Monday, December 27, 2010


1829 W Chicago Avenue

Better Half and I like to treat Time Out Chicago's 100 Best Things We Ate this Year as a kind of to-do list, and Arami had the added bonus of being highly recommended by a friend of ours.

To be honest - the seared fish that Time Out was so excited about was good, but certainly not one of the best things I ate all year. The fish was indeed buttery, the crust was spicy, the dressing creamy with a hint of lemon, and the seaweed salad was fresh and delicious. All of that is true, but nonetheless, I wouldn't say that the combination was somehow mind-blowingly incredible. Still, it was a tasty start. I was drinking a warm cup of sake (yes yes I know, but it was cold out) which was adequate but not thrilling, and Better Half had some wonderful jasmine tea, delicate, floral, and almost too elegant tasting. He also got a bowl of miso, which was very good, and especially to be praised, in my mind, because it was just plain miso. Nothing exciting or fancy. I'm all about culinary innovation, but honestly, when it comes to miso, just do it right. I've yet to taste a "twist" on one (ours has carrots!) that was better than the original.

Next up was a mushroom salad. Big, buttery slices of grilled mushroom in a delicate citrus and sesame dressing. It was delicious, though if one really, really wanted to nitpick, I'd say that the flavor balance wasn't quite right - the citrus was basically lost in the earthiness of the fungi. Which wasn't a problem, but how exciting it could have been if it were more pronounced. Overall, it was good, but not something I'd have to order again if I came back.

Next up was the sashimi. Oh. my. god. Better half had a few pieces of nigiri - yellowtail, salmon, and the medium fatty tuna. I had the Madai, which is like a red snapper, and the Suzuki, which is a sea bass (both were specials for the night). Wow. The pieces were teensy, but the fish was out of this world. Tender, rich, and phenomenal.

But the real treat was about to come - the Hirame spicy Tako roll, with fluke, octopus, and ginger apple dressing. Thsi was, quite possibly, one of the most delicious pieces of sushi I have ever had in my life. It was absolutely mindblowingly incredible. The fish and octopus were of top quality, and the overall texture was silky smooth, but the flavors! So delicate, so wonderfully complimentary! So absolutely amazing! Seriously - you HAVE to go and try some of the rolls.

What came next was kind of the slow come-down after the peak. The braised short rib donburi was pretty good - the short rib was so tender you could pull it apart with chopsticks, and it tasted great, particularly with bites of the hot pepper and pickled asian pear garnish. But the sauce on the rice was rather too salty, and just not as good. Then came the arami ramen, which Time Out's critic had also raved about, and which we decidedly did not enjoy. The broth was not only a salt mine, but the flavor was just, I dunno, not appealing. The noodles were slightly hard? Maybe they are supposed to be that way? But it does not make for pleasant eating. The pork belly was fine, but for me at least, the broth kind of threw the whole thing.

I had been hoping for some kind of exciting desert to top it all off, but alas. They have mochi and gelato (one of the flavors is blood orange sake) which both sound great, but not when it's -10C outside.

The check was not exactly a pleasant sight when it arrived - the meal set us back $100 plus tip. Yowzers. But honestly, I don't think we could have done it for much less. We could have skipped the drinks, of course, but food-wise, that's kind of the amount you need. I think if we come back - and I hope we do, because seriously, it's amazing sushi - we'll try some of the other appetizers (the mussels, salmon, and scallops all call to me), invest in a chef's selection of sashimi, and get a couple of rolls. It will not be cheap, but I bet it'll be fantastic.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pollo Express

1315 W 18th St, Chicago

Pollo Express does one thing, and it does it very well, and that thing is pollo. Specifically, char-grilled pollo. When you walk in, you see the birds spread-eagled and stacked on the grill, and you know that todo va bien. The smell is fantastic. You can get a whole one or a half of one. There are side dish options of rice and beans, but you do not need rice and beans. Listen carefully: what you want is some guacamole. Place your order and sit down. Oh, before you sit down, get yourself a drink. I recommend the peach Boing, which is as delicious as a peach nectar as you could ever desire. Sit down. The nice person will bring you a basket of chips, some picked red onions, and two salsas, one tomato one that somehow manages to be fiery hot yet wonderfully cool, and a second one that is warm and smoky, but with a definite kick. Both will leave your mouth burning. Then the guacamole will arrive (you will have noticed a man walking by with two avocados in his hands). Then, the chicken, and a basket of corn tortillas. If you ask nicely, they will also bring a little bowl of limes. The limes are not like normal limes - they are pale globes with seeds inside, and a much more intense citrus flavor. First, you will snatch up a drumstick and devour it, and it will be juicy and flavorful and delicious. Then, you will unfurl a tortilla onto your plate, slather guacamole onto it, squeeze some lime juice, add some onion, then some chicken hunks, then some salsa. You will eat it, and then eat many more just like it. It will be wonderful. The total cost of this meal (for two people, including the Boing), will be $17. Notice that if you are desirous of a meal to go, you can buy a whole chicken with two sides for $12.99, and they will throw in a half chicken for free. That's a meal for three people, friend. Personally though, I think it is nicer to dine in. You can watch soccer on the tv.

Oh, it is delicious. Pollo Express is a wonderful place.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lao You Ju

2002 S Wentworth Ave, Chicago

There's been surprisingly little buzz about Tony's latest endeavor, a small plates lounge style place, but given how much I adore Lao Beijing, of course I had to check it out. I get the sense that it's still very much a work in progress, and I'm curious to see how it develops. So, here are my thoughts:

The interior is swank. It's classy, it's mellow - it's a sexy little lounge. Good music, too. Everything looks fantastic, down to the chopsticks. Very nice.

