Tag Archives: Chicago restaurants

Join the cast in #ARecipeforDisaster !

Chicago Chef Rick Bayless – famous for his PBS television series Mexico: One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless, and for his several iconic Chicago restaurants – has co-written with the creative team at Windy City Playhouse a super-energetic, immersive comedy about the passion, pitfalls and insanity of the restaurant business as lived out one evening at a fictitious joint called The Contumacious Pig.

It’s called #ARecipeforDisaster and it’s just rollicking good fun. Laughter. Serious action. Behind-the-scenes scheming. Good food.

Not giving away the menu, but the wild mushroom soup veloute-style was rich and utterly delicious. Well, the second version anyway. I won’t tell you what “accidentally” happens to the first version (which isn’t bad anyway). Unassuming, shy, insecure Sous Chef Julian is called upon to replace the Head Chef who’s disppeared this evening. He and the restaurant team go through one calamity and near-disaster after another as the Head Chef and the long-awaited whole pig continue to fail to show up, and then, yes, the Health Inspector, bumptious and slightly randy, unexpectedly comes to visit.

Rick is really good at playing the insecure, shy sous chef, stumbling from missed opportunity to mishap. The two extraordinarily conceited influencers that are part of the play openly express their hots for all the men as the two ladies loudly brag about their number of followers while wandering as if they own the place through the mock-up restaurant where you, as audience member, are yourself seated as a mock influencer. All the other actors are marvelously animated, and they make you feel their characters truly care about each other. Not surprisingly, there’s a happy ending to this fun farce.

Other food for the evening includes items like a creamy, fresh lemon pasta dish with freshly picked herbs (lemon verbena, parsley, cilantro, basil) and a magisterial dish of Potatoes Dauphinoise with a touch of Thai – a nice chance to see how Rick is reaching across the globe to incorporate new influences in his dishes.

Cash bar before the play. Then a little cocktail and two small wine pairings go with the food for the ticket price. Only a few chances left to enjoy this delight at the Windy City Playhouse above Petterino’s. Tickets here through April 24 on W, Th, F, Sa and Su.

Trader Todd’s shows off its brunch chops

If you know Trader Todd’s, 3216 N. Sheffield, you may think of it mainly as a karaoke joint with tiki-bar-style drinks and atmosphere. But guess what? They are now doing brunch, and their Executive Chef Mark Hill really knows how to put food on the plate, with here and there his own unique touch to dishes you thought you knew.

Sweet spicy crunch chicken and waffles
Sweet spicy crunch chicken and waffles

For example, ever ordered fried chicken and waffles? It’s always seemed like a stretch to understand what makes the two go together. But Chef Hill has changed that up for many Trader Todd brunch customers. The way he combines these two is totally unique – kind of like eating your main course and your dessert at the same time. The waffle has a sweet crunch, and the chicken comes in chunks bathed in a rich, brown, slightly sweet-spicy jerk sauce sparked with Chef’s own mixture of allspice and peppers and maybe some or all of these: cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, and salt. It’s his secret – and it’s a good one.

Tenderly cooked eggs make a moist omelette
Tenderly cooked eggs make a moist omelette

And lest you wonder about the kitchen’s ability to do standard brunch items up right, check out the lovely omelette, cooked so that the eggs come out tender and moist rather than dry and tough. Get your choice of cheeses and fillings and eat ’em with the kitchen’s house-made fried potato chunks – tender inside and just enough crust on the outside. Delicious.

Pile the toppings high on your burger
Pile the toppings high on your burger

Or if you’re in the mood for a burger, Trader Todd’s does ’em good. Nice helping of ground beef, grilled and served with whatever toppings your heart desires. And some more of those good fried potato chunks.  But don’t stop there. They’ve got Benedicts and sliders and conch cakes, Jerk Chicken and Jerk Pork sandwiches and more. It’s pan-tropical food and drink to make you feel like you’re in the islands. Lots of open-air space, and there’s even a boat you can sit in in the back bar. It’s a faux-island paradise for brunchers to start off a Saturday or Sunday of relaxation.

