Tiny Lounge, Lincoln Square

November 10th, 2010

she said:

Truffle.  Cheese.  Fries.  Combine these ingredients and what do you have?  Heaven?  Bliss?  A divine trifecta?  You’d think so, right?  Not so much.  The Truffle Cheese Fries at Tiny Lounge were a waste of calories.  They needed salt and without the help of tamarind ketchup (which does not come with the fries, but which is available if you ask), they were as bland as melba toast dipped in milk, and almost as limp.

Next came the Pizzetta Margerita, a crispy thin-crust pizza (topped with mozzarella, basil and tomato) served on a wood cutting board.  Sound like a winner?  Yeah?  Wrong again, sucka.  It, too, was rather light in the flavor loafers.  Instead of tomato sauce, the pizza is coated in herb-infused oil which just made it greasy.

Normally, I’d never order fries and pizza in one meal, but I had no choice.  They were the only vegetarian options.  Wait.  That’s not true.  There was another version of the fries, this one served with garlic mayo and the tamarind ketchup, and there was another pizza.  A truffle cheese pizza.  You can see my dilemma.

So, I must really hate Tiny Lounge, right?  Wrong.

The lounge is cozy and candlelit, with a modern vibe and very nice staff.  The drink menu offers dozens of classic and original cocktails, an extensive beer list and quality wines.  Clearly, drinks are their specialty.  If approached as a cocktail lounge, rather than a restaurant, Tiny Lounge is the cat’s pajamas.  It’s nice that they have a menu, rather than bags of old peanuts.  Plus, it’s not their fault that I’m a vegetarian.

I’ll definitely be back.  My prediction:  after a couple of their specialty Hemingway cocktails (flor de cana aged rum, turbinado sugar, fresh lime juice), those fries will look (and taste) pretty damn good.

he said:

Here’s the thing about Tiny Lounge: we entered under false pretenses. We were going just for dinner. We’d made some…questionable choices the night before and didn’t really feel like drinking it up. Had we known that this was a bar with a gourmet grub menu, we might have saved our Groupon.

We had a hard time using up our $40 deal without ordering from their expensive drink menu. A Dark and Stormy, a classic mixed drink in the Florida rum-bum tradition, was the extent of our alcohol bill. Nice and tasty, though at $9, it’s a bit pricy for your typical Floridian rum-bum.

Salt-licked

My beautiful wife loves her salt.  A whole lot. So when she complains that the fries weren’t salty, that’s not saying much. I thought the fries were great. They had a different flavor profile than the McDonald’s variety – - more rich, more interesting, more layered. They were superior BECAUSE they weren’t salty. Salt would have taken away from all the savory stuff that was going on there.

Slide-Slipping

For dinner, I had the Tiny Burgers, which are sliders.  These little guys are definitely the star of the menu, as I saw them on almost every table in the joint. And they are exactly what I’d want to eat at the end of a long night of Hemingways and Dark & Stormys (Stormies?).

The burgers come on a great pretzel bun, with good angus beef, smoked bacon and delicious cheddar.  The accompanying tamarind ketchup and garlic mayo came together in a weird melange that tasted like barbecue sauce, which has no place on a burger if you ask me. And it could have used something to crsip it up, like onions or a pickle.

I’d head back to Tiny Lounge, but I’m not going to make a point of it. I feel like I’ve already sampled half of their menu, and there was nothing to fall in love with.

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Blind Faith Cafe, Evanston

October 25th, 2010

he said:

It’s funny how things change when you marry a vegetarian. I came into our relationship with no intention of ever giving up my carnivorous ways. And while I’ve held onto them, I’ve cut down on my meat intake. Considerably.

Which brings us to Blind Faith Cafe, a vegetarian restaurant in Evanston that my beautiful bride and I went to on a recent Tuesday night.

Can it be called a greasy spoon when there’s no animal fat on the premises?

I walked in expecting bamboo floors, walls made from recycled newspapers, glass bottles and tree sap, and three liberal arts majors powering the place by pedaling stationary bikes.

Instead, it looked like a diner, complete with plastic plants, drab wall hangings and mute-toned walls. The perfect place for a Sunday morning shortstack of pancakes with Grandma.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I applaud this design choice. So many vegetarian and vegan places I’ve visited seem to scream WE’RE PROGRESSIVE! Blind Faith’s decor was nostalgic. It told me I was about to get some yummy comfort food.

When surrounded by vegetarians, go with what you know

Since I began dating my wife and trying meat-free meals, I’ve found that I really like portabella mushroom sandwiches. And I’ll tell you why: they’re kind of like a cheeseburger. That is, they’re a good delivery device for melted cheese and mustard.

