Monday, August 25, 2014


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:
- 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.

- 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


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:


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.


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:
- 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 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?