Cook book review: Churrasco

Churrasco cookbook - recipes for gaucho cooking
Churrasco cookbook – recipes for gaucho cooking

When you think of churrasco, what comes to mind is a vision of huge slabs of skewered meat dripping fat and juice. And the technique of grilling that produces those slabs is, indeed, the very definition of churrasco. In this new cookbook, called simply Churrasco by Evandro Caregnato, the culinary director of the Texas de Brazil restaurant chain. In it he tells you how he got started as a kid in Brazil and shares lots of stories about being a gaucho there and then his journey to Texas to join the cowboys as master churrasco chef and consultant to the then-new Texas de Brazil restaurant.

You will definitely learn all about how to cut, skewer and cook the way meat-loving Brazilians do to coax the most flavor out of every cut of meat with their special methods. And how they get maximum results out of so many different sections of the various animals, be it pork, beef, lamb or chicken. Recently experienced for the first time this meat-lover’s parade of grilled muscle and flesh at Fogo de Chao (review here).
In this book you may also be pleasantly surprised at the richness and variety of other dishes from Brazil. Imagine a book about grilled meats giving you a recipe for a Cold Savory Torte made of white bread layered with chicken, cheese, and tuna and seasoned with mustard, cornichons, carrots, smoked paprika, lemon and parsley. Mmm.
Think about this one: Spinach Cannelloni, made with homemade crepes and a filling of sauteed spinach and garlic mixed with heavy cream, parmesan and cream cheese. Oh, my! And you’ll find that Squash Ravioli is no longer strictly in the hands of Italy – this Brazilian version is served with a brandy-sage-cream sauce with shallots and porcini mushrooms. How about caramelized cinnamon-and-clove-scented squash served with a spoonful of sour cream? The recipe for beef-bone stock sounds great – like chicken soup with steak instead of chicken. Nutritious, comforting and a great way to use up bones after you’ve grilled some meat.
The recipes don’t stop there but include desserts, sides and potatoes. The book is an inspiration, meat lover or not. Nice gift for both aspiring and experienced cooks.

Rosebud Prime now serving breakfast

Rosebud Prime serves breakfast on the patio
Rosebud Prime serves breakfast on the patio

Tucked into two floors of a beautiful building at 1 S. Dearborn, Rosebud Prime‘s entrance is set off from the street and sidewalk by an elegant patio and a sculpted garden of lovely trees. Charming red umbrellas and crisp white tablecloths look dramatic and inviting – even from across the street – and strongly suggest you’ll be treated royally when you pull up a chair outside. The many small trees give the patio a sense of privacy that’s amazing in the middle of downtown Chicago. Inside the restaurant, it’s all warm wood and comfortable elegance.

Known as a power lunch location, Rosebud Prime is famous for its steaks and seafood specialties. And now they’re making it even easier to spend time with them; they recently introduced a menu of delightful breakfast items. Many are unique to Chef Anthony Reyes, including items like oatmeal brulee served with cream and dried fruits, vanilla crunch French toast made with his mother’s secret ingredient, crabcake Benedict, a yogurt-granola parfait made with super-creamy Greek yogurt from the hands of a friend-of-the-owner’s-family, and more. Chef shows his passion in Rosebud Prime’s lunch and dinner menus, and the new breakfast menu is no exception. Of course, you can also simply enjoy a fresh croissant or bagel and freshly brewed coffee if you like a smaller morning meal.

Powermongers, here’s a classy new place to have breakfast meetings. And come, all ye ordinary citizens, too. and find yourself comfortable and catered to in this prime location restaurant. Caution: If you’re looking for nouvelle cuisine, fuhgeddaboutit. These are Italian people putting good food on the table, and they do it with gusto.

The restaurant provided a meal to facilitate this review. Opinions are strictly those of the writer.

Breakfast, lunch & dinner ideas Memorial Day 2016

Start your Memorial Day with a delicious -and shockingly healthy – smoothie you can make at home. Much-praised Chef Lee Wolen of top-rated Boka Restaurant created this recipe and others using the unique flavors of Pure Leaf TeaHouse Collection of presweetened teas. When an 8-year-old says she’s okay with raw kale in her smoothie ‘cuz it tastes so good, you know you’ve got a winner.

Copy of Chef Wolen Pure Leaf
Boka Chef Lee Wolen slinging smoothies in Lincoln Park

Apple Ginger Tea Smoothie with Blueberries and Kale

  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1.5 cup Pure Leaf Tea House Collection™ Green Tea Fuji Apple & Ginger
  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
    Whirl everything in a blender until smooth. Garnish with chopped apple and fresh grated ginger.