That being said, Blind Faith’s Grilled Portabella Sandwich was a bit wimpy, in size and flavor. It was served, not with mustard, but umami sauce.  Despite the fact that this word translates to “good flavor” in Japanese, it was pretty bland.  You know when a sandwich is less exciting than the miso soup (my first course) that there’s trouble in Mushroom Town.*

*Not to be confused with Smurf Village, though they look very similar. 

But I’d still go back. There’s a lot on this menu I’d like to try. I can see the wife and I coming back  for years to come, perhaps with our grandkids for a shortstack (whole-grain and organic syrup, obvs).

she said:

Hold tight. I’ll get to Blind Faith in a moment.  Before you start feeling sorry for my poor meat-deprived husband, let me tell you what I caught him eating for lunch last weekend.  A sandwich called the Fat Brewer™.  The ingredients:  chicken fingers, gyro meat, mozzarella sticks, French fries and tzatziki sauce, all stuffed inside two huge slabs of white bread.

I mock because I envy.  Do you know how many times I’ve been served steamed veggies and white rice because there are no vegetarian options on the menu?  Even at my favorite restaurants, I’ve become totally accustomed to choosing between two or three options.  I don’t mind; it’s comforting in a way.   The truth is that I love nasty diner food.  Philly cheese steak, reubens, gyros, French dip.  Bring it (veggie-style, of course).

Because of this, I very much enjoyed Blind Faith’s Barbecue Seitan Sandwich, even if it was my second choice (they were out of Mongolian stir fry).  Overall, I thought the experience was alright, but not particularly impressive.  They serve a niche, and I appreciate that, but they do it in an uninspired way.  Like I said, I enjoyed my sandwich, but that’s because I never get to eat barbecue.  The side salad was wilted, the ambiance was boring, and the service was mediocre.

I spend a lot of time trying to convince people – with my words and with my cooking – that vegetarian food is filling and flavorful.  I’ll definitely give Blind Faith another chance, but if they don’t have my back next time, it’ll be the last time.   My apologies to our grandchildren.

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Harvest Pumpkin Soup, Au Bon Pain

October 18th, 2010

she said:

I would be remiss if I did not urge you run to your closest Au Bon Pain immediately to buy as much Harvest Pumpkin Soup as you can consume before turning into the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

This time of year, I love all things pumpkin (pie, ravioli, beer, latte, you name it).  This soup gets the blue ribbon.   It lacks the baby food texture of most pumpkin and squash soups.  Instead, it’s brothy with tiny silky particles of pumpkin.  It strikes a perfect balance between sweet and savory and avoids tasting like liquefied pie.  Just try it, you’ll see.  Otherwise, would I be spending my Sunday evening reviewing a huge corporate chain that thousands of people already know about?  No.  I would not.

I owe this recommendation to my dear friend Katie, who’s been urging me to try the soup for months.  I wish I hadn’t waited so long; Harvest Pumpkin is seasonal so I’m not sure how much longer Au Bon Pain will be offering it.

This post, I realize, strays from our dual perspective approach.   That’s because, other than jack-o-lanterns, my husband doesn’t like things made out of pumpkin.  Also, I’ve just spent the last few hours trying to replicate Au Bon Pain’s recipe and our kitchen is totally trashed…. right in time for dinner, which I didn’t make and for which I have no more room.  I’m full of my failed attempts to imitate Au Bon Pain’s masterpiece.

Here’s the recipe I used:

Harvest Pumpkin Soup (delicious but not as good as Au Bon Pain’s)
~2-lb Sugar Pumpkin
~2-lb Butternut squash
S&P
2 Tbsp Butter (salted)
1 cup Sweet Onion, diced
1/2 cup Carrots, diced
1/3 cup Celery, diced

Fresh diced ginger, about 1 ½ teaspoons

1 Tbsp Ground Cinnamon

A few dashes of allspice, maybe 1/2 tspn

A few dashes of ground ginger, maybe 1 tspn

3 Tbsp Tomato Paste (concentrated)
1/4 cup Brown Sugar, packed
8 cups Vegetable Broth (I use the little squares that you mix with boiling water)
1 cup Half & Half

Preheat your oven to 400. Slice the pumpkin and squash from stem to bottom and remove seeds and pulp. Season with S&P and roast on a cookie sheet for 45 – 60 minutes, or until tender.

