Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Michelin Guide Chicago

Ok so I'm only a month late on the release of the Michelin 2011 guide on restaurants, but lets take a closer look at Chicago's finest, if not tastiest. A brief tutorial on the Michelin guide: The guide was first published in 1900 in France. It begun as a small guide distributed freely to traveling motorists, pointing out local places to eat.The guide now boosts over 40,000 restaurants who are rated by anonymous visitors. Their website uses the slogan, "The Michelin Guide. Famously anonymous". They don't disclose any info on how they tasted and came up with their list.  All we know is that they revisit places they like and rank them anonymously. Hm. No vain bloggers?

So the guide splits their picks based on "starred restaurants", and "bib gourmand restaurants". What the flip is a Bib Gourmand rating? Well, let me tell you. It means the restaurant is a good value, usually about 40$ or less for 2 courses. Me likey. BTW, Bib is short for Bibendum, a French character created in 1898 by the Michelin brothers. Over the years Bib, the Michelin Man, became the group's mascot. And his head (below) can be seen all over the guide.

The starred restaurants are more upscale and are rated based on 1,2,3 stars. Alinea and L2O are the only 3 star restaurants in Chicago! (I vowed to try Alinea this year, whether or not I have to take out a small loan). If you make the bib list, in essence  you are not allowed to be on the master list in later years.
What do you think of the bib list? I'm not sure I'm buying the Thai Village, or Paramount Room as true icon's of this fab. city full of deal's. Oh mon Dieu!

And finally, the full list of starred winners:

Charlie Trotters
Crofton on Wells
Graham Elliot
Longman & Eagle

- Who knew the Michelin Man wasn't just selling tires!!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Holidays!

A picture from a recent holiday party my sister and I hosted. It was a great success! We (more my sis than I) made tons of food. Like artichoke dip, meatballs, arugula & fennel salad, mushroom bruschetta, dill dip etc. We also had an amazing holiday drink that consisted of vodka, champagne, and sparkling pomegranate juice. Trader joe's has great organic champagnes that taste great and are reasonably priced. They also have pomegranate juice as well as other organic juices if you want some variety. Pop the bubbly just in time for NYE.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Francesca's Forno

I've been dying to try the Francesca's in Wicker Park, Forno. This is one of the many Francesca chains in the Chicagoland area. Can you believe that I haven't gone to any of them? Well my friend from Buffalo was in town and I was looking for a nice Italian joint for ladies night out to sip on some wine and feast before heading over to my favorite place, The Violet Hour. I made reservations on Open Table, and they were very accommodating when I called to tell them we were running late. The vibe in the restaurant was lively, almost every table filled on a Friday night. I like that the windows face Damen, Milwaukee and North which make for great people watching. And at this corner there are lots of characters to check out!

The menu was great, split up the usual Italian way - by hot/cold apps, pasta, chicken and fish. I found the specials to really catch my eye and the wine list is, of course, ample. So far so good, minus the residue of the end of a bottle left in my friends glass! ick! But otherwise the wine was delish.

We chose the pizza with truffle oil and mushrooms. I forgot the name of the cheese here but it was def. aromatic and delish. My friends both chose the pasta specials and I got the risotto special. I should have written sooner bc i forgot the ingredients. Rats!

Anyways, Italian is Italian and usually amazzzing if the service and ambiance fits. This place hit all the good points and now I'm intriqed to try the other francescas!
Bouna Sera!

Francesca's Forno on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 15, 2010

Girl and the Goat

The ever-changing menu

Cheese Garlic Bread with anchovy spread and pickled garlic 

Smoked Goat Pizza with Ricotta Cheese 

Pan Roasted Red Fish with Black Beans, Butternut Squash, Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms

Grilled Skirt Steak with Beats wilted Romaine and Salted Goat Milk Caramel

Grilled baby octopus, Serrano celery root, Braised pistachio, Red Bliss Potatoes

Lamb Sausage Stuffed Calamari, Sweet Garlic Sweetbread, Crisp Currant Soar

The bill for four, not bad at all.

Sorry for the blurry photos!!
Finally got to check out Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat! A 6-week reservation period should give you a hint that this place is booming. And if you haven't heard of Izard, she was Top Chef winner a couple seasons back. Her 1.5 million dollar 130-seat restaurant on Randolph Street's restaurant row sits along the likes of Blackbird, Avec and the former Marche. 

Walking into the space you can't help notice the flaming (literally) kitchen, front and center. The enormous (7,400 square feet) space is divided by burnt cedar plank walls which do an excellent job of breaking up the contemporary and rustic theme, parallel to Izard's palette.

We made our way to the bar while our table wrapped up. The bar itself echo's the contemporary vs. rustic with hanging jar lights, European oak and antique fireboxes behind the bar. A very cozy space to wait for dinner.  The bartenders and servers are down to earth and don't make me feel like a novice while trying to pronounce  names of drinks. You can find the most sought-after seats two tables set directly by the open kitchen where guests can sneak a peak at Chicago's top chef. And if your lucky,  she might stop by your table.

