Where I’ve Been Eating, Chicago Edition

Posted by Krista on January 4, 2012

 Winter is upon us here in Chicago. And I’m not happy about that. As I write this, it’s 22 Fahrenheit outside. That’s -5 Celsius for the rest of you. Yes. No fun. So I’m heading to South America. Seriously. But in preparation for my departure, I’ve been eating where and when I can. Here’s the latest…

Vera: First stop, Vera in the West Loop. I like Vera for the sherry alone. Americans don’t drink enough sherry. So I’ve been drinking enough to make up for the rest of you, but you really do need to get on this and widen your drinking horizons. While we were at Vera, we settled in for mixed platters of meats and cheeses. My favorite dish of the evening though had to be the anchovies. I don’t know what it is about me and anchovies lately, but I just can’t get enough. I’ll be back here to sample more of the menu, as we were only there for sherry and snacks. The Verdict: Recommended for the sherry selection and the very nice Spanish menu.

Vera Chicago on Urbanspoon

Slurping Turtle: I dropped in here on a Friday afternoon…I think it was their first week of business. Well, that will teach me because I totally suffered the consequences. Service was ridiculously, abysmally slow. (All my American romanticizing about service in America while I was living abroad? I’ve yet to have my expectations MET…forget about having them exceeded. America, what has happened to you???) Service aside, my Yuke Tataki of beef tartar, spicy chili paste, sesame oil, and quail egg was pretty awesome. The pork belly snack was also pretty great. The Verdict: Recommended for interesting Japanese food and communal seating/solo dining.

Slurping Turtle on Urbanspoon

Jerry’s: I ended up working from home one day for some reason or another and was going a little stir crazy so I needed to get out of the house for lunch. I discovered that there’s barely ANYTHING open on Division in Wicker Park during lunch so I found myself at Jerry’s, which was fine because I wanted a salad anyhow. Jerry’s is very low-key. I liked that. I also liked that they made their own sodas on the premises, so I had something lovely with lime and ginger. Then I ordered a salad, which actually came with a side. (!!!) So I had some creamed spinach. This was all very acceptable, although the service — yet again — was pretty poor. I had no idea where the guy was half the time. Maybe he was in the back making soda. The Verdict: Not a destination, but a good place for lunch.

Jerry's Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

So…that’s three places I’ve been recently. How about you? Been anywhere good recently?

Posted in American, Chicago, Japanese, River North, Spanish, United States, West Loop, Wicker Park | Comments Off

Name that ham…

Posted by Krista on October 21, 2011

20111021-203421.jpg
At Mercat a la Planxa in the South Loop tonight with my old friend Lisa and her husband Matt. More reminiscing. Lisa and I have known each other for 50% of our lives at this point. Amazing.

And while Mercat a la Planxa isn’t totally amazing, and the service is a little all over everywhere, it is still deeply good and I will be back. Besos.

Mercat a la Planxa on Urbanspoon

Posted in Chicago, South Loop, Spanish, United States | 1 Comment

Barrica, Goodge Street

Posted by Krista on January 25, 2010

Barrica collage 
Barrica
62 Goodge Street
W1T 4NE

Date of Last Visit: Friday December 11th, 2009

The Victims: Al, Louise, Darsh, Abha

The Damage: About £40 each

The Background: Let me skip right to the punch. My food at Barrica was good. But my experience with their service was pretty terrible. It was some of the worst service I've ever experienced in London.

But before I tell you what happened with the service, I should briefly cover the food. It was fine. It was Spanish. I like ham. But the croquetas were anemic looking. Tiny. Miserable. And the patatas bravas were just so…gunky.

And now back to the service. It started out fine. We liked the guy that waited on us and took our order. But then he swapped out and left us with a young Spanish girl, who while very sweet, didn't understand a word we said. Dishes arrived that we didn't order. Other dishes arrived in multiples.

And then we made the mistake of ordering a 2nd bottle of wine. 20+ minutes later and it still hadn't arrived. But our food had. After waiting a bit for the wine, we decided to just eat while we tried to flag down a server. No joy.