Ten minutes before the pumpkin and squash are done roasting, in a large stock pot, melt the butter. Add the onions, carrots, and celery and saute until the onions are soft and translucent. Then add the ginger, cinnamon, tomato paste, and brown sugar. Stir to combine heat over medium until the sugar is dissolved. Add the vegetable stock and bring the pot to a boil. When the pumpkin and squash are tender (pumpkin may be more so than the squash), scoop out all of the flesh and add it to the pot, along with the Half & Half. Return everything to a boil. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out as much as you can of the vegetables and pumpkin and squash, and liquefy it.  I used an immersion blender.  Return the liquefied veggies to the pot.  Blend to your desired consistency.  When everything is smooth and heated through, taste and add salt, cinnamon, pepper and ground ginger as needed.

This recipe is taken, but adjusted, from the blog From Ketchup to Chutney.  She used Buttercup squash.  Au Bon Pain uses Kombocha.

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Cafe 28, Lake View

September 29th, 2010

he said:

We had a Groupon* for Cafe 28 that was expiring on a Wednesday, so we went there for dinner on a Tuesday. I’m sure some of you can predict what happened when we got there, but for those who don’t know, the last few days before a Groupon expires are pretty crazy.  Since we’re pretty crazy too, we decided to give it a try.

*Most of the time on this site, there’s an ad for Groupon. We don’t control who advertises here, but I’m happy to support Groupon. It’s a great idea and they have awesome customer support. If you want to learn more about it, just click on one of the ads (I’m guessing there’s probably one up right now).

Seating strategy

When I got there, my lovely wife had already put our names in for a table. She had a plan: “hawkeye”* a seat at the bar then order our dinner there. She kept bragging about her hawkeye-ing skills, even though “hawkeye” isn’t a word.

Apparently, to hawkeye is to spy a couple leaving a table, the position yourself nearby so you’re ready to sit down as soon as they get up from their chairs. Sit down too soon, and you get into some awkward lap-dance situations. Too late, and someone else hawkeyes that table. It’s a skill. 

*Seriously, honey, hawkeye? Who are you, Alan Alda?

Situation: Muddled

It was super-crowded in the bar, but we were able to get some mojitos to make the wait go quicker. Delicious, delicious mojitos. I’m not in love with mojitos as much as she is, but I thought they were wonderful. I did feel bad for the bartender, who was making them by hand, muddling the mint over and over and over into hundreds of different cups. But it was so worth it–for us drinkers at least.

And waiting was kind of fun. I think that everyone there had a Groupon, so we all had an idea what we were getting into and were all in the same boat. When, after a two to three hour wait, someone finally had their name called, people would clap and cheer. The lesson here: get enough expertly-made mojitos into enough people, and even standing shoulder-to-shoulder while waiting for food is a good time.

Don’t stamp my passport

When we finally sat down, we were a couple mojitos in and ready for food. I ordered the Cuban-style chicken, and loved it. So good, so tasty. Not as spicy as I thought it’d be, but I don’t really know Cuban food so I didn’t know what to expect.

The sides were even better than the chicken. The sweet plantains were amazing, with a light touch of cinnamon.  I couldn’t get enough of the congri, which is a black beans and rice melange. You could have given just that to me in a bowl and sent me off a gassy, happy man.

When we left, I made a promise to myself that we’d make it back to Cafe 28 when it wasn’t so crowded. Not just to experience the place without the long wait, but also because there was a lot on the menu I want to try. And even if it is crowded, we can always hawkeye another table. Just for the record, though, it was my hawkeye-ing skills that got us a seat this time.

she says:

This was probably my tenth visit to Cafe 28 and, let me tell ya, it was not my typical experience there.  There’s always a wait on weekends and they don’t take reservations.  This however, was a bit absurd.  Surely you’ve seen a beehive spinning around in a tornado spiralling around the lot scene at a Phish show.  It was kind of like that.  That being said, what he said is true – the mood was jovial and we were all a little buzzed.  Getting a table felt like being called down as a contestant for The Price Is Right.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I go to Cafe 28 for the mojitos, which I truly believe, are the best in the city.  The secret is in the simplicity of the ingredients.  Don’t get me started on all the places that use weird mint liquors and liquid sugars, that add pomegranate extract or limeade.  Rum, mint, lime, sugar, soda water, ice.  When these unadulterated ingredients are combined in the correct way, I’m a happy camper.  Out of the hundreds of restaurants in Chicago that serve mojitos, only a handful get it right, in my not-so-humble opinion.

I keep going back so clearly the food’s good too.  The vegetarian options are a bit limited and I’m not a huge fan of their primary vegetarian dish, the Comal, which is similar to fajitas.  The quesadillas, served vertically, are unusually good with their garlicky mushrooms and smoky salsa.  I’m also a fan of the green tamales and the ceviche (sometimes I splurge), which seems to have mysteriously disappeared from their menu.  They serve their bread with delicious savory-sweet butter, though we didn’t get any during this visit.

