Doesn’t the idea of sitting down to a comforting pasta meal and a glass of deep red wine sound mouth-watering? What if you could do that – at home – in less than 5 minutes?
Well, as we all know, it only takes a minute to open a bottle of wine, and we have a recommendation for you if you love the structure and depth of a bold red wine – Ravage Cabernet Sauvignon. You’ll taste dark, luscious berries rounded out with vanilla and mocha for a beautiful balance of flavors. Color is intense. Feeling could be described as romantic or assertive, depending on your frame of mind. Powerful complement to braised meats; rich and striking on its own. It made us feel like we were in an exotic country. You can buy it in dozens of retail locations in Chicago and elsewhere. And, not surprisingly, it goes beautifully with pasta dishes.
Imagine this: restaurant-quality cooked pasta in a tasty marinara sauce that you can just heat and serve. Yes, it is possible. We were pleased to sample Victoria Chef Collection Penne Marinara and found the pasta cooked to perfection (not mushy or overcooked).
The sauce was delicious, but a little sweet for our taste. They don’t add any sugar, but they do use apple juice concentrate. However, we were pleased to find that adding a tablespoon of ricotta cheese balanced that bit of extra sweetness to our satisfaction. Really surprising to taste this kind of quality from a jar. No refrigeration necessary until after the jar is opened. Victoria Chef Collection’s philosophy is Ingredients Come First™. Their recipes are based on the same ones their founding family brought with them from Italy to Brooklyn. Happily, the list of ingredients has nothing you wouldn’t put in your own pasta sauce. Check out VIctoria’s wide variety of authentic Italian sauces and delicacies.
The space at Mago is expansive. Almost a suburban type ambiance – spacious, modern, colorful. But the food is quite a few levels above what you usually find in a typical suburban establishment. Perfect for savvy sophisticated millennials, yet totally family friendly. The tables are set far enough apart that you have real privacy for your conversations. Ideal for ladies who lunch and want to shop at a few upscale shops afterwards, or for baby boomers looking to enjoy an excellent meal and some good conversation. The space is open and welcoming enough that almost anyone will feel comfortable.
It was fun perusing the menu – both the Hanukkah specials and the regular items. We greatly enjoyed the homemade taco chips with three types of salsa – mild, medium and really hot (made with sesame seeds). Our server Ageo was most helpful explaining the menu and making suggestions. We tried a few things specifically at his recommendations and they were excellent.
For starters we tried, at our server’s recommendation, the empanadas. Excellent choice. A delicious crust with a great deal more character than most we’ve tasted before. The shrimp empanada was especially flavorful – tasted like shrimp of the highest quality roasted to perfection. Crispy turnovers served with frisee, queso cotija and crema Mexicana, in a choice of ground beef picadillo with chimichurri, chicken tinga with roasted tomato salsa, or tequila shrimp with habanero salsa. And you get to choose one each of two choices. Lovely!
The Camarones en Chile was nicely roasted shrimp in a savory poblano pepper sauce, served with special chunky mashed potatoes and a huge pile of roasted poblano peppers, all bathed in a succulent brown sauce. Delicious.
The short rib – a regular menu item – was dressed up for the Jewish holiday. Tender, richly browned and served with a rich, thick, dark mole sauce and a chunk of grated, seasoned plantain that was fried crisp and tasted amazingly good. As a side, the chef prepared potato latkes and added cilantro to honor Hanukkah and give them a Mexican touch. This dish smelled and tasted so good that my granddaughter came home from school and immediately consumed the leftovers.
The flan of the week was coconut – incredibly thick and not too sweet and loaded with coconut, drizzled generously with rich caramel sauce and topped with a big beautiful pile of whip cream and a strawberry. It was served in a huge dish dusted with powdered sugar. No problem polishing off this gem all by myself.
This was one of our favorite recent restaurant meals – and so surprising for a weekday lunch. Felt like a 4-star dinner. Mago Grill & Cantina is well worth a trip for its creative approach to blending cuisines and its commendable attention to the details of execution that take dishes several notches above the usual.
