Sunday, April 29, 2012

Longman & Eagle

I've only been to L&E twice and both times I left wishing I felt the same way about the food as everyone does (especially the critics who shower praise and awards left and right). It's not that I don't like the food but I just find everything satisfactory and don't understand all the fuss. I love the drink program, especially the whiskey selection, and I enjoy the concept and atmosphere. It's a perfect fit for the neighborhood - a little rough around the edges but sophisticated and comfortable at the same time. I appreciate the no reservation system but I hate it when they need the entire party there just to start the clock - that seems a bit unfair - and even though we waited a solid 45 minutes on a weeknight I could have sworn other parties got seated before us that shouldn't have (taking care of friends maybe?). Lastly, when the bill arrives you definitely remember you're at a Michelin Starred restaurant because they can charge like one. I didn't find the particularly good ($13-16 small plates, entrees $22 +). Bottom line, it's a cool spot with unique characteristics serving creative cuisine, but with a confusing front of house, average tasting food and an expensive bill - I wonder when I'll be back next. 




Monday, April 23, 2012

Arami

We went to Arami in August of 2010 shortly after it opened and during the short time it was BYO. It was one of our best meals of 2010 and have recommended many people to try their sashimi and ramen. I'm also embarrassed that for one of our favorites we did not return for 18 months, especially since we moved into the neighborhood. A few weeks ago we re-acquainted ourselves and had a very nice sushi meal with the Dermans.

While our first visit was flawless and amazing (and cheap), my second visit had a few more blemishes. I acknowledge it's impossible to judge a restaurant on one trip, and probably harder with two separated trips so far apart. The highlights remained the same: love the tiny space and casual decor, great service and likely the best sashimi in town. We didn't love the maki rolls this time around and the ramen bowl did not have the same amazing memory as before. I was also surprised by the price - I'll happily pay for quality fish, but considering we didn't leave stuffed and didn't drink a lot it was not a cheap experience. The presentations are all top notch and can transform an unassuming wooden table into a work of art.

We are now better prepared to order what we like and stick to the high quality (and expensive) fresh fish and simple appetizers. It's a great place to have near by and a worthy destination for anyone in the area. If you're just craving maki rolls I'd recommend heading to a cheaper local BYO and lower expectations.




Balena

I know it's been a while since I've written but did not realize it has been three weeks. I guess I needed a break and just some time to find my muse again. There's a lot of good places I still need to write about so say tuned.

One of the newest restaurants to open recently is a partnership between the BOKA group guys and the team from the Bristol. With that kind of pedigree the stakes and expectations are sky high. The space is the former Landmark and the re-concept is stunning. It's huge but doesn't feel overwhelming or cramped. They utilize the sky high ceilings, wood everywhere and have the kitchen on the second level at the top of the stairs on the way to the upstairs dining room. They've done a great job of setting the tone and making you feel like you've left Chicago.

The cuisine is "Italian Inspired" and features a wide range of options with starters, pastas, pizzas, meat from the grill/oven and even table size portions of fish and steak. The entire all star crew from The Bristol is here (chef, pastry and mixologist - all independent award winners) and it felt like they have more freedom and resources to explore than at Bristol. We tried a lot of different things and like everything that came out. Our main concern is that after ordering every appealing dish, there wasn't a lot left to choose from. So even with a menu with many options it felt very limited.

We started with delicious asparagus served with egg and cheese, Spicy Grilled “Korean Cut” Short Ribs and a Spicy Sausage pizza (with Red Onion, Tomato, Mozzarella). We were in a pasta mood for dinner and tried three: Ricotta Ravioli (with Swiss Chard, Brown Butter), Orecchiette (with Lemon, Kale, Bread Crumbs, Chili) and Tajarin with Pork Ragu. Joel went for the meat and ordered the Salt and Pepper Chicken Thighs with Green Garlic, Coriander, and Mustard Greens. We finished the meal with two desserts, gelato with fudge and cookies and warm doughnuts with espresso and gelato. Both great and a nice ending to the meal.



Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Urban Union

Urban Union is yet another new restaurant to populate an invigorated Taylor street (and not a typical Italian spot at that). I was intrigued with a menu that focused on sea food, raw bar and other "game" animals. They also have three housemade pasta options (should be more!) and small "field" and sides sections. One of the highlights in the space, a small and narrow spot with most of the tables in the back, past the front room bar and the reserve-able communal chefs table. There is a lot of exposed brick, chalk boards and a great illuminated poster in the back room. Our only complaint was the noise level, which was surprisingly high even at 10pm and not a full room. We also sat under the air vents and become quite chilled but our server was very kind and helped turn the air off.

I really like the concept of a heavy focus on seafood (half the menu). We didn't get to try any of the raw bar and would be very interested to sample one of the platters. The other half of the menu are small shareable plates with items from the "pasture" section that include bone marrow, flank steak braised rabbit and lamb riblets. Our meal started with celery root soup and a special of roast atlantic swordfish. We added two of the three pasta choices (tagliatell with asparagus, Wild Mushrooms, Pancetta, Pea Shoots, and Reggiano Parmesan; and braised pork cheek ravioli with Cavolo Nero, Zamorano Cheese, Pan Sauce and Thyme) and an order of the grilled marinated flank steak.




Monday, April 2, 2012

Hot Chocolate

After our meal at Ruxbin Kitchen we drove up the street for dessert at Hot Chocolate. It's a dessert destination in Chicago, as well as a full service restaurant. Mindy Segal has numerous awards including five consecutive James Beard nominations for best pasty chef in the country (and plenty of Chicago wins). The menu devotes equal space to dinner food and the long list of desert options.

We just wanted a few dishes and didn't think to call ahead for a table (a small mistake) and ended up waiting for a little while to get a table in the lounge area (nothing a drink couldn't fix). Once seated the largest obstacle is choosing what to eat. There are plain desserts, various hot chocolates (of course) and milkshakes. We decided on three: dreamsicle baked alaska (vanilla bean ice cream, toasted meringue, Cara Cara orange sorbet, blood orange - tapioca consomm√©), the banana brioche bread pudding (coffee cocoa nib semifreddo, coffee-toffee-Moloko Milk Stout hot fudge, toffee brittle), and warm brioche doughnuts (warm and delicious, served with caramel corn and hot fudge).



Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ruxbin Kitchen

What started as an undiscovered small seat, no reservation BYO spot quickly transformed into a city hot spot that requires a little effort to secure a seat (still no reservations, still BYO). Both GQ and Bon Appetite named Ruxbin to Top Ten Best Restaurant lists nation wide as well as numerous local awards - adding fuel to an already burning hot fire. We first went to Ruxbin in October of 2010 when you could still walk in at a reasonable hour and grab a table. It was a great experience with quality food and a fun trip to the #1 bathroom in Chicago - so we needed to return and see if things had changed. 

To get a coveted table for four on a Friday night Erica put our names down when the doors opened (and they were kind to let us wait for the second seating and not eat at 5:30). They called us back to give us a ten minute warning and everything worked out great. We can prepared with two bottles for the four of us but definitely wished there was one more glass each. The space is well documented for the creative use of random materials - some sourced at Salvage One. It's eclectic and funky but it works because the space is so small and comforting. 





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