Posts Tagged ‘outdoor seating’

Publican, Fulton Market

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

he said:

After making our reservation months in advance, when it was finally time for our Friday date night at Publican, I was less than enthused. Summer was in full swing, and all I really wanted to do was have a low key dinner with my wife. Despite my desire to see what all the fuss was about, I just wasn’t in the mood for a fuss.

I didn’t want a scene. I just wanted something nice and relaxing. Turns out, Publican was the perfect place to go.

We sat outside on a night with perfect weather. We were away from the hubbub inside, and the meatpacking district, surprisingly, isn’t a bad place to be on a warm summer evening.

Making up for lost time

We started with a plate of pickles, and I was in love. The pickled cucumbers (most people call them pickles) were only okay. But the pickled asparagus and cauliflower were delightful. Sweet and surprising, I don’t know where these have been all my life.

Speaking of missing out on something, I’ve never had pork rinds. It wasn’t by accident, it was a conscious choice. But Publican is known for theirs so I had to try them. And I’m glad I did. They’re super crunchy with an awesome spicy salt rub and a texture that kind of reminded me of Cheetos. Only better. And louder. Did I mention they were crunchy?

Country Rib Confusion

For my main dish, I had the country ribs, which were unlike any rib I’d ever had. As in, I’m not sure they gave me the right dish. Who out there has had their ribs before? I expect ribs to show up in a neat line with a bit of meat between them. This cut reminded me more of a chop. Am I crazy, or did I get the wrong dish? Please, if you can, enlighten me.

That confusion not withstanding, my “ribs” were great. They had a salty and sweet sauce that worked perfectly.

If it’s a scene, it’s my kind of scene

I’m so glad we went. The food was on par with what I’d expect for a neighborhood swarming with foodies, but the atmosphere was much more low key and simple than I’d anticipated.   The food and drinks (and my wife’s company) were so spectacular that I would have enjoyed Publican even if it had been the scenester scene I was expecting. When I’m surrounded by such delicious treats, even the hugest of deals can’t distract me.*

*Cryptic, huh? Read on and you’ll understand.

she says:

If, ten years ago, someone had told me that they planned to open up a restaurant in the heart of Chicago’s meat-packing district, I’d have had some serious doubts.  I mean, who would want to dine beneath the shadows of those industrial slaughter-houses, amid the smell of butchered meat? I’ll tell you who.  Everyone!

He’s right.  The area – with hipstastic eateries like Girl and the Goat, Publican, and Maude’s Liquor Bar – has developed into a full-blown scene.  Still, it’s funny to hear a relative newcomer (my husband) talk about the district as if it’s passe.  It’s a funny phenomena for those of us with a longer memory.

True to the roots, Publican is an homage to the meat-packing district’s glory days, if such a thing exists.  I read that they bring in a whole pig each Friday – alive or dead, I do not know, but I believe they butcher on site -  and, from what I could tell, every ounce of that oinker, from snout to tail, is served up in one way or another.

The inside of the restaurant, cavernous with hanging globe lights and large communal tables, exudes the warmth and comradery of a German brauhaus.   Along the sides of the room, gated stalls (styes?) offer a slightly more private dining experience.  To  ensure I adequately captured the scene so I could tell you all about it, I walked around the perimeters of the room several times .  After my third lap, I ran into my husband on his way back from the bathroom.  “Are you stalking?”, he asked, only to be met by my blank, confused stare.  As is sometimes the case, I had no clue what he was talking about.  Until, of course,  he tilted  his head towards a nearby sty where I spotted one Robert Downey Jr. (!!!) seated with a group of friends.  One cool thing about my husband: he has a real knack for spotting celebrities, even if sometimes they’re just random actors who have been in one obscure commercial.

But I digress.  Here’s the thing - there’s no shortage of Publican reviews out there so I’m going to keep mine short and to the point.  If you’re hungry for meat, like to eat organs, and love, love, love all things pig, you’re going to be in hog heaven at Publican.  If you’re a vegetarian, even one who thinks they can find something yummy on almost every menu (like me), you are out of luck, my friend.  Most the vegetable courses are cooked in some sort of animal fat or with some animal part.  Interesting pickles are great, but you’re probably not going to find enough to eat or anything extraordinary about the vegetarian food you do find.  Vegetarian fare is not their gig.  Consider yourself warned.

