Here are some pics from my last dining experience at Alinea. It was awesome (as you may have guessed). If you want to know about a specific dish, comment and I’ll try to explain. (And yes, the edible balloon was filled with helium…. an explosion of giggles & laughter in the dining room during that course!) (Ok… just one more note: My favorite course was the percolated dashi poured over the scallop marshmallow. That’s all I’m gonna say.)
Archives for : Lincoln Park
People often ask me where I like to eat in Chicago. Here’s a quick list of my favorites (so far).
Go in what you’re wearing (Casual Joints)
One of my top two favorite restos in Chicago (with Avec). Amazing. Delicious. Amazing. Chef Abe cooks up food from the island of Macau which is a Chinese island that was colonized by Portugal until 1998. That means Cantonese flavors mixed with those of Portugal with other influences from Southeast Asia. Sounds strange, I know, but it’s the most natural thing for them. Trust me on this. Go ASAP.
So right on in every way! I heart Rick Bayless. The tortas (sandwiches) and caldos (soups) here are TDF (that’s, to die for)! I also hear that the breakfast empanadas kick ass and that the churros are fab. Haven’t had the pleasure of those two menu items, yet, but I can vouch for the hot chocolate. Amazing!
This is a great little hippy cafe in Logan Square. It’s tasty stuff, though much of it is quite decadent. Think: Duck confit benedict with truffle oil hollandaise. Yeah, you’ll be full for a while.
An awesome little ‘New Vietnamese’ place on Lake Street. It’s complex and interesting for such a cashe little place.
Latino influenced organic goodies in Pilsen. I brunched there once and loved it. I wish I had a place like this in my ‘hood.
This is real-deal Neapolitan pizza in Ravenswood. In my top 3 in the states (with Keste and Motorino, NYC).
Korean Tacos and other yummy Korean-ish stuff in a kinda crummy little hole-in-the-wall in Lincoln Park. Delicious!
The burger alone gets 3 Aces on the list. It’s ridiculously good. The rocker bar ambiance helps, too. It’s the kinda place you want to go for a whiskey and a fat, juicy burger.
An OLD school little creperie in Lakeview. It’s been around since 1972 for a reason. Honest, no-frills Frenchy stuff.
Simple and authentic Indian food in the West Loop.
Some seriously fun and tasty burgers with awesome brunch cocktails (including a build-your-own bloody bar).
Yuzu Sushi & Robata
A good and inexpensive little sushi joint on the semi-shady stretch of Chicago Ave. It’s BYOB and has a printed paper sign scotch taped to the window but the food is fab.
Publican Quality Meats
This is a little grocery/butcher shop/sandwich spot on Fulton Market in the West Loop. They’re curing their own everything and making amazingly delicious and creative sandwiches. While you’re at it, you can pick up a loaf of in -house made bread and artisan whatever-you-want. It’s a must.
Wear something cute (An Evening Out)
My #1 recommendation. Probably my all time favorite spot in the city. The food is so good and clean but interesting. A farm-to-table type place. Be prepared to wait, as they don’t accept reservations, and to sit with strangers since most of the seating is communal. Don’t worry… it’ll be worth it.
Maude’s Liquor Bar
This is probably the place I frequent the most often. It’s a small, dark little spot on Randolph St. It’s cool with pretty heavy French stuff (like cassoulet, frites, sausages, terrines). My faves are the chicken liver mousse, Brussels sprouts, shaved vegetable salad and braised lentils. Excellent craft cocktails, too!
La Sirena Clandestina
On Fulton Market across the street from Next & The Aviary, this ‘hidden’ spot serves fantastic Latin/South American inspired food. Delicious daily empanadas and tasty cocktails. (No reservations, walk-in only)
Fun and tasty. This is definitely a hot spot… but a valid one. Mostly Italian ingredients but not necessarily Italian food. There’s a lot of charcuterie and cheeses on the menu but also a ton of other stuff (except for pasta, which you won’t miss).
Girl and the Goat
Funky and wacky ingredient combos that you could never imagine yourself that turn out deliciously. She was the Top Chef season 4 winner and she’s definitely a bad bitch (in a good way) in the kitchen. It’s always packed so make a reservation reeeeaaaallly far in advance or walk in AT 5pm (if not before).
