Thursday, December 27, 2012

2 Sparrows

I cannot talk about the restaurant where I went to brunch this month without first talking about Charlie Trotter's.  No matter what anyone may have thought of Charlie Trotter, the person, it cannot be denied that his restaurant was, for many years, the pinnacle of fine dining in Chicago.  Despite the fact that his restaurant is gone, his influence remains; not only in the food that is presented in area restaurants, but in the chefs themselves, who had worked in Trotter's restaurants.  There is an expectation among area diners that a chef that advertises his time with Charlie Trotter will be a talented chef.  The name applies even if the chefs are not doing the same level of fine dining that could be found at Charlie Trotter's.  The restaurant that I went to, 2 Sparrows, is almost entirely a brunch place, although they are open in the evening for some special occasions.  Located close to the heart of Lincoln Park, it's in an urban strip mall (street parking only) and is not exceptionally obvious.  The front glass window wall blends in with the businesses on either side.  The sign for the restaurant is on the window near the door.  Inside, the restaurant has high unfinished ceilings, hardwood floor, pillars, and furniture, and a small bar near the entrance that serves both liquor and coffee.  There are also cartoon style drawings of animals on the walls.  The restaurant does not take reservations so there can be a wait at times, especially with larger parties (which mine was).  When we were seated, we started out with a variety of pastries which combined sweet and savory elements.  The first pastry that we were presented was what we thought was a cinnamon roll.  It was listed on the menu as a cinnamon roll.  It looked like a very nice cinnamon roll with the requisite cinnamon and glaze and the dough was rolled but it was very dense.  It was texturally very much like a muffin.  While it did taste good, I have to say that the density made it a fail.

The next pastry however, was a definite win.  It was a Maple Bacon Doughnut.  The doughnut was of the light fluffy variety that you might find at Krispy Kreme.  It was covered in maple syrup and topped with chopped bacon.  The doughnut was light and fluffy, the syrup was sweet, and the bacon was cooked to done but not crispy so it had a nice chew to it.  This was very messy to eat and obviously required a knife and fork but it was very good.

The last pastry before we got to our main courses might be considered an acquired taste and was one of those things that sounded so weird that we had to try it. It was a Foie Gras and Cherry Pop Tart.  It looked very nice when it came out.  The pastry shell looked like a good pie crust, flaky and slightly crisp with fork sealed edges.  There was a nice, slightly tart cherry sauce spread over it and when we cut it open, it oozed more cherry sauce.  The filling was a mixture of foie gras and cherries which was very good.  It tasted primarily of cherries being sweet and tart  but the foie gras provided a depth of flavor and texture to the dish that put it over the top.  All of the pastries were very good and got us ready for our main dishes.

For my main course, I went with a spin on hash, something I have been hitting on frequently lately.  This hash was a Sweet Potato and Duck Hash which was made with cubed sweet potatoes, duck confit, and caramelized onions.  It was topped with a poached egg and served with a fresh green salad that was served with a light vinaigrette.  The hash was tender and slightly sweet from the sweet potatoes, duck confit, and caramelized onions.  The egg was poached medium.  The white was solid but the yolk was still fairly liquid.  And the salad was crisp and sour from the vinaigrette.  It was a very good dish.

There is a reason that there is a wait for 2 Sparrows.  The place looks rustic and friendly, the service is excellent, as is the food.  I would be happy to return here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Glenn's Diner

There are two things (besides heartburn) that you are guaranteed to be able to get at a diner.  The first is breakfast all day and the next is a burger.  I went recently to Glenn's Diner recently and while they do both of those things well, they are also very well known for their fish and seafood.  Located in Ravenswood on Montrose, it doesn't stand out a lot.  There is a sign in front with a fancy typeface, but it's black with white lettering so it doesn't stand out exceptionally.  The dining room has high ceilings and there are large chalkboards on both sides with the seafood menu.  At the back of the dining room is a small bar with beer and liquor service but also with a shelf on the back wall behind it that has over 25 boxes of cereal for those that desire cereal and cold milk. 

I came to the diner in the early afternoon, so while I didn't have to have breakfast, that was the direction that I decided to go.  As this is a seafood restaurant as well though, I also wanted to do that.  Luckily, there were several breakfast dishes that featured seafood so it wasn't hard to find something.  The difficulty came in actually choosing something because so many things sounded good.  I decided to go with hash and eggs.  Specifically, I chose the Rushing Waters Smoked Trout Hash and Eggs.  The hash consisted of smoked trout, onions, and potatoes.  It was smoky, tender, well-seasoned, and very flavorful.  The eggs that I ordered were over-easy.  There were tree of them that were cooked together and cooked well.  The whites were lightly fried on both sides but the yolks were still soft as they should be.  The hash and eggs were served with four slices of buttered wheat toast which came in handy to sop up the yolk and left over hash.

This is a very good diner with very good food.  It is also a very good place for seafood.  I will definitely have to return here to try more of the menu, seafood and otherwise.   

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Urban Belly

I have gone before to Belly Shack, an Asian/Latin Fusion street food restaurant in my neighborhood and have met Bill Kim, the chef, at any number of events around town, but until recently, I have never been to it's sister restaurant, Urban Belly which is also relatively close.  The restaurant is located in a small space in a strip mall close to the Kennedy.  The entrance has a silhouette of a Buddha and the interior is wood.  There are four communal tables made from finished drift wood which seat about 10 people apiece.  The seats for the tables are solid wooden blocks.  Food and drink is ordered from a counter at the back of the restaurant.  The menu is divided into dumplings, rices, noodles, and sides.  The restaurant is also BYOB.  When I go to an Asian restaurant, rice tends to be on the menu so I decided to be a little different and try everything else.  I started with the Kimchi side.  It had cabbage, as might be expected but had other vegetables like cucumbers, and I think carrots and celery.  The sauce was very red and spicy and was covered with sesame seeds.  It was crisp, crunch, sweet, spicy, and a very nice start.

The dumplings were the next dish and it was a very nicely presented dish.  It was served on a narrow and oblong dish with some mango sauce on the bottom of the dish.  The dumplings were similar to triangular ravioli and were filled with ground pork belly.  The dumplings were separated with fresh mango slices and everything was topped with threads of Asian squash and green onion.  It was sweet, tart, and obviously a bit bacony and had a nice texture.  This dish made me really happy and made me glad that I had come here.

For my noodle dish, I ordered a dish similar to pho.  It was a big dish of broth with long vermicelli rice noodles, small rice dumplings, pork belly, celery, hominy, and kim chi in a very spicy pork broth.  The soup was hearty with good size chunks of everything in every spoonful and the broth was hot and spicy.  I really liked this as well and after this, even if there had been dessert, I would have been to full to eat it.

I really liked Urban Belly and will definitely be back.  The food is very good and well priced, the space is nice, if a bit simple, and the staff was very friendly.        

