chicago restaurant week kick-off: first bites bash!

tonight, we attended the first bites bash, hosted by the amazing stephanie izard of girl and the goat. the event featured 50 of chicago’s top restaurants with tastings in the great hall of union station, which was transformed from a slightly sad pathway from jackson st to the trains (made slightly sadder by my 6:50am hustle through there every weekday morning) to a gorgeously appointed venue for both food and drink.

what did we eat? everything. not really. but we tried. we tasted from 26 out of the 50 restaurants, which was pretty spectacular, and we would have eaten more (gross, i know), but some of the restaurants we wanted to try were out of food by the time we got there. more on that later. 

now for the details:

  • chicago q - pulled pork sliders - these were surprisingly delicious. the meat was great and the north carolina vinegar sauce was spot-on. the experience was even better after running into a unc grad right in front of the restaurant’s serving station… not a surprise we were all huddled around the barbecue! 
  • david burke’s primehouse - beef jerky with hamachi - this was odd… by the time we got there, they were out of their tasting dishes, so they gave us pieces of beef jerky. and when i say pieces of beef jerky, i mean, 10 inch strips. so, it was sort of odd walking around in dresses with wine gnawing on pieces of beef jerky the size of our heads. in the world of jerky, though? it was good.
  • epic - tuna tartar - eh. this was fine. there was something off with the texture… like it was mushy? the smoky flavor was interesting, though.
  • filini bar and restaraunt - orecchiette with lamb sausage - delicious! orecchiette is one of the best pasta shapes, and the lamb was wonderful.
  • girl and the goat - goat chili - of course this was the best thing we ate all night. it really deserves its own post. or love poem. or love song. delicious. there was a slightly sweet taste to it, the texture was perfect, and it was topped with some delicious puffy croutony type things (that tasted like fancy goldfish crackers?!)… i want vats of this.
  • harry caray’s - rigatoni with vodka sauce - ate this by accident… surprisingly good? the cheese was fantastic, i think it was pana gradano.
  • ipo - seared scallop - this was completely odd. the scallop was cooked very well. it was paired with a hazelnut mousse and some sort of hazelnut/coffee whipped cream… and some espresso/chocolate nibs. which… the scallop on its own was great, and the hazelnut/chocolate/espresso items on their own were great. together, though, we aren’t sure about.
  • japonais - skirt steak robata - steak was cooked to perfection. very delicious. i wanted a lot more.
  • nacional 27 - ahi tuna and watermelon ceviche - this was good, but not as good as i wanted it to be / envisioned it to be. there were other tuna dishes that were much better (see riva crab house)
  • piccolo sogno - black truffle and parsnip sformatto - this was interesting. i’m not totally familiar with sformatto, so i was not expecting it to be served cold. this is a texture i’m not particularly fond of, but the flavor was good, and there were some delicious parsnip “chips” on top, which certainly helped with the texture of the sformatto.
  • prosecco - insalata granchio - this was a red pepper spread on crostini with crab and black truffle. it was delicious! the truffle was not overpowering, which surprised me, since the scent was very strong (as per usual)!
  • public house - smoked alaska king salmon - this was not great. the sauce on the crostini was good, but the salmon had no flavor, and the crostini was very stale (not surprising given the time of night, and wouldn’t have mattered if the salmon had been good).
  • rhapsody - gnocchi with braised lamb - yum, yum, yum!!! this was another winner of the night. i’ve had better gnocchi, but the lamb was PERFECT.
  • riva crab house - tuna poke - another winner. this was DELICIOUS. texture and flavor were fantastic, with great use of avocado.
  • saigon sisters - they were supposed to serve braised short ribs, which was very exciting. instead they served pork fat pate with head cheese and pickled carrot. this was the clear loser of the night. we both threw this away after one taste. not good.
  • south branch - mini filet sandwich - underwhelming. the steak was cooked nicely, but it was served on a pretzel bun, which, while usually delicious, overwhelmed the small portion. all you could taste was pretzel.
  • sprout - foie gras mousse - interesting! served on what i think was banana bread, or some other sweet bread. not as amazing as i had anticipated, but certainly more unique.
  • tapas valencia - stuffed mushroom caps - very good, but a bad choice for this type of event. you can’t cut through a mushroom cap with a small plastic fork, and they were too big to be one-biters. but delicious nonetheless.
  • tuscany on taylor - ravioli alla pera - pear and marscapone ravioli…….. who would have ever thought of that? it was DELICIOUS.
  • wave - three cheese croquettes with maple fig jam - another loser. sounds delicious, but it was just a small mozerella stick with some jam. it tasted like tgi friday’s.
  • the berghoff - dark chocolate terrine - was… not a terrine. it was kind of a chocolate ganache truffle on top of a small bite of chocolate cake. the accents were interesting - a lavendar tuille and apricot jalapeno glaze. the cake was dry and the truffle was eh. we did not finish this…
  • eli’s cheesecake - blackberry creme fraiche cheesecake - flavor was delicious, but it was still frozen?!
  • henri - thyme panna cotta - this was as good as panna cotta can be. that’s just one of those textures i can’t do, but the flavor was very good.
  • italiasia - mini green tea tart and ricotta cheesecake - not good, tasted artificial.
  • magnolia bakery - banana pudding and meringue kisses - decent, but not amazing. the banana pudding was good, and the meringue itself was good (not at all stale or mushy), but it was 2 meringues sandwiched around buttercream icing, which is just disgusting, because no one needs that much pure sugar.
  • metropolitan club - white chocolate and hazelnut mousse - this was very good, and made up for (almost) the rest of the crappy desserts. it was served in a teeny tiny waffle cone, and teeny tiny things are adorable.

