Wednesday, February 29, 2012


We took a trip down to the 1600 block of Wabash to check out the latest from chef Ryan McCaskey - something I refer to as "casual fine dining." I enjoyed the journey and discovery of an unassuming stand alone building seemingly out of nowhere in the South Loop. You can't quite tell it's a restaurant because the only part visible from the street is the bar area and the windows are frosted and discrete. Once inside you get to see and experience the beautifully done interior with strong elements of L20 and even Alinea (super high ceilings, metal bead "wall" and dark wood and white leather everywhere). I particularly appreciate the spacing of the tables (a simple aspect but so many places pack it in) and the soft cream colored carpet vs. hard floor. The wonderful design flows with and into the service - which is as good as any other five star restaurant in the city (likely the result of Christopher Gerber's influence - he opened front of house at Alinea et. al.). Additionally, the menu is nice and easy to follow (with strong midwest, farm to table aspects and no pronunciation guide needed). There are two sections, one for each course. I'm sure you could get creative and order in any which way, but the message is clear - this is a multi course meal and everyone chooses two of them. And even though most people don't bring cameras to the table like we bloggers, the food is gorgeous with its presentation and worthy of a few shots. I'm a little upset that we didn't try any cocktails because I now find out they are a highlight (and a TOC Eat Out Award Nominee). But why call it casual fine dining? Because you don't get the sense that you have to whisper to talk, or that you must put on your class A suit, and most of all you don't need to bring five credit cards to pay for the meal. They do a wonderful job of providing a five-star experience without the five-start pretentiousness or price tag.

The last piece of the puzzle is the food on the plate, and we enjoyed a lot of what we ate. I am disappointed in the main course selections the most, and that is the main reason our experience wasn't as good as possible. I tried the Deer Isle Shrimp (served with cauliflower, cuttlefish noodles, chorizo, marcona almond, fried spoon bread) and while all the pieces were fascniating and creative, the flavor of the lemon juice and sweet thai chili was too strong to enjoy the entire plate. Erica ordered the highly anticipated waygu beef and it came out luke warm without meaningful flavor (not to mention there was a peculiar long break in the meal before our main course arrived). But even with disappointing dishes, the creativity, precision and beauty are very much apparent and respected. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


The recently opened Spanish/Modern Tapas restaurant by Ryan Poli and the folks behind Mercadito definitely understand the crowd and strengths of their location and cuisine. Tavernita played the part of a hip, trendy, loud and place to be seen new restaurant in River North perfectly. The tables are on top of each other, the noise level boisterous and the cocktails simply wonderful. And I don't mean of of that in a negative way because it works well so long as you don't expect a quiet, low key and simple dining experience. I imagine that the food was an honest after thought in the design of the concept. It was mostly good overall with a few really nice dishes but nothing that I would rush back to order again (and not unlike many similar properties in the area) - but the focus of making great cocktails and a lot of money should work out very well. Our service was very good, very informative and attentive of all aspects of our meal. And the last reason I won't likely return in the very near term is that you definitely pay a premium to be at the hot spot with the hot people and the long wait for a table and chic cocktails (read: value is not high here, an expensive meal with shared plates and small portions).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Clark Street Food Tour

A few sundays ago some of us got together to walk down the 2500 block of Clark Street to taste some of the goodness and variety that it offers. We started at Del Seoul, went south of the border to Angela's and finished with some tasty cupcakes at Molly's. I wanted to keep going and stop at Aloha for Hawaiian, greek or even the german bakery but we left something for next time.

Del Seoul is still the great korean taco place it's always been. I would have ordered many more tacos but I wanted to leave room for future stops. Erica and i shared an order of dumplings (they're large with 8) and we each ordered a taco: Kalbi for her and BBQ pork for me. I love the tacos because they have so much interesting flavor a little spice and a nice balance with slaw. At 2.75/2.95 a taco you get a lot of food but they aren't cheap. I know there's a lot of options for korean street food in the city and I honestly can't compare (and would love to) but Del Seoul does good work.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

RPM Italian

We had the good fortune of checking out RPM during their practice parties last week before it opens to the public. The first impressions were very good and the space is beautiful with sleek white and black tones throughout (and I really like the server uniforms with white coats and black pants). The bar area is larger than I expected relative to the dining room but like Hub and Paris they have tables with the full menu too. It's no surprise that RPM will be another Melman hot spot in River North but there appears to be more of a focus on the dining experience and food.

