Friday, April 29, 2011

Girl &the Goat

There have been many thousands of words written about Stephanie Izard and her new restaurant, Girl & the Goat, the vast majority of them raving. Most people who know who she is know her as the Season 4 winner of Top Chef though Chef Izard does have a significant history before Top Chef. Born in Evanston, IL and raised in Stamford, CT, she developed a love of food at an early age. Before entering the culinary world, she earned a BS in Sociology from the University of Michigan. Shortly after however, she decided to she had to follow her muse and with her parents blessing, went to Scottsdale Culinary Institute and received a culinary degree. Working her way up in the kitchen she worked at La Tache and as a Sous Chef for Shawn McClain at Spring before opening her first restaurant to critical acclaim, Scylla, in Bucktown which she ran for 3 years before selling to Takashi Nagahashi in 2007 and entering Top Chef. With the help of Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm of the Boka Group, she opened Girl and the Goat last summer and is now in the running for Best New Restaurant from the James Beard Foundation.

I made a reservation to celebrate my birthday with a few people but it was a tough reservation to get so it was a week later. Because it was a tough reservation to get, even though I had several cancellations, I wasn't going to give it up and ended up going by myself. The space is very big and airy feeling with an open kitchen and high ceilings. There is a lot of reclaimed wood on the walls and the furniture and a big flame oven in the kitchen. The restaurant has a nice but not overpowering smell of wood smoke as you walk in.

The menu is divided into 3 sections, Vegetables, Fish, and Meat to designate the major focus of a particular dish. This is a shared plate restaurant so everything is served family style and everything is fairly reasonably priced. I decided that if I wanted to get a feel for the food, I should try something from every section.
For my vegetable course, I went with the Kabocha Squash Ravioli with Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Shiitake, Trumpet, and Baby Portobello Mushrooms, and Raisin Ragout and a Mushroom Creme Fraiche. It was very good and if I thought I could have gotten away with it, I would have licked my plate and the serving bowl.

My fish course wasn't actually fish and it did have a significant meat element but that was fine. I ordered Lamb Sausage Stuffed Calamari. When I saw it on the menu, I was put in mind of an old Mom and Pop Italian Restaurant near my hometown in Michigan that has since closed down. I remember once seeing veal stuffed calamari on the menu and ordering it with out really knowing what to expect. What I received were the bodies of the squid that were stuffed with meat kind of like big pasta shells. I remember that it was a bit annerving the first time I saw it but it was pretty good. This dish was very similar except that it used lamb instead of veal. Lamb does have a stronger taste than veal and some people do have a philosophical aversion to eating lamb so I could see how someone might not care for it but I like lamb and thought that this was very good.My final non-dessert course could have been a pretty simple dish (in theory) but the complexity added to the dish. The dish was a sugo over pappardelle pasta. Pappardelle is a very broad fettucini and sugo is a traditional Italian sauce using tomato sauce, guanciale, and pecorino cheese. This dish replaced the guanciale with pork, veal, and goat much in excess (there was a lot more meat than sauce) and added yellow cherries. This was a very good dish that I think any meat eater would have liked.At this point, I could have finished and been satisfied but I figured that since I was originally coming for my birthday, I needed to have dessert. I mentioned this to my waitress and found that she was celebrating her birthday on that day. So when she brought my dessert out, it had a lit candle in it. I have mentioned before that I like to challenge myself and if I see something that sounds really weird, I have to try it. I had heard that savories were used in the desserts here and looking over the menu, I saw that was the case. There was something on the dessert menu that employed a savory item in such a way that it sounded so weird that I couldn't pass it up. I don't remember what the main portion of the dessert was called but it was a bittersweet chocolate cake that seemed part lava cake and part brownie. It was served with a shiitake gelato and a salted caramel sauce. It was sweet and very creamy as a gelato should be but it had a very mushroomy aftertaste which would probably have been offputting if I hadn't expected it. Combining it with the cake, it brought a richness and earthiness to it that was very good.

Overall, while I thought that the menu would be difficult for a timid eater, the flavors were excellent. Her food really reminded me of Shawn McClain's food who I think is one of the top innovators in American cuisine today. I will be happy to come back here to share with others if I can manage to get a reservation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


My birthday was last week but because I took off work a couple of my co-workers decided to take me out today to a restaurant of my choice. My first thought was sushi because I hadn't had it in a while but after thinking about it, I decided to go with Japanese in general. There is a lot more to Japanese food than simply sushi and because some of the friends I was going with were a little leery of raw fish, I decided to do some exploring and go to Mitsuwa. Mitsuwa is actually a chain grocery and specialty store based in Southern California but with stores also in Chicago and New Jersey with a several "restaurant" food court focusing on different parts of Japanese cuisine. THe different Mitsuwas actually have different restaurants. The one that we went to had sushi (of course), bubble tea, ramen, a sweet shop, a Korean shop and a Japanese hamburger place. I looked at the different offerings in the different shops and decided that I can get sushi at any number of places and the ramen at the Japanese specialty shop had to be much better than the bags of dried ramen that most college students live on. While ramen at its most basic is a noodle soup, there are different bases: soy, miso, salt and different toppings. There were also different combo meals with different sides, one of which was a dish that was used in The Reader's Key Ingredient Series, Natto. The meal also included a soy egg which was simply a hard boiled egg soaked in soy sauce. My meal consisted of a miso ramen with pork, mushrooms, pickled bamboo shoots, and a piece of fish that I am unsure how it was prepared, natto on rice, and a soy egg. The soy egg was pretty good. As one might expect, it is pretty salty but most people salt their hard boiled eggs anyway. The ramen was a LOT better than the stuff that you find in a grocery store. It would be like comparing a can of spaggettios to the spaghetti you might get in an Italian restaurant. The noodles and broth were good but the pork, mushrooms, and fish just added to it. The natto will take some explanation. Natto is fermented soybeans and it is a traditional Japanese dish. It is often served as a breakfast food but it is also served with rice and green onions. From the reading I had done, I have read that natto smells rather strong but that really wasn't the issue with me. While I had never seen it in real life when I did see it, I recognized it immediately because it looked as if it was coated in slime. I like to challenge myself so I had to try this. It looked pretty strange and working the beans into the rice made it look even stranger because the slime was getting worse. In talking about the taste, I will first say that it is an acquired taste. The first bite it had a strong nutty flavor in the fore and main taste but I have to say that I really didn't care for the aftertaste. The after taste was slimy and slightly spoiled tasting. There was some horseradish mustard that was offered on the side so I added that (and increased the slime by stirring it in). It did help though not enough. I enjoyed my meal and will return sometime. I was glad I tried the natto but I don't think I will ever try it again especially when there are so many other things on the menu that are actually appetizing.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Provenance Food and Wine