This is some delicious New American stuff in Bucktown. It can be a little heavy handed on the butter and oil but the flavor combos are really balanced and well prepared.
It’s been a while… All I can remember is that I loved it. The space was cool and swanky, and there was a 5:10 egg on something we ordered. I’m a sucker for a properly gooey egg.
Another Top Chef contestant who’s totally killin’ it in Chitown. Dale’s brunches are amazing so I can only imagine dinner to be the same. Plus, he’s the sweetest thing ever.
Delicious New American food in Lincoln Park. Their specialty is their roasted meat of the day that spins in the dining room while you consume other wonderful morsels. It’s a lot of decadence with a few lighter options.
This brother and sister team just got named one of Buon Appetit’s top 10 new restos of the year. It’s a tiny little BYO on Ashland in West Town. A lot of Asian influence but not completely. Really, really good stuff. (No reservations, walk-in only. Put your name in and go to Leopold for a drink.)
A super-happenin Asian place in River North. The space is huge and they have everything from sushi to glazed pork belly. It’s good stuff. The menu is large enough that you could go light or serious.
The best patio in the city. Plus, Tony makes everything by hand here and he doesn’t have a freezer in the entire resto (except for the gelato) which means that everything, including the pastas, are super fresh. Yum!
It’s out of the way but if you’re in the ‘burbs or want to get out of the city, it’s soooo worth it! French, Spanish and Italian all done with such balance and care. Wish it was closer to me!
This is a little place on Taylor St that does French/Italian/Spanish also. They have a wood burning oven that they do a lot of stuff in.
There’s been some disagreement over this place. I don’t know what happened to the people who claim to have had bad food here (and too bad for them) because everything I had was fabulous. The place is named after the estate where The Stones recorded Exile on Main St. Take it from there. Glitzy meets rock n roll with Italian and French Riviera food. Oh, and they had a flour mill built in their basement to grind 00 flour for the pizza. I highly recommend you try one!
I have to admit, I’ve only been here for brunch…. but it was so fab that I’m sure dinner is fantastic, too. It’s right across the street from Lincoln Park, which makes it perfect for brunch after you hit up Green City Market. Their menu is very market driven and he does a ton of canning and preserving to utilize produce in the winter that he’s purchased in season in the summer. It’s very clean food. I dig.
This is Takashi Yagahashi’s Japanese street food resto. It’s the best food on Hubbard street. Tons of noodle soups and grilled skewered things. The fried Brussels sprouts are to die for. I also LOVE ramen here. Unfortunately, they don’t take reservations so walk in early or be prepared to wait.
Break out your best heels (Fancy-Pants Places)
What’s to say. 3 michelin stars. Incredible. Whacky. Super expensive. An experience.
I’m shocked that this place is ranked 2 michelin stars when L20 is 3. Service, especially but also the food, are impeccable!
The restaurant in the Park Hyatt. It overlooks Michigan Ave and the water tower. I’m totally in love with the brunch here. I can’t imagine any other meal is too shabby here, either.
If, by the grace of God you can get tickets, DON’T PASS THEM UP! If, for some ungodly reason you can’t go, call me and I will!
The most elegant food you’ll ever eat in a warehouse. (Yes, you read that right.)
Curtis Duffy’s new spot on Randolph. Dine here once and you’ll see that he’s clearly shooting for 3 Michelin Stars. He might just get them, too!
Dinner at Alinea is probably the craziest meal I’ve ever had. Really. Throughout the evening, my awe was expressed in many ways: chair dancing, jaw to floor, moaning and groaning, and constant eye rolls of pleasure, just to name a few.
There’s no way I can come close to describing with any real accuracy the intricacies of this extraordinary experience so I hope you find my photos and commentaries at least entertaining.
Here are a few highlights:
The table’s centerpiece was a live garden. Yes, let’s start there. A LIVE garden, on a slab, dirt and all, center of the table. We were instructed not to do anything with it initially, but that it would come into play later in the meal. Understood.
