The Kimpton Gray Hotel, 122 W. Monroe St. at LaSalle, is the newest upscale lodging option in the heart of the Chicago Loop’s legal and financial district. Located on the second floor, the lobby – known as “The Living Room” – welcomes guests with coffee, tea and muffins in the morning and wine and cheese receptions each evening. Naturally, the Wi-Fi is free. The huge arched windows, framed with floor-to-ceiling black velvet draperies with gold headers, let in natural light and spotlight views of bustling Monroe and LaSalle Streets.
Just off the lobby guests can join locals for lunch, dinner, drinks and more in the bar and restaurant Vol. 39, so named because it refers to the legal volumes that fill the bookcases surrounding the eating area. Handsome lighting and luxurious seating arrangements are perfect for intimate meetings, whether business or pleasure.
The new hotel is the dramatic result of a complete rehabilitation of the former New York Life Insurance building, originally built in 1894. A sweeping marble staircase leads from the entrance to the second floor lobby – graced with the sound of a jazz quartet at the grand opening. Many of the hallways in the 15 floors are still lined with the original marble. At the grand opening designers made dramatic use of lighting – electric, multi-colored, candles, spots and more – to showcase decorations and finishes. A large section of the meeting room space was strikingly decorated with candles and complementary yet completely different items to hold candles and flowers.
Besides Volume 39, guests and locals can select breakfast, lunch or dinner available at Steadfast, the restaurant and bar located at 120 W. Monroe and situated within the main floor of The Kimpton Gray. Its menus offer unique items like duck liver mousse crostini and a laminated brioche sandwich with Serano ham, Manchego, quail egg and caviar.
The presidential suite was beautifully appointed with sleek modern fixtures in a gray/white/black theme and was, well, presidential in its grandeur – easy to picture a president relaxing there. Other size rooms and suites were equally handsome though somewhat smaller, of course. On the 15th floor the rooftop restaurant/bar BOLEO offers a menu with a South American flair and a comfortable place to take in some unique views of downtown. The grand opening featured a hot-tempo video/DJ combo and soulful trumpet by Kafele playing along.
Elegant. Understated. Service-oriented. Kimpton always does a great job. And now The Gray is a new top pick among the Chicago Loop’s eat-drink-and-stay choices.
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.
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.
Spain is divided into several regions and each one has a multitude of cultural and culinary icons, from bullfights and seafood paella in Madrid to various Freixenet wineries and jamon-with-everything around Barcelona. The Spanish Square tapas bar and restaurant and retail shop at 1358 W. Belmont brings genuine recipes to Chicago and lovely hand-painted pottery, as well as a wide array of regional specialties in jars, cans and boxes, including a selection of wonderful Spanish olives and olive oils. The space is light with clean lines and comfortable seating at tables and at the bar. The menu reflects authentic Spanish tastes, and the restaurant features special prices on paella every Wednesday.
I remember the taste of the marcona almonds – warm and freshly roasted and lightly dusted with salt – on the flight back from Barcelona recently. The Spanish Square has them for sale in containers. And, though they did offer several sherries (the owner’s a big fan) and a couple of Spanish cavas, I was sorry I couldn’t order a glass of any of Freixenet’s lovely cavas or other wines. Hopefully one day soon, the retaurant will remedy that situation. Meanwhile you can pick some up at your local beverage store.
Chicagoans take their brunch very seriously, so it’s no surprise that one of the city’s prolific hospitality firms, Four Corners Tavern Group, is behind some of the most playful and delectable offerings. Their brunch menus offer creative fare and superior service in relaxed, yet lively surroundings. From music to munchies, you’re bound to find something to love in one of these neighborhood concepts.
Benchmark (1510 N Wells) in Old Town retracts the patio roof when the weather’s right. Their brunch goes for $35 per person with a $15 unlimited mimosa package (served Saturdays 10am to 2pm) features all-you-can-eat food stations like a carving station, plates of smoked brisket, the famed Doughnut Vault tower, a seafood tower, a sinfully-sweet waffle bar; and a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar
Hurry on out to Gaslight Bar & Grille’s (2450 N Clark)rustic beer garden with communal tables. Only until September 30 they’ve got brunch specials on offer the first Saturday and Sunday of each month (11 am to 2pm) and include Chicken & Waffles with organic honey, Nueske’s bacon and fresh fruit ($10), Biscuit Sliders with scrambled egg, cheese and a side of tater tots ($9), a Mimosa package ($10); Bloody Marys ($8); and Trop Bombs ($5).
WestEnd (1326 W Madison)puts out brunch in an expansive sports bar atmosphere. Feast on $10 brunch specials like Chorizo Sloppy Joe with Texas toast, poached egg, cilantro, avocado and a side of house chips and French Toast Sticks served with whipped cream, powdered sugar, bourbon pale syrup and Fireball-infused crème anglaise. Build-your-own Moscow Mule Bar ($10); unlimited mimosa package ($15); and cheeky beverages such as the insta-worthy Cupcake Shot ($5) out on one of the two dog-friendly sidewalk cafes or inside the new, enhanced game room.
