Good food in light-hearted surroundings

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Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen has two locations: 100 E. Walton St (at Michigan) and 55 E. Grand (at Wabash). Tried the Walton place with a friend today and was very pleased.  The music seemed a bit too loud when we got there, but the din of the other diners soon balanced that out (every table was busy all through a long lunch time). Yet because we were seated in a booth, we had enough privacy that we could still speak in reasonable tones.

Besides some very creative sandwiches, burgers, salads and pizzas (avocado!), one of their featured items is the Wok Out Bowl ($14 to $18). A pile of fresh veggies (kale, broccoli, carrot, mushrooms, onions) and a protein of your choice (e.g., shrimp, chicken, steak) are stir-fried ’til crisp/tender, topped with cashews, and served on either brown rice or lo mein noodles with your choice of sesame teriyaki or a spicy Thai sauce (we both liked the Spicy Thai best – it’s not especially hot).  You feel virtuous ‘cuz it’s full of vegetables, but satisfied ‘cuz it’s got the protein and the starch. And it’s good.

A couple of particularly attractive sandwiches – Craig’s Knuckle Sandwich ($23) of 100% Maine lobster with coleslaw and arugula and the Filet Mignon with Parmiggiano Reggiano. Our neighbors ordered the avocado pizza – it looked and they said it tasted fabulous. They also had deep-fried sweet potato chips with two sauces that looked quite appetizing.

We couldn’t resist splitting a slice of chocolate pecan pie – worth the calories. Wine list is short and simple. By the glass whites and reds (and sparklings) from $9 to $18 each. For the cost of a bottle, multiply by four.  Excellent service. Friendly, knowledgeable, helpful and attentive. Comfy, casual vibe with excellent food and service.

 

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New cheeses from grass-fed cows come to Chicago

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Many cheeses at the supermarket
Many cheeses at the supermarket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grass-fed is the new mantra for healthier eating. You restaurant-goers and shoppers can find grass-fed meats, eggs and dairy in various locations around Chicago. Now you can also find a new brand: Grassfields is local and makes cheeses with raw organic milk from grass-fed cows raised to the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S. and Canada.

Look for the brand at some 20 stores and restaurants across the city, including Eataly, Bin 36, Longman & Eagle, West Town Bakery, Bangers & Lace, and the Dill Pickle Food Co-op. Grassfields’ nine varieties of cheese are made and aged on its 250-acre dairy farm, near Coopersville, MI.

Matt Reilly, Manager of Salumi and Formaggi at Eataly, says “Understanding what we eat is the only way to develop healthy relationship with our food. As a cheese monger, my goal is to know and build a direct trust relationship with both the producer and my customers. …I am happy to encourage my customers to bring [Grassfield cheeses] home to their families.”

Antonio RamÍrez, Cheese Director at Bin 36, says his customers agree: Grassfields’ cheeses are “unique and unexpected. “…Grass feeding produces added flavors and sweetness, makes the flavor more interesting, and keeps animals happy and healthy. Happy cows make happy cheese…”

For a full list of stores carrying Grassfields Cheese visit www.grassfieldscheese.com. For retail enquires, contact Luke Meerman on (616) 997-8251 or email grassfieldscheese@gmail.com.

About Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards, policies and procedures are available on the AWA website. AWA’s Online Directory of AWA farms, restaurants and products let you search by zip code, keywords, products and type of establishment. AWA has also launched AWA Food Labels Exposed, a free smartphone app guide to commonly used food claims and terms, available from the App Store or Google Play. A free printable version of Food Labels Exposed is also available for download atAnimalWelfareApproved.org.
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Go North to Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Michigan

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Ever been to Northern Michigan? I just went there for the first time recently, and I can tell you it’s beautiful country. It’s a delightful place to escape from Chicago’s intensity for a bit. Happily, there’s a cool resort – owned and operated by the Chippewa and Ottawa Indian tribes – near Traverse City that’s got everything you need for a real retreat. It’s called Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

Three golf courses – all respectably difficult – grace the property. The outdoor pool has its own food service (in season). The fully equipped health club is huge – 100,000 square feet – and includes five beautifully maintained indoor tennis courts, two indoor pools and two hot tubs open early to late, a full fitness center with machines, weights and classes, and a childcare center called the Cub House.

