Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kuma's Corner

This past week has been very tough on me. I had to finish reading The Hunger Games before going to the movie on Thursday. It was a pressure cooker and I finished the last page during the trailers - just in time. The book (the first one at least) is worth a read and very entertaining. The reason I bring this up is not to transition into a book review site (no chance) but as an excuse for not posting this week.

It's hard to believe I've been a "foodie" in Chicago for a few years but had never been to Kuma's. There's a cult following and is considered an institution locally and nationally. It's a small, heavy metal "bar" so seats are very limited and wait times can get absurd. Luckily we sent Erica ahead to put our name in at the open because we needed a rare table for six. We were celebrating Jean's birthday (Erica's mom) with her family.

I didn't know what to expect but everything was true to form. It's a metal bar with like minded employees, graphic posters and enormous burgers on pretzel bread (though it's still very family friendly). Just for added emphasis the list of rules is as follows - 1) We do not take reservations. 2) We will not “put on the game, bro”  3) No music requests. 4) No Minors after 10pm. 5) Our kitchen is only 16×6. Please be patient. The menu is 20ish burgers and a few other sides/starters. Not to be missed is an order of customized mac n cheese. The small is enough to feed six people and absolutely fabulous. 


All of the burgers are named after rock bands including Led Zeppelin, Pantera, Black Sabbath, etc. I went with the Plague Bringer (Roasted Garlic Mayo, Tortilla Strips, House Made Hot Sauce, Fresh Garlic, Pepper Jack, Sliced Jalapenos), and other selections at the table included the Neurosis, YOB and High On Fire. Everyone only ate half a burger because consuming an entire one, with fries and mac n cheese would be a triumph. I really liked my Plague Bringer with a nice dose of heat but great meat a nice garlic mayo for balance. I also think the pretzel roll idea is awesome because that is not a flavor normally associated with hamburgers.  




Friday, March 23, 2012

Charlie Trotter's

I'm slightly delayed since we went to Trotter's for valentine's day in February. It has always been on my list of places to try in Chicago and when news broke that they were closing shop in August I decided to act quickly. If I could afford more high end fancy dinners that equal the cost of rent I probably would try it more often. I enjoy the entire experience of ultra fine dining because you're there for more than just food, but also service, setting, special occasion, exclusivity, what have you. I enjoy trying the best to see what the elite in their field can produce - similar to attending a World Series or Rose Bowl. Part of the reason for my delay in writing the post is that I was disappointed in our overall Trotter experience. Some aspects were delicious and fantastic, but you need more than just a good course now and again to make a four hour dining experience remarkable. I can appreciate what the restaurant represents and how it started a revolution and set the standard for fine cuisine and service. The old house setting in the middle of lincoln park is classic and timeless. Menus from the most famous restaurants in the world line hallways and bathrooms, and the tables are well spaced to enjoy an intimate dinner without feeling abandoned in a field. But our disappointment came from the food as well as the service that did not seem to keep pace with other standouts like French Laundry, Alinea or L20. Not that we were in any rush but 45 minutes is a long time to wait to speak with the somelier to order wine. They made up for that with extra cheese courses and a dessert course, and the services or meals was very well orchestrated. However, there was an overall lack of urgency or sophistication that permeated - perhaps a talent loss due to the wind down. Whatever the reason, both Erica and I agreed it did not represent the five star service expected with five star pricing.

The food component of the meal was very good though inconsistent with significant peaks and valleys. The Grand Menu has eight courses including three desserts, as well as an additional dessert course from the vegetarian menu and cheese course. About half the courses were fantastic and beautiful, and the other half interesting but not memorable. The presentation on all of the food was fantastic and each dish had a simple mission without any gimmicks. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but our favorites include the venison loin, steamed skate wing and toffee-glazed banana financier.

Even if I don't think our meal was "worth" the money, I'm glad to have experienced a culinary icon in Chicago and the standard for the country more than 20 years ago. We had a fun and romantic experience with decent service and some memorable dishes. I might not return before the doors close  but I will be sure to follow Charlie into his next kitchen adventure.

 Celery Root Soup with Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Buddha's Hand & Shigoku Oyster

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

M Burger - Loop

The new"est" location for M Burger is in the Illinois Center and is definitely not as interesting as the first location carved into the back of Tru. Maybe it was all of the other fried and fast food places in the food court confusing my sense of smell and taste, but my most recent M Burger experience was not as great as my first few. Two years ago I wrote M Burger reminded me of In 'N Out invading Chicago. Simple menus without a lot of choices,  nice packaging and secret menu items. Most of that is still true today but for whatever reason the food did not have the same "I need that again" feeling. It's still pretty good value for high quality fast food burgers and chicken with a single hamburger @ 2.49 or a Hurt Burger (my favorite) for $4.49. I thought the fires were very mediocre this time and were not that hot - and we ate 5 feet from the counter. I did not order a shake but many of my friends did and had good things to say.