Cafe 28 is a family-run business and it feels that way, all warm and fuzzy and buzzing with life.   I can’t wait to go back when the place isn’t overun by Groupon users.  I’m still going to cheer loudly every time someone gets a table,  even if the place is totally dead.

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Enoteca Roma, Wicker Park

September 7th, 2010


he said:

It must be the place to have birthday dinners in Chicago. I’ve been to maybe 5 birthday dinners since I moved here, and Enoteca Roma was the site of two of them–the first one I’ve ever been to here, and my most recent, which was a few weeks ago.

The first time, I had no idea what to expect. This was back when the lady and I were still long-distance relationshipping, and I flew in from New York on a Friday when she had plans. There was nothing definite scheduled between us*, so I took a cab to meet her at her friend’s birthday party. At Enoteca Roma. I thought I’d be eating a cardboard burger at the airport, and I ended up with one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had.

So when I found out we were going back, I couldn’t have been more excited.

*If you’ve ever made regular trips between Chicago and New York, you know why we didn’t clear our schedules. Seriously, like 75% of the time the flight is delayed.

The deal with Enoteca Roma, and the reason I think it’s such a hit with the birthday crowds, is the Mangia Mangia meal. It’s a never ending parade of deliciousness.  They cater the portions to the size of your party, though with the amount of food they bring out, I think they may have trouble counting. They could have fed a party twice our size.

I’ve also heard good things about the supposedly awesome back patio, though I’ve never eaten outside, and the connected bakery, Letizia’s, though I’ve never had room for dessert.

So, the food. You start with cheese, meat and bread.  And let me tell you, they had me with the smoked and cured meats. I could have put this course on an endless loop and died a smoked, cured and happy man.

Then comes the bruschetta and salad, which would be a highlight in most cases, but here, they’re surrounded by such greatness, you forget about them. I hope these dishes don’t mind, because we were good friends at the time, but by the time the end of the meal came, we’d grown apart.

After this course, it gets serious:

Mussels. Delicious, with plenty of bread to soak up the stew.

Polenta topped with a meat sauce. Kapow. But don’t fill up, we’re only halfway through.

Italian sausage. Tasty and moist, though a little outdone by the other courses.

And assorted pastas. Noodles, raviolis, white sauces, red sauces. It’s just one after the other, delicious dish after delicious dish.

I think that one more reason that this is such a popular birthday spot is that most people can only manage to enjoy this much good food once a year. This is some wonderful Italian food. I can’t wait for my next friend’s birthday party.

she said:

The Mangia Mangia meal is exactly what you should not be eating just weeks before you have to squeeze into a wedding dress.  I don’t care.  It was worth every creamy, cheesy, carb-laden calorie.

Unlike my guy, I am not a fickle friend to the bruschetta.  This wasn’t  bunch of diced tomato crap scooped onto bread.  Oh, no.  There were ten different kinds!  To name a few: black olive pate and capers, cannellini beans and red onions, strawberries with mascarpone and balsamic reduction, pear with honey and parmesan, brie and apple.  I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.  I will never forget you, sweet bruschetta.

Then came the tableside polenta.  Total one upper.  Like a messenger from the heavens, our waiter poured the warm cornmeal onto a slab of cool marble.  With loving precision, he topped it with spoonful after spoonful of sauce.  Since there were several vegetarians at the table, he covered ours in quattro formaggi, a creamy four-cheese medley that’s making my mouth water as I type.

And the pasta.  Oh, the pasta.  The orecchiette overflowed with garlicky, peppery flavor.  Nothing,  however, could have prepared me for the ecstasy that was the homemade pear ravioli, served in a walnut cream sauce.

I’m all for making dinner at Enoteca Roma a birthday tradition, but why limit it to birthdays when there are so many days that could be turned into perfectly good excuses to feast?  I mean, what’s wrong with Groundhog Day?  Nothing!  Or Pulaski Day?  Or how about Secretary’s Day?  Secretaries love spaghetti!  And don’t forget Flag Day! And Tax Day and Earth Day and Derby Day and Opposites Day…

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Gaztro Wagon, Edgewater (for now!)

July 29th, 2010

(This is not an image of the gaztro wagon.  I just think it's neat.)

she said:

The other day, my brother asked me why Chicago doesn’t have food trucks.  He’s a college student in Philly, where food trucks abound and are his primary food source.  At the time,  I was stumped.  It’s a good question.  Why wouldn’t Chicago – a city known for the quality and quantity of its restaurants, a place that prides itself on culinary cutting edginess - be a part of this trend?  Why wouldn’t we embrace an amenity that so many other major cities have enjoyed for years?

