Posted by Krista on February 26, 2012
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Sometimes the simplest explanation IS the explanation. Sometimes, you have to leave to go home. Or come home to leave. Thankfully, the winter of my homecoming last year has not been repeated. Chicago is bright and cool and BRISK. The skies are stunningly, vividly blue. I’ve worn my boots just once. And my down coat — its buttons lost somewhere between last year and this year — also just once. Everything is lovely, but it makes me feel like we are on the cusp of something. On the cusp of something big. Something huge. Something terrible.
I am frightened.
So, um, I’ll just keep going out to eat then. Here’s where I’ve been lately:
Boiler Room, 2210 N California Ave: I loved the vibe of Boiler Room. I loved the loos. (Chicago Transit doors and, even, sound effects.) I loved the beer selection and I thought our service was pretty good too. But the pizza? Undercooked, and while at least the pepperoni had some taste to it, The Purist (mozzarella, basil, balsamic reduction) was pretty tasteless. The Verdict: Meh. So much promise, but not fully realized.
Keefer’s, 20 W Kinzie: My NY Strip Steak was good. The creamed spinach was good. The potato croquettes were excellent. But our server took FOREVER to take our order, and then he claimed we didn’t order calamari to start (we did) and then at some point, a fist fight broke out between other tables. ??? Oh, and I should mention that my friend who made the reservation is a very dependable, reliable person and I was there when she called Keefer’s and booked the table. Upon arrival, they had no record of our booking. They worked things out which was good of them, but still all very odd. Oh!! And then, when the bill came, we asked for it to be divided up amongst credit cards and that was one of the most complicated conversations I’ve ever had, for what was a basic math thing. The Verdict: I’d go somewhere else before I went back here, but I did like the vibe of the room with the radios in it.
Nori, 954 W Diversey: I dropped in here for a quick dinner after getting a haircut at Salon Blue on Sheffield, a place I’ve been going to since 1998! (Go see Amy. Tell her Krista sent you. Funnily, Chicago Food Snob has been going to Amy forever too!) Amazing. Anyhow, obviously Penny’s isn’t doing as well as it used to because this used to be part of Penny’s next door. I sat at the bar and had the Red Nori (spicy tuna, spicy shrimp, and avocado covered with tempura crumbs, red tobiko, and unagi sauce) and it was pretty enjoyable. But then I had the Crunchy Spicy Tuna maki and it was so depressing, it made me cry. There was no crunch. It was like they forgot a step. Roll the maki in raw tempura crumbs and…sigh. The Verdict: OK. Not great. I will keep searching.
Roka Akor, 11 W Illinois. I dropped in here for lunch with some colleagues this past Wednesday during Restaurant Week. The restaurant was curiously empty. Apparently, no one in The Loop wants to go north of the river, because Petterino’s is freaking PACKED every single afternoon. And Petterino’s is just good. And not as vibe-y as Roka Akor. Fascinating. Well, I had the restaurant week special and although I thought the Wagyu beef and kimchi dumplings were pretty luscious, the rest of the meal — the butterfish roll and the barbecued pork loin — were uninspiring. At $22 though, this was a very good value. The Verdict: Good. And the bar area seems good for solo dining.
So there we are. Some recent tries in Chicago. Until next time! Let’s hope it doesn’t snow like crazy in between.
Posted in American, Chicago, Italian, Japanese, Lakeview, Logan Square, Pan-Asian, River North, United States | 1 Comment
Posted by Krista on February 6, 2012
After a few weeks of being away from home and my regular eating habits, I start to crave vegetables in massive quantities. So it was that after I returned from Brazil, all I ate every day for lunch was salad. Luckily, even though American food has a terrible reputation for heaviness and saltiness and deep-fried-ed-ness, America does excel at salads.
I started at the new Walgreen’s on State Street. I give them six months before all they offer is Doritos and Cheetos and People magazine. But in the meantime, they have a large selection of lunch salads, and they’re super cheap too. My Southwestern Chicken salad was $5.10. (+/- a few cents. I forget exactly how much.) There were only 1.5 pieces of chicken in the salad, and the tortilla chips were a bit on the stale side, but the dressing was pretty awesome. If I were on a budget, I’d eat this salad more often.
On Tuesday, I hopped over to 7th on State at Macy’s. I am a sucker for their Shrimp Tostada salad and their pretzel bread. This is not a low-calorie salad, but it is pretty damn delicious. I normally try not to eat the bread or the fried tostada that forms the base of the salad. I focus on the greens, the shrimp, and the black beans (hidden under the lettuce). This is not a cheap salad — it generally comes in around $11 bucks — but it’s pretty darn good for the price.
