Literally my last meal out before I drove out east was at a long time staple of the River North scene that for some reason had always evaded me. Perhaps that's my fault for always seeking out the new without spending as much time on the staples. Either way I was thrilled to try it out before leaving and having friends Kate and Jon show me the way with one of their neighborhood favs. The other awesome aspect of going with friends that know the place is that I could sit back and relax while they did the ordering. And they chose well.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
Even though I now reside in Washington, there are a few lingering posts I forgot to do before leaving Chicago, particularly at the end when I was scrambling to get everything together. There are two places - one is a newer Mexican spot in Wicker Park, and the other is a classic Italian pizza palor in River North I never went to for some reason.
I don't remember when Takito Kitchen opened but it wasn't too long ago. It joined the booming craving for Mexican tacos and street food that I didn't realize could last as long and as strong as it has (is it still happening??). The challenge for me is that how can you really attempt to top Big Star for that style of food and ambiance? AND is it smart to try and do it just a few blocks away when the comparisons will be rampant? Unfortunately the answer is no to all of the above, and particularly for Takito (as I've heard good things about Antique Taco just down the street). I like that the menu is simply and to the point with not an over abundance of options - and tacos taking the share. But I thought it was in contrast to the rest of the restaurant that had the feel and appearance of wanting to be more. And that also came through with non-traditional (read fancy and expensive) margaritas and other menu items. Example - who doesn't serve salsa with tortilla chips at a mexican restaurant? Or at least have them available? We were only given rice crackers and some other kind of cracker. Also, not a huge fan of their "take on guacamole", which was more like an avocado and pine nut spread with a LOT of lemon juice (also no chips). Strange.
Monday, June 24, 2013
I guess it should be no surprise I've had more than a few meals up in the Columbia Heights region - there's been a lot of growth and development recently (so I've been told). Add Room 11 to the list of places that always finds a crowd and a nice place to enjoy the glass of wine or beer outside on their patio. There were a few highlights from our meal, and a few things that were just ok. I really like the vibe of the place with the patio on the corner that feels like a front yard of suburban house right on the corner watching the cars and people go by. I didn't love that they extend the patio along the side of the building next to the sidewalk because the tables are against the wall and feels very cramped. Maybe it's ok for just a drink but it was an awkward dinner setting - especially on the cheap feeling metal wire chair and tables without any barrier to the sidewalk. It worked out, would have preferred the patio. Inside is cool and small with a long bar that encompasses two rooms. I enjoyed the menu layout - just one nice list of food to choose. No gimmicks, no breaks, no directions, just food and prices with plenty of variety (and very open/transparent about vegetarian/vegan options).
We started with the heirloom tomato panzanella and the cauliflower salad - of the many salad choices available. The tomatoes were nice but we were sort of expecting cheese (maybe because panzanella sounds like mozzarella ) and the dish definitely needed salt to bring out the flavors. But summer refreshing none the less. The cauliflower was 'charred' and served with garlic and tahini dressing. Again, I don't think I was expecting whole heads of cauliflower blacked (more like roasted and sliced) - but that's my fault not theirs. I think they were slightly firmer than I would have liked but the garlic and sauce were a nice touch to round out the dish.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Yes, everyone in the entire city is talking about this place. Good thing I live a few blocks away AND was able to grab a table for a birthday dinner with friends. I had to see this place for myself and what better way. I won’t go into great detail about what we all ate and what I think because frankly I wouldn’t remember that well aside from the photos. We had a very nice meal, I love the space (much larger than expected) and the food is good (but not the over the top greatness most people talk about). I was lucky and was able to enjoy a few bottles of champagne with the group curtsey of my sister – so I’m sure that didn’t hurt my ‘objective’ thoughts on the place (and might have kept the value component reasonable without everyone ordering cocktails…).
A real birthday dinner in my book starts with bubbles, oysters and crab legs (jk jk – sort of). Good thing we had all three to get our night going. The oysters were very nice and the king crab was fantastic as expected. They have a nice seafood program (though I can’t help but think that Bavette’s or Maude’s does a better job…J). We also couldn’t figure out why a French restaurant that bakes bread serves cold bread at the table. Maybe it’s the French way? Would have been better warm.
Who doesn’t like good Mexican fare in a very causal fun environment that has specialty margaritas, tacos, tortas and appetizers? I hate to make comparisons to what I know in Chicago, but that’s going to happen for a little bit I imagine. El Chucho reminds me of a cross between Big Star and XOCO. You can go there for a drink, a little food, some of both or whatnot. There’s a great roof top patio area that is nice on a summer evening (and that’s exactly what we did).
