It’s Oyster Fest week, people! Shaw’s Crab House Chicago is making this week a real standout on the calendar with multiple events honoring the king of bivalves, the oyster.
Yesterday, for example, author Cynthia Nims and Shaw’s invited press and industry pundits to hear about the amazing things she learned about oysters in writing her book, Oysters: Recipes that bring home a taste of the sea. Guests were treated to a wide variety of oysters made with recipes taken from her book and lovingly prepared by the oyster expert chefs in Shaw’s kitchen.
The event started with a sinus-cleansingly-hot wasabi oyster shooter and went on with a tray of oysters on the half shell from various regions of the US. These included the delectable small Olympia oyster from Puget Sound, several with Japanese names (and origins) from both East and West coasts, one from New Brunswick, Canada (very close to the Prince Edward Island known for its mussels) and one large, flat variety from Casco Bay Flats in Maine. The Olympia was a favorite.
Next on the menu came steamed-then-chilled Shigoku oysters, one dish made with a super-fresh and original mix of watercress, cilantro, Asian pear, candied pecans in an orange vinaigrette that was simply delicious. Another covered the oysters in a sake-ginger butter sauce full of flavor.
Next course was a trio of hot oysters – one baked with leeks and thyme, another gratineed with kale, and a third grilled and covered with a bright green arugula-almond pesto. Meanwhile Cynthia regaled guests with stories of how oysters filter the water in which they live and how their taste is profoundly affected by their environment, somewhat in the way wines are heavily influenced by their terroir. She said in all her years of food writing she’s rarely seen the passion and the partiality of oyster lovers in fans of other food groups.
Check out other oyster-related events at Shaw’s here and get ready for their huge Oyster Fest, on deck for tomorrow, Friday September 30, 3 to 10pm. Rain or shine the fest is on – and Shaw’s stands ready to help you enjoy it no matter what. They’ve purchased 1000 rain ponchos to pass out should the weather decide not to cooperate. Whether you join the teeming crowds, or you purchase the new-this-year VIP seated/service option, come on down and thrill to the live music, the great food and fun crowds at Shaws Chicago Oyster Fest 2016.
The front corner window of Fogo de Chao Brazilian steakhouse, at 661 N. LaSalle and Erie Street, contains a large open fire pit. And when the attendant inserts giant skewers of meat into several evenly spaced holding slots, it means – as it does in Brazil – that this restaurant is now open for business. And that’s one way you know that Fogo de Chao is serious about meat. Went in to try several new menu items for fall with a view to telling you about them.
Yes, as the menu indicates, this place is all about the meat. But the warm mini popovers they serve as soon as you sit down are murderously good – and the little floury gems are even more irresistible with bits of cold butter (you have to ask for that). Had to restrain myself – knew there was a barrage of meat coming soon. But first, the beautiful Market Table and Feijoda Bar.
Vegetables, legumes and grains galore – gorgeous with color, shine, freshness, contrast. Just beautiful, and tastes as good as it looks. And here they sneak meat into even the new-for-fall endive pear salad – peppery bacon complements the lightly dressed fruit-greens-onion combo. For the kale salad, raw leaves are massaged with a dressing just puckery enough to offset the slightly bitter green. A colorful tabbouleh salad is chock-full with fresh herbs and onion and just touched with oil. The carrot and green bean medley – deliciously fresh, lightly dressed, studded with sesame seeds and cooked a pointe – tastes of the garden.
The special new-for-fall blackberry cocktail, Blackberry Azedo, is made with fresh blackberries muddled with mint and shaken with Hendrick’s Gin, Crème de Cassis (black currant liqueur), and a house-made lime sour. A drink with delicate blackberry flavor minus the harassment of the seeds – pinkish purply color, lightly sweetened, topped with a fresh mint leaf. The server couldn’t quite get why I was asking to have the cocktail as dessert. Would’ve been a nice finish to the meal. But it didn’t go amiss, either, as an accompaniment to the food.
When you’re seated for the full meat-lover’s dining experience ($52.95 any night of the week), you’re given a little cardboard coaster that acts as your signal to the waitstaff that you’re ready to quit eating salad and start eating meat. When you turn it from red (salad) to green, they start bringing huge skewers of many different meats and combinations of meats that they slice off for you. And it’s nice that you can call upon any server – everyone in the dining room works as a team so you always have someone nearby who can assist you with questions or requests.