The menu is much smaller than his other spots, and more elegant. However, I found myself somewhat confused - I was expecting this to be a small plates place, with different food from the other restaurants, and, um, lower prices. A lot of the menu is familiar to anyone who eats at Lao Beijing, and it's only a dollar or two cheaper. So we asked our server how many small plates we should be getting, and he clarified that the plates aren't actually that small. He said that 4 should be good for three people, especially if you add some appetizers. That's what we did, and we were still somewhat peckish at the end. Though we're also accustomed to stuffing ourselves like gluttons and being utterly immobile after any Chinatown dinner, so this was probably much better for us.

Still though... I was somewhat disappointed to realize how much of the menu was basically the same. Aside from, perhaps, the House Specialties - but I can't really afford any of those. HOWEVER - my boyfriend pointed out that the food isn't actually the same. To begin with, the presentation is seriously classed up. It's not a pile of food on a plate - it's elegant. It looks like something you'd pay a lot of money for. A lot of people may not appreciate that, or may find it obnoxious ("it's the same food, it's just that someone took an extra minute to pile it - less of it - onto a plate") - and this is not the restaurant for them. But it is a relevant point. Boyfriend was also of the opinion that the food was prepared with a bit more care. Of course, the presentation contributes to that impression, but I think he's right. It's a little more, hmmm, fancy? subtle? on point? I dunno. Less grease, more spice - we got the kung pao chicken Chengdu style, and there were little grains of herbs and chunks of garlic, and much less sauce, as opposed to the usual lovable pile.

The bill was a bit more, but not nearly as much more as you'd expect from the upgrade in classiness. Overall, to be honest, I still prefer Lao Beijing. I appreciate the idea behind fancy, upscale Chinese food (Opera strives to do the same), but ultimately, I'm just kind of less interested in paying more and having it be classed up. But I'm glad it exists. I do think that Lao You Ju will ultimately fare better if it goes further in the direction of small plates - make the plates smaller, so that people order a lot more of them, and drop the prices by a buck or two. $4-$5 plates will add up fast, but they won't feel that expensive. And it'll make the dining experience more noticeably different from what you can get at Lao Beijing - the possibility of not only having everything classed up a notch, but also of getting MORE dishes, which is something I always kind of want to do, simply because I love them all so much and have a hard time picking between them. If I could have a real small plates adventure, especially in that lovely room, I would definitely be coming back more regularly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


358 W Ontario St, Chicago

Once again thanks to Groupon, my friend Dustin and I hit Zocalo for dinner last night. Upon arriving, our senses were assaulted with some kind of viciously potent Pine-Sol smell, which our server told us was emanating from upstairs. Also, there was a dude giving salsa dancing lessons (and ONE and TWO and ONE and TWO), which was seriously obnoxious.

BUT! The margaritas were $5 (Monday night special) and they were quite nice, though on the sweet side, and rather potent. We didn't go for a tequila flight, which was probably a mistake, because they have an absolutely gorgeous tequila list.

We progressed on to the ceviche sampler - both of us loved one, liked another, and didn't like a third. Luckily, our latter two categories were not overlapping, so it actually worked out perfectly. I totally dug the scallops with mango, but Dustin found it too sweet, and I was unimpressed with the swordfish, which he enjoyed. The tilapia was basically your standard lime and cilantro ceviche, and it was great.

For dinner, we shared the Carne Asada Norena, a tequila marinated skirt steak that was tasty though slightly overcooked, served with some very nice black beans and a pile of chiles that looked like something the cat coughed up but tasted great, and the Tinga Poblana. The Tinga Poblana was a grilled chicken breast - good but not amazing - served on top of this absolutely incredible combination of crumbled chorizo, potatoes, and poblano peppers and surrounded by a "cool avocado fresca", which was indeed wonderfully cool tasting and quite delicious.

Overall, a very nice meal. I definitely want to go back.

Response to the Michelin

The Michelin star ratings dropped today. I have to say, I'm unimpressed. I almost think they did a better job with the Bib Gourmand list, and I'm pretty salty about that one too.

So, the places I've been to, and my thoughts, in brief:

3 stars:

Alinea - deserves it all the way. One of the best meals I've ever had.

L2O - leaving aside the whole issue of the chef having just left, honestly, I was pretty underwhelmed by this place. We did the 12 course, I think, and as I recall, 4 courses were mindblowingly incredible, 4 were pretty good, and 4 were completely uninteresting. Maybe it got better in the interim, but now that the chef is gone, no way in hell am I spending the money to find out.

1 star:

Blackbird: I've only been once, and I pretty much hated it. It was weird. I genuinely didn't like almost all of the food I got. But I think it might have been some kind of weird fluke. Part of me wants to give it another chance, the rest of me thinks that I can have a perfectly fantastic dinner at Avec for less money so why not do that?

Bonsoiree: Good, but I wouldn't say it was really star quality. But I did very much enjoy the meal I had there, and being BYOB helps a lot.

Longman and Eagle: I've written about their brunch before, and actually, looking back at my review I'm upset with myself for not updating it after return visits. Because their biscuits and gravy are seriously awesome. I've also gone for dinner, and the wild boar sloppy joe is pretty effin' incredible. I think it deserves its spot on the list.

Schwa: Any ranking that puts L20 over Schwa is pretty much bankrupt. Schwa is an incredible dining experience. Yes, it's a pain in the ass to make a reservation, but the food is out of this world. Except for the one fish course with cotton candy that seems to be on the menu in some form every time I've gone, that I didn't really love, despite trying to every time. But everything else is seriously amazing. The fact that it's BYOB, the unbelievably attentive service - how often does the chef come out to tell you about your meal? For every gdamn course? Honestly, I loved Alinea, but Schwa is hands down the best dining experience in Chicago.

Sepia: I'm stoked to see Sepia make the cut. I've only had lunch there, but it was phenomenal. I'm looking forward to doing dinner. But I'm biased, because I'm in love with one of the servers.