First to arrive (that we were allowed to eat) was the steelhead roe with watermellon, kaffir lime and the cutest, teensiest, most delicate little cucumber with the blossom still attached. Adorable.
Then a fried morsel on a vanilla bean. It’s receptical was built specifically for the mad scientist, himself.
Then a massive seaweed platter holding 3 ‘sea’ items. First was an oyster leaf in an oyster shell with a mignonette. That’s right. There was actually no oyster at all. Just a leaf in a shell. Tricky.
Then a raw scallop with an ale and old bay foam. Increadibly more delicious than I can convey.
Then my first ever razor clam also with deliciousness too complicated to describe.
Next was this little stick. It was made from the skin that forms on the top of the ‘whey’ of tofu. They peeled it off and deep fried it, then wrapped it with a wonderfully sweet prawn, rolled it in sesame seeds and stuck it in a fancy aioli. Who thinks of this stuff?
Yes, Alinea is a true experience to behold. It is true culinary genius from a master mind.
The Short Version (Out of 10)…
Overall impression: 10
Would I go back?
Ummm… What do you think?
Last Monday I had the pleasure of attending the first ever Quickfire Challenge at Perennial Virant. It was totally fun. Thanks to the Dining Diva 312, I was one of 100 people to call within the first 2 hours of it’s availability in order to score 2 free tickets to the event. I have a sneaking suspicious that tickets are only going to become more difficult to come by in the future.
So here’s the synopsis: Chef Paul Virant of his new namesake Perennial Virant was matched with Chef Chris Pandel of the fabulous Bristol in a head to head competition mimicking the famed Quickfire challenges of Top Chef (kind of). Neither chef knew of the ingredients save for the Dietzler Farm beef loin. The competition differed from that of the Top Chef Quickfire in that the other ingredients were alternately selected by the chef from a center table. There was no gigantic pantry to scour nor was there over-laping of ingredients. Each chef chose only 5 ingredients (although some basics, oil, citrus, etc were provided for both).
It was definitely a weird spread of ingredients, I must say. It included things like margarita mix, quinoa, grapefruit, peanut butter, avocado, velveeta cheese and slab bacon, wonder bread and powdered ranch dressing mix, among other things. Huh? Who came up with these ingredients. Not really Top Chef quality, but interesting, none the less.
The event took place outside in front of the restaurant where two huge charcoal grills were set up along with one measley little gas burner.
Chef Virant chose some very unexpected ingredients: wonder bread, ranch powder, kale, velveeta, and PBR (yes, the crappy beer). What?! Isn’t this guy supposed to be all into the farm fresh goodness? Velveeta and ranch? Yikes!
Chef Pandel went for more “real food” ingredients including avocados, jalapenos, peanut butter, slab bacon and kimchi. A strange combo, I thought at first, but the vision soon became more clear.
Here they are cookin’ away…
(It was a beautiful summer night.)
Pandel even tried to plug a vitamix into the flower bed outlet without success. I think he ended up having to go into the kitchen to puree his peanut (butter) marinade for the meat.
The crowd watched over the happenings for the allotted 1 hour cooking time while sipping on a deliciously concocted tequila punch.
I scored a spot by one of the grills!
Nobody knew what to expect until the teams started plating their 100 tasting portions. Grilled wonder bread (sprinkled with ranch?) became the base for an open-face steak and cheese (& beer sauce) sandwich with sauteed kale.
On the other side, a kimchi/avocado mixture was placed underneath the the peanut marinated steak and spicy, jalapeno-grilled onions. Bacon bits, made by grilling and chopping the pork rind, were sprinkled on top.
Honestly, I can’t say that either dish was terribly successful, if the mission was to blow us away (the crowd/judges, that is). And I know I’m not the only one who thought this; I overheard others’ comments along the same lines.
The winning dish was that from Chris Pandel (immediately below).
Overall, I’d say that the event was more successful than the food, but it was super fun and I’d definitely attend again. The rumor is that they’re going to hold these competitions every month and that the next contender, who’s to take on the winning Bristol chef, is Stephanie Izard of yet another BOKA group restaurant, Girl and the Goat. Pandel’s got his work cut out for him with that one. My money’s on the Girl.