Monday, December 10, 2012


On a side street in Bucktown, near the Clybourn Metra Station is a little blue brick building that looks like a house.  This little blue brick house is actually Jane's Restaurant which I visited for dinner recently.  While the exterior of the restaurant looks like a house, the interior has an open floorplan. and a high cathedral ceiling.  The walls at the front of the dining room are antique brick and there are many paintings from local artists on the wall that are for sale.  There is a long bar that starts at about the middle of the dining room and extends to the rear.  The front of the bar is for drinking and eating and the back serves as the serving table for the kitchen behind the bar.  The entire restaurant has a decidedly retro feel.  The furniture uses a lot of curls in the design and the typeset of the menu shows a similar design.  I sat at the end of the bar and was able to watch the action in the kitchen (as well as the rear half of the dining room).  The menu focuses on American classics as well as some Latin inspired fare.  For my first dish, I decided to try their spin on a quesadilla.  Jane's Quesadilla uses a combination of Gouda and Blue Cheese and is served with Spiced Apples on the side and a garnish of fresh dill.  I will admit normally that quesadillas really do nothing for me because there is really nothing to them.  While I do like both cheese and tortillas, a tortilla by itself will be pretty bland as is the white Oaxaca cheese that is used with it.  There also isn't much textural variety.  In this case, Gouda and Blue cheese both have pronounced flavors which add tartness from the gouda and bittersweet from the blue cheese.  The apples that were served on the side were cooked but still crisp and had a nice sweetness that cooked apples will have but were also decidedly spicy from the added cinnamon and other spices.  I wouldn't have thought that dill would complement the flavors but it really did.  The flavors from the modified ingredients really added to what is normally a pretty boring dish.

For my entree, I went with Seared Sea Scallops with Carrot, Celery, Coconut Milk, and Peanuts.  The scallops were prepared perfectly.  They had a nice sear on them and were very tender with the slightest amount of chew.  The risotto had the right texture and the carrots and celery were cooked well and complemented the curry flavor.  While the risotto did have a good texture, it did taste as if they took a shortcut with the risotto and cooked the rice before adding it to the curry and coconut milk.  The rice didn't taste as if the curry had infused it.  While the individual parts of this dish were good, it just didn't quite come together.

With one hit and one miss, it was up to the dessert to see how the meal would go.  I ordered the Warm Turtle Brownie with Bourbon Pecan Gelato, Candied Pecans, and Housemade Caramel.  On paper this dessert sounded amazing.  In real life, it paid off.  This was the best dish I had .  Chocolate, pecans, and caramel complement each other well and each of the individual pieces was made well.  The brownie was warm and dense, the pecans were salted, and had a nice candy coating, the gelato was nutty, buttery, and the bourbon added a nice smoky flavor and the caramel added a great gooeyness to everything.

Jane's was a nice neighborhood restaurant and overall, I did enjoy my meal here.  It had a nice welcoming and homey vibe to it and while the food isn't exceptional, it is good.  


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Katherine Anne Confections

I really like chocolate but I will say that I was glad that I had to travel outside my neighborhood in order to get good chocolate.  How does this make sense?  If I have a good chocolate place close, it makes it easier to stop by and puts a risk to my wallet and my waist.  For good or bad, a very good chocolate/candy/confection shop open in my neighborhood recently.  I have had sweets from Katherine Anne Confections before they opened their shop although I am not sure when or where that happened.  I was told when I went the first time that they operated at a couple of Farmer's Markets that I frequented so I will guess that that is where I tried their creations.  I have found that I have many friends and family that appreciate sweets as a birthday gift and I have several friends with fall birthdays so it was an easy decision to stop there for a gift for them because it allowed me to treat me as well.  As they make a variety of confections, I decided to get a variety and try each type.  I got three truffles, four marshmallows, and four caramels.  The marshmallows that we had were large and housemade (as one might expect) and all had other stuff besides the standard sugar and gelatin to enhance the flavors.  They were all very good and the extra ingredients really contributed to the complexity of the flavor.  The marshmallows were Salted Caramel, Lemon Ginger, Earl Gray, and Cinnamon. All of the marshmallows were really good although the cinnamon probably could have been a little less cinnamony.  The caramels were probably my favorite.  We had Salted Caramel, Rosemary Sea Salt, Chocolate Walnut, and Vanilla.  For the truffles, we had Sour Cherry Pie, Salted Caramel, and Hazelnut.  The Salted Caramel and Hazelnut truffles were easy to like but the Sour Cherry Pie took some adapting to.  As the name suggests, it was sour.  The sour of the cherries and the bittersweet chocolate used was not an easy first bite.  There was some Kirsch used so there was also a slight alcohol burn.  It had a good texture and a complex flavor so I am willing to try it again. 

Katherine Anne's Confections makes some really great sweets and for good or bad, I will definitely be back.  I will probably use the excuse of holidays or birthdays but I know that I will get more for me.    

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Swim Cafe

I first encountered Swim Cafe a couple of years ago when they catered a pre-show event for Redmoon Theater.  I really liked the freshness of their food and the fact that everything seems to be made from scratch.  I thought at that time that I would visit their place and try their regular fare.  That didn't actually happen until recently.  While they aren't really far from where I live, they are a breakfast and lunch place (they are open until 7 pm but I generally don't go for sandwiches for dinner) and are in the wrong direction for a stop on the way to work.  Stopping by would require a special occasion which happened recently.  I don't own a car so when I travel to visit my family in Michigan, it is by Amtrak.  I will generally pick up food for a meal for the trip because the food on Amtrak is expensive and not much better than something that you would get out of a vending machine.  In this case, I will take a sandwich for dinner.  I do like some variety so I am always looking for a new shop that might do things a little different.  In this case, Swim Cafe fit the bill.  Located across the street from Eckhart Park, it looks at the natatorium (indoor swimming pool) which is where it took it's name from.  The design of Swim Cafe looks like any number of coffee/sandwich shops in the area with an with tables along one wall and a counter looking out the front window.  There is an order counter off to one side behind which the coffee, tea, sandwiches and salads are made and there is a display case with the available baked goods (which are made in the back of the restaurant).  It also has a hardwood floor and an unfinished ceiling with exposed ventilation pipes and a tin ceiling (painted blue).  There is also art from local artists for sale on the walls.  The thing that catches your eye though when you walk in is the fact that the place is painted like a swimming pool.  The lower part of the wall is painted in various shades of light blue like a swimming pool is tiled, the ceiling and top two feet of the walls are painted bright blue as if looking up from the bottom of a pool at a blue sky, and the space between the upper and lower blues is white. 

Swim serves a variety of salads and sandwiches to satisfy vegetarians and meat eaters alike.  The meat and produce served at Swim is largely organic and the baked goods are made from scratch.  All of the sandwiches are served with a choice of side.  For my meal, I chose a Roast Beef and Gruyere Sandwich.  It was served on a Pretzel Roll with Red Onions, Mixed Baby Greens, tomatoes, and a horseradish creme fraiche.  For my side I had an Asian Slaw with baby greens, red onions, and a sesame dressing.  While the slaw and the sandwich don't exactly sound like they would work together, surprisingly they do.  The sandwich had a lot of strong flavors from the horseradish creme fraiche, to the gruyere, to the onion, to the pretzel roll (all of which complemented each other).  The greens and the tomato provided a moderating influence to the flavors which may have been why they were able to complement instead of overwhelm each other.  In order to make any influence on the taste buds after eating that sandwich, the flavors on the salad also had to be prominent which the sesame was and the greens and the onion from the sandwich also showed up in the slaw tying them together.  For my baked good "dessert", I had a Dulce de Leche Bar.  This was amazing.  It started with a crisp and buttery butter cookie base.  It was then topped with the dulce de leche, a slowly made caramel-like confection that is made with caramelized sugar and sweetened and condensed milk.  All of this is topped with butter cookie crumbs.  It was crisp, buttery, sweet, chewy, and very, very good.  I will return here just for this bar.