Takashi: I've written about in detail already. What it does right, it does superbly, but there's also a lot that's kind of forgettable. I actually do forget about the place - it pretty much never comes to my mind when someone asks me for recommendations for amazing meals.

Ok, less detail for the Bib Gourmand, because I grow weary of this process, heh heh.
Bib gourmand:

The Bristol, Gilt Bar, Lula, mado (though they just got a new chef), Urban Belly - yes, most definitely.

Girl and the Goat probably deserved a star. Also, I'm skeptical of the idea that you can do it for under $40. The Publican also should've gotten a star

The Purple Pig, yeah, probably deserves its spot.

Nightwood I've only done for brunch, but it's frickin' awesome.

The Paramount Room - really? I mean, I love the poutine, and the cocktails are great, but... let's not go overboard. Not least because it's a tiny menu. Hopleaf also - I mean, they do have an amazing beer selection, and the food is good, but it's not exactly an extensive menu. If you're going that route, why not the Skylark? Or In Fine Spirits?

Veerasway - I LOVE the cocktails. They might even be my favorite in town. The food is completely unexciting and is wildly overpriced. I'm slightly offended to see it on the list, especially with not a single place on Devon making an appearance.

Han 202 - also irks me, especially given that Lao Beijing and Lao Szechuan aren't mentioned, and both are probably some of the best Chinese food you'll ever have in your life. Han 202 is fine as far as $20 5 course dinners go. I don't know of any other place where you can get a 5 course dinner for $20. But personally, I'd rather spend the $20 on fewer courses of higher quality somewhere else.

Nana (yes, I realize these are in no particular order) - I've had brunch there, it's pretty good. I definitely wanna try the dinner.

I'm surprised that Kuma's and Hout Doug's didn't make the cut (though the lines at Kuma's annoy the hell out of me). Personally, I think Province, Gioco, and maybe Deleece deserved a spot on the Bib Gourmand for sure. I'm downright angry that Lao Beijing isn't mentioned. I think Sticky Rice deserves a spot, but I acknowledge that it's not so well known. Overall, ethnic restaurants should've gotten more attention, but it's not surprising that they didn't get it.

Overall overall - meh. I'm unimpressed.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sticky Rice

4018 N. Western Ave., Chicago

This is not only one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, it's also one of the best thai restaurants I've ever been to. What sets it apart is the extensive menu, which features a multitude of dishes I've never heard of. Yes, they have classics like pad thai, panang, mussamun, etc but if you go, broaden your horizons and try something new* - the menu is extensive, and, unless you've spent some time in Northern Thailand, I guarantee that a lot of it will be unfamiliar. I say this, but I also have to admit that every time I go, I order the same thing - the Pad Noor My Phew, ground pork with sour bamboo shoots and hot peppers. The level of spice varies from titillating to excruciating (and I'm never entirely sure why they decide to lean a certain direction), but there's always the amazing, delicious flavor of the sour bamboo, which I've never experienced anywhere else, and which I absolutely adore. But honestly, almost everything I've tried there has been fantastic - the only other entree I ordered was some kind of red curry with pork hox (I think that's what they're called in English? The knuckles? Very tender meat?) that was very nice, and I've tried bites of friends' entrees, which have all been lovely. The salads, soups and appetizers, I can say more about - the beef salad is fairly typical but very good, meanwhile, the banana blossom salad is a wonderful combination of chicken, shrimp, banana and hearts of palm, light and refreshing even though you can't stop eating it. The soups are all good, and have a kind of hominess to them, roughly chopped ingredients, etc. The Eastern sausage is the best I've ever had (I prefer it to the Northern sausage they also have), served with hunks of cabbage and a pile of fresh cilantro and ginger. The shrimp-in-a-blanket are succulent shrimpses encased in a lemongrass curry paste and won ton wrapper and then deep fried, and they are heavenly. The satay is satay, but a very delicious example thereof. The deep fried banana in won ton skin is perhaps less exciting than you might hope, but still quite pleasant. The fried quail are flavorful, even if the bones are somewhat cumbersome. I really enjoy the bamboo stuffed with pork, but I'm kind of a glutton for bamboo.

Did I mention that the place is super cheap (and BYOB)? I don't think I've ever spent more than $20, and I've never left without feeling like I'm about to pass out from eating so much. The room is nice, though small and not especially intimate. Service is brisk and pleasant. There used to be a bit of a wait, but then they closed down for awhile (I think the health dept shut them down briefly?) and since then, I haven't encountered a line. They're open later than most places - I think until 10 or 11 on weeknights? And parking is always readily available, though crossing Western does make you feel like you're playing frogger. Seriously though, this place is, quite simply, phenomenal.

*A friend of mine ordered the fried worms once. And you know what? They were good too. Though I dunno that I'd be able to get through a whole plate of them. My mother ordered the curry with pork blood, and if you're wondering, in look and texture it resembles a dark maroon tofu.

Monday, September 27, 2010


4801 N. Broadway, Chicago

Demera has some of the most delicious Ethiopian food I've ever eaten, and the prices are just awesome. The service leaves a lot to be desired, but I'm totally willing to deal with it just to get more of that tasty tasty food. I'd say it makes a great precursor to a show at the Riv or the Aragon, but it doesn't, because the itis is not conducive to live music experiences. But you should totally go.

While you can order a few dishes, the way to go is clearly the messob, which gives you a giant platter with a variety of things (that you pick). A two person option costs, at most, $32.50 - TOTAL. It's an unbelievable bargain.

We didn't try any of the cocktails, which I somewhat regret - incidentally, I think they're also byob? But I'm not sure. - but we did get the Ethiopian tea, which was wonderful, spicy and warming.