all in all, this was a fantastic event. not a single regret. it was odd, though, that many of the restaurants were out of food at 7:30, which was only halfway into the event. and by 8:30, all the savories were done. 8:30 is acceptable, since it ended at 9, but i would expect slightly better planning for a sold out event.

can’t wait for the actual restaurant week!!!

windy city eats vacation edition: ip3

when you think of pizza, i can pretty much guarantee that you do not think of north carolina. but, perhaps you should!

italian pizzeria III, or ip3 to chapel hill locals, has some of the best tasting thin crust pizza around. i still can’t get used to the chicago deep dish pizza, so when a pizza craving hits, it’s hard for me to satisfy it. so, every time i’m back in nc for the holidays, i hit ip3. the sauce is perfect - not too sweet - and the cheese. oh man. SO MUCH cheese.

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the best part is the sunday night and tuesday night special - 1 large pizza and a pitcher of beer for $13.99. can’t beat that, right? and you aren’t just stuck with bud or bud light, either - you can even choose yuengling or sam adams!

i can’t speak to the other items on the menu, but they have a wide variety of italian specialties. don’t expect fine dining here, but if you want some amazing pizza and you want to or at least don’t mind feeling like you are in college again, put it at the top of your list!

go forth and eat!

xoxo,

flo

one of the best parts about living in west town is the sheer number of great restaurants around. ruxbin is one, flo is another.

now, i would never put flo in the same category as ruxbin. but for a great brunch, try it! it’s usually packed, with delicious fresh food inspired by southwestern cuisine.

if you like chorizo, try the chorizo scramble, eggs scrambled with chorizo sausage, jack cheese & pico de gallo, served with black beans, potatoes, and a warm tortilla. the potatos were especially delicious!

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they also have TONS of delicious sounding bloody “marias,” mimosas, and even margaritas. i would, though, stay away from the ginger champagne mimosa, which was belvedere vodka, prosecco, and ginger. i didn’t taste much ginger flavor, nor did i taste the prosecco. basically, i had a glass of fizzy vodka for breakfast. next time, i’ll probably be less adventuresome with my mimosa choice, although i would challenge anyone to try the black velvet mimosa - guinness with prosecco… i’m not even sure what to do with that.

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so, moral of the story is, i would definitely recommend flo as a great brunch destination! they have a huge menu with lots of sweet and savory options, and, as a bonus, they offer you coffee while you wait for your table!

go forth and eat!

xoxo,

vindikateor asked: Have you guys been to Rhapsody yet? I'm headed there this weekend for the first time and I've heard mixed reviews.

