Category Archives: Reviews

Bonsoirée

I’ve always been incredulous of gourmet dining.  Perhaps its because dining out for my parents was a luxury, an event for the bourgeois, not for our family of six.  My dad worked hard to put food on our table and my mom did her best to provide balanced meals full of fresh fruits and veggies, meat and potatoes.  So when I go into a restaurant with gourmet fare I have very high expectations.  I mean, seriously, do you know how many heifers I could buy a hungry family in Africa with that money?  So… with that being said… Bonsoirée is responsible for my new affirmation that gourmet dining does not have to mean celebrity chefs, expensive wine lists, and pretentious waiters… Gourmet dining can be comfortable, seasonal and BYOB!

The Atmosphere:

Its a dark nondescript house-like structure with ample street parking.  Its only sign is the 2728 neatly posted above the door or by visual inspection through the windows. Upon entry I realized I had some how taken such large steps that I ended up in the middle of the dining room. I wheeled about awkwardly, hoping I hadn’t interrupted any diners, but the cozy space is conducive to conversation and no one had even noticed… except for the awesome waiter who casually told us to sit where-ever we pleased.  I felt oddly at home at Bonsoirée.  Perhaps it was the exposed cream brick walls,  but I felt more like I was invited to someone’s elegant modern home than a restaurant.  And considering their concept started in their apartments as an underground dining experience, I’m sure that feeling is quite intended.

The Menu:

Watermelon Tartare with Seaweed Salad

Bonsoirée has a variety of degustation menu options to choose from including a 4, 7, or 13 course tasting menu, underground dining, and a no-menu sunday dinner. We have had our eye on the underground dining experience for sometime, but instead had made reservations for the no-menu Sunday Dinner which mixes the finest worldly ingredients with seasonal ingredients from The Green City Market and The Logan Square Market. The ingredients are then placed on beautiful artisanal dishes from Japan.  Our first course was a bright and sassy seaweed salad of sorts including a tartare that just happened to be watermelon, pickled daikon, cauliflower, fava beans and beautiful dots of raspberry vinigrette on a bright white plate.  The fresh, bright ingredients reminded me of a modern art exhibit and though it looked beautiful I was so hungry I attacked the plate.

Scallop Motoyaki

The next plate was a motoyaki, a Japanese dish that usually includes an oyster in a mayonnaise sauce.  In this case it happened to be scallop and crab in an aioli.  Wow! I don’t think their are words to describe how wonderful or rich this small plate was. Our next course was a corn vichyssoise in a beautifully oversized bowl, with truffle and other fungi resting on its ledge.  It too was equally amazing in taste, a perfect balance between the sweet of the corn and the salty earthy flavor of its fungi accompaniments.   A fish dish was soon too follow, and while it looked beautiful in its hollow, oblong plate, it just wasn’t as exciting to my palate as all the other dishes.  At this point we were running low on our white wine, so I’d suggest two bottles for 7 courses as a red would have paired nicely with our next dish of lamb in a brilliant concord grape reduction with mashed potatoes.  The interlude between lamb and dessert came to our table in a small, dark and circular dish.  It was a trail mix that included a crunchy brussels sprout, spiced puffed rice and a plethora of other things that were absolutely fantastic when combined with the homemade yogurt served tableside. Our finale was a dessert of hazelnut ice cream resting on top of brownie crumbs with dots and dashes of banana bread pudding decorating the scalloped plate.

Our Thoughts:

Bonsoirée is the elegant modern dining experience that exceeded my cynical expectations and became the most enjoyable and creative meal we have had in Chicago in a long time. With each dish we became more impressed with the chef’s beautiful artistry and perfect flavor combinations.  And as the night and flavors progressed, I realized I thoroughly enjoyed not knowing what to expect next.  We can’t wait to return to Bonsoirée and try another tasting menu. I just hope they have returned from their dinner at The Beard House!