Food wise, we did:

ye-misir wot, ie, red lentils. This was pretty much the standard version you'd get anywhere, which isn't to say it wasn't delicious, because it most certainly was.
gomen - collared greens with onions, garlic, ginger and jalapeno. Fantastic.
ye-doro tibs - chunks of chicken sauteed in lemon and garlic, cooked with onions, tomatoes, jalapenos and rosemary. Absolutely fabulous, spicy and flavorful.
kitfo - Ethiopian steak tartare. We got it raw, and I must say, it was unlike any steak tartare I've ever had. If you're intimidated by the idea of raw ground beef, this is the place to start - in both texture and flavor, it's not much like raw beef at all. It's soft and chewy, yes, but not in that distinctive raw meat way (that I happen to love). Flavor-wise, it's wonderfully lemony and you mostly just taste the various herbs it's flavored with.
We also got a cooked beef of some kind and some shrimps, but unfortunately, I can't remember which ones. I can tell you that I loved both of them, and that the shrimp were perfectly cooked.

Definitely, definitely check this place out, just remain calm when you don't see your server for 20 minutes. It's a little frustrating when you're trying to get more injera, but the food is so good that you'll find yourself picking at it with your bare hands anyhow, clumsy as the process may be.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

90 Miles West

2540 W Armitage, Chicago

I really adore this place. It's BYOB and extremely affordable (entrees are $10-$13), it has a huge, awesome heated outdoor patio so that you can have a little outdoor experience even in the winter, and man - I really like the food. It's not the best Cuban food you can get in town, but it's quite good. I always get the Bistec, a steak with chimichurri served with plantains, rice, and a bowl of black beans. My friend Ruchama always gets the Ropa Vieja, and it's great too. Kelly got the chicken last night, and whadya know, it was great too.

The appetizers are pretty good too. I like the empanadas, though again, they're not the best you've ever had, but they're tasty nonetheless. The yucca fries come with a bowl of garlic and oil that is just awesome. The calamari are kind of peculiar, it's a bowl of tomato sauce with 4 pieces of toasted cuban bread stuck in it. The calamari are floating in the sauce somewhere. Not exactly what we expected, but the sauce is flavorful and the calamari were cooked just right.

The owner is often around and will stop by and ask if you had a good time - they seem to be working really hard to promote the place, and while it was a little overwhelming, I'm glad to extend my assistance. Go check this place out. It won't blow your mind, but you'll have a very pleasant dinner.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

An awesome restaurant blog

We can't all live in Chicago. A friend of mine just alerted me to this awesome Seattle blog, Sassy Food. The author blogs about restaurants, but with a twist - she also occasionally approaches fellow diners and asks to taste some of their food. It's a fun blog, with great photos - definitely worth checking out.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mercat a la Planxa

638 Michigan Ave., Chicago

The boyfriend and I had been here awhile back and liked it, and then when we were in Philadelphia in the Spring our friends took us to Amada, one of the chef's other restaurants, and we loved that, so we were excited to come back to Mercat. My mom was in town, and we'd gone to see The Weir (an amazing play which was done quite well by Seanachai Theatre Company) and we - as per usual! - looking for a place open past 10 on a weeknight, and Mercat was it.

Oh man. The food was phenomenal. Seriously, every single dish - and we got a lot of them - was impeccable. We had the pulpo con patatas, perfectly cooked octopus, oily and lemony and spicy and fabulous; we did the rice with morels and lemon, a rich, densely mushroomy risotto with a hint of truffle (Jose Garces is a fan of the truffles, and I love him for it); the braised rabbit agnolotti with brandied cherries (which rivaled the veal heart papardelle from Schwa in terms of quality - it was absolutely gorgeous); the pork belly with apple cider glaze and green apples oh wow, the sweet cider glaze and the wonderfully creamy yet firm pork belly; the flatbread with shortribs and greens and an intriguing hint of horseradish; some cheeses, a bottle of wine, oh, and the chocolate croquettes for dessert - we didn't think we had room for them but we managed, and it was so worth it.

I can't say enough about how pleased I was with the place. It's a lovely room with classy decor; while the tables are somewhat close together you don't feel cramped at all. The cocktail list is quite appetizing, the prices are high but not totally out of control, and the food. is. fantastic.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Girl and the Goat

809 W Randolph, Chicago

We happened in here at 10pm on a Wednesday and discovered, to our delight, that it's open until 11pm on weekdays. He-llo! Immediate points in my book. Of course we'd been wanting to check out Top Chef champion Stephanie Izard's spot, but we were sort of waiting for the early buzz to fade. But given how delicious our dinner was, I doubt that it will anytime soon.

The room is pleasant but not overly elegant or stuffy - it's somewhat bustling, though you're not in close quarters with people the way you are at Avec or the Publican. The decor is dark but there's plenty of light inside to see your food and your partner, and you can see the line where the food is being prepared, which is kind of fun.

Girl and the Goat is a small plate restaurant, with 10 meat, 10 vegetable, and 10 seafood options. Despite the small menu, we had an unbelievably difficult time making a decision, because everything looked fantastic. We were going to get 4 things - we got 6. And a bread.

The bread came with liver. I'm not sure which creature donated its liver to our meal, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank it for doing so, because it was quite tasty.

Our first vegetable was the pan fried shishito peppers with parmesan and sesame. They turned out to be one of my favorite dishes. The sesame didn't really come out strongly, but the flavors were delicious nonetheless, with just a touch of heat from the peppers. Our other vegetable was the strongly recommended green beans with fish sauce and cashews, which I also loved. The fish sauce was aioli-like, which I didn't expect but didn't mind at all. The green beans were crunchy and delicious.

Our seafood were the scallops with veal stock and almond butter and the softshell crab with sweet corn, lime and chili aioli. The scallops were perfectly cooked and very tasty, beautifully set off by the meatiness of the veal (though I admit that I couldn't much taste the almond butter). The softshell crab (which we couldn't resist getting because, as our server pointed out, the season is almost over!) were breaded and fried, which to me seemed like kind of a pity, because although the breading was light and crispy, it still made the crabs a little heavier and greasier feeling than they would have been otherwise. The lime and chili aioli was a nice compliment, zesty and delicate.

