Monday, August 30, 2010

Silver Spoon

Just when I thought I was done with lab group lunches, they dragged me out for another one. I'd been done working for 2 weeks when She Yan had her last day and wanted to grab a bite. We'd basically exhausted all of my ideas, but She Yan took us to Rush and Superior to try out one of her favorites. Right next door to the Thai Consulate (where I'd like to assume they go for lunch), is Silver Spoon offering up one of the better lunch deals in River North.

Silver Spoon is in a garden apartment style room that seats about 40 at the most. We got there around 12:30 and it wasn't necessarily that crowded, but we had to wait for 15 minutes or so because they had trouble fitting a group of 5 among all the 2 tops. We eventually got sat at a table at street end of the restaurant.

The service was going well. They took our order quickly and kept our drinks nice and full. The only problem was that they forgot my food. After 5 minutes of everyone else being served, I called over the waitress to ask for my meal. She hustled back to the kitchen and promptly brought out my food.

The deal is excellent. $6.95 for an entree and an appetizer is a large amount of food for your money. They have a relatively limited menu to pick from for the deal, but the standards are there.

The Food
Since it was included in the lunch special, we all got an appetizer. I had the Fried Tofu, Kristy ordered the Spring Rolls, and everyone else got the Crab Rangoon (except She Yan who expressed her disappointment that Americans think that Crab Rangoon is a standard Asian appetizer). The Tofu was pretty good, but like most tofu it didn't have too much taste. Luckily, it came with a really tasty peanut sauce for dipping. The Spring roll was on par with most that I'd had, but they were very liberal with the sauce. I didn't have the Rangoon, but the serving size was pretty small, and there seemed to be a poor ratio of filling to fried dough.

 The Fried Tofu and Peanut Sauce

The Spring Roll

The Crab Rangoon

There were about 10 entrees to pick from for the special, and we covered the highlights pretty well. Kristy and Amanda ordered the Pad Thai, Pedro got the Cashew Chicken, Austin got the Chicken and Vegetables, She Yan got the Thai Noodle Bowl, and I got the Pad See Ew. The Pad Thai was delicious, well sauced, and had a nice amount of peanuts providing a textural balance. The Thai Beef Noodle Bowl was just so so. The beef may have been cooked for too long, and it's texture was grainy, but the broth was very tasty. The Pad See Ew was very tasty with it's wide noodles and sweet sauce. The chicken in it was a little overdone, and the noodles were stuck together a bunch, but I still enjoyed it.

 The Chicken Pad Thai

The Thai Beef Noodle Soup

The Chicken and Vegetables

The Cashew Chicken

The Pad See Ew

I feel like Thai places are somewhat a dime a dozen in this city. I had high hopes for this one based on it's close proximity to the consulate. The lunch deal is pretty good, but between the service and the food, I'd have to say it's only a little above average. I'm giving Silver Spoon 3 out of 5 Pearls.

Silver Spoon on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 27, 2010

Everyone's a Critic

As many of you will recall from my post on Chilam Balam, I participated in a film that a few Northwestern journalism students were putting together. Well, the video can be seen here. It was a lot of fun to take part in, and I think it's pretty funny. I wish Chuy would've liked my post a little more, but he's pretty set in his anti-blogger ways. Either way he was very hospitable, and I'm still planning on going back to his restaurant in the near future. Please take a few minutes to watch the video. I think you'll all enjoy it. Thanks again to Lauren and Lisa for including me in this.

A few other housekeeping notes. You may have noticed that I now have a facebook page and a twitter account. I'd like to justify these as purely methods of letting people know that I've put up a new post of some kind. (I now follow Pat Garcia on twitter as well). If these sites are good ways for you to keep up to date on JEC then I suggest you "like" or "follow" accordingly. I also encourage you to "follow" me on the blog itself, not because it keeps you informed necessarily, but it makes me feel cool. That's all for today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Depot American Diner

When I wrote about Wilde, I told you all about how Josh and I take each other out to meals for our birthdays. Well now it was my turn to take him out. I asked what kind of food Josh was interested in getting, and he said that he'd been craving diner food for quite a while. I thought way back to before the JEC days when I was hitting up all of the DDD spots in Chicago. This lunch also happened to be one of my roommate Steve's last meals before moving away for dental school. He was such a big fan of this place the first time, and he was very glad to get another chance to dine here. So we all hopped onto 290 W to head to the Depot American Diner.