Bonsoirée | 2728 W Armitage Avenue | Chicago IL 60647 | 773-486-7511 |

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A Clandestine Event

Alexis Nido-Russo Painting

There is something to be said about a complete dining experience, especially one filled with mystery, intrigue, great art and a killer DJ.  Last Saturday I had one of the best dining experiences of my life at an underground supper club in Chicago.

Our mystery dinner began a few months earlier when we booked a date and a clue online (i.e. Saturday June 5th near Chinatown).  We didn’t hear or see anything about it again until the week prior to the event when Efrain, the founder and chef, sent our menu and location.  We arrived at our newly disclosed point of interest at 7:00pm sharp.  G had accused me of navigating incorrectly to our secret dinner locale, so I was more than happy to hop out of the car and into a nondescript three flat near Chinatown.  Upon our arrival, there was no secret handshake or password to be whispered to a gatekeeper.  We were simply greeted, checked off the list, and told to sit whereever we pleased.  We took a moment to mill about the room taking in the art hung on the white walls.  Local artist Alexis Nido-Russo was sharing her work with us tonight and dining at the table next to us.

Diners began to arrive steadily after 7 and soon our table was full of old friends or couples, strangers, eager to share their past experiences with the supper club and excited about the Strawberry and Herb Feast to come.  While we got to know our neighbors, DJ Moppy was mixing in the background.  Our first sampling was a tasty and interesting, bacon wrapped strawberry amuse.   Most meals are BYOB but on this occasion libations were served as well.  Now I’m no drinker, so when a shot of tequila in rhurbarb sorbet came with our next dish of lake trout gravlax placed on a totopo,  I knew I was in trouble.  Shortly thereafter, I began to rhythmically twist my arugula and garlic pesto pasta around my fork to the beats of DJ Moppy’s mixes.  Our next dish was a beautiful strawberry and spinach salad with a strawberry mint mimosa. However, my favorite dish of the evening was the grilled walleye with pistachio oregano butter, peas and mashed potatoes. I don’t even like mashed potatoes… In fact I have not placed them on my plate at any Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner since the year 2000.  But these potatoes tasted so good with the walleye and peas that I may have to give mashed potatoes another shot.

Trout Gravalax on Totopos

This experience completely changed my mind on communal dining and at the end of the night I almost didn’t want to leave.  I enjoyed getting Karlisa’s opinion on my crooked and often blurry food photos and discussing traveling, Berkshire pork, and Indian food with Anne.  This experience made me realize that I should be asking more from my usual restaurants… more mystery, more fun, and more seasonal ingredients!

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Other Food Photos from the Evening:

Walleye and Mashed Potato

Strawberry Shortcake

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Charlie Trotter’s: A Marathon of Meals

We’ve been preparing for this meal for the past week.  I mean serious training people.  Stomach stretching sessions twice a day, Grand Menu flash cards with proteins to be matched with their respective vegetable or grain element.  We tested our ability to denote a well made wine pairing by successfully matching our favorite uncured hotdogs with a marvelous Cote de Rhone.  So when Tuesday came we had butterflies in our stomachs as we drove down Halsted towards Charlie Trotter’s legendary restaurant in Lincoln Park.

The Atmosphere

We walked past this establishment so many times that it was odd to be actually walking in.  Dressed in our finest( jacket required), we were greeted instantly in the foyer and taken to our table on the second floor overlooking the entryway. We were one of the first reservations of the evening but soon the dark and regal dining room began to fill with people eager to try Chef Trotter’s current menu.

The Menu

We had already previewed the menu online, so when we perused the menus at the table, it was merely to determine whether we would include a wine pairing.  While I contemplated the non-alcoholic Beverage Tasting Menu, today of all days, I began to have my own “Omnivore’s Delemma.”  My mind kept wandering back to the duck and veal dishes from the menu.  Although, I knew we’d receive the best quality organic and free-range ingredients I was concerned my guilt of eating something so cute would haunt me through the rest of the dinner. When our waitress arrived and requested our decision I didn’t know what to say.  I told her that I didn’t know if I could eat veal or duck today. She kindly suggested angus or elk as another optional protein and when I told her I would feel equally guilty eating those animals, she quickly responded with, “Why don’t we let the chef create a pescatarian menu for you.”  The flexibility was much appreciated.  G selected the Wine Pairing Menu (bypassing an $18,000 bottle from France) and asked if we could add another vegetable dish that looked interesting, the japanese eggplant soufflé.

