Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Location: 412 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654
Havana on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
With the name Havana, I always thought this restaurant featured solely Cuban cuisine.  Once I saw the menu, I was intrigued by the variety of Latin American options they offered.  Located in River North area, you can expect the restaurant to be busy, but you will be happy to find non-River North prices.  The cost is somehow kept on the low side, while still offering above average food.  My favorite is their jibarito... a Puerto Rican specialty sandwich that utilizes plantains rather than bread.  Other options are hit or miss and the consistency between dishes follows the same trend.  One constant favorite though is their mojito.  They offer several flavors including tropical fruits like mango and guava.  I highly suggest ordering a pitcher for the table... it is enough for five glasses and is a bargain.  After high consideration, the slow service and lack of consistency between dishes forced me into giving Havana a 3.5-mile rating.  At one point, the mojito itself was worth a 5-mile rating... but the rating went slowly down hill after the meal was begun.

What We Ate:


The first decision we all made was to share the calamari appetizer.  I mean, who doesn't love fried calamari?  Here, they lightly bread the squid and include a mixture of Latin spices.  It is served with a combination chipotle-guajillo dipping sauce.  The calamari itself was tender, and the crust was nice and crispy.  It wasn't too thick and had enough spice for the calamari to stand alone.  My favorite pieces were the tentacles because of how crispy they turned out.  In terms of the sauce, I enjoyed them but thought the red portion was a little too acidic.  The creamy portion was much better, but when mixed in the same container, it was difficult to separate.  I think using a chimichurri sauce would be a great choice to serve alongside the creamy dip.  Good, not great, but great for sharing.

Guacamole & Chips (Large)

Another easy sharing appetizer was the chips and guacamole.  We ordered the large and it came with a lot more than guacamole.  The appetizer came with tri-colored tortilla chips, a large cup of guacamole, a fresh pico, and, what they call, a salse de arbol.  The chips were nothing special except different colors.  What stood out were those three dips.  The guacamole was creamy and rich... probably helped out by the addition of a little sour cream.  The pico was as fresh as can be.  And, that salsa de arbol had some heat behind it.  I enjoyed mixing the guac with the salsa de arbol to make a spicier guac.  Easy for sharing and plenty of chips for all.

Tostones (Large)

I am a huge fan of fried plantains (as you will soon see below).  So, our family decided to order the tostones appetizer.  This dish is simple... green plantains fried twice and served with both a garlic dip and a house-made mojo sauce.  Each plantain was pounded to a thick patty before being fried to a crisp.  They remained unseasoned, which I thought was unfortunate... they needed a little salt.  However, both the garlic dip and that green mojo added enough flavor to the dish.  The mojo was my favorite... it was made with a lemon and cilantro and had a little vinegar flavor to me.  Mediocre dish by itself, but that mojo elevated it to better than average.

Steak Jibarito

As previously mentioned, fried plantains are my weakness.  So, the steak jibarito was a no-brainer.  This sandwich has always been one of my favorites, and Havana does a pretty good job making it.  The sandwich starts with two twice-fried green plantains rather than bread.  Stuffed inside are slices of marinated steak, melted American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, and of course a little mayo.  The dish comes with seasoned fries and a chimichurri dipping sauce.  I absolutely loved the sandwich.  The plantains were thick enough to hold up against all the juices and sauces in the sandwich.  As before, they were under seasoned, but once again, the dish was saved by the amazing chimichurri sauce.  My steak was tender, but my mom also ordered the same sandwich and was greeted by an unfortunately tough piece of meat.  I guess consistency isn't their forte.  The fries were great, especially when you dip them in the chimichurri.  It added the needed oil, cilantro, and garlic to the dish.  Delicious... if you get the tender steak!

Ensalada con Camarones

The other dish my girlfriend and I decided to split was their version of a shrimp salad.  It was a great compliment to the more greasy jibarito.  The salad is simple... mixed greens, grilled pineapple, sliced jicama, and of course grilled tiger shrimp.  It was all topped with a citrus-guava dressing.    I really enjoyed the sweetness of the salad.  Not only was the dressing sweet, the pineapple and even jicama had some sugar component.  It came with half a dozen shrimp that were of good size and cooked well.  I was also pleasantly surprised to how large the salad was.  Easily split between two people.