Let me clarify that Barrica is NOT a big place.

I then embarrassed everyone at the table by going up to the bar to get our bottle of wine and open it myself. The staff balked and promised it would be right over. Time went by. Still no wine. At this point, the food was gone and we don't want the wine anymore. (We're at the 40 minute mark now.) So I flagged down a server again and canceled the wine order and we all ordered some sweet wines. My face must have said it all because the dessert wines arrived immediately. Our original server explained that the girl waiting on us was brand new–only four days on–and while I am sympathetic to that, it does NOT take 40 minutes to pick up a bottle of wine, open it, and walk it 10 steps to our table. I'm sorry. That's just not acceptable.

They waived the dessert wines. Kind of them.

The Verdict: Probably won't be going here again.

Barrica on Urbanspoon

Posted in London, Spanish, United Kingdom, W1 | 2 Comments

Iberica

Posted by Krista on September 11, 2009

Iberica inside

Iberica Food & Culture
195 Great Portland Street
W1W 5PS

Date of Last Visit: Friday, September 4, 2009

The Victim: Natalie

The Damage: Golly I forget. I think it was about 50 euros each?

The Background: I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned Natalie before. But even if I have, let me tell you the story again because it’s a good one. A few years back, I was at my friend Richard’s house for a party. And Richard’s friend Claudine was there. I’ve met Claudine before. Many times. Many, many times.

And Claudine is that type of person that NEVER remembers that you’ve met before. Not even a vague, “I’m sorry, I know we’ve met but I can’t remember your name.” Claudine just flat out has no idea who you are.

This annoys me.

Or at least, it used to annoy me until that fateful day at Richard’s when I was sitting there on the couch, minding my own business, where in walks Claudine. I think “Great. Here we go again. She’s going to have no freaking idea who I am. Again.” Luckily, she starts chatting to the girls on the sofa across from me first. She introduces herself. And before she can even finish, one of them says, “Yes, I know who you are Claudine. You introduce yourself to me all the time. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve met and you never remember my name. I’m Natalie.”

Claudine didn’t have much to say and just walked off.

I immediately introduced myself to Natalie and pronounced myself her greatest fan.

The Entrance: A week earlier, while I’d been waiting for my flight to Brittany, I’d called and made a booking at Iberica. I enter on Friday evening and they HAVE NO RECORD of my booking. This annoys me, because I can assure you…I made a booking. How do restaurants lose reservations? Someone please explain.

Iberica upstairs

It’s fine though. They still have space. Upstairs. Which I accept as fine. And it is fine. We have a server practically to ourselves. He admits he’s married and then promptly falls in love with Natalie. Frankly, this is sweet at first and then I start to feel like chopped liver. Flirtatious servers need to learn to spread the love.

Iberica trio of ham

The Food: We order many things. Firstly, the trio of ham. (Tragically, Natalie’s flirtatious server can’t remember which ham is which. But we think the serrano is in the middle.) We decide we like the one on the left. The ham croquetas arrive shortly afterwards. (Crispy on the outside. Very creamy on the inside. Almost too creamy.)

Artichokes with pear

The artichokes and pear with alioli were a last minute addition to the order, after our first few vegetable choices were either not available or not enthusiastically recommended by Cassanova. This dish turns out to be the big surprise of the night: no one mentioned they’d be deep-fried, but the artichokes are absolutely positively one of the best things I’ve even lately.

Asparagus at iberica

Asparagus with some sort of red pepper alioli is the sole bit of green on the table. We also get some squid with–wait for it–alioli. There’s a lot of alioli at Iberica. Or at least, it seems that way given the dishes we’ve ordered. Luckily, I’ve brought mints.

Black rice

As our final order, we go for our server’s recommendation of the cuttlefish in black rice. I’ve had this dish in Madrid, and truth be told, it’s not my favorite. It’s too rich and too monotonous. But he is so heartily recommending it, we go for it. (We have a moment of panic when they mistakenly deliver two dishes but quickly right their wrong.) I was right to hesitate…this dish is way too rich and dense and creamy in all the wrong ways.