The new-for-fall butternut squash and sweet potato soup was creamy and satisfying – perfect for when fall finally arrives in Chicago. And since in Brazil butternut squash is a winter staple, they’ve created a unique salad of it roasted with cinnamon and honey and then tossed with cranberries and feta.
Okay, first slice of meat, recommended by the server, is the super juicy bottom sirloin off one of the giant skewers. Good flavor – fire-roasted with only salt for seasoning, you really get the flavor of the meat. Which may be all you need. Or maybe you’ll like it dipped in the horseradish sauce or one of the other half dozen choices (BBQ, steak sauce, chimichurri, hot sauce, mint jelly for lamb). Sides that come with both meat and fish options include garlic mashed potatoes (super light and airy if a bit salty), fried bananas, and polenta cut in French-fry-style prisms, deep-fried and dusted generously with Parmesan. Wanting to see what the chef would do with fish, we also requested the baked sea bass option ($34.95 a la carte at dinner, $42.95 as full dining experience – or you can order just the Market Table and Feijoda Bar for $28.95).
Back to the main show. Next tried a slice of top sirloin rare. Then a slice of prime sirloin (juicy, good, rare and salty). Both very nice. They are able to slice it off the skewer – you prevent the meat from falling by grasping each cut in a small pair of tongs provided to you for that purpose – in precisely the doneness you want. Impressive. Did not partake of the bacon-wrapped chicken, the pork chop, the chicken and sausage, pork ribs or lamb skewers, but they all looked good. Easy to see why a lot of hungry guys like this place!
The grilled chicken breast was somewhat dry inside but with a tasty char on the outside. It was the perfect chance to use one of the sauces to enhance the taste experience.
While waiting for the sea bass (it takes about 20 minutes to prepare), notice that Fogo has a separate good-sized bar area in addition to the giant dining room. On this early Thursday evening a crowd has already gathered. As the minutes go by, the dining room gets even fuller. The meat-bearers wander freely among the diners with skewers of juicy animal flesh. This grilling technique is the Brazilian steakhouse way, and it’s known there as churrasco.
The sea bass arrives – cooked perfectly. Lightly crisp on the outside, exuding lovely juices with every tender cut of the fork, and sitting on a bed of large spears of asparagus cooked al dente. The server even brings on a new set of warm sides as the others have grown cold waiting. This Fogo de Chao chef certainly has skills in all areas, and the team is on top of service.
Just after 7 pm, and the place is getting really crowded. What a draw – unlimited amounts of meat, almost-cooked-to-order for one price. For serious meat lovers this beats all to hell the price of a traditional a la carte steakhouse experience. Fogo de Chao is open for lunch (except Saturdays), closed for a bit, then open for dinner each day. And check out the Fogo sampler bites at happy hour (4:30 to 6:30) in the bar only.
It comes from Domaine de Fanouillet and it’s just delicious. It surprises your nose and mouth with “aromas …redolent of wild flowers, strawberry jam, clove and slate.” says VinChicago. “The palate echoes these notes and continues on with more robust elements of leather, pine needles, white pepper, spice box and with supple tannins, bright acidity and a wisp of smoke.” But don’t worry, even if you can’t “get” all those tastes, you’re probably going to love this wine.
And at only $10.99 a bottle, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse 2014 is a big value. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a red wine so much for so reasonable a price. Anyone who loves dry, medium-body red wines with their food – whether it’s a burger, a ragout, or a piece of sturdy fish – will be very pleased with this French red blend wine. And the quality is such that you can be very proud to bring it as a host/hostess gift. Check it out on VinChicago’s website.
Have loved DMK Burger Bar at 2954 N. Sheffield ever since it opened several years back. Been meaning for a long time to get to their Fish Bar around the corner and finally did this weekend.
Seating available inside or out – it was a bit too loud and hot inside we can climbed onto one of the unusually proportioned picnic benches outside (the bench seat is set a little closer-in than average). Rolls of paper towels dot the tables in lieu of napkins. The menu’s interesting, ranging from fresh oysters, Seared Tuna Salad and Head-On Prawn Salad to tacos, sandwiches (including po’boys), entrees, and some smaller items called “Crispy.” I realize only now that the menu did not contain any variety of French fries – and I didn’t even miss them. We really liked the of taste of the wine-of-the-day, Squandra Rosato rosé, and ordered a bottle ($27).
