Monday, November 29, 2010

Frankie's Scaloppine

A few months ago my friend Jess moved to the city, and for that matter, right near my campus. I promised we'd meet up for lunch at some point and finally came through last week. There are plenty of good places in the area, but the problem is that I've been to lots of them already. Part of me was tempted to try out the Soup Box, but I figured a $5 cup of soup wasn't that nice of a "welcome to the city" lunch. Instead, I remembered a few friends suggested an Italian place in the mall at 900 N Michigan, Frankie's Scaloppine.

Logistics
Frankie's is on the 5th floor of this mall chock full of the kind of stores you'd expect on the magnificent mile. They have some sort of parking garage situation for $5 if you need to drive. They have a pizza cafe that's in the open air part of the mall and a dining room that's somewhat sealed off. One trick is getting up to the fifth floor. We were in no hurry and took the many escalators, but I'm pretty sure they have an elevator. We got there a little before 11 AM only to find out that they don't open for lunch until 11:30. We hung out at a cafe on the first floor until they opened up.

The service was pretty good, and the waitress even brought over the chalkboard with the specials on it to our table. The cost was also fair for what you get in that it's a moderately nice place to go to eat (not that you have to dress up or anything, I'm just saying it's no schlub restaurant). Most of the entrees were around $12, and the portions were pretty large. You can get sandwiches, salads, and pizzas for a few bucks cheaper too.

The Food
We were both a little unsure of what to get since so many things on the menu were tempting, but after asking the waitress it seemed that the different varieties of Chicken Scaloppine were what the restaurant was known for (supposedly they also have a very good eggplant parm and baked spaghetti). Jess ordered the Chicken Parmesan, and I got the Chicken Limone. The Parmesan came with a nicely breaded crust and was topped with a small salad of grape tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and greens. The Limone had a strong lemony flavor as you might expect. It was topped with sauteed mushrooms and spinach as well.

The Chicken Limone

The Chicken Parmesan
Both chicken dishes were extremely tender. The limone's vegetables were a bit over sauteed into a mushier texture than I would've liked. I thought the flavors were all pretty standard.

Overall
Frankie's Scaloppine delivers what the name would suggest. The chicken comes out flattened, properly topped, and tender. I was a little underwhelmed with the flavors in that they weren't necessarily as bold or as rich as I'd hoped. Everything was still properly prepared, and the dishes were all texturally balanced. I'm giving Frankie's Scaloppine 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Frankie's Scaloppine on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lao Sze Schuan (Hot Pot)

I went to Lao Sze Schuan a few months ago and got what I considered to be Chinese food (Mongolian Beef, Orange Chicken, etc). I noticed that some tables had these interesting boiling pots of soup on their table but didn't pay much attention beyond that. Over the summer I worked with She-Yan, a medical resident in the lab. She seemed to find it very humorous that I'd never had "real" Chinese food, and that everything I called Chinese food was some kind of chunked fried chicken in a brown sauce. She read my post on Lao Sze Schuan and said we had to go back for the real deal, the Hot Pot. So last week She-Yan, myself, and a crew of NMH residents headed to China Town.

Logistics
Lao Sze Schuan is one of the most popular restaurants in a huge strip of similar style places. This tells me it must be pretty good (plus it's always nice to have people of the restaurant's ethnicity eating there). It gets really crowded, and it's a bit annoying that there's no where to stand while you wait for your table. I discovered two things on this trip. First, they take reservations. Second, they have a whole other room upstairs which doubles their seating capacity.

Our service was pretty good, and it helped that She-Yan's husband Mike took care of ordering everything without reverting to English. The cost is very reasonable and comparable to other Chinese places for the regular entrees. I don't know how to compare the cost of a hot pot, but it was about $18 a person.