The menu is large with a ton of options in many categories. We tried something from the salad section (shaved brussel sprouts) and a starter from the cold antipasti section (fresh burrata). There's also a bread section, a pizzette section, a hot anitpasti section and a wood oven section. Yes, all of that just for "starters" with lots of choices. The next part of the menu is house-made pasta and risotto. Our server explained that each plate is relative small and shareable and not meant to be an entree. We tired the pesto pasta and mushroom risotto and really liked both. There were other options in the section I would want to taste - definitely a highlight of the menu. Finally, after all the previous options there is the entree section with steaks & chops, fish, classics and sides. We were not in a steak mood so we tried the salmon with a side of asparagus. I appreciate that the salmon dish was simple and not a massive portion. It was well cooked and seasoned and a nice option. The asparagus was our least favorite dish. We finished with a delicious bowl of chocolate sorbetto.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Squatters Pub - Salt Lake City

What better way to kill time in Salt Lake before heading to the airport than hang out in an award winning brew pub? Maybe drinking in Utah to pass time sounds like the start of a joke but it's not. Squatters Beer has some of the best varieties in the country and has all the medals and banners to prove it.

I enjoy getting beer flights to sample the varieties offered at brew pubs and I especially loved the presentation - the six beers are served in a ski. If I had to choose a favorite I'd pick the Chasing Tail Golden Ale but right behind it would be the Provo Girl or Full Suspension Pale Ale. All great beers and very drinkable any day of the week.

We ordered lunch consisting of a turkey sandwich and the ahi spring roll salad. I'd say the sandwich with avocado and fries was very solid and well done for a simple but tasty lunch. My salad was interesting with a deep fried roll of tuna and ginger on top of a bed of lettuce. the greens were nice but the tuna was not the best and I didn't need the fried part.

But most of all the beer was delicious and the place was packed with like minded sunday afternoon enthusiasts. Maybe they were all tourists like us but we had a fun time sitting at the bar and tasting beer with some food. I look forward to continuing to support the brand and buy it where ever available in Chicago.

Squatters on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chez Betty - Park City

Last month the entire family made the trek to Park City for the annual awesomeness that is the Sundance Film Festival. We only had two nights to pack in seven movies and that only left a few hours to actually eat. We wanted a nice "festival" worthy meal Saturday night and found Chez Betty as a highly rated, classic and familial French restaurant.

We all had a very nice meal with good food and nice service. I decided to go with the four course chef tasting menu so I wouldn't have to make choices. Everyone else ordered standard starter and entree courses. My menu included puree of parsnip, crusted soft shell crab (that I traded with my mother for the ravioli), main course of grilled flat iron steak and dessert of de-constructed s'mores. The steak was fantastic and definitely the highlight of the meal. The s'more was interesting but very rich after an already rich meal. The soup was a nice start and well done, simple but flavorful. Both starters that I tried (soft shell crab and "ravioli") were good though somewhat bland given the above average complication of the dish. The "ravioli" was an interesting and filled with goat cheese and potato. They use quotations because it's not what you expect as a pasta. It was certainly creative. My favorite starter was the crab cake we ordered for the table. It was large and interesting with each bite.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Southern Mac & Cheese Store

My visit to The Southern was very good and I was impressed with the food. That led to me to discover they have an outpost only serving mac & cheese (pretty good idea actually) and located a block away from my office. A few weeks ago I gave it whirl because nothing sounds better than a bowl of noodles and melted cheese during a Chicago winter (though I don't know if this qualifies as a Chicago winter).

The store is surprisingly large with plenty of seats (I was expecting a small counter) and the menu is surprisingly large with 12 different mac options. I went with the truffle white cheddar. All varieties are served in a small metal container that probably gets thrown in the over when an order is placed and then they bring it right now (or put in a bag for takeout). My truffle cheddar was fine but nothing distinctive. It was hot on the table but I can imagine it losing heat quickly on the trip back to my desk. I also found myself using a lot of hot sauce to spice things up and add character. The other surprise to me was pricing. All of the options are priced from $6.99 to $7.99 which includes the basic original to the pulled chicken. That's not cheap for a small bowl of noodles, especially when Pastoral is across the street.

