Four very good restaurants in Chicago! All in a short time period. Amazing! Imagine me, doing a happy dance. Actually, don’t. That’s embarrassing. Now if only it was all just so much CHEAPER. Then you can imagine me dancing. Because really, Chicago, you are not as cheap as I thought you were. Listed roughly in order of deliciousness…
Carriage House, 1700 West Division: Like it so much, I’ve been here three times already. I love the Lyonnaise Salad, with its soft pillows of pork belly and salty, vinegary dressing in particular. It reminds me a lot of Yardbird in Miami Beach though, which is a bit weird. (Still haven’t written up my Miami trip. Sorry!) Either the design aesthetic is just an overall trend or Southern food is just an overall trend or something else is going on?? Anyhow, I don’t care really because it’s great to have a nice new spot in the neighborhood. Verdict: Go.
Au Cheval: 800 West Randolph. LOVE IT HERE. It reminds me of London. Not surprising after I figured out that they are part of Soho House. It was the Cowshed products in the ladies’ that gave it away. I saw the Cowshed and I actually teared up in the ladies’ room. It was all a little awkward, really. I’ve been back multiple times to have the bone marrow at the bar. Because that’s what I like to do, wander around town and eat bone marrow. The burger is pretty ace as well. Verdict: Go, but be mindful that they do not take reservations, so go early or late and do not take 12 people with you.
Trencherman: 2039 West North: I also love it here, although the food was best on my first visit. (That being said, on that first visit, it was my food — the short rib — that was great. My friend Amy’s pasta was so plain and boring, it was painful.) What I really like most about Trencherman is the bar. I like to just show up and eat at the bar. Sometimes, I massage the old white subway tile. My chicken thighs and grits just last week were very, very good. The Verdict: Great addition to the neighborhood. Go.
Grassfed, 1721 North Damen: My mother always told me never to buy white furniture. Grassfed has apparently never met my mother. For $25 for steak, frites, salad, and a huge chunk of garlic bread, this is a very good value. And a tasty one at that. I’d go again. The Verdict: If you, like me, like focused menus, go. If light hurts your eyes, stay away. So for example, I would never willingly choose Grassfed for a first, second, or third date. You don’t get to see my crows’ feet until much later, you know.
I’ve had some “meh” meals too lately. More about that in a later post. And hey, that picture above? It’s from the new Walgreen’s at North, Milwaukee and Damen. It’s in a old bank. So that’s cool.
Gourmet donuts, gourmet donuts. I feel like it’s still five years ago, but that’s fine. I’ll eat the gourmet donuts. I’ll play along. Even though I’m really not supposed to be eating carbs these days.
So first I went to Glazed & Infused. A good excuse for a nice walk. And I ordered my donut, a coconut one, and it was freaking $3.05. What has happened to the world when a DONUT is $3.05? It was, in my opinion, dry and uninspiring. And it was a honker. Plus there a certain smug-hipster vibe about the entire experience. And no sneeze guards. Now, let me be clear. I went to the window. I did not go inside. I think things are different inside. But really, I don’t want to pay $3.05 FOR A DONUT. The Verdict: MEH. 1533 N. Damen
And then I went to Do Rite Donuts downtown. And in contrast, the staff were perky, the sneeze guards were present, and the donuts were CHEAP. I remember it was south of $2.00. $1.67 maybe? And it was MOIST. Delicious. Sadly, I cannot remember what sort of taste it had (hey, I never professed to be professional about this), but I remember thinking “Better price, better quality than that other place up north. I’ll come back here.) The Verdict: Good. Do Rite is at 50 W Randolph.
So on Twitter, when I talked about this, everyone told me that I really needed to go to the Donut Vault. Once my bike is tuned up, I’ll be heading that way. Watch for it.
Time for a break. Too many restaurants, too little time. And I’m TIRED. I know, I know. What happened to all your photos, Krista? What happened to full blog write-ups? Frankly speaking, no one restaurant has driven me to such great lengths in a long time. So micro-reviews it is for you. For now. Personally, I kinda like the micro-review thing. It’s like Twitter. Or a Haiku. (A long one.)
Benny’s Chop House, 444 N. Wabash, River North (ish, because I kinda feel like Wabash is a bit of a wasteland and even though it’s north of the river, it’s still in The Loop, isn’t it?). When I was looking for new kitchen knobs in December (yes, I’m very domestic like that), I met Benny himself in a hardware store and made a mental note to stop in to his restaurant sometime. In return for the name and phone number of his handyman and all. So I did. (Although I never called his handyman.) It was a weekend afternoon and the place was EMPTY. I sat at the bar and had a burger. And it was so flavorless, it was sad. The bun was good though, as were the fries. (Served in their own miniature basket for frying! Genius!) But really, all I wanted was some salt and pepper. BUT wait. The PRICE. The price was kind of amazingly right. $10 for a burger and fries that is certainly better than Mickey D’s. I mean, for that, I might just have to go back. Even though the bar area kinda felt like a bad 2008 Chicago condo kitchen installation. The Verdict: If you like value for money, sit at the bar and get a burger, but ask for salt and pepper and all that other stuff.