My favorite salad of the week has to be the Chimi Chop Salad at Native Foods at 218 S Clark Street in the Chicago Loop. Another $11 salad. But no meat! Only veg. I don’t know if it’s the “warm shaved Native Peppered Seitan” (no idea what that is) or the dressing or what, but this is a damn good salad that I think about often in my spare time. I am not kidding.
On Thursday, I popped into Au Bon Paid for their Mediterranean Salad. This came in around $7.50 or so. Meh. Ice cold and not enough going for it. A sad, sad salad. But the balsamic dressing was nice.
Admittedly, on Friday I took a break from salad. I had a craving for some Indian food, so I went to the only place I could find in The Loop serving a curry. The place is called Curried and it kinda, well, sucks. Firstly, they screwed up my order. Secondly, if screwing up my order wasn’t bad enough, when I went up to the counter to deliver my gentle, “Hey um, so I don’t think this is mine,” the guy at the counter told me I must have made a mistake. Um, no. I didn’t make a mistake, you did. Jackass. And thirdly, while the saag paneer was nice, the chicken tikka felt like it must have come out of a box.
Despite Friday’s slip up, today, I was back on the salad. I caught up my colleague Mark — he back from London, me back from Brazil — over a Winter Cobb Salad at the Atwood Cafe in The Burnham Hotel. I used to stay at The Burnham all the time for work in the old days, back when I lived across the pond. I will always have a soft spot for the hotel and its restaurant. But with or without my faded memories, this was a very nice salad. Could have used a bit more dressing, but otherwise, quite nice. Pricey though. My portion of the bill came to $24, with tip and tax. I got a lot of ingredients though, for $24. But still…sigh.
The Verdict: If I had to rank the salads, I would say…
1. Native Foods, Chimi Chop
2. 7th on State, Shrimp Tostada
3. Atwood Cafe, Winter Cobb
4. Au Bon Pain, Mediterranean Salad
5. Walgreen’s Southwestern Salad
That’s roughly $58 on salad, plus the $11 I spent on curry for $69. Wowzers. And I wonder why I have no money.
Posted in American, Chicago, Loop, United States | 3 Comments
Posted by Krista on January 31, 2012
So many places. I really need to stop eating for a while. Or I need to only eat vegetables. Or do something about the flat tires on my two bikes. Or I need to start walking to/from work like every day. (I say this because today on my way out of work, I ran into my colleague and neighbor who has been walking home from work every day for the last year or so and he has lost so much weight…sigh.)
Bar Toma, 110 East Pearson. So firstly, I need to give them props because their location is huge (both in size and the perfectness of location) and if I were a tourist and stumbled in here, I would be very very happy. It’s casual. There’s a bar. And look…I ate some vegetables! We LOVED the charred carrots with Capriole goat cheese, almonds, and Acetaia San Giacomo balsamico. Also loved the beets and gorgonzola. Our pizza was just good, but we weren’t very creative. Just a Pizza Margherita. I tried to get my friend Aileen to have some Prosecco and she demurred. Who says no to Prosecco??? I think she’s preggars. The Verdict: Fun. Cheap. Casual.
Lula Cafe, 2357 N Kedzie: I dragged my friend Amy here one afternoon after New Year’s and I think she hates me now. Lula’s was packed. We got two seats at the bar and were promptly ignored by anyone and everyone. We eventually placed our order and we were promptly ignored again. And then we ate our food — my butternut squash soup and salad were good but not swoon-worthy — and we asked for our bill and (surprise!) we were both promptly (or impromptly) ignored again. It was all rather tiresome, and we left very tired and very grouchy. The Verdict: Hard to focus on the food when the service was so terribly terribly terribly abysmal. (You can imagine my Madonna accent — yes the UK one — as I’m saying that.) I liked the decor though.
The Southern Mac & Cheese Store, 60 East Lake Street. Even though my one and only experience at The Southern in Bucktown was nothing to write home about, I really liked my Artichoke Spinach Mac & Cheese at The Southern’s newish retail outlet. Crispy where it needed to be crispy, with plenty of artichoke and spinach, only two of my favorite things. I was surprised the shop wasn’t more crowded on the day we were there. Personally, I think they need to offer half portions because of the perception of mac & cheese alone. A lot of mac & cheese is NOT good for the waistline. Somehow a sandwich of the same caloric value doesn’t have the same perception. The Verdict: I liked this, but I can’t eat like this all the time. I’ll be back once a quarter.
I think I still have more to catch up. The more I eat, the less I write. I’m okay with that.
Posted in American, Chicago, Italian, Logan Square, Loop, Michigan Avenue, Modern European, United States | 2 Comments
Posted by Krista on January 9, 2012
I’ll admit it. I was afraid. I’ve been afraid of Podhalanka since I first moved to Wicker Park. Let’s face it, it looks a little sketchy from the outside, doesn’t it? Would you really want to eat here?
But then go inside and see this! Lacey tablecloths. Fairy lights. Van Gogh posters.
