Category Archives: Chicago

[Chicago] Blackbird

619 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60606
Neighborhood: Near West Side

 

Blackbird is owned by the same owners of Avec, The Publican, Violet Hour and Big Star.  It’s located right next to Avec.  I heard it’s very difficult to snag a dinner reservation, if not booked a few weeks in advance, so I settled for a lunch reservation instead.

The restaurant is very bright and airy.  Be warned, portions are a bit small, even for me!

I can’t say enough about the nice foodies I’ve met in Chicago.  While sitting at the counter for lunch, I met fellow foodie Jerome, who suggested that I read Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential. Great read for any foodie or for anyone who’s curious about the restaurant industry. Thanks for the recommendation Jerome!

 

Avec has a great prix fixe menu for $22.  I wasn’t really sure what to order, so I placed myself in the chef’s care and went with the prix fixe menu.

 

Appetizer:  charred baby sepia with green tomatoes, blueberries, chamomile almonds and cynar.  The grilled squid/octopus on top of the blueberries and almonds almost seem like you’re eating breakfast cereal.  Interesting combo and really good!

 

Entree:  wood-grilled sturgeon with chanterelles, kohirabi, plums, thai poppy jam and brown butter fish sauce.  The fish was perfectly cooked, but I couldn’t really taste the plums or thai poppy jam.

 

Dessert: bittersweet chocolate cremeux with cashews, butternut squash and bergamot.  Dessert was pretty interesting with the butternut squash.  The chocolate cremeux was creamy without being overwhelmingly chocolatey.  Nice presentation!

 

And that wraps up my Chicago eats!

 

 

[Chicago] Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab

60 E Grand Ave
(between Wabash Ave & Rush St)
Chicago, IL 60611

 
 
I found Joe’s due to its high ratings on Yelp.  It’s located just a block away from Mag Mile.  So for you shopaholics out there, this is a great place to stop by after your shopping sprees.  🙂
 
The original Joe’s is in Miami, hence the stone crabs, with the second outpost in Chicago.  There is also a third location in Las Vegas, located at Caesar’s Palace.  The inside of the restaurant is like a high-end steak house.  Service is impeccable and fast.

I went for lunch, since the lunch special “Joe’s Classics” seems like the best way to sample a little of everything.  There are two “Joe’s Classics”, one features the filet mignon and the other features the stone crab.  Since the restaurant is known for the stone crab, that’s the one I ordered.  For $25.95, it includes a cup of soup, 5 stone crab claws (cold), hashed browns, cole slaw and key lime pie.  It’s a really great price for lunch, considering how much food you’d get.

 

First the restaurant starts you off with a variety of bread, which are all really good!

 

The cup of soup – I think it’s crab bisque, excellent flavor.

 

The stone crab claws!!!  The claws are already cracked for your enjoyment.  The crab itself is pretty sweet and juicy, good enough to eat without any sauces.

 

The hashed browns (more like scalloped potatoes) come in a separate plate and is pretty tasty too.

 

This was an interesting take on cole slaw – more tangy than normal versions but went really well with the meal.  Mix it all together before you eat!

 

Finally, the dessert – the key lime pie is as good as the Yelpers said!

[Chicago] Avec

615 W Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60606
Neighborhood: Near West Side
(312) 377-2002
 
http://www.yelp.com/biz/avec-chicago

http://avecrestaurant.com/

Our CFO, upon learning that I was in Chicago, suggested that I go try Avec.  Since it’s within a few blocks of where I was staying, and the restaurant does not take reservations (which was perfect because I wasn’t sure when I was going to go), off I went!

Since the restaurant does not take reservations, there was already a big crowd waiting for tables.  Luckily for me, there were some open seatings at the bar, so I was seated right away.  For parties of 2 or more, expect at least a 30 minute wait.  Avec is pretty small, with the bar/kitchen on one side, and communal tables lined up on the other.  Good thing there’s coat check, otherwise it’d be difficult trying to hang a coat on your chair while avoiding bumping into other people!