Also, on premises you have three restaurants (read about Aerie here) and a whole little avenue of shopping pleasures. MudPie offers delightful gifts and fun fashions and accessories. Dylan’s Candy Bar has a host of sweet treats and fun little gifts for kids. Tumbleweeds carries toys and games for kids of all ages. Plus there’s an American Spoon shop with fabulously creative jams, sauces, and more.

Plus, you can always visit the Turtle Creek Casino down the road if you’re one who enjoys gambling. Plus you can visit nearby National Forests – Huron-Manistee, sample good food in Traverse City (Amical), visit lighthouses and wineries. You will not be bored.

By the way, this part of Michigan is about to receive millions of dollars for repair and resurfacing highways and byways. So if you’ve ever been in this area and run into some difficult traffic or roads, you should find smoother sailing soon.

Don’t take the highway up there. Rather take the scenic route up Route 31 (the trip is seven-ish hours) and stop in one or two of the little lakeside towns (starting from closest to Traverse City): Frankfort, Manistee, Ludington, Muskegon and Saugatuck are all charming places to get a meal or a drink. Crowded in the summer, but still fun to see even off-season.

It was my first time in Northern Michigan – and I’m hoping I’ll be back again soon.

 

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Lovely restaurant in Northern Michigan resort

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I love to feel welcome and elegant when I travel. The restaurant on the 16th floor of the tower at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa made me feel just that way on a recent visit. Called Aerie, it surely is – an airy delight. Graceful panels of ceiling-to-floor, white, lacy fabric separate the space informally. A wall of curvy booths offers cozy accommodations for small parties. The space was completely redone in 2007 by Simeone Deary Design Group of Chicago.

Walls of glass – 360 degrees around – let in the view of Lake Michigan bays and expansive Northern Michigan woodlands. And bathe patrons in the rays of the setting sun when the hour is right.

The evening we arrived for dinner it was still early, so the place was flooded with bright sunshine – too bright for comfort at many tables. Our host was gracious about letting us walk around to find a table with a little shade – and we were delighted to find a perfect spot.

We studied the menu over cocktails and asked for our server’s recommendations. As soon as we ordered, an amuse bouche arrived consisting of two tiny cups of rich lobster bisque drizzled with vanilla chorizo oil and fresh squeezed lime juice and topped with lime zest and micro greens. What a tempting way to introduce a new soup being added to the menu.

GT scallop appCheyenne, our server, had highly recommended the scallops, so we ordered the scallop appetizer. The julienned vegetables were crisp and delicious, the scallops tender and full of flavor. The sauce – well, we had to ask for bread so we could soak it all up.  She told us she was bringing us bread with the next course, but we couldn’t wait.

For main courses we had a fish and a steak entree, respectively. Nicely cooked – fish moist, steak done to order, my broccoli rabe, crisp – though my side mash and sauce were not favorites.

GT fish

GT steak

 

 

 

 

For dessert we studied the complex creations on offer and decided we just wanted some ice cream. Cheyenne consulted the chef and, eh, voilá, he kindly agreed to our request. Out came a delightful presentation of three different flavored scoops plus a small helping of pot de creme (each from one of the desserts on the menu) on a beautiful, crisply white four-section serving plate. We were thrilled – and loved the combination of flavors. We are hoping they’ll put this on their menu for future visits!

GT ice cream dessert

We were pleased with the wine recommendations and delighted with our experience. Cheyenne was attentive and friendly throughout. It was also fun to learn that one of the new Sous Chefs in the kitchen here, Nick Battista, worked with legendary Chef Charlie Trotter at his eponymous restaurant in Chicago before its untimely closing.

