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. 


Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine on Urbanspoon

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.

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