Swim Cafe does seem to be a place inhabited by a group of regulars.  While I do think their food is good to great, because of it's location and operating times, I will never be a regular.  I will however, definitely return when the circumstances dictate a sandwich for the road.     

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sofra Turkish Kitchen

Recently, I happened to read a mention of Sofra Turkish Kitchen.  It had been a while since I had had Turkish cuisine, in fact, the last time I ate Turkish food, I was actually in Turkey.  From what I remembered, I remembered rice, yogurt, and a lot of kebabs.  I did do some looking before I went and I was correct about the rice, yogurt, and kebabs, but it also seemed similar to Greek food (which isn't really surprising considering that they're right next to one another) with some Middle Eastern food thrown in.  The dining room of Sofra is long and narrow with a bar in the front  There is a line of tables along each wall with round tables in the center of the room and a divided area with a low table and overstuffed pillows.  The lighting is from very ornate hanging lanterns.  While there is a full bar, I do like to try drinks that are native to a region when I go to a given ethnic restaurant.  For that, I tried Ayran which is a cold frothy drink of yogurt and water with a little salt which is similar to Indian lassi.  It was white and opaque with a really nice head of foam.  It was slightly salty and sour and tasted like unsweetened yogurt.  While it wasn't terrible and was drinkable, it was definitely an acquired taste and one that I am unsure of whether I am willing to acquire.     

The appetizer list had the standard hummus, babaganush, dolma, and tabuleh.  While I have had all of these things and do like them, I did want to try something different.  For my appetizer, I had Haydari, a combination of housemade yogurt mixed with chopped walnuts, garlic,carrots, and fresh mint.  It was topped with paprika and had a black olive in the center.  The whole of the dish was very creamy, if it weren't for the walnuts, and carrots you could probably eat this with a straw.  While it did come with a spoon, I was also served a lot of pita bread and I ate it like I would hummus, using the pita to scoop it up.  It did have the sour taste of yogurt but the paprika also provided a little spiciness and the walnuts and carrots added to the flavor.  I really enjoyed this and was glad that I tried it.  

My entree was Turkish Moussaka which is similar to Greek Moussaka only in its ingredients.  It had golden eggplant, beef, mushrooms, green peppers, tomatoes, onions, and mozzarella baked in a tomato sauce and is served with rice.  While Greek Moussaka is built like lasagna and is layered, Turkish Moussaka is more like a stew and is served with rice on the side.  While I like Greek Moussaka, I discovered that I like Turkish Moussaka even more.  It had a very savory flavor and stew is easier to eat than "lasagna".    

For dessert, I had the Turkish version of Creme Brulee.  It was called Kazandibi which literally means "bottom of a pot" and is a type of "burnt pudding".  I have to think that it takes some really good timing and a knowledge of your stove in order to prepare this well.  The pudding is caramelized on the bottom and is served upside down with the caramel side up and sprinkled with cinnamon.  I would think that there is a small window between caramelized and burned so timing is everything.  While the burned top is not crispy as creme brulee is, it does have a flavor kind of like roasted marshmallows.  I did like this although I think I might have liked it more if there were a way to make the top crispy like a creme brulee.

I liked my dinner here.  The design is nice and the the staff is friendly.  I had forgotten how similar Turkish food is to Greek food and will have to return to explore the menu some more.  

Monday, November 19, 2012


Comfort foods are those foods that evoke a sentimental or nostalgic feeling. They are easy to eat and leave a feel good feeling.  It could be thought that a restaurant that focuses on comfort foods would be a guaranteed winner but it could also be very boring.  Hearty is a restaurant that I went to recently for a friends birthday that focuses on comfort food but puts a fine dining spin on it.  As far as the restaurant is concerned, it is actually kind of plain.  The main dining room is pretty small, seating about 40 and containing a nice vintage bar.  There is also a private dining area upstairs but we were in the main dining area so I didn't see the private dining room.  The cocktails served are spins on classics.  The cocktail that I had, the Mamie Taylor, was invented around 1900 and consists of scotch, ginger ale, and lime juice.  For my appetizer, I started with Roasted Bone Marrow, also a classic dish.  In addition to the roasted bone marrow which was served in and around the bone, it contained Ox Tail Marmalade, was topped with an Herb Salad and was served with what they called Brioche Croutons though I would have called them toast points.  The dish was very meaty and savory, the herb salad contained arugula and dill, and the croutons were lightly toasted.  The dish was really good and everything went well together although admittedly, it was a little difficult to get the marrow out of the bone.  The other appetizers that we had at the table were Deviled Eggs with a Bacon Lardon, Smoked Paprika, and Ground Mustard Aioli which everyone seemed to enjoy.

My entree was a spin on a childhood favorite.  I had Beefaroni.  While Hearty's Beefaroni was built generally the same way as the canned treat from Chef Boyardee, it was definitely better.  Served in a casserole dish, it was built with Braised Short Ribs, Black Pepper Spaetzle, Roasted Butternut Squash and Tomatoes, and topped with Fried Onions.  Texturally, it was very similar to the canned Beefaroni although the fried onions on top were a treat.  While the pasta, meat, and sauce, did taste similar to Beefaroni but it tasted fresher, and had a more complex flavor.  It definitely evoked memories of childhood and was really good although there were things like the bacon meatloaf that was ordered by someone else at the table that made the choice difficult.

For dessert, I went with the Sazerac Creme Brulee with Absinthe Citrus Sugar and Topped with Candied Lemon Zest.  I really like Creme Brulee and the alcohol incorporated into it brought something extra to it but I like my creme brulees to have a nice thick crust.  This did have a crust, but it was pretty thin.  It was a good dessert but it was actually my second choice.  I was really interested in a dessert called Milk and Cookies which was bourbon spiced milk with a bacon chocolate chip ice cream sandwich.  I thought it sounded really good but I would have had to wait for 15 minutes which I really didn't want to do.  The creme brulee, while it wasn't my first choice, was better than a 15 minute wait.

I really enjoyed my meal here and will definitely be back.  It is definitely accessible but it also pushes boundaries for those people that are timid eaters.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Many of the restaurants that I have gone to for brunch have been restaurants that also serve dinner.  Jam was an exception and so is Orange which I went for brunch recently.  As one might expect, Oranges feature heavily in their menu to the point that they even have orange flavored coffee.  They also have regular coffee but I decided to try the orange flavored because it is one of their specialties.  In addition to the coffee, they have a make your own juice bar.  Starting with one of the standard juices (orange, grapefruit, carrot, pear, apple, or watermelon), you then add another juice which include the previous, plus lemon, lime, cucumber and mango.  You could finish there, but there are also premium ingredients that you can add for an additional  $0.99 which include banana, strawberry, ginger, yogurt, and pineapple.  I suppose you could also stick with a single juice, but what fun would that be?  I ordered an Orange Carrot Ginger Juice which was really good.  The color was a little more red than I would have expected but as I have never seen carrot juice, I have to assume that the darkness comes from the carrot contribution to the juice.