Maybe I'm being too critical but I don't know if quick serve mac is an easy concept to execute, especially in the face of hard value sell. I didn't hate my lunch and will likely return to try something new because we all need to options at lunch. I really like the flagship restaurant and the brand they are creating.

The Southern Mac & Cheese Store on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Maude's Liquor Bar

In anticipation of the latest Sodikoff establishment, Au Cheval, I wanted to write another post on one of my favorite Chicago additions of 2011. It's no secret I have had many great meals there and this latest one was no exception - and I brought some friends from work to share the love.

Maude's is best enjoyed with a minimum of four. This allows many shared dishes and a complete exploration of the menu. Any meal is best started with one of their signature Smash cocktails, my favorites are either the whiskey or violet. From there we proceeded to order almost one of everything: french onion fondue, steak tartare, mushrooms, and brussel sprouts. And that was the first course.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bleeding Heart Bakery

If we go out for lunch there's a very high probability we are with Geoff and Ashley. This was no exception as they invited us to join them at the newly opened Bleeding Heart Bakery (new to West Town, original on Belmont). I've heard only good things so I was excited to check out the very colorful and large bakery and brunch spot. As with most sunday brunch places, Bleeding is very kid friendly and was a great spot for young Caleb to join us.

The menu is great with plenty of options up and down the menu from sweet to savory to lunchy and everything in between. I was in a sweet mood and ordered the pumpkin waffles with bourbon maple syrup. Erica ordered a veggie omelet, Ashley chose one of the many eggs benedict options and Geoff went with granola.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Public House

I don't normally write about bars and bar food but there are three reasons why Public House is different: the food was solid, the table taps rock, and we first went to watch the Michigan Wolverines win the Sugar Bowl there. I have since been back two more times and was not surprised to see a packed house. During the week it's a great sports bar to watch the game and have good food with an enormous beer and drink list. My preference is to get a table with the taps right there so you don't have to move and can pour your own drink and not wait for service (and I think it's slightly cheaper). However, if you show up on the weekend you'll see a familiar River North bar scene with tons of people, not a lot of personal space and long lines at the bar. But that's what going out in RN is all about. Public House is a fantastic addition to the many options in the area but one that has made it high on my list of places to hang out.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bite Cafe

I'm a fan of Bite and I was fortunate enough to try both a brunch and dinner menu. I like that it's just down the street from me and I really like the BYO policy. If you go for dinner on a friday or Saturday night you'll also have the pleasure of waiting for a table next door at Empty Bottle and listen to live music.

Bite is small and quaint a few tables and small counter near the kitchen. The decor is clean and functional with very friendly and good servers. And as with most BYOs, you receive good overall value with affordable dishes and no liquor costs. We ordered a lot for dinner and really enjoyed our selections. I preferred the dinner menu but probably mostly because of the variety and ability to eat more. The brunch menu tended for favor savory items (my preference), large portions but a small selection. I sincerely recommend checking out Bite - particularly for a solid BYO, neighborhood spot that doesn't involve sashimi. It almost classifies as a hidden gem.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Lillies Q - Revisit

Wow, it's been almost three weeks since my last post. If I actually have regular readers I hope they're still around and didn't leave me for dead. It's been a fun and busy couple of weeks including two trips to the great state of Utah (great for it's ski conditions and Film Festivals). I am determined to get back into the swing of things and clear my back log of entries because there have been a slew of new openings in town that I would like try and write about. And to get that started I'll give an update from our meal at Lillie's Q back in December.

Lillie's was one of our favorite new places in 2010 in the midst of the chicago bbq craze bonanza. We loved the sauces, the decor and environment as well as the affordable and quick bbq meat. One of my goals for 2012 is to revisit favorite places from years past because if we liked it once, there's no reason we shouldn't return more often (and once a year is not exactly often). This time we went with a bunch of friends - and that allowed us to try a lot of different things. The beer list  and cocktails remain a highlight, especially when served in the mason jars. We all ordered the "taste of Q" for main courses which is a choice of three types of meat, and shared a few orders of mac n cheese, fries, string beans and cornbread to start.


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