I really should stay away from gourmet food stores. I will almost invariably spend too much money on a bunch of stuff that I find irresistible. I was looking for some interesting items to put into an Easter basket and went to Provenance Food and Wine. The store is a neighborhood store that carries a wide variety of specialty items and reasonably priced wines. Some of these items include bread, cheese, bacon, prosciutto, ice cream, granolas, and any number of condiments. While there were a wide variety of things that I was interested in, I ended up buying Coconut Roche from B True Bakery, Sea Salt and Honey Pecan Truffles and Pub Bark with Pretzels, Peanuts, and Corn Chips from Rich's Chocolate and Candies. These are going into the Easter Basket but I had to also get something for me so I got Queen City Cayenne Ice Cream from Jeni's Ice Cream and River Valley Kitchens Garlic Pickled Mushrooms. While I can't speak specifically to the taste of the sweets, I have had other Rich's Chocolates before and they are really good. As for the Roche, I can't imagine it being any less good if it is stocked at Provenance. I can speak to the quality of the mushrooms and the ice cream though (although not together). The mushrooms are nice and crisp and the garlic pickle provides a bright and fresh flavor to them. The ice cream is some of the best that I have ever had. The ice cream I bought was a chocolate ice cream with a lot of cinnamon and cayenne with no preservatives or artificial flavors. It is very creamy with a good chocolate flavor which follows in quick succession with some good cinnamon and the slow burn of the cayenne pepper. I will definitely get some more of this in the future. I really thought about buying a bottle of wine as well but I generally don't like committing to a whole bottle of wine. In any case, there is a lot of great stuff here and I will have to avoid it like the plague if I want to have any money at all.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

DMK Burger Bar

This is a really lousy picture but what it was supposed to be a picture of was pretty good. I braved the weather last night to go to DMK Burger Bar. DMK is a joint venture from David Morton, scion of the Morton's Restaurant Group/Morton Steakhouse and owner of Pompei Little Italy, and Michael Kornick of MK Restaurant. To describe the restaurant as a burger bar is correct but very simplified. They use grass fed beef and other artisanal ingredients to form a simple but good menu. There are 14 sandwiches on the menu with 9 being hamburgers. The others include salmon, turkey, lamb, and a veggie burger for the unenlightened. There are also 5 salads on the menu as well as mac and cheese but why would you eat a salad when you know you are coming to a burger joint? Even if the salads are good (which I am sure that they are), eating a salad at a burger joint completely misses the point. And what's a burger without fries? There are 6 types of fries starting with sea salt and pepper, and going to sweet potato with lemon tabasco aioli or fries with parmesan and truffle cream. We have talked about the burgers but if you are going to a place that calls itself a burger bar, you also have to talk about the beer. There are no macro brews on the menu (although Goose Island is there). There are six beers on tap mostly focusing on pale ales and wheats. But the bottle list is pretty interesting. There are 27 bottles on the list arranged from light to dark with some well known craft breweries.

The place has a simple design with hardwood floors with a long bar and several round tables but with enough room in the room to actually move around. It also has a very friendly feel to it. The music playing in the "background" was a lot of old funk and R&B. I sat at the bar where I was able to both watch the goings on of the place and the hockey game on one of the TVs behind the bar. My meal consisted of the #6 which is a burger with marinated portobello mushrooms, blue brie, and dijonnaise and fries with sea salt and black pepper with housemade ketchup. My beer was the appropriately named Sublimely Self Righteous Black IPA from Stone Brewing Company. The food and drink were all good. I like both stouts and IPAs and a black IPA brings the best of both. The fries were simple but very well prepared. They were very crispy and tender and actually reminded me of frites and the housemade ketchup was both tangy and spicy. The burger was well prepared. The beef was of good quality and the mushrooms, brie, and dijonnaise added to it but when you have already had the best burger in town, it is hard to give others their do. There are a few other things on the menu that I may need to try at a future visit.


In many of the posts that I have written, I have talked about the aesthetic of the restaurant that I went to. With a food truck, you can only do this tangentially. The owner of the Gaztro-Wagon, Matt Maroni has been at the forefront of the food truck scene in Chicago, helping to guide the law that allowed food trucks to operate on Chicago's streets. Chicago is a beautiful city even on days like yesterday when the wind and rain did not want to let up. I have mentioned earlier that I found another food truck essentially by accident. How do you find a food truck when you are actually looking for them? As they are mobile and will move from place to place, this would seem like it could be a potential problem. Twitter to the rescue. The food trucks (including Gaztro-Wagon) all have twitter feeds to let potential customers know where they are going to be. So finding who you want to find should be pretty easy, right? It turns out that it isn't as easy as it sounds. I went to hunt down the Gaztro-Wagon for lunch yesterday. It said that it would be by the Wrigley Building around noon so that's where I went. The Wrigley Building is an easy to find landmark but roads run by it on two levels and on all four sides so it wasn't as obvious as it seemed to be. After waiting at the front for about 15 minutes, I went hunting. I found them on the lower level behind the building which apparently is as close as they could legally get.