While every brunch place that I have been to has a combination of both sweet and savory elements on their menu, most seem to lean one way or the other.  While the savory side of the menu was larger than the sweet side for Orange, their specials leaned to the sweet side and they have a pancake flight that changes weekly and also leans sweet, so I thought that I would try the sweet side of the menu.  As a weekly special, Orange has pancake flights, the selection of which changes every week.  They also do a special flavored pancake (full size) and occasionally Frushi (fruit sushi).  The frushi though, was not on the menu when I went.  I decided that the pancake flight was the best way to try a bunch of stuff (and besides, it sounded REALLY good).  The pancake flight consisted of 4 sets of three silver dollar pancakes of different flavors.  My flight consisted of Coffee & Cream Cookie Pancakes, Fruity Walnut Thumbprint Pancakes, Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Pancakes, and Very Chocolate Brownie Pancakes.  The Coffee & Cream Cookie Pancakes were vanilla pancakes with espresso cream between layers and topped with chocolate syrup.  The espresso cream on these provided a subtle coffee flavor but the chocolate syrup was what provided any bitterness.  This wasn't bad, although I think I would have liked it more had the coffee flavor been stronger.  The Fruity Walnut Thumbprints were probably my least favorite pancakes (although they were still good).  They were walnut pancakes topped with homemade blueberry jelly and sugar crystals.  The flavor combination was good but the jelly was a bit dense and didn't spread well so I tasted it most with the top pancake.  Because of the fact that the jelly was a little hard to spread, the lower pancakes were a bit dry.  The Oatmeal and Raisin Cookie Pancakes may have been my favorites.  These were spiced oatmeal pancakes with cinnamon-raisin butter and maple syrup.  The oatmeal flavor was pronounced and it really did remind me of an oatmeal cookie and the cinnamon raisin butter provided complementary spices.  There was just enough syrup to make them moist and provide a nice maple flavor without being soggy.  I tend to be subtle with my syrup so this was great.  The Very Chocolate Brownies were very chocolaty.  These ran a close second to the Oatmeal and Raisin Pancakes.  They were chocolate-infused pancakes studded with milk chocolate chips, topped with a thin chocolate ganache and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  They were dense and chocolaty and the chocolate chips were like a secret prize.

While I knew that I was going to like the pancakes, I also knew that I was going to want some savory so I ordered a side of bacon.  While I would normally say that bacon makes everything better, in this case, I will say that the bacon confirmed to me that Orange does sweet better than savory.  I love bacon and this might have been good bacon, but it was impossible to tell because they cooked it so crispy it lost all of it's chewiness.  It would have been impossible to stab a fork into it without shattering it.  While it did taste nice and bacony, I can't say that I would order bacon here again because it was so brittle.

I did enjoy my breakfast here and while I wasn't particularly happy with the bacon, I did enjoy the orange flavored coffee, the juice, and the pancakes.  I may try savory when I return but I probably won't order a side of bacon.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

La Encantada

I have said before that there there is a lot more to Mexican food than burritos, tacos, and tamales.  However, there is a big gulf between the fine dining of Frontera Grill and your average taqueria  and the food of La Encantada occupies that space between the two extremes.  It is a small restaurant on North Avenue in Humboldt Park with a glass front wall and aged brick walls.  The large bar is on the right side and the dining tables are on the left and in the rear of the restaurant.  There is a lot of art from local artists hanging on the walls and much, if not all of it is for sale at a nice price.  La Encantada does have many Mexican standards but they also have steak, chicken, seafood, and several types of fajitas.  While the menu is very large and there were things on the appetizer menu that did look good, I decided to simply order an entree because with two included sides of the diner's choice, it was going to be more than enough even if there was no meat in the dishes that I ordered.  While there was no meat in my meal, I cannot say that it was vegetarian.  I do not know whether lard was used or not.  I don't mind if it was because I am not a vegetarian.  I ordered what I ordered because it sounded really good.  I ordered Crepas Poblanas con Huitlacoche with rice and Calabacitas con Queso as my sides.  The Crepas Poblanas con Huitlacoche were two rolled crepes filled with a fungus that grows on fresh corn (huitlacoche) and topped with poblano sauce and melted Chihuahua Cheese.  There was also some corn mixed in with the huitlacoche.  Admittedly, the fungus doesn't look that great.  It's black and it's cut up so you are unable to tell exactly what it looks like.  It does have the texture of a mushroom and has a slightly sweet, mushroomy, and woody flavor.  The poblano sauce added a nice bit of spice to the crepes.  The chihuahua cheese covered everything and how can you go wrong with chihuahua cheese.  The Spanish rice was fairly standard but standard Spanish rice is good.  The other side was the Calabacitas con Queso was actually much more than calabacitas con queso.  Calabacitos is actually a generic term for a small squash.  It could be anything from pumpkin to summer squash to zucchini which is what it was in this case.  It was chopped and cooked with tomatoes, onions, and more cheese.  It was tangy, the zucchini had a nice density to it and it went well with the huitlacoche crepes.

I really enjoyed my meal here and am glad that it is an easy walk from where I live because I will definitely return.     

Saturday, November 3, 2012


Until it closed in January, one sixtyblue had been my favorite restaurant.  I was very disappointed when it closed but it did give me an opportunity to explore.  one sixtyblue had been part of a restaurant group owned by Michael Jordan called Cornerstone.  After having liked one sixtyblue, I figured that the restaurant group would maintain some type of culinary standard.  There are a couple of other Cornerstone restaurants in Chicago (actually three if you count belly Q, the restaurant that replaced one sixtyblue) and while I have not been to any of them, I had been to a couple of chef demos featuring chefs that ran other Cornerstone restaurants so I thought I had a little familiarity with them.  I decided to go to Wave recently, one of the Cornerstone restaurants that I had been to a demo for.  Wave is located on the North side in the W Hotel on Lake Shore Drive.  The dining room is located in the front of the hotel to the right of the main entrance at the bottom of a short stairway with the bar actually in the lobby of the hotel.  There is also a nice patio at the front of the hotel that overlooks Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan.  The dining room is relatively narrow with a lot of flowing curves (like waves).  There is a 10 place communal table in the center of the room with several round tables on the main floor and large four tops with couches for seating on either side of the table on an elevated area in front of the window that overlooks the patio, Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan.    This was where I was seated.  The lighting consisted of candles on the tables and some multicolored LED lights that sort of reminded me of nightclub lighting (as did the background music).  Wave serves seasonal and locally sourced Mediterranean style cuisine.  That can actually mean a lot of things but frequently includes things such as olives, garlic, capers, fresh vegetables, and/or pasta.  Not all of my dishes reflected this entire idea but there were elements to be found in my meal.  I started out with House-Made Spaghetti with Garlic Sausage, Charred Cauliflower, Capers, Pecorino Cheese, and Oregano.  There were several elements of this dish that sounded really good on the menu but I was unsure about the Charred Cauliflower.  I needn't have worried.  While there was plenty of cauliflower in the dish, and part of the florets on each of the pieces were blackened, they were just blackened and not carbonized as I was worrying about.  The cauliflower itself was kind of toothsome as was the spaghetti.  The dish smelled strongly of capers (because there were a lot of capers in the dish.  The garlic sausage was garlicky as one might expect and the entire dish had a nice tangy and spicy flavor to it.