I really enjoyed whatever the margarita our server chose for me. It was tart and had a lite smoky flavor enhanced by the flavored salt on the rim. I’m sure they are known or want to be known for their tacos but they were the weakest link actually for a solid meal. Which is a little disappointing because they go to a limited menu later in the night that only features tacos and salsa. The vegetarian was by far the best between that, the chicken and al pastor. If there’s one huge difference between Chucho and Big Star it’s the tacos.
However, we started with chips and salsa, corn on the cob, shrimp and mushroom empanadas. The shrimp and corn were quite impressive and stand out dishes. The shrimp is served with onions and peppers and a spicy delicious green sauce. VERY GOOD and MUST TRY. If you find a way to bottle that sauce up please let me know. The corn on the cob (aka Elote Callejero) was also very good. The sauce and spices on the corn was great.
A good wine bar nearby is very much like having that get out of jail free card in your back pocket. Date night? Check. Family in town? Check. Just need a drink a small bite? Check. We had a very nice meal at Cork and some tasty wines as well (kinda important). The plates are appropriately sized, some were outstanding and over all well-paced. Our server was very helpful and attentive.
We did two different ‘flights’ – three glasses of a similar style. We had a white burgundy flight and a rose flight. Needless to say the white burgundies were all very, very good. The roses were mostly average, but not bad. I don’t recall all of the dishes we had and for some reason forgot to take pictures of them (there were only 5 or 6 really). The avocado bruschetta was one of my favorites and would order again (must try). It’s thin sliced avocado on bread with toasted pistachio, sea salt and olive oil. We also really enjoyed the braised kale with roasted garlic and pecorino. It had the right amount of garlic and salt and cheese. A true standout with an ingredient hard to make awesome. I also enjoyed the salt roasted local beet salad with pine nuts and feta and we also tried the grilled artichoke. We probably should have stopped there because the last dish we ordered was the grilled mackerel which was only mediocre. There are other things I would try but the menu is on the small side if you’re looking for a spot to return to often. We also didn’t try any of the cheese or charcuterie so that’s an entire section that they pair well with the wine.
We skipped the dessert but some things do look intriguing like strawberry short cake or warm apple crostada with bourbon ice cream (yum). I wouldn’t say the value is amazing and not a super cheap place but would you really want a wine bar to be the low cost provider? It was a nice meal with some highlights and some ok-lights. Great wine selection too.
Everyone needs a nice, local gastro pub with tvs, a bar, free wifi, lounge area and outdoor seating. Right? Well lucky for me Commissary fits the bill and is very close so that I may utilize many of these features. The menu is solid neighborhood joint with plenty of burgers, salads, sandwiches, bar food appetizers main course dishes, AND pizzas. Pretty much everything you need, right? And don’t forget the solid beer list, smoothie bar, coffee bar and some sweets for good measure. Nothing here is going to change your world but I do enjoy the idea of having a one stop shop for many of your local, quick, causal, or lazy needs.
The one meal I’ve had so far included some hard core nachos, a veggie burger and some bites of the mac n cheese (oh so wish it was a little better – but maybe my doctor doesn't…). We also tried the bread pudding because we couldn't resist, but that too was a minor bummer.
Everything is good, nothing is great but it does have EVERYTHING so that’s a win.
I went here a VERY long time ago (like January) but wanted to at least add my two cents to the world that already feels this place is very good – because it is. We only had a handful of plates and I would definitely want to return with a huge appetite and a larger group to really explore the expansive menu. The tapas is some of the best flavors I’ve had of that style. It might not be considered traditional and more of a modern/fusion take but the food is top notch. The space is fun and interesting and the service knows exactly what is going on.
It’s been so long I don’t know exactly what we ordered but I know we had the spicy potatoes, scallops, sausage and a spinach salad. All fantastic and worth ordering again. I’m sure you pay more for the name, location and chef, but from what I can tell it IS worth it and I do want to return in the near future.
I’ve learned that it is quite difficult to continue writing a food blog when you A) move cross country B) start a new job C) don’t have internet at your apartment to write said blog. The last one might be the largest drawback, besides not having the time in the day to navigate work, new apt and writing. I guess I’m discovering it was much easier to go out and eat and write when I didn’t have full time work a few years back. Who would have known?? Anyway, as I write this in a coffee shop because I need internet, I am going to post a lot of small and quick entries of some of the places I’ve tried as I left Chicago and relocated to DC. It will be much more of a “Where has RappEats been” and less of a detailed critique and examination of what works or doesn’t. Apologies but just too far backed up to detail and I would rather post some pictures and locations vs. extreme detail. I hope as I get more settled and into a routine I will be able to A) explore more restaurants in my new city of DC and B) have the time to write about them! A smarter blogger might want to space these posts out over a few days or something but I don’t have the patience for that. So enjoy them all right here, right now.
Feel free to inquire about specific places/dishes if I do not get to them.
Posted by Jeff at 7:39 PM