Other Things: There was a fly in my cava. A small one, but a fly nonetheless. Also, after dinner, we headed back down to the ground floor to use the loos, and the ground floor is just so much more fun. If they hadn’t had lost my booking, we probably could have sat down here.

The Verdict: I’m really annoyed about the lost booking. And I wish our server had lold ME that I have beautiful eyes. (Not to be conceited or anything, but I do think I have nice eyes.) I would go back here for the artichokes. And the atmosphere on the ground floor. Don’t get talked into the black rice.

Iberica on Urbanspoon

Posted in London, Spanish, United Kingdom, W1 | 6 Comments

Jose Luis, Madrid

Posted by Krista on June 22, 2009

Jose luis tapas squid

Jose Luis
C/Serrano 89-91
Madrid, Spain

Date of Last Visit: Sunday, June 7th and then again on Monday, June 8th, 2009

The Victims: Myself the first time. Fernando, Guillermo and William the second time.

The Damage: About 25 euros the first time, and unknown the second time because Fernando paid.

The Background: I had all these grand plans of having a big day out in Madrid on Sunday.

Until I figured out that getting to Spain takes a long time. A really long time.

Not sure how I missed that.

My flight was at 9:30 a.m. from Heathrow and we took off on time. I landed in Madrid around 1 p.m. and then my luggage came out around 1:40 p.m. By the time I bought my metro tickets and figured out where I was going, it was after 2 p.m. And by the time I checked into my hotel, it was nearly 3 p.m. So by the time I was ready to go anywhere, it was 5 p.m. (I squeezed in a quick workout at the hotel gym.)

So–worst possible time to eat in Madrid?

5 p.m.

Lunch is over and dinner won't start til 9:30 p.m. (10, really.) But it was 5 p.m. and I was STARVING. And so the hotel directed me to Jose Luis. And it was okay. Just okay. (I had the squid–a different squid than what I talk about below.)

And Even More Background: Now fast-forward to the next evening. My colleagues suggest taking me out to dinner. I say sure. And we start walking. And we're walking some more. And eventually I say, "Are we going to Jose Luis?"

And we are.

Really, what are the chances?

The Entrance
: My waiter from the previous evening doesn't recognize me. I think this is a bit of a bummer. Even after we had this whole discussion where he said everything in Spanish and I said everything in English and we totally understood each other.

The Food: I put myself in the hands of my Spanish colleagues. (I don't mind someone else ordering for me when I've asked them to order for me.) And so the parade begins. The first dish of the night is the best dish, and it leave me with high hopes for Jose Luis. It's squid and the batter is great. Super great. And then there's some jamon serrano, roughly cut. It's pretty darn good too. And the manchego cheese. I have no complaints. We've started this meal on a high note.

Jose luis pulpo

But then the pulpo arrives. And it looks great, with great big chunks of octopus. But it's not so good. It's tough and chewy. Poor reviews from around the table…my Spanish colleagues apologize to me for it.

Jose luis pimentos  

The Pimientos de Padron arrive, and they look like they've been through a lot, just to get here. They're okay. But they seem slightly overcooked. And I like them with a bit of rock salt.

Jose luis cuttlefish

In between, there's some forgettable calamari (for which my colleagues, again, apologize) and then we have fun with Google Translate trying to figure out what this next dish is. It's cuttlefish. And it's chewy. But the garlicky mayonnaise is good.

The Verdict: There are lots of people who probably love this restaurant and give it rave reviews. I thought it was just okay. But the squid (the second time) was great.

Posted in Madrid, Spain, Spanish | 4 Comments

God I Love Spain

Posted by Krista on June 19, 2009

God i love spain

Depintxos
Calle Castello 115

28006 Madrid

Date of Last Visit: Monday, June 8, 2009

The Victims
: Many

The Damage: No idea. My colleagues paid.