In any case, I ended up getting a wild boar naan-wich with fig and bacon relish and artichokes and a side of plantain chips. As it is mobile, there were no seats and as it was raining, I had to find a place to eat this wondrous sounding feast. I walked to the el and rode over to Ogilvie Transportation Station where I then went to the French Market. As it was my birthday, I thought I deserved something sweet so I got a brownie from Sweet Miss Givings. I then had my lunch there.

The naan was nice and chewy, the boar was pulled and had a slightly sweet porky flavor to it, the relish really reminded me of the bacon jam that I made for Christmas and the artichokes were a nice surprise. The plantain chips were good although they were a little bit of a surprise because they were cut lengthwise instead of crosswise and the brownie was nice and dense and sweet as a brownie should be. It was a bit of an adventure to get my lunch but it was worth it and when I play hookie from work again they will be on my short list of places to go for lunch.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spacca Napoli

There are generally two major schools of thought on how pizza should be prepared. The New York Style is a large thin crust pizza with a minimal amount of sauce and cheese. A piece is generally a bit unwieldy so they are frequently folded to be eaten. The Chicago Style pizza is a deep dish style that is formed and cooked in a cast iron pan. It is also derisively referred to as a pizza casserole. While opinions are very strong as to which of these is the "right" way to have pizza, they are actually both wrong. Pizza originated in Naples, Italy, and the "right way" is the original Neapolitan style. There are a few places in Chicago that do a Neapolitan pizza, but the best of them is the place I went to last Friday, Spacca Napoli. So what is a Neapolitan pizza? It is a small (about 8 inches) thin crust pizza that is flame roasted in a brick oven. The crust is chewy and usually has a little char. Pizzas are either Rosso or red and served with an Italian tomato sauce and olive oil and Bianco or white which is simply topped with olive oil. Toppings are fairly minimal with mozzarella cheese and generally one or two other things like sausage or mushrooms. To start our dinner, we started with a burrata for or appetizer. A burrata starts with a ball of fresh mozzarella. The center is removed, mixed with cream and returned to the ball which results in an usually creamy texture. Burrata is Italian for buttered (which is how it actually tastes) and is served with bread (although it does taste great all by itself). For our entrees, my companion and I each ordered a pizza. We ended up ordering a white and a red pizza although both featured mushrooms. The white pizza was called a Bianco Nero and had Pecorino Romano with Black Truffle, Fior di Latte Mozzarella, Porcini Mushrooms, and White Truffle Oil. It smelled strongly of truffles and it hit me as soon as it hit the table.

The red pizza was a Funghi and, as you might guess, featured mushrooms. It had Fior di Latte Mozzarella, Basil, and Mushrooms. Both pizzas were very good although admittedly, I liked the truffle pizza better.

As we were out at a nice restaurant and we were offered dessert, what could we do but order dessert? I had a Zabaglione which was a cramy custard made with Marsala wine and topped with raspberries. It was light and sweet and very good and while the wine could be tasted, it was subtle. Our other dessert was called with a Tartufo and started with a frozen zabaione (like the zabaglione) wrapped in a chocolate mousse gelato, hazelnuts, and cocoa powder. This is as decadent was as decadent as it looks and sounds. We really enjoyed our dinner but as we were leaving, we were given another surprise. Instead of mints that many other restaurants give at exit, they were giving cannolis. i love me some cannolis so of course I had to have one. It made a great end to a great dinner.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


I have friends that think that a chef who is not ethnic cannot make truly ethnic cuisine i.e. a Chef who is not Chinese cannot make truly Chinese food or someone who is not Mexican cannot make Mexican food. I believe that the argument goes that if you were not born part of that group, you cannot truly know their culture which does include their food. Personally I think that this argument is ridiculous but I bring it up because it has been brought up in the case of Rick Bayless. Bayless is an expert on Mexican culture (and their food) and was actually working on his doctorate in Anthropological Linguistics and living in Mexico when he decided to open his first restaurant, Frontera Grill in 1987. His parents were grocers and restaurateurs in Oklahoma (specializing in barbecue) so he was exposed to the life of a restaurateur from an early age and he both wrote a cookbook and worked as a sous chef for a restaurant in Cleveland so he was specifically familiar with Mexican cuisine. Frontera Grill specializes in modern regional Mexican cuisine. In 1989, he, and his wife Deann, opened Topolobampo, a Mexican fine dining restaurant. After numerous cookbooks and awards, and showing the world that their was more to Mexican food than tacos and burritos, they decided to explore street food and opened Xoco in 2009. While most people would think of tacos and burritos when street food is mentioned, that was too obvious and everyone else does that so they went with tortas and caldos as well as the churros and hot chocolate. The place is small and the lines are long but the wait is well worth it. There are two lines, one for takeout and one for seating. While you do order from a counter, if you are going to eat there, you don't order until a seat is available, most of which are counter seats. The line runs along the front of the restaurant in front of the kitchen so you can see the food being made which is kind of cool. On each of the inner walls of the deeply recessed windows, there are four, there is a chalkboard listing and thanking the farms and farmers that supply the restaurant.

This is one of them. I went to lunch on a Saturday afternoon (April 2nd) and stood in line for about 40 minutes. While there was a chalkboard menu by the cashier, they also gave menus to those standing in line so they could be ready when it came time for them to order. I got the menu and there was so much on it that looked good, that the longer that I looked at the menu, the harder it got. I ended up giving the menu back and decided to make a quick decision when I got to the cashier. I ended up ordering a pork belly fideo caldo with woodland mushrooms, zucchini, avocado, and salsa negra.

It was pretty spicy and the serving size was surprisingly big but it was really good. I could have been satisfied with this but I did have to get a churro and some of the hot chocolate.