Mago Grill & Cantina is located at 1010 S. Delano Court East. The place is a breeze to get to. CTA buses and trains are a short walk away. And if you drive, no need to fight downtown traffic hassles. Take Lake Shore Drive to Roosevelt or the Dan Ryan and pull right in. The shopping mall has ample underground parking – no need to stress on that score either. Go here. We will be back with friends very soon to try more dishes on the menu.
Invited recently to experience Carnivale, we walked into the large venue at 702 W. Fulton St. in Chicago’s trendy and bustling West Loop. Immediately colorful lights inspired our vision and energetic Latin-fusion music warmed up our party parts. We got the definite feeling we were going to have a good time – and the goal of their staff members seems to be just that: do everything they can to make sure a good time is what you have.
What’s a party without music and live entertainment? At Carnivale scantily clad acrobatic artists perform at strategic locations around the dining area, including a long-blonde-haired mermaid waving her tail while suspended in a net above the tables and painted hard-body entertainers executing feats of skill or gyrating to the music.
The food and wine and cocktails are carefully curated. Our knowledgeable server, Jorge, who is also the restaurant’s sommelier, offered expert guidance in choosing dishes from the dinner menu and beverages that perfectly complemented them.
A new addition to Carnivale’s offerings is its extensive raw bar. Jorge recommended the raw-bar-for-two ($50) – a delightful collection of seafood goodies including poached shrimp, crab claw and half-lobster tail – cooked just right and served with several interesting sauce options in addition to fresh lemon. This dish – possibly one of the best values on the menu – was served dramatically in what looked like a professional toolbox that you open from the middle, the long way, to stepped sides. Nestled in the ice on the bottom were three dishes of Carnivale’s delicious and unique ceviches – generous for two to split. Hard to decide which we liked the best: shrimp, blue crab, or mixto (shrimp, calamari, octopus and a delicious combination of slightly exotic touches like preserved lemon, sweet potato, cilantro and more).
After such a generous starter, it made sense to split Jorge’s next recommendations: the dry-aged prime ribeye ($49) and Hook’s cheddar potato gratin. Meat was nicely grilled and flavorful, though somewhat chewy, with a succulent wine reduction on the side. The potato gratin made a nice pairing. Good thing to split those, because the dessert Jorge suggested was irresistable – the Chocolate Dome ($9), made with white and dark chocolate mousse, strawberry sorbet and fresh strawberries. It was so visually appealing and so incredibly mouth-watering, most of it was gone before the photo got taken.
Since you can’t eat everything on the menu, when you visit Carnivale be sure to look around at other tables. See if you can spot a cotton candy dessert (complete with housemade caramel corn) or even one of their signature cotton candy cocktails. It’s just one more way to liven the party up. And don’t forget their Latin-inspired fusion brunch on weekends. And by the way, they have lots of space for private events – a great place for companies to put on a party or for you to put one on for friends and loved ones.
Whether you’re in the mood to party, or you want to get into the mood, Carnivale clearly stands ready to turn on party mode at all hours every day of the week. Contact them here for reservations or to find out more.
Known for its late-night drinks and menu that make it a popular haven for late-hour denizens of Division Avenue, the recently opened Bourbon on Division restaurant and bar offers a small collection of creative interpretations of Southern-influenced dishes for dinner from 5pm onward, a selection of hand-craft cocktails (many bourbon-based) and a respectable rotating list of bourbons available as either 1.5 or 2-ounce pours ranging in price from $7 to $27. The food menu varies, too, depending on what’s available.
The late-night menu features lots of stomach-filling items – cheese curds, “sloppy” fries with white cheddar Mornay sauce and pork belly, smoked wings (delicious), fried shrimp and fries, chicken barbecue in white sauce with pickles on a brioche bun $11. The burger comes loaded with Dijon, mayo, cheddar, red onion and house pickles. $8. Beef it up with an extra patty for another $4. The bar’s open until 4am and the kitchen until 2am.