Gourmet Prawns at Charlie Trotters

Grilled Blue Prawns

Our meals began to emerge as we slowly sipped on our beverage accompaniments.  The marathon of meals commenced with a sashimi of yellowfin tuna.  It was light and fresh… the perfect beginning. The next dish to follow were the sweet and delicate grilled prawns that almost melted in your mouth. I even sheepishly reached down into my purse to pull out my camera so I could get a picture.  Our favorite dish by far was the Tasmanian Ocean Trout with Garbanzo Beans. The fish was perfectly executed  and wrapped beautifully around a mousse with the skin served as a crackling on the side.  We savored every bite of this dish cleaning our plates completely.  And when the dish was sent back to the kitchen, the waiter had to assure the chef that food had actually been served on the plate.  As each course progressed into a more elaborate story of protein, vegetable and grain, the wine pairings seemed to matched beautifully.  I don’t know if I truly appreciated the beverage tasting menu, there were a few drinks I did not enjoy, but found the Muscat grape juice to be my absolute favorite.

Trout with Chickpea

Tasmanian Ocean Trout

As we neared the finish line of our grand menu I was excited to see what the chef had created in place of my potential duck and veal.  However, I believe I suffered a mild food coma at this point in the meal and thus, the fish that replaced my duck eludes me.  But my final dish, grilled salmon with porcini mushrooms, fit in nicely with the degustation menu.  Our desserts were beautiful, but we just did not enjoy the black olives with our dish of candied kumquats and meringue. We actually thought, perhaps, that kalamatas may have paired better.  But the lavender custard with honeycomb and black tea was my favorite dessert served that evening, excluding the tiny gelantinous squares that were spread across the plate.   Delicate macarons arranged in a row with the check marked our finish.

Our Thoughts

We enjoyed the progression of unique dishes that the chef provided and the way they personalized the menu according to our needs and desires.  Some courses were amazing, while others seemed to have just too many ingredients on the plate.  We were very impressed with how well each wine complimented the meal and even heightened the taste of each course.  The beverage tasting menu also created an interesting pairing of ingredients and although I was not a fan of every drink, each made me think and wonder what was exactly done to create the taste.

All in all, its hard to justify the expense of an experience such as this without feeling a little gluttonous. This is not a restaurant for the frugal (unless you too received a hefty gift certificate) or for those who enjoy low key, local spots. This is a place to recognize a chef, a restaurant and a concept that put Chicago on the map for gourmet dining.

Charlie Trotter’s | 816 West Armitage Chicago, Illinois 60614 | 773 248-6228

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The Purple Pig

Chicago appears to be going hog-wild. I’m not sure at what point it became trendy to offer a variety of porkly options, but I’m going to guess Publican was the first Chicago restaurant to gain notoriety during this pork revolution. Next we heard whispers of Mado and subsequently, The Purple Pig. We ventured to The Purple Pig mid-week to meet a couple as intrigued as we were with the third little pig in the city.

The Purple Pig

The Atmosphere

Located on the Magnificent Mile we circled Michigan Avenue hoping to catch a glimpse of their sign from our Honda Civic. After about 10 minutes we found their sign, but unfortunately there was no parking or valet. We opted for a garage and made our way into The Purple Pig.  It was compact restaurant full of people grabbing a drink or small plates after work.  We were seated at a high communal table just right of the bar.  Communal dining is usually not my thing, there’s this fear I have… that some stranger is going to watch me battle a pork sausage right off my plate onto the ground or see a wayward noodle escape slowly from the crevice of my mouth… Perhaps it was our good company or the relaxed vibe, but on this occasion a potential dinner mishap didn’t cross my mind.