The menu had 5 different chocolates. There was a type called Mexico City (Champurrado) which was described as thick and rich but that was an understatement. The chocolate was just ridiculous. When it was hot it was very thick but as it cooled, it became even thicker and was almost the consistency of pudding. The churro was crispy and chey and the chocolate went with it well. Bayless has done it again and this is a place that I will be coming to again.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Owen and Engine

In the last year or two, Chicago has had a run of English-style Gastropubs. Logan Square (where I live) seems to have grown more than most. The joke is that one of the requirements (other than the "and" in the name) is a scraggly bearded waiter and Logan Square, being the new hipster central, has more than their fair share of scraggly bearded hipsters. I went to Owen and Engine on March 28th for Earth Hour, an hour in the last Saturday in March in which you are asked to turn off all of your externally powered electrical equipment for an hour. I find the easiest way to participate is to turn off everything and go out for the evening so I went to Owen and Engine for a late (and light) dinner. While there are some modern conveniences, Owen and Engine really looks as if it would fit in Victorian Era England or be ripe for a live staging of a Clue Game. The walls, window frames and bars are all made with heavy, finished, dark wood, the lighting looks like old style gas lanterns and there are some very heavy arm chairs and a couch like a salon in front of the fireplace upstairs. All of the waiters have at least some facial hair and dress with suspenders, collared shirts, and gartered socks. Many also have British accents. The food is what you might expect to find at a British pub, examples include the fish and chips, a roast chicken, rasher and eggs, and bangers and mash. There is also a charcuterie program. It is simple but is made very well. Everything is locally sourced if not outright house-made. While they have a good cocktail list, they also have a great beer list and employ a Cicerone (the beer equivalent to a Sommellier) to maintain their beer list. For my dinner, I simply had a single course and a beer but I will say that I really liked what I had. I started with a beer, a Saison Dupont, from Brasserie Dupont. I like Saisons and this one is done very well. on the food menu, I saw something that, once I saw it, there was no question of what I was going to order. They had roasted beef marrow bones served with a mushroom risotto and pearl onions. I ordered the small order because I wasn't that hungry. I was surprised though at the size of the small. I was given two large bones with what looked like a full size portion of risotto. My thought was "If this is the small, how big is the large?" When they set it in front of me, I was given a small spoon with which I could use to scrape the bones. I was told to scrape the marrow and mix it with the risotto. As they were served apart though, I did have to try the risotto and the marrow separately. The marrow was fatty (as it should be) and very well seasoned with salt and cracked pepper. The risotto was creamy with just the right amount of mushrooms. Together, the entire dish was much better, the marrow and the risotto complemented each other well. When I come back, and I am going to have to come back several times, I will have to try different parts of the menu.

Redmoon Theatre Spectacle Lunatique

This wasn't precisely a food event but with the quality of chefs/restaurants that were invited and the food that was served, I had to include it. Redmoon Theatre is an avant garde theatre group that focuses both on spectacle and on community. There pieces are very area specific and involve all manner of creative art including music, puppetry, animation, music, and of course, acting. Their set pieces tend to be pretty big and a bit odd and the stories that they tell are fantastic (as in full of fantasy) which is what's good about them. Redmoon's Spectacle Lunatique is their annual fundraiser which is held at their own space, called Redmoon Central in the warehouse district of Chicago. I worked as a photographer's assistant for this event so I was able to sample many of the dishes offered by the chefs as we were running around the main room. The picture above features many of the chefs that were serving at the event. Unfortunately, I am not certain of all of their names though I will try to name who I can. From left to right we have Charles Joly from the Drawing Room (named America's Best Bartender by LXTV's "On the Rocks" reality show/competition), not sure who is to his right/behind him, in front is the sous chef from Hot Chocolate representing Mindy Segal, Frank Maugieri co-artistic director for Redmoon Theatre, Jimmy Bannos, Jr. from The Purple Pig (behind), Ralph Senst (Redmoon Donor), Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, The Publican, Big Star, etc.), Bill Kim (Urban Belly, Belly Shack), Giuseppe Tentori (Boka, GT Fish & Oyster), Andrew Zimmerman (behind, Executive Chef of Sepia), Michael Carlson (Schwa), Chris Pandel (The Bristol), and another Redmoon Representative. Not pictured is Stephanie Izard (Girl and the Goat). This was a great event to attend and not just for the food. I will definitely come again in future years.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Aria is located in the Fairmont Hotel, the same hotel that hosted the Cystic Fibrosis Grand Chef Gala, so it was the second time that I had been to the hotel. I actually went with my friend Heather and her little sister Caly. The restaurant was actually kind of dark but it was also very red. The tables are round and we were sat at an inside corner with a good view of the rest of the restaurant although the sushi bar/lounge was around another corner. As far as the cuisine is concerned, they serve a modern Asian cuisine with a lot of seafood on the menu. The bread course was naan with 4 different sauces, a chickpea sauce, a jalapeno cilantro sauce, and a couple that I don't remember. My appetizer was a tuna tartare with kaffir lime, edamame-horseradish puree, thai chile, and blood orange. It was pretty good and had a nice level of spice to it but what can I say, I like raw fish. My entree was also very good. I had the scallops with curried cauliflower, cauliflower falafel mâche, carrot-foie gras puree. It looked good and also tasted really good but the cauliflower falafel kind of reminded me of an empanada which is neither good nor bad but definitely different and unexpected. While the appetizer and entree were good. It was the dessert that stretched ideas. The dessert that I had was called the farmers market. It consisted of a goat cheesecake, poached cranberries, acorn squash, and beet sorbet. Now when I am served a dish with multiple elements, I will try the different elements individually. Goat cheese cheesecake was really good. It was a little more savory than a normal cheesecake and had a "goaty" element to it. The poached cranberries were presented to the side of the cheesecake and if you like cranberries, they were very good. The acorn squash was actually roasted seeds presented on top of the cheesecake. They went very well together. The last element was the beet sorbet. As could be expected, it was very red it was kind of sweet but it tasted like beets as could be expected. I like beets but I can't say much for the sorbet by itself. While it didn't work well by itself, if combined with the cheesecake and the cranberries, it really worked. Overall, the dinner was good and the company was good as well.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