One more thing – and I’m shocked that my husband didn’t bring this up -  I must applaud Publican’s beer menu.  It’s one of the most eclectic, extensive and all-around impressive selections I’ve ever seen.  It was, for me, a saving grace, along, of course, with the white fedora that Robert Downey Jr. was sporting.

Buon Appetito – Our Favorite Italian Restaurants

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

we say:

Supposedly, if you give a baby hundreds of toys to choose from, he’ll get totally overwhelmed and not play with a single one.  We, like spoiled rotten babies, have had a similar reaction to reviewing Chicago’s Italian restaurants.  Chicago is home to some of the best Italian cuisine in the country, but where do we begin when there are literally thousands of Italian restaurants, one on almost every corner?  And how can we compare a place like Spiaggia to a neighborhood osteria?  And what about pizza? Pizza!  And how many Italian restaurant reviews will you, our friends, read before you fall asleep or abandon us forever?  Life is so complicated; we’ll just do our best and hope you like us anyway.  Andiamo.

Our Top Five:

  1. Enoteca Roma (Wicker Park) – We love this small, somewhat low-key (for Wicker Park) eatery for its incredibly flavorful bruschettas, cheeses and pastas.  We love the family-style approach and the way they pour their polenta onto marble slabs.  We love their patio too.   Really though, there’s no trick to why they’re first on our list; the food is superior and that’s what matters.
  2. Rose Angelis (Lincoln Park) - We doubt you’ll find this one on many other Best Italian lists, but you should.  It’s hard to beat Rose Angelis’  huge portions of hearty, homemade pasta.   Formerly the first floor of a home, the cozy layout and setting will charm your pants off (they’ll already be unbuttoned to make room for your pasta baby).  As impossible as it may seem, try to leave room for one of their spectacular desserts.
  3. Piccolo Sogno (River West) – A “little dream” come true.  This upscale Northern Italian restaurant’s menu is as fabulous as its decor.  An impressive place to take out-of-towners, but make your reservation well in advance.  Their mozzarella cheese melts on the tongue and their wine list is impeccable.  They use authentic ingredients combined in wonderful ways, presented artfully.  If you go to their website, be prepared to rock out to some dramatic Italian crooning that starts off like a smooth jazz rendition of the theme song from St. Elmo’s Fire.
  4. Anteprima (Andersonville) - This one almost didn’t make the cut because one of us finds it underwhelming, but here it is, numero quattro, and nobody has to sleep on the couch.  Everyone’s a winner!  Anteprima serves rustic Italian dishes with local, seasonally-inspired ingredients.  The atmosphere is warm and cheerful and totally unpretentious.  They also make their own limoncello. Yum.
  5. Cibo Matto (Loop) and Pelago (Gold Coast) – Between these two, it’s toss up.  Both are trendy and oozing with swank.  Cibo Matto is located in the ultra-hip Wit hotel; Pelago in the boutique Raffaello Hotel.  Cibo Matto is over-the-top stylish while Pelago is more reserved and sophisticated.  Both serve Italian gourmet with a modern twist.  We suggest the Pollo a Griglia at Cibo Matto and the fettuccine with truffles at Pelago.

Our Favorites (In A League of Their Own):

Our Favorite Neapolitan-style (woodfire oven) PizzaAntica Pizzeria (Andersonville)

Our Favorite Italian Sandwiches – Narrowly beating out the neighborhood fave, Piatto Pronto (Edgewater) is L’Apetito Imported Italian Foods (Near North Side).   Check out this Italian deli and delicacy store and get an amazing sandwich to go.  Avoid the tourist trap in the Hancock and stop by the deli in the cathedral district. We suggest Il Parma. It’s topped with the best fresh mozzarella to squeeze it’s way between two slices of bread.

Our favorite Italian Chicagoan – This Guy:

We’re still in search of our favorite gelato.  Got tips?