The Menu

Purple Pig Deviled Egg

I love when restaurants offer small plates.  Allowing me to sample a little of everything makes me extremely happy, as nothing is worse to me than the commitment of choosing a main course only to be let down by the first bite.   We ordered a few items at a time starting with the Shaved Brussel Sprouts with Pecorino Noce & Parmigiano Reggiano, Whipped Feta with Cucumbers, Deviled Egg with Arugula & Caper Berries.  The brussel sprouts were fairly unremarkable, except for the amount of salt brought to the mix from the pecorino cheese.  I think we’d pass next time on this dish due to my attempts for a low sodium diet.  The deep fried deviled egg was fantastic and something we had never had before. The crunchy exterior complimented the creamy interior.  We also tried The Mussels with Treviso, Serrano Chiles, Winter Citrus & Gaeta Olives,  Octopus with acini di pepe & Swiss Chard, Prawns a la Plancha, Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes, and a Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs smear.  I enjoyed everything, including the octopus which I usually avoid due to guilt of eating a creature I find so intelligent and cute.  We were also impressed with the tenderness and succulence of the milk braised pork shoulder, it was one of the better shoulders we have eaten to date.  The concept of marinating meat in milk seemed strange to me, but on further investigation this is a practice common in Italy.

Roasted Bone Marrow

However, the most memorable dish for me was the roasted bone marrow.  Not necessarily because I like bone marrow, in fact, I had never tried it, and since no one else at our table had either, we decided to be adventurous.  Trying to find words to describe the gelatinous mass I removed from the bone and smeared on some toasted bread has proven difficult for me.  There was no specific taste that overwelmed me, the best I can do is to describe it as buttery in taste, almost ghee-like in texture.  The overall experience with the marrow was interesting, but I don’t plan on preferentially seeking out bone marrow again based on taste alone.

Our Thoughts

We were pleasantly surprised with the reasonably priced, interesting and well executed food.  If we find a reason to return, we will definitely choose a taxi as our mode of transportation!

The Purple Pig |  500 N Michigan Ave Chicago, IL 60611 | (312) 464-1744 |

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Takashi

February 14th 2010 was quite a memorable day, mainly because I had walked down Michigan Avenue with part of my dress tucked into my underwear on the way to the Symphony, but by the time we arrived at Takashi for dinner I had nearly forgotten my minor faux-pas.

We had been meaning to try Takashi for sometime, so when I finally realized we were dining at this intimate establishment, I was quite excited to finally sample some of Chef Takashi’s Japanese influenced French-American style dishes.

The Atmosphere:

Nestled on Damen in what appears to be a small house Takashi is a contemporary dining experience in a neighborhood setting.   As you enter the front door, you are immediately greeted by a steep staircase which leads to the second floor dining area. We were placed here for the evening amongst other lovebirds of sorts.  The space feels very inviting and has a good karma from the last restaurant that resided at this location. It just happens to be the same space as Scylla the restaurant Stephanie Izard closed prior to her Top Chef win.

The Menu:

Yellow Tail and Pork Belly

The menu has a large selection of small plates, both hot and cold, with several larger dishes at end to close the meal. We opted for the a la carte menu, though they offered a prixe fixe menu for Valentine’s Day.

We began our meal with a cold plate. We started with Japanese Yellowtail Hamachi with spicy Napa Cabbage slaw and daikon pickled califlower and an aromatic vineagarette. It was a unique raw preparation with blasts of heat from the slaw that was prepared kimchee style. The spiciness nearly overwhelmed me at first but fortunately I had a delicious glass of wine that put out the fires raging in my mouth.

For our next course, we had the Soy-Ginger Carmel Pork Belly with Pickled Daikon Salad, Steamed Buns. Now I have to say, I had my reservations when George ordered this dish. Despite what the majority of the culinary world seems to think, I have always found pork belly to be… well… a giant slab of fat that just never seems appetizing. So when our pork belly arrived, I must say I took my first bite with trepidation. The dish was fantastic! It was basically a deconstructed chinese steamed bun. I assembled my bite by first placing a sliced of steamed bun down, next a small spread of wasabi mustard, then comes the perfectly cooked, melt in your mouth pork belly, and finally topped with pickled daikon salad. The combination of flavors was outstanding. It was blend of classic Korean and Chinese flavors.