And then there behind the bar, there’s homemade who knows what, post cards, and little knickknacks. It didn’t take much for me to fall in love. It was like being in Grandma’s house. Maybe Grandpa’s basement. Love.
Also love: the homemade mystery juice. I asked if it was apple? No. Pear? No. Plum? No. They honestly wouldn’t tell me, but they did say they make it themselves. (Yelp suggests it’s prune juice, which might be why they didn’t want to tell me. But a prune is a plum so I don’t know.)
And the cabbage soup? At just $3.50 a BOWL, with four slices of bread, it’s a tremendously hearty delicious value. (My medium soup at Au Bon Pain always seems to come in at $4.43, and it’s a smaller portion, it’s not as good, and it doesn’t come with four slices of bread.) New favorite routine? Come home from work and head to Podhlanka for a bowl of soup and the nightly news.
And then for the heck of it during my first visit, because I was having such a good time, I ordered up a plate of latkes. Four arrived — two too many for me — so I practiced a random act of kindness and gave two of them to the guy next to me. But after I gave them away, I became tremendously sad because these were, honestly, so so good and I kinda wanted the extras back, but we have a politically incorrect phrase for that in my language. Perfectly cooked and crispy and fresh oil, not old oil. Their only fault was they could have used a pinch of salt, but that was easily remedied.
The Verdict: I love Podhalanka. Love it. Love it. Love it.
Posted in Chicago, Noble Square, Polish, United States, Wicker Park | 2 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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
Posted by Krista on December 20, 2011
It’s been nice being in town. The city looks nice in winter when there’s no snow and the skies are clear.
I’m enjoying exploring my neighborhood. I love this old sign on Milwaukee Avenue, storifying the neighborhood’s Polish roots.
There are some buildings in downtown Chicago that are ridiculously gorgeous. Like The Pittsfield Building, where I’ve been having lunch a lot lately.
With technology, signage of the old kind vanishes.
Indoor chandeliers disappear too. I give you the lobby of The Pittsfield.
On the weekends, I’ve been drinking a lot of coffee at Caffe Streets, even though it never does seem quite hot enough for me.
And I admire the street art as I make my way around town, thinking about how quickly the time goes and how dark the evenings are when I am in Chicago.
Posted in Chicago, United States | 4 Comments
Posted by Krista on December 2, 2011
I’ve always wanted to have a regular haunt. Not for dinner…I like variety too much for dinner. But for lunch, a regular sit down place where the hostess and waitstaff know my name and my preferences and the guy sitting next to me has been coming in for lunch for 20 years…that’s what I want.
And I’ve missed American diners. With their large and multi-ethnic menus (Gyro? Stir-fry? Latkes?) and their appreciation of breakfast for lunch and dinner for breakfast. The concept of time? It does not exist within a true diner.
Yesterday, I had a hankering for breakfast for lunch. This is part Atkins-induced (yes) and part my love of omelettes in general. Pittsfield Cafe it was. The Mr Gyro omelet, with lamb and feta cheese. And a Diet Coke. And no judgement.
The Verdict: I’ll be back. Back until they know my name. And maybe they’ll even name an omelet after me.
P.S.: The Pittsfield building is totally gorgeous too. I’ll post photos at some point.
Posted in American, Chicago, United States | 1 Comment
Posted by Krista on November 30, 2011
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.
Posted in Bucktown, Chicago, Mexican, United States | Comments Off
Posted by Krista on November 23, 2011
Rootstock, Humboldt Park: I dropped into Rootstock with my friend Amy one drizzly Sunday a couple of weeks ago. I love it here, and I am mad at myself for not biking over more frequently over the summer. It’s a very low-fi place, and they serve brunch til 4 pm on Sundays, which is pretty awesome. My only complaint is that once 4 pm rolls around, they really really want you out.
Having been a Webster Wine Bar fan for many years, I can tell there’s a connection between the two places. The furniture, the wall color and decor…it’s all very similar. All I had here was a bowl of butternut squash soup, but it was very very nice and I would be pleased to go back to try more of the concise menu. I like concise menus.
Cantina Laredo, River North: Popped into here for a big work lunch a few weeks ago. Our group was big enough that we were given their private dining room, which is a very nice space with lots of natural light. My colleague Mark, who is from Texas, thought the food was the best Tex-Mex he’d had in Chicago. I thought my fish tacos were dry and flavorless. This place is HUGE so I’m sure it’s good for convention traffic and large groups on the weekends.
Rudy’s Bar & Grill, The Loop. “Home of the Milkshake Martini.” I don’t want a milkshake martini, and can’t imagine anyone else does either, but the burgers are okay. They toasted the bun, which always gets points in my book. They sat me next to the mop closet though, which subtracts points in my book. I liked the idea of my burger–a Mexican burger, with poblano strips, chorizo, pepperjack cheese, pico de gallo, serrano mayo and “avacado spread.” But all I tasted was avocado, and the burger was not medium–it was closer to medium-well. And the fries were soggy. Plenty of people would like it here, and the Christmas decor made for a happy environment. But I don’t know if I’d seek this place out again.
