Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kai Zan

Want to know the next hot sushi spot in Chicago that you won't be able to get into? Kai Zan - out in Humbolt Park on Chicago ave. Simply put, it has all the right ingredients (pun intended) to go viral and cultish. It's small (like 20 seats), awesome decor, BYO, off the beaten path, and happens to serve delicious food that's not your typical maki roll from Dominicks. And it's crazy affordable. Not much else you need to score big.

The meal started off with a bang by ordering the Escolar Pearls  (rice spheres topped with scallions and super white tuna soaked in soy sauce, truffle oil, spicy mayo, and chili oil, then lightly seared), and sides of edamame and gomae. The pearls of little rice with amazing flavors on top were so good and had four pieces for the three of us that we need another order. Easy call. Delicious. We all said we could come back for a meal entirely of Pearls (there's Maguro too, for variety).

Thursday, October 25, 2012


How many swanky new places in river west/fulton market can arrive at once? And when they arrive is there any self restraint to not check them out? Not at all. The most recent addition is Embeya, described as progressive Asian cuisine. The first impression when you walk in is amazing. The space is beautiful with delicate and detailed ornamentation all around. Great bar space, smooth and sexy all around. Dining room feels smaller than it is I'm sure. One thing I didn't love was the use of all windows around two sides of the building. You end up starting at street lamp lights, billboards, and anything else that could distract you from the meal and people you're with. I also remember the noise level being quite loud until the place emptied out a bit.

I really like the approach and design of the menu. (One downer is that they ran out of the chicken dish that everyone has been raving about). It's divided into three simple sections: cold, hot, large plates. There's also sides, rice and vegetables. We dove right in and starting ordering things that looked good. We started with the recommended green papaya salad, with spaghetti like shaved papaya, shallots and beef jerky. Really like the sauce with that, a nice and interesting dish. There was also special rice (?) with radish and pear and seared scallop (it only came with one, cut into three pieces which was a major annoyance that we weren't prepared for - and it's expensive). The glass noodles with the scallop were also delicious. That was our favorite of the three even though we each had one very small bite - and loved the presentation with a flaming mound served under the shell. The rice dish was just ok and the shaved vegetable was nice and refreshing in a sweet Asian sauce.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Aviary

A perfect post for a miserably October Friday night. Not along ago I finally made it into The Aviary, the cocktail lounge concept from the Alinea/Next team. I wasn't trying each and every day but I just never took the effort to try (it's an email only reservation system with fixed seating's on the even hour). As all things Achatz, you go for a total body experience and not just flavors. The space is cool, small, whimsical and you can't walk past the doorman without knowing someone/anyone inside already. Also, remember to eat beforehand and/or plan for something after. Aviary focuses on cocktails and only offers VERY LIMITED food options (more like little bites - which is what they call them). And also don't forget to check the regular connection between value and drinks at the door, you're paying for a lot of fun and showmanship.

They don't post their menu online so I'm going to have to do this from memory. I decided to order from the "prix fixe" menu that gives you three cocktails for $45 - and a different selection than the a la cart. My companions also had some fun choices that involved watermelon ice cubes, milk ice cube for a white Russian, a huge canteen for some Chai, and other fun ways to drink your booze.

I don't want to give away all the secrets otherwise you wouldn't find it worth the money to see for yourself. I had their version of a gin and tonic, the smokey old fashion (without any bourbon) and a warm chocolate (I think that's what it's called). I had an overall great time and think it's definitely a fun way to spend a few hours for a different and special night. The food bites are fun and tasty but are only bites. I don't think I'd rush back all the time because the drinks are more fun and experiential than amazingly tasty. For my money I'm still going to Bavette's for an Old Fashion. But that's not the point of The Aviary and they know that and accomplish their goals. Worth the trip and recommend going if you're into drinks with a show.

The Aviary on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 18, 2012

NoMI Kitchen

It's crunch time in Presidential election land so posting is rather challenging. Also awesome, we went to NoMI back in July for my mother's birthday dinner but I keep forgetting it's on my to-do list. The other reason it kept slipping is that I was severely unimpressed with our experience. The company was amazing of course - my three favorite people to share a nice meal - and the dining room space is one of the most interesting in the city hands down. The word 'Kitchen' in the name makes perfect sense because you are literally eating next to an open and working kitchen, and a beautiful one at that. If you're sitting on the edge and drop your napkin it's very likely in the kitchen. Other other amazing aspect of the space is the location. Right on Michigan Ave with great views of the skyline, lake and water tower. The service was also top notch and representative of a high quality establishment.

My main criticism is that the food was fine and nice, but not amazing and definitely not worth the price. The menu changes frequently and it's been so long that I can't give detailed descriptions of each dish, but I think everyone would agree that the bread stole the show. Hot out of the oven and served on a small cutting board with some amazing butter. We had to start with some sushi just because it was on the menu. That too might have been a highlight, nice rolls, with very fresh fish. The pasta, risotto, asparagus and green beans were good but not great. I remember the asparagus was very nice with the burrata.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Au Cheval Brunch

There are so many brunch places in the city and everyone seems to have their favorite. I'll be honest - brunch is not one of my go-to eating out meals. I enjoy a good brunch but I don't crave going out for food on a nice sunday morning for some reason. Anyway, Au Cheval is such a fun place and has awesome and decadent food that when they started serving brunch a few weeks ago I had to check it out.

If you've been to the diner before than you know you shouldn't consult your doctor or get a cholesterol test shortly after. The food is awesome but extremely meat focused with no shortage of eggs, duck heart gravy, foie gras, etc to add. (Don't miss the burger either: Bon Appetit likes it.) The good news is that brunch is no different, just with a few different menu options. It's has standard breakfast items that mostly focus on the eggs already on the regular menu. I don't remember seeing pancakes and waffles, but that could easily have been an oversight. One item in particular that is not on the dinner menu is Jane's Muffin. Unbelievable  Try it. Love it. Order four.


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