Carne con Tequila

My older brother chose the carne con tequila.  This was one of the other options that sounded great so I was glad to give it a try.  The dish was a chargrilled skirt steak smothered in a tequila-infused sauce and served with chimichurri topped fries.  Once again, the dish was of great portions.  The steak was much more tender than the one served in the jibarito.  The sauce was amazing... reminded me of a gravy with a little hint of alcohol.  I think the dish would have benefited from something that could soak up that gravy or even a vegetable dish to make it a little more fresh and less oily.  And, finally, those chimichurri fries were still once again great.

Key Lime Pie & Guava Cheese Flan

For the dessert, my family decided to split two slices.  The first was key lime pie.  Classic key lime flavor with house made whipped cream and a graham cracker crust.  The majority of the key lime flavor was in that light green syrup drizzled on top with the rest of the dessert one-noted, and it wasn't a good note.  The second dessert was a guava cheese flan.  It sounded tasty, especially after the amazing guava mojito we all enjoyed... however, it was subpar just like the key lime pie.  First of all, the constancy of the flan was more of a rubbery jello than a creamy flan.  The cream cheese made it feel like a cheesecake, but also not creamy enough.  Guava flavor was also minimal, unlike that mojito.  I suggest avoiding dessert and getting another pitcher of that mojito.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Do order a pitcher of their Mojitos.  I highly suggest the guava one.  Sorry for no picture, but it was gone before I remembered.  Delicious!

- I wouldn't waste time on their dessert.  It isn't that great and the wait staff took nearly 30 minutes to bring it out.  Don't expect the fastest service.  In fact, at one point, we went nearly 45 minutes without seeing our waiter.  Service is just mediocre.

How far would I walk for this food?

Friday, April 11, 2014


Location: 615 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60661
Avec on Urbanspoon Avec on Foodio54
A Quick Word:
When it comes to small plates in Chicago, Avec has continued to be the foodies top choice.  Located in the West Loop neighborhood and near the the other Randolph St. restaurants, Avec puts up a great fight against its competitors.  Featuring French-style small plates, I find Avec the perfect place for sharing.  This theme is continued with their uncomfortable communal table.  But, for the first time, I can overlook the communal table because the FOOD IS THAT AMAZING!  Some of their most known dishes (chorizo stuffed dates) have been featured on the Food Network and are considered some of the best in the city.  As I mentioned before, the communal table can be a problem, especially since they don't take reservations.  I suggest going during non-primetime hours otherwise you could easily wait for over an hour.  It also gets quite loud so don't expect to have intimate conversations.  If you are looking for some of the best food in Chicago definitely give Avec a try.  I easily rated it 5-miles and would do more if I could.  Incredible!

What We Ate:

Chorizo Stuffed Dates

The obvious choice on the menu was the chorizo stuffed dates.  Many places are doing bacon wrapped dates, but these are in a category of their own!  These huge dates are stuffed with chorizo before being wrapped in smoked bacon.  They sit on top of a piquillo pepper-tomato sauce and is served along side a fresh baked roll.  WOW!  These are ridiculously delicious.  The dates are the largest I've seen and the combination of that mildly spice chorizo with the sweet date is perfection.  And everything wrapped in bacon is that much better.  The tomato sauce is honestly just a plus... it gives you a sauce to dip the bread in.  I could honestly eat an entire order or these or maybe even two orders for my meal and I would be extremely satisfied.  A must try dish... and without question, one of the best small plates in Chicago!