Posted in American, Bar Food, Chicago, Humboldt Park, Loop, Mexican, River North, United States, Wine | Comments Off
Posted by Krista on November 6, 2011
Brunch last Sunday with my friend Aileen at her favorite place for Sunday brunch: Bakin’ & Eggs on Lincoln, south of Belmont. There was no champagne and there was only one strip of bacon, but I survived. So will you. (There’s bacon IN the waffles.) So get out there on this Sunday and get your brunch on. (Did I just say that?)
Posted in Brunch, Chicago, Lakeview, United States | Comments Off
Posted by Krista on November 4, 2011
Besides the fact that it’s slightly blurry.
I ordered a half dozen oysters at McCormick & Schmicks for lunch. Now let me start by saying the bar area at McCormick & Schmicks could use a good power-washing. And then let me say that it was about 10 minutes before my server acknowledged me. He brought me a drink and a menu immediately but then it was another ten minutes before he took my order. (I was sitting AT the bar. I was hard to miss.) And then another ten minutes later (plus?), I got this. Yup.
And no napkin.
The lobster bisque was nice though.
Posted in Chicago, Loop, United States | 6 Comments
Posted by Krista on November 3, 2011
Yes. I am three for three.
Childhood was tough. I mean, both at the time back in the 1980s AND last night.
When they put that deconstructed hamburger in front of me, I got a little ill. And the truffled Oreo? I can still smell it on me. The “foei”sting sounded like a great idea on paper, but once I got to the end of the meal, the idea of eating foei-anything with donuts had my stomach doing flips. Everything seemed too salty or too sweet — except for the salad, which I definitely would not have eaten as a child.
Damn if I didn’t feel reprimanded more than once at the dinner table too. At the end of the meal, I picked up the small glass that came with our ueber sweet hot chocolate and tried to guess what it was. Our server — who hadn’t finished serving our table and hadn’t had a chance to give his spiel yet — looked over at me and announced, “That’s my job.” I guess you could tell from the look on my face that I wasn’t too thrilled with not being allowed to just smell my drink before the spiel, because the whole episode got us the shortest description of the hot chocolate and side drink ever before our handsome server fled. Maybe you had to be there. Maybe I was just cranky.
Another moment early on, I was accidentally delivered a glass of wine, when I had gone for the non-alcoholic pairings. (Yes. That’s not a lie.) The wine had already been poured, It was in front of me. I told the server that I had ordered the non-alcoholic pairings, but that I did sort of want one glass, and maybe he could just leave that one as long as it was already poured? He swooped back down to the table, announced “No” quite loudly, grabbed the glass of wine, and fled. I know; I didn’t order the wine in the first place. But the vehemence of his response and the quickness with which the wine disappeared was just so odd.
Ah, and at one point, we sat there for no joke 20+ minutes between courses, with no food. (Before the mac & cheese.) An odd phenomenon for a room and a staff that has been so well-tuned on my three previous visits. (There also was more than one moment where the staff would arrive with our dishes, hover behind our table, and then return to the kitchen for some reason or another. There was one pickle episode in particular.)
And all I wanted to know was how much our food tickets cost so I could tell my friend David how much he owed, but just like Thailand, this seemed to take a Ph.D. in calculus to figure out. (When you buy your Next tickets, your receipt only states the total. If, like me, you have been clicking on time slots unsuccessfully for 20+ minutes, you quickly forget how much your tickets were. If my tickets were $814.70 in total, how much did my friend David owe, who had the wine pairings? I purchased two wine pairings and two non-alcoholic pairings.)
I know I know…whine whine whine. Who am I? NOBODY. You’ll do well to remember that. For me, Childhood was a bit too deconstructed. Maybe I prefer to remember it intact. Maybe I want a real Oreo and not a truffled one. Maybe I never ate beef jerky as a child. (I didn’t. Only people who shopped at gas stations ate jerky.) And maybe I’ve ALWAYS hated fruit roll-ups. (I have.) Everyone’s childhood is different, I think.
I am writing this from bed right now where I really do want to yell, “Mom, I don’t feel good!” and have her bring me some ginger ale and my Richie Rich comic books. As a child, I wasn’t really allowed to eat sweet things. And now my stomach is churning. Maybe I’m some point, I’ll camp out on the couch to watch an all day Little House on the Prairie marathon. I always wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder.
P.S. Lest you think I am a terrible person, I did like the fish-n-chips and the mac & cheese.
Posted in Chicago, Fulton Market, United States | 2 Comments