And there are plenty of compelling reasons to come in earlier, namely for delicious dishes you can’t get on the late-night menu. Let’s start with dessert for the heck of it. Pecan pie is just what you think and served with bourbon whip cream. Fruit cobbler very tasty – baked in a tiny skillet with brown sugar streusel and an ovoid of caramel ice cream on top $6 – very tasty. The mint julep Creme Brûlée comes in a huge serving with the sugar crust you expect, except with a different kind of filling – like a mint julep pudding underneath for $7. The chef said he’s still experimenting with this one. The spicy chocolate meringue pie sounded fabulous – cinnamon meringue on a spicy chocolate custard nestled in the house-made crust and served with Berry Coulis. $8. We didn’t get to try this but want to, soon.
From the main menu we first tried the smoked chicken wings ($9). A generous serving of fried-but-not-breaded wings came with a sweet pepper jelly that made a wonderful sauce and with crispy black-eyed peas and garlic chips for a nice crunchy contrast. The carrot salad ($7) features a big heap of shaved smoked carrots mixed with arugula, pistachios and honey lemon vinaigrette, all generously sprinkled with pickled mustard seeds – the whole combo a serious high-nutrition/flavor winner.
The grilled salmon trout (pinker than regular brook trout) was cooked to tender, juicy perfection – the thing was served practically smoking hot and yes, literally, the juices were running from the fish onto the plate – and the roasted spaghetti squash that came with it was succulent and sweet, just browned enough from the roasting. We took a chance on this dish, because neither one of us had had a positive experience with spaghetti squash in the past, but this version was a definite 5-star, as was the entire dish. Absolutely worth the $18 price.
My companion had the chicken and dumplings ($16) which consisted of juicy beer-braised chicken, herbed dumplings frosted with a white cheddar Mornay sauce, pea puree and shaved vegetables. She was particularly pleased that the dish contained dark meat, her favorite. $16.
Cocktails are made with care and flare. A few to consider: Methuen’s Bargain ($14, gin based from Ireland), the Black Rob (Scotch based – we loved the hand-made spherical ice cube!), the Sippin’ on Gin and Cider ($12), and the Midnight Campfire (bourbon combined with DiSaronno and other goodies $13). Unique combinations of flavors worth trying. Big list of bourbons, not surprising given the restaurant name, and a nicely curated list of higher quality wines. Prices for wine by the glass range from $8 to $16, so you can choose from a good variety. The restaurant also offers brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 to 5pm.
Our server, Gigi, is well on her way to becoming a full-fledged wine sommelier as well as a whisk(e)y sommelier. She gave us lots of good information and guidance on the menu and the drinks. We were there at 5pm on a Thursday, just as the place opened and were lucky to have her full attention. Eclectic music selections – from bluegrass to country rap and country hard rock – made a lively background. Don’t expect Beethoven here, but do expect good food and interesting drinks.
I love eggs but have always felt a little hesitant about eating them for anything beyond breakfast – well, not counting deviled eggs, for which I have collected dozens of recipes, almost any of which I would eat morning, noon or night. And that whole frittata thing, a good one of those says lovin’ any time of day. Thank you, Epicurious, for “The Only Frittata You’ll Ever Need!”
Okay. I would and do eat eggs any time. But I never thought of serving them with pasta – that ultimate comfort food that we all worry about consuming too much of. That is, I didn’t think of it until I ran into a couple of recipes that had my mouth watering. Olive oil, garlic, Parmesan on pasta with softly fried eggs? Just think about that super rich, creamy and delicious yolk making a sauce on that. Oh, yeah. And not a vegetable in sight – a rare occurrence in this kitchen. So thank you, New York Times for “Spaghetti with Fried Eggs.”
Since I rarely suggest anything that doesn’t involve at least one vegetable, how about spaghetti with softly scrambled eggs and sauteed onions and peppers? Num! Makes the guilt about eating pasta seem quaint, doesn’t it? Thank you, PastaFits.org, for Pasta with Eggs, Peppers and Onions.