Chicken Liver Mousse

Having a weakness for pate, foie gras, and other similar creations, I really wanted to give their chicken liver mousse a try.  After a little convincing, my girlfriend agreed to the dish and we were both amazed.  This dish comes with a dish of chicken liver mousse served with fresh mint, pickled red onions, and thinly sliced-cooked down rhubarb.  It comes with a grilled french baguette.   So the key for this dish is to make individual bruschetta-like bites.  Spread the mousse on the bread before topping with everything else.  The mousse is very rich and buttery so it needs the red onions for a slight bite and the rhubarb for the sweetness.  Another flawless dish that I highly recommend.

Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder

For our largest dish, we decided to order their slow roasted pork shoulder.  We weren't really sure how the dish was prepared but we were pleasantly surprised.  The dish reminded me of the French classic dish... cassoulet.  The pork shoulder was surrounded by pochas beans, cider-braised chorizo slices, and apples.  It arrived at our table in a piping hot cast iron pot.  The dish was executed impeccably.  The pork shoulder pulled apart with ease.  Tenderness was an understatement.  The beans give it some substance and a stew-like feel.  The chorizo added some spiciness and the apples a sweet freshness to the dish.  It was a huge portion, easily shared between 2-4 people.  I did wish it came with some rice or a french baguette to dip into the stew.  Delicious!

Nutter Butters and Peach Sorbet

For dessert, we decided to split a couple of the smaller options.  The first was my choice--Nutter Butters.  These reminded me exactly of the childhood Nutter Butter peanut shaped cookies, but looked much different.  Here, they make it with a rice crispy and graham cracker crust before topping with a sweet peanut butter that had a fudge-like consistency.  They were cut into bite size pieces and I wished I could take more home.  The second dessert was the peach sorbet.  Their sorbet is on a rotating menu so hopefully you have good luck when dining there.  Overall, I thought it had a great peach flavor.  It was on the sour side, especially after eating the sweet butter cookies that act as garnish.  Very refreshing though and great value.

Moscow Mule Cocktail

With only a couple of cocktails on the menu, the Moscow Mule was my girlfriend's decision.  I was surprised when it wasn't served in a copper cup.  Regardless, great cocktail... made with the usual vodka, lemon, and ginger beer.  The size is great because it comes in a small cocktail bottle without enough for almost two glasses.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- This place is made for SHARING.  So believe in the concept and share!

- Don't expect a quick meal.  Seats are very hard to come by and with no reservation policy, it can take sometimes over an hour to get a seat.
- Communal table... once again, be aware and don't expect much comfort/privacy.

How far would I walk for this food?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wing Stop

Location: 12 E. Harrison St., Chicago, IL 60605
WingStop on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
Wings are found on many street corners of Chicago.  Finding the perfect wing is tough; sometimes you find a great wing with a terrible sauce, or vice versa.  The chain restaurant Wing Stop has found the perfect medium... good wings and good sauce.  Not the best in either category, but definitely above average in both.  The wings themselves are excellent.  Huge, juicy, crispy.  Three adjectives that all wing joints want to be described by.  The new Chili Lime sauce is wonderful because it packs enough heat to make you sweat, yet has a pleasant citrus flavor.  I would easily rate these wings in the 4-mile range, but I encountered an unpleasant cashier that was both unfriendly and not accommodating.  For that reason I decided to drop it to 3.5 miles.  The wings are better than that... but the service needs to improve a little.

What We Ate:

Chili Lime Wings

This limited time sauce was what drew me in and I knew I had to give it a try.  I had an order of regular bone-in wings covered in their newest creation, the Chili Lime sauce.  The name is self explanatory, chilies and lime, but it packs a bigger punch that you think.  The wings by themselves are excellent.  They are huge, juicy, and cooked to perfection with a nice fried crisp on the outside.  They sauce them immediately after finishing and even when ordering take out, they still kept that crispness when we got home.  The flavor is primarily lime, but you constantly get bursts of heat that I really enjoyed.  Great wings and hopefully you can give these a try before they are gone.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Chili Lime wings... Don't miss out!  Limited time offer!

- I would probably avoid the South Loop location.  Try to find another more friendly one.  The Lincoln Park location is great and amazing for take out!

