Monday, August 25, 2014

Blackbird

Location: 619 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60661
Blackbird on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
When it comes to fancy restaurants in Chicago, Blackbird has always found its way to the top of the list.  But with fancy comes expensive.  This is not the case all the time at Blackbird... yes, their dinners are on the higher side and their tasting menu astronomically high, but their lunch special is a steal.  At $25 for a 3-course meal, it is without question the best way to try this Michelin-rated restaurant.  Tiff and I went on a weekday and decided to veer off the prix fix menu, but still encountered reasonable costs.  The food was fresh, beautifully plated, and was full of flavor.  The dessert was unique to the restaurant, something that I have never found anywhere else except a Taiwanese restaurant in California.  Just like their dishes, their service pays close attention to the smallest detail.  It is hard not to give the lunch a 5-mile rating, but, I will say, some people didn't seem pleased with the limited options on the 3-course prix fix.  And, when I saw one dish, I was glad I steered away from it.  A 4.5-mile rating was easily given.

What We Ate:

Arctic Char Crudo

Tiff and I decided to share an appetizer.  It was a no brainer to try the arctic char crudo.  They halved the plate for us... giving us each the perfect portion of arctic char, white asparagus, and miner's lettuce.  It was all topped with a buckwheat rhubarb vinegar.  The arctic char itself was fresher than a sushi restaurant.  Being served raw, you really appreciate the natural, clean flavors that a salmon lacks.  The choice of white asparagus is brilliant because it is more mild than regular asparagus.  It compliments the arctic char by allowing the fish to shine.  The size is on the smaller size, but remember, we split it... so you are only seeing half in the picture above.


Blackbird Classic Bouillabaisse

Appearing on the dinner menu as well, we decided one of our entrees would be their classic bouillabaisse.  I assumed it would be a smaller portion, but they were still very generous with size of the dish.  Their bouillabaisse had a nice chunk of monk fish, a couple clams, a couple mussels, and shrimp.  There were also thinly sliced potatoes and strings of fennel swimming in the saffron and garlic spiced broth.  The broth was amazing... so much seafood flavor and spice from the saffron.  All the shellfish were tender and that shrimp  was very meaty.  I will say, I was disappointed with the lack of bread to dip in the broth.  They give a small crouton which is definitely not adequate.

Duck Confit

Having decided on the lighter bouillabaisse as our other entree, we wanted a more hearty dish.  The duck confit caught out eye.  This dish was significantly larger than the others seen at people's tables.  It consisted of the beautifully cooked duck confit on top of a bed of dandelion greens.  A light yogurt sauce accompanied the dish.  The duck itself was tender and rich.  The cooking process in the duck's own fat obviously contributed to that richness.  The dandelion greens had a sharp, more bitter flavor which mellowed out the fatty, richness from the meat.  I wasn't really sure what the yogurt sauce did... and honestly, forgot it was even there.  I preferred this dish over the bouillabaisse and would recommend it to all.

Leche Flan

Seeing leche flan on the dessert menu, I expected the traditional creamy custard.  Instead, Blackbird made a Taiwanese twist of this dessert.  I say Taiwanese because of a restaurant in California that reminded me exactly of this dessert.  The custardy leche flan is there, but it is buried underneath milk tea shaved ice, peach sherbet, lemon mochi, and stone fruit.  All the elements of a perfect dessert are there.  It was sweet, yet not overly rich.  The milk tea had the classic Asian bubble tea flavor and all of those textural components from the toppings elevated the dessert to the next level.  There was chewiness from the mochi and of course creaminess from the sherbet and flan.  It is going to be really difficult to top this dessert.

Mint Tea Julep and Pisco Punch Cocktails

With such a nice summer day, we decided on a couple of cocktails.  The pisco punch was made with pisco, pineapple and lime... a very refreshing lunch-time drink.  And, the mint tea julep was their version of the classic derby drink.  It was made with rare tea cellar's mint infused single barrel rye.  I really enjoyed the mint tea julep, but it may be a little on the stronger side for some.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
DO:
- For being a Michelin Star Rated restaurant, they offer an amazing lunch menu that is more affordable.  In fact, they have a prix fixe lunch special that costs just $25.  Just remember, the meal may not be all that special.  We decided not to order from the prix fixe.

DON'T:
- This place is packed even during weekday lunch hour.  Tons of business people.  Don't expect to get in without a reservation.  And dress up!

How far would I walk for this food?



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cafecito

Location: 26 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago, IL 60605
Cafecito on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
A restaurant's location may be just as important as the food they serve.  Cafecito nailed it on location with a close by hostel making up most of their patrons.  This sandwich and coffee shop features Latin American style cuisine and is home to one of the most popular Cuban sandwiches in the city.  When it comes to the prices, Cafecito is extremely reasonable. The portions are good-sized and they do not skimp on the ingredients.  Some sandwiches even have three meats.  Flavors are definitely there, but I felt the different sauces overwhelmed the entire sandwich.  The service in my opinion was subpar with the line taking quite some time despite ordering ahead.  For those reasons, I felt a 3.5 mile rating was fair.

