Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grass Fed

Chicago has always been a meat town and a destination for anything steak related. What's been happening recently too is that new ways to eat and enjoy meat have also been popping up in town. Grass Fed is one of those as it brings a very small and simple menu (one choice!) to a cool and classic country feel to Bucktown. I really liked the setting, long and narrow with high ceilings, white everything - wood paneled walls, tables, chairs, a nice curved bar in the front with the menu on chalkboard. I hear there's even a patio in the back. There are no paper menus as everything is on the wall (and on other smaller boards throughout).

Speaking of menu, we went on a Monday which is burger night, so in addition to the $25 steak meal (with salad and fries) they offer a burger for $12. They have three sides and three starters listed on the board that change frequently. I don't remember everything that was available but we decided on the spaetzle, cauliflower and brussel sprout salad to start. Brad was the lone steak order as Kate and I did the burger deal.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ

New BBQ spots are all the rage right now in Chicago. It's not shocking that one of the prominent restaurant groups in town (Rockit Ranch) would throw their two cents into the pile. I liked the look and feel of Dragon immediately, long and narrow with wood bench tables throughout (semi communal), and a small but lively and interesting bar. The concept of fusing bbq with Asian influences is unique and something that is not in the city already - and an area that the Rockit world knows well. the menu has a nice layout, starters along the side, a few salads/soups, then the main meat section center stage with all cuts available (ribs, chicken, brisket, pork). There's a nice section of "Fix'ns" that have a mix of traditional bbq (mac n cheese, cornbread) as well as Asian (Chinese water spinach, grilled asparagus in soy and sriracha). And finally near the bottom is a "Sandos" section with a similar mix of American and Asian (BLT and grilled cheese vs. steam buns and Banh mi). I do like the fusion and think it works well if you enjoy a little taste bud confusion. I also tried the 'moonshine' - and I thought I was a whiskey drinker but maybe I'm not sophisticated enough to appreciate the real stuff. (It was clear and definitely packed a punch but without a lot of whiskey flavor - is that moonshine??)

When it comes to BBQ my main concern and interest is always the sauce - I assume if you open a bbq place you can smoke/cook meat. At Dragon Ranch I was more impressed with the meat flavor and presentation than the sauce, and is the main reason I wouldn't say this is one of the best bbq in the city. The four sauces are all good, but I kept trying to figure out which one/combo I wanted to use which means none of them really grabbed me. They have a mustard, a regular, a spicy and an Asian. Our main use for the sauce was on the combo platter (chicken, brisket and pulled pork) as well as a half order of ribs (tried it all!). The meats were all great and the only small gripe would be for a combo plate ($28), you get a lot of chicken, but not a lot of the other meats so you feel a little robbed. The ribs were well cooked with a nice rub, but they didn't have a lot of meat on the bone, and I'm a huge fan of big thick ribs so I can lather them with bbq sauce. Oh well. The cornbread side was delicious. Other items we ordered included some deviled eggs, mac n cheese, grilled vegetable tempura and grilled asparagus. The eggs were fine, tasty but nothing distinguishing, mac n cheese was a little 'soupy/saucy' for my liking but nice and I really liked both Asian style sides. The tempura vegetables were a great finger food because they were cut in small pieces and served with a awesome sweet spicy chili sauce. I also couldn't get enough of the asparagus in the sweet soy and sriracha with crisp rice noodles. We finished the meal with the homemade s'more which was ridiculous - two inch high marshmallow and quarter inch chocolate fudge on homemade crust.


 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Yuzu Sushi & Robata Grill

I can't believe it's been a month since we went to Yuzu but time flies when you're having fun (or working everyday). Yuzu fits the bill of a small BYO neighborhood sushi spot serving solid food for great value. Small is a key word because there are not a lot of tables so plan ahead and they enforce a two hour limit to make sure they turn tables. Another fun aspect of the authenticity is that communicating with the staff sometimes involves non verbal techniques. All for good fresh fish of course.

I did none of the ordering, which was a nice change of pace. We started with a cool and large green salad with mango and avocado. Delicious and refreshing. The only robata grill item we had was the beef short rib, but we ordered a lot because the sweet miso sauce was fantastic. (An aside: I really like the sushi + robata trend in chicago right now, but few have done it well. Yuzu is what I expect, a nice and small grill menu with simple yet tasty items without complication). We had a veggie tempura as another side (one of my favorite Japanese starters - always a nice change of texture, flavor before sushi), followed by some of the best salmon sashimi I've had in a while. It was a really nice balance of flavor and freshness that gave it a great all around bite. I couldn't tell you which maki rolls we ordered, except one of them came out with crazy looking sauce on the plate (and was very good). I think my favorite roll was a shrimp tempura, with spicy mayo and sweet soy. Really good.