The Verdict: This is just a little chain. It's nothing special, really. But why do places like this exist in Madrid but not London? (I can't vouch for the food. We just had drinks and lovely roasted peanuts.) I'd go back here for after-work drinks and snacks again.

Posted in Madrid, Spain, Spanish | Comments Off

Barrafina

Posted by Krista on January 20, 2009
Barrafina

Barrafina
54 Frith Street
W1D 4SL

Date of Last Visit: Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Victim: Me

The Damage: Um, £35. I got a little carried away.

The Background: So I've had my muffin and I've taken care of the errands I needed to run. And I just happen to wander past Barrafina and hey, it's 1 p.m. and they've just opened and there are seats available!

Now firstly, I want to talk about this 1 p.m. lunch thing. Again. (I know. I'm sorry.) I just don't get it. Why can't I have lunch at 12? Or 11:30? In America, this is possible everywhere. Not in this country, sadly.

But regardless, I am lucky because it is seriously 1:03 p.m. and Barrafina is almost nearly full except for maybe four seats. And one of them is mine.

The Entrance: They are puzzled that I am alone. Really, just one seat? Is that it? They don't want me to sit in the midst of the empty seats. They want me to sit bang up against the family of four. That's fine. The family of four keeps to themselves. There's no counter banter.

The Food: I order the toast with alioli. (Very nice, although I feel like the toast wasn't freshly toasted. It's almost like they expected a rush and made a lot of toast an hour earlier and now I have some of it.) And then I wait. And I wait and wait. Service today is not of the "let me deliver all your dishes within two minutes of each other" variety. I don't want to eat two slices of toast now though so I sit and continue to wait. And I wait and wait.

And finally, the octopus arrives. With capers. And it's good. But slightly cold. Almost like they made it, but really wanted me to finish my toast before giving it to me. I find this all very odd because the kitchen is right there in front of me. So maybe my octopus has been ready all this time, but they just forgot to give it to me. No bother. It's very nice and I forgive them.

But again, I'm waiting and waiting. I'm done with the octopus. I am NOT done with the toast. But yet they take the toast away from me! I make one of the petulant whiny noises when they do it. "But waaaiiiittt…." They only somewhat apologetically return the toast to me. And I'm left wondering…are they in a rush? Maybe they want me out of here? But still, there's no one waiting really. Odd.

Eventually, my spinach and sultanas and pine nuts arrive. It's pretty darn good, although maybe a little too heavy on the sultanas for my taste. But still, it's sweet and salty and crunchy and I've got my folic acid fix for the day.

The Service: A bit off. Not super-friendly. And I'm still mad at her for taking away my toast.

The Verdict: Good. But I still prefer Fernandez & Wells.

Barrafina on Urbanspoon

Posted in London, Spanish, United Kingdom, W1 | 3 Comments

El Molino

Posted by Krista on November 26, 2008
El molino

El Molino
379 Holloway Road
N7 0RN

Date of Last Visit:Saturday, November 21st, 2008

The Victim: Me

The Damage: Less than £15

The Background: Muna is getting married soon. It's black tie. I need something to wear. She sends me to one of the most bizarre places in London I have yet to experience. Fonthill Road by Finsbury Park tube.One shop after another, filled with strange and sparkly poufy things.

You know I'm more a Boden-kind-of-gal. Or Banana Republic. Hmmm.

But I'm here. And I need a dress. A long one. It takes me a while. But I persevere. And I'm done at lunchtime! How convenient!

Now, Google Maps. I love Google Maps. I GPS my location. I search for restaurants in the nearby area. And hey, there's a Japanese one. You know I like Japanese food. It's called Hana and it's on Seven Sisters.

And well, at 12 noon, it's not open. So I Google again. And I'm taken to a Spanish place on Holloway Road. So I go.

And I'm the only one there. And no one really seems to speak Spanish, as far as I can tell. (Although maybe it was Catalan?) 