The Depot is laid out exactly how you'd expect a diner to be. There's a large open air kitchen with a lengthy counter. Both times I've sat at the counter to get the full experience, but they also have a few booths. The whole place isn't that big though and can probably only seat 50 people max. I'm not sure if they take reservations, but I haven't needed one either time.

The service is great with a couple of waitresses handling the whole restaurant. Including the cooks, everyone really makes you feel at home by striking up good conversation. It's pretty cool to sit at the counter and watch them cook everything. Also, although many things seem pre-packaged, trust me that everything is pretty fresh and they just portion out things ahead of time for efficiency.

It's very reasonably priced too. A sandwich or salad runs from $5-$8, and the daily blue plate special is $10. The portions are gigantic, and you definitely have enough for two meals every time.

The Food
They've got a nice variety of diner food here, and because I've sat at the counter both times, I think I've seen them make pretty much the whole menu. The salads look delicious as do many of their specials, but there's really one item that stands above the rest, the Pot Roast Sandwich. Steve and I had that, and Josh ordered the daily Blue Plate Special which was the Breaded Fried Chicken with Mac N Cheese and Corn. Josh's meal also came with Chicken Noodle Soup that had a nice spice mix and wasn't too salty. The Pot Roast is unbelievable. It's savory, juicy, and covered in a perfect gravy that makes you fell all warm inside. Oh, and it's covered in onion strings (boom). The fries it comes with are pretty standard, but you don't need ketchup because they cover them in gravy. I can and have drank this gravy on occasion. The Chicken had a nice crisp and was unbelievably juicy. The Mac N Cheese was very creamy, but didn't really bring anything special to the table like all of the other items.

 The Chicken Noodle Soup

The Pot Roast Sandwich

The Breaded Chicken Blue Plate Special

Now you're never hungry for dessert when you finish at The Depot, but it's just something you've got to do. We ordered the Doughnuts with Mocha Sauce. The sauce is very tasty, and the doughnuts are doused in cinnamon sugar. The doughnuts could be a little less dense, but that didn't stop me from inhaling them.

 The Doughnuts with Mocha Sauce

There's very little not to love about The Depot. For not too much money you can get one of the best sandwiches around and still have some the next day. The waitresses and cooks are friendly, and the food is out of this world. The only problem for many of you city folk is that it's somewhat of a drive, but if you need a lift you can ask me anytime. I'm giving The Depot American Diner 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

The Depot American Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Girl and the Goat

Many of you may live in high rise buildings, but I on the other hand live in a small walk up. Since there aren't that many units in the building, you become much closer with your neighbors. As a friendly new tenant, when my neighbors Doug and Kelly went out of town the other weekend, I watered their plants, and upon returning to town they offered to take me to dinner. While I was holding onto this IOU an interesting thing happened. I'm cooking in my apartment (yes I eat at home sometimes), and all the sudden our door unlocks. Assuming it was Jeff or Steve, I just went about my work, but after a few seconds of awkwardness I turned around. To my surprise there was a girl in the doorway who I then found out was Kelly's friend Shanon from out of town. Shannon had been given a key from Doug (who is kind of like the building super and must have given her the wrong key). Either way I was somewhat startled, as was she, so I took her to the right apartment and everything was settled.

It was thus decided that between my being neighborly and being such a good sport during what I would like to refer to as a home invasion, that it was time to cash in the dinner offer. Doug and I were going to check out The Urban Burger Bar that just opened right near our apartment while Kelly and her girlfriends were going out for a night on the town. However, after some of Kelly's friends canceled, Doug asked me if I'd be willing to change my plans to go to the newest restaurant in the Fulton River District. I jumped at the opportunity, and Doug and I were off to The Girl and the Goat.

The restaurant is mostly one large room with many tables, an open air kitchen, and a lengthy bar. It seems impossible to get in here without a reservation, and I'm under the impression that it's difficult to get one without some pretty advance notice. Luckily for us, Doug and Kelly are well connected with some higher ups in the restaurant group.