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

RappEats Recommended 9/19

A few very small changes for the blog here. I still like to eat, but officially changing name to RappEats. Just makes sense. Also updating and going to feature a little more my RappEats Recommended list. It's definitely the number one question I get asked (where do I take...where should I go...what do you think of...). My list of ten restaurants has always been on the sidebar but now I'll have an actual post every few weeks or so with the names as reminder and any changes to the list. You'll notice some lines have multiple listings but by the same group (Sodikoff or Takashi here) or location related (Gilt and Bavette). My update is being heavily prompted by my swapping out 3 of the ten spots this week.

Current list:

Big Star
DMK Burger Bar
Frog n Snail
Bavette's Bar & Boeuf/Gilt Bar
Girl & the Goat
graham elliot
Maude's Liquor Bar/Au Cheval
Takashi/Slurping Turtle
Telegraph
Wood

The recent changes involved removing Coast Sushi, Mercadito and Bleeding Heart Bakery and adding Telegraph, Wood, and Frog n Snail. It's not that I don't like the other places, but the recent meals at these three restaurants were extremely good and deserve mention. Coast is still a fun BYO place for a more trendy night out, I love Mercadito for groups and Bleeding Heart was my favorite brunch spot when I lived in Wicker. I'm now on the lookout for another brunch/sushi spot so send them my way! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Frog n Snail

I'm officially a huge fan of Dale Levitski. I've always been a fan - dating way back pre Sprout when he was cooking in the old "Relax Lounge" (now Leopold) space on Wednesday nights until Sprout was launched. I've only been to Sprout once (for my birthday dinner a few years ago) and really enjoyed the experience and have recommended many times. Frog is restaurant number two and is located in my old 'hood of Lakeview on Broadway - an area really taking off with the food scene recently. Everything I read described it as a bistro and I didn't know what to expect. It's not huge but is probably seats more than it looks. The bar is the front area with the main dining room in back. The decor is subtle and clean; I wouldn't call it interesting or super creative but it gets the job done. One complaint is that it felt really loud.

I really like the menu because there are plenty of choices but they keep things well defined without overwhelming. There are two sections of starters (four in each), "Ours" and "Mine, All Mine" - followed by "Leaves" (five choices) and finally "Big Guys" (eight options, half meat half not). Many choices appealed but we settled on fried green tomatoes to start, a lyonnaise salad and shared the Barramundi and beef stroganoff.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

bellyQ

I had high hopes for bellyQ, the latest from the amazing Chef Bill Kim, but our experience did not leave us wanting more or planning a return. We were initially surprised by the size of the former OneSixtyBlue space and the warehouse feel. Super high ceilings and a very open dining room with simple four tops and uncomfortable chairs throughout. They do have grill top tables on the perimeter if you wanted to cook your own meat (modern fondue?). Everyone agreed that you get no sense of character inside and a stale feeling with bright lighting and unremarkable soundtrack.

The menu is well organized with many interesting sections and roughly three selections in each. There are belly Bites, salads, sides, wood burning oven, tofu hot pots, tea smoked and grilled succulence. We three men chose two sides (kimchi, spinach salad), two belly bites (crispy tofu and Thai style friend chicken), and one from each of the remaining categories (seafood pancake, lamb rib and Korean short rib). We also finished with the 'soft serve' dessert selection which is vanilla soft serve with passion fruit ice and coconut jellys. Everything looked good but most dishes failed to cross the threshold of having a draw that makes you want to keep eating and come back for more. There are interesting flavors but just nothing that tasty to me. My favorite was the Thai style friend chicken, I'd order that again 100 times. The crispy tofu was an interesting dish too with a nice sauce and steaming hot tofu. The pancake and lamb rib did not have anything special going on, but the Korean short rib served with rice and some interesting sauces had some nice flavors.  I don't know if our bill was reasonable because we only had one round of beer, but for the three of us ordering a decent amount of food it was only $100.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Piccolo Sogno Due

I think Piccolo Sogno is one of the best Italian restaurants in the city. That made me really excited to try the follow up and appropriately named Piccolo Sogno Due. The problem is that the quality of the food is no where near as good as the first. I liked the space, not too large, clean design, nice tables and lighting. The menu is nice, with a solid selection of pizzas, salads, pastas, fish and a few meat options. The pricing is on the steep side, not exactly surprising but definitely positioning for high end Italian. One irony is that while we were there for dinner, we peaked at the lunch menu and thought it looked much better. So much so that we ordered one of the paninis to try. 