Irazu, 1865 N. Milwaukee, Bucktown. Everyone told me I would love Irazu, one of Chicago’s only Costa Rican restaurants. Well, I didn’t. It all felt a bit unkempt and dingy, and our table was unsteady, so that was annoying. And my tilapia tacos were probably about the most underwhelming thing I’ve eaten so far in 2012. (Tilapia. In a taco. With a lot of overcooked onions. No thank you.) My friend Amy got that oatmeal shake that everyone raves about and I thought, “Gee, it’s just like drinking cold oatmeal.” The Verdict: Meh. Not so exciting. Not sure why it’s so packed.
Maza, 2415 N. Ashland, Sort of Lincoln Park-ish. I will admit to a total bias. I used to live by the old Maza on Lincoln and I always loved it. You might know my greatest goal is to go to Lebanon at some point in the near future. And I am also a sucker for hummus. So it was that I found myself at the new Maza at Ashland & Fullerton, where I heard the incredibly sad story of the owner losing the lease on his old space in West Lakeview. The landlord on Lincoln wanted a monthly sum that no sole proprietor could ever agree to. So Maza moved. And the old space remains unoccupied still. Greedy bastards. Well, bygones because we had fun at Maza and I loved my assortment of food, just like I did in the old days. I love that it’s this guy’s restaurant and it always has been and he works there all the time. The Verdict: Support a local businessman and go. (And really, ignore the Yelp reviews.) Sadly, the proprietor hasn’t been back to Lebanon in 30+ years.
I’ve got more. A lot more. Coming up: Storefront Company, RPM Italian, and the part where I nearly die on a bar stool at Yusho. And a lot of other places that I can’t even remember at the moment. Hmmm.
I’m feeling very with it these days. Although I may be lagging on the blogging front, I’m not lagging so much on the dining front — when I’m in town, that is. Here’s where I’ve been eating.
Tavernita and it’s little neighbor, Pinxtos, 151 W Erie. Tavernita is one of those huge, sceney River North spaces. I would not attempt a place like this on a weekend, so my friend Eileen and I dropped in here min-week. Our servers were many AND overbearing. Can you just let a girl eat, please? But the food was GREAT. I especially liked the escalavida (eggplant, red peppers, hazelnut romesco, goat cheese) and “greg’s meatballs” (wagyu beef pork and more hazelnut romesco.) Not a place to take your parents unless they are the hip and happening sort, but fun nonetheless. I also really like the bar, particularly if you can get a stool. The Verdict: Fun. Good fun. And good food.
Publican Quality Meats, 825 W Fulton Market. Dropped in for lunch one weekend afternoon and had a GREAT sandwich. I opted for “Better than a Gyro” which boasted braised pork belly, raita, escalivada, pea shoots, and calabrian chili orange vinagrette on griddled flatbread. The only let down were the homemade potato chips served with, which were oddly tasteless. Service is hip and sweet. And the price is right. (The $10 sandwich.) More of a butchershop and cafe really–definitely not a place to linger–but still cool. Ask for a tour of the prep are and meat locker downstairs. The Verdict: Great for lunch.
Blackbird, 619 W Randolph Street. My colleague and I were invited to a special networking dinner here and I was really excited about things because I think the last time I was at Blackbird was like 2006? But oh so bitterly disappointed. (Bad of me, as a guest, to complain.) Portions were eensy-weensey (and you know I’m a fan of normal sized portions) and nothing really clicked. I still want to find out what was in the butternut squash soup because it reeked of alcohol, which wasn’t mentioned anywhere on the menu. The Verdict: If you don’t go out to eat a lot, you’ll be fine here.
Zocalo, 358 W Ontario. My friend Christina and I dropped in here one weekend and were pleasantly surprised. Firstly, I loved the decor–all Mexican art and flowers and Frida Kahlo. Secondly, our server was awesome; I was mesmerized by his deep, deep voice. Thirdly, the food was pretty darn good. I wasn’t too experimental–I just had mixed tacos–but they were pretty awesome tacos. Also enough food for three people, but the price was right. The Verdict: Fun. I’d go back here, especially for one of their private rooms.
Sultan’s Market, 2057 W North Avenue. I woke up one morning, dreaming of falafel. So I went to Sultan’s, a Middle Eastern deli in Chicago’s Bucktown. And it was fine. Huge portions. It was dark though, and not in a good way. Needs an interior decorator. And a scrub brush. Too much going on. The Verdict: Meh.
Coming up…too many places to mention, really. Plus, I go back to Brazil.
I didn’t want to like Big Star. At All. I’ve tried too many times to get in and it’s always so packed and busy and everyone is wearing such skinny jeans. And the facial hair! Please someone end the lumberjack craze. Please.
But I had some time before my flight to Florida for Thanksgiving the other week and I learned the hard way that practically every restaurant on Division is closed at lunchtime. So I kept walking and walking and walking, and eventually I found myself at Big Star.