If you walk up to 1952 N. Damen Ave., you will come upon a nice looking Chicago bungalow. While it was originally a home, it has been a restaurant for years, a small restaurant, but a restaurant just the same. Previous tenants have included Glory, a New England comfort food restaurant, and Scylla, Stephanie Izard's seafood first restaurant. It is now home to Takashi, Takashi Yagahashi's eponymous restaurant. As you may imagine, and as I said previously, the space is small. There are seats for 20 on the main floor and probably seats for another 20 on the 2nd floor. As I was by myself, I was seated at a two top in the corner which was fine with me because I was seated across from the bar and next to the kitchen. While there was a half-wall between the kitchen and the dining area, there was a frosted window above the half-wall so I couldn't really watch what was going on in the kitchen. I was able however, to see the dishes as they were leaving the kitchen which gave me a preview of what I might get. As I was by myself, I decided to treat myself to the six course chef's menu and a cocktail. While I didn't take a picture of the cocktail, it was a pomegranate vodka concoction that actually reminded me a lot of the drink I had at Boka. It was very good as was the rest of the meal. So what did I have? The meal went like this: First was the Amuse Bouche. It was a whipped tofu cube with cucumbers, tangerine, micro-greens, and a soy sauce. I am generally not a fan of tofu because I find it fairly tasteless and the texture is generally like sour milk but it does pick up the flavor of whatever it's served with and the soy sauce certainly helped. The fact that it was whipped and served cubed made it kind of interesting as well. While I probably wouldn't order this on it's own, it wasn't bad.

Next came the carpaccio of big eye tuna pickled gobo, napa cabbage, umami soy, sesame oil. It isn't really obvious but all of the major elements were separated so it was easy to taste the individual elements separately or together. The carpaccio was in the center, the pickled gobo (burdock root) was at the top, and the gobo was at the bottom. It was a very good dish (if you like raw fish which I do).

The next "appetizer" was the ceviche. It contained shrimp, squid, hokkaido scallops & octopus, cherry tomato, cucumber, fennel, red onion, and a yuzu-ceviche sauce. Ceviche is essentially a seafood dish that is "cooked" with acid which is usually lemon juice based. The acid tenderizes the meat so while the fish has not been cooked with heat, it is still pretty tender.

The next dish was actually my favorite dish and was probably one of the best dishes I have had in quite a while. It was a dish that consisted of sauteed Maine scallops served over a Soba Gnocchi (Soba is a pasta made from buckwheat flour) with trumpet royale mushrooms, a parmesan sauce, and a celery root parmesan foam. In my opinion, the foam didn't do much to add to the look of the dish but it also didn't take away from the taste.

The first entree I actually forgot to take a picture of. It looked good as tasted very good. It was actually a spin on a BL without the T sandwich. It was a soy-ginger caramel pork belly with a pickled daikon salad, steamed buns, and horseradish mustard. It was also meant to be built to the users taste. The steamed buns were really good as was the pork belly but you really had to be careful with the horseradish mustard because it was really strong.

If I hadn't mentioned that the scallop dish was my favorite, several people would guess that this would have been my favorite, the duck dish. I love duck and will almost always order it if I see it on the menu. This was a roasted indiana duck breast and confit of leg with a red wine poached pear and ginger-orange glaze. I am not a huge fan of pears. In fact I really do not like pears but as I said with the popcorn, I am not afraid of trying a dish containing them. This pear was a little gritty but it didn't taste too bad and combined with the duck, it was pretty good. As far as the duck was concerned, I liked the confit better than I liked the roasted breast.

Finally, we came to the dessert. It was very inventive and tasted as good as they looked. It was called The Egg and it contained a milk chocolate créme brulée (in the shell and under the foam), maple syrup, maldon sea-salt, caramel custard foam, and a blood orange macaroon.

At the end of dinner I was asked if I wanted to contribute to the Japanese earthquake relief. As Takashi is Japanese and his family lives there, I understood his fundraising and gladly contributed. My dinner here was very satisfying. I enjoyed my meal and the service was very good and I would gladly come back.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


When he was at Avenues, Chef Graham Elliot (or as he was known then, Graham Elliot Bowles) was known for pushing the envelope when it came to food combinations. When he opened his namesake restaurant, the idea continued and actually expanded. Dishes such as Foie-ly Pops, foie gras wrapped in Pop Rocks and put on a stick, and a sweetbread empanada can be found on the menu (at various times because the menu is seasonal and so it rotates). Last year, he opened up a sandwich shop called Grahamwich and I went there on March 6. The layout of the restaurant is very simple and looks, for the most part, like a regular counter service sandwich shop. There is a chalkboard with the sandwich, snack, and drink menus behind the counter and there is a communal table for twelve with individual cushioned blocks for seating in the back of the shop. There were 10 sandwiches on the menu $10 each, snacks were $5, and housemade sodas were $3 so the place was not cheap but the dishes were more than just your average sandwich (although not really that weird). I ended up having a Beef shortrib sandwich with baby watercress, shoestring potatoes , roasted shallots and creamy horseradish on hawaiian bread. The shortrib was very tender but the filling was exploding out of the bread so you just had to accept the fact that you were going to have to eat a lot of the shoestring potatoes by hand. I also had the parmesan truffle popcorn which is a staple at his namesake restaurant and is served instead of bread at the beginning of the meal. I think that I have mentioned before that I don't like popcornbut with the parmesan and the truffle oil, not to mention the sea salt, chives, and cracked pepper, I had to try it. The serving size was enormous. To drink, I had the ginger citrus soda. Everything tasted very good but I won't be ordering the popcorn again because despite the taste, it was still popcorn and it felt as if I was eating styrofoam.