Fremont (15 W Illinois). Think Vegas with this version of Sin City’s legendary over-the-top buffet ($35 per person with a $15 unlimited mimosa package). The distinct social dining experience can take you well into the night if you so desre. DJs spin top hits throughout the bi-level, sleek and chic space with retractable roof. Every Saturday and Sunday, from 10am, reservations recommended. The unlimited assortment includes carving station, Doughnut Vault tower, omelet station, seafood tower, waffle bar with extravagant accoutrements, and a DIY Bloody Mary bar with fun surprises,
SteakBar (1500 N Wells). This dining-to-nightlife hotspot, introduced brunch service every Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 3pm. Elevated breakfast options include:
Steak & Eggs with succulent skirt steak, roasted tomato and sunny side up eggs ($20)
Scramble made from farm eggs, crème fraiche, avocado and chives, served aside Texas toast ($11)
Avocado Toast, a popular choice with crushed avocado, cherry tomatoes and radish atop toasted multigrain ($11).
Unlimited mimosa package ($15) is also available with purchase of a dish.
Whatever else happens, links from hundreds of thousands of articles and photographs will be broken. Thousands of Twitter feeds will suddenly look like bomb-ravaged fields – littered with empty craters (photos) and dead bodies (links). [Update: 7/26/16 Instead of leaving thousands of dead links in all social media platforms, Examiner.com has chosen instead to insert links to its own new entertainment portal. It’s probably legal, but it’s a shabby thing to embarrass your long-term, loyal contributors by making their links no longer go where they were meant to.]
SuperBowl Sunday is reputedly one of the biggest television viewing days of the year in the United States. I’m guessing that might depend on which teams are playing and how big the rivalry is (Wikipedia gives interesting biggest-TV-audience stats here).
And for sure, this is also a day people tend to say the hell with the diet. So whether you’re making stuff at home, or heading out to let someone else do the cooking and cleanup, here are a few last-minute ideas for your enjoyment and edification.
Like to keep the dirty dishes to a minimum on SuperBowl Sunday? Try Nuvino wine in portable PreservPak pouches. Comes in Chardonnay, Malbec, Red Blend, and Sauvignon Blanc. If you don’t drink ’em all up at the party, they’ll keep fresh up to 18 months. Just think of all the glasses you won’t have to wash.
If you like to make your own finger foods for the party, here’s a new product, Just Mayo, that lets you make healthier versions of your favorite Super Bowl dishes. It’s non-GMO, gluten-free, soy free, dairy-free, lactose-free, and cholesterol-free product and comes in sriracha, chipotle, and garlic spreads (burger toppers, anyone?). You can get it at Safeway, Whole Foods Market, Walmart, and select Costco locations. Recipes at http://www.hamptoncreek.com/just-mayo/recipes/
A few quick notes on SuperBowl specials around town:
Commonwealth Tavern, 2000 W. Roscoe St., has brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with $6 bloody marys and $12 mimosas. $5 stadium cups, $15 Miller and Coors buckets, $4 Tecate cans, $5 Lagunitas drafts, and $10 themed food specials created by Chef Donny Farrell. Hold your spot ahead 773.697.7956.
Compass Bar, 433 W. Diversey offers a $10 Super Bowl Chili Frito Pizza along with 200 different beers plus line cards and prize giveaways each quarter.
Lottie’s, 1925 W. Cortland, has a Half-Time Competition. Kick a field goal to win a $250 prize. Meanwhile enjoy the game on multiple screens, drink up $4 Jameson, $15 Miller and Coors buckets, and dig in to a $15 party platter (14-inch cheese pizza and bucket of wings and tots).
LM Restaurant Group: Brasserie by LM, 800 S. Michigan Ave. Bratwurst with Fries and a Miller Lite $10 Troquet River North, 111 W. Huron. Troquet Burger with Fries and a Miller Lite $10
MAK,1924 W. Division has BOGO wangs on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1. Crispy fried with a sweet and spicy sauce, get in all sizes, to go, dine-in & delivery.
The Pony, 1638 W. Belmont, has a free Jameson’s half-time competition – kick a field goal to win a $250 prize. Deals on Jameson, beer buckets and a $15 Punxsutawney party platter (16-inch Clydesdale grilled cheese plus wings and tots).
Tavern on Little Fort, 4128 N. Lincoln, has a Chili Cook-off starting at 3 pm, with judging at half-time. Prizes are as follows: $200 cash (1st place), grill set (2nd place) and Coleman picnic chairs (3rd place). Bring your own crock-pot with your best chili. Ten bucks buys any patron a “judgeship” and the right to enjoy chili samples, wings, sausage, dips, chips, and veggies. $3 domestic specials, $5 microbrew drafts, $4 well drinks and $4 Fireball shots.
With a nod to Billy Joel, I tell you I’m in a soup-making state of mind.