Our meats were the rabbit rillete with crisp rice crepe and ginger giardiniera and... and... another dish that doesn't seem to be in any of the online menus! A combination of meats (I want to say goat, veal and beef?) served over papardelle with a berry... gooseberry? No. I want to say it started with a c. Argh. Well! The rabbit, I have to say, was not that exciting. This may be partly because it was one of the last things we got and I was horrifically stuffed (people! 4-5 dishes is MORE THAN ENOUGH for two people!), but I suspect it was just not as amazing as the other things we had. It was basically a crispy crepe - fine enough, but not especially tasty - rolled around the rillette and floating in a nice sauce. So texture wise, it was kind of odd. The crispy crepe started to go soggy pretty fast, and the flavors didn't really sing together.
BUT the papardelle! Oh my goodness! It was incredible! I am generally not that excited about savory things paired with fruits, particularly meat and fruit. But wow, this knocked my socks off. It was so fantastic. I loved it so much that I saved it for last, which, as my boyfriend pointed out, was not a very bright idea, because it wasn't as good cold. But oh man. It was delicious.

We were skimpy on drinks and only got a beer and a glass of wine. But the beer list is impressive for sure, and the wine list certainly seemed fine to me, who is quite ignorant about wine. But I very much enjoyed the glass of riesling I had, and it paired beautifully with the food.

The meal, overall, set us back $120 ($100 without tip). And I'd say that's to be expected for 2 people - while you can certainly get less food than we did (I'd recommend that you do, seriously), you will probably want to get more than 1 drink each. And you might find room for dessert as well.

Anyhow, overall - definitely recommended. It was really delicious.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hing Kee

2140 S. Archer Ave.

We were on our way to Lao Beijing (my favorite restaurant in Chinatown) when we paused in front of Hing Kee, mesmerized by the site of a man making noodles. We drew our eyes away just long enough to see the sign on the window that pointed out that a bowl of those noodles was only $5.95. 'Nuf said. We went in.

We ordered two bowls of the ramen, one with pork belly and one with szechwan chicken. They arrived almost instantaneously, and they were fantastic. The noodles were fresh and soft and delicious - you really haven't lived life until you've had freshly made ramen. It's just an incredible thing, like nothing you've ever had. The broth was admittedly basic pho broth (they offer a lot of pho options), and not even the best I've had, but flavorful. Both the chicken and pork belly were both out-of-this-world fantastic. Either soup, on its own, would make for a great lunch for one person. And both are reason enough to come to this restaurant.

But there were four of us, so we ate more. Everything else sort of arrived whenever, but we didn't really mind. The scallion pancake was chewy and delicious (though it didn't come with any sauce, which was a bummer. It didn't need it, but nonetheless, I do love that sauce), the peapod tips with garlic were phenomenal, and the salt and pepper beef was way, way better than I've had anywhere else - moist, chewy chunks of beef that were beautifully accented with salt and pepper and a hint of soy. I was not a big fan of the chinese broccoli in oyster sauce, but that's because I don't especially care for chinese broccoli - everyone else loved it. The only blemish on an otherwise outstanding record were the pork dumpling, which were basically potstickers, and not especially good ones at that - the dough was too thick, and the filling wasn't that flavorful. The sauce didn't do much to help. Other than that though, it was a fantastic meal, and clocked in at less than $15 per person, which raised it to the level of "oh hell yes we're coming back here".

The menu features a bunch of pho as well as sushi. For my money though, it's all about that ramen. Definitely check it out.

Monday, August 23, 2010


3332 N. Broadway

I wanted to like it, I really did. My boyfriend is quite fond of it, and I really love Italian food, and it's on that charming little stretch of Broadway... but it just disappointed me over and over. I really don't want to dog on this place, so I'll try to keep the negatives to a minimum, but there's no avoiding the fact that the food just wasn't very good (I feel like it's perhaps gone down hill - I went there a few years ago, and I remember it being pretty good, though not amazing). The biggest problem was that someone had a very liberal hand with the salt. I like salt, but wow. This was intense.

The problems started with the rolls - pretty uninteresting bread, but apparently heavily salted on the outside. Served with a trio of butters - the pesto butter was lovely, but the other two tasted like they'd been in a refrigerator for so long that they'd begun to morph with it. Gross. I started to feel a bit deflated.

For appetizers, we did the Polenta Due and the Zuppa di Cippole. The polenta was two polenta cakes, one topped with shrimp scampi, one with mild giardinara. A strange combination, no? Indeed. I thought there must be some method to the madness, that it would surprisingly turn out to be a harmonious melange, but no. The shrimp were fine, the giardinara was fine, but the polenta cakes were pretty bland, and the flavor combinations were schizophrenic. The onion soup was covered in a thick layer of provolone, very nice, and had a strong fennel flavor, which was great. Unfortunately, it was also unbelievably salty - after two or three spoonfuls, I drained my water glass.

The mains were likewise uninspired. My boyfriend had the Fusilli del Boscaiolo - fusilli with fennel sausage, mushrooms, and peas in a light tomato cream sauce. He was pretty happy with it, but not thrilled. I had a few bites - it was fine, but nothing to write home about. I had the Pollo Verguvio - a chicken breast in a white wine sauce with roasted potatoes and sauteed spinach. The white wine sauce was - you guessed it - incredibly salty. And also just not that tasty. The chicken was cooked just fine, maybe a wee bit dry. The potatoes just weren't good to me, maybe because I was just utterly demoralized at that point. The spinach was probably the highlight of the meal, and it was just plain old sauteed spinach.