More about Chef de Cuisine William Matthews (Chef Bill) and stories about his culinary domain in another article.  Oh, and the wonderful spa, too.

When you next visit Traverse City for golf or gambling or whatever, treat yourself to a magnificent view and a good meal at Aerie in the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.  A pleasant 7 hours from Chicago via Route 31 up the coast – and much prettier than the highway. Don’t use Google Maps’ directions; call the Resort at 800.236.1577 for nicer alternatives.

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Eataly lets you taste your olive oil before you buy

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English: Olives in olive oil.
English: Olives in olive oil. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making olive oil is an intense labor of love in Italy. Some even call their olive oils their children. So how are we mere-mortal, non-olive-oil-making folks to know what to buy?

The selection at all-things-Italian Eataly, 43 E. Ohio is, as they say, humongous. Happily, Eataly has an on-site oliologist (olive oil expert) who knows her way around – and will gladly show you your way around, too. Which means, you get to have a private tasting before you buy. A few more quick tips from Gabriella Gentile, Guest Relations Supervisor and Olive Oil Specialist:

You don’t need to know anything special before you taste. The olio expert will ask about the profiles of oils you think you might like, and will then select a few for you to try.

Traditionally you are advised to chew a small slice of apple (Granny Smith is good) or small piece of bread between tastings, but you’d have to bring (or buy) your own in Eataly.

Optimum numbers for a single tasting are three oils and up to five. Italy’s Northern, Central, and Southern regions each have a distinct flavor profile. Tasting three to five oils should give you a good understanding of what region and type of oil you prefer.

Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy.
Olive oil from Imperia in Liguria, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you go and get your tasting, it might be fun to read what Eataly’s NYC oliologist has to say about choosing olive oils in this interview on SeriousEats.com. He’s the guy who trained all six olio experts in our Chicago store. The point is olive oil, just like wine, is a reflection of its terroir (where it’s grown), which olives it’s composed of, and how those olives are harvested and processed. The many varieties come with widely different tastes and aromas.

Another way to choose is to look for brands that have won awards. Veronafiere, another organization dedicated to promoting all things Italian, also gives other countries a chance to compete in the world of olive oils. They just put out the winning names of the top 9 olive oils in the Southern Hemisphere and a few honorable mentions.

So you should be ready with this background to go forth and follow your nose to a great olive oil – for cooking, drizzling or dipping. Be ready to shell out some bucks; good olive oils are not cheap. But Ms. Gentile says everyone should be able to walk out of Eataly with a bottle they love in a price range they’re comfortable with.

 

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Chicago Gourmet 2014 today and tomorrow

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It starts months before. Chefs and culinary personalities across the country put on food and drink events in Chicago all year. Then comes the big weekend – that’s now.

Last night Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet opened with the traditional Hamburger Hop. Twenty chefs competed to create the hamburger with the most epicurean elan.

Hamburger Hop winner Chef Mendelsohon #ChicagoGourmet
Hamburger Hop winner Chef Mendelsohon #ChicagoGourmet

Chef Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery got *Judge’s Choice for his “Prez Obama Burger,” with red onion marmalade, gorgonzola crumbles and horseradish mayonnaise on a brioche bun.

The Chefs John Hogan & Tony Mantuano for their “Tête de Tête Burger,” layered with house-made head cheese, onion pickle relish, tête de moine (gourmet Swiss cheese) and crispy pig skin on a yogurt roll. Attendees voted by dropping bottle caps into containers at their favorite chef’s station.

A good time was had by all. And I hope you’re out there today partaking of the expansive array of food and drink options in Chicago’s biggest culinary celebration. If you’re not, see if there are any tickets left for tomorrow.

If you’re feeling flush, get a ticket for the Grand Cru. An unforgettable crush of fabulous wines and gourmet tastes.