I did some research.   There is an answer.   In Chicago, food trucks are illegal.  Sort of.  Can you sell food from a truck?  Yes. Otherwise what would you tell all the children (think of the children!) who, upon hearing the tinny chime of pop-goes-the weasel, drop whatever they’re doing, no matter how important, and run for blocks in a mad and desperate search for ice cream?  Luckily, you needn’t tell them anything because selling food from a truck is Daley-approved, as long as the food isn’t prepared (in any way, shape or form) inside the truck itself.

So, technically, that answers the question of why we don’t have said trucks, but it’s not good enough for me.  Apparently I’m not alone.  As it turns out, there is an entire mobile food movement and the revolution has been brewing right under my nose.  Who knew?  (Lots of people, I guarantee.)  Anyway, Chef Matt Maroni, the founder of Chicago Food Trucks, is at the head of this movement and he’s opened up a sandwich shop, the Gaztro Wagon,  just around the corner.  His approach targets an urban market with a focus on naan-wiches (sandwiches made with Indian flatbread, rather than sand), filled with interesting options like wild boar belly, pork shoulder and even New England Lobster.  As of a few days ago, the “wagon” was a small stationary storefront with limited seating, but the plan is for the operation to go mobile and become a fully functioning travelling restaurant with limitless seating.  You’ll even be able to follow the wagon via Twitter or sign up to receive text alerts on their current location.   First, Maroni’s proposal to change the current restrictions must be accepted by city council.  In the meantime (and this is breaking news), he’ll be able to sell, but not prepare,  his naan-wiches from the truck.  This compromise will require him to reload at the Edgewater store every few hours.  It’s a work in progress, but one with a whole lot of momentum.  Pun intended.

As for the naan-wiches, they sure are tasty.  I went with my friend Laura (my guy was working, so I got him one to go).  We split the portabella naan-wich – which was filled with arugula pesto, goat cheese, and roasted shallots on top of a very flavorful and meaty portabella mushroom – and the vegetarian cappicola (hold the cappicola), filled with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato.  On the side, we ordered a bag of homemade plantain chips.  (A woman behind the counter peeled and sliced box after box of fresh plantains while we ate.)   The chips, cut length-wise, were sprinkled in sea salt, and served with a pureed herb dip that looks like pesto but tastes like it contains mint, sage, ginger and vinegar.  I’m guessing - I asked what was in the sauce and was told, ”herbs.”

Laura and I also ordered a container of refreshing watermelon gazpacho, perfect for a hot summer day, but even more perfect for a hot summer day spent in the beautiful streets of this beautiful city.  Gaztro Wagon, yummy as it was, probably isn’t a destination spot, but that’s the whole point.  They’ll bring the delicious to you. 

he said:

As a former New Yorker, let me say I approve of all sorts of food trucks. I didn’t love hot dog carts (dirty water dogs, we called them) but halal trucks are the bomb. I still remember making post-bar cab stops at a food truck in midtown and having to wait in a line of other cabs for the chicken shawarma.

So when my beautiful lady told me she was going to pick up some food at a gastro-wagon of some sort, I was thrilled. I took a look at the menu and knew right off that I was going to love the slow-roasted lamb with gyro fixings.

Don’t know much about gastronomy

As she said, I was stuck at home working. I didn’t get to experience any of it, other than the food. You can imagine, can’t you dear reader, why it was somewhat confusing when she tried to explain to me that the Gaztro Wagon wasn’t a wagon? I mean, it has the word wagon right in it. It should have some mode of transport. The more I sought clarity on this issue, the less helpful she was.  I think she was hungry.

But I do know that I love the food

Thank goodness I had my delicious naan-wich to help me deal with my frustration. I was entirely right about the lamb with gyro fixings. It was awesome. The lamb was amazing, cooked perfectly. They could have served that meat in a steakhouse. And the fresh tomatoes (baked a little bit, I believe) and tzatziki sauce were awesome. It was the most delicious, well-made gyro I’ve ever had.

If I had one quibble, it was that the naan didn’t do much for me as a bread. I couldn’t tell much difference between it and a pita. But honestly, with the tastiness going on inside the bread, I wasn’t paying that much attention.

Thankfully, I also got to try a couple plantain chips. Equally awesome. The herb sauce was amazing. My coworker tried a bite, pointed at the sauce and said, “Now that’s something I won’t be able to live without.”

Maybe one of these days I’ll actually see the Gaztro Wagon on the street.  I have high hopes for the mobile food revolution.  Maybe I’ll even be able to find me some some shawarma.

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Jerry’s Sandwiches, Wicker Park

July 16th, 2010

he said:

If you’re planning to go to Jerry’s, I hope you like reading. Obviously, you’re reading this blog right now, so you don’t have an issue with the activity… at least not yet.   We’ll see how you feel by the end of this post.

Wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, reading.  Do you like it?

Which is an annoying way to say that Jerry’s has a long, meandering menu.  By the time I’d read a quarter of the items, I was more confused than hungry, but once I saw the Buffalo Chicken sandwich, I knew was going to put this tedious enterprise to a rest and go with a classic.

A gourmet’s concert hall or a music lover’s dream diner?

Maybe I should back up here and give some background. We were watching our friend’s band play. They have a standing gig on Tuesdays at Jerry’s, but they used to play at a bar in Rogers Park every week. So I went in expecting a similar scene: darkness, few seats, limited food. But Jerry’s is bright, large, with lots of patrons, some completely oblivious to the music that’s about to start, others there solely for the show.   

Once you see the menu, there’s no doubt in your mind–Jerry’s is a full on restaurant. On the other hand, with its high ceiling, large stage, and great musical lineup, you might even say it’s a venue.

So let’s just call it: A venue with a menu.

(Give me one second, I’m patting myself on the back for that clever piece of wordplay.)

(Okay, I’m back.)

Buffalo Chicken to the rescue

Back to my meal. Like I said, I went with a classic, buffalo chicken sandwich. Pedestrian, I know, but I was awash in a sea of protein-packed-between-two-slices-of-bread and I needed to hold on to the one thing I knew, a life preserver of delicious, delicious spicy chicken. And I’m glad I did.

This version of the buffalo chicken sandwich is one of the best I’ve ever had. Nice and crispy, good heat on the spice, not too much bleu cheese dressing. These are the elements of a good buffalo chicken sandwich and Jerry’s has them all, stacked in a spicy medley. (You can tell when I get poetic about a sandwich, I really liked it.)

The sides were great too. I had their great homemade potato chips and a Thai cucumber salad, which did the job. And by “job” I’m referring to making me feel a little better about eating the huge sandwich and chips, washed down by a few hearty beers.

So despite the fact I almost choked on the menu, Jerry’s has proven to me they can get a classic right. I can’t wait to go back and get a little more adventurous with my meal selection. Oh, and the music was superb.

So there you go: good food, good tunes … These are two of my three favorite things.  Now if only I had something to read…

she said:

I admit that ordering at Jerry’s felt a tad like taking a pop quiz.  There are hundreds of sandwiches, 200 American craft beers, 32 condiments, 9 types of bread, dozens of sides.  The menu is only slightly less confusing then the check, which required six adults to study before we finally gave up and split it evenly.  I felt worse for our waitress, who had to shepherd us through the entire process like a bunch of idiot sheep. 

Oh well.  These are itty-bitty complaints and my overall experience at Jerry’s was two thumbs up.  I love hot sandwiches, especially delicious ones, and one of my favorite Chicago bands was bluegrassing it up, making for a very lively and upbeat time.

I ordered the Fried Tofu sandwich, which came on toasty dark rye with a thick slice of Louisiana-style tofu, avocado, cilantro, jalapeno, cheddar and a thin schmear of salsa.   For my sides, I also enjoyed the savory-sweet Thai cucumber salad and the macaroni and cheese, which is blended with a creamy medley of Gouda, swiss, cheddar and ginger (yes, ginger).  I also sampled the Fried Green Tomato sandwich (yum!) and the Jenny F, which is a cold sandwich with avocado, grilled veggies, mozzarella and southwest mayo.  Not my favorite – cold grilled vegetables have never rubbed me the right way – but still good.

When we arrived, our friends had ordered the beer cheese plate, which is served with pretzels and pita.  Needless to say, it was delectable.  In case I’m ever on death row and you’re in charge of bringing me my last meal, hear me now: Let it be beer cheese and pretzels.

Should you need more convincing, Jerry’s also serves milkshakes.  I ordered a chocolate-banana one for my pregnant friend and detected a smile surrounding the large shake-filled straw.

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Revolution Brewery, Logan Square

June 23rd, 2010

she said:

Don’t you hate manners?  I know I do, especially when I’ve just finished the most delicious soup ever and all I want to do is lick the bowl until I’ve lapped up every lost drop.   This was my recent experience at the relatively new (opened in late winter) Revolution Brewery, where we went to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  I always love microbreweries, so I was expecting a nice time, but nothing could have prepared me for the delight that was the Cheddar Ale Soup, a rich blend of Wisconsin cheddar, golden ale, thyme and sour cream.  Definitely wait an hour to swim after indulging in this creamy masterpiece.

