Saturday, April 28, 2012

Badhappy Poutine Shop

Depending on who you talk to, poutine is either Canadian or strictly Quebecois street food.  In its simplest form, it consists of french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.  It is considered low end food and very much a guilty pleasure.  There have been a few places in Chicago that have been serving higher end poutines (including elk or boar ragout or pulled pork) and those people that have tried it generally like the tasty mess that it is.  Recently, Badhappy Poutine Shop, a restaurant specializing in poutine opened up in the Gold Coast of Chicago.  On the menu are 8 different poutines, besides a couple of burgers, 2 salads and frites.  They also have a couple of very good milkshakes; a chocolate peanut butter and a birthday cake.  While it isn't open late, you can stop by for lunch or dinner.  The menu is the same for both but on Sunday, they become a BYOV (bring your own vodka) brunch place and if you bring the vodka, they will supply the bloody Mary mix. I took the day off a few days ago and stopped by for lunch. The restaurant is small and is located in kind of a backwater area (for River North or the Gold Coast).  It is located on the edge of what used to be the location of one of the most notorious housing projects in the city (Cabrini-Green).  The dining area is black with a bar that you can sit at dividing the open kitchen and a few tables that will seat about 30 people.  When you walk in there is a rack of menus on which you write your name and make your choices.  You then hand it to the waitress, find a seat, and wait for your food.  I was told by a friend that I wanted to order a shake so I got the chocolate peanut butter shake.  I also ordered a Filbert's Ginger Ale because I knew that a shake wasn't going to quench my thirst.  I had never had Filbert's soda before despite the fact that it is a Chicago company and I've been here for 15 years but it was pretty good.  It had a strong ginger flavor kind of similar to Vernor's Ginger Ale and very unlike Schweppes or Canada Dry.  The shake was very good. with a cup lined with peanut butter, filled with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, and topped with chocolate cookies and whipped cream.  It was very good but not ggood enough to make me ignore the poutine I ordered.

A friend of mine nicknamed the poutine that I ordered the Clint Eastwood.  The actual name was The Good, the Bad, and the Happy and was the top of the line of the poutines served at Badhappy.  It came with a $2 premium.  In addition to the fries, it came with Fromage Beaucronne, the Quebecois version of cheddar cheese, Pork Belly, Braised Veal Cheeks, Truffle Mayo, Foie Gras Mousse and Gravy, and a Sunny Side Up Egg.  This tasted as good as it was decadent.  It had a wide variety of flavors that all went together well and it was very filling.

Badhappy does poutine well and there is enough variety in the poutines to get me coming back several times.  The restaurant is very low key but it doesn't matter because poutine is not fine dining.  I will definitely be back several times because there are many more poutines to try.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


If it isn't already obvious through looking at my posts, I have to admit that I have a bias for French food.  Having said that, I first encountered Chef Martial Noguier as the first Executive Chef of the late lamented one sixtyblue where while he was more or less doing American food, he was very much an advocate of eating seasonally.  After leaving one sixtyblue, he went to Cafe des Architectes where he served modern takes on classic French fare in a modern space.  Last year he opened his own space, Bistronomic, a contraction of Bistro, gastromy, and economic where he serves modern takes on classic and seasonal bistro fare and does it relatively affordably.  The space is obviously a bistro with dark wood furniture and floors, a small bar at one end and tan walls and ceiling.  The hanging lights are of a modern design.  The four lights are large and round with white around the outside circumference and brown on the bottom.  On one side wall, there are large mirrors which open up the room and on the other there is a half wall opening to another dining room with red walls and classic looking black and white photographs of people and city life.  When I came for a weekend lunch, there were a few people here but it was by no means busy.  I was seated in one corner of the dining room next to a mirror which gave me a good look of the dining area from several vantage points.  Looking at the menu, I saw several things that sounded really good.  I decided to start with something that was classically French and continue with something that I have liked since the first time I tried it in France over 20 years ago.  I started with a Chicken Liver Mousse that was served with Dijon Mustard, Baguette Croutons, a salad that had hazelnuts, apples, arugula, fennel, and a nice vinaigrette, and some very nice and tart Cornichons ( baby gherkins) served on a piece of slate.  This isn't nearly as unappetizing as some people might think and as a matter of fact, it tastes very good.  The mousse was very creamy and had a light flavor.  The way that you eat it is to take a crouton, spread it with a little mustard, add a little mousse and topped with the greens.  It's like a small open-faced liverwurst sandwich although not as strong.  I actually ran out of croutons before I ran out of mousse but my waitress was nice enough to bring me more (without my even asking).  It was a good start and it got me ready for my main course.