And if you’d like to take it one step further into the I-really-shouldn’t-be-eating this realm, try adding bacon and bacon fat to the mix with Spaghetti alla Carbonara. Leave it to Tyler Florence, the madcap southern chef from Food Network, to up the fat – and the flavor – quotient in a recipe. Thank you, Food Network for Tyler Florence’s “Spaghetti alla Carbonara.”
Thrillist is the group from New York that’s spreading its tongue-in-cheek attitude via daily email letters full of articles. They came to Chicago a couple of years ago, and now they’ve decided to start giving parties and inviting local restaurants to participate. They did the first one recent here, and they did a great job. Some of Chicago’s finest restaurants participated (Joe’s Seafood, Chicago Q, Wildfire, etc.).
Tip: Just because there’s a long line doesn’t mean that place has better food. It’s just as likely that the staffers aren’t handling their jobs as efficiently as other stands.
One of the fun things about this event was the central area where people could play games – like giant-size Jango sticks, beanbag toss, etc. Great idea to have something to do besides drink and eat. Makes it feel even more like a party.
And the facility – an old factory in West Loop – was very cool. Besides the dynamite skylight, the bathrooms were the bomb! Go, Thrillist. We look forward to your next event.
You know how sometimes when you walk in a place – air-conditioned and comfortable-like – on a hot day, you feel so grateful you decide to set a spell. That’s how it feels to walk into Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap, 41 E. Superior. Don’t let the address fool you. It’s a quick and easy walk from Michigan Ave., sitting nearly katty-corner to The Peninsula Hotel.
The lighting is a mixture of behind-the-bar, overhead (subtle) and twinkle lights; the effect is warm and cozy – even the tiny lights lining the panels of the dark wood ceiling are a warm orange-y shade. The music is upbeat, and the mood is laid-back party. With a big selection of beers, craft and otherwise, plus a selected list of decent wines and a full bar, you can get anything you want to slake your thirst and/or complement your food. Remember, the keynotes here are ‘barbeque’ and ‘fried.’
Jake’s signature Street Fries are amazing. Served with half a dozen condiments, from creamy, rich cheese sauce, sriracha and jalapeños to pulled pork, delicious chunky guacamole and chopped cilantro, they’re skin-on, just-crispy-enough French fries. You can get them with everything dumped on top or with everything on the side so you can customize your taste experience. The cilantro and guac combo is excellent – even sans fries. Dip some fries in the cheese sauce and top with fresh chopped jalapeño – scrumptious.
The deep-fried pickles are cut in long, thin whole-pickle slices rather than chips or spears so you get plenty of the delicious breading in every salty, savory bite – which you can further enhance by dipping in a little tub of Ranch dressing. The hand-cut BBQ potato chips are crunchy and gently-BBQ-seasoned. Topped with a sprinkle of blue cheese and chopped scallions and served with a light blue cheese dressing, these were the only items that didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Order the pulled pork sliders, served with a huge pile of French fries, so you can have the chance to try all three of Jake’s signature sauces – Carolina (vinegar-based), Georgia (mustardy and delicious) and traditional BBQ flavors – one on each of three mini egg buns full of sweet, juicy pulled pork that’s smoked right on the premises. They smoke all their meats here – brisket, chicken, ribs and more.
Jake Melnick’s has been servin’ up good BBQ in Chicago for 15 years now. Even as I write I’m still dipping fries in the cheese sauce and scarfing up the rest of the jalapeños. Great place to hang with a group of friends or bring the family. With a choice of so many signature sauces for almost everything, ketchup on the fries seems like overkill – but at Jake’s, you make the call.
And don’t forget the wings, burgers and sides – and the monthly specials. August specials are: 1) Jake’s jumbo crispy Charred Orange Bourbon Maple chicken wings served with rosemary Ranch dressing $13.95, 2) Burger al Pastor (pork marinated with red choke paste, fresh herbs & citrus, grilled and topped with roasted Serrano aioli, grilled pineapple, onions & shredded lettuce, served with fries) $15.95, 3) Mac Daddy Mac n Cheese Pizza Mac (crispy pizza dough with house-made pizza sauce, Jake’s creamy Mac, cheddar cheese, local Makowski hot link & green onion) $11.95; and 4) Jake the Ripper Makowski hot link wrapped in bacon, served on a sausage roll & topped with grilled onions, fresh pico de gallo & chipotle-lime cream) $12.95.
