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.


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