Then, after you’ve digested that, and at a reasonable hour – say, eleven thirty-ish – pull out one of these lovely bubbly wines for lunch and toast your Memorial Day in earnest. Gorgeous bubblies like:

SEGURA VIUDAS RESERVA HEREDAD – an exquisite and aromatic cava (Spanish bubbly made with methode champenoise). You’ll enjoy serving it from its pewter-embellished bottle, and its smooth taste pairs well with any grilled foods or other treats you decide upon. Should you be camping out, could there be anything better than a little bubbly with your S’mores? ~$25

LOS VASCOS ROSÉ 2015 – Bright, pale pink color. On the nose, aromas of strawberries, raspberries, cherries and pomegranates underscored by white chocolate and sugar syrup. The palate is fresh, balanced and persistent. ~$14

VALDO ROSÉ BRUT – a color like scarlet brush strokes on rose petals. Bouquet is of fine and elegant blossoms with a persistent presence of raspberry and a cascade of tiny bubbles. Altogether a pleasant round warm flavor with a charming fruity aroma. ~$14

PRIEURÉ DE MONTÉZARGUES TAVEL AOC 2014 – a pretty rosé wine with violet tints and a nice salmon color and an intense nose with white flowers. ~$24

THEN, you’re probably exhausted so you’ll want to just go out and let others wait upon you for dinner. Luckily there are dozens of downtown spots to take yourself and family and friends for dining al fresco. Here are a just a few.

Beatrix – River North519 N. Clark, patio and open window seats are perfect for sipping a fresh juice, specialty iced coffee or signature cocktail like the Mexican Iced Coffee and Malted Freddo, and the Habenero-Pineapple Margarita and Blueberry Tom Collins, both made with homemade fresh juices. The full wine bar has open floor-to-ceiling windows.

Beatrix – Streeterville671 N St Clair St., seats 80-100 outdoors.
Spend the whole day if you like, with  breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner served there, or pick up something from The Market to enjoy in the sun.
Hub 5151 W. Hubbard,  seats 35 outside. Nosh on your favorites like Pulled Chicken Nachos or the Kale & Avocado Salad, while sipping on signature frozen drinks such as the Passionfruit Margarita, while you sit back and watch the hustle and bustle of River North.
Osteria Via Stato & Pizzeria Via Stato620 N. State, together seat 80 outside on one of the most active corners in River North. Just Bring Me Lunch at Pizzeria is about satisfying meals served quickly Mondays through Fridays. A three-course menu option (soup, sandwich, dessert) in a hurry for only $9.95 per person. Later, try the three-course Italian Dinner Party at Osteria, for $39.95 per person. Both restaurants offer wines-by-the glass and more than 300 Italian labels.

Bellyup Smokehouse & Saloon, 1132 S. Wabash, offers a Beyonce Boozy Lemonade for Memorial Day Weekend Friday, May 27 through Sunday, May 29 (CLOSED on Monday, May 30). 10 bucks for the lemonade cocktail special.

Roka Akor – steak and sushi in Asian-inspired surroundings

Roka Akor checkerboard wall of wood shingles
Roka Akor checkerboard wall of wood shingles

Beautiful, chic, Asian-inspired decor that coordinates with the top-drawer steak and sushi-inspired menu. That’s Roka Akor, 456 N. Clark St. Ended up going here for an event that didn’t take place and decided to sit down at the bar and take in the ambiance anyway. Loved the sexy, bluesy-jazz music emanating at just the right volume form a clearly quality sound system. Loved the rich texture of the checkerboard of shaved and shiny wooden shingles on the wall and the airy asymmetrical pattern of sturdy beams in the Asian-latticed ceilings. Lots of light from floor-to-ceiling windows. Subtle interior lighting that enhances the trendy-but-comfortable atmosphere.