Ordered the seafood special of the day and got two nicely seared, very large scallops served with a little pile of crispy-bacon-lardon-studded Brussels sprouts. Very good. Companion raved about the fried shrimp po’boy ($12) – said it was one of the best sandwiches she’d ever tasted, and the shrimp were entirely ungreasy. A good-sized helping of out-of-the-box-colorful cole slaw was big enough to share.
A favorite for us both was the small plate of Crispy Lemon Rings ($5) served with crispy slivers of onion and slices of jalapeno. Absolutely delicious. The tempura-type breading was barely-there and deep-fried, well, crispy but not greasy. The lemon slices, skin-on, melted into something quite tasty and not at all puckery. This might be a dish I’d want to get with whatever else I order here next time.
While we know how important they are to celiac disease and other sufferers, gluten-free baked goods have in the past mainly made us look elsewhere for treats. But we agreed to try a few samples from Garden Lites because they were also said to be rich in vegetables.
So glad we did. The chocolate zucchini edition tastes pretty rich as well as feeling almost as good in the mouth as a flour-based muffin might. A little less so for the Blueberry Oat version, but still very enjoyable. We ate
them straight out of the freezer – heating is recommended to bring out the best flavor – as mid-morning stave-off-starvation snacks. Both were definitely satisfying as regards both taste and to feeling virtuous about the nutrition. Vegetables are the first ingredients listed on all their versions (e.g., zucchini and carrots are first in the list for the chocolate one).
Garden Lites has just introduced these to Costco in the Midwest in boxes of 20. Keep them in the freezer. They’re individually wrapped so no worries about re-sealing the package after opening. Happy to recommend them as healthier satisfying snack alternatives.
We have relatives who live in Louisville, KY so we’re happy to give the city a little boost here. Check out a few points of interest.
Spirits Boom: The bourbon continues to flow in Possibility City. Angel’s Envy’s downtown distillery will open this fall; in addition, moonshine purveyors Lucky and Kentucky Peerlesshave begun distilling their spirits in downtown Louisville.
A Neighborhood for Everyone: Whether it’s bar hopping in Nulu, savoring culinary creations in Butchertown or taking in Germantown’s deep European ties, there’s distinct character waiting to be discovered in each of the city’s many neighborhoods.
Refreshed Museums: The Speed Art Museum reopened this year, debuting a new building and expanded exhibits following a $50 million renovation. The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft also reopened recently, offering an in-depth look at the region’s folk art.
BOURBON, BLUEGRASS & BASEBALL. Binny’s Lincoln Park is hosting an evening of Kentucky-themed cocktails and Southern-inspired hors d’oeuvres tonight, with live bluegrass music by Hickory Vaught and Bourbon education from expert Bernie Lubbers, Heaven Hill Global Whiskey Ambassador. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and the Louisville Slugger Museum will also be in attendance, providing a series of experiences for guests.
Binny’s Beverage Depot
1720 N. Marcey St. Thursday, September 8, 2016 5 to 8 p.m.
Great cocktail ideas are fun to tie with special occasions like the Chicago Air & Water Show going on August 20-21, 2016. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t enjoy them other times of the year if you get the recipe. So here’s one from Rosebud Restaurants that’ll knock your socks off and maybe even make you feel like you’re up there flying with the pilots…
Rosebud Restaurants are offering this specialty drink just for the Air and Water Show; it’s called the Rosebud Jet Pilot and cost $12.
Eat at a gourmet restaurant any day between today, Thursday August 17 and Sunday August 21, select a Charlie-Trotter-inspired menu item, and know that proceeds will benefit the Pillars of Excellence Mentor Program of The Trotter Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire, train, and provide opportunities for aspiring chefs and hospitality professionals.
Special thanks to United Airlines, the official airline partner of The Trotter Project that will donate $1 for every Choice Menu Bistro on Board item sold on all domestic flights, August 17-21, 2016.