It was not an auspicious start. I decided to sit outside at first because it was such a gorgeously bright day. I tried queue-ing up at the taco window and a woman inside acknowledged my presence and held up one finger as in “one minute.” (Not as in the other finger and what that means.) So I waited one minute and then I waited two and then I waited three and now the woman wasn’t even acknowledging me so I knew I was out of luck. I went inside.
And inside was PACKED on a Wednesday afternoon at 1:30 pm, the day before Thanksgiving. And everyone was with someone or with multiple people and I had to ask myself, who are all these people who arrange to take the day off of work with their friends and meet up for tacos?
But then I finally got a place at the bar and ordered one of those beers on ice with salt and got some tacos and I was happy.
Very very happy.
I liked the fish tacos much better than the pork tacos. I think you will too, but then again, maybe I’m just biased towards seafood. The pork to me was a little dry. The fish was a bit moister and with a nice golden fried coating. Tasty.
Also…reasonably priced. Now I know why the damn place is packed all the time.
The Verdict: Go. But like at 11 am before it gets crazy.
Ooh, I’m way behind. I blame the airlines. And Design Star on HGTV. And my cousin George, who was in town for all of six days and managed to completely redecorate my apartment, rearrange my kitchen cabinets, and fix anything and everything that has bugged me since I moved into this damn place nearly exactly a year ago. (Who knew the top rack of my dishwasher was adjustable?) Exhausting, all of it.
I tried to entertain George food-wise, but here’s what I learned: he’s a picky eater. He likes Red Bull. And cookies. And pretzels. And could happily survive on all that for breakfast and lunch. I think he also likes Chinese food, but I denied him his second take-out in the hopes I could convince him to go to Ruxbin. Denied. More in a bit.
Paris Club, River North: I made reservations ages in advance at Paris Club, and the charcuterie — for two — was pretty damn amazing. However, it should have been labeled “For two very large Americans” or “For four plus-sized French people” because it was really way too much food even for our table of four to do justice to. Our server was fantastic: I spilled a glass of wine all over myself (Long Island girl, talking with her hands) and he brought me a replacement glass, no problem.The atmosphere at Paris Club is very lively, but in a “What? What did you say??” kind of way. Finally to the food…my ahi tuna main dish was pretty disappointing. Too salty.
I’ve been thinking about salt lately and have to list it out as one of the main differences between eating in the US vs. eating in the UK. Everything in the US is sooo disgustingly salty. And we wonder why we have high blood pressure. (I’d also say it’s because we don’t walk enough.)
Randomly…I went to use the ladies’ room at Paris Club on the main floor and there were six girls in line. For one toilet. Good times. About 10 minutes in, a staff member told us that there were more loos downstairs, but by that point I was next. I ended up using the men’s room, and you know what that’s like. The Verdict: Out. There are things I want to like, but that salty main dish was just too much. Oh, and my cousin George would like you to know that he and my friend Matt were two of the only men in the dining room at 8 pm on a Friday night. Odd.
Gilt Bar, River North: I went to Gilt Bar nearly exactly a year ago when I first arrived back in Chicago, but for some reason never wrote about it. Although I would like it better if I could see my hand in front of my face while I’m eating (flashlight, anyone?), I do love the food here. My truffle pasta was the dish that kept getting passed around the table. I also really like the music at Gilt Bar; they played The XX, only one of my fave albums of 2010. (OK, OK it came out in 2009 but still.) Great cocktail bar downstairs…all very chill and mellow.
Feast, Bucktown: I asked my cousin what he likes to eat for breakfast. He says — and I quote –“I’m not really a breakfast person.” You can guess where this is going. Every morning, I would wake up, make breakfast for myself, eat it, and then he would say, “What are we doing for breakfast?” Ahem. As we were up abysmally early on Saturday, so I thought we’d try for The Bongo Room. Let me point out two things. It was Saturday — not Sunday — and we arrived at 9:15 am. 9:15! They had been open 15 minutes!! And told us that we’d have to wait 30 to 45 minutes for a table. 30 to 45 minutes! So we went to Feast instead and had some pretty luscious peach and blueberry challah French toast. This place totally needs a lick of paint and our table was too wobbly for its own good, but those are minor quibbles in the face of a breakfast this nice.
The Boundary, Wicker Park: George wanted to eat outside, so I pulled up along Division and suggested Prasino. He ix-nayed it because it “looked too healthy” so instead we made our way to The Boundary, where we watched the cars go by as we snacked on some burgers and tomato soup. Everything was fine here. PS Did you know there are no parking meters on the main stretch of Division? (OK, not meters but that green machine ticket-y thing. You know what I’m talking about.)
Pizza Metro II: I wanted to go to Ruxbin. George wanted Chinese. We compromised on pizza because I wanted a salad. Hah! This place is more a take-out place than anything else. We brought home our 1/2 potato (him) and 1/2 pepperoni (me) pizza, along with my salad, and enjoyed it in front of HGTV. George said, “Yeah, this wasn’t really that great.” I would concur. Fine, nothing special. Could have used a better more bubbly crust.
I have more coming up…Blue 13, GT Fish & Oyster, Prasino, and um I decided to go to London for the weekend last week so there’s that too. Brace yourselves.