Roka Akor red-ice-cube cocktail
Roka Akor red-ice-cube cocktail

Pat(rick) Henaghan, who’s not only manager but a master bartender himself, offered to make a sample of one of the cocktails he’d designed for the event that was postponed. Surprising, certainly, to see him putting deep-orangey-red ice cubes in a tall glass. Whoever heard of deep-red ice cubes? Well, Pat explained, these are made from a combination of strawberry and yuzu (Asian fruit) puree that freezes beautifully into a slow-melting ice-pop texture (Popsicle is the brand we adored when we were kids) and gives an amazing shot of color to the vodka/Seville sour orange cocktail he created. This one will be on the regular menu soon – a perfect drink for enjoying in the sun on Roka Akor’s patio.

Roka Akor tempura
Roka Akor tempura

On Pat’s recommendation, tried the vegetable tempura – a generous portion of lightly battered-and-fried slices of carrot, sweet potato, broccoli, zucchini and eggplant served with two amply filled dishes of sauces – one sweeter, one slightly more acidic – both low-sodium and both delicious with the perfectly cooked vegetables. Five- and six-dollar Happy Hour specials are available 5 to 6 pm on the patio and in the lounge; the rest of the Roka Akor menu cries out for further experimentation.

Judging by a short conversation with Dean, who was passing by on his way to a demonstration of menu items for staff members, this seems like a good place to work. Pat even invites staff members to submit drink recipes for the menu – unquestionably a nice way to make people feel recognized and appreciated.
From this limited experience, have to say you’ll likely enjoy your visit and feel much appreciated as a customer, too. Visit them at www.RokaAkor.com.

Review: 312 Chicago restaurant

The folks at 312 Chicago know how to cook, for sure, but they also have a sense of humor. They’ve just spent the month of March celebrating their 18th birthday with a special “Get Smoked” 3-course prix fixe dinner for $18.

312 Chicago turns 18
312 Chicago turns 18


When I asked our server why the “get smoked” thing, he said, “Well, Chicago used to have a law that you couldn’t smoke until you were 18. So we decided since we were turning 18 we’d get smoked! Alas, Chicago changed the law just a couple of weeks ago to say that you can’t smoke now in Chicago until you’re 21.” We all agreed, then, that customers can likely expect another fun opportunity like this again three years from now…

The wines on their list lean towards the Northern Italian, as does the food, so we asked our server to recommend for us. We were pleased with the suggested Cannonau di Sardegna D.O.C. Riserva. Hearty enough to go with the appetizer and the pasta courses, but not so strong as to overwhelm. According to one wine writer in “The World’s Best Wine under $25,” it “emphasizes ethereal, perfumed aromatics rather than an overt expression of fruit.” Well, okay!
They did a fabulous job with their “get smoked” menu. Starting with a dish of hot, melty soft, creamy, smoked house-made mozzarella served atop two lightly cooked, peeled slices of delicious fresh-tasting tomato and accompanied by ribbons of fresh, fragrant basil.

Next up was a dish of their house-made fettuccine – tender, delicate and delicious wide noodles – coated with just the right amount of tomato-y Ameritriciana sauce and studded with bits of fried pancetta, and seasoned with a touch of red pepper flakes. Perfect spice. Perfect pasta. Perfect combination. The serving was generous, and the leftovers were delicious again a couple of days later served with sautéed scallops and steamed greens. Mm-mm.

We were pleasantly surprised when we cut into the third course dessert, “torched chocolate cake with lemon gelato,” a light yet rich-tasting layered confection topped with browned (smoked) meringue that hit just the right note after the meal. The gelato was especially tasty and the caramel sauce was just icing under the cake.
And then came, compliments of the house, little après-dinner glasses of their house-made Limoncello. Thick and lemony and sweet and a lovely ending to a fresh and pleasant meal. Although the restaurant no longer does regular wine dinners, they are introducing a new feature this year. They will have a bartender serving drinks out on the patio (weather permitting, of course) all summer. The restaurant, attached to the Hotel Allegro, is situated at the corner of LaSalle and Randolph, across from the Townsend Center, so if you’re going to be that area, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy their food and drink in a comfortable yet elegant atmosphere.