The service here may have been the best I've had in a long time. My drinks and water were always full, and our waitress was very knowledgeable about the menu. This really paid off considering that the menu can be very complex. Also, Kelly is a pescatarian and it was nice that the menu had lots of veggie and fish options for her to chose from.

The cost is definitely up there, but it's nothing you wouldn't expect. It's right on par with the neighborhood by offering a huge variety of small plate options for somewhere between $10-$18. They suggest that you order 2-3 plates per person. Then they take all of your orders and course them out accordingly.

The Food
Our first course that came out included Shaved Kohlrabi Salad, a Rabbit Rillette, and Crispy Soft Shell Crab. Kelly prefaced the Crab dish by saying that if she could have a "last meal" this would be part of it. I wouldn't go that far, but the dish was really good with a nice bite from the lime and the sweet corn aioli. I'd never had Kohlrabi before, but it was a refreshing start to the meal. The Rillette was my favorite dish of the night. It had a light, flaky, and crispy wrapper with a savory filling and nice garlic flavor.

 The Bread with Goat Cheese Butter and Chimichurri

 The Shaved Kohlrabi Salad

The Crispy Soft Shell Crab

The Rabbit Rillette

The second course was the Roasted Cauliflower, Seared Scallops, Escargot and Goatballs, and Sauteed Skate. The Cauliflower had a delicious hint of mint, and the pine nuts gave a nice crunchy textural balance. The Scallop was perfectly seared and topped with an amazingly tender braised veal. I was wary about the Escargot since it was served in a marinara instead of butter and garlic, but this was very tasty and balanced well with the Goatballs (goat meat balls in case you were wondering). The meatballs were really soft and had lots of flavor. The Skate was one of my least favorite dishes of the night. It was a very buttery piece of fish, and was properly cooked, but it had a little too much salt for my liking.

 The Roasted Cauliflower

The Seared Scallops

The Escargot and Goatballs

The Sauteed Skate

The third course included the Sauteed Green Beans, the Smoked Goat Pizza, and the Grilled Lamb Ribs. The waitress said these would be some of the best Green Beans I'd ever eaten, and she was spot on. It was covered in a creamy fish sauce vinaigrette, and they were coked well without losing a nice snap when you bite into it. The Ribs were interesting in that they didn't fall right off the bone, and the restaurant feels a little too high end to pick up the bone and gnaw away. The Goat Pizza was my second favorite item of the night with a thin, crispy crust and plentiful amounts of pulled goat meat.

 The Sauteed Green Beans

The Grilled Lamb Ribs

The Smoked Goat Pizza

It happened to be Shanon's birthday, and because Doug and Kelly are friends with the general manager, we were given one of each dessert. This included a Goat Cheese Bavarian Cream, a Chocolate Mousse of sorts, and a Blueberry Crisp. The Cream and the Mousse were both very rich desserts that provided excellent flavors to wrap up the meal. The Crisp was very much like a tiramisu with a blueberry compote on the bottom. It had textural complexity and was overloaded with flavor. I'm usually not a proponent of desserts where chocolate isn't the focus, but you should make sure to get this when you go.

 The Blueberry Crisp

The Bavarian Cream

In a sea of popular small plate restaurants near the corner of Halsted and Randolph, The Girl and the Goat does an excellent job of standing out. The food was high end, but consistently had a warm, homey feel to it. From the nice beer selection to the last dessert, the experience was wonderful besides 1 or 2 dishes. I'm very thankful to have neighbors that are so well connected, and so generous as to invite me along with them. It was also very cool to see Stephanie Izard in person, and I appreciated that she was tasting and expediting at the window. I'm giving The Girl and the Goat 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Girl & the Goat on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Di Pescara

I remember one time in high school I had a teacher that had just moved to the area and was looking for a good fish restaurant in the north suburbs. Oddly enough, I didn't really know what to say so I went home and asked my mom for some suggestions. There were tons of places that you could get a piece of fish at, but there weren't necessarily so many fish places. Obviously we could recommend Bob Chinn's, but the line often gets a bit out of hand. There's also the Davis Street Fish Market, but downtown Evanston isn't right next to Buffalo Grove. I think we ended up suggesting Dover Straits. Anyways, a few years later, Lettuce Entertain You answered the call for a good fish joint by opening up Di Pescara in Northbrook Court. Last week was my Dad's birthday, and the Pearl family loves a good piece of fish. My parents had been to Glenn's Diner quite a bit recently, plus they wanted to meet somewhere in the middle which is why Di Pescara was the perfect choice for us.