Be advised, come hungry and leave your diet behind. And if you want a little more nutrition, they’ve got salads. And brick oven pizzas.
And, oh, yeah. sweet potato fries.
Bulletin…this just in. In case you have room for dessert – or that’s really what you want anyway – they’ve got some kick-a** items in that category, too:
Fried Oreos. The classic cookie, pancake battered and fried, then served over vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce. – $6.95
Warm Apple Pie Skillet. Fresh-baked old-fashioned apple pie with vanilla ice cream. – $6.95
Chocolate Chip Cookie Skillet Sundae – a giant warm chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream, warm fudge and whipped cream. – $6.95
NEW! Jake’s Carnival Fries:house-made funnel cake strings tossed in powdered sugar, topped with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and caramel sauce with whipped cream and sprinkles. $7.95
Don’t drive or walk too fast down the 3600 block of Lawrence Ave. or you may miss the opportunity to enjoy some exceptional food in an unlikely location in Albany Park. T&B Grill, 3658 W. Lawrence, is a delight – but shouldn’t be a surprise since it’s getting nearly 5-star overall ratings on Facebook and Yelp.
Ambrosio Mancines, Chef/Proprietor, brings his passion for good food together with his experiences in the culinary world and his desire to be of service to hungry and discerning customers. All of this comes out in the form of a unique menu that features very tasty tacos, burgers, fries, appetizers, and desserts. Who would think: Tiramisu on the menu with shrimp tacos? Who would imagine a bison burger with truffle fries and a chocolate soufflé for dessert ? How about tortillas handmade with cilantro and jalapeño? Think house-made ketchup with a touch of chipotle, and sweet potato fries with a crisp-crunchy touch of sugar on the outside. Nearly everything here is made from scratch and obviously with tons of love. And the mixing of the cuisines is intentional – Bon Appetit looks for just such originality in its “best new restaurant” category. We believe T&B belongs there this year!
Value for your dollar is exceptional at T&B. The menu offers mini burgers – variously topped with anything from bacon or cheese to caramelized onions and/or a small fried egg – that can be had with fries for a mere $5. The colorful and flavorful tacos – generously filled with duck, shrimp, steak, grilled veggies and so on – are on the menu at $3.50. This kind of pricing is hard to beat anywhere in Chicago – except maybe at an occasional happy hour – and it’s even more amazing when you realize the food is of such high quality.
We tried several of the burger types and loved them, except for the black bean burger which seemed to have too much flour in the mix. Otherwise, all versions were very good, cooked to order, and served on delicious buns. In fact we, who are normally in the habit of taking half the bun off our burgers, didn’t want to do it here. Just too good.
While you eat and drink – BYOB whatever you like, or even choose to mix with any of several house-made cocktail mixes – enjoy the unique and original artwork adorning the walls. In fact, Ambrosio recently engaged a local artist, Manuel “MATR” Macias, to paint a giant mural on the outside wall of the restaurant on the Lawndale Ave. side. Coming soon, it will make it nice calling card for vehicle and pedestrian traffic coming from the west side.
The French fries are hand cut, skin-on and cooked with just enough crispiness on the edges. The variety of choices – four appetizers, seven types of burgers, seven types of tacos, four types of french fries and four different desserts plus seasonal ice cream – gives you a sense that you can have something new every visit. Visit here for more information on T&B Grill and LOTS of gorgeous professional photos of the food.
And make no mistake. You will want to come back. This place is worth the trip, even if you don’t live in the area. We were impressed with the value and love that it’s also BYOB. Congratulations, Ambrosio and manager Omar Contreros. Great job. Have already put the word out to friends and neighbors. We can’t wait to come back.