Housewares execs love Chicago food and drink

That time of year has come and gone again. They showed up to rock the marketplace with hordes of new gadgets, appliances, devices and other must-have items on display at the International Housewares Show 2016, held at McCormick Place last week and scheduled for March 18 through 21st, 2017 (mark your calendars). Click to watch the video of 2016 highlights here.
It’s fun to learn that many of the company execs who attend the show regularly here have developed their own favorite food places and activities in Chi-town. We asked a few of them where they like to eat and what they like to do:

Repping Ronco at International Housewares Show
Repping Ronco at International Housewares Show

Eydie Webster EVP Sales & Marketing for Ronco says she loves to eat at Emilio’s for Spanish tapasVolare Ristorante Italiano, Beatrix in Streeterville for just plain good food, and almost anywhere for a Chicago dog . She also likes to walk the Magnificent Mile, have a drink in the Signature Room atop the John Hancock, and listen to music at Buddy Guy’s Legends nightclub (one of our favorite music spots).

Funtastic America at the IHS 2016
Funtastic America at the IHS 2016

Sharon Duncan, Vice President General Manager, Funtastic America says Gene & Geogetti’s Steakhouse and Kitty O’Shea’s at the Hilton downtown are the two that keep them coming back.  And “when we have time, rarely, we take a walk along the lake and make a stop at the Science and Industry Museum.”

Bringing Great Plate items to IHS 2016
Bringing Great Plate items to IHS 2016

Beth Kuehl: Inventor/Owner of Great Plate enjoys Remington’s Chicago classic American grill restaurant, Lockwood Restaurant at the Palmer Hilton and pizza at the Exchequer Pub. In downtown Chicago, once her business is done, she loves shopping, shopping and more shopping, and when she’s not shopping, she’s visiting the Art Museum.

Too bad these execs don’t have time to enjoy a few more of the 8,000 restaurants just in downtown Chicago…

Blue Door relocation expands space, menu and services

[N.B. Despite an expected reopen in mid-June, the new location has not yet opened its doors. Keep checking their website or call them at (773) 935-2583.) 

The brand new Blue Door Farmstand location at 2010 N. Halsted features two stories and double the square footage—meaning more seating and a better flow of service. At dinner the upstairs atrium turns into full service with reservations, while the downstairs café remains loyal to the original counter service format.

The iconic blue door
The iconic blue door

A larger kitchen allows for an expanded menu—still dictated by the seasons—plus weekend brunch. Get your wish at the new full bar with cocktails featuring Harvest Juicery cold pressed juices and locally distilled spirits and craft beers. Now you can take home sandwich breads, baguettes, bread loaves, muffins and scones, cookies, brownies and more from the new full bakery.

Memorial Day 2015 food and fun around Chicago

Shaw’s Crab House (Chicago and Schaumberg locations) kicks off summer Monday, May 25 with 1/2-price oysters in the Oyster Bar all day.  All weekend (May 23rd to May 25th) Shaw’s Chicago has its New England Lobster Boil special (one-pound whole Maine lobster plus Red Bliss potatoes, cole slaw, and corn on the cob) for $38 (plus tax and gratuity). $16 more gets you an additional 1-lb. lobster

Castaways, the bar on North Avenue beach, opens this Memorial Day weekend with live entertainment Saturday through Monday. Come for lunch or dinner or drinks (11 am to 9 pm if it’s not raining). Pick from fresh salads, wraps, sandwiches, and quesadillas and drink a toast to summer with frozen cocktails or even Corona in a can (no bottles on the beach).

Commonwealth Tavern, 2000 W. Roscoe, has brunch 10 to 2 Saturday and Sunday, with a $6 Bloody Mary bar and a $3 Mimosa bar.  Check out the new menu items: Pupusa (breakfast sausage, chihuahua cheese, red sauce, curtido, farm egg), Pig Muffin (maple pig head, farm egg, American cheese, English muffin), and Kentucky Hot Brown (smoked turkey, bacon, tomato, beer cheese, sourdough).

Frontier Tavern, 1072 N. Milwaukee, has an all-you-can-eat crawfish boil complete with potatoes and corn-on-the-cob. Come at 3 pm and pay $25 (plus tax and gratuity). These guys know how to cook proteins.

Lotties Pub, 1925 W. Cortland, roasts a whole pig for Memorial Day. Sunday, May 25 beginning at 2 p.m for $12 all-you-can-eat cured and smoked pig roast, complete with baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw. Drink specials, too.

Stretch Bar and Grill, 3485 N. Clark St.,  Sunday and Monday offers $5 GI Jameson shots and 25% off their bill to all veterans with proof of Military ID. Good for you, guys. And thank you to our servicemen and women.