meal. GT has great pedigree and a lot of buzz, but in a word we were all disappointed with the product. I love the concept of a fish centric casual fun spot in the heart of River North. The bar area is large and decorated with plenty of high class seafaring decorations. There's also a separate back room that has most of the dining space. GT continues the popular trend of "small plates" where they encourage you to order many and share (it must be profitable as every new restaurant pushes this). We obliged and tried five different plates from the rather large but straightforward menu (divided into two sections - hot and cold).

Aside from the food being completely mediocre we were astonished at the large number at the bottom of our bill (and we didn't drink THAT much but I suppose multiple $8-14 plates can add up quickly). My favorite flavor came from a last minute addition of sliders (don't remember which fish was inside). They were very tasty. Next best was probably the GT lobster mac n cheese (remember we're mac n cheese experts). We absolutely could not finish the ravioli dish and everything else was flatly ho-hum (specifically: tuna poke, fish tacos, and shrimp bruschetta). And unfortunately for all of us, Ari and Tali ordered completely different things than we did and also found only one dish worth remembering and a lot of mediocre. Oh well, we tried and enjoyed our conversations and admiring the crowd in a very well designed space though we just wouldn't return for most of the food (and have much larger wallets) even though Phil Vettel gives it three stars

Saturday, August 13, 2011

La Casa de Isaac - Highwood

Sunday nights are good for casual, friendly family dinners. Last weekend Erica and I met friends Joel and Stephie up near their suburban hood of Highwood. The destination was mexican neighborhood restaurant La Cassa de Isaac. The place was packed and busy all night long, though some might not like having tables so close that I could have tasted the taco next door easier than Stephie's sitting across from me. La Cassa definitely has an authentic feel and it adds charm with a huge blackboard featuring daily specials hanging over the grill.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

NEXT - Tour of Thailand

Getting tickets to Next was more challenging than Lollapalooza this year. The server crashed on the day they expected to sell them and then on the following day it took hours to get the system up and running. Luckily Jed and I teamed up to make sure we got a table on the night we wanted (Thursday before Lolla). I don't want to ruin the suspense or surprise of Next - that is their greatest asset. What makes the model work so well is that you have no idea what to expect and no experience can compare to Next. It's fun and different and I loved most of the dishes (particularly the beef cheek in spicy coconut broth, fish dish and coconut dessert), but I left wanting and expecting more.

The price is a bit overwhelming for the meal and we even went late on a Thursday, though the best part is not having a check to pay at the end of meal (just like all inclusive Mexico! :). As I've read in other places, our service was hit and miss and you didn't really know who was supposed to be taking care of you. The restaurant operates as a team but that also makes it feel a bit impersonal. Some servers are more friendly and knowledgeable and others are more interested in dropping off the food/drink or are not quite as comfortable explaining the dish. I suspect the entire operation will only get better with time as people get more comfortable with each concept and operating so differently than any other restaurant. To borrow a line from Penny Pollack, "In the end, I would go back—out of curiosity. It’s a big world, and I’m fascinated to see how Next evolves."

I suspect curiosity will be enough to keep Next running at full capacity month after month. It's certainly something different and fun with some very good dishes but the pricing and complicated reservation system will make me very selective on which menus to try. This was just step one in an evolution of a new way to experience food.

My pictures are below - look if you don't mind spoiling the surprise.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Last weekend we went for brunch at, well, Brunch. We were supposed to be meeting friends Ari and Tali but they had the unfortunate luck of getting a screw stuck in their tire. Oh well, Erica and I decided to stay and eat anyway since we already waited to get to the front of the line. I'm not much of a brunch person to begin with so my expectations are usually low. For whatever reason Brunch didn't manage to live up to them anyway. We ordered to main dishes and a side of fried sausage. We thought they were going to be more similar to pancake wrapped sausage but it wasn't meant to be and they were practically inedible. I ordered one of the healthier options of egg white scramble with veggies, sides of fruit and turkey sausage. It was smaller than I expected (could have used a starch) and the eggs were very bland (supplemented with hot sauce). The turkey sausage seemed store bought and heated.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Bedford

If you blink as you walk past 1612 W Division you will certainly miss the door to The Bedford. I probably passed it a few times walking to and from the blue line before I realized the large wooden door, in between a parking lot and CVS, is how you enter the restaurant (it also helps to notice the valet guys standing outside). What is The Bedord? From the website:  "The Bedford is a local kitchen + bar serving up casual quality, located in a historic, landmark bank space. Contemporary American cuisine is elevated to crafted comfort, through German and Southern influences and paired with a carefully concocted cocktail list, craft beers and boutique wine selections." The space is certainly landmark and really cool; once you walk downstairs you're transformed back in time to an old school bank vault where instead of depositing checks or asking for a safe deposit box you get to enjoy cocktails and local midwestern cuisine. It's hard to know how much of the decor was there vs. what was done by management, but doesn't really matter since it looks great and is not like anything else in town.

In addition to the cool setting, the other highlight of our meal was the great value from the Wednesday three course Prix Fixe menu for $25. The menu changes weekly and is local sourced that day so no advance warning is possible. Our menu was grilled zucchini (with tomatoes, feta cheese and pesto), rabbit done three ways (pate, paste and salami) and crispy chicken thigh. It's an incredible deal considering most main dishes are $20-25. To compliment the prix fixe we also ordered fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese and a bone in gunthorp farm pork chop.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hannah's Bretzel

I don't usually write about lunch spots but a lot of people (including me) like Hannah's Bretzel. They have three locations and one of them is real close to my new office. The concept is german/european organic sandwiches. they have good stuff and a lot options particularly vegitarian. I went last week for lunch and ordered the Club sandwich. It has certified organic smoked turkey, nitrate-free bacon, Swiss Gruyère cheese, avocado, vine tomatoes, red onions, romaine hearts and alfalfa sprouts on organic bretzel baguette. The fresh and organic ingrediants only added to the tastiness of the sandwich. They all come with a side and I prefer the salt and pepper kettle chips. Think high class subway style service but high end product. The prices are not low (around $10 per) but you get what you pay for in terms of quality and social conscious.

Roy's Restaurant - (Round II and prix fixe preview)

This is a two for one post. Erica and I ate at Roy's (for the second time) in June soon after we returned from Mexico. It was in some respects a dinner to remember our awesome trip to Hawaii the previous June. We took advantage of the three course prix fixe (for $36) just as we did the first time. It's a bummer the ahi poke is not included but we ordered it to start anyway because it's quite tasty. For our three courses we chose a salad, lettuce wraps, chicken paillard, ono fish (I think) and DUAL Roy's Melting Hot Chocolate Souffle. It was close but it's so good that we didn't want to share. 


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