Province Fueling the Fire

Wow.  Hello everyone.  My buds missed staring back into your screen-dried, bloodshot eyes.  I have been kicking myself for failing my blog for a while now.  ’Twas going to be my new years resolution to pick this old hobby back up again.  Luckily, I have the urge two weeks too soon.  Unfortunately it’s not under the best circumstances, but I must strike when the iron’s hot.  It’s been cool for far too long.  I wish the fire was reignited by more than anger and dissatisfaction, but my buds are back with a vengeance!  That’s a smidge of an exaggeration… I am not literally going to inflict punishment for the wrong committed.  But when I leave a restaurant hungry after spending a handsome Benji I am not a happy woman.
I arrived at Province with wide eyes (that soon became overwhelmed by magenta) and an empty stomach.  I had been once before but just for a snack.  I browsed the wine list and settled on a glass of Eric Bordelet sparkling pear cider.  I had tried it at Quince in San Francisco a year ago and really loved the subtle pear sweetness and effervescence.  I’m a slut for bubbles, we all know this.  Just a week ago I sat at the bar at Graham Elliot and enjoyed a glass for the second time, paired wonderfully with buckwheat pancakes, shmeared with huckleberry jam and foie gras. I asked the bartender at Graham Elliot what I was drinking and he was unsure.  I said, “is it Eric-something?”  He replied, impressed might I add, “Yes, that’s it! Eric Bordelet.”  Cue me feeling like a badass.  Needless to say when I saw it on Province’s menu I got happy.  And then, it arrived.  It didn’t look right.  There was a lot of sediment swishing around which I didn’t recall seeing, and it was bubble-less. My sparkling was still. A travesty, in my opinion.  Unacceptable.  I taste it, and yup…  Pear syrup.  No thanks!  I very politely informed my waitress that I think I received the final pour from a bottle opened a week ago.  I was correct.  A new glass arrived and restored my happiness when it hit my tongue.  Bubbles flirted gently with my buds, a hint of sweetness… Just how I remember. I was happy enough to forget that mishap even happened. Bubbles in hand, I was ready to eat.
Beet salad with blue cheese, candied almonds, and market greens arrived and disappeared shortly after.  Good, standard beet salad.

beet salad, blue cheese, candied almonds, market greens

Still happy.  Salmon taradito hits the table.  Three bites of sashimi-style salmon topped with preserved lemon, cucumber, and jicama.  Another minute passes, then it’s gone. Not jumping out of my chair but still happy nonetheless.

salmon, preserved lemon, cucumber, jicama

Next, the shrimp ceviche (or so they say) arrived.  You say shrimp ceviche, I saw brown mush.  The first thing I think is “man, that’s ugly.”  It was presented in a simple drinking glass, which need I remind you is transparent?  Pardon my doo-doo talk but it looked like exactly that… A cupful ‘o’ doo-doo.  I didn’t take a picture for that exact reason.  I thought no matter how good it tastes, no one needs to see that.  F for presentation, moving on… Enter shrimp ceviche in mouth.  ”What… what is that flavor ? What am I tasting??”  After reluctantly chewing and thinking a little while longer, it came to me.  A1 steak sauce?  Yea, A1 steak sauce.  I actually like A1, don’t get me wrong.  But in a shrimp ceviche described on the menu as shrimp, market peppers, avocado, and spicy tomato jus, I wanted nothing to do with it.  I was expecting a lovely, acidic ceviche lightly dressed in a tomato-scented broth with big slices of avocado and peppers.  I felt like a dear friend stabbed me in the back.  Province betrayed me.  It literally tasted as if some shrimp and a bottle of A1 were thrown in a hole in the center of the earth, stomped on by sasquatch, then scooped into a clear, unfortunate serving dish and presented to my table.  I’m still not convinced that’s not exactly what happened.  It was simply terrible.  I don’t understand how that would ever leave a kitchen or how a guest could leave happy after receiving it.  After I tried it and realized it tasted as ugly as it looked, I had to document it.  Here ya go.  Imagine a clear glass filled with this slop…

doo doo pie... i mean shrimp ceviche

Well, sasquatch shit on my parade.  I was no longer happy.  No amount of Eric Bordelet could wipe the heavy steak sauce flavor off of my tongue. I did give it a shot, though (cue empty glass).  Perhaps my grilled octopus would raise my spirits.  You know me, I love my grilled octo.  Wrong again. Sad day for Kara.  My grilled octopus with preserved lemons, rice beans, smoked olive aioli and chorizo had none of the exciting components described above.  No grill marks or texture.  No bright lemon flavor.  Undercooked beans.  M.I.A. smoked olive aioli.  And okay, sure, the plate did actually have chorizo on it, but it was also disappointing.  At this point I was too far down for anything to soften the fall.  Glass still empty, literally and figuratively.

sad octopus

Still hungry, I toyed with the idea of ordering something else.  After much back and forth I decided against it for fear of being disappointed again.  Like my dad told me when I was eight: “you keep stabbing yourself in the eye with a fork, it’s gonna keep hurting.”  We literally discussed where to stop afterward, although we never went.  As dissatisfied as my appetite was, I also no longer had one.  It was like a bad kiss…  I was just turned off.  As you know, that’s incredibly rare for me.  Unfortunately, Province got the job done.  Province killed my mojo.
To top it off, two glasses of Eric Bordelet were on the bill.  And the shrimp ceviche that I loved so dearly was on the bill not once but twice. No, thanks. Once was enough.