Di Pescara is a pretty large restaurant separated into two main rooms and a bar. We had a reservation which was necessary. On the weekends this place gets really packed, and even if you come early they have quite the crowd. Lisa, Noam, and I got there before our reservation with the aim of tying a happy birthday balloon to dad's chair, but the surprised was spoiled since my dad beat us there. So I held on to this balloon in the bar as we had a few cocktails and waited for mom to get there.

When we got sat down, they put us in a nice quiet corner of the back room. One of our good friends Randi Simon is a waitress there (and an excellent one at that), and although we requested, they were a little busy to rearrange the waiting formation. Our waiter was still very good. Waters were kept full, he was knowledgeable, and food was brought out in a timely manner. I think he forgot one of our appetizers, but it turned out for the best because we had far too much to eat as it was.

The cost is reasonable for a place serving up fresh fish. Appetizers/Salads are around $10 and they fed the whole table (5 of us). The seafood ranges from simple fillets around $20 to crab legs around $30. Basically you can look at Di Pescara as though you were going to a good steakhouse except that they pay all of their attention to fish. That being said the costs are reasonable.

The Food
As I said before, we started our night off with a few drinks at the bar. I had a Gin and Tonic, Noam got a beer, my dad went for a Goose on the Rocks, and Lisa had a Blueberry Vodka Lemonade. For our appetizers our table split a Spicy Tuna Roll, a bowl of New England Clam Chowder, and an Orchard Salad. For not being a sushi place, the Spicy Tuna Roll was very good and came with a tasty spicy mayo on the side. The Clam Chowder seemed to be a big hit, and I think it's one of the things my dad likes to come back for. I thought the Orchard Salad (apple, pear, jicama, greens, and green goddess dressing) was below average. I think the dressing could've been heavier, and all I really tasted was acidity. Also, every ingredient was very crunchy, and the dish could've used some textural balance.

 The Blueberry Vodka Lemonade
The Spicy Tuna Roll

The New England Clam Chowder

The Orchard Salad

For the main course Noam got the Ginger BBQ Salmon, Mom got the Cedar Planked Whitefish, Lisa got the King Crab Legs, and I got the Parmesan Crusted Grouper. My dad did his favorite thing which is to get a plate and have a bunch of everyone's dish (I think he's onto something big here). I didn't try the Crab Legs but they seemed to be a big hit. My Grouper had a nice crust to it and was perfectly cooked. The Salmon was pretty good but slightly overcooked. The Whitefish was prepared well, but I've never been a fan of the flavor from a cedar plank. In general the sauces that were special to each dish were a little bit muddled, but the fish still stood out well.

 The Parmesan Crusted Grouper

The Alaskan King Crab Legs

The Cedar Planked Lake Superior Whitefish

The Ginger Barbecue Salmon

For dessert they brought out a sampler plate for the birthday boy including a Cupcake, a Lemon Meringue Pie, and a Mini Root Beer Float. In addition to that, we ordered their specialty dessert, The Peppermint Ice Cream. It came with a large amount of hot fudge and had a nice amount of peppermint. They serve it in a chilled bowl, and this is reasonably the best thing there.

 The Peppermint Ice Cream

My Dad and his Birthday Dessert Platter

Di Pescara provides a nice service by giving a variety of fish cooked to the proper standards. It's a great alternative for someone who enjoys that steak house feel and is a little tired of steak. The service is excellent, and there are nice choices for a complete meal. The next time I go, I'm going to try the Artichoke appetizer. I thought it was strange that a seeming mainstay on the menu was Chilean Sea Bass (which I thought was not really acceptable?). All the dishes were very good, but I would've liked some bolder flavors with the entrees. I'm giving Di Pescara 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Di Pescara on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Signature Room

As the summer started winding down, my last week in lab crept closer and closer. As I've mentioned before in many posts, going out to lunch as a lab had become somewhat of a weekly activity. Accordingly, we thought we should do something special for our last lunch. As we debated over where to go, an advertisement came on the radio for an all you can eat lunch buffet at The Signature Room. We decided this would be a perfect place to end our summer lunch tradition.