The Hurt Burger (or Hurt Chicken) is my personal choice and comes with bbq sauce, pepper jack  and jalapenos in amount depending on how much you want to "hurt". I love spicy and I love bbq so it's a good combination for me.

While M Burger might not have the best burgers in town, they do challenge for great fast food sandwich that is not a chain. The formula of burgers, fries and shakes is well suited for Chicago and the loop location should give the lunch crowd a better option for a quick meal.



M Burger on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 19, 2012

Girl & the Goat

March is such a distracting month for me: St. Pats day, March Madness, work, eating out per usual. That explains my near two week absence from posting. Since I'll be in somewhat of catch up mode I might be more brief than usual. Feel free to comment with questions or opinions.

About two months ago we stumbled in G&TG on a Monday night and was able to grab a table without reservations. It was 10pm so I'm not completely surprised but that place was still packed as if the night was just beginning. We first went to the Goat in September of 2010 shortly after the opening but had not returned since (not the easiest place to get a table). My initial response was to question all the hype surrounding the place. I knew all the media attention and fame of Stephanie would bring customers for years but thought the food was inconsistent. I'm glad we were able to get a second opinion because the food this time around was impressive. We were not starving and did not order a ton of things - which is a bummer because I would have like to try more plates. All in all 95% of the dishes we did try were excellent with a few standouts (such as the fettuccine sugo and skate - didn't love the sweet potato casserole). The atmosphere still feels more River North and West Town but that's ok, the decor is cool and I really like the open kitchen view. Our service was also excellent and very attentive and happy to help us make decisions. I certainly would not call G&TG a value play and I was a little surprised at our bill with only 5 dishes, bread and one drink. If our first visit was worth 2.5 stars I now believe it deserves another star to 3.5. It's hard to recommend to people because of the advance planning and price point, but I'm officially on the band wagon and recommend a stop if at all possible. 



Tuesday, March 6, 2012

XOCO

It had been a while since I ventured back to XOCO, mainly because every time you fly out of O'Hare it's hard to avoid grabbing a torta before boarding and thus my bayless cravings are usually satisfied. A few Saturday's ago I was leaving the office and Erica and I were on our way to the gym (kind of bad timing to grab a lunch but oh well) and stopped by XOCO to grab lunch. It was noon so the line was ridiculous to dine in but I just walked up to the cashier to place my to go order (a handy tool for those on the move). I went with a chicken torta for Erica and the Saturday special of braised goat. For a number of reasons my second visit was not as memorable or tasty as my first. Getting the full experience of ordering and getting a seat and sharing some chips and guacamole is probably better than eating a sandwich out of a box in the car. Also, the tortas from XOCO are the same as all of the other Frontera outposts - the airport and now Chase Plaza in the loop - that the novelty has worn off. My goat was quite tasty though and if you add a little of the hot sauce it all comes together well. Erica's chicken was not very good though and appeared to have all the dark meat scraps instead of nice chicken pieces. Finally, it's hard to get too excited about paying $25 for two sandwiches, even if you ate in the restaurant. I still like and recommend XOCO as a fun and different spot to get tasty mexican. It's not cheap and always crowded at peak times but there's still nothing like it in the city. I wonder if XOCO will offer something different since more Bayless Tortas will be available in the loop. In any event it's different and fun and usually tasty.



XOCO on Urbanspoon

Cat Cora Cooking Demo in Chicago 3/12 - Sponsored Post

It's no secret I really enjoy going to Macy's for lunch because of their Seventh floor food court featuring Rick Bayless, Takashi and Marcus Samuelsson. It's really nice to get a gourmet lunch quick and easy. Relevance? There will be a book signing and cooking demo by Cat Cora, another member of the Macy's Culinary Council. It's next Monday and should be fun. Details below. 