The Food
For those of you that don't know what a hot pot is, it's basically soup-based fondue. The meal started by them setting up two large portable burners on our table (2 because we had 10 people). Then they brought out two large bowls that we each split in two. Each side was filled with a broth (spicy or regular) and vegetables. The soups were brought to a boil, and the trays of protein came next. The first tray was mostly seafood. There were fish balls, mussels, prawns, white fish fillets, tripe, squid, octopus, and meatballs. The meat tray came out with stacks of sliced beef and lamb. There was also some watercress and lettuce with the fish tray. When we finished the proteins, we dumped a bowl of rice noodles into the broth and ate it like noodle soup.

The Hot Pot

The Fish Tray

 The Meat Tray

The broths were both really delicious. The spicy broth wasn't too overwhelming but had a good kick that complemented some of the blander fish. Some of the proteins like the tripe, squid, and octopus were on the chewier side, but that's what you expect with them. The meats came out like steaming hot pieces of roast beef. My favorite was the fish fillet. The key was that everything soaked up tons of the broth. While those flavors were strong throughout the meal, each protein complimented them differently.

Overall
If you're not adventurous then this isn't for you. Also, you've got to be able to put up with a pretty large amount of salt since you end up getting a lot of broth by the time you finish. A huge piece of advice is to be patient after taking your proteins out of the soup. I obviously was not patient and burned every bit of my mouth and tongue. My take on Hot Pot is that it's a great social experience that lets you have a fun and interactive meal with friends, but the flavor profiles can only go so far. Ultimately you're getting flash boiled meats and fishes even with an interestingly flavored broth.

As far as the restaurant goes, you can either get an authentic experience or an Americanized one. Each way is pretty flavorful, fun, and reasonably priced. I must stress again that whatever you wear will reek of Chinese food. I'm giving Lao Sze Schuan 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Lao Sze Chuan on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Friday, November 19, 2010

Edzo's

Location: 1571 Sherman Ave, Evanston and 2218 N Lincoln

Cost: About $12 per person

A few weekends back, Kate had to go shoot a video for her blog, and I figured I'd tag along. She went to Northwestern for undergrad and had a place in downtown Evanston that supposedly has some of the best burgers around. I'm not usually one to go for a burger at 11 AM on a Sunday, but with all this hype I had to check out Edzo's.

Logistics
Edzo's is a logistically simple order at the counter burger shop. They do share a front door with a neighboring Italian restaurant, so I guess if you're not paying attention you may look a bit foolish by entering the wrong place. There's a very unique appeal to the decoration and even plating at Edzo's. Our order came out on a collectible Smurf themed TV dinner style lap tray.

One trick is that they close at 4PM and aren't open on Mondays. It hasn't seemed to hurt their business or popularity at all, which is a sign of how truly good these burgers are. You may have to take some time off work or come in on the weekend, but it's worth it. Also, the owner Eddie is a real nice guy (from Buffalo Grove [coolest Stevenson Alumni since one of the Stagliano's was on the Bachelorette]). Even with Kate videotaping him making burgers and talking about his Thanksgiving favorites, he still had time to make incoming customers feel at home.

The price would be average at any other place, but considering the quality you get at Edzo's, it's pretty cheap. A grilled burger is around $5 while a burger on the griddle is $3.29. The Five-Dollar Milkshakes are actually $4, and they come with a glass and the extra in a metal tin. The fries are $1.50 for a regular, but you've got to go for the specialty flavored fries for $4.50.

The Food
While Kate went for the griddle burger, I went for a char grilled one. We also split an order of Garlic Fries and a Nutella Milkshake. The first thing I went for was the fries. It was a nice order of crispy, hand-cut fries tossed in a garlic sauce with chunks of garlic on top. As if that wasn't enough, Eddie gave us a side of Merkts cheese for dipping. I was skeptical about dressed fries at first, but these were awesome. I can't wait to go back and try the Buffalo Fries.