* Judges included culinary experts Lin Brehmer (WXRT), Carla Hall (The Chew), Jeff Mauro (Sandwich King), Mario Rizzotti (Iron Chef America), Patrick O’Neill (Lagunitas Brewing Company) and Michael Gebert (Chicago Sun-Times).

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If it’s YOUR name, you get a free meal

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Chuck's four-star food: Caprese Burger
Chuck’s four-star food: Caprese Burger
Chuck's four-star Heirloom Tomato Salad
Chuck’s four-star Heirloom Tomato Salad

A fun promotion’s going on at the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. Every morning at 8 am, check for your name on the Facebook and Twitter pages of its on-site nearly-four-star restaurant, Chuck’s, A Kerry Simon Kitchen. If your name is listed that day, all you have to do is bring a friend, show up with a photo ID to prove it, and get a free meal and soft drink for yourself (your friend pays or you can split it).

Dubbed the ‘Say My Name’ offer, it’s happening at Chuck’s and Hard Rock Hotel every day. For example, today’s name is SARAH. Everyone named SARAH who comes into the restaurant today (with ID and paying friend) gets the freebie.  The offer is valid all day (restaurant is open until 11 PM.

Facebook and Twitter handle: @ChucksChicago

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Come enjoy free art, food, drinks tonight

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Artist at work on Sierra Mist billboard
Artist Ruben Aguirre of Chicago adds his vision to a Sierra Mist® billboard created exclusively for Chicago on September 17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. Aguirre was the fourth artist to collaborate on the co-created billboard, which will be finalized by one additional Chicago artist and placed in 15 locations throughout the city.

You’re invited to attend a very cool, free closing party for the re-launch of Pepsico’s Sierra Mist brand.  Tonight, Friday, September 19, from 6 to 10 pm, at Open Secret Studios401 Racine Ave. , enjoy gorgeous lemon-lime-lit atmosphere, beautiful art, delicious food, and funky-cool music – and it’s all free.

Pepsico put on a preview party the other night with some of Chicago’s sports, art and culinary elite – including Charles Tillman, Graham Elliot and five local artists for the “Sierra Mist Exquisite Collaboration Billboard Project.”

During the preview, sports giant Charles Tillman shared his passion for the arts and his thoughts on the project. Graham Elliot prepared and served dishes inspired by the soda and by the billboard, while DJ Arkitek (from Studio Paris, theMID, UNDERGROUND, etc.) cranked the beats.

As part of EXPO Chicago, the Sierra Mist collaboration (#sierramistcollab) project features five Chicago artists (Samantha de Carlo, James Whitworth, Tony Bramble, Ruben Aguirre and Justus Roe), who each have added  their unique artistic expression to the same canvas during a five-day span.

The final product is a billboard you can preview at the party tonight – and that you’ll soon see throughout Chicago.  Chef Elliot will serve his inspired food and drinks. Check out this exclusive interview with Chef Graham Elliot about the #sierramistcollab.

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Celebrity chef Graham Elliot talks about #sierramistcollab

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Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman and “MasterChef” judge Graham Elliot celebrate art and Chicago culture at the preview of the Sierra Mist® Exquisite Collaboration Billboard Project on September 17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The billboard – a collaborative effort between five local Chicago artists – will be photographed and placed in 15 locations throughout the city in late September.
Chicago Bears cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman and “MasterChef” judge Graham Elliot celebrate art and Chicago culture at the preview of the Sierra Mist® Exquisite Collaboration Billboard Project on September 17, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. The billboard – a collaborative effort between five local Chicago artists – will be photographed and placed in 15 locations throughout the city in late September.

Graham arrived cool as a cucumber, dressed in his, as he described them, poured-into-them-can’t-get-any-tighter lime green pants, and rarin’ to go. We sat down just before the opening night of the Sierra Mist art-food-music Collaborative Project to relaunch one of PepsiCo“s flagship products, Sierra Mist. Removing his trademark white-framed glasses. he fired off quick and sure answers to a few questions about his partnership in this project.