No! But we look forward to hearing what you think about it. I’m especially interested in the fig crostini - I’ve had fig with blue cheese and chevre, but never with ricotta… I would think the flavor might be too mild to offset the fig? But really I have no idea. You can’t ever go wrong with truffled fries, though…

emilyposts asked: I was just in Chicago for a conference and ate at two great places downtown. Dos Diablos was a good. It was reasonably priced and I loved the guacamole. The next night we went to Phil Stefani's 467 Rush. It was INCREDIBLE! I had the Monte Carlo chicken and some pasta fagoli soup. One of the best meals I've had in long time. Check them out if you have time!

awesome! thanks! they will both go on the (very long!) list!

ruxbin

it was P’s birthday tonight, so we went to celebrate at ruxbin, one of Bon Appetit’s Top 10 Best New Restaurants in America… yes… you read that right. not in CHICAGO, but in AMERICA. no big deal.

also? what makes it even better? it’s BYOB!!! YES. offers some of the best food IN THE COUNTRY and is BYOB??? dream come true.

all the reviews (and their own website!) led us to believe that the wait would be LONG (no reservations) but worth it. well. we got there at 6:45 (on a wednesday, mind you) and there were tables for us! so, we left, went to noble grape to pick up (AND TASTE!) some wine, and then headed back to ruxbin. there was still a table for us! 

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when we sat down, we were given some delicious popcorn instead of bread. i’m really loving this new trend. popcorn is so much lighter (and trendier!), and can be flavored in fun, creative ways. this popcorn had crumbled SEAWEED for flavoring. at least, we think so. but, it was delicious.

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deciding on appetizers was HARD. we consulted with our waitress, who, by the way, was FANTASTIC, and she said that while 3 appetizers might be a lot of food, she’s “seen it happen.” WHATEVER. we went with it.

app #1: mushroom toast. oyster mushrooms, savory biscuit, housemade ricotta, hazelnuts, frisee, arugula.

YUM.

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app #2: calamari. chicken & pork farce, potato confit, korean chili, peanuts, pickled fennel, pea tendrils.

YUM.

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app #3: pork belly salad. jicama, grapefruit, arugula, cornbread crouton, danablu cheese, citrus vinaigrette.

i have more to say about this dish, because i feel like it is easy to mess up, or to go overboard with, pork belly. it is SO RICH and SO FATTY. the way this dish came together with the sweetness of the cornbread, the slight bitterness of the grapefruit and arugula, and the bite of the cheese… it was perFECtion.

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p’s dinner: hanger steak. (cooked med rare, obviously) wrinkled long beans, candied bacon, chimichurri, creme fraiche heirloom potato salad.

this surprised me. because of the steak and bacon, i was worried this dish would be too salty. but the candied bacon added the sweetness, and the chimichurri added JUST the right amount of heat. 

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my dinner: mint creek farm lamb. top round, parmesan cream of wheat, stewed mission figs, quick-cured lemon, caramelized fennel.

OH.MY.GOD. this was FAN.TAS.TIC. the fig combined with the cream of wheat (very polenta-like) and with the lemon, then combined with the saltiness of the lamb. this is the best meal i’ve ever eaten. ever. in my life.

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dessert: fried hand pie. quince and pear, candied walnuts, red wine caramel, house churned cheese ice cream.

ok. red wine caramel… DELICIOUS. candied walnuts… DELICIOUS (and i don’t even like candied nuts). but the ice cream? oh my goodness, the ice cream. the ice cream. you would think goat cheese (like a chevre) would lend itself to ice cream. which is does! but would you believe that they served GORGONZOLA ice cream? who even knew there was such a thing??? BUT. it was delicious. 

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and? the best part of the story? on my way to the restroom (WHICH IS THE SCARIEST RESTROOM ON THE PLANET… you’ll see), i met the chef and the kitchen manager. they were so nice, asked me about other restaurants in the area, and chatted me up about the kitchen layout, their menu planning, and the business.

the moral of the story? get thee to ruxbin immediately. and if there is a wait, WAIT.

go forth and eat!

xoxo,

logan square kitchen pop-up dinner

last week, i experienced something i never would have experienced in humble durham. durham has amazing food - however, durham does NOT have pop-up restaurants. tonight, efrain cuevas and matthew rorick hosted a 4-course meal with wine pairings at logan square kitchen. each dish was better than the last, and each wine was different than i have ever tasted… and expertly paired.

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course 1: butternut squash gnocchi with brussels sprouts, paired with ‘the faufreluches gewurtztraminer 2010’

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course 2: arugula, baby mustard greens, roasted pumpkin, & brie, paired with ‘la gitana torrontes 2009’

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course 3: duck confit mole, tuber terrine, & wilted greens, paired with ‘suspiro del moro alvrelhao 2010’

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course 4: pears helene, paired with ‘mil amores portuguese field blend 2006’

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go forth and eat!

xoxo,

we love chicago

we love chicago… we love the city, we love the people, we love the sights, we love the sounds… but, of course, our favorite is the food

join us as we experience the best food in chicago!!!