Finally, our table was ready. The menu changes often but the first thing that caught my eye was the goat pizza. My group of 4 picked out our dishes quite effortlessly- everything sounded amazing. The other favorite at our table was the lamb stuffed calamari, and skirt steak with goat milk sauce. But we did indeed love every dish. A bottle of Chinon later and many smiles our dinner concluded. The dishes speak for themselves and I'll let you go over the ingredients above. I think what I liked the most was the layering of flavors and rustic ingredients. Something comforting, yet sophisticated- much like the space itself. Overall I loved the decor (by 555 design firm) a very romantic and cozy place, and loveddd the yummy food.

One thing worth noting was that although the space was impressive I felt a slight disconnect from the Izard I saw on TV. It is easy to get swept away by the exterior (see paragraphs above) and forget that what should shine in a restaurant is the food.  Financially and legally, Girl and the Goat belongs to Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, a duo who already own three other restaurants in Chicago (Boka, Landmark and Perennial). But thank god for Izard, because without the food all that would be left is a show room. I wasn't surprised to find out that she didn't own the place, I mean - its huge! The interior tries to pay homage to Izards rustic roots- but does so it such an outlandish way that it seems inauthentic.

I hate to spend so much time talking about the space and not the food and I hope when you go you can appreciate both aesthetics. One thing that is authentic is Izard's menu. And isn't that all that matters? I know that I'll certainly come back to try another round of dishes and drinks, and I look forward to the spring/summer menus, as long as Izard continues to stay true to her food.

Girl & the Goat on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hot Dougs


Guess where I went for lunch today!! Yup! Unless you're blind, you can't miss those sexy hot dogs pictured above. I LOVE this place. And I swear, if it wasn't so popular by word of mouth I'd still be here because I'm a sucker for a good hot dog. My affair with the hot dog started with Sahlen's Dogs (The official hot dog of the Buffalo Bills) back on Chippewa street downtown Buffalo. This tasty treat was served up on a nasty grill post-bar hoping the usual hot spots (Bottoms Up, Soho etc). After years of near vomit induced shots of Crown nothing washes down bar hoping remorse like a 2$ dog with the fixin's. Then I graduated to the Chicago-dog. A lesser appealing version of this fine treat at The Wiener's Circle (a Lincoln Park trixie favorite). The Chicago dog consists of whole tomatoes and pickles and florescent colored relish (ew). Not my favorite. And finally, there is the Los Angeles hot dog. This dog (served up on the side of the street by a little old Mexican lady) is wrapped in a crispy blanket of bacon (uncover your ears!! its true!!). The bacon-wrapped dog from LA is out of this world and like nothing I've seen before. I had dreams about it after I visited LA. 
So- in case you are ever in Buffalo you know to visit the lady on the corner of Chippewa by Soho, and if you're ever in LA go to Echo Park and pop your nitroglycerin pills. And if you are ever in Chicago go wait in line at Hot Dougs, (sorry Wiener's Circle I just don't get you).

Make sure you check the website first to make sure they are open (Doug Sohn must make bank because he takes vacations as he pleases!). There's a list of regular dogs (above) and a list of specials, as well as the daily celebrity dog. The regulars are around 2-4$ and the specials run 7-8$. That might seem pricey but with ingredients like foie gras, spicy alligator, turducken, and cognac it is well worth the extra bucks. Try to get there before the lunch rush (they open at 10:30) otherwise you'll be in line for maybe a good 20min (still not bad). Doug himself takes your order and the friendly staff bring it to your table.

We ordered: 
-Small Fries - they have duck fat fries on weekends 
-The Sonoran Dog: Jalapeno & Cheddar Hot Dog with Jalapeno Mayo,  Jalapeno Bacon, Pinto Beans, Tomatoes & Onions. 
 -Cranberry & Cognac Smoked Chicken Sausage with Fig Mustard, Cantalet Cheese and Truffle-Balsamic Cream. 
 -The Salma Hayek - spicy andouille sausage with everything on it 
-And the Keira Knightley- dude, i don't remember but it was awesome.

I usually order too much and can't finish my meal. But it's worth it to get at least 2 dogs and try the variety. What I really love about this place is how low-key it is. Doug just chills at the counter- the staff is super friendly, and all the customers appreciate him so much they are willing to take 2 buses and a train to get to the random location. It used to be located more centrally but outgrew its last location ( i think it was lakeview). I lie, I found out after this post they closed down after a fire in 2004. Bummer. So all in all Hot Doug's has some creative combination of dogs which speak for themselves. The reason so many are followers probably has something to do with how down to earth and friendly Doug is himself.

Now I'm hungry again.