My return to the blog world feels bittersweet. I am super happy to feel a fire and have ammunition, but part of me feels sad for saying such “not nice” things.  My intentions are in no way malicious, just honest after an unpleasant dining experience.  A wise man that I consider a mentor told me that if I paid full price with my own money, I’m entitled to my opinion. So there ya have it.

Moral of the story? It’s a shame we reunite under these circumstances, but my buds are back, baby!  Don’t mess with my mojo.
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Sunda’s Hidden Talent

Everybody knows that after dining at Sunda they will leave with weak knees, a smile on their face (perhaps a little honey-ginger glaze, too) and if you’re like me, a buddha belly to boot.  Sunda has damn good food–that’s no secret.  But harmonious, sweet and savory Asian fusion flavor (say that five times fast) isn’t the only thing they do well.  I just discovered that Sunda has another specialty up its sleeve…  They know how to host an exquisite event.

I recently attended the venue showcase at Sunda and was blown away by the lengths they go to in pursuit of  providing a perfect experience.  Sunda’s attention to detail has always impressed me, but that night I found a whole new body of evidence.  Visually, the event space was stunning.  Strategically placed lights illuminated the gorgeous flowers, vibrant table cloths, and monstrous, skillfully crafted ice sculptures.  The room was truly brought to life.  Naturally, my eyes were drawn to the gorgeous pink and orange hues of fresh tuna and salmon.

The staff’s attire was beautiful as well.  They wore traditional asian clothing, which was subtle yet festive.  Wait… this isn’t a fashion blog.

Service.  The service was exceptional.  You could tell that every single thing was under control.  They had staff monitoring the room, and staff monitoring the staff that was monitoring the room.  I had the urge to start overturning tables just to stir things up, but out of fear that they could hear my thoughts and already had a backup table ready in the back, I refrained.   They were so well-prepared that it felt like nothing could go wrong, and I appreciated that.  I felt very well taken care of.

I was also very well-fed.  Buddha and I must have been destined to have twin bellies.  From the sushi array, to the lo mein noodle stir fry booth, to the carving station, to the passed appetizers, it was impossible to leave hungry.  My favorite new discoveries were the corn fritters, salmon bundles, and beef lollipops.

With every visit, Sunda continues to outdo itself.  The venue showcase exposed me to an entirely new side of the restaurant–literally, I had never seen the upstairs banquet space before.  Needless to say, I was extremely pleased.  In addition to knowing that I love Sunda’s food, I now know that a party they throw is a party I want to be at.

Moral of the Story? If anyone is hosting an event at Sunda soon, feel free to throw an invite my way…  My email address is KaraLichtens… Just kidding.  I am way more mature than that.

But seriously.  Call me…

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Restaurant Review: Mercadito Brunch

I have spent a decent amount of time at Mercadito since it opened. Usually consuming their illustrious cocktails with a group of equally content ladies in the wee hours of the night. Mercadito, perhaps, is to blame for many of my “it’s noon already??” mornings. You know what they say… one tequila, two tequila, FIVE TEQUILA WHAT WAS I THINKING?! Don’t they? Well this trip to Mercadito was different. On this occasion, this special, food-oriented occasion, I was with my mama and I was there by noon. Mommy’s little angel, I know.
Let me assure you, mommy can eat. Where do you think I inherited this wonderful trait? We came prepared, extra stomachs in tow. I had heard some very flattering things–two stomachs worth as a matter of fact–about their brunch. Needless to say, we were ready to dive in.

To drink, I ordered the mango mimosa infused with green chili. I really enjoyed the subtle sting on my tongue. The chili cut the sweetness of the mango and transformed an ordinary mimosa into an interesting harmony of sweet and savory.

My mom ordered a cappuccino, which I wouldn’t even mention if she weren’t so pleased that they heated the extra milk she ordered on the side. Again, attention to minuscule details can make a big difference in a dining experience. Mercadito definitely scored some bonus points from my mama.

After perusing the menu and discussing the top contenders with our adorable server, we narrowed our options down. The winners were:

Huevos Ahagados–poached eggs atop crispy corn bread served with a heaping tablespoon of chipotle-hollandaise sauce. This dish obviously resembles a benedict, however, the english muffin is upgraded to cornbread. If you could hear my voice as you read, it would be elevated to an overwhelming scream as I say HAVE YOU EVER EATEN YOLK COVERED CORNBREAD?!? Where had it been all my life, I wondered. I love yolk–yolk on toast is one of my favorite peasant meals of all time, and I love cornbread–well made cornbread can be more gratifying than birthday cake. It all seemed so simple… Thankfully, Mercadito played matchmaker to this bud-tantalizing couple.