The Garlic Fries

Something has to be said for them doing both a griddle and char burger. Most places specialize in one or the other, but it seems like they have both of these to near perfection. The griddle burger had a ton of crisp to it. The char burger had a nice crisp to the exterior while the inside was a perfect medium rare. They even think through these burgers enough to put some of the toppings on the bottom bun (in order for you to taste them more on your tongue rather than the roof of your mouth). Also, if you want you can upgrade to a grass-fed beef for a few bucks (Kate went for this). Trust me that the regular beef is enough to blow your mind.

The Char Burger

 The Griddle Burger

Finally there was the milkshake. I kept trying to think where my previous favorite milkshake was. I really like them at The Buffalo in Buffalo Grove. I also like Portillo's and Oberweiss, but this topped them all. It was a chocolate shake with chunks of nutella floating around. It was like getting bubble tea, but instead of the tapioca balls you got nutella.

 The Nutella Milkshake

Overall
The only problem with Edzo's was that it may have ruined all future burgers, fries, and shakes for me. I recently had a Rosebud burger (which is excellent), but it just wasn't the same after eating at Edzo's. The ingredients are quality and they put tons of time and thought into their food. Some of you may be wondering how it stacks up next to somewhere like Kuma's Corner. Really though they're very different. Kuma's is largely about the toppings and gluttony while Edzo's is a purist in my mind (besides the dressed fries, but those are unbelievable so I'm not complaining). I'm giving Edzo's a Pearl Necklace, 5 out of 5.


Edzo's Burger Shop on Urbanspoon




Addendum
Edzo's opened another spot up in Lincoln Park since the Evanston location was so successful. I hit it up with Josh and Jeremy the other day. It's almost the same as the original spot except that they only do the griddle burgers instead of the one I had in Evanston. Here are a few of the pics from that time round.



The Nutella Milkshake

 The Burger
(with blue cheese, bacon, and egg)

The Burger
(with cheddar, bacon, and egg)

Edzo's Burger Shop on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

EATT (revisited)

Last month, my friend Marc wrote a guest post on EATT in River North. I'm not going to write another review, but the post on EATT was one of the most popular last month. I was intrigued and had to check it out. The JUF had a fundraiser with Sarah Silverman performing at the Sheraton, and we needed a place to eat beforehand. Here are some pics of our food:

The Rotisserie Chicken

The Roast Beef

The Blackened Grouper Sandwich
(my pick to click)

 The Tuna Nicoise Salad

Across the board the portions were pretty large and not too expensive. I agree with Marc that they have some very interesting dishes, and that you should stop by when you can. They had a few performance issues with the Tuna Nicoise being a little too peppery and the roast beef being a little overdone. Still, the majority of things were delicious (especially the pretzel buns before the meal).

Friday, November 12, 2010

America's Dog

I've given you a bunch of posts so far about some late night food spots. These aren't necessarily only late night places, but they just seem to do better business when people are a little more lenient on what they force into their gullet. Now Jaimito's Burritos just happens to have late hours, but some places put themselves right between a bunch of bars almost to say, "you must be drunk to enjoy our food." Last Friday night I found myself on Lincoln Avenue among a crowd of DePaul students at the Apartment. After getting knocked into by one too many tipsy 19 year olds, Ricky, Kogan, the Professor, and I decided to leave. On our way out we all figured we could go for some late night food, and staring us right in the face was America's Dog.

Logistics
This is a pretty basic order at the counter kind of operation. They've got a decent amount of seating and lots of creative pictures all over the walls. The service definitely wasn't as fast as at Gene and Jude's, but it's not like we were waiting very long. The lady behind the counter was nice as well except that she suggested that Ricky purchase the deep fried hot dog. I thought this was a bit evil of her since Ricky was clearly intoxicated, and this option would not bode well for his digestion if you catch my drift.

The prices were reasonable with hot dogs around $3.50 and fries around $1.50. The key to this place is that they have a hot dog from practically every region of the USA. I wouldn't say that this is a good thing. I'm just saying that it's the objective that they stand behind.