Update: It was so good, I took a camera crew back with me.
I could hardly wait to try Rustic House when I first read about it, and I didn’t. Wait, that is. I convinced a girlfriend of mine to try it out with me on the second day it was open. Risky, I know. But hey, I wanted to check it out and since I’m a restaurant person, I understand that there are kinks to be worked out. Nothing is exactly as you expect it to be upon opening a new place. This is why I have a policy of always giving a new restaurant a second chance after a few months, regardless of the first dining experience.
But Rustic House is in no need of a second “chance”. The first round was so good that I’d return without hesitation for another meal even tomorrow.
Ok, so it’s not like it was totally perfect, but it was pretty amazing for the second night. And I’m sure that the minor issues they had, all technical stuff, not in concept, have long been worked out.
Here’s what we had:
Wood-grilled octopus with tomato confit, picholine olives and charred greens. It was wonderfully balanced: a little bitter from the greens, sweet from the toms and salty & earthy from the olives. The octopus itself was tender and well-charred, lending a little smoke and crunch. Yum! I could have this for dinner over and over.
Next was handmade papardelle pasta with veal cheek ragout, tomatoes and shaved pecorino cheese. The veal was deep & rich and coated the nicely al dente pasta with its sticky goodness while the toms gave a hint of sweetness and the pecorino brightened things up with its pungent saltiness. *Slurp* Yes, please! This is what you hope you have at least one piece of crusty bread left in the basket for. I don’t think I could let even the smallest drop of that veal love go to waste. In fact, I hope someone in the back gets to wipe those pans clean with some bread, too! Lucky dog…
Then the monkfish. The only time I like monkfish is when someone else has cleaned and prepared it. It just might be the most disgusting looking thing on the earth yet you’d never know it from this plate. The chef has made it beautiful and, dare I say, delicious looking! It’s wrapped in pancetta and sits atop an orange-fennel bouillabaisse (fennel still in tact for crunch) and is complimented with a tiny crostino dolloped with a black olive tapanade. The saffron really makes the color pop, doesn’t it?
We had to get our veggies, too, so we ordered a side of broccoli from the nice selection of sides. I, for one, really appreciate it when a chef gives the some options for something green, which he has done here. Others included sauteed spinach, Brussels sprouts and a corn brulee (which I’m not sure counts as a vegetable but I’m sure would be delicious!). The broccoli was prepared with garlic and RPF. You know… it was broccoli.
And now for pie! A flaky pastry crust with brandies cherries, amaretto anglaise, candied almonds and vanilla ice cream. This is where we saw the first technical error. Clearly the oven temp needed to be adjusted because the top of the crust was the most perfect golden brown but inside the folds, we were left with dough. The dessert was promptly swapped out with apologies for a second attempt, which was better but still not quite there. We didn’t have the heart to tell ‘em. We weren’t in the least put off by it since everything else was so wonderful and we knew that, undoubtedly, they’d work it out on their own.
The only other blip we saw the entire time was the fact that there was no offering from the ‘Daily Rotisserie’. Apparently, the chef didn’t like how it had turned out and, therefore, 86′d it from the menu. Admirable.
I guess the thing I really like about Rustic House is that nothing was out-of-the-box crazy as far as flavor combinations, but not boring either, and execution is taken very seriously. Over and over we saw classic flavor combinations reworked into (mostly) perfectly executed dishes. Cooking techniques, seasoning, textures and presentation are all right on. Beautiful and delicious.
Service couldn’t have been anything less than flawless since every member of the spankin’-new staff was present. Actually, I take that back. It could have been a junk show, as many restaurant openings are, regardless of the number of people on the floor, but it wasn’t. It was great.
The ambiance, too, was delightful; as warm and inviting as the staff and the food.
The Short Version (Out of 10)…
Overall impression: 9
Would I go back?
Yup. Can’t wait!
I’ve been looking for this in Chicago. You know, sometimes I just want a good ol’ plate of pasta. Nothing fancy, nothing overly concocted, nothing drowned in butter… just simple and properly done. Thank God for Pastaterra in Lincoln Park!