Estrellados y Tampiquena–rosemary marinated skirt steak topped with sunny side up eggs, served with potato-rajas-cactus fundido (basically a delicious potato-pepper hash). After reading the previous paragraph, you make me shocked to discover that this dish was my favorite. That’s right my friends, this rendition of steak and eggs was out of this world. The only thing better than cornbread drizzled with runny egg yolk is a perfect medium-rare skirt steak. The steak was absolutely delicious, from the marinade to the preparation. Throw the eggs into the mix and there you have it… Brunch heaven. You must go to Mercadito brunch and try this dish–your brunch repertoire cannot be complete without it. It is just one of those oh-so-satisfying breakfasts.

Pan Mexicano–mexican french toast topped with apples and cajeta (sweetened caramelized milk). Another delicious marriage. This one is actually more like a delectable threesome. Who doesn’t love french toast? And who isn’t weak in the knees for apples smothered in caramel? Together, a sexier threesome than you joining Brad and Angelina. I can’t say it was strategic, but we ordered this dish last, which was a brilliant idea because it was basically dessert. If you’re like me, you usually need something sweet to conclude a meal. And I mean the ‘get-out-of-my-way-or-I’ll-punch-you’ type of need something sweet. Pan Mexicano did the trick. It was a fantastic consummation to our brunch.

Moral of the Story? I don’t care how many Pepino El Pyus you drank the night before, you must make it to Mercadito’s brunch or you will be more sorry than Brad and Angelina after they realize their sexual liaisons were outdone by french toast.
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Restaurant Review: Girl and the Goat

There are some dining experiences that are simply satisfying, and there are those that flush my cheeks, elevate my blood pressure, and make my buds dance on the fast track to cloud 9. If you have shared one of the those magical dining experiences with me (The Drawing Room, Table Fifty-Two, Angelina Ristorante, to name a few), you know the difference. My sister, Shana was the lucky one who bore witness to my buds’ awesome performance at Girl and the Goat. Our superb server Meadows, and killer general manager Dan Russo may have caught a glimpse as well. The choreography made the Joffrey Ballet look amateur. My fancy was truly tickled.

As our cocktails wet our whistles, so did the
Tortone bread–made by their resident bread maker it consisted of mashed potatoes and garlic confit (yes, in the dough), served with sweet onion butter and herb oil. The soft, garlic filled center and the crusted to perfection exterior ensured that we finished the loaf. But not before we killed the sweet onion butter…

As we looked over the menu, there were several things that I would rather run laps around the dining room in my skivvies than leave without tasting. The Hiramasa Crudo and Crispy Pig Face were the top contenders. I knew I was headstrong for a reason.

The Hiramasa Crudo–with crisp pork belly, aji aioli and caperberries, proved that a harmonious marriage between delicate, raw fish and salty pork can in fact exist. And what a remarkable discovery it was! Two individual proteins, each delicious in their own right, but typically make an unthinkable pairing, came together in one beautifully cohesive bite. Thank you Chef Stephanie Izard for exposing my palette to new flavors and concepts. Not once…

But twice! Introducing Crispy Pig Face. Fear not, Babe is not on a plate staring back at you… For those of you who are curious, here is how it is prepared: they trim the meat off of the face and wrap it air-tight in the form of an extremely large, cylindrical sausage. Then, they chill it, slice it–thus resembling a patty at this point, bread it and pan-fry it. Served with chimichurri and arugula, which offset the richness nicely, this dish is absolutely divine. I highly recommend scorning whatever reluctance you feel towards the name or idea. If you were unaware of the body part it came from, you would simply think it was the most flavorful pork you’ve ever tasted. We were informed by Meadows that the face does contain the most delicate yet intense pork flavor. If you are a foodie and enjoy intense flavor as well as exhilarating dining experiences, you must try it. If it frightens you, fine. However, if you regularly consume pork but refuse to try face (alright… I recognize that it sounds strange), consider another way of looking at it–consider the pig. I am an advocate for utilizing the whole pig. I hate wasting all food, but meat especially. The animal has died; justify its death. Do not dishonor it by allowing edible, valuable, not to mention delicious meat to go to waste. Let’s move on…

After ordering a few more items, don’t fret–I will describe them in a hot second, I have to mention the Shaved Kohlrabi. We did not order this originally, but Meadows being the fabulous server he is, put an order in anyway–we had to try it, he said. I am thankful he did. My sister, who is as much of a meat-lover as yours truly, said it was her favorite dish. I can’t say the same, but that is only because I don’t pick favorites when every item is so damn good. Aside from being an amazing, light contrast to the richer dishes, it was just ridiculously delicious on its own. A mixture of kohlrabi (doh!), fennel, blueberries, evalon (cheese), and almonds–this ain’t your ordinary salad! The opposite of what I like to call the “leaves on a plate” salad, this one is the cat’s freaking pajamas.