As I was having lunch, I decided to go with a sandwich that is served all over the place in cities throughout France.  I ordered a Croque Madame which is a Croque Monsieur with an egg.  What is a Croque Monsieur?  It is very simply, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich.  Typically, the bread used is also egg soaked but that isn't an absolute necessity.  My Croque Madame was served with fries so I thought there was no reason to order a side, especially after starting with the Chicken Liver Mousse.  The first thing that I thought when I saw this thing was that it was enormous and I was wondering whether I would be able to finish this.  The second thing that I thought was that I was glad that I had silverware because there was no way that I was going to be able to eat this with my hands.  I decided to start with the fries to clear the crock that everything was served in somewhat so I would have some room to work on the sandwich.  I first tried a fry by itself so I could taste how it was before drowning the flavor in ketchup.  The fries were very crisp and I would be willing to bet that they were double fried to achieve a crispy exterior and a soft interior.  They had the right amount of salt and a distinct truffle flavor.  I did ask and found that truffle oil was added.  I then tried the ketchup and discovered that this was not Your Mother's Heinz Ketchup.  It was a house made ketchup with a distinct spiciness to it.  I knew that I liked the food that came out of this chef's kitchens but this just made me anticipate the sandwich that much more.  The bread the sandwich was built between was very thick, like Texas Toast.  It was egg-soaked like French toast before being grilled.  The ham was Neuske's, which is a gourmet pork farm, and was nicely salted and a little more "hammy" than your typical grocery store ham.  The cheese was a white cheese called Pleasant Ridge Reserve which is an artisanal cheese produced in Dodgeville, Wisconsin in the winter and is similar to Gruyere.  The sandwich also had a very nice bĂ©arnaise sauce added.  The egg, another layer of cheese, and lettuce topped off the sandwich.  I am not sure if it would have been easier to eat the sandwich if the egg, lettuce, and additional cheese had been between the bread but with the way it was it at least convinced me that I didn't want to try to eat it with my hands because I knew that I would probably wear as much as I ate.  I used a knife and fork to eat it and really enjoyed it, or at least as much as I could eat there.  It was so big that I ended up taking half of it home and enjoying it for dinner.

I really enjoyed my lunch here.  The space is very nice looking, the food was very good, and the service was exceptional.  In addition to my waitress who was very attentive with a smile without hovering, Chef Noguier walked through the dining area as is his habit to see how the customers were enjoying their meals.  I think it's a very classy move besides being a good PR move.  I will definitely be back.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Magnolia Cafe

A bistro has a certain look about it and Magnolia Cafe really looks like a bistro.  It is a small, cozy restaurant with a bar along one side, hanging lights, and simple decoration.  The walls are in shades of brown which I wouldn't normally expect from a bistro or a restaurant named the Magnolia Cafe for that matter although it is simple and does look nice.  The bar and furniture are wood and go with the brown walls.  The menu for a typical bistro is fairly simple as well usually consisting of three or four appetizers, a few salads, and for the entrees a chicken, a pork, a beef, a fish, a pasta, and possibly a vegetarian dish.  While Magnolia Cafe does have a small menu (although a bit larger than your typical bistro menu), it is very definitely not what one would think of when thinking about a bistro menu.  It has many of the typicals that you would find on a bistro menu but they are done more in the way of comfort food than as a bistro.  While it is good, it is also a bit heavier than you would expect from bistro fare.  I went on a Friday night and the place was pretty busy which I took to be a good sign because Fridays and Saturdays are usually the busiest times for a restaurant.  I ended up eating at the bar which was fine because it gave me a good view of the restaurant and the way things flowed and I could see how others might be enjoying their food.  While I was there, things seemed to flow very efficiently and people seemed to be enjoying their dinners.  When my order came, I could see what I thought.  While my appetizer sounded a little unusual to me, it also sounded very good.  I got Pulled Pork Raviolis with Wild Mushrooms, Shaved Manchego Cheese, and Peas in a Porcini Mushroom Sauce.  For an appetizer, the serving size was surprisingly big.  I had never had, or even heard of for that matter, pulled pork being used in ravioli although I suppose it doesn't really matter what you put into the ravioli shells and pulled pork is well liked.  The wild mushrooms seemed mostly to be trumpet mushrooms and were very good.  The mushrooms and sauce brought an earthiness to the dish which went well with the pulled pork raviolis.  As all of the ingredients were rather strongly flavored so any cheese used would also have to be strong but not necessarily sharp so as not to get lost and to contribute positively to the flavor.  Manchego cheese has a pungent flavor that went well with the mushrooms and the raviolis.  It was a good start even if it was pretty big and heavy.