1. How did Sierra Mist choose you to work with them on this?

The idea of showcasing the synergy and relationship between art and food – how it all comes together – I always try to be at the forefront of that. I don’t want to say I was the obvious choice, but I do believe in it. I take my culinary team to the museum to get inspired by color and shapes. And I believe nothing is more important than the journey to find your own voice. You never want to copy.

2. What has been the most fun about this partnership?

Having the artistic freedom to come up with these dishes. It would be easy [for Pepsico] to say it has to be this way, it has to be super user-friendly. Instead, I’ve had carte blanche. If I want to do something with lime and coconut with citrus accents, that’s okay. The fewer parameters set, the more creative you are allowed to be.

3. What has been the biggest challenge?

To have all this freedom! You want to do something because you want to reach an audience. But you just want to be sure people will like them – you don’t want to be so artsy that you’re just out there.

4. Will your Bistro be featuring any of the dishes you’ve created and for how long?

Yeah, maybe the soup – it’s coconut-cauliflower with lime. As we get into the colder weather something like that would be good. It will stay on the menu as long as people keep ordering it.

5. What would you like to tell readers and other chefs about using Sierra Mist (or any soda) in cooking?

When you look at soda, it has a mouth feel, this effervescence, that works well with cocktails. Then there is the flavor of the soda itself. Sierra mist has a lemon-lime flavor – and I think lemongrass, ginger, cilantro. I think Thailand. I think cranberries – cooking them down and reducing the soda to make a glaze.

Just like at home, you try to unlearn things from the past, and never turn your nose up at new ideas.

I can tell you this: I didn’t get to taste the soup, but if the cranberry dipping sauce he made that night is any indication, I can’t wait to try that soup for what I know will be an intense flavor hit. Join the conversation – #sierramistcollab – and get to the free closing night party tonight! You’re invited.

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Have gin – and portable bar bag – will travel

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Are your friends always asking you to mix the cocktails at parties? Are you the one they call on for new and exciting cocktail ideas? Thanks to the House of Bombay, you’ve got a brand new taste in gin to play with.

Bombay Sapphire has been around fBombay Sapphire East and bagor 25 years as a superpremium London Dry Gin choice. But now comes Bombay Sapphire East, just being introduced in the U.S. It favors the flavors of Asia – infused with crisp Thai lemongrass and spicy Vietnamese Black Peppercorns. I made myself a Gin & Tonic with it the other day and was astonished at how exotic and refreshing it tasted.

And while you’re at it, here’s an idea on how to become a modern-day Paladin – have bar bag, will travel. If you’re in the market for a showy, classy set of bar tools you can transport as needed, check out the Barking Irons Bartending Bag ($495). It was inspired by Bombay Sapphire and features that trademark blue bottle color in the waxed lining.

Just for fun, try these classic cocktail recipes using this unusual new gin.

Gin & Tonic Reimagined

  • 1 ½ oz Bombay Sapphire East Gin
  • 3 oz Fevertree tonic
  • Lime wedge (or lemongrass, juniper, coriander, or cassia bark)

Method: Press lemongrass stem and lime wedge into base of an old-fashioned glass. Fill with ice and build. Garnish: Lime wedge, lemongrass stem

Sapphire Peppered Peach Tea Collins

  • 1 ½ oz. Bombay Sapphire Gin
  • ¾ oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
  • ½ oz. Simple Syrup
  • 1 ½ oz. Peach Iced Tea
  • Pinch of Black Pepper
  • Club Soda

Build with ice in a Collins/Highball glass. Top with club soda. Garnish with peach slice and lemon twist.

Bombay Negroni

  • 1 part Campari
  • 1 part Bombay Sapphire
  • 1 part MARTINI Gran Lusso

Stir the ingredients over ice. Strain into a lowball glass with a large chunk of ice. Garnish with an orange slices.

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Lovin' how Chicago does it!