One tortilla. (Very good. Just the right size.) Some croquetas. (OK. Just okay.) And my big mistake…asparagus with bread crumbs, which turned out to be CANNED/TINNED asparagus, deep fried. Revolting. Yuk.

The Verdict: Everyone seems to really like this place. Except for me. But really, the tortilla was good.

El Molino on Urbanspoon

Posted in London, N7, Spanish, United Kingdom | 4 Comments

Tierra Brindisa

Posted by Krista on November 11, 2008

Tierra brindisa   

Tierra Brindisa
46 Broadwick Street
W1F 7AF
http://www.tierrabrindisa.com

Date of Last Visit: Saturday, 8 November 2008

The Victim: Me

The Damage: £16?

The Background: Cancel on me once at the last minute, and I'll forgive you. I'm a forgiving sort. Cancel on me twice within four days, however, and we have a problem. Are you trying to tell me something? So it was that I found myself in Soho, all dressed up with no place to go. But Flat White. And well, Liberty. (Unfortunately, my American Express card hasn't gotten the message about this credit crunch thing that's going on.)

In for a penny, in for a pound. Rather than turn back home, I decided to take myself out to lunch. (I know, I know. Not all that unusual for me. But normally I plan these things. This was unplanned.)

I tend to go for cheap and cheerful when I'm on my own. More anonymous that way. But on Saturday, I took myself to Tierra Brindisa.

The Entrance: They've just opened for the day and I'm their first customer. The place smells like a forest…all that fresh wood. Just like Hibiscus smelled that one night I was there. I'm offered a table, or if I'd like, I can grab a seat at the bar in the back. I opt for the back bar.

Tierra brindisa spinach

The Food: Spinach tortilla and the Catalan spinach. I really like the spinach at Tapas Brindisa and this was just as good, although I feel like it was a larger portion. And well, if you can't tell, I do really like spinach. (One of the staff said as much to me as I was getting ready to leave.) I also went for some of the crusty bread with alioli and God, do I love alioli. Also, their bread was nicely grilled, which I appreciated. Ah yes, and they brought me three really big olives stuffed with peppers to start things off. A nice touch. Plus, they plonked a whole big bottle of tap water down in front of me.

The Verdict: I liked it here, although the spinach tortilla probably wasn't my favorite thing in the world. I would go back. Hopefully with someone who understands how to keep a date.

Tierra Brindisa on Urbanspoon

Posted in London, Spanish, United Kingdom, W1 | 2 Comments

Lunch: Fernandez & Wells

Posted by Krista on June 13, 2008

Fernandez_and_wellsFernandez & Wells
43 Lexington St
W1F 9AL
Tel: 020 7734 1546

Date of Last Visit: 7 June 2008

The Victim: Me

The Damage: Less than £10?

The Background: I’ve become a compulsive shopper as of late. I really can’t help myself.

I think it’s because I normally go back to the U.S. with two empty suitcases around this time of year and stock up on all sorts of new duds. I don’t, unfortunately, have time for that this summer. So Oxford Street is getting to know me better than ever before. It knew me pretty well, that’s for sure, but I was more a looker than a buyer. Now the AMEX is primed and ready and I own four too many purses than ever before.

The Entrance: I’ve had Fernandez & Wells on my To-Do List ever since I watched the Trusted Places video with Niamh of Eat Like a Girl.  A Saturday on Oxford Street provides the perfect excuse.

It’s buzzy when I enter…it’s not  big place, maybe just eight stools? Five are full and I pick mine overlooking the cash register. (Photo taken from my stool.) The staff are fun and jovial and pleased to see me, a total stranger. I order a chorizo sandwich and because I got my ass kicked that morning by my personal trainer and it’s just coming up on 3 p.m. (when I think drinkng during the day becomes acceptable), I do treat myself to a sneaky glass of rioja.

The Food: The sandwich arrives in all its crispness and it is fantastic. I want it to go on and on and on. I watch them plate up ham and cheese for other guests, and I wish I was hungrier and/or already thinner so I could join in the fun. In short, I have a lovely sandwich and a lovely time and me and my AMEX are refueled and ready to hit the streets again. Which we do.