After the heavy appetizer, I knew that I was going to be in trouble by the end of the meal but I didn't let up with my entree.  I had a feeling when ordering it that it was going to be heavy but it looked very good so it had to be ordered.  I ordered a Braised Beef Short Rib with Bacon and Cheddar Mac 'n' Cheese, Onion Rings, Sauteed Spinach, and a Red Wine Reduction Sauce.  This was very good.  The short rib was fork tender, the spinach was still crisp, and how can you go wrong with bacon and cheddar mac and cheese?  The cheese was creamy, it had a lot of very good crumbled bacon and the pasta used was orecchiete which captured more of the cheese sauce than would normal macaroni.  The red wine reduction infused the meat with flavor and while the large onion rings were effectively not much more than a garnish, they were not forgotten.  The coating was crunchy, the onions were moist, and they tasted very good.

After the pulled pork ravioli appetizer and the braised short rib with mac and cheese for my entree, I could very well have finished there.  I did however want to look at the dessert menu and looking is my downfall.  On the dessert menu was one of my favorite desserts, Creme Brulee.  It was served with fresh raspberries and a Vanilla Financier.  Now I am a little bit of a creme brulee connoisseur.  A good creme brulee has to have a good crispy crust over the custard and it takes a little bit of a tap to crack it.  This had a substantial crust with a slight burnt sugar flavor and a nice very creamy custard.  The berries were very fresh and seemed to be at the height of freshness.  I really liked the creme brulee; so much so that to me, the financier was kind of an afterthought.  It wasn't bad, it just didn't excite me.  While the creme brulee was a good finish to a good tasting meal, I did end up leaving the restaurant pretty full.

I liked my dinner here.  The room was cozy, the service was friendly and prompt, and the food was good.  I will know however on a future visit here that the serving sizes are on the large size so unless I am ravenous, I should pay attention to what I order if I don't want to leave waddling.   

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Going to the symphony is a special occasion and people will obviously dress very nicely. It also makes sense that if you are going to be going out, dinner might be included. Rhapsody is located in the Symphony Hall building so a lot of their business is the symphony crowd. Rhapsody actually looks like part of Symphony Hall itself. The ceiling is high and domed and the dining room that I ate in was very big (about 150 people). There is banquette seating along two sides as well as several four tops and round tables. The outside walls are window walls with a curved ribbon design in each window that to me looks like a visualization of music flow and the lights are like modern chandeliers. It is a very elegant, ornate, and classic design that really fits in with the design of Symphony Hall. I was a little surprised though, that the music being played was light rock. When I arrived the room was pretty full, but I was seated pretty quickly. As I looked around, I noticed that all of the men there were wearing suits. While I was dressed nicely, I did feel profoundly underdressed although none of the staff treated me any less well than anyone else. While I did feel uncomfortable when I sat, people quickly began clearing out shortly after which made me realize that they were there going to the symphony. I ordered my dinner and we began. My appetizer was a Grilled Smoked Prosciutto-Wrapped Shrimp with a Chick Pea Puree, Calabrian Peppers, and Mint. The shrimp was served in a pile with alternating head and tail. The prosciutto was wrapped around the middle of each scrimp and the were served tail on. The top shrimp also had it's head. The chick pea puree tasted like a finely ground hummus and the pepper provided a little heat. While it tasted good, I do feel a little uncomfortable eating shell on shrimp because it's difficult to eat without using your fingers. By the time the appetizer arrived, the dining room was almost empty so I was able to finish the shrimp with my fingers without offending anyone though I did feel a little uncomfortable doing it.My entree was a Slagel Farms Pork Chop. It was served with ramps, potatoes, peppers, and a natural jus. It was very good. It was flavorful, tender, and very juicy. While both dishes I had had so far were good, I enjoyed this much more than I enjoyed the shrimp because it was much easier to eat. I did take my time with this to enjoy it but I was excited to get to my dessert.
Dessert was a Tortufo. This is a flourless chocolate cake served warm with cocoa nibs, a white chocolate vanilla sorbet, and Amarena Cherries. This was a very pretty dish. I was not sure at first where I wanted to start but it didn't actually really matter because all of the parts tasted really good individually or together.