In addition to the communist-themed design (note the beer taps in the photo; they’re part of the raised fist motif), the menu is also revolutionary.   Bacon fat popcorn, roasted beet and duck confit bruschettas, beluga lentils with quinoa and root veggies, oh my!  I ordered and enjoyed the Caesar salad (snooze alert, I know, but I had to offset the waist-expanding cheddar bliss).   I also tried a few bites of a friend’s Tempeh Reuben, which was a treat with its vegan Russian dressing.  I’ll go back to order the Smoked and Grilled Tofu sandwich.  Lest you think they specialize in vegetarian fare, fear not.  Burgers abound, as do pizzas.

Oh, they also have beer.  I tried the Iron Fist and the Best Coast India Pale Ales, both of which were tasty, but could have been hoppier.  
So, if you lean left, love microbrews and innovative eats (there’s something for everyone, I promise), head to Logan Square and check out Revolution Brewery.  Plan on big crowds, especially on weekends, when, it seems, working men of all countries, unite!

he said:

You didn’t see Wayne’s World 2, did you? I hope not.

Anyway, the main character in that movie, whose name I forget, and his friends hung out in this bar called Comrades. One of the few memories I have of that movie.

Because of that, I was a little distracted and had somewhat low expectations of Revolution Brewing, a nice pub in Logan Square. The communist theme is an interesting choice–and it’s making it hard for me to resist turning this whole post into one bad Commie pun.

I drank no vodka, ate no beef stroganoff, saw no tea rooms, did not even partake in Cuban food. But I really enjoyed it.

What if the UK went red?

RevBrew* would be an awesome neighborhood pub if I lived in Logan Square. They have a great pub vibe, a long list of their own beers, and a great menu.

*Which is what I’m calling it because that’s a lot easier to type.

I had the fish and chips, because, you know, it’s such a Communist dish. But despite the questionable provenance, it was really good. Light, crispy fried skin with lots of malt vinegar. It came like it should, on newspaper in a basket. Don’t worry, they put wax paper between the food and the newspaper.

Plus, the beer list is pretty surprising. It’s long, with some uncommon brews. One of my favorite beers lately has been milk stout, and I was excited to see that RevBrew had their own. It’s great, complex and smooth.

If keeping places like Revolution Brewing out of the neighborhood was what that whole Cold War thing was about, maybe we picked the wrong side. Anyway, I wouldn’t say it’s a destination spot, but I’d definitely recommend it if you’re in this part of the western bloc.  It’s 100 times better than Wayne’s World 2.

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Otom, Fulton Market

May 27th, 2010

she says:

After our incredible experience at Moto, we decided to check out its sibling restaurant and next door neighbor, Otom, for our anniversary.

When we first arrived, I thought it would be a perfect place to take my girlfriends who are traveling to Chicago next weekend for my bachelorette soiree.  The space is chic and ultra-contemporary, with bare brick walls and white wood floors.  The starkness is offset with large striped curtains and orange chairs that reminded me of Tetris blocks.  Fabulous cocktails enhance the trendy feel and the prices are reasonable for an upscale restaurant in the warehouse district.

They’re doing a lot of things right at Otom…

  1. The Pale Moon martini, made with vodka, lychee syrup, house sour and vanilla bitters, was delicious.
  2. The butter changes daily.  Our warm bread came with truffle honey butter that nearly took my breath away.
  3. The Forager’s Plate, which is their vegetarian entrée, was quite impressive.  It also changes daily; mine was a risotto cake served with grilled baby portabellas, fiddleheads* and a variety of accompanying greens, flavored with what tasted like a sesame-based reduction.
  4.  The presentation was as artful as the interior design.

But, I was much less impressed with:

  1. The “mac and cheese” (quotation marks theirs and well-deserved) – made with trofie pasta, béchamel and peas – was bland and dry.
  2. The gnocchi in the German potato salad appetizer was so doughy that I wondered if they’d forgotten to cook it.
  3. The wait between courses and drinks was inexcusable, not that they even tried to excuse it.

Also, I must share this anecdote and warning.  Don’t put your purse on the floor. Find a way to hang it on the weird cubey chairs.  A light in the floor burned my purse so badly that the bottom peeled off and when I picked it up, it skimmed my foot and resulted in a blister.  I’m not making this up.  When we told the staff, they apologized but offered nothing to compensate for the ruined bag and seared foot.   A different kind of person would take advantage of this liability. Me?  I just blog about it.

Anyway, I may not subject my bachelorette party to Otom, but I probably will go back some time.   The good parts were excellent and I learned from my experience to avoid their botched pasta interpretations.   As for the long waits, maybe they were having a bad night.  I’ll give them another chance.  If they do me wrong again, I’ll simply place my bag on the floor lighting and stay an extra hour.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, purse fire.  That’s what I always say.