I love grilled octopus, usually. It is, however, one of those dishes that can be so hit or miss. Unfortunately for me I’ve tried octopus that had the texture of rubber bands, carried a repugnant char flavor, and were just dead way too long, but miraculously served anyway. On the other hand, there are those rare occasions when a chef who does it right reminds me of why and how much I adore it. This was one of those occasions. The Grilled Baby Octopus with guanciale (similar to bacon) and lemon-pistaccio vinaigrette is the quintessential grilled octopus dish. Unique, mouth-watering flavor and cooked flawlessly, this grilled octopus is as close to perfect as they come.

Rabbit Rilette, where to start… The crisp, yet fluffy crepe? The heavenly, juicy rabbit? The sweet garlic jus? Oy, I’m getting disheveled just thinking about it. Superb. It was simply superb. Packaged inside two luscious crepes, the rabbit was exceptionally moist and savory. To boot, they were floating in a sea of sweet, flavorful jus. It was absolutely scrumptious. To be honest, it didn’t strike me as I looked at the menu, but GM Dan Russo insisted we try it anyway. Once again, they know what they’re talking about. For not striking me on the menu, it sure struck a chord within my foodie soul. This is the most excellent rabbit dish I have ever had, or more accurately, devoured. Yea, I went there…

In case you were wondering, yes I did still have room for dessert. I actually had room for all four. We had the 1) deconstructed fudgesicle, 2) potato doughnuts with apples and figs, 3) sweet corn ice cream topped with crispy pancetta, and 4) goat cheese and blueberry topped brown sugar cake. These are not your typical desserts, but they are mighty tasty. I enjoyed each one of them in a different way. The sweet corn ice cream and goat cheese desserts both introduce new flavors, mainly of the savory variety, into a world of sweet deliciousness. It’s not every day that you see pancetta, corn, and goat cheese on the dessert menu. My advice to you: take advantage! If you have never tried anything like it, go for it! Explore new flavors. Even if it doesn’t work for you, you’ll live. You can always turn to the fudgesicle or doughnuts if you seek more familiar, safe flavors. There is a delightful option for everyone, no matter how sophisticated one’s palette.

Six or seven pounds later… ALL DONE! Now let’s get real about this restaurant. The amount of heart, time, and dedication that went into the highly anticipated Girl and the Goat is evident as you walk in the door, but it slaps you across the face with each bite of food. When I left Girl and the Goat, I was in awe. It is amazing to me how every single thing I consumed was not only delicious, but took me by surprise. I felt as if I had experienced food on a new, divine level. Culinary Nirvana, if you will. My dinner at Girl and the Goat singlehandedly opened a whole new world of food for me. It was a monumental experience in my life as a food lover.

Moral of the Story? Girl and the Goat hoisted me up to reach Culinary Nirvana, and I never want to come down.
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Birthday Dinner at Table Fifty-Two

My birthday was a few weeks ago and all I wished for was food. I must be the luckiest girl alive because food’s what I got. Tons of it. And I have the spare tire to prove it (I actually just signed an endorsement deal with Michelin). My birthday binge consisted of food from Angelina Ristorante, Molly’s Cupcakes, Table Fifty-Two, Japonais, and English. Who’s the lucky fat kid!? For this post however, I will concentrate on only one… because it was a first time experience for my buds, it made my birthday incredibly memorable, and the food was divine. Thank you Art Smith for feeding me one of the greatest meals of my life, transforming an ordinary May 18th into The Birthday I Ate Art Smith’s Pickle… Fried pickles—ever had ‘em? They’re like crack. Delicious, delicious crack. The entire meal left me yearning for more.
Prior to dinner, my day was not the greatest. I spent it planning and organizing someone else’s birthday party, ironically enough. Gotta get the job done! It was fine although I was a tid bit exhausted and a zinger was growing in my temples from becoming famished in anticipation of the feast in my near-future. I arrived at Table Fifty-Two and at this point in time I needed food! For the sake of my headache AND my poor dad and sister who merely escaped being in the presence of a starving monster (a hungry Kara is a rather unpleasant Kara, some might say). As we were seated, Art Smith personally greeted us and delivered deviled eggs (he looks fabulous by the way and was lovely to talk to). My day had already improved. Then, out came the goat cheese herbed biscuits from the oven… Into my mouth they soared, gliding atop my buds and into my ever so gracious tummy. From that moment forward a smile never left my face. Cupid had pierced my heart with Art Smith’s arrow…
Our love would only grow when the real food, the food we actually ordered, arrived. We ordered a bunch of appetizers and sides so that we could try as much as possible. If I portray the food to be just one-fifth as good as it tasted, get ready for your culinary boner. You should see what happens in real life… I’m not kidding, not even David Blaine could lift tables that far off the ground.
Yukon Gold Potato Risotto–bacon tuille, egg yolk, chives and shaved gouda.