The Food
The Professor and I went for the Chicago Style Dog while Ricky and Kogan got the New Orleans Dog. Now I didn't know that New Orleans had a style of hot dog, but I have difficulty imagining a street vendor next to the gumbo guy selling hot dogs with grilled onions, tomato, and barbecue sauce. Most of us got the Curly Fries on the side except for the Prof who got Onion Rings.

The Curly Fries

The New Orleans Dog

 
The Chicago Dog

 The Onion Rings

The first thing I tried was an onion ring. The rings were large with a substantial breading, but there was no flavoring to it. A simple addition of salt or pepper to the batter would've gone a long way. Next I went for my Chicago Dog which had all the right toppings besides the seasoning salt. The dog didn't really have any snap to it which was disappointing. My bun was also a bit stale. The curly fries had nice flavoring but came out luke warm.

Overall
When I visited Duke while looking at schools for undergrad, I remember a hot dog stand that was putting really creative things on top. I had a hot dog with barbecue sauce and crumbled potato chips, and I thought it was amazing. This may also have been due to the high quality dog and bun. You can't just slop on a variety of different ingredients onto a mediocre dog and expect that to impress people (let alone represent a region). Still, America's Dog was a decent treat at the end of the night that was served in a timely manner at a low price. Maybe if I was a little more under the influence I might have enjoyed my meal more. Let that be the message about America's Dog... Have a lot to drink first. I'm giving them 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


America's Dog on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Owen & Engine

Brunch can be so many different things depending on where you go. Some people like to go to a bar that decided to have a buffet where you can get some mediocre mimosas or bloody marys. Other people like huge sugary meals that leave you in a moderate coma throughout the rest of your day. People even put up with places with goofy little ceramic chicken and egg designs all over the place. I'll put up with pretty much all of these gimmicks if the food and service are worth the while. Even better would be if you could just get right down to business. My friend Kate called me up to tell me there was an English Pub cranking out an unmatched brunch menu that we had to try out. So last weekend we headed out to Logan Square to hit up Owen & Engine.

Logistics
The biggest logistical issue with brunch throughout the city is the long wait that you face since practically nowhere takes reservations. We went to Owen & Engine at 11 AM and were sat right away (this may just be because it's only opened recently, and word hasn't spread yet). Not only were we sat right away, but we didn't feel busy or rushed at all. Our server gave us plenty of time and even kind of hung out and talked with us about their food for a bit.

The restaurant is two floors. We sat on the first floor which looks like a very standard English pub. The decor is real nice with a wood finish to everything. The second floor is pretty cool too. It looks a little like someone's apartment with a bar in the middle. They have lounge chairs, a fireplace, and a communal dining table. I kind of wish we'd sat up there, but the crowd wasn't large enough for them to open the upstairs.

The prices are a little up there with main dishes ranging from $9-$17. They also have a variety of small plates ranging from $5-$11 for the table to share. They also have a huge drink menu with a variety of cask pulled beers, teas, and coffees. If it wasn't brunch time, this would be an excellent place to come try a new beer (that's not to say that there weren't some enthusiastic patrons who were drinking before noon).

The Food
For our main dishes Kate got the Eggs Benedict and I got the Potato and Red Pepper Quiche. The Benedict may have been perfect. They used a crumpet instead of an English muffin for the base. There were thick and crispy slices of bacon along with a properly cooked over easy egg on top. The Quiche was also fantastic. The crust may have been the best part. It was amazingly flaky. The filling of layered potatoes was interesting, and the flavors of the peppers were well balanced. It came with a refreshing Arugula salad on the side as well.

The Potato and Red Pepper Quiche

 The Eggs Benedict

Kate got a few cups of coffee with her meal. It came out in a french press accompanied by sugar cubes, all in a nice china presentation. I got the impression that this would be a great place to come for tea time as well.