What We Ate:

Cubano

Cafecito makes a very classic Cuban sandwich.  The bread roll is stuffed with roasted pork, slices of ham, swiss cheese, yellow mustard, and pickles.  The entire sandwich is then pressed until crispy and flattened.  On my first bite, I was surprised with the amount of meat in the sandwich.  Most places cut you short whenever an additional meat is added, but here, that is not the case.  What was overwhelming was that yellow mustard.  They literally lathered the sandwich with it, which was a poor choice in my opinion.  And, rather than using flat sandwich pickles, they stuck a couple pickle spears in the sandwich.  This is the problem with some restaurants... they don't pay attention to the details.  Each bite was either full mustard or pickle, which didn't allow the meats to shine.  It is a good cuban, but I can't say its the best I have ever had.

Chivito

Our second sandwich we ordered was the Chivito.  From the name, it is impossible to guess what is inside the sandwich.  But this one had it all.  A similar roll was filled with steak, ham, bacon, fried egg, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a citrus mayo.  Just like the Cubano, it is pressed to give that crispy outer crust.  I thought this sandwich was 10x better than the Cubano.  Rather than overwhelming the meat, the citrus mayo acted like a creamy chimichurri sauce which complemented the steak very well.  All the meat was tender and a nice richness was added by the fried egg.  The addition of the vegetables gave a sense of freshness and cut some of that greasy edge. I would recommend this sandwich without reserve and will be back to give it another go.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
DO:
- Stick with the sandwiches.  They are reasonably priced and tasty.  I would avoid the chips like the plague.  They were expensive and terrible.

DON'T:
- Don't expect the fastest service here.  With a lot of international students/tourists, the line can back up fairly fast and it takes quite a while to just place an order.

How far would I walk for this food?


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Bongo Room

Location: 1152 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL 60605
Bongo Room on Urbanspoon Bongo Room on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
There are a couple restaurants synonymous with brunch in Chicago.  The first is Yolk.  And, the second is Bongo Room.  On my most recent trip back into the city, Tiffany and I headed to the Bongo Room for a late brunch.  Whenever I hear Bongo Room, I think of unique creations that are sweeter than the average breakfast joint.  As you will see, their pancake selection is off the chart with names like salted caramel and red velvet being offered as their special hotcake.  Overall, the food is tasty, but the sweetness can be overwhelming, even for a person like me (biggest sweet tooth imaginable).  The service on our experience was a little sub par, and I can't even blame that on the busy restaurant... because empty tables were everywhere.  In terms of dining here on weekends, I will say GOOD LUCK.  The wait can be outrageous.  All in all, I do recommend trying their hotcakes, but my advice is to SHARE them like a dessert is shared.  Because sugar overwhelmed the menu, I had to give a 4-mile rating.  Much better than most brunch places, but with such creativity, why couldn't they think of offering a smaller option with savory components as well?

What We Ate:

Red Velvet Hotcakes

I believe Bongo Room was made famous by this specific dish... their Red Velvet hotcakes.  These pancakes are made with the traditional chocolatey red velvet batter and topped with a warm vanilla creme and toasted walnuts.  The order comes with three which is absolutely outrageous after you have your first bite.  This dish just screams sweet and dessert.  The pancakes are light and fluffy just like red velvet cake and that vanilla cream reminds you warm liquid icing on a warm cake.  I absolutely love eating a couple bites of the meal, but it gets really old really fast.  The sweetness starts to be more overwhelming than enjoyable.  MY SUGGESTION: make a small order... maybe 4 silver dollar pancakes served with a side of bacon or sausage and an egg?  That would be significantly better because you could balance the sweetness with some salty ingredients.  It is great to try, but please share it with multiple people so you don't get sick from the sweetness.

Chorizo Potato Avocado Omelette

Luckily, Tiff and I decided to also share an omelette.  You can either build your own or choose one of their unique creations.  We chose their chorizo potato avocado omelette.  It came with just what the name says it has, but it also has queso fresco.  A side of salsa, their house potatoes, and a couple slices of sourdough toast make up the rest of the meal.  I really enjoyed the meal.  The portion was huge, which is standard for most brunch restaurants.  The chorizo was not mushy like other places I have had it.  In fact, it had more of a ground sausage consistency.  Unfortunately, the salsa was nothing special and possibly was from a jar.  The potatoes were plentiful, but just standard house grilled potatoes.  The omelette was unique, but everything else was nothing special.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
DO:
- Red Velvet pancakes are a must try... but make sure you get one for the table and everyone have two or three bites.  Anything more is too much.

DON'T:
- Weekends are crazy.  Don't expect to get in unless you come really early.  I have waited for nearly an hour one time and another time I didn't wait the 1+ hour for a table.  Craziness.