In addition to the turkey panini (served with brocolini), we split a simple green salad and tried two pastas - a special linguini with shrimp and scallops, and ribbon pasta with lamb meatballs and mushrooms. Unfortunately everything tasted very bland to me. All around. The panini was ok with turkey and cheese and pesto aioli, but the turkey was dry and lacked flavor. The side of brocolini was probably fine but was in a lot of oil and needed salt. Finally, both pastas were the most disappointing because I'm sure they are made in house, but lacked any flavor whatsoever. The other contents of the dish were good, liked the sauces but even a lot of salt, olive oil or cheese probably couldn't change the taste of the noodles directly. Oh well.

With uninteresting food and high prices it's hard to see myself going back to telling others to go. The menu looks interesting and lunch more than dinner but interesting menus don't taste very good if the food is bland. I'm sticking with the original Piccolo Sogno. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Viaggio Ristorante

This will definitely be short and sweet. My good friends Barisa and Joel have been raving about their favorite Italian place in the city (or at least the closest one) called Viaggio so it was just a mater of time before we all went. [It was two months ago]. Bottom line is that the place is a very solid, authentic and homey Italian restaurant with all the classics. It reminds me of a non-chain (though there are two locations) Maggianos - large affordable family style dishes of no non-sense classic Italian (and the crazy surprise is how hard that is to find in the city). Servers are great and authentic and the decor is decidedly simple and efficient.

We started with the famous meatball salad - which is not what I was expecting. It is literally a green house salad served with meatballs. Quite delicious though. I had a veal parmesan (I think) and tried the spaghetti with meat sauce. I preferred the pasta over my veal but everything was solid good and great value. It's not world class mind changing Italian - but is it ever supposed to be? I grew up with pasta as a comfort food so as long as I really enjoy the dish and sauce I'm a really happy man.

I'm not sure I'd run back but I definitely would return and if someone asked for a similar recommendation I'd be happy to send them Viaggio's way.




Viaggio Ristorante & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wood

I'm really a big fan of Wood - a new spot in Boystown with chef Ashlee Aubin (Alinea) at the helm. It has a great patio for summer nights and a super sexy long and narrow 'wood' theme inside. The bar runs the entire distance and opposite are nice leather semi-moon boths for larger groups. With no reservations I felt lucky to grab a table on a summer night last week.

I like the menu a lot for its simplicity - not a ton of options, most small plates, but all executed well (I'm assuming since I only tried a few). The first section is all small plates, ~12 priced $8-13 follow by a few flat breads, charcuterie, cheese and three 'large plates' (short ribs, half chicken and whole fish). It's a great balance of food that everyone can enjoy with various appetites. All of the food is accompanied by a healthy drink list with an array of cocktails, brown spirits, beer, etc.

We only ordered a few dishes since appetites were small that evening but the three ordered were great: Risotto (with Sweet corn and pancetta), a garden vegetable & herb salad (with Fromage blanc and hazelnut), and finally the flat bread of country ham (with kale and raclette cheese). 



Monday, September 3, 2012

The Peasantry

I was pretty excited to check out this new place in the heart of Lincoln Park from the team that does Franks 'N Dogs. The theme here is "Elevated Street Food." I didn't fully know what to expect it comprises a menu with many different options/sections and each one unique in their own 'off the beaten path' kind of way. [Fish head curry, fried gizzards, frog legs, octopus gyro and lamb tongue to name a few]. The main sections of the menu are starters, gyros, flatbreads, burgers, sausages and pasta with each section having a few different options. The space is small and cozy with a small bar, a handful of tables and a pretty cool open air counter facing the sidewalk with ~5 seats. (that's where we posted up).

The strange thing about the meal is that I liked everything about the concept - except the flavor of the food. And that's a big deal for me. There were plenty of things I would want to try so maybe I can give it a second opinion but based on round one I was not impressed. We ordered the rabbit pasta (best dish), shrimp and lobster roll, triple truffle fries and brussel sprouts salad. Aside from the pasta everything else left something to be desired - which was mostly salt and/or seasoning (even the truffle fries!). If I return (which I would definitely do for drinking with a snack maybe) I want to try a burger, a flatbread and a different sausage. The team knows what they are doing so probably just some kinks to work out. The service was awesome and friendly but I'm not sold yet on the value (many things in the mid teens which seems high). Check it out, give me a reason to go back because it's a fun idea in a great location.



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