There are large plates and small plate selections.  To me, it seems like a tapas restaurant.  The restaurant also does half-portions on some of the items, so it’s a good way to try many different dishes.  My fellow neighbors at the bar were really friendly, so we chatted while sharing our food.  Come to find out, one of them is a chef owner at a Toronto restaurant (Campagnolo).  So for those of you who are planning to visit Toronto, go give the restaurant a try!  Campagnolo has really good reviews on Yelp too!

 

Even the napkin is printed

 

The bar seating, right next to the kitchen

 

Started off with the chorizo stuffed dates, which is a misnomer.  It’s more like a chorizo meatball wrapped in bacon.  The date is hidden within the meatball to cut out the bite of the spicy tomato sauce.  This dish was so good and so different!  Comes with bread.  This is the half-portion.  $5  Normal portion comes with 4 meatballs.

 

Followed by half order of the fermin serrano (Spanish ham) with marinated peaches and cocoa beans.  This was also an unusual combination – the ham went well with the peaches, while the cocoa beans gave an unexpected earthy aroma and flavor.  Mmmm… $10.50

 

My neighbors graciously insisted that I pair my food with their wine.  The Toronto chef says that this wine is hard to find since it’s from a small vineyard in Sicily.  It’s a really nice red that pairs well with meat.

 

Third plate:  roasted squid with san marzano tomatoes, guanciale, fideo and fennel aioli.  It’s sort of a squid pasta, quite spicy, but the squid still retained excellent flavor.  Perfect with beer!  $12

 

Last but not least, dessert!  White chocolate panna cotta with maple figs and walnut shortbread.  The panna cotta is more gelatiny than usual panna cottas, but the walnut shortbread and the maple figs were both good!  $7

 

All in all, Avec is a great place for a meal!

 

[Chicago] Dose Market

Inside River East Art Center
435 E Illinois St
Chicago, IL 60611
Two blocks west of  Navy Pier
 
www.dosemarket.com

At the Celebrity Chefs Ball, I met a food writer for one of the local Chicago magazines.  She suggested that I check out Dose Market during my stay – it’s a once a month farmer’s market of some sort (no produce though!), with different types of food and fashion under one roof.  Since it’s on my way to Navy Pier, I swung by to take a look.

Dose Market happens once a month, bringing food and fashion/accessories vendors from around Chicago and the neighboring states.  Admission is $10, and only covers your entrance.  I recommend not eating before hand, so that you can sample the food there.  I ate breakfast before I went and then regretted it, as there were lots of pastry and coffee vendors.  The space inside the Arts Center for the market is pretty small, with 15-20 vendors, so it’s crowded.  Worth checking out if you’re already in the area.

 

Lots of people inside!

 

Map of the vendors

 

Gourmet marshmallows from Indiana.  So yum!

 

The pastries looked so good but I didn’t get to try…

 

Exotic spices

 

Fashion!

[Chicago] Meli Cafe

301 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60607
Neighborhoods: Greektown, Near West Side, West Loop

(312) 454-0748

www.melicafe.com

http://www.yelp.com/biz/meli-cafe-and-juice-bar-chicago

 

 

I stayed in Greektown while I was in Chicago.  Upon checking in at the hotel, I asked the front desk to recommend a good breakfast place.  The guy recommended the hotel’s restaurant and this local breakfast joint.  So I tried both.  The hotel’s breakfast is slightly better than normal hotel breakfasts, but Meli was really great.  It’s just 2 blocks away from the UIC/Halsted station.  Meli was already packed when I got there around 8am, so be ready for a wait!

 

The daily menu has lots of interesting options.  The regular menu is also very extensive.