I LOVED this potato risotto. Each mouthful of the soft, creamy potatoes and the rich silky yolk, enhanced further by what other than crisp bacon, just warmed my soul. This is a mouth-happy dish.
Low-Country Shrimp and Grits–wild gulf shrimp, stone-ground white corn grits and spicy tomato stew. This

shrimp and grits is now the standard for all shrimp and grits in my future. Art Smith knows his grits! I love the course grind–not often do grits have such great texture. The shrimp were plump and delicious. It was just perfect. Definite contender for my favorite dish of the night.
Farm to Crust Wood-Fired Pizza–seasonal veggies, manchego, and balsamic reduction.

I’m not going to lie, this was certainly delicious but when it came out of the kitchen at the same time as the shrimp and grits it didn’t stand a chance with me. Good pizzas/flatbreads are not terribly hard to find in Chicago, while amazing shrimp and grits are. Thus, I ever so generously allowed my sister to have her way with this one… I’m such a good sharer!
Three-Cheese Mac.

Holy cheese-gasm! I have never seen such a gigantic, bud-tantalizing mound of oozy, golden cheese. Cheese was overflowing, clinging to the outside of the bowl for dear life–similar to the appearance of french onion soup. But underneath was pasta-cheese heaven. This dish could fatten up an entire country. So you know it’s good…
Cornbread, with Bacon, and Brown Butter Maple Glaze.

This, along with the shrimp and grits, was my absolute favorite. I could eat it for breakfast, as a side, or for dessert. It literally satisfies every craving. Art Smith, I had already fallen in love with you, but this cornbread will make me stay in love with you. Knowing that it is only a few blocks away brings me peace on a daily basis. One of the most special foods I have ever tasted.
Fried Pickles with Roasted Garlic Aioli.

I had heard of fried pickles but never tried them… Until now. And damn they’re good! I like pickles, and I obviously love all things fried, so these were definitely going to be delicious… However, I did not know how delicious. As your teeth break through the crunchy, battered exterior, the tangy juice fills your mouth. Let me tell you, that tang is addictive! I could eat them all day. My neck itches…
Moral of the Story? As my sister said so well as we parted ways with Table Fifty-Two: No wonder Oprah’s fat!
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Restaurant Review: The Drawing Room

Before I had the marvelous opportunity to eat at the Drawing Room with my friend Jessica, I had solely visited to sip and savor their magnificent cocktails. It seems to be a widespread idea that the Drawing Room is the place for mainly drinks, however after my munch-tastic experience, I know better… The truth; unveiled. Myth; shattered. While their drinks do shine like stars in a fairytale sky, their food shines brighter (that is a fib because they are both really freakin’ good but I just like the way that sounds). Unbeknownst to you, I am utilizing this blog as a vehicle to enlighten you by opening the magical door that keeps only two sacred things: rainbows, and Chef Nick Lacasse’s sweetbreads. Although The Drawing Room does have delectable–and from a mixologist’s standpoint maybe even perfect cocktails, the food also deserves more gold stars than six-year-old Einstein.

My dinner was seven courses while dessert consisted of three, so altogether I had approximately 42 courses… Truth be told, they were all phenom (that’s slang for phenomenal). Chef Nick Lacasse definitely spoiled my buds with his never-ending sequence of mouthwatering dishes; since then a standard 3-course meal feels roughly as satisfying as a five-star drive-thru dinner from Arby’s. Barf. Thanks a lot, a-hole! As punishment for setting the bar too high, I’m going to tell everyone how splendid your food was. Consider yourself served…
Here I go:
New Jersey Oysters–with Frank’s Red Hot caviar and mignonette: fresh, sexy, and delicious with a kick from the faux-caviar.
Spicy Tuna Tartare–with avocado, tempura nori, and hearts of palm emulsion: exquisite combination of taste and texture between the fresh tuna, creamy avocado, crisp nori, and slightly sweet, airy foam.
Veal Nuggets–veal sweetbreads with porterhouse bbq sauce and buttermilk poppy seed slaw: the flawless natural flavor of the sweetbreads (further enhanced by Nick’s skills), crispy breading, and the tangy, fresh crunch of the slaw makes this perfect little nugget my favorite.
Fried Guacamole–tempura avocado, tomato, cumin seed, cilantro coulis, grilled key lime: there is something about the crunchy, warm avocado–which melts in your mouth with just the slightest pressure from your tongue, combined with the perfectly complimentary ingredients that elevate this creative interpretation higher than you could ever imagine without tasting it.
Polenta–crispy herbed cake, whipped fontagne, baby spring onions, asparagus, oyster mushrooms, and parsley white wine sauce: first, who doesn’t love polenta? The variety of perfectly executed vegetables and simply delicious sauce makes this sophisticated rendition of a classic comfort food even more likable.
Bacon Squared–bacon wrapped braised pork belly with yuzu sunchoke puree: this dish, which screams HOLY SUCCULENT FAT EAT-ME GOODNESS, sounds down-home and unrefined (with the exception of the yuzu sunchoke puree). In reality (aka my mouth), it is remarkably polished and it balances wonderfully with the sweet puree. Sinful is OK when it’s this delicious.
Dessert consisted of white chocolate creme brulee, blood orange bread pudding with whipped sour cream, and my favorite (though all were heavenly) whiskey ice cream–a must try because I promise you will like it no matter how much you cringe after taking a shot of Jameson…
So, who’s jealous? It sounds like a fabricated fairytale but trust me, there is no need to sugarcoat an experience that is already this sweet. It was simply that amazing.
And for those of you who are wondering, with regard to cocktails I had the Trifecta (Cabana, Martini & Rossi Bianco, three herb syrup, lime) and the One Night in Rio (Cabana, Aperol, Luxardo Maraschino, lemon, basil). Both were very good–complex yet well-balanced, the whole shebang… I’ll leave the explaining to the experts.
Moral of the Story? It is rare that the restaurant- and bar-component of a restaurant/bar are on equal playing fields, especially on such a stellar level. But I promise you the Drawing Room does in fact exist, it will make your buds dance, and it’s right in the heart of Chicago…
*Photos: The oysters and tuna tartare, the fried guac, the sweet breads, and the bacon squared.
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Restaurant Review: Sable Kitchen & Bar