If we missed one of your faves, use the comment section to let us know.  We’d love to try it …  or tell you why we omitted it (probably because of the weird smell and the cockroaches).  In the meantime, we’ll just be sitting here, staring at our toys and throwing temper tantrums.

Enoteca Roma, Wicker Park

Tuesday, 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…

Cooper’s, Lake View

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

she said:

Last night we joined our good friends for their weekly jaunt to Cooper’s for dinner. They love the place and are, like us, are a couple composed of one meatophile and one veggie so we knew we were in good hands.

Now, there’s nothing about Cooper’s that makes me want to scream from rooftops, but it’s an all-around great restaurant/pub and I plan to go back often.

Its numerous virtues include the following:
1. They have a great big parking lot behind the restaurant (on Belmont!)
2. And a beautiful covered patio (which is closed for winter, of course, but looks awesome and is pet friendly).
3. On Thursdays, their delicious pizzas are half off. I had the truffle mushroom pizza; it was, without hyperbole, one of the best pub pizzas I’ve ever had.
4. The drink menu is extensive. The multi-page list of imported beers ends with a tiny section (labeled “We’re Not Snobs”) of Budweiseresque variety brews. Martini options abound.
5. There’s plenty of seating and the atmosphere is hip laid-back casual.

I was less impressed by my vegetarian French Onion Soup. French Onion is normally one of my all time favorites, probably because of the thick melted cheese topping. The standard beef broth recipe is off limits for me, but – little known fact – the rich taste comes from the caramelized onions, not the broth. Thus, tasty vegetarian recipes are out there, although I don’t think I’ve ever had one at a restaurant (if you know of any, please let me know). Anyway, Cooper’s was skimpy on the cheese, but certainly not on the black pepper, which dominated the taste and, ultimately, made the soup a culinary failure, in my opinion.

Still, Cooper’s had just about everything this girl could ask for in a low key/good food night out with friends. Oh, and there’s a pile of smooth decorative rocks in the sink of the women’s restroom. I think that’s nice.

he said:

This is a great neighborhood spot. Makes me kind of wish I lived in Lake View. It has the kind of pub grub that makes you feel bad about calling it pub grub* because it doesn’t get across the thought and care that goes into each dish.

*I’ve seen so many great pubs here in Chicago that have interesting menus and delicious dishes, I think we need to come up with a word for it. Something like bar-met (get it, bar and gourmet?) or maybe pubtacular…I’ll keep working.

The service was extremely friendly, helped by the presence our friends, who are regulars. And the beer list was impressive, something that I also keep seeing in Chicago.

Fried Calamari

Coming off my experience with the grilled calamari at Antica Pizzeria, I was ready to be unimpressed when our friends recommended Cooper’s fried calamari. And when it came out, it came out as sticks, instead of the rings I’m used to. It looked like fried mozzarella, and I was thinking this was some Van de Kamps style processed squid.

But one bite showed me that I was wrong. It wasn’t processed–I’m not sure what part of the squid it was from, but it was one cut of meat. And they paired it with true cocktail sauce, not marinara. It was surprising, though I suppose it shouldn’t be. I’m just used to seeing marinara next to calamari.

This wasn’t as good as the grilled calamari, but it was a great fried calamari that rises above the typical pub grub fare.

Rockstar Burger, because I was feeling like a rockstar

Despite the fact that it was half-off pizza night, I just couldn’t turn down the Rockstar Burger. It wasn’t that I fell in love with it on the menu, I just felt like a burger. And I’m really glad I did.

It came topped with a slaw, instead of the regular toppings of a lettuce leaf and a slice of tomato. The slaw was made of chopped lettuce, chopped tomatoes and blue cheese. It was tightly packed on top of the burger. I was worried it would spill everywhere, but it stayed in place really well.

And it was a nice addition to the burger. The blue cheese (or is it bleu?) didn’t overpower, it was a nice addition. However, it did make the provolone cheese I ordered on the burger superfluous.

This is the kind of neighborhood spot that makes you love your neighborhood. We have a few here in Andersonville, but Coopers is a good place to have in Lake View.