For my entree, I chose Prosciutto-Wrapped Monkfish which was served with Clams (In Shell) on top of Smashed Red Nordland Potatoes, and topped with Kale.  While monkfish are a really ugly fish (they are a type of anglerfish) they provide for a nice sized piece of meat that tastes really good.  The fact that it was wrapped in prosciutto just added to the pleasure of eating it.  I like clams but was caught a little off guard (even if I probably shouldn't have been) because most of the time when I have had clams, they have been breaded and fried.  It did take a little more work to get to them but it was worth it.  The smashed potatoes were well cooked and seasoned and added to the overall flavor of the dish and then there was the kale.  Kale is a leaf vegetable that frequently reminds me of spinach.  It has a lot of uses from salad greens to fried kale chips.  This was well seasoned and pan fried, although not enough for it to lose it's fresh crispiness.  I did expect some spiciness but I didn't expect the level of heat that was on the kale.  I asked about the kale's seasoning and was told such things as salt, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and a pinch of red pepper.  I actually think that more red pepper was added than was planned for.  While it was pretty spicy, it wasn't so spicy to me that it was made inedible.  Overall, it was a well seasoned and spicy dish that I did enjoy.

After the appetizer and entree, it was time for dessert.  Wave does their dessert menu a little differently than other restaurants.  While none of the items on the dessert menu was unusual in and of itself, how it was served was what made it different.  The desserts were served in what was called Sweet Bites.  For $8, you could choose three, for $10 for four desserts, and $12 for five.  While the idea of trying five desserts did cross my mind, I thought I would actually try to enjoy the desserts instead of becoming gorged by them and only ordered three.  I ordered a Ginger Creme Brulee, a Dark Chocolate Brownie topped with Vanilla Ice Cream, and a Panna Cotta with Espresso Gelee.  The desserts were served on a single plate that was garnished with chocolate syrup.  I decided that in order to taste the desserts properly, I would have to eat them one at a time, so I attacked them from left to right.  The Creme Brulee was done well.  The crust was nice and thick and provided a good crunch to the creamy custard below it.  The ginger provided a nice bit of spice as a counterpoint to what would have been simply a very sweet custard. While sweet is good making the tastes of a dish a little more complex is better.  Next came the brownie and I will admit that I love brownies.  This bite provided a little bit of comfort food between a couple of bites that were a little more exotic.  I like my brownie to tend to the fudge side (as opposed to the cake side) and this one hit the right point.  The outside was slightly crisp and the inside was very moist and chewy.  It was served warm underneath the cool vanilla ice cream and it was all covered with chocolate syrup.  My only complaint for this dish was that I wanted more.  My last dessert bite was the panna cotta with espresso gelee.  Panna cotta is another very simple and creamy custard that is nice on it's own but can be made so much better with the addition of something else, in this case espresso gelee, espresso that had been gelatinized.  This may have been my favorite dessert.  It came out in what looked like a water glass so you could see that it was layered.  The thin top layer was the espresso which, as you might expect, was like bittersweet coffee.  The next layer was the panna cotta followed by coffee, custard, another layer of coffee, and the bottom layer of custard.  It was all very good individually and together.  It was very creamy and if eaten together, it reminded me of a cool cappuccino.

After reading this, you would probably get the impression that I really liked this place and you would not be completely wrong.  The food was really good, the waiter was nice and helpful, and the place looked nice with a great view of Lake Michigan.  While I wouldn't mind coming back here.  The atmosphere, while not cold, didn't seem exceptionally welcoming.  It felt like what it was, a hotel restaurant.  While I might come back for the food, I won't be back for the atmosphere.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012


While Evanston really isn't that far from Chicago, in fact it is an immediate suburb, because of the layout of roads and highways, it does take some planning to get there if you aren't going to be driving there.  There are several nice restaurants at a variety of price points.  I was going to be coming to Evanston for reasons other than eating but as I was going to be there during dinner time, it made sense to eat there.  I had had a large meal earlier in the day so I was looking for something lighter.  A friend had mentioned Soulwich earlier and it sounded interesting so I decided to check it out.  Located on a street in downtown Evanston that presently doesn't have a lot of active business, it is easy to forget about. It's a small restaurant that's relatively easy to find.  The storefront is a window wall, the walls are white, and there is some Asian art hanging on the walls. There is a long bar along one side with tables on the other.  The tables are typical sandwich shop tables but in a variety of pastel colors.  The staff was very friendly and helpful.  Soulwich specializes in sandwiches and salads using Asian ingredients.  Sandwiches are generally not the first thing that come to mind when I think of Asian food but then I think of a Vietnamese Banh Mi and can see it.  Soulwich has eight sandwiches and three salads using a variety of Asian styles including Burmese, Thai, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Indonesian.  All of the sandwiches can be vegetarian, although depending on the sandwich, you can add beef, chicken, or pork.  Everything looked very good so it was a little tough to decide what I wanted.  I finally decided though, to go with the Burmese Coconut Curry Sandwich with Pork.  Aside from the pork, the sandwich came with Pickled Carrots, Cucumber, Chili Aioli, Cilantro, Burmese Coconut Curry, Onion, Raisin, and Coconut which is served on toasted, locally made artisanal bread.  The bread was like the best baguettes, crispy and crunchy crust, and a soft and fluffy interior with lots of air holes.  The carrots and cucumber were crispy and fresh.  The meat was very tender and the coconut curry mixed with the chili aioli was very sweet and spicy.  The sandwiches also came with a side.  You could either get housemade chips in original, wasabi, or Burmese flavor, or Asian slaw, which has no mayo.  As I had a Burmese flavored sandwich, I decided to go with the Burmese flavored chips which were very crunchy, salty, and a little spicy.  As far drinks were concerned, they have water, tea, lemonade, and ginger ale.  While I do like ginger ale, I grew up with Vernors so I think that most ginger ales is pretty bland.  The ginger ale served here is very strong and very good.

Suffice it to say that I liked everything about this.  The food was good, the people were friendly, and the space looked nice.  The variety of sandwiches was really interesting and appetizing and I will definitely have to return when I go to Evanston again.        

Friday, October 26, 2012

Big Jones - Brunch

I make a point of going to brunch every month and invite a bunch of people to come with me.  I don't expect everyone to join me and in fact, have had a different group of friends join me every month.  This month, we went to Big Jones, a restaurant that specializes in Southern food.  Located in Andersonville around a wide variety of other restaurants, it is in an area that draws a lot of foot traffic and deservedly so.  The restaurant is small, seating about 50.  The host station is on the left as you enter the restaurant.  There is a bar on the right side of the restaurant (looking into the restaurant from the front) and seating on the left.  There are a few tables on the right in the back beyond the bar.  This is where we sat.  We ordered, and while we were waiting were brought some beignets.  These were great.  They were very light and airy and covered with powdered sugar.  I imagine that if it wasn't covered with powdered sugar it would also be very flaky.

For starters, I started with Tête De Cochon Cajun-Style otherwise known as Hog's Head Pâté with Brandy and Peppercorns.  It was served with Pickled Red Onions, Bourbon and Brown Sugar Mustard, and Rye Bread.  I do like pâté but this was a little different than the pâté that I have had previously.  Most have a uniform texture and are pretty smooth.  This was pretty chunky with pieces of meat actually visible in the patty.  It was spicy and had a sharp taste but it was really good and went great with the mustard and red onions on the rye bread as an open faced sandwich.