Soba Gnocchi – Takashi

We stayed with the hot small plates for our next course and had the Sauteed Main Scallops and Soba Gnocchi Trumpet Royale, Celery Root-Parmesan Foam. This dish was the perfect fusion of East and West. Now, I am very skeptical of the overplayed “fusion” concept that dominates the food scene, but if there ever was an example of true fusion of flavors, this would be it. The soba gnocchi was delicate and the scallops perfectly cooked. The sauce was so good that I caught George lapping up the last drops with a silly grin on his face.

For our final course we had the Roasted Indiana Duck Breast and Confit of Leg with a Compote of Quince, Ginger-Orange Glaze. The duck was well cooked and married well with ginger orange glaze. It was the right balance of sweet and savory. I was in love with the confit of leg, but a little unhappy with skin on duck breast. I was hoping it would be a little more crispy, but I know that would have sacrificed the perfect level of doneness when it arrived at our table.

Duck Breast and Leg Confit

The second main dish we had was the Mackarel with a napa cabbage roll and eggplant. This fish had a nice crispy skin but reminded me of the sea a little too much.

This may be because George could not stop saying how he has always found mackarel to be a little fishy in taste since the minute we ordered the dish. The eggplant was well prepared and complimented the fish well, but the delicious wrapped napa cabbage with the sauce was the real treat to me.

Our Thoughts:

Japanese Mackeral and Egg Plant

Japanese Mackeral and Eggplant

We were quite impressed with the elegance of each dish presented to us, and even more impressed with the seamless fusion of cultures. Takashi is the ultimate example of what true fusion cuisine is suppose to be and now joins the short list of gourmet restaurants that we dub worthy of taking our out of town guests.

Takashi | 1952 N Damen Street Chicago IL 60647 | (773) 772-6170 |

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A Note on Comfort Food

On a cold and snowy evening I find myself in the heart of Chicago’s China Town.  It’s not by chance, I know where I am going… I know what I am ordering and so does our waitress before I even say a word.  It’s been a long day and I’m pretty sure the world hates me.  I need some comfort food and I know I can find it here.

Now according to Merriam-Webster I should be seeking a traditional food preparation, one that evokes sentiment and nostalgia, but what is a “traditional food preparation” to an american mutt such as myself.  I suppose it could be the meals of my childhood, my mother’s beef stew perhaps.  Unfortunately, her recipe can not be found south of Milwaukee and I seek another family’s recipe to warm me up tonight.

Steamed potsticker

Pork and Napa Cabbage Dumpling

Our waitress at Lao Shanghai knows our faces and as we sit down she asks, “steamed pot sticker?”  I shake my head yes and add an order of xiao long bao(soup dumplings).  There is something inherently comforting about meat wrapped delicately in dough.  I prefer the pork and napa cabbage steamed dumplings, but Lao Shanghai has a variety to choose from including veggie and shrimp.

The xiao long bao is the epitome of comfort food to me.  As the bamboo steamer arrives I prepare my chopsticks so that I can delve into these tasty morsels.  I am careful not to break the dough as I lift the miniature dumpling onto my  soup spoon.  The dumplings have come with the xiao long bao dipping sauce, the pot sticker dipping sauce, and a chinese chili oil.  I prefer the pot sticker sauce(soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar) so I drizzle some into the soup spoon with my steaming dumpling.

Soup Dumplngs (lao xiao bao)

Lao Xiao Bao(aka Soup Dumplings)

As I lift the spoon to my mouth I slowly bite into the dumpling hoping I have let it cool just enough.  The soup spills from the dumpling into the spoon and my mouth mixing with the sauce and burning my tongue.  I usually underestimate the heat, but I prefer them scaldingly hot to luke warm.  I’m starting to feel warmer as our waitress returns for our next order.