While I enjoyed my meal, the service was very good, and I liked the look of the space, I am not sure that I will return unless I am also going to the symphony. While I did enjoy the restaurant and food, I was uncomfortable when I arrived and I am not sure that I would want to wear a suit to dinner unless it was a very special occasion.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Yuki Hana

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I like sushi and some friends of mine decided to go see a documentary about the most famous sushi chef in Tokyo and then go out for sushi afterward. The documentary was very good and made us all very hungry for sushi. The problem is that Jiro Ono, the subject of the documentary, is also a Michelin three star chef (the oldest anywhere) and the sushi that he makes are works of art. Any sushi we would have just could not stand up to the sushi that the sushi that he makes. While there are some fancy sushi places in Chicago, Yuki Hana is not one of them. It is a small BYOB with a simple storefront design and not a lot spent on decor. While it is simple, it also seemed pretty popular and we had to wait a few minutes for a table to open up so we could sit down. The menu seems to be pretty wide and varied with the standard fish that you would see on a sushi menu and maki rolls divided into standard, vegetarian, and VIP. After the movie, I was hungry so I ordered a VIP maki (which are all named after movies) and several nigiri (a single type of fish served with enough rice to give it some shape). They both arrived at the same time so I attacked the maki first. The maki that I had was called Clock Work Orange. I am not exactly sure what it had in it other than the rice and seaweed that comes with all maki. It had a slice of orange on each roll with a slight bit of hot sauce on top that I imagine was as much for color as it was for spice. The fish was light colored and mild flavored, there was a white sauce around spread around the plate, and black sesame seeds used as a garnish. It was creative and flavorful even if it wasn't the sushi that was filmed in Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
While tuna is generally the biggest seller in most sushi restaurants, to me, if the fish itself is fresh, there doesn't seem to be a tremendous difference from restaurant to restaurant so I tend to go for something different. While the nigiri is a little cheaper here than at other places, you only get two pieces of a given type as opposed to three or four that are offered at other restaurants. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, because it allows you to try a variety of different things. I ordered the Tako (octopus), Kani (crab), and Tai (red snapper) all of which were pretty good. The octopus was a little surprising in its appearance and texture, I was kind of expecting to recognize it as part of an octopus but it was served skin side down. The crab and snapper looked and tasted as I would have expected them to.

Despite our disappointment, I would go back to Yuki Hana because our disappointment was self inflicted. While it isn't exceptionally high end, it is good for an average night and can be fun with friends.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