Throughout the course of our lives we experience many firsts—there’s the first crush, the first chase and tackle of the first crush to attain the first kiss, the first forbidden sip of your friend’s parents’ booze, the first night spooning the porcelain throne as a result of abusing your friend’s parents’ booze, etc. (You may or may not have just learned a lot about me…) Some of those firsts are obviously more exciting and welcome than others. As I walked to Sable Kitchen and Bar with my friends Ryan and Evan, I expressed the elevated level of excitement that comes hand in hand with a highly anticipated first visit to a new restaurant. Aside from experiencing new food in a unique setting, I always look forward to these experiences because they provide me with blog ammunition. Unfortunately for Sable Kitchen and Bar, my dining experience was beyond sub par while undoubtedly providing me with a wealth of blog ammunition. In terms of “firsts,” I’d say it was the equivalent of discovering my first gray hair, which I actually may have grown while waiting for the bill.

Okay, on to (bitching about) the food and drink… I ordered the bridal shower cocktail, consisting of vodka, campari, rhubarb syrup and soda water. Although we waited an unacceptable amount of time for our cocktails (and water), it was pretty good—tasty with a punch, as it better have! Next, I ordered the ahi tuna tartare tacos to start. They were not special; under seasoned and boring. Ryan had the five spice pork ribs, which I tasted. The hoisin-sesame glaze was delicious but it was evident that the ribs were not slow cooked. Rather than tender meat effortlessly falling off the bone, there was lots of gnawing going on. Evan had the soft pretzels, which again were boring. I don’t understand why pretzels are on any menu other than sports bars’ or ball parks’. Unless, of course, they are sprinkled with dust from unicorns’ horns, they are just pretzels—how good can they be? Next we ordered the bison short rib sliders, which were actually not completely disappointing. My first bite was delicious—the meat was juicy and the crispy fried onions added nice texture and flavor. If only every bite was that good… Some pieces of bison were dry, lacking glaze and ultimately moisture and flavor, while others were tasty. Each bite begged the question “is this bite going to make me happy or sad?” The answer was always a toss-up. The best item of the evening was the braised pork belly flatbread with apples, white cheddar and molasses barbeque sauce. I do actually recommend this. The pork combined with the sweet apple, the tang of the cheese, and subtle barbeque flavor melded well together. Needless to say, after the first few dishes, the three of us were fighting for the last piece of flatbread.

With regard to service, I felt bad for our server. She was clearly flustered and had too much on her plate. I know this because so did I… Our undersized plates had never been swapped out for new, clean ones. NEVER. If you saw the size of them you would understand. My desire to cut my food was not an option without any room on my tiny plate due to space being taken up by rib bones and pieces of inedible, dry short rib. Being the dainty little flower that I am, this was yet another letdown that amounted to a disappointing dining experience…

I do have one positive thing to say about Sable—the décor, specifically in the bar area, is very chic. Aside from the faux fireplace that belongs in a Viagra Triangle frequenter’s bachelor pad, I really like the black high-top tables, marble bar, and bar wall lined with a harmonious array of bottles.

Sadly, my trip to Sable was a disappointment. Although it pains me to be so harsh, I needed to write my first negative restaurant review some time…

Moral of the Story? My experience at Sable is another example of a not so welcome nor exciting “first.” I’m sure you have a few up your sleeve…

*Photos: The braised pork belly flatbread and the bison short rib sliders

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Restaurants Revisited: Gilt Bar and English

I recently reviewed my dining experiences at English and Gilt Bar, but luckily for me I have some updating to do! It’s not everyday that you find a place worth visiting, revisiting, and re-revisiting over again. These fine establishments, however, provide plenty of reasons. Thanks to them, I have boatloads of good stuff to share.