We request the Shanghai Style Fish Filet.  It took us three trips before we mustered up the guts to order the Shanghai Fish Filet.  At each visit I would scan the regular customers’ tables.  It appeared every table had either the fish filet or the braised pork belly in bean curd sauce.  And although I still have not been brave enough to order the pork belly, the fish filet has gone into our permanent meal shuffle and is perfect for this cold and snowy evening. The white fish is cooked perfectly in a thickened salty sweet broth of Shao Xing(chinese cooking wine) and rehydrated WoodEar mushrooms.

Chinese Fish Filet

Shanghai Style Fish Filet

I glance outside at the snow as we settle our small bill.  The waitress says goodbye, but knows we will be back soon, on another cold and stormy evening.  I feel slightly warmer as I zip up my jacket and pull up my hood. Perhaps only part of the world hates me tonight.

Lao Shanghai | 2163 S China Pl Chicago, IL 60616 | (312) 808-0830 |

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The Topolobambo Experience

Last Friday we basically had dinner with Rick Bayless… OK, maybe it wasn’t exactly dinner with him, but if we ignore the table of three sitting beside us, pushed our table right next to his, and then pretended that he actually knew who we were… one might stretch to say we had dinner with Chicago’s ultimate celebrity chef.   We figured the excitement from his Top Chef Masters win may have died downed so we secured an evening reservation at arguably the most famous Mexican restaurant in the country, Topolobampo.

The Atmosphere:

The restaurant is a separate dining area decorated with large Mexican paintings and connected to his more casual restaurant Frontera Grill.  Rick Bayless, the chef/owner has become famous for his use of regional Mexican flavors, highlighting the sophistication and complexity of a cuisine that is best known for its late night burritos as big as your head.  Now, as a regular diner in Chicago’s version of Gudalajara, Mexico, Pilsen, I must say I was a little skeptical how well Chef Bayless’ contempory interpretation of regional Mexican fare would compare with the more rustic family versions I’ve had at Nuevo Leon or Abuelo’s in Pilsen.

The Menu:

Ceviche Trio

Topolo has two dining options: a la carte and the tasting menu.  We elected to create our own tasting menu and figured that between the four of us, we should be able to sample a few different dishes.  I must say the tasting menu did look intriguing with 3 options: A Mole Tasting, A Celebration Menu, and a Jalisco tasting.

We started our meal with a ceviche trio: Ceviche Fronterizo, Ceviche Yucateco, and Ceviche de Atun.  The Fronterizo was the concensus winner of the trio.  It was a more traditional ceviche with lime juice serving as the primary acid that marinated  blue marlin, olives, jicama and cilantro.  The jicama provided a nice crunchy textural balance to the marlin.  The Yucateco was probably the second most popular ceviche.  It featured shirmp and calamari with lime and orange juice as the marinate with a little habenero for heat.  The flavors were well balanced and the calamari provided  unique element to the dish.  Last, but in this case the least, was the Atun in which ahi tuna served as the primary protein with a red chile apricot salsa.  Unfortunately, this dish was just too sweet for us and had a hint of smokiness that just did not work for our palates.

Huitlacoche (Corn Fungus)

Our entremeses included the Conejo Almedrado which utilized a roasted rack of rabbit as its protein.  The sauce was delicious.   It was a delightful blend of almonds, cinnamon, cloves, and number of other spices.  The rabbit was a little gamey for some at our table and probably in our mind could have been substituted with any other protein as long as the sauce was still there.  The last small plate we tried was the Taco de Huitlacoche in a light tomato sauce.  The huitlacoche is regarded as the truffle of Mexico and is supposed to be the star of the dish.  While the “truffle” was enjoyable, the tomato sauce elicited a “this tastes kind of like… a spaghetti sauce?” comment from our table.  I don’t know if it was because it was late, but it just did not have enough depth of flavor for us and paled in comparison to the sauce on the other plate.