The final blow, of course, was the check. We had a groupon, which lessened the pang, but seriously, if I had dropped almost $30 on that meal, I would have been vexed. Honestly, I'm sad to say it, but I really would not recommend the place.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwich

2333 W. North Ave.

Oh man. My friend Dustin took me here today, and it was awesome. Dustin is quite knowledgeable when it comes to banh mi, and he says that unless you're heading up to Argyle, this is the place to go. Time Out Chicago seems to agree. I have no idea if there are better banh mi to be had in the city, but I tell you what - I'm perfectly happy to eat these.

It's a small place, maybe 3 or 4 tables and a menu consisting of 8 sammiches, some soups, drinks, and bubble tea, but the prices are killer: $3.95/sammich. The sammiches are served on a delicious crusty baguette, and come with pickled carrot and daikon (which aren't as tangy as you might wish, but competent), cucumber (which I declined, because ugh. Cucumber.), cilantro, and then your choice of filling. I went with the Ginger Chicken, and oh man. It was juicy and tender and marvelous, not overwhelmingly ginger, but with a gorgeous ginger vaguely caramel-like sauce. Dustin had the Char Sui Pork, which was equally delicious, chewy, salty, and overall great. I got a vietnamese coffee to go with it, which is always a mistake for me, because my stomach starts complaining before I'm even halfway through it, but what can I say, it's so creamy and decadent.

Overall: awesome. You should go.


3346 North Clark St.

I was going to post something about apologizing for not updating, but then the internet at it, and that's probably a sign that I should stop apologizing and just get back to posting. So I will.

So, Bolat. Last Spring, I taught a lit class that had Wole Soyinka's autobiography, Ake, on the syllabus. Aside from being an interesting book, it was a book that featured quite a few rather tantalizing descriptions of food. So when a groupon for Bolat came up, I pounced.

Now, a word about groupon. I love groupon, I really do. But it's also kind of a mixed blessing. For a lot of restaurants, it means a sudden massive influx of clientele - one that they might not completely prepared for. In other words, your dining experience might not be quite as terrific as you might hope. This is particularly the case when you wait until the very last minute to use it (as my boyfriend as I inevitably seem to do). Because likely as not, there's a horde of people in the same position, all clamouring to get in. And if the restaurant is as tiny as Bolat, this is a recipe for disaster.

So, we ended up waiting 2 hours for a table instead of 45 minutes. All the more frustrating because there were three tables open for a good half hour of that wait. But Bolat has one bartender and one waiter and maybe 3 people in the kitchen, so I understand their desire to slow things down a bit. Especially because the people at the tables were already vociferously complaining about how long the food was taking. So yes, the service was not stellar. But maybe now that the groupon deal has ended, it's calmed down a bit. Also, I should add: the room is lovely. Small but very nicely decorated, and very pleasant.

Now, the food. I am not especially familiar with African cuisine, so I might not be the best source of information about this. We started with the Goat Pepper soup. The broth was good, but the vegetables floating in it seemed to be of the frozen variety, and were not so appealing. I was not wildly impressed, but my boyfriend quite liked it. Next, we got the Braised Oxtails with fried plantains. The plantains were delicious (I LOVE fried plantains) and the oxtails were great too - grilled and coated in a zesty sauce that was similar to barbeque, but more sweet than tangy. Very nice.

I'm really not sure what my boyfriend got as his main course. It was a variety of meats and some fish in a green sauce with rice. It was, in my opinion, not so great. He liked it, but didn't love it. I, on the other hand, was thrilled with my entree - the yamashoma, tender chunks of beef in a wonderful spicy sauce, accompanied by a giant ball of a polenta/cornmeal - just wonderful.

The price is slightly steeper than you might expect - it's not a super cheap meal, but not wildly expensive either - you can expect to spend around $25/person, more if you indulge in alcohol, which I rather regret that we didn't, as it looked intriguing. Overall, we're not in a hurry to go back, but I certainly wouldn't object to doing so.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hot Doug's

3324 North California Avenue
Chicago, IL

Last I checked, Hot Doug's shared the highest score for Food in Chicago (with Alinea) on Zagat. Yet a large meal and a drink will probably run you about $15 total, if you're really going for gluttony. Depending on when you go, you might have to wait in a rather long line (especially Friday and Saturdays, when they do their duck fat fries), but it moves pretty fast, and it's totally worth the wait. It does, however, close at 4pm (and is closed Sundays), so keep that in mind. Also, it's Cash Only.

As has been pointed out, the sausages at Hot Doug's aren't made in-house, and can be purchased elsewhere. So while they're pretty effin' delicious, they're not really the main reason to go. No, the main reason is the toppings. While they do all the standards, each week they also feature some far more exciting options - a fancy sausage with a fancy topping. Check out today's menu for an example - Chardonnay and Jalapeno Rattlesnake Sausage with Spicy Guava Mayonnaise and Moody Blue Cheese, Calvados Smoked Duck Sausage with Morello Cherry Mustard and Camembert, etc. It's pretty exciting stuff.

For some reason, every time I've gone I've ended up ordering a sausage with saffron remoulade and aged machego as a topping, but you know what? That's because they've always been delicious. Still though, I chide myself for not being a little more adventurous.

The fries are good, though not amazing - warm, soft and chewy. You can get cheese fries, but the cheese is just Cheese Sauce, and it's not that exciting. I wish they did cheese fries with some of their more adventurous cheeses melted on top, but that probably takes too much time.

The drink are the usual soda fountain offerings or a variety of bottled sodas in the fridge, which are kind of fun. They do vitamin water, but also things like cel-ray soda.