English Bar and Restaurant:
I mentioned before that English has a new chef, Top Chef contestant Radhika Desai, but I hadn’t yet tried the majority of her menu additions. Well, my friend, things have changed for the better. I have since had the lobster & white truffle mac ‘n’ cheese and the duck confit dumplings. Not to pick favorites, but the mac ‘n’ cheese was extraordinary. Everyone and their mother has truffled mac and cheese on their menu nowadays, and I’m sure I would happily devour all of them if placed in front of me, but English’s really is special. It takes you beyond the typical level of pleasure you experience when a creamy, cheesy noodle is placed on your tongue beside a morsel of arguably the finest crustacean on the planet. In all seriousness, it is a field day in your mouth. The duck confit dumplings are delightful as well. The succulent filling is perfectly complimented by the sweet strawberry dipping sauce. Both dishes are rockstar additions to the menu and I cannot wait to get my buds on them again.
Gilt Bar:
My experience at Gilt Bar turned my night into one of the most enjoyable evenings I’ve had in a long time. I was just stopping by to have a drink with my friend Chelsea while waiting for other friends to make it to my house, but we had a little too much fun. One drink turned into two, and two drinks turned into a feast. Needless to say my friends were waiting in my apartment lobby for a while. To start, I ordered the Death’s Door Daisy, of course—it’s my drink of choice. Zach, my friend behind the bar recommended a new cornbread dish and ordered one up for us. And mmm mmm mmm was it good! I have a soft spot in my heart for cornbread and Gilt’s rendition puts a gourmet and utterly delicious spin on it. Next up was the blackened cauliflower—roasted and tossed with red onions, chiles and capers. It requires some mad skills to prepare a vegetable dish that I’ll adore. Kudos to you Gilt, you succeeded. I didn’t think I would ever rave about a side of veggies, but there’s a first for everything… Way to turn me into a fan of cauliflower–my mom will be thrilled! On to Death’s Door Daisy number two and the Gunthorp Farm chicken, which is prepared with oregano, espelette pepper and roasted garlic. It had sublime flavor, and I mean sublime. I am not too familiar with espelette pepper, but I think it has magical powers. Combined with roasted garlic… holy schnikes. It literally was the perfect chicken. And just so you know, I am not the type of person (or foodie) that orders the roasted chicken… I rarely do, actually, and I don’t know that I could call myself a foodie if I did. Evidently, Gilt is my only exception.
Oh, and be sure to say hello to Zach if you’re looking for the perfect visit. If he’s behind the bar, each visit will be better than the last!
Moral of the Story? With food this scrumptious, Gilt bar and English are the kings of the “re-revisit.”
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More Restaurants… Blue 13, Piccolo Sogno, & Hugo’s

I wanted to take this blog post in the same direction that I did the last two–restaurant review city. As you may have guessed, I have been equally as big of a fatass these past few weeks as I have been, well, always. There are, however, too many restaurant excursions to document all in one post. So I’ll take it slow and start with just a few noteworthy meals and leave the rest for later. Here are my restaurant reviews for Blue 13, Piccolo Sogno and Hugo’s.

Blue 13:

The evening I spent at Blue 13 was a yummy evening indeed. I started off with the Truffled Mac n Cheese. Can you say “lather me up and bathe me in cheese sauce?” because that’s what I did. I mean, it’s pasta slathered in cream, cheese and truffle butter… That’s a combination you can always bet I’ll want to bathe in, but it was damn good. I like that they use orecchiette pasta (meaning little ears in Italian) and broccoli in it. If my parents fed me broccoli draped in that cheese sauce when I was a kid I wouldn’t have been such a fussy pain in the ass when it came to eating vegetables. Next, I got the Mixed Green Salad. Compared to everything else, a bunch of leaves on a plate is not memorable. Skip. On to the Pan Seared Lake Whitefish served with “potato risotto.” I loved this dish. The white fish was perfectly crispy on the outside and the flesh was just right. I also loved the taste, texture and creativity of the potato risotto, which was pretty much diced potato cooked in risotto fashion–the end result being tender potatoes in a creamy, starchy sauce. This plate was delicious. For dessert I had the Carrot Cake. It was not the best carrot cake I’ve ever had, but the frosting was good. One spoonful was all I needed after this feast. Next time I go, I am getting the Lobster Pizza, the Braised Rabbit Leg or Steak on Acid, and the Coffee and Doughnuts. AND I am going to be sure to go on a Tuesday for 1/2 off wine night. Before I wrap Blue 13 up, I cannot forget to mention how lovely and hospitable Dan, one of the owners was. Overall a fabulous dining experience and a highly enjoyable evening.