They just recently revamped the menu and prices have come down somewhat so even though there was enough to keep me coming back with the old menu, with the new, I will definitely be back.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cafe Zinc

Yes, I did write the name correctly. I am not referring to Bistrot Zinc in Chicago, this is actually the cafe that serves the corporate hotel, The H, in Midland, Michigan where my family lives. The chef at Cafe Zinc has a very impressive resume, working at Jean Georges and Von in New York. Dinner service at Cafe Zinc is bistro fare but they also serve lunch and breakfast. In my trips up to Midland, I have eaten at every meal time. This time I was there for breakfast and dinner. There are some good things on all meal menus but some meals are better than others. The bread that is made here is fantastic and you can never go wrong with brioche. The name of the place (as well of the other elements associated with the hotel, The H, O2 Bar, The Table, and CaFe Zn) refer back to chemistry because Midland is about Dow Chemical. This has a special place in my heart because I am a chemist. The restaurant has a bistro look with a pastry case and a bread shelf along the wall behind the bar. There are several four tops around the edges and a big communal table in the center. A lot of the furniture looks worn to help the rustic feel. There is a big chandelier in the room with a very ornate dome that to me describes a protein molecule and there is a fireplace in the middle of the front wall. The hanging sculpture above the fireplace is a little odd. It looks to me like prairie grass. As far as the meals were concerned, I ate dinner there on Friday and breakfast on Sunday. For dinner, I had Oysters Rockefeller as an appetizer. I like oysters and it is a pretty simple dish so I think that the only way that you can screw it up is if the oysters are bad. The oysters were not bad and I really liked it (although my Mother, who I took there for her birthday along with my Dad, didn't care so much for it). My entree was steak frites with herb butter, sautéed peas, lardons and onions, and French fries. Many restaurants offer cheese plates for dessert as does Cafe Zinc but it was the biggest Cheese Plate that I have ever seen. It had cheddar, gruyere, and blue cheese. While there was a lot of cheese, and I do like cheese, there was nothing really notable about any of the cheeses. For breakfast, I ordered an eggs benedict but ended up eating a vanilla french toast made with honeyed walnuts which my Mother ordered and found too sweet to eat. It was more sweet than I would have preferred but I did eat it and I didn't find it horrible (although it was a very big step away from the eggs benedict). I enjoy eating at Cafe Zinc and will probably eat there again but there are a few other restaurants in Midland that I would like to frequent more often.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Up until last year, street food was essentially illegal in Chicago. Several chefs worked with city council to come up with a way to serve good food mobilely (is that a word?). Philip Foss was sone of those chefs. Formerly the Executive Chef of Lockwood at the Palmer House Hilton, Foss came up up with the idea of his Meatyballs truck while he was still working at Lockwood. When he became tired of the "corporate grind", he left suddenly and started serving his gourmet meatball sandwiches shortly afterward and since. I went to Lockwood when Foss was the Chef and loved the food but after meeting him at an event at Chicago Green City Market, I found him a bit pretentious and he turned me off so I would have been happy never to meet him again. On February 17th it was a nice day and I decided to play hooky from work to go to the Art Institute. I didn't really have plans for lunch, I figured I would catch something at the museum but after I got off the train and was walking to the Art Institute, I came across the Meatyballs Mobile with Chef Foss. I looked at the menu and while all of the sandwiches looked good, they were also full of double entendres; Buff Balls, Thai'd Balls, Choke 'N Chicken Balls, I went with the Schweddy Balls. It was a spicy Tunisian style lamb & chicken balls sandwich with eggplant, zucchini & tomato. When he pulled the sandwich out, he asked me if I wanted my balls put in a ball sack (paper bag). When he bagged them, he also gave me some napkins so I could wipe the ball juice off of my chin. Obviously, Chef Foss was much less uptight than he used to be. The sandwich was kind of spicy but very good and I would be happy to hunt him down on another day that I decide to play hooky from work.

Cystic Fibrosis Grand Chef's Gala

This is slightly out of order but it does need to be mentioned. I volunteered at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Grand Chef's Gala. This incredible event happens at the last Saturday in January and benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and happened at the Fairmont Hotel. If I could afford a ticket, I would definitely pay for it but I don't mind volunteering and as a volunteer, I was able to try/participate in almost everything anyway.

The event was divided into three major parts. First came Hors d'ouevres presented by 40 fine dining establishments such as Boka, The Bristol, Girl & the Goat, Graham Elliot, Topolobampo, The Signature Room, La Madia, Coco Pazzo, and The Purple Pig.

Next came the three course dinner, during which there was presented the Jean Banchet Awards for Culinary Excellence and a live auction (that raised over $200,000 in 45 minutes). As a volunteer, I was able to partake in the hors d'ouevres but was not able to sit for dinner which was actually okay because there were more restaurants serving hors d'ouevres than I could try and I filled myself on them.

After dinner, there was dessert and mixologists serving inventive drinks. There were 18 restaurants serving desserts and another 6 serving drinks. While the places and items looked really interesting (Cafe' des Architectes, Terry's Toffee, Sepia, The Bristol, and Vie for dessert and Branch 27, Boka, Gilt Bar, and The Violet Hour serving drinks), after running around all night, I was too tired to stay. I really enjoyed the evening and the things that I tried. I will definitely do this again next year.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Branch 27