I started with the vegetable antipasto plate which had quite a nice variety of seasonal local veggies prepared in different ways. There was roasted carrots with mint, roasted beets with cheese, cipollini agrodolce, asparagus, and a delicious little greens-stuffed fried dumpling. The beets were kind of minced to smithereens and the asparagus needed a hit of salt but neither offense was grave. All quite nice and all from the local Lincoln Park farmers’ market. How cool is that?
We also opted for the sliced meat antipasto. As simple as you can get, 3 quality salumi were sliced and draped on a plate (and drizzled with EVOO which I didn’t find necessary). There are some people out there that would find the thickness of the prosciutto incorrect but for some reason, maybe because prosciutto is so wonderful no matter how you slice it, the steak-like thickness didn’t disturb me. The finocchiona salami and smoke pork loin were also quite tasty. Umm, yes, I’d like a plate of salty pork, fatty pork and smoky pork. Do you have something like that?
But the real pleasures came with the arrival of our pastas. All handmade all the time, both had a lovely bite and simple but delicious sauces.
First was the Aglio e Olio…. Oil, garlic, red pepper flake and parsley, sprinkled with a little Parmigiano. It’s the perfect way to showcase the perfectly salted and toothsome pasta.
Next was the “Tajarin” with Albese style ragu. Not that it really matters, but all the tajarin I’ve ever had (including those I had in Piemonte, where it comes from) were a much finer cut of pasta… even thinner than a square spaghetti. This one was a wide noodle, thicker than a fettuccine but not as thick as pappardelle. It was slightly softer than the fettuccine and I’m not sure if that was because the dough is different or if it was just cooked longer. Probably the latter. Either way, it wasn’t soft to the point of being unpleasant or mushy so it was fine. They got the sauce right, though, as tajarin is usually served with some sort of meat sauce like the juices from a roast or a light ragu like this tomato-less one. The flavor was deep and meaty without being complicated. Mmmmm….
Somehow we also ended up with a Tiramisu for dessert. The ladyfingers were properly drenched in coffee and nestled into the fluffy mascarpone cream. I mean, it’s no Teton Tiramisu but it still had great flavor .
It was a lovely evening so we sat outside along the railing and watched the passersby. As expected, the ambiance is as simple and casual as the menu… which is a good thing. Plus, the staff is super friendly and obviously proud of what they do. Gotta love that.
Yes, Pasta Land is a happy place…
The Short Version (Out of 10)…
Overall impression: 9
Would I go back?
Oh yeah! I can’t wait to taste the white bean soup with prosciutto and maybe the baked bolognese.
So what’s the deal with this place? It’s Korean BBQ but wrapped up in some other ethnic package. Strange and interesting but somehow…harmonious. Korean BBQ in a Mexican taco, in a Vietnamese sandwich, and on American fries. Huh. It’s not the first I’ve heard of this concept, I think it’s been in LA and NYC food trucks for a couple of years now, so I’m glad to see the trend has finally hit here. I’m not sure who came up with this wacky and tasty idea originally but I can tell you this: I sure am glad Del Seoul brought it to us in Chicago!
We somehow managed to refrain from ordering one of each menu item, which is what we really wanted to do since there were so many delicious and interesting looking options. Honestly, I don’t know how we didn’t. We still did a fair job, however, considering that we were 2 chicks and we ordered 4 full meals.
We each started with a taco. Actually, we ordered the same taco. It was the Sesame-Chili Shrimp, and it sounded too good to pass up… or share, for that matter. And let’s just say that we made the right decision. It was described as being hand battered in panko with a sesame-chili aioli and slaw but it was really so much more than that. The panko breading didn’t seem like panko to me. It had a denser texture, almost like a cornmeal crust. Maybe they crushed the spiky breadcrumbs first…or maybe it was just the bottom of the bag. Either way, we won. The shrimp must’ve also been tossed in a sweet chili sauce after they came out of the fryer because they had a thick, crunchy coating but it was also soft and oozing with flavor at the same time. The bright slaw and toasted sesame seeds made them complete. Sooo delicious. I would definitely order this again.
|See the bits of onion and pork? Wowza.|