Renowned Chef to Host a Cooking Demonstration and Book Signing at Macy’s on State Street

Cat Cora, Macy’s Culinary Council Chef, will host a cooking demonstration and book signing at NOON on Monday, March 12 at Macy’s on State Street. She will demonstrate some of her favorite recipes from Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist: Fresh Takes on Favorite Dishes, including: Pita Bread Salad, Grilled Middle Eastern Turkey Meatballs with Horseradish Feta Cream and Rolled Pistachio Baklava.
Since making television history in 2005 as the first and only female Iron Chef on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, Cat Cora has become one of the largest names in the culinary community. In May 2012, Cora will be expanding her repertoire to host, as she steps out of her chef’s jacket into this new role alongside co-host Curtis Stone, in Bravo’s new reality series Around the World in 80 Plates, which follows 12 chefs competing in a culinary race across 10 countries in 44 days. Beyond her television credits, Cora is also a contributing food & lifestyle editor for O, the Oprah Magazine.
To date, Cora has successfully launched several unique restaurant concepts. In 2008, she partnered with Macy’s to open Cat Cora’s Que (CCQ), a casual barbeque restaurant featuring her favorite takes on global BBQ. In 2009, Cora partnered with Disney to open Kouzinna by Cat Cora at Disney’s Board Walk Resort.
Cora is the author of three top-selling cookbooks and in March 2011, the mother of four boys, released her first children’s book, Suitcase Surprise for Mommy (Dial Books, 2011) a sweet and comforting tool for kids and parents to use when Mom or Dad have to travel.
Cat will be on hand following the cooking demonstration to greet fans and autograph her Cat Cora’s Classics with a Twist: Fresh Takes on Favorite Dishes , which will be available to purchase at the event.
RSVP: 
The event is free. Seating is limited. Please call 1.800.329.8667 to reserve a space. For more information, visit www.macys.com/culinarycouncil
WHEN:
Monday, March 12 at NOON
WHERE: 
Macy’s State Street
Lower Level
111 N. State Street
Chicago, IL 60602

ABOUT MACY'S CULINARY COUNCIL:
Macy’s Culinary Council is a national culinary authority comprising some of the nation’s leading culinary masters, including Rick Bayless, Michelle Bernstein, Cat Cora, Tom Douglas, Todd English, Marc Forgione, Emeril Lagasse, Marcus Samuelsson, Tim Scott, Nancy Silverton, Ming Tsai, Wolfgang Puck and Takashi Yagihashi. Launched in 2003, MCC’s team of distinguished chefs serves to inspire the way Macy's customers shop, cook and eat at home. The chefs are both ambassadors and instructors, providing expert culinary advice and leading cooking demonstrations at Macy’s stores, with the aim of teaching customers how to cook and shop like a master chef.
This sponsorship is brought to you by Macy's and Everywhere who we have partnered with for this promotion.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Seadog Sushi

I've been hearing about this little sushi place just a few blocks away ever since we moved. I don't know why it took this long to try Seadog because it's really quite good and very affordable. I was lucky my good friend Anne was willing to trek out to give it whirl. It will fast become the go to for local sushi. There's not much that needs to be said besides the tasty rolls and fresh fish. I didn't love the edamame and they serve gomae in three little servings with plenty of sesame sauce. The rolls were the best part and for some reason we didn't over order. We tried a rainbow, california roll, spider and white crunchy. My favorite was the white crunchy and it's very simple - spicy tuna, avocado and tempura flakes. 

I'm not surprised both Yelp and Michelin give Seadog high praise and I'm happy to join the crowd. You get a tasty and simple experience with fresh fresh and good value (especially BYO). I'm happy to have found my new local spot. 



Seadog on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 2, 2012

Au Cheval

It shouldn't surprise anyone that I would check out Au Cheval within a week of opening. I've been eagerly anticipating the opening and have even stopped in pre-open for a sampling - so some items were not completely new. But the main impression is that Au Cheval is a really fun place to eat and drink. The space is awesome. It has the obvious cues from Maude's and Gilt, but having the long bar with the "kitchen", the narrow space, windows and exposed brick bring an entirely different feel. Add to that a packed, energetic crowd with bumping music - it makes for a party that you want to be at - and I haven't even mentioned the food or drink. I'm sure the cocktails are as good as the other properties or anywhere else in town, but with a beer list on tap that large and interesting I couldn't help myself but try some Belgian ales (there's always next time for a stiff drink). The menu might confuse some people or even offend others but if you look around there's something for everyone. The best part of any diner experience is the greasy, delicious food that comes off the hot griddle. The difference with Au Cheval is that the food is also world class gourmet even with the traditional treatment. We tried salads, the omelete du jour, burger, fried bologna sandwich, bratwurst, beef stew with marrow bone and fries. If we had to choose a least favorite of that group we would pick a salad (and not that they were bad) - but why go to a diner to eat greens? The meat dishes were fantastic and our only problem was ordering too many and eating too much. My favorites are the fried house-made bologna sandwich (haven't seen anything like that before - pure awesomeness) and the beef stew (with a great rich sauce and root vegetables and bone marrow).



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