* What are fiddleheads?  They’re the adorable and tasty unfurled fronds of young fern. They look like this:

Cute, right?

he said:

I’m on a bit of an unlucky roll here. Just as it happened to me at Anteprima, I got my hopes up about Otom and was let down. However, to be fair, I would consider Anteprima to be in the ”Oh well, my expectations were too high” letdown category. Otom, for me, was in “What’s that Lassie, Otom fell down a well?” letdown category.

Going in, I was under the impression that as Moto’s sister restaurant, Otom was run by the same chef, Homaro Cantu. I thought Otom may be the cheaper bistro version of that molecular gastronomic delight. It was not, and Cantu apparently has nothing to do with this place.

That misconception is my fault, not the restaurant’s. But I don’t want you going in with the same idea.

I found the menu to be slight, and the food to be uninspired. Unlike my lovely fiance, I liked the German potato salad gnocchi, though the texture was odd. My smoked pork chop was just boring. And the mac and cheese wasn’t even worth finishing.

So, if the lady wants to try it again, I’m not sure who she’ll go with. I have no interest in going back.

Sorry that this post is so short, but like the menu, Otom left me uninspired.

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Anteprima, Andersonville

May 5th, 2010

he said:

It’s taken me too long to get to Anteprima.

As a resident of Andersonville for the last 6 months, I’ve often been asked if I’d eaten there… like, every time I tell someone I live in Andersonville. And when I started blogging about Chicago food, well, you can imagine. So I got the picture; it was a place worth visiting.

Perhaps that big buildup set me up for a letdown. While there were things I really liked about the meal the Gal and I shared with parents there this past weekend, I left disappointed.

So much to like

Our parents were in town for our engagement party, and so we had to show them a good time. We love showing off Andersonville and the great restaurants on Clark to out-of-town guests.  And to be fair, Anteprima did the trick. Our group left very happy and impressed with their meal.

Part of their impression had to do with the great service we had, and the warm Italian kitchen style interior. It’s just a really cool restaurant.

But…

The food left me unimpressed. When I asked the waitress about the dish I had my eye on, the pancetta wrapped lamb loin, she told me it was “phenomenal.” Honestly, how often do you hear anyone use the word phenomenal? I couldn’t pass up this opportunity, if for no other reason than my Roget’s Thesaurus would insist that I reward her diction.

And it was good. There’s nothing wrong with good, but when you expect phenomenal, good is a let down. It was a bit dry, the sliced pieces of lamb were a little too thin, and the fricassea it was served on was forgettable.

We also orded the assorted appetizer plate to start, and again, good (read: letdown).

I want to give this place another chance. It looks like they have a great outdoor spot, and my meal was above par.  Maybe if I go another night and order one of the many other enticing dishes on the menu, I’ll love it.

Uh oh, there I go getting my hopes up again.

she said:

I want to say two things about Italian cuisine.  First, it’s probably my favorite type of food.  Second, I am rarely floored by it, at least not in that - oh my god what is this magic happening in my mouth? I don’t want this ecstasy to end, why do I have to swallow? kind of way.  Maybe it’s because Italian food  is ubiquitous in American culture.  Maybe it’s because I almost always know what I’m eating, down to each herb, and have a pretty good idea of how I would prepare it in my own kitchen (though it wouldn’t taste anywhere close to as good, I’m sure,  and I just gave my homemade pasta maker to Goodwill).   I love Italian food for the same reasons I love my own favorite recipes; they taste really really good and they rely upon fresh ingredients.

Thus,  I must admit, “phenomenal” is a tad hyperbolic, but I do think the food at Anteprima is excellent.  It’s creative in its ingredients and presentation and I enjoyed every bite.  Both the ambiance and the menu are upscale without being pretentious.  Is Anteprima extraordinary?  Not mindblowingly so, but that’s not what they’re going for.  They do what they do very well. 

We ordered the starter assortment for the table and I was particularly impressed by the grilled fennel.  For my entree, I had the ricotta ravioli, which is tossed in a wonderful butter sauce and topped with English peas, parmesan and slivered mint leaves.  Outstanding.  I sopped up every last morsel with my bread.

The wine list was extensive; the Orvietto was particularly nice with the pasta and – this is my favorite part – they make their own limoncello.  If you’re not familiar with it, limoncello is a lemon liqueur that’s usually served as a digestivo.  I had it for the first time in the Amalfi Coast, about ten years ago, and I’ve never missed a chance to have it since. 

My only complaint is that Anteprima is a bit noisy – we had a hard time hearing one another – and hot, even on a cool night, which it was when we were there.  Don’t let that stop you, though.  I don’t have a single regret about our choice.  It’s perfect  for a special night out with your sweetie (but don’t get his hopes up first) or an impressive neighborhood spot to take out-of-towners.

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