The Verdict: Love, love, love Fernandez & Wells. Simple is perfect and perfect is simple. Why haven’t I been here before? I will be back.

Fernandez & Wells on Urbanspoon

Posted in Italian, London, Spanish, United Kingdom, W1 | 7 Comments

Spanish: Camino

Posted by Krista on June 10, 2008

CaminoCamino
3 Varnishers Yard
N1 9AF
Tel: 020 7841 7331

Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, June 4

The Victim: Chris

The Damage: £65 for two

The Background: I've been wanting to try Camino since the wine exhibition in Islington a while back. The Camino guys were there serving Jamon and Tio Pepe. We had a good time that night. A very good time.

Chris is in town from the U.S. and suggests dinner, which you know of course I am up for. If I ever I turn down a dinner suggestion, you know there's something wrong with me. Or my blog.

The Entrance: As a single woman in her 30s, I like it. Now what does THAT say about me? It's big and open and airy and there's a great courtyard so we stand outsiding the restaurant chatting and drinking txacoli (my new favorite drink) and enjoying the rare London sunshine.

We ask if we can take our table at 7:15 instead of 7 and they're a bit weird about it, which is odd considering that even when we leave at 9:30, they're still not full. Restaurants are so weird.

OctopusThe Food: Some jamon to start which is just fine. Good bread. And then the mains arrive and I'm sorry for suggesting Camino because Chris' entree looks like wedding reception food and my entree–black risotto with octopus–is bland and well, just rice and octopus. No oomph. It looks nice upon arrival though.

The Verdict: Dig the atmosphere at the bar and the courtyard. Like the jamon. And our server was nice. But the rest? Eh.

Camino on Urbanspoon

Posted in London, N1, Spanish, United Kingdom | 1 Comment

Tapas: Dehesa

Posted by Krista on April 11, 2008

Pork_bellyDehesa
25 Ganton Street
W1F 9BP
Tel: 020 7494 4170

Date of Last Visit: Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Victim: Anonymous

The Damage: £30 each

The Background: Jess is raffling me off. OK, maybe not raffling. But she is accepting applications on my behalf. Anonymous suggests Dehesa, which I'm excited about because Howard, Ben, Antonia and I tried to get in there the other week and were sadly denied

The Entrance: Dehesa is small. And it gets crowded later on. But for now, we have two seats at the bar, which is good because we're not surrounded on all sides, like the other seats. And I get to watch the bartenders scrupulously clean all the glasses.

The Food: Now I have to preface this by saying that I am "in training" for the British 10k. Imagine someone who has a pretty healthy appetite to begin with. Now imagine that person running 3 miles three to five times a week. Yeah, I'm hungry. I also made the mistake of eating lunch at around 11:15 and now it's close to 7 p.m. So now I'm STARVING.

Padron peppers. (Excellent.) Marcona almonds. Two of my favorite things. Pork belly (pictured), with a good almost of crispy skin. The pork was better than the beans, which were on the bland side. Grilled artichokes (only okay). Baby squid. (Lovely.) Manchego cheese. (Always nice.) Gnocchi. (Odd.) Rice pudding brulee. (DENSE.) Biscotti. Yes, a lot of food.

Interesting: Anonymous is an Economist, and I forget how much I love economist talk. I talk about my time and aggravation theory. He calls it my implied wage rate. We discuss the ethnic sub-groups of cleaning people. (I am in with the Romanians.) We briefly debate eBay and the efficiency of markets. And we wonder why the U.S. has one of the developed world's highest birthrates, although Americans generally get some of the worst maternity and paternity benefits in the developed world.  Hmm.

The Loos: Spic and span.

The Verdict: Honestly, I thought the food at Dehesa was just okay. The pork belly was the standout for me. And the padron peppers. If I go back, I'd go back for the atmosphere and I'd order differently.

Dehesa on Urbanspoon

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Posted in London, Spanish, United Kingdom, W1 | 4 Comments

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