My final stop on my "Chicago Restaurant WeekTour" was Branch 27. The former Chicago Public Library for the 27th Ward was headed until recently by Executive Chef John Manion, a journeyman who headed Mas and Goose Island Brewpub on Clybourn as well as consulting on Rockstar Dogs and Old Oak Tap. As it takes a little while for a new Executive Chef to put his fingerprint on a restaurant, I have to imagine that the menu was largely his. This restaurant is much more casual than the other two although that does not talk down the food to any extent. It was very good. Much of the food had a Brazilian flair to it which should not be surprising because John Manion grew up in Brazil. For my appetizer, I had goat cheese empanadas with chipotle aioli, watermelon radish and cilantro. Whenever I have empanadas I am reminded of (Cornish) pasties which I like, but with the chipotle aioli, it brought some fire to the dish. My entree was called a Moqueca. It is a Brazilian Seafood Stew with fish, prawns, mussels, crab, cilantro risotto, and cashews. The creaminess of the sauce and the risotto really went together with the seafood and I wished I could have had a much bigger bowl of this. And dessert, while simple, was also very good. I suppose though that if a simple dish is served it is that much more difficult because things have to be perfect in order to impress. It was a bread pudding (with cinnamon of course) served with vanilla ice cream. I really enjoyed my meal. Branch 27 is a very nice neighborhood restaurant that you really don't need a reason to go to but can really enjoy the food. It's also close enough to me that I can have a repeat performance here.


The first thing I have to say about Boka was that their entrance is hard to find. Boka was the second restaurant that I went to for Restaurant Week, the event where diners can get a three course lunch or dinner for $22 or $33, respectively. It was named for the owners, Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz and is run by executive chef, Giuseppe Tentori. The night that I went, February 20, was very rainy, and I ended up walking by the entrance three times. I knew where the restaurant was, I just couldn't figure out how to get in. At one point, I walked to the alley behind it because there is another restaurant that I like that has an alley entrance (Cafe Absinthe). There was an alley entrance but it was for employees and deliveries so it probably wouldn't have been a good idea to come in there. I finally returned to the front where I found a courtyard where the entrance was. After that things went much more smoothly. The dining are was divided into two rooms. One had the bar and the other had a wall hanging. I was sat in the room with the wall hanging which I found out after asking was called the "sail room". There was a line of tables under the "sail", a line of tables in the center of the room where I was sat, and a few tables along the other wall. It was a good place to watch people. I am going to talk about the wall hanging for a moment. After I was told, I could see the resemblance to a multisail ship but the first thing that it reminded me of with the way it was layered and the form was an old-style corset. While I can see how someone could see a sail, I still see a corset. Now back to dinner. When I was seated, I was given three books and a paper menu with the Restaurant Week Menu on it. The books were the regular menu, the wine list, and the reserve wine list. With all of this, I was actually missing something, the cocktail list. I flagged a waiter down (there were many and while they all seemed to have a few tables, they would all work the room) who brought me the cocktail menu. I ended up giving my drink order to someone other than the person to whom I gave my dinner order. This caused a slight hiccup later. For my drink, I ended up getting what was called a "Dealer's Choice" with that, you told the bartender what base you wanted (gin, vodka, tequila, rum, rye) and what flavor profile (sweet, spicy, bitter, sour, neutral) and he did the rest. I ordered vodka and sour and was returned with a drink in a martini glass that was pomegranate red. I asked what was in it and was told Tito's Handmade Vodka, Averna Bitters, and Lemon. I think there was some salt in there as well but I am not certain of that. It was a very good drink. For my dinner I ordered a Maine Diver Scallop with black forbidden rice, pickled onions, and a broccoli puree for my appetizer, pork belly with kimchi and deep fried oysters for my entree, and ginger kulfi for my dessert. All of the courses looked as well as tasted very good. For the appetizer I thought the idea of the broccoli puree was a little odd but it did make it easier to combine the flavors together. The pork belly in the entree was very tender and it was nice to see the layers of meat and fat. The kimchi was cut into a slaw like texture and stacked like a short pedestal on which the deep fried oysters were placed. There were three of them. While I looked up kulfi before I went out, I still was kind of unsure what I would be getting. Kulfi is an Indian dessert similar to ice cream although it doesn't have milk in it. The texture is a little different, but it was still good. With the kulfi I got a flourless Agentinian chocolate cake and a tangerine gelee which was shaped like a tangerine slice and placed on the cake. It was a truly a fusion dessert and it was very good. I really enjoyed my meal here and the service was very good. The only hiccup came at the end when they were bringing me my bill. The first bill that they brought me only contained the drink. When I informed someone, it was quickly corrected. The food and service here were very good but it is the type of place that I would only go for a very special occasion. Hopefully, I can find a special occasion to have that excuse.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

one sixtyblue

The first restaurant I visited for restaurant week was one sixtyblue. The Michael Jordan owned restaurant was named for its former appearance and address. The building, whose address is now listed as 1400 W. Randolph St., was a former blue walled pickle factory at 160 N. Loomis St. where it is still located (The only reason I can think that they changed the address to Randolph st is that there are more restaurants on Randolph so the address sells better). The building is no longer blue it's yellow and the tables and decoration in the place is black. The tables have a good amount of room from each other so you can actually move between tables and the kitchen is open so you can actually see the chefs working. It also has an enormous wine cabinet that makes up one wall. I went here with my friend Heather and her boyfriend, Tim, who had never been here but had tasted some of Chef Michael McDonald's food at Chicago Green City Market. While I would like to give many details for my meal, unfortunately I kept things brief when I wrote things down the first time. I do remember though that I really liked my meal. I had the four course menu for $44 as did Heather. I had a beef tartare for my appetizer, a charcuterie plate with prosciutto, a pork pie, and a beef terrine, beef tri tip with trumpet mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes, and a chocolate and peanut butter terrine with popcorn as a garnish. I don't like popcorn and when I got this, I tried the popcorn first to see if there might be something about it that might make me change my mind. No, it was just popcorn but when I tried it with the chocolate and peanut butter, it really worked so I was able to eat it. Heather also had the tartare and the chocolate and peanut butter terrine but she had the cheese plate as her extra plate and a gnocchi dish for her entree. Tim just had the three course meal with a salad, and the beef tri tip but I don't remember what he had for dessert. Overall, it was a good meal and I would enjoy going back.

Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week takes place the last 10 days of February and has grown to about 200 restaurant participants. For Restaurant Week, restaurants will offer a 3 course lunch or dinner for a special price, Lunches for $22 and Dinners for $33. Several restaurants this year offered a fourth course for dinner for $44. While the deal is not phenomenal for most restaurants, it is a discount and it is a good way to experience what a specific restaurant is about. In the last 3 years, I have gone to 3 restaurants during the week and this year I did as well.

Mindy's Hot Chocolate

Mindy's Hot Chocolate has been on my list for a while but the fact that a friend gave me a gift certificate for Christmas pushed me to go. Unfortunately, the date that I picked was a day that I couldn't use it so I definitely have to go back (I did know this before I went so it wasn't a surprise or a really big deal). I loved my dinner there so it doesn't bother me a bit that I have to return. The building is brown and the name on the window is kind of stretched as if it were dripping. The entrance is on the right side of the building as is the bar which stretches toward the back. There is a lounge/waiting area in the front and the kitchen is in the back. The room is done in various shades of brown and was lit in candle light. The two top tables were set along the wall opposite the bar and the tables for four were angled and in the center of the room. Hot Chocolate is listed in several places as a dessert bar and with a five time James Beard nominated pastry chef running the operation (Mindy Segal) it very definitely is that, but it is much more than that. While there is no question about having dessert when you come here, you shouldn't neglect the savories as they are very good as well. I came here on February 12 so it was pretty cold so I started things off with one of the six hot chocolates, which was served with a house made marshmallow. I had a Medium which had a touch of dark chocolate and a hint of caramel. For my appetizer, I had shrimp and grits and it was savory beyond belief. I like shrimp and I like grits but I didn't expect it to be as good as it was. The grits were very creamy, the shrimp were Tiger Shrimp but it also contained Cremini Mushrooms, Red Onions, bacon and smoked tomatoes. For my entreem while there was duck on the menu (I always order duck if it's on the menu), I went with the pork chop. It was breaded, brined and grilled with housemade pork sausage with sauerkraut, apples and fennel. I don't think I have to repeat that it was very good but I will anyway. If I hadn't been at Hot Chocolate, I might have said that I had a very good meal and skipped dessert. As this place is known for it's dessert though, it wasn't an option. I ordered a box of cookies to go because I had heard they were very good. I did consider saving some to share but after seeing and trying them, this wasn't an option either. The box came with about a dozen cookies of several different varieties. All of the cookies were different so I couldn't try one and save another, I had to try them all and because I had to try them all, there was none to share. All of this though happened in the next couple of days after I went there. My dessert that I had there was called Thoughts on a Peanut Butter Cup and I wish I had thought about taking a picture of it because it was something to see. I did find a picture on the web of it so here it is. It contains peanut butter mousse and "peanut butter cup", milk chocolate hot fudge, Concord grape syrup, with peanut butter cookie dough truffles. After that meal, I have to say that I am glad that I was unable to use my discount coupon because it gives me an excuse to go back.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bad Apple

There seems to have been a run recently on beer bars that serve gourmet burgers. The Bad Apple, in North Center, is one of the more recent. It has a very rustic look to it with wooden benches and a long wood bar. There were also sculptures on the wall that looked like cyborg cattle skulls. It looked as if the artist used the requisite skulls but then replaced different parts with metal. They were actually kind of cool. As it is a bar, it has a great list of craft brews and imports. They have so many, in fact, that it was actually kind of hard to choose what I wanted. I did find something good though. I mentioned that this is a burger bar, there are other things on the menu but admittedly, I didn't really look at anything other than the burgers. There were a lot of the typical things, angus beef, a variety of cheeses, bacon, but several of the burgers included beer in their recipes and a few are just weird. I am of the belief that a restaurant will not put a bad tasting thing on the menu no matter how weird it sounds so if something sounds really weird, I have a strong urge to try it. So what was sthe weird burger that I had? It was called Elvis's Last Supper and it was a burger with bacon and peanut butter. The flavor was good but all it had on it was bacon and peanut butter. In my opinion, it needed something else. The Bad Apple wasn't bad, but unless I have a reason to go up there, it wasn't anything that's going to draw me back especially since I have a much better burger bar that's closer (Kuma's Corner).

Paramount Room

From the outside, The Paramount Room doesn't look like much. It's location, next to the train tracks at the end of Milwaukee Ave, also is not at the height of trendiness. The building is an old, narrow brick building with a glass face. Walking into the building doesn't initially do much to impress either. There is a long bar and a few tables but the place to see is the basement. It's very blue. There are actually two levels, a balcony level and the main floor which has a padded, high-backed seat wall with a row of tables. There is another bar under one of the balconies and a DJ on the other balcony. They carry a pretty good beer list. On the night I went with my friend Scott on Jan. 22, they were playing a lot of old English New Wave. The first twenty minutes we were there, it was nothing but The Cure, but we later heard Joy Division, Modern English, New Order and other popular bands of the era. I like that type of music so it was really cool. While the menu has a lot of things that look good, The Paramount Room is known for it's $9 Kobe Burger. It is even listed on the front window. This was the primary reason for coming here. We also got an order of Poutine as an appetizer. Even at it's most basic, poutine is one of those things that taste really good but are really bad for you. It consists of french fries, cheese curds, and chicken gravy. Paramount Rooms version adds pulled pork. Excellent! And as far as the Kobe burgers are concerned, how can you go wrong with Kobe burgers? In actuality, while the burgers were called Kobe burgers, Kobe is like Champagne, it can't be called Kobe unless it's Wagyu beef raised in the Kobe prefecture of Japan. Other beef raised in a similar style is simply Wagyu beef. It's still really good but as it doesn't have to be raised in Japan and imported, it is a little cheaper. I really enjoyed my meal there and it is a place that I will return to.