Hot Doug's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Wine Series - Cupcake Vineyards, Red Velvet

Lets start with this playful bottle of Cupcake Vineyards 2009 California. Be nice, this is the first time I've written about wine and I'm a novice. The Red Velvet is described by the seller as a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot and  Cabernet Sauvignon, reminiscent of a blackberry chocolate cupcake.
I love these pictures, I think they turned out great.

Remind me to take pics of the wine itself next time. I got a little excited and drank the whole bottle (with the help of a friend, of course) before I could chronicle the colors. The wine itself is very sweet. You don't notice it at the first sip but the more you smell and taste the sweeter it gets. It definitely fits the description of the label- cupcake, so you know you're getting something sweet.

Cupcake Vineyards is based in Monterey County, California. From what I know that area of California sees both the warm days, and cool frigid nights. The cool foggy nights are what slows the growing process letting the grapes mature slower than warmer climates. That slow growth and cool weather is what helps balance the acids and sugars more so than other regions.

The vineyard also has some other interesting wines like the NV Brut Rose Pinot Noir, which is described as a sparking wine with aromas of strawberries and watermelon. Or the 2009 Pinot Grigio Trentino, which is described as, "a nose that shows hits of pineapple, pears and sweet lemons". It almost makes you hungry thinking about this wine!! The red velvet did remind me of a chocolate cake, or even some dark blue berries. All and all a good wine to have paired with a burger or steak or even after dinner with other treats- a little to sweet to drink on its own. I think next time I'll try their 2008 Shiraz, which is described as a dark and inky garnet color with a nose of plums and blackberry jam. Yum! I think the bitterness of Shiraz will offset the sweet nicely.

Monday, October 4, 2010



Thank you to those who participated in my lovely birthday. After dinner, presents, dessert and drinks the weekend rolled around and it was time for date night. Which was basically a repeat of the former. Warren and I have wanted to try Mana for sometime now. If you ever walk down Division in West Town I'm sure you've been intrigued by this dark little bar/restaurant. In the summer the outdoor seating is nestled between trees. The interior is very minimal, and small but you don't seem to mind because the space is used so well. We sat at the bar and although it took sometime to get used to staring at the brick wall ahead of us once the show started we were intriqued with our food.
This is the kind of dining that I love. People watching, talking to the staff, ordering small plates and drinking exquisite concoctions.

Mana  loosely translates to "the life force in nature" or "the things magic is made of". And by the way it is vegetarian. But not the tasteless kind.

Our menu:
Rice noodles in thai coconut milk broth with butternut squash, tofu, basil, mint and green onion
Sesame noodle chilled yellow wheat noodles tossed in spicy sesame peanut sauce with shredded peapods and carrots
Mana chili  - corn, black beans, chickpeas, green onions and white cheddar
Mana slider- brown rice and mushroom burger with spicy mayo
Spanikopita - baked filo filled with spinach, dill and feta cheese

The menu was fun, and allowed you to pick and choose small or large plates. There were so many other amazing options I wish we could have ordered them all! Next time I will try the sampler (pick 3 of the cold dishes) with options like: Jicama, mango & cucumber salad with cilantro and chili lime salt or Spinach and pear salad with walnuts and sweet mustard vinaigrette.

For drinks I ordered:
Watermelon and mint sake cocktail and the pineapple and fresh ginger sake cocktail.
The drinks were amazingly refreshing with just a splash of the sake flavor.

I love mana. And i will be back.

Mana Food Bar on Urbanspoon


I miss you bloggy.
I Just got back from a 2-week vacation to Iran so it has been awhile. Well, actually I got back 2 weeks ago. But between starting classes again (yup, doing the PH.D thing), quitting my full time job (tears), and looking for a part-time gig to stay afloat, it has been a busy couple weeks. Upon our return I happened to turn 26 (bleh). I really didn't want to celebrate or do anything special this year but when it came down to it a girl's got to eat right? We decided to check out Meze in the West Loop.

Mezé  is a gorgeous tapas space in the West Loop tucked away between the lofts and warehouses. If you don't hear about it my word of mouth you probably would never know it exists. I've been here for drinks at the bar but never had the food. The place is really pretty, and I have to start taking pictures of the interiors of places I visit.

We ordered off the 4$ happy hour menu...

Greek Pommes Frites


Chipotle Chicken Quesadillas

Spicy Grilled Sausages

 Spicy Potatoes 
Vegetarian Thai Rolls

Beef Sliders

Pork Skewers

The happy hour menu is very eclectic. They call it Mediterranean, but to be honest any restaurant that boosts this title better know what they are talking about. Most of the time it seems to be a cover up for indecisiveness. It's like, "hey, we have a little bit of everything lets just call it Mediterranean". Lame.
I did like the friendly price. And it was fun to relax and unwind. But the food wasn't memorable. I'll come back for drinks but not for the food.