The Signature Room is on the 95th floor of the Hancock Center. Interestingly enough, the observation deck is on the 94th floor and costs money to go to. If you go to the restaurant there's no charge for the trip up, and the view is spectacular. As far as the trip up, I've never been in a faster elevator (all 95 floors in under 50 seconds), but that means your ears are going to pop (bring gum). There is a ton of seating near the windows, and we got sat at a corner so we could see out onto the lake and very far north as well.

The lunch special we went to was for an all you can eat buffet for $15 including soft drinks. Normally it costs $20 and drinks are $3.50, so this was a pretty good special. Unfortunately, the special only lasts until the end of August. We made a reservation, and I think it was a requirement as well.

Most people go for the view alone, so anything on top of that was just a bonus. The service was pretty great, and our waiter was very knowledgeable about the food and the restaurant's history. I really liked that our host's name was Arif (same name as a friend of mine from med school). For those of you that know med school Arif, you would've gotten a real kick out of the outfit the host was wearing and how similar it was to something our Arif might wear. He was very well dressed in what I can only hope was a Brooks Brothers outfit with a Burberry tie.

For a buffet they had all of the important logistical factors covered. They kept the food full and hot, and they did a good job of clearing the dirty plates from our table. I think they could've done a little better job with the drink refills, but overall the service was great.

The Food
The buffet was broken down into a soup/salad table, an entree table, and a carving station. I tried everything, so I'll break down the meal by table. The soups were Minestrone and Cream of Mushroom. The Cream of Mushroom was very creamy and had an emulsion like texture to it. The Minestrone was loaded with veggies, and the beans weren't too much like they can often be. For salads they had Chilled Grilled Zucchini, Cauliflower Salad, some kind of Cabbage Coleslaw, and a Mixed Green Salad. The coleslaw was probably my favorite with a dressing that was well balanced with spices and not too loaded with mayo. The Zucchini and Mixed Greens Salad were very crisp and a nice light start to the meal. The Cauliflower Salad was pretty bland though and left me dissatisfied.

 Plate from the Salad Table

 The Minestrone Soup

At the entree table they had Roasted Chicken Thighs, Tilapia with a Cream Sauce, Summer Squash, and Mashed Sweet Potatoes. The Chicken Thighs were delicious with a nice crisp to the skin and an incredible juiciness. The Summer Squash had lost its texture a little bit and was a little too much on the mushy side. The Tilapia had a very tasty sauce, but it was a little overcooked. I think it was probably cooked properly, but it's really hard to keep a good texture on fish when it's on a buffet dish. That being said, I went back for seconds of most everything on this table besides the tilapia. The Mashed Sweet Potatoes were really creamy and still had a bunch of chunks giving it somewhat of a rustic taste. They were probably my next favorite thing to the chicken.

 Plate from the Entree Table

The last part of the buffet was the carving station. The meat of the day was Roasted Brisket. It was very tender and had a nice savory taste to it. The brisket could have definitely been leaner though, but I assume it's easier to serve a fattier brisket on a buffet so that it doesn't dry out too much. The real highlight here was the mustard bbq sauce that came on the side. Basically I put that on everything the second time around. It was out of this world delicious. At one point when I was putting it on my plate, I think the lady at the carving station was going to offer me a bowl for the side or a bigger ladle.

You can go to the Signature Room for much more than their lunch buffet. It's an excellent place to go on a date or take people to a business meal. Either way, with the quality of food and the amazing view it's a great way to have a nice meal and show someone Chicago. It's the tallest restaurant in North America, and it's pretty impressive on the inside. It's nice that they have a casual dress code and atmosphere for lunch. Normally this place would be a little too rich for my blood, but with the lunch special it was nice to try out. The food was very tasty, and the only problem was that I couldn't move to walk back to work after eating so many plates of food. I'm giving the Signature Room 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Signature Room at the 95th on Urbanspoon