How far would I walk for this food?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Secret Supper Club @ Gallery Bar

Location: 738 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654
Gallery Bar on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
I have always been intrigued about Secret Supper Clubs and I finally had the opportunity to give it a try.  This secret supper was hosted by Dishcrawl and was held at Gallery Bar in the River North neighborhood.  As soon as you walk in, your eyes are immediately drawn towards the unique and amazing "street-style" art that filled the walls.  From graffiti to photography printed on aluminum, the art is one-of-a-kind! Anyway, back to the food... we enjoyed a 6-course meal with an amuse-bouche to start off the night.  Excellently paired with wine, we dined for a lengthy 3-hours (we thought it was too long).  The food itself tasted great, but some dishes contained ingredients that did not complement each other at all.  We were joined by other foodies in Chicago, meaning we could share our secrets and recommendations. After it was over, I understood the chef's attempt at Asian tapas... unfortunately, the theme that stuck with me more was cold food.  The location, experience of dining with other foodies, and the concept of a secret supper saved the restaurant and allowed me to give them a 4-mile rating.  But they have to step it up!

What We Ate:

Pepper Salmon Chowder

Our first bite was a salmon chowder.  Served in an Asian-inspired spoon, the chowder consisted of their house-cured scottish salmon, roasted cauliflower, and a few pieces of corn and red pepper.  The red pepper took over the dish, actually outshining the salmon flavor.  Unfortunately, this first bite was cold...  I looked over to the kitchen and discovered the lack of a food warmer.  What does that mean? I began to suspect a common theme would be present--subpar temperature.

Pickled Ginger Salad

For the second course, we were given what they called a pickled ginger salad.  It was made with a mixture of arugula and spring mix veggies and topped with a wonderful mango salsa and crispy wonton strips.  Finally, it was dressed with a pickled ginger vinaigrette.  From the name of the salad, I was expecting something involving sushi flavors.  Instead, we had a wonderful tropical salad. There was contrasting textures, both sweet and salty components, and an elegant presentation.  Great salad course... I would come back for a larger version with some shrimp!

Crab Covered Macaroni & Cheese

I snuck a preview of the pasta dish prior to the dinner and expected some kind of mac & cheese, but I wasn't expecting to involve seafood.  For our next course, the mac & cheese was made with a smoked gouda and gruyere cheese sauce before being topped with lump crab meat and scallions.  Sounds amazing right?  Unfortunately, I was disappointed.  First of all, the dish again was cold... in fact, the cheese had already thickened and almost curdled (trust me, everyone around me had cold food).  Anyway, looking past the temperature, I thought the cheese was too strong in terms of the smokey flavor.  It completely overwhelmed the crab and I wouldn't even know crab was present if I didn't see it.  The seafood flavor is very delicate and using such a strong cheese was a mistake.  This is my opinion, but others at our communal table thought the same.

Seared Sesame Scallop

This was the time our meal took a turn for the better!  Our first of three protein dishes was simply put... EXCELLENT.  A large diver scalp was rolled in sesame seeds before being seared.  It was served on top of a mango sauce, but unfortunately lacked the menu-described seaweed salad.  The scallop was fresh and cooked to the perfect tenderness.  The sesame flavor was strong enough to get that asian-inspired theme.  But, the defining component of the dish was that mango sauce.  It was incredible... buttery, sweet, fruity, and a perfect pairing for a delicate scallop.  You could put that sauce on just about anything and I would eat it.  Delicious!

Duck Tart Taco

The trend of excellence continued with this asian taco.  The duck tart taco was constructed using a crispy wonton shell and then filled with braised, shredded duck meat before being topped with a cranberry and apple compote.  Again, the complexity of the dish was top notch.  The wonton wrapper was the perfect hard-shell for a taco, giving that nice crunch to the dish.  The duck meat was tender and the fruit compote was essentially a sweet salsa to top it all off.  The asian-theme was once again prevalent.  Only thing I wished was for another taco or even two!