 

Started off with some hot cocoa

 

Jams and whipped cream for the toast came in a cute little platter

 

My breakfast:  corn & crab omelet.  Goat cheese and asparagus went surprisingly well with the corn and crab.  The portion was huge!  Even the potatoes were nicely seasoned and not dry.  Also comes with toast! $12.95

[Chicago] Meals on Wheels Celebrity Chef Ball

I love food events, especially those that contribute toward a good cause.  On my recent trip to Chicago, I found a Travelzoo deal for the celebrity chef ball — $99 as opposed to the regular price of $125.  It’s a once-a-year event in Chicago which draws tons of great chefs, with even more foodies.  All of the proceeds benefit the Meals on Wheels program, which provide home-delivered meals to people in need.  This year’s event was held at the Macy’s on State Street, occupying all of the 9th floor, with 85 chefs.  Yes, 85 chefs!!!  I wish we have this kind of event in LA!  The chefs, all eager to showcase their specialties, bring lots of creative dishes and they don’t skimp on the ingredients either.  Each chef is stationed at a table and presents 1-2 dishes.   You can personally meet all of the chefs, while trying out their creations.  Everything is self-serve, which means, if you really like a dish, you can go back for seconds.  Portions are hor dourves-sized.

Best part about this event, besides the food, is that they provide you with a booklet which contain biographies of all of the chefs, along with their various recipes.  🙂

 

Lots of people all around!  The event is cocktail-dress formal.

 

I think this was a meat ball with deviled egg on a stick — didn’t get to try since I was already full at this point!

 

Kurobuta pork with scallop.  Yum!

 

Even lobster made its way into the appetizer/salad section – from the Michael Jordan Steakhouse.  I didn’t even know MJ has his own restaurant!

 

After eating the various dishes, then I found out there was another whole section full of DESSERTS!  Pear sorbet on a waffle cone.  I think this was from Black Dog Gelato.  So good!

[Chicago] Pump Room

1301 N State Pkwy
(between Goethe St & Banks St)
Chicago, IL 60610
Neighborhoods: Near North Side, Gold Coast

http://www.yelp.com/biz/the-pump-room-chicago-2

http://www.pumproom.com/

 

Chicago has really developed into a foodie city in the last couple of years!  I remember when I last went in 2007, the good restaurants that were recommended by the tour books consist of steakhouses and Italian restaurants.  How the food world has evolved – nowadays, the choices are so diverse.  There is also a celebrity chefs culture developing in the city.  It’s so great!

On my recent trip, my fellow foodie colleague suggested that we dine at the newly renovated Pump Room.  It’s located inside the also renovated Public Hotel.  The decor is very modern and chic, in black and white.  Inside the restaurant, there are a lot of lanterns hanging over the dining area, which make it really cozy.  Even though the tables are close by each other, you can hardly hear the conversations of the nearby tables.  Maybe it’s the fact that the restaurant recently reopened, service is emphasized – waiters/waitresses kept coming by to fill up on our water, and even the manager came by to check on us.

 

For starters, we chose the roast carrot and avocado salad.  The carrot was nice and tender, and naturally sweet.  It was a good combination with sprouts and avocado.  I want to learn how to roast carrots like this!  $8

 

We also went for the pretzel dusted calamari, which come with 2 dipping sauces (mustard aioli and marinara).  The calamari was nice and crunchy, and the sauces complimented the squid.  $8

 

For my entree, I chose the Lake Superior whitefish with red bliss potatoes and spinach.  The fish was actually pretty big.  The skin was crispy while the rest of the fish sat poached in the juices.  Yum!  $18

 

My fellow foodie selected the grilled salmon salad.  He said the salmon was perfectly done (not flaky and the center was still slightly raw) and juicy.  $15

 

At this point, we were both so stuffed.  But, when the waitress brought the dessert menu around, we decided to take a look and ended up ordering this:  creme fraiche cheesecake with roasted figs and concord grape sorbet.  It’s the most fancy cheesecake I’ve ever seen!  The roasted figs and the tart grape sorbet brought a nice balance to the creaminess of the cheesecake.  It was the perfect ending to a really great meal!  $7

 

Thanks JA for recommending this restaurant and for being so patient while I take the food pictures!!!  🙂