Stay up to date with menus and new restaurant additions to Charlie Trotter Day: follow @TrotterProjecton Twitter and @TheTrotterProject on Instagram, LIKE us on Facebook, and join the conversation with #CharlieTrotterDay. And go visit one of these fine restaurants in the city:
Ampersand Wine Bar
Appellation Wine Bar & Restaurant
Goddess and the Baker
GT Fish & Oyster
The Lobby at The Peninsula Chicago
MK the Restaurant
Swift & Sons
Yusho Hyde Park
Yusho Logan Square * All restaurants are in Chicago
Have you discovered the beautiful flavors of serious rum? While rum is one of the oldest and most popular spirits in the world, it comes in a wide range of qualities. Below are a few ideas for celebrating National Rum Day on August 16, 2016.
Diplomático comes from Venezuela, where sipping cocktails along the 2500 miles of coastline is part of every day life. So skip the rum-n-cola or rum punch this National Rum Day and treat yourself to a lovely cocktail set off with chocolate and coffee notes.
Willie Juancho and The Chocolate Factory 1.5 oz Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva
.5 oz Dark Creme de cacao
Stir Diplomático and Crème de Cacao. Wet the rim of a snifter glass with lime and dip in instant coffee and pour the mix into prepared snifter glass.
On a completely different rum note, thanks to RumJumbie sending samples, we’ve recently discovered the joys of premium Jumbie flavored rums – Pineapple Splash and Coconut Splash. These are premium rums – you can tell from the first rich sip. No aftermath of fake pineapple or coconut flavors; instead you get a feeling of smoothness and richness in these liquors, even drunk neat. I’m not normally a tropical drink fan, but these rums didn’t need all the added sugar and flavor-disguisers that many tropical cocktail recipes call for.
What really surprised me was my immediate urge to pour the Coconut Splash rum all over some kind of fruit. Almost any fruit sounded appealing, but I happened to have a chunk of nicely ripe watermelon on the counter. So I chopped off a hunk and did just that. Chopped the melon into bite-size pieces and poured the coconut-infused rum over it. Yes, yes. Refreshing in the extreme. And so delicious. I then started picturing it on top of things like creme brûlée, peach or nectarine slices, ice cream, brownies, and on and on. No liquor has ever inspired me with so many ideas, mostly in the dessert category or, if I should happen to be – or want to be – on vacation, I’d find the idea of fruit/dessert-with-rum positively inspiring for brunch. ” )
The Pineapple Splash made me think of mixing with red fruit juice of some sort with lots of ice and maybe a squirt/slice of lime or Meyer lemon. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. We’ve tried a lot of rums over the years, and these seem to have a friendly vibe. And at about 15 bucks a bottle, they’re an exotic bargain. Read more at www.rumjumbie.com, including the history of the unusual name.
If you haven’t tried it yet, now’s a great time to go enjoy some juicy, spicy, flame-grilled chicken at Nando’s PERi-PERi. It’s a totally unique, fast casual kind of place where the food is excellent and you can enjoy special sodas or a glass of wine with your meal.
They’ve only been in Chicago a year, but this South African-Portuguese restaurant known around the world is hatching its eighth Chicago-area restaurant at 227 E. Ontario in Streeterville. If you go on opening day, Sunday Aug. 7th, 100% of what you spend will get donated to help renovate the popular Seneca Park and the Eli M. Schulman Playground at Chicago Avenue and Mies van der Rohe Blvd.
“When a new Nando’s opens, we like to be good neighbors by partnering with local non-profits to help the community,” said Burton Heiss, CEO of Nando’s PERi-PERi USA. Since opening in Chicago in spring 2015, Nando’s has raised more than $100,000 for local non-profits.
“We are delighted to have a Nando’s in our neighborhood, and we so appreciate their commitment to improving this important public space,” said Marc Schulman, who chaired the 1990 campaign to create the playground and rebuild Seneca Park in honor of his father, the late Eli M. Schulman, a well-known restaurateur who was active in promoting Chicago and helping youth.
Every Nando’s is carefully designed and completely unique, with earthy textures and bright colors that reflect its sunny African-Portuguese heritage. In Streeterville, Nando’s has transformed a former U.S. Post Office into a colorful and inviting destination. An over-sized mural by South African painter John Murray adds vibrant pinks and reds to the main dining room wall. In the United States alone, there are more than 700 pieces of original African art in Nando’s restaurants.