In general, I would not recommend a restaurant located in a hotel. There are exceptions, but a hotel restaurant, having to serve three meals a day for a wide variety of patrons, will have to generalize. When you are located in a boutique hotel aiming for a niche audience it is easier to focus your cuisine. Elate, located in LEED certified boutique Hotel Felix has been on my radar since it opened but when an opportunity to come out for brunch availed itself, I dived in. The dining area is laid out like a lounge. The space is very open and high ceilinged with window walls on two sides. The ceilings are unfinished and have an industrial look about them with big, black iron I-beams in the overhead with hanging lights also made of black iron and having a kind of unfinished, industrial look. There was a hostess station at the entrance and a big, heavy looking wood bar behind that ran most of the length of the dining room. The center of the room was divided by banquette seating on three sides which is covered with black leather. The tables used by the banquettes are wooden black two tops which can be pushed together for larger parties and there are several larger round six top tables outside the area surrounded by the banquettes. I was by myself so I got a two top and sat at at one of the very comfortable banquettes looking out on the street. I looked at the menu and saw many things that interested me. I decided to start with something at least slightly healthy because whatever I was going to have after was decidedly not going to be. I got a bowl of mixed berries which were really good. It contained strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and some blueberries. The presentation was simple and it didn't seem to have any extra sugar sprinkled on it which was fine because I thought that the fruit was good enough and could stand on it's own. It tasted very fresh and the strawberries were slightly crisp. It was a very good start because what I decided on next was a bit on the decadent side.
While I have heard before of a breakfast pizza, I had never had one. I like pizza and with the ingredients offered on this pizza, it sounded like a home run so I ordered it. As one might expect for something labeled breakfast, it had a fried egg on it which was very good but it also had, smoked ham, caramelized onions, truffled potatoes, and aged gouda. This pizza was ridiculously good. All of the ingredients had very prominent flavors which went together very well. They also announced themselves with every bite. The aroma of truffles was immediate when the plate was served but the flavor while prominent, didn't overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. The most subtle of the ingredients were the caramelized onions but they were very tasty when they were bitten into. On top of that (or underneath it as it were) the crust was thin and very crisp and didn't crumble when bitten into or cut. It held together very well.

It was kind of funny to find another such good breakfast place so quickly after my last one, both of which feature seasonal and organic food. While they are both very good, they are decidedly different and there is very definitely room for both of them. I will have to return here sometime for dinner because the dinner menu also looks very appetizing and after the great breakfast here, I am sure that the dinner is at least as good.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


While Morocco is located in Africa, it is also considered part of the Arab world. Located on the northwest corner of Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar, it is the westernmost of Arab countries. There are a few standards in the realm of Arab cuisine that can be found in many Arab restaurants and while they can be found in the cuisine of Morocco, there are also many differences and I really enjoy it. It is actually a cross between European and Middle Eastern cuisine. I have been to Marrakech with friends previously and decided to go for dinner last week. Located below ground, it doesn't really have an obvious front although there is a sign. While the furniture isn't anything to write home about, there are a lot of hanging carpets, and Moroccan accessories. While the pieces, tablecloths, and wall hangings look nice individually, taken all together can lead to a little bit of overload. There is also a flag and a poster of President Obama hanging in the back of the restaurant. I came early and was actually the first person there. It was a little dark in the place and I didn't see anyone so I wasn't sure if it was open. The host came out and seated me and we got things started. People started arriving shortly after I was seated so I didn't feel so uncomfortable. I started out with some tea. It was very hot (as it should be) but was pretty good. It was full of mint and had a floral taste. While I am not normally a tea drinker, I did really like this.
I started my meal with a standard that I will order whenever I see it on a menu, hummus. While it is pretty simple, it is pretty good and I do like it. It was served with slices of pita. This version of hummus was pretty good and it ended up being the only dish that didn't serve phyllo dough. I had decided to try several things that I had never had but surprisingly all had phyllo dough.The first dish using phyllo were the shrimp briwat rolls. The menu called them Moroccan egg rolls and while they were crisp layered pastry shells filled with multiple ingredients, I don't know if I would exactly call them egg rolls. The rolls were triangular and were filled with shrimp, vermicelli, onions, and spices and wrapped in phyllo. They were served with lemon slices. Biting into it, the interior looked kind of dark and I wasn't sure with the spices, if I actually tasted any shrimp. I did stick my finger into in order to try the filling on it's own and saw that yes, there was shrimp in it. I have to guess that the coloration had to come from the spices. It was crisp and spicy and a pretty good start. I will grant that this wasn't exactly the start, but I will always start with hummus the point that I would almost consider that the bread plate.
The next dish actually kind of reminded me of a larger version of the briwat. I had a Fish Pastille. A fish pastille is round dish of fish, shrimp, mushroom, and vermicelli wrapped in phyllo dough. It was also served with lemon to squeeze on the pastry shell.While it wasn't as spicy as the briwat and you could taste the fish and mushrooms as well as the shrimp and vermicelli, it was very similar to the briwat. While it was good, if I had known the two dishes were so similar, I may have ordered something different in order to get some variety.The dessert I had can actually be found all over the Mediterranean and I really like it. I had a slice of baklava. Also wrapped in phyllo dough, this pastry dish includes honey, almonds, walnuts, cinnamon, and cloves. It was very good and left me wishing that I had been given a bigger piece.