Is it the most mind-blowingly delicious thing you've ever eaten, as the hype implies? No. But it's pretty damn good. And for the quality of food you get, it's also an unbelievable bargain.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


1952 N. Damen, Chicago

I needed to do a little celebrating, so my parents gifted me and my dude a nice dinner. We decided to hit up Takashi and try the omakase - the chef's tasting menu. The dinner runs $68 a head, and the wine pairing is another $30. First off, let me tell you this - the wine pairing is for realz. These are not dinky pours. These are some strolling around to sober up a bit before you drive home pours. I'm useless in terms of telling you what exactly we drank (there was a vouvray, and a pinot, and some other stuff...) but in terms of how it paired with food, it was interesting. It was a slightly more daring, challenging concept of pairing. My sommelier-to-be would taste the food and say something like, "huh. I wouldn't have gone with this grape myself." but then we'd pause, take another bite and a thoughtful sip of wine and realize, actually - they were very cleverly matched. It wasn't an obvious choice, but it was always a very complementary one. My dude also got hisself a cocktail before dinner - gin with lime and cucumber, and really well done. I don't like cucumber, myself, but I had to admit that the flavors blended beautifully.

The room, I have to say, was kind of unimpressive. I think the idea is that it doesn't feel too stuffy or formal, but it felt kind of... I dunno. Odd. The ceilings were too low. My feng shui was awry. Not that I really care about that sort of thing, just pointing it out.

So, the food. The amuse was a square of homemade tofu topped with yuzu, bonito flakes, and a ginger soy dressing. The accoutrements were delicious, but the tofu was a little on the crumbly-yet-mushy side. I have yet to meet a homemade tofu that I'm really excited about. I really enjoy tofu, but the texture of the homemade varieties is always kind of off-putting.

Next up were the spring rolls. I don't remember exactly, but I believe they were crab and prosciutto? with greens and some crispy baguette, topped with a golden raisin caper vinaigrette. The textures were phenomenal - the crunchiness of the baguette was a really nice touch - but the flavors didn't really pop. The prosciutto was completely undiscernable, and generally, the melange was kind of a cool and pleasing but undistinguished, and largely overwhelmed by the vinaigrette (though the vinaigrette was delicious, so that wasn't really a bad thing).

Then some charcuterie action rolled in - a country style pate, a chicken liver mousse, and a slice of prosciutto. It's funny, we did dinner at Oceanique awhile back and got the pate, and were really baffled by the fact that it came in a moussey form. But apparently we were just ignorant of the many forms that liver takes in this world, because we've since encountered it as a cream several times. And we're still not sure how we feel about it. The country style pate was tasty, but the texture was a bit too tough - no spreadability whatsoever. The prosciutto was fine, but as I said before, I'm a prosciutto snob. Overall, I think the Rootstock spread was more impressive, though my boyfriend thought they were pretty evenly matched.

So those first three items, tasty but not that exciting. I was feeling a bit miffed, but then, but then! The skate wing arrived. Goodness gracious. Skate wing topped with a medley of japanese mushrooms, and served with a cauliflower risotto (topped with parmesan FOAM, natch), and belgian endive with a creamy vinaigrette. Heaven. Absolute heaven. The skate was cooked perfectly - crispy on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside. Absolutely glorious. The mushrooms, the risotto, the endive - it was a symphony. Absolutely incredible.

And from there, we were aces. The next dish was a soy ginger pork belly served with a pile of greens, two slices of steamed bun, and a schmear of chinese hot mustard. One assembled it into a delicious little sammich. And it was glorious. The tastes, the textures, oooh-wee! So good.

Then came the roasted duck breast with a confit of duck leg, which was a triumph. I can't even tell you what it was served with. The duck was so moist and tender and flavorful - oh man. My dude declared it hands down the best duck he's ever had, and I have to say, it was cooked to absolute perfection. Really amazing.

The conclusion was a dessert of some kind (we are neither of us big dessert people) - it was some kind of chocolate fudgey square, I think with blood orange? And some vanilla ice cream. Very nice, but not thrilling.

Overall, I think if I ever got the opportunity to go back, I would order off the menu, rather than doing the chef's tasting. To begin with - everything on the tasting was available a la carte. I had assumed, for whatever reason, that the tasting menu would have some exclusive aspects, but no. I would definitely swap out our first three courses for some other things on the menu that look more exciting, like the garlic soup and the steak tartare. In terms of amounts, for two people you'll want to each get an entree, and then 2-3 small plates to share, I suspect. When it's done right though, the food is impeccable - classic french with a japanese influence. Delicious. Overall, an absolutely glorious experience. I don't know if I'll make it back for dinner in the near future, but they also do a noodle lunch, which I'm dying to check out.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


954 North California, Chicago

If you ask me, there aren't nearly enough late-night dining options available in Chicago, so I was excited to hear about Rootstock opening (though disgruntled to hear that it's closed Sundays, which, for whatever bizarre reason, is when I often find myself hunting for a restaurant open past 11pm). Last night, having just seen The Good Negro at the Goodman Theatre (which was good but not great - it was really creatively staged, and definitely better than the last two plays I've seen there, but still not that great) my boyfriend and I finally made it to Rootstock.

The patio (which is sadly quite small) was full so we had to sit indoors, but it wasn't really a loss because the inside is lovely - intimate without being claustrophobic, and really well decorated. The walls are a slate gray and there are some really nice paintings on the wall. The lighting is low but not so dark that you have to strain to see the menu - it's really quite nice.

The wine list is quite large, but well presented. I'm not that knowledgeable about wine, so I really appreciated the long descriptions of each option. I often find that they're not nearly as descriptive as you'd like, but these actually gave me a good idea of what I was getting into. In the interest of full disclosure though, I should admit that I was fortunate enough to have a date who does know about wine, so I just asked him what I should get. I wish I could tell you what I had, but I just looked at the list and couldn't find it and I have a terrible memory for such things. Sorry. It was delicious though.