How far would I walk for this food?


 The Bongo Room on Urbanspoon

Sun Wah BBQ

Location: 5039 N. Broadway St., Chicago, IL 60640
Sun Wah Bar-B-Q Restaurant on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
Recently, Tiff and I have been dining with two of our other friends, Deb and Anne.  We have been to different ethnic restaurants, including Filipino and of course Dim Sum.  Now, it was time to try Sun Wah BBQ and their infamous Beijing Duck.  They do it better than any of the Pecking duck places in Chicago.  The food is absolutely delicious... the duck skin is "to-die-for" and I can honestly say I would order just their duck skin if possible.  The difference is in the bao offering rather than the pancake.  So you make bao sandwiches with the hoisin rather than rolling the meat in the pancake.  Where the meal suffers just a little bit is the second soup course.  The broth is plain and it lacks any protein or substance.  It was just disappointing when compared to other peking duck places.  The price, however, is amazing.  Four people can split the meal without being overly stuffed, but also being satisfied.  Because of the disappointing middle course, I couldn't give them a perfect rating... it was hard, but Sun Wah deserves at least the 4.5-mile rating.

What We Ate:

Beijing Duck Feast

There is only one menu item that every table should order at Sun Wah.  That item is their Beijing Duck Feast.  This is sort of like an Asian prix fixe style meal.  Our table of 4 shared one order.  First, a Beijing roasted duck is brought to your table whole.  It is carved table side into amazing pieces (see above).  Most are boneless except for the couple pieces of leg and wing chunks of the duck.  The first part of this feast comes with of course those slices of duck, steamed bao, pickled daikon, and of course the classic hoisin sauce.  You put it all together into the bao and enjoy.  The skin is very important because it adds the most amazing crispness to the bao sandwich. 


The second course is seen on above and to the right.  After slicing the duck, the carcass is returned to the kitchen to be meticulously picked apart.  The scraps of meat are set aside and used later.  The carcass is then used to make a hot duck broth soup with winter melon chunks.  The soup has a nice floral note to it but lacks much protein.  Just keep that in mind.  I was expecting a little more duck or substance in the soup, but it is more of a broth than a soup.


Finally, remember those duck pieces that were set aside while making the broth?  Well, the final course utilizes those scraps of meat in a duck fried rice.  The heavy carbohydrate dish is traditionally served last because it allows the guest to fill up on tastier food before filling up on rice or noodles.  The fried rice is simple with the duck, bean sprouts, garlic, and a few chopped scallions.  It was delicious, but nothing I can't get from another restaurant.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
DO:
- If you don't want to wait, come during a random hour.  I think we came around 2 or 3pm and literally, no wait whatsoever.  The restaurant is notorious to have an hour wait or longer.  So just be aware.

DON'T:
- Don't order other menu items... the Beijing Duck is not to be missed.

How far would I walk for this food?


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Joy Yee Plus

Location: 2159 S. China Pl., Chicago, IL 60616

A Quick Word:
Joy Yee's has become the college students' go to restaurant for huge Chinese food portions and reasonable prices.  But lately, those prices have been slowly creeping to expensive.  The one variation of Joy Yee's is their "Plus" restaurant, which features shabu shabu.  Most people know this type of dining as "hot pot".  The food is definitely above average, but the options are limited depending on the time of day you come.  We came for a later dinner to find them lacking quail eggs... one of the best ingredients in hot pot.  Also, they frequently run out of some of the nicer slices of beef.  I think running out of food is unacceptable, especially when the ingredients are available next door.  The atmosphere is very tight and very hot.  They pack people in like sardines, making it uncomfortable for larger parties.  But, the food does speak for itself and is very tasty.  I can overlook the service for great food... so my rating for Joy Yee's Plus is a strong 3.5-miles.

What We Ate:

Shabu Shabu ("Hot Pot")

When it is cool outside, everyone craves something warm to eat.  Soup places and coffee shops succeed.  But, so do "Hot Pot" places.  Joy Yee's Plus is one of just a handful of restaurants that feature this type of dining.  Each table is equipped with burners to keep the beef broth hot.  Once boiling, you add various ingredients... kobe beef slices, short rib slices, lamb, chicken, tofu, and even cuttle fish noodles.  These are just to name a few.  A bunch of vegetables are also available including watercress and bok choy.  This style of cooking allows the ingredients to shine.  You end up tasting whichever meat you cooked.  The meal is very interactive and fun with a group of friends.  You can even mix up your own sauce to dip your meat and veggies in to.  Since it is a Joy Yee restaurant, you can also get one of the famous fresh fruit bubble teas.  Give it a try!

The DOs/DON'Ts:
DO:
- Parking option:  Park in the huge lot next to the Chinatown strip.  The restaurant validates your parking so bring the ticket with you.  It costs $2.00 and thats all.  It is cheaper than street parking!

DON'T:
- Don't come too late.  They run out of options.

How far would I walk for this food?