Celebrate Charlie Trotter Days – Today through Sunday Aug. 20, 2017. Dine in one of these restaurants in Chicago – and others across the country. When you enjoy one of their Trotter-inspired dishes, portions of the proceeds on each item will benefit @TrotterProject, an effort to inspire and encourage young chefs.
What a perfect excuse to indulge yourself and family or friends at one of these excellent establishments. It’s always nice to know that when you’re spending money, you’re also helping young folks who are reaching for the stars.
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One of our favorite things to do is to taste-test new and interesting food products for this blog. We were recently invited to try out products from Just Spices, Peter & Pat’s Pierogies and molly&drew®. Now we’ve got a couple of new ideas for cooking at home and for gifts for other cooks. Below are some thoughts.
Just Spices is a German company that makes a series of flavorful seasoning powders, some spicy, some sweeter (like the new berry flavoring for yogurt) that are USDA organic and “sourced with love.”
The one for barbecue popcorn is a surprise – it gives your evening popcorn a barbecue flavor that doesn’t hit you like a ton of bricks, like many BBQ seasonings do. Especially if you pop your popcorn in coconut oil – so delicious – you don’t want to overwhelm it with spice. This BBQ seasoning is delicate yet definite enough to make your mouth pay attention.
The Just Spices Mexican seasoning is transformative. Now an avocado-studded taco salad – minus the beans and the meat – can be pretty delicious with just romaine, cilantro, red onion and salsa, topped with thickened 2% Greek yogurt (lower fat and calories than sour cream) and lots of fresh lime juice. Add a few drops of Habanero sauce and you’re good to go. But then, if you add a quarter teaspoon of the Just Spices Mexican seasoning, that same dish puts you on the sun-soaked hacienda of an elegant Mexican resort. And you immediately want to order a margarita with your salad. Even if it’s 8:30 AM. We also added it to our turkey meatballs and to the tomatoes we cooked ’em in and really enjoyed the whole thing.
Go try some of these. They just introduced 20 new flavors, too. You won’t go wrong buying one of their boxed sets as a gift for a hostess or friend who enjoys cooking but isn’t fanatical about making their own seasoning. These provide a shortcut that any non-professional cook – and maybe some professionals, too – will appreciate. Each individual package is 100 milliliters and priced from $5.99 to $7.99. Available online only at www.justspices.com/
Peter & Pat Pierogies. And how about some low-fat, low-cholesteraol all-natural pierogies to back up – or be – your dinner entree? Peter & Pat love traditional Eastern European food so much they built it into a thriving catering business over the past 20 years. The most popular dish on their menu is the pierogies. In fact, theirs has become one of the top-selling pierogie brands in the United States. It’s been so successful they’ve now officially launched in Costco locations across the Midwest.
We can personally vouch for the flavor and filling ability of the 4-cheese-and-potato version they sent to test – delicious mix of creamy mashed potatoes with Cheddar, farmers, Parmesan and Swiss cheeses. Yet only 240 calories for four pierogies – not bad for so much creamy, cheesy goodness. Frozen bags of 4 pounds – that’s a lotta pierogies (65 per bag – 12 servings) – for $9.99 at Costco.
molly&drew® Single Serve Mug Cake Kits come in four flavors include, Ooey Gooey Chocolate, Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake, and Chocolate Candy Cane. Just add water, microwave for 90 seconds and ditch the need to mess up the kitchen. Fast, easy dessert for one or two. Top with whipped cream to make it more decadent. molly&drew® also craft their own beer breads and beer cakes that let you blend your favorite beer into ready-to-go mixes. Try the beer bread for appetizers, main dishes, sides and desserts. There’s a cake mix, too, which we sampled – fun to make a cake with beer. We did, however, find the sizable dose of almond extract in the Amore Amoretto flavor somewhat overpowering. We left the cakes sit out for a day and the almond flavor diminished a bit. Still, what a fun – and EASY – idea for sharing with family and friends for brunches, barbeques, dinners, parties, sporting events and more.