ANYWAYS. The food!
So, the food experience was joys mingled with slight disappointments. I had noticed the onion rings with harissa dip on the menu when I'd checked it out before, and was really excited to try them (I adore harissa). The onion rings were good - reasonably sized, with a flaky crust that wasn't too greasy - but the dip was strangely flavorless. It wasn't bad, but it was basically forgettable.
We also ordered a charcuterie plate. Now here, we were sort of blinded by optimism. The menu says Charcuterie Plate $6.50 and lists 4 charcuteries - a prosciutto, a spec, a copa, and a chicken liver pate. For some reason, we thought we'd get all of them. When we ordered, our server asked which one we wanted, or if we wanted them all. This should have tipped us off that they were each $6.50, but for some reason, it didn't. So that was a bit of a disappointment when the bill arrived. However, we ultimately decided that despite the slight pain to the wallet, it was actually a somewhat fortuitous error, because we never would have tried them all otherwise. Neither of us was into the copa - it was rather too fatty and heavy tasting. The prosciutto was good but not mindblowing (full disclosure again - once you've eaten prosciutto in Italy, you will probably feel disappointed any time you eat it in America. Sad but true). The spec, which I never would have thought to try, was fabulous - it melted in your mouth with an intense hamminess. I loved it. The pate was creamy and chickeny and fantastic, with less of the strong liver taste that most pates suffer from. I have to add, too, that all charcuterie plates come with the chef's accompaniments - the bread is nice, the mustard is fine, the pickled radishes are great, but the real star is the apricot-jalapeno jelly. Oh wow. It's sweet and fiery and absolutely incredible. And pairs beautifully with the prosciutto.

For main dishes, we shared the Fried Quail, watercress and lentil salad and the Italian bahn mi (which means PORK BELLY) on tuscan bread with pickled radish, cilantro and calabrian pepper. Both were phenomenal. The quail was juicy and tender and fell of the bone. The real stand-out of the dish, though, were the lentils - they were dressed in a soy lime citronette and the ensuing harmony of earthiness, citrus and salt was absolutely gorgeous. The pork belly was perfect - crispy and creamy and flavorful and great. If you've had the bacon at the Publican - it's like that. Except it's on a piece of bread that I think might be grilled in pork fat. Honestly, I was so enthralled that I didn't really notice the radish, cilantro and pepper. The balsamic soy caramel was a nice accent, but at the end of the day, it's all about that pork belly. I will say that while both dishes were incredible, I was glad we were splitting them - they were so densely rich and flavor-packed that I felt slightly overwhelmed after eating half, and was relieved to switch plates. Still - they were delicious.

Overall, I was impressed. Although there were a few disappointments, the highlights were so impressive that the rest seemed like the kinds of mistakes that are eliminated in the transition between rough draft and final version. My next time there, I'm pretty sure, will be unblemished bliss. If you're looking for a nice romantic late-night dinner option - this is your spot.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Longman & Eagle (Brunch edition)

2657 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago

I'd heard a lot about Longman & Eagle and its deliciousness, but I hadn't quite convinced myself that it was time to drive way out to Logan Square and brave an apparently rather long wait for dinner. But my friend Harold suggested it for brunch, and despite having heard some slightly negative things about their mid-morning offerings from a friend, I assented.

I was pleased to discover that it wasn't difficult to nab a parking spot or a table, and so we found ourselves seated inside their very pleasant back room. The decor is simple but amiable, and while the back room is a bit loud, you can still carry on a conversation without too much difficulty. The brunch menu isn't extensive, but it's well stocked with tantalizing options. I'd heard that the omelets were somewhat disappointing (described as a slightly dry egg pancake folded over cooked ingredients), so I went with the sunnyside-up duck egg with duck confit hash, roasted shallots, and black truffle vinaigrette. Harold got the croque madam with ham and gruyere and a bloody mary. And of course, we both had coffee.

The coffee (Alterra) was good though not especially exciting. The bloody mary was solid. It wasn't knock-your-socks-off amazing, but it was extremely well executed. It was a bloody mary that you inadvertently take for granted; the kind that makes you forget how difficult it is to make a good bloody mary and how many disappointing ones you've had because it's so subtly tasty. I generally avoid drinking cocktails in the morning, but a taste of this one severely taxed my powers of restraint. I should add, too, that the cocktail list was generally quite appealing. I was particularly intrigued by the Horchata para Adultos, a horchata mixed with Sailor Jerry's rum - I'm looking forward to trying one of those someday.

The food did not disappoint. Harold's croque madam was just right in all regards, and my meal was delicious. The duck confit hash was fabulous, and beautifully set off by the black truffle smear that orbited the plate. My one complaint was that it was a tad on the small side - our server immediately suggested I order some toast to go with it. With a side of sourdough toast, it was an adequate, though not particularly large, breakfast, but it also totaled out at $16 for the food alone, which seemed a bit... much. But that was but a spot of gray on an otherwise sunny brunch experience. Good food, good service, good atmosphere - the next time you find yourself standing outside Lula's and hoping that the wait for brunch won't actually be an hour, you might consider strolling over here instead.


I love to eat. I love to eat all kinds of foods at all kinds of prices. I am not a professional food writer, but I might want to be one someday, so a blog about restaurants seemed like a good place to start. It remains to be seen whether the posts will be in the genre of reviews or whether they'll be more like diary entries about my particular experience at a given place, but hey, either way it could be useful information right?

I live in Chicago, so that's where I do most of my eating, but I do travel occasionally, so you may seem some posts about restaurants in other places too. I don't expect that anyone will be offering me free meals or otherwise trying to sway my opinion, but I promise a full disclosure if they do. There might be pictures sometimes, but I'm pretty lazy when it comes to uploading them. I'll try to update at least weekly, and I'll try to avoid unnecessary superlatives, and we'll see how it goes.

Comments are by all means encouraged, even negative ones. If you have any pointers on how I can be a more useful restaurant critic, feel free to let me know. And by all means, please, recommend another restaurant to try.