There were many things on the menu that really looked interesting and it did take me some time to decide on what I might be interested in eating but I finally decided on something.  I ended up getting the Shrimp and Grits.  This was kind of a risky move for me because I have had Shrimp and Grits at Hot Chocolate Restaurant which set a very high bar.  I like Shrimp and Grits so I decided to try it out.  With this, the shrimp were gulf jumbo shrimp served in a Tasso Ham Gravy seasoned with Worcestershire Sauce and the grits were cheese grits.  It wasn't quite as good as the shrimp and grits at Hot Chocolate but they did taste very good and I didn't regret ordering it. 

After everything, I was very satisfied with my brunch.  It was very good, and I would really like to come back to try more of the menu.  I would also be happy to come back for dinner some time.   

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Skinnie Piggy

While I do like cupcakes, I did question getting a dozen since I live by myself and had no plans of visiting anyone anytime soon.  I did however have a gift certificate for a dozen cupcakes from Skinnie Piggy that was going to expire so I decided to take the dive.  I was asked, when I mentioned that I had a dozen cupcakes, how I was going to eat them all and I simply replied, "One at a time" which is how I have attacked them.  I actually had to order the cupcakes several days in advance in order to ensure that I was able to get the full variety of cupcakes that they offered for a given day.  While they offer a few standard cupcakes every day, they offer a changing variety three times a week.  When I got there, I was given a couple of boxes with six cupcakes each.  The box contained mostly the regulars (4 regulars and 2 specials) and the second box contained mostly specials (4 regulars and 2 specials).  I thought I would start with the first box whic contained Vanilla, Lemon Drop, Everything Nice, Birthday Cake, Salted Caramel, and Chocolate.  Vanilla and Chocolate were as you might expect:  Vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting and chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting.  While all cupcakes are good, I found the Vanilla to be the least interesting.  Birthday Cake was simply a vanilla cupcake with rainbow sprinkles and was also pretty boring (for a cupcake).  Salted Caramel was used a vanilla cupcake but with salted caramel frosting it was very definitely elevated.  The Lemon Drop was a lemon cupcake with lemon buttercream and topped with a candied lemon zest.  It was nice and tart and very good.  The most interesting cupcake in this box though was Everything Nice (as in Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice, that's what little girls are made of.  I will guess that it started as a vanilla cupcake but when it was done, it was removed from it's wrapper and rolled in sugar and cinnamon.  It seemed to have a bit of a crust under the sugar and cinnamon.  I am going to guess that it was formed by the sugar melting on the warm cupcake.

While the first box was good, the more adventurous stuff was in the second box.  In it we had Macon, Evil Twin, Red Velvet, Strawberry, Nanners, and Chocolate Express.  Some of the names of the cupcakes in the second box are obvious but there are some that require explanation.  With Macon, I might have also called it an Elvis.  It is a peanut butter cupcake filled with chocolate ganache, topped with brown sugar buttercream frosting and topped with a piece of candied bacon.  Add some marshmallow cream and banana and it would definitely have to be called an Elvis.  In any case, it was good.  The bacon, being sweet, didn't offer a huge contrast to the cupcake but it did contribute positively.  The Evil Twin was probably my favorite cupcake.  It was a chocolate cupcake topped with chocolate chip cheesecake and with cream cheese frosting.  It was sweet and chocolatey but also had a nice tang from the cheesecake and cream cheese frosting.  Red Velvet and Strawberry were what they sounded like although the Strawberry cupcake does have strawberries embedded in the buttercream.  The Nanners, while it did sound good, I wasn't terribly impressed.  It was a banana cupcake with chocolate buttercream frosting.  The frosting was nice but the cake itself was a bit dense.  The Chocolate Express was also a very good cupcake.  It was a chocolate cupcake filled topped with espresso cream with Nutella cream cheese frosting and topped with  hazelnuts.

While Skinnie Piggy does not make the absolute best cupcakes that I have ever had, but they are cupcakes and are good.  I would buy these cupcakes again without thought.  Even if they do have a few cupcakes that I may not choose again, they definitely have many that are very good.  


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bread & Wine - Brunch

I enjoy meeting friends for brunch and their are a lot of places in the city where to have brunch.  As the friends that I generally dine with think that I am an expert on good restaurants so they leave it to me to choose a nice place.  I like to bounce around and try different places in different neighborhoods so this month we went to Bread & Wine in Old Irving Park.  While it is located on Irving Park Road, it's a few blocks away from other restaurants in the neighborhoods.  It is located in a former laundromat so the building is a single floor with a front window wall and it's own parking lot, a rarity in the city.  The dining room has a very open floor plan with tables on the right side of the dining room and two long counters, one around the bar and the other in front of the open kitchen.  The left side of the room has wine and beer, and a selection of specialty products like Vosges Chocolate and Terry's Toffee for sale.  There is a 10% discount on market purchases on the same day that you dine.  For brunch, I sat at the bar where I had a good view of the rest of the restaurant.  There were many things on the menu that looked really appetizing but I decided to start out with Cured Pork Belly, a Crispy Poached Egg, Cheddar Grits, and Fresno Chili Hot Sauce.  There was also a lettuce garnish.  Bacon is cured pork belly so this was prepared the same way as bacon but it was served as a steak cut.  I have to say that I really liked bacon steak.  The egg was interesting.  I liked it but it did puzzle me a little.  Poached eggs are not crispy.  I have to think that it had to have been fried to finish it.  The cheddar grits were as one might expect of grits with cheddar cheese and the spicy and tangy Fresno Chili Sauce went well with everything.

While this was very good and I could have stopped here, I decided to go for a brunch dessert.  There were a couple of things that sounded interesting but I had to go with something that to me was potentially a little challenging.  I had the Salted Caramel Popcorn Panna Cotta.  The dish arrived in a small mason jar.  The panna cotta was on the bottom and was topped with the caramel sauce.  The popcorn was also caramel coated and topped off the jar.  The dish was very pretty and looked very appetizing.  As I have said before, I am not a huge fan of popcorn.  I can appreciate how it can contribute visually to a dish but generally do not care for it texturally.  In this case though, the crunchiness of the popcorn was the perfect complement to the creaminess of the panna cotta.  And what's not to like about salted caramel?  It was a great dish.

I really enjoyed brunch here and will definitely be back.  The food was very good and the staff was friendly.  There are many things on the menu that look appetizing that I will have to be back for.  I will also have to come back some time for dinner.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Letizia's Fiore

I first encountered Letizia Sorano several years ago when she opened an Italian Bakery and Coffee House in Wicker Park, Letizia's Natural Bakery.  I will grant that Italian pastries are not as elaborate or ornate as French pastries but they are very fresh and good and go well with a dark Italian roasted coffee.  Over time, they added paninis and eventually opened a restaurant and wine bar, Enoteca Roma, next to the bakery.  I was very excited when I heard that she was opening up a restaurant and wine bar in my neighborhood.  It took a while but after about two years, Letizia's Fiore finally opened and while it has been over a year since it has opened, I finally made it here for dinner recently.  The building is two stories with a stucco exterior and a painting of purple flowers on the front and side walls.  There are two exterior dining areas, a small area in the front with a few tables and a much larger area along the side of the building.  Entering the building, you will first encounter the wine bar.  There is a bar on one side of the room with a wine rack and a brick oven behind it.  There is seating at the bar and at a few tables in the room.  The dining room is a large room beyond the bar.  I wasn't looking for anything fancy so I sat at a small table in the bar and listened to the light 70's rock that played in the background.  As this was a wine bar, I was going to drink some wine, and as you might expect, as it was an Italian wine bar, the wines that it featured were from Italy.  It was pretty cool though, for the list, they had a map of Italy and there was a wine from every region.  While I am not a wine expert in any stretch of the imagination, I am familiar with a few wines and know a few styles that I like.  I had had and liked Sicilian wine before and as I was planning on ordering some Sicilian food, I thought it would match well.  For my wine I ordered a Caruso & Minini Inzolia 2009, which was crisp and a little tart.  For my food I had to go with the Arancini.  Ever since I first heard of Arancini, I have had to order them when I see them on a menu.  What they are are stuffed and deep fried risotto balls.  I had heard many good things about the arancini here, so I had to order it.  I had a choice of Italian Sausage or Spinach and Mushroom.  I thought the spinach and mushroom would go better with the wine so that is what I ordered.  As you can see, three arancini were served with marinara sauce and a little cheese.  They were crisp and browned on the outside, but the risotto on the inside was slightly green (from the spinach) and very tender.  It was also stuffed with mushrooms and mozzarella.  It was very good even if a little tricky to eat.  I essentially had to split it open and fork it from the inside out.  The arancini are a definite win and I will definitely order them again.