Pork Tenderloin and Mole

We tried two platillos fuertes.  The Puerco Clemole was basically pork tenderloin served with an amazing mole of dark dried chiles, pecans, pinenuts, and hazelnuts.  This was not your traditional chocolate based mole seen in most Mexican restaurants.  Served along side the mole was a Calabaza en tacha (raw-sugar pumpkin) bread pudding which complemented

the mole perfectly.  I knew this dish was a hit when I saw my finacee, who is very skeptical of “gourmet” food in general, scooping up the mole and eating it by itself with a corn torilla.  The last dish we ate was the Pollo Ahogada which is a rock hen in a tomato arbol chile sauce.   The main draw to this dish was its alleged heat.   It was advertised to be the spiciest dish on the menu with aggressive use of arbol chiles.  While the hen was cooked perfectly, the sauce had striking resemblance to the previous tomato sauce that we had earlier in our meal.  The arbol chiles were fairly tame and failed to draw even a single bead of sweat to my forehead as most spicy dishes typically do.

Dessert:

Our last course was Plantanos de Crema with a vanilla sour cream layer cake with golden ripe plantains and banana ice cream.  This dish was outstanding!

Our Thoughts:

So the key question still stands… Does Topolobambo live up to the hype?

Our answer is both yes and no.  The authenicity of the food certainly is indisputable.  Dining at Topolobambo is a true educational tour of regional Mexican cuisine.  The menu and the well informed wait staff serve as your tour guide through the various flavors in each region.  In addition to the passion Chef Bayless exudes for Mexican cuisine, we have to also applaud his commitment to local ingredients and producers.  Topolo has succeeded in making regional Mexican cuisine more accessible to the general population.  However, our experience was certainly mixed as some flavors were quite enjoyable, while others… just didn’t meet our expectations.  The overall inconsistency of our meals was somewhat disappointing, especially considering the steep prices of the platillos fuertes.  And although gourmet Mexican food is interesting… maybe we just prefer the low-key family joints in Pilsen.

Topolobampo | 445 N Clark Street Chicago, IL 60610 | 312-661-1434

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Where is the Elusive Chicago Ramen?

This is a question I find myself contemplating on practically any given cold and dreary evening in Chicago.  We had tried a few noodle shops only to be let down by the lack of flavor in their ramen broth.  But we have been comparing our Chicago ramen with the likes of San Francisco’s Genki Ramen. Perhaps there is no comparison in the midwest?  When we saw Tampopo on “Check Please” we decided to venture north in hopes that we would find our Chicago ramen spot.

Without our camera, GPS or the address we recalled that it was definitely in Lincoln Square.  After driving in circles for five minutes we gave my ever-so-slightly drunken brother a call to identify the exact location.  He notified us that we were about 5 minutes too south and needed to get to the Roger’s Park area.  So with an address in mind we headed toward our destination quite hungry and concerned about a potential wait.

Parking was a breeze and we headed towards the intimate family-run operation.  As we entered a party of five was leaving and two other pods of people were waiting.  The waitress told us it would be about 10 minutes.  We didn’t mind as we expected a busy crowd post “check please”.

After about 15 minutes we were seated and served hot tea.  As I perused the menu I was delighted to see items such as Yakitori (skewered chicken in a mirin/sake/soy glaze) and Negima.  Naturally, I become a little disheartened if I don’t see something resembling either of these at japanese restaurants.

We ordered the Negima, Spicy Salmon Roll, Shoyu Ramen, and another favorite of mine Yakisoba. Our negima and sushi arrived at our table at the same time.  I must say that I was quite impressed with the lightening speed of the sushi chef.  The fish was fresh and ample, but the sushi rice seemed a bit dry.  The negima was different than others I have had before but tasty none the less.  The beef was sliced thinly around the fresh scallions and the sweet soy-based sauce was light.  This dish was simple in its execution but had the essence of a fresh and home made meal.

The ramen and yakisoba appeared next.  Perhaps we have too high of expectations, but I would say that both meals were average, and for our chicago ramen adventure thus far just didn’t match what they are serving in San Francisco.  The yakisoba was… well… okay I guess.  I appreciated the thinly sliced carrots, cabbage, and bamboo shoots, but I am unhappy to report that we weren’t incredibly impressed with the execution.