Piccolo Sogno:

First and foremost, what a beautiful restaurant. I loved the decor and the quaint bar–very lovely atmosphere. Now let’s talk food. I dined here during Chicago Chef Week, so it was a no-brainer to order off the prix fix menu. For each course on the prix fix menu, there were two options. Luckily for me and my lovely date Shannon, there were two of us. WHAT a coinkidink! We told our server we wanted one of everything to share, and it was a marvelous choice. I’ll keep each dish’s evaluation to a minimum… This ain’t a novel. 1) Ravioli Piccolo Sogno (four-cheese ravioli, pine nuts, marsala glaze, parmesan)–SO good. I cleaned the plate by dipping bread in the extra sauce. 2) Insalata di Pere (arugula, goat cheese, pear)–a good/fine, simple salad. 3) Porchetta Alla Romana (roman style roasted pork)–succulent pork, LARGE portion, quite delicious. 4) Polletto Alla Griglia (wood-grilled chicken)–pretty good but the skin had a too much of a char flavor. 5) Tortino di Gianduia (chocolate hazelnut lava cake with hazelnut gelato)–out of this world. An absolutely amazing dessert. 6) Panna Cotta Allo Zafferon (saffron panna cotta, caramel & berries)–very good as well, but the chocolate cake stole my heart. The must-tries are the ravioli, pork, and chocolate cake. I definitely plan on coming back for more. Especially the chocolate cake… Screw Blue 13′s Truffled Mac n Cheese, lather me up in this!

Hugo’s Frog Bar:

I go to Hugo’s for one reason and one reason only… Alaskan King Crab Legs. They are like heaven on my tongue–my buds’ personal culinary sanctuary, if you will. I treat myself to them just once every few months. Any more than that and it’s not a treat anymore–I don’t want to spoil myself. I love how dear they are to me when they hit my tongue for the first time in too long. It’s like a buttery, delicious kiss from Leonardo DiCaprio that you’ve longed for since the first time you dreamt it when you were 14. Okay, maybe that’s just me… Anyway, in my eyes, king crab legs are the ultimate treat. Prior to this gift from God, however, I ordered the Tuna Tartare. My server was adamant that I get the Coriander Seared Tuna instead, which I reluctantly agreed to. I really wanted the tartare. Low and behold, the seared tuna was very good. Once completed, the server said “would you like to try a taste of the tartare to compare?” “Why the hell not?” I replied, possibly leaving out the “hell.” More food is always a plus in my book. The next thing I know he brought over an entire order of the tartare, comped. Obviously, it was incredibly generous of him and I must agree, the seared tuna was better. That little “battle of the tuna” was a fun surprise and made the experience even more enjoyable. For dessert, I had the Key Lime Pie, which was pretty much taller than the 5″ heels I was wearing. Once I spooned through the mountain of meringue, the filling was perfectly tart and sweet. The best part was definitely the graham cracker crust–so crunchy and there was so much of it! Not surprisingly though because all of their desserts are on steroids. Overall, I left absolutely stuffed and satisfied. I ate not only my culinary sanctuary, king crab, but I had the pleasure of trying both tuna dishes and key lime pie as well.

Moral of the Story? If you lather me up in truffled mac n cheese, then give me a sponge bath in chocolate lava cake, all while feeding me king crab legs, I’ll be yours for life.

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English Bar is Top-Cheffing The Charts

Pretty soon, English Bar is going to have to change their slogan from Eat Well, Drink Better to… Eat Equally As Well As You Drink! Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but I speak the truth! New to the English family is chef Radhika Desai–who I myself know from watching on Top Chef Season 5. All of Chicago has been talking about how Radhika will soon take over as Executive Chef at English, and thankfully the time has come. The menu is now updated with some of Radhika’s special additions, which include duck confit dumplings, lobster and white truffle mac n cheese, and curry mussels while still serving up their classic dishes like the Fish and Chips, Bangers N’ Mash, and my favorite: the English Crisps. My buds have been so lucky to try some of the new tasty dishes… I’ll begin with the
Roasted Vegetable Sandwich. Now a veggie sandwich would honestly NEVER catch my eye… And I mean never. I like meat, plain and simple. And I DO discriminate against lone veggies. This sandwich, however, is freaking delicious! There is a wide variety of different veggies, which bumps up the flavor tenfold. But I must give credit where credit is due… The herbed goat cheese. It makes this ‘wich the T-rex of veggie ‘wiches. I didn’t miss the meat one bit. I also had the deep fried deviled egg. Well, actually I had two. In one sitting. A starter to my starter, if you will… Anyway, they are damn good. Even if you’re in there just to grab a beer, try one of these bad boys. You’ll be ordering a second in no time.

On another note, I went in last Tuesday with a few girlfriends to, well, booze it up. I’m so lady-like, I know. On a serious note, it was a ridiculously fun night. English’s Tuesday and Wednesday specials are killer–1/2 off bottles of wine and $5 signature martinis and cocktails. What are they, nuts!? It’s like they made these specials just for me… How did they know that my favorite way to wash down sauvignon blanc is with a few St. Germain cocktails? Luckily for me, I also enjoy a nice glass of champagne, which just happens to be their special du jour on Thursdays. Ladies, can you say JACKPOT?
Moral of the Story? Ladies, join me (and Top Chef Radhika Desai!) at English on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and very possibly Thursdays too so we can “Eat Equally As Well As We Drink!”
*Photo: The fried deviled egg at English
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