Swimming Pig

The last protein of the night was known as the swimming pig.  It was a creative name for a dish that consisted of crispy pork belly and a sautéed shrimp.  It was also served with a deconstructed fried rice and the same mango sauce that I praised above.  The picture I took was of my girlfriend's plate because the my dish didn't have any whatsoever.  This just shows the inconsistency in plating of the young chef.  Anyway, the pork belly was amazing.  Tasting like a thick cut of bacon, that sweet mango sauce helped mellow it out.  The shrimp was tender and not overcooked and the fried rice gave us enough carbs to fill our stomachs.  Once again, the menu was a little off... it described a tortilla encased shrimp which did not appear on our plates.  Temperature on this plate was a little better but still below average in my eyes.


3-hours later... we finished the dinner off with a classic--Tiramisu.  How is this Asian?  It isn't, so was it a short-cut for an easy pre-made dessert?  Regardless, it was still delicious.  This chef's version was made with coffee soaked lady fingers, chocolate mousse, Grand Marnier, and a thinly sliced strawberry.  The liquor component was light and not overwhelming like you get at many Italian restaurant across Chicago.  The lady fingers and mousse had great flavors and enough sweetness to remind you of a wonderful dessert.  The strawberries were a little on the tart side, but that wasn't too much of a problem.  Good dessert... not Asian, but still good.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- Stick with the proteins... the duck tacos are amazing and I highly suggest them!
- Check out their website for additional events.  Gallery Bar is known to host different artist themed events including street art wars.
- The art if FOR SALE!  So definitely take a stroll around the bar and enjoy it!

- I wouldn't order too many dishes per person.  When the kitchen is overwhelmed the food comes out cold.  Maybe order one at a time?
- Not much parking around, but it is just a few blocks from the Chicago Red Line stop.  I wouldn't drive unless you want a difficult time finding parking.

How far would I walk for this food?

Artists' Cafe

Location: 1150 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, IL 60605
Artist's Cafe on Urbanspoon

A Quick Word:
Located across the street from Trader Joe's in the South Loop neighborhood, I come across this cafe every time I pick up groceries.  After the hundredth time or so, my girlfriend and I decided to give it a shot.  We noticed the menu is mainly made up of sandwiches, a few salads, and a couple types of soups.  I did appreciate the fact that no sides came with sandwiches, helping out the cost... especially if you don't want chips or fries.  Unfortunately, I wasn't that impressed, and in fact, I think I can make each sandwich easily at home (and even better than Artists' Cafe's version).  We did take out so I cannot comment on the atmosphere of the cafe.  Based solely on the food, a 3-mile rating is all I could comfortably award this restaurant.

What We Ate:

"Not Your Kids" Grilled Cheese

The first sandwich decided to split was their twist on the grilled cheese.  Termed "Not Your Kids" grilled cheese, I expected to find more gourmet ingredients.  The sandwich started with country bread slices and was filled with aged cheddar cheese, fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, tomatoes, and smear of pesto.  It was then placed in the panini press rather than being griddled on the stove.  Personally, I thought the cheeses didn't compliment each other well.  There was a lack of goat cheese in the sandwich and the fresh mozzarella didn't really add anything except additional creaminess (which isn't needed if goat cheese is already there).  The pesto was only a thin layer, meaning it was instantly overpowered by the cheeses.  I think they had a great concept with an average preparation.  Less mozzarella, more goat cheese, a sharper cheddar, and heavily lay on the pesto... that will make the grilled cheese crave-able.

Cuban Panini

Our second sandwich was a Cuban Panini.  Like most cuban sandwiches, the base is a torta roll.  They then fill it with pulled pork, slices of ham, swiss cheese, pickles, and finally mustard.  Like the previous sandwich, it is placed in the panini press to crisp up the bread.  Where to start... this is an average sandwich at best.  The components were all tasty, but they didn't each other by combining them in a torta roll.  I was extremely disappointed with the dryness of the sandwich; lack of mustard caused this.  Also I was disappointed with their use of pickles... who in the world places two pickle spears in the center of a sandwich?  Tip: use sandwich pickle slices.

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- A bunch of free parking on State St. south of Roosevelt.

- N/A

How far would I walk for this food?