Unfortunately,  I can’t say that we will be giving up our search for the elusive Chicago ramen.  I do think that we will return to Tampopo one day, perhaps after the hype from the show has died down. We still want to try a few more of the many appetizers we didn’t have room to order, and give the staff a chance to cook on a less hectic evening.

Tampopo| 5665 W. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60686 |  773-561-2277

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Our Trip to the Sausage Superstore

Hot Doug's The Sausage Super Store

Hot Doug’s The Sausage Super Store

It takes a lot for a straight man to rave about another man’s sausages, but Hot Doug’s renowned Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium meets and exceeds all the national hype.  Hot Doug’s gourmet sausage shop has received praise from my stomach to Anthony Bourdain and even the New York Times.  Last week, we decided to check it out again.

We drove on a cold December day to this hot dog mecca on the north side only to be greeted by a  long line when we attempted to enter.  We clearly were not the only ones craving a lunchtime dog and after a few minutes waiting outside we were upgraded to the line inside.  Yes!   And I’m going to go ahead and call this cash-only establishment a truly unique place.  Doug himself was taking orders at the cash register and even though the line was winding out the door, he was still super friendly.  As we were directed to the next available table, we noticed the phrase painted on the wall, “There are no two finer words in the English language than ‘encased meats,’ my friend.”  I can’t say that I disagree and by the looks of it, neither can his patrons.

The Atmosphere:

It’s a casual neighborhood spot on California and Roscoe in Chicago, with miscellaneous hot dog paraphernalia adorning the walls(i.e. a sausage timeline or photo of Britney Spears dog in hand) Now this isn’t your typical hot dog stand so expect a wider range of prices ranging from $1.75 – $9.00 per dog/sausage.

The Menu:

Hot Doug’s is a sausage lover’s heaven.  Doug has encased just about every kind of meat conceivable from rattlesnake to duck.  Your standard hot dog and bratwurst are fixtures on the menu along with other more uncommon sausages like andouille and dare I say it a veggie dog.  Yes, you heard me right, a veggie dog.  It was a vegetarian who actually first recommended Hot Doug’s to me.  These standard features all have creative names like the Salma Hayek mighty, mighty, mighty hot andouille sausage.  However, it’s the gourmet sausages that truly define this unique sausage experience, and you have a lot to choose from.  Doug has a daily special list of about 10 sausages that change at random every 10-12 days.  And although you can order your typical chicago-style dog, the rest of these condiments aren’t your usual chicago fare.  Foie gras, brie cheese, peach mayonaise, and truffled aioli are condiments typically reserved for a slightly pretensious gourmet restaurant but here they pair perfectly with each sausage .  Of course no hot dog is complete without fries.  Hot Doug’s fries are excellent, but for a real treat try the fries on Saturday’s and Sundays when they are fried in duck fat (the tastiest form of fat fat according to french culinary standards).

Foie Gras Dog1

We satisfied our hot dog craving with the following three sausages:

1. Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Sel Gris

2. The Spicy Jerk Pork Sausage with Spicy White Peach Mayonnaise, Creme de Brie Cheese and Roasted Plantains

3.  The Paul Kelly(aka bratwurst)

Each sausage had its own complexity of flavor starting from the seasoned meat, further amplified by the condiments.  My mouth was overwhelmed with flavor from the rich foie gras and earthy truffle aioli.  It was the most decadent bite of food I have had in recent memory.  The spicy pork sausage was equally impressive complimented nicely by brie cheese and sweet fried plantains.  Katie loved it.  Need I say more?

Our Thoughts:

Everyone should go there.  Now.  No seriously, leave work early(they close at 4), grab some cash and head on over there.  Ok. wait… check their website first(they may be off on holiday) then leave.   Also, try a special.  Katie was hesitant but now she too believes in their special sausages.

Hot Dougs | 3324 N California Chicago IL 60618 | 773-279-9550

Additional Reviews at Urban Spoon

Hot Doug's on Urbanspoon

 

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