Sunday, a pot of lentil soup without the Italian sausage I usually like to add. But a single package of More than Gourmet demi-glace gave it a touch of nice beef flavor. Then the addition of my newest hot sauce discovery just about made up for the missing spice of the sausage. Happily, there’s now a serving sitting in the freezer to be savored again soon.
Today the last dib of lentil soup made a nice breakfast treat. But later, as the morning wore on and hunger crept in again, I was devastated to think I didn’t have any homemade soup to turn to.
That is, I do, but I can’t eat any more of the soup I made on Saturday. The full-sodium chicken broth I used for it made the flavor of this chili-scented Mexican soup (from World’s Healthiest Foods) even more fabulous, but the salt content made me blow up next day like one of those giant over-filled tires they use in the monster truck crash derbies. I will definitely make this soup again, but not until I unfreeze my own chicken stock or buy some with less sodium.
So while I pondered which of my neighbors might be able to enjoy the remaining Zesty Mexican Soup without being in danger of exploding from sodium, it occurred to me there was still a leek and half a cabbage sitting in the fridge. These, along with carrots, onions, etc., were just what I needed to make one of my favorite vegetable soups from the book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” Author Mireille Giuliano, the CEO of famed champagne maker Veuve-Clicquot, offers sage advice and many slimming soup and other recipes. More about this and more recipes to come in the cookbook I’m working on—working title, 17 Ways to Eat Your Way to Happiness.
I don’t know how long I’m going to be in this soup state of mind, but it’s fun while it lasts.
P.S. Recently I had some of the most flavorful lentil soup I’ve ever tasted at Nookie’s Tree, 3334 N. Halsted. Alas, they wouldn’t divulge the secret.
I loved the book so much—and was so impressed with his passion for food and his ability to express it—I thought I’d try imitating the guy’s habit. Tried using some of his favorite, the original Cholula brand, at a Mexican restaurant and wasn’t thrilled. I figured maybe I’d like a different flavor, so I bought a bottle of Cholula chipotle-flavored hot sauce. It’s still sitting half-used on my shelf after several years. Just didn’t like the flavor or the way it so markedly changed the taste of my dish.
Then I learned from a Bon Appetit recipe for Bloody Marys about another type of hot sauce known as sriracha. Found it at the store, liked what I tasted. Looked for more ideas for using it—found dozens posted online by heavy duty fans of the stuff. And then I tried a recipe that has made this bright red sauce that comes in a Christmas-green-nozzle-top bottle a staple in my kitchen.
Here’s the recipe: Buy some sriracha. Put some sour cream in a dish. Start stirring in sriracha until the cream turns a lovely light orange-ish color—the darker the color, the spicier the dip. Now dip something in it—sliced cucumbers, steamed green beans or cauliflower, celery sticks, Doritos, potato chips, almost anything your heart desires. If you like spicy, there’s no way you won’t agree this is a heavenly way to dip. I’ve since switched to using 2% Greek yogurt for the sour cream and now feel quite virtuous that I’m taking in protein, calcium and “live yogurt cultures” at the same time I’m chowing down joyfully for my tastebuds. Mix with salsa for a nice switch. Use it on sandwiches or dip plain chicken in it. In case you prefer more sophisticated uses, here are some other popular ways to use sriracha.
Now, the news is I’ve found another one I like a lot. It’s called Tabanero hot sauce (the name is a combination of habanero, as in peppers, and Tabasco, the little spot in Mexico that grows peppers so well). But this is definitely NOT your grandmother’s Tabasco sauce. Its recipe sounds more like a real sauce—with carrots and onions, key lime juice, agave nectar, as well as habanero peppers, garlic salt, grapefruit seed extract and salt—labeled as all natural ingredients. I tried the medium-to-hot variety and it wasn’t too spicy for me. I was actually dipping my finger in it and tasting it all by itself. It has a clean, fresh taste and tastes like food.
And guess what? There’s no vinegar in it. I’ve just conducted a completely unscientific taste test with Tabanero, Cholula and sriracha. I now realize that part of why I don’t like the Cholula is the heavy vinegary taste—even though I like the taste of vinegar on its own. And lo and behold, the ingredients in Tabasco, too, are precisely: vinegar, red peppers and salt. Sriracha does have some vinegar, but it’s listed as the fifth ingredient and doesn’t overwhelm the chili flavor.
Okay, there is room in my heart and in my kitchen for two favorite hot sauces. I will probably never buy another bottle of Cholula (though it comes in many flavors and is very popular with Mexican food) or Tabasco (sorry, guys). Tabanero will be my new go-to sauce for Bloody Marys, but it might also get a turn in the yogurt dip once in a while. I’ll probably alternate Tabanero and sriracha for spicing up regular dishes that need a kick.
You can find sriracha hot chili sauce in most grocery stores and even in Targets with grocery areas. Get your bottle of Tabanero hot sauce ASAP—at this moment there are no retail outlets in Chicago (did you know there are such things as specialty hot sauce stores??), but you can order online. Then spice it up for National Hot Sauce Day–and keep your mouth and heart warmed up the rest of the year.