For my main course, I was a little torn because there were several things that really looked good.  I figured though that since this place is a pizzeria that makes Neapolitan Pizzas, that would probably be the way to go.  I ordered a Rucola Pizza which started with Arugula (hence the name), sliced cherry tomatoes, Limoncello Dressing, and shaved Parmagiano.  I also added Speck (cold smoked prosciutto) because while it did sound good to me as it was.  I did want something a little more substantial than a salad on flat bread.  I will say that I thought that the individual ingredients were very good.  It was difficult though, to have a bite that contained everything though because there was nothing that was holding it together.

I would have liked to have shown a picture of my dessert because it was a thing of beauty but my phone decided it was time to conk out on me so I was unable to get one.  I got a slice of Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cake.  It was very dark and had a thick topping of ganache on top.  It was topped with chocolate syrup and the plate was dusted with cocoa powder.  It was dense and bittersweet, and while visually it was not obvious that it was a raspberry cake, you could taste raspberries in every bite.  As I said, it looked beautiful but I think it may have tasted even better than it looked.

I really liked Letizia's Fiore and will definitely be back.  The food was very good, I will definitely have to have more arancini, the staff was friendly, and I do think it would be a nice place to learn more about Italian wines that you might want to become more familiar with.


Sunday, September 16, 2012


In the Chicago area, most people will start their Asian food experience with Chinese food.  If they are a little more adventurous, they may then try Japanese or Thai.  If you want to delve any deeper than that, you may need to do a little digging.  While there is China town for Chinese food, Chinese cuisine is ubiquitous enough that you don't have to go to Chinatown to have it.  The same is true for Japanese and Thai restaurants.  this cannot be said however, for Vietnamese or Korean restaurants and in order to dine at a Vietnamese or Korean restaurant, you really have to go to specific neighborhoods.  I knew of the Asian populations around Uptown but I just recently discovered a Korean population in West Ridge which is on the far north side of the city.  I had a craving for Korean food and and traveling to West Ridge was easier to travel to after work than is Uptown, so I did some looking and discovered Solga, a Korean Barbecue where I dined this week.  While the building is large, it really doesn't look like much.  It's a large, single-story, free-standing building with a parking lot that looks like it was built in the 70's.  The windows were all covered and while there is a door in the front, the entrance is actually in the back of the building and not really obvious.  From the look outside, I expected a very dark interior.  I was pleasantly surprised.  The entrance opened into a hallway, one direction leading to the dining room which was surprisingly bright.  The booths and tables are made of dark wood but the walls are white and are covered with Korean writing (printed).  The lighting was overhead and bright and there were also several hoods in the ceiling for grilling at the tables.  I was seated at a booth and made my order.  While I was waiting for my first course, I noticed that my only utensils consisted of chopsticks and a long handled spoon.  This was actually kind of an issue because when my appetizer arrived, I had no idea how to eat it. I ordered what was called a Kim Chee Jun.  What it was was a kim chee pancake that was cut into six pieces.  As I had no way to cut it, I decided that I was going to have to eat it with the chopsticks which was pretty awkward.  I ended up trying to grab it in the middle and wolfing down each piece quickly.  It was served with a small dish of soy sauce.  I tried the pancake with and without the soy sauce and it was good both ways.  As far as texture is concerned, it reminded me more of a frittata than a pancake.  It tasted however, like a tangy pancake.  Despite the fact that it was a little difficult to eat, it was good.

My main course actually arrived a little early.  It came while I was still trying to figure out how to eat the pancake.  I ordered Jae-Yook-Bok-Um which was thinly sliced pork loin and vegetables (onions, peppers, and carrots) stir-fried in a spicy sauce and topped with green onions and sesame seeds.  The plate came out sizzling and after it cooled off, it was much easier to eat than was the pancake.  The meat was tender, the vegetables were crisp, and it was all very spicy.  On the menu it also said that entrees would be served with a selection of side dishes.  Having been to a Korean restaurant before I had seen this before but I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed by what they brought out.

They brought out soup, eight sides, and a dish of purple rice.  The sides were all for the most part fairly simple but it did make for a huge meal.  Included among the sides were bean sprouts, pickles in a spicy sauce, kim chee, eggs, potatoes, broccoli, a different type of kim chee, and dumplings.  The sides were decidedly less spicy than the pork and the mild things like the bean sprouts, broccoli, and rice helped to soothe my palate so I could actually taste everything.  The restaurant didn't serve dessert, but that was fine because from the Asian desserts that I have had, I haven't been terribly impressed.  Asian cuisine (in general) doesn't seem to lend itself well to sweet.  It also didn't matter because after eating my main course and all of the sides, I saw that the ride home was going to be very uncomfortable.

I enjoyed my meal here.  It was a good value, it all tasted good, and despite the appearance from the outside, it was bright and welcoming on the inside.      

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


If I just want Cuban food, I can go to any number of restaurants in my neighborhood.  Many of these restaurants are also very good but I also like to see what else is out there and how different restaurants compare.  I went to Coobah recently which despite the name, is not specifically a Cuban restaurant.  While it does serve some Cuban-style food, it also does general Caribbean, Brazilian, and surprisingly, Filipino.  Located in Lakeview on the outskirts of Wrigleyville, I expected something pretty casual and it is in a manner of speaking.  It has a nice patio where you can relax in the sun.  The inside of the restaurant is done in weathered wood which did look nice but I was interested in the patio so that is where I sat.  The wait staff was friendly and pretty easy going, and the dress of most patrons there was pretty casual, but the presentation of the food was very definitely fine dining.  For my appetizer, I ordered seared scallops which came with fried plantains, fried yuca, guacamole, balsamic vinegar, and I think, some honey.  The presentation was very nice and it tasted really good.  The scallop had a nice sear and the yuca was crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside.  The sweetness of the plantains went well with the sweetness of the scallops.  Between the taste and presentation, it was a nice start.