I like Marrakech. The food is good and the owner is friendly. While I would have preferred some variety in my dishes, that was my own fault and I will know again when I have a craving for Moroccan food again. What I will say is that they could really do with another person working the dining room. The place does seem to be popular and at times, the host seemed to be trying to run in three different directions at once.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


A few of my friends that live on the north side of town occasionally get together for breakfast on Saturdays. One of these people, who lives in my neighborhood, suggested Jam, which is in our neighborhood but then became busy so I decided to make plans. Jam is a cash only BYOB establishment that doesn't take reservations but it has been lauded from many points so I decided that it might be a good idea to get there a little early to make sure that we wouldn't be standing for an hour before being seated. Amazingly it only took about 25 minutes to be seated from when I put my name in. Jam is a long narrow restaurant with a modern look with a bar on one side and a row of two tops that can be pushed together for larger parties. The seats are clear plastic with gray tops. The walls are white with gray trim and there are lights on the ceiling and walls. The lights on the wall had a glass design that cast a very ornate shadow on the wall. We were waited on very quickly after we were seated. After we received our drinks and made our orders, we received the only Amuse Bouche that I have received at a breakfast place. It was graham cracker with a fire-browned and house-made marshmallow and topped with a dollop of chocolate. It was a big surprise and very good. What's not to like about a smore? It was a great start and foreshadowing for the rest of the meal.
There were many things on the menu that really looked good and it was kind of difficult to decide what I was going to order so I ended up ordering multiple items. When we ordered, a few people ordered pastries but instead of bringing those people an individual pastry, they brought the table a selection of pastries. They brought a scone, a caramel sweet roll, and a muffin with whipped cream and berry preserves. I only had a small part of the scone but it was really good. It was nice and sweet and the outside had a nice crustiness to it. Everything looked really good but I had other things that I actually ordered that I wanted to eat.
The first thing that arrived for me was a Scotch Egg with a Tarragon Waffle and a Blueberry Compote. A Scotch Egg is normally a hard boiled egg that has been wrapped in sausage, breaded, and fried. In this case, while the egg was sausage wrapped, breaded and fried, it was a soft boiled egg. It didn't really matter though because it was really good. The sausage was slightly spicy, the arugula which garnished the dish was buttery and slightly peppery and the spicy waffle went well with everything. While there was a spiciness to everything, it actually went well with the blueberry compote. In the past, the Scotch eggs that I have had have been served with mustard. I think that mustard would have still worked in this case but the blueberry compote worked at least as well.
When I ordered, I decided that I wanted to try something sweet as well as something savory. I was very happy with the savory side, it was time to see how the sweet was. My other dish was a small order of Malted Custard French Toast with Macerated Cherries and Lime Leaf Whipped Cream with Pink Peppercorns. This was amazing and actually bigger than I expected. There was no maple syrup brought for the dish but there was no reason for any. The toast was both very fluffy and moist and the malted custard provided a sweetness to it. The macerated cherries were nice and tart and if there was more, I might have spread it across an entire pice of toast. The whipped cream was very surprising. I saw that there was something in the whipped cream but didn't remember what it was. The ground pink peppercorns looked like sprinkles that you might see on a sugar cookie and I didn't remember that there was anything else in it so it was a very big surprise with the peppery tartness. While the individual parts tasted really good, together, it was something else.

Breakfast was great. The service was fantastic and all of my friends were happy with the dishes that they ordered. Not only did things taste good, they looked equally good. I will definitely be back here and have no problem recommending it to any of my friends.