My next piece of food art was called Pork Bicol.  What it was was Pork Tenderloin and Crispy Pork Belly, a Coconut Arancini (a fried coconut risotto ball), Pineapple-Bacon Chutney, Wilted Arugula, and Adobo Glaze.  The tenderloin and pork belly were cut in about equal size pieces but it was pretty easy to tell them apart by appearance.  The pork belly was rectangular and you could see the meat and fat layering  as you would in bacon.  While it was crispy, it was crispy to the point of being pretty dry.  This was probably the only fault in the dish.  The pineapple-bacon chutney was very good, the coconut arancini sounded a little weird but it was really good.  The outside was crisp, the risotto interior was creamy, and the coconut was sweet.  The arugula had a nice flavor to it and the adobo glaze was spread over everything and added a nice spice.

I then came to dessert.  I will admit there are a few things on a restaurant menu that I have a bias for and if I see them on a menu, I will be sure to order them.  One of these things is a cheesecake and the cheesecake on the menu sounded especially good so that is what I ordered.  When it came out, I knew that I had chosen correctly.  What I had was a Dulce de Leche Cheesecake with Salted Caramel, Filipino Sea Salt, and a Sliced Strawberry.  The cheesecake was dense and covered with dulce de leche and the flatbread that was stuck into the cake was light, crispy, and light layer of flaky salt.  It was all very good and it was gone quickly.

I liked my meal here even if there was a little bit of a juxtaposition between the look of the food and the feel of the restaurant.  Even with the very nice look of the food, this is a casual restaurant and it was fun.  If I want a nice casual restaurant with a Latin flavor, I know where I can go.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Wellfleet-The Fishguy Market

The Mayfair Area of Elston Avenue is largely an industrial area.   There is some residential but it is mostly  garages and construction businesses.  This is not an area you would think of for fresh seafood.  Just north of Montrose though, is a seafood market called The Fish Guy.   This market carries carries all manner of seafood including lobster, shrimp, scallops, oysters, and when I visited, langoustines as well as salmon, sturgeon, and other sea fish and sells to restaurants as well as walk-in buyers.  There is also a small cafe that will seat about 16 people between the counter and the tables located inside the market called Wellfleet.  The market (and cafe) are done in white tile and the table and counter tops are stainless steel.  There is also a skylight so between the white tile walls and floor and the stainless steel counter and table lights, they make good use of the available light.  The menu is small and is on a clipboard at every seat when you walk in.  There isn't a lot of description to the things on the menu but the kitchen is right behind the counter and the cooks and chef are very friendly (and right there) and encourage you to ask questions.  When you are ready to order, it's easy enough to order all at once or as you go.  The menu items are fairly simple so it doesn't talk an extensive amount of preparation after ordering and everything is right there so if you will not experience a significant wait if you order one course at a time.  I wasn't sure how much I wanted to eat when I came in so I only ordered a main course and a drink.  As I was waiting, they brought me an Amuse Bouche consisting of Salmon Tartare with a Garlic Lime Aioli.  It was a spoonful of awesome and I thought it boded well for the rest of my meal.  The salmon tasted very good and the aioli both held it together physically with it's creamy texture and complemented the flavors with the savory garlic and the sour of the lime.

For the course that I actually ordered, I ordered the Pan Fried Langoustines in a Garlic Butter Sauce.  I thought that I had had langoustines before and thought them similar to shrimp.  When I received them, I saw that they are a bit similar to shrimp but are more like small lobsters.  I also saw that I had never had them before and I really had no idea how to eat them.  They were served with a sliced lemon and a couple of slices of baguette to soak up the garlic butter sauce.  After the cooks saw me puzzling over how to get the meat, they quickly told me that the best way to get to it was to grab one and to split it along the back and the meat would come right out.  I tried it and while it was messy, it did work well.  The meat was very light, tender, and was slightly sweet.  The flavor actually reminded me more of crab than shrimp but it was really good.

After I fought my way through the langoustines and soaked up the garlic butter sauce, I decided that this had been very good and I should order a dessert.  They had a Tortuga Rum Cake on the menu so that's what I ordered.  A Tortuga Rum Cake is a bundt cake with bundt cake with walnuts that is soaked in Tortuga Rum.  It was sweet, dense, and slightly rum flavored although not overwhelmingly so.  The chef suggested having it with whipped cream but I decided to wave that off because I didn't want to be overwhelmed with the whipped cream and wanted to actually taste the cake.  I probably could have ordered a little on the side but I didn't think about it.  In retrospect, I do think it would have gone really well with whipped cream but it was good as it was.

Wellfleet-The Fish Guy is a small operation but they do some very good stuff.  It does surprise me that they are not located in the West Loop where there are a multitude of specialty food businesses and warehouses and fine dining restaurants but if they can do a good business in their location, good for them.  It is actually to my advantage that they are located where they are because I travel near their location frequently and would not have to make a special trip.  Admittedly, I don't cook a lot of specialty seafood but as it is close to a route I travel frequently, I do see myself stopping in again.          

Monday, August 27, 2012

Raj Darbar

While I said in my previous post that many Indian restaurants could be found on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park, there are a few others spread around the city. I visited Raj Darbar, which means The Royal Court and is located on Halsted St. in Lincoln Park.  It has taken me a while, but I have grown to like Indian food.  Because the flavors are very different, it has taken me a while to get a handle on it.  There are a lot of bars and restaurants on the section of Halsted where Raj Darbar is located so, unless you know exactly where you are going, it is easy to miss.  The awning is marked but there is no sign as such.  I managed to pass it without noticing and I did know the address so I had to go back.  When I did find the place, I was seated quickly and given a menu.  The menu is large and the prices are surprisingly affordable.  There was also a good wine selection but I decided to go with a traditional Indian drink, the Mango Lassi which is a sweet, mango-flavored, yogurt drink.  I looked, at the appetizers and while they did have samosas which I really like, I decided to go in a different direction and got what was called a Jheenga Til Tinka.  These were shrimp that are marinated in yogurt, lemon juice, and paprika, skewered, and deep fried.  The skewers were served with onion slices.  The crust on this was solid and very crispy but the shrimp was tender and the flavor was flavorful and slightly spicy.  It was very good and as an appetizer is supposed to do, set me up for the main course.

When the main course arrived, I knew that there was no way I was going to finish it but I would give it a try.  I got what was called the Darbar Special which was a combo plate that had a wide selection of Indian dishes.  It was actually served on four dishes and plates.  It started with chicken curry and rice in separate dishes, continued with a sizzling griddle topped with Tandoori Shrimp, Tandoori Chicken Tikka, and Boti (Lamb) Kebab, and finished with some very good and fluffy Naan.  It was all very good, kind of spicy, and more than I could eat.  I ate well, but I did leave enough room for dessert.

With the dessert, I had no idea of what I was getting.  I saw that the desserts were listed on the menu but I generally don't look at the desserts until I have my main course.  I saw that there were four desserts and there were a few kulfi, which is an Indian Ice Cream type dessert.  While it is good, I decided to go in a different direction (again) and ordered something where I had no idea what I was going to get.  It was called Galub Jamun and while I was told it was deep fried milk balls, I had no idea what that meant.  What I received was a bowl with a clear liquid in which sat 3 round and very smooth balls.  The balls were very light and spongy and had a sweet flavor.  What I have to guess is that the balls were sponge cake that had been soaked in evaporated milk.  The balls were very good but the liquid in which they sat seemed to be a simple syrup and was really not that exciting.  It was good but I am not sure if I would order it again.

While the food was good here and there was a lot, the restaurant really needed more waiters.  My waiter was friendly and very good, he was just too busy to provide attentive service.  While the food is good, Indian food is really a change of pace cuisine so i probably won't be returning soon.