The Coffee

Not that we needed dessert or anything, but the pastry platter of the day was very enticing. It came with an Apple Doughnut, and Eccles Cake, a Cured Ham Scone, and some kind of airy fluffy cheese pastry. The Eccles cake was moist and light at the same time, but I don't know if currants are my favorite filling. Have you ever made scrambled eggs with cheese and had some scraping on the bottom of the pan (then eaten them afterward cause you're still hungry)? That's what the cheese pastry tasted like (a very good thing in my opinion). The Scone was perfectly textured (not too thick and slightly crumbly), and the cured ham gave a really interesting savory spin to the pastry. My favorite was definitely the Apple Doughnut. It reminded me of the doughnuts that I used to get when the Finkles took me apple picking (except this was maybe the best one I've had).

The Pastry Platter

Overall
Owen & Engine hits on so many key notes. They have a cool atmosphere, no wait (for now), interesting and focused staff members, a huge array of drink options from tea to beer, and most importantly food that may be unmatched elsewhere in Chicago. I didn't go for the traditional Bangers and Mash or English Breakfast, but we did have some top notch breakfast food. They didn't reinvent the wheel on breakfast. They're just doing it that well. I was thinking 4.5 Pearls, but the pastries really put the whole thing over the top. I'm giving Owen & Engine a Pearl Necklace, 5 out of 5.



Owen and Engine on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Friday, November 5, 2010

State

You know what Tuesday night is? Well if you live near the DePaul campus, it's Trivia Night at State. That's right folks, the bar that first made you feel like you weren't cool enough is now making you feel like you're not smart enough. Anyways, Zach Frankel started going a while ago and has recruited a bunch of us to go on the occasional Tuesday. The team MVPs are clearly Jeremy Spector (everything sports), Richard Gross (who else knows lines from "Good Luck Chuck?"), Jeff Schneider (generally kind of an old man who knows dated facts), Scott Frankel (movies), and Jeff Smith (music, but only things that most of us would be embarrassed to listen to [i.e. Nickleback]). Last Tuesday we also had a guest appearance from Josh Finkle who specialized in the miscellaneous category, "Nickelodeon TV from the 90's." Do you know the name of Clarissa's obnoxious little brother because Josh sure does. So clearly we're a crack team, but we can't seem to put it all together on the same night.

Now when you're sitting there for 3 hours playing trivia, you inevitably get pretty hungry. Good thing they've got a pretty large bar menu and pitchers on special.

Logistics
Trivia starts at 8PM, and there are a lot of tables. Still, it's really difficult to get a table unless you're there by like 6:50. You need 5 people or more to get a booth, and you can only have something like 8 people on a team (not a very large window). When we got there (at like 7:10) there were probably a half dozen open booths, but we were told that those were reserved for some of the many softball teams that State sponsors. We ended up sitting at this part of the bar that they call "the lounge," which is basically a padded bench with coffee tables in front of it. In general I'd say that the staff has this huge sense of entitlement, and if you ask the host for help of any kind they make you feel like you're really putting them out. You ever see that Simpsons episode where Moe owns a cool bar? He puts Homer, Lenny, and Carl in the corner and then turns off the lights where they are so that no one can see them. That's kind of the State feel sometimes.

The special is $13 pitchers of miller light and $5 hamburgers. The portions are pretty large, and they're normally around $10. I think getting extra toppings (like cheese) costs $0.75. Since we had too many people for one team, we split into two. We placed our food orders maybe 5 minutes apart, and the other team got their food at least a half hour before us.

The Food
The guys sitting right next to me had some key items which I think give a good feel for the quality of the food at State. Josh and I ordered the Burger, Specs got the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, and Schneider got some kind of Turkey Melt. All of our meals came with a hefty portion of Tater Tots on the side.

The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

 
The State Burger

 The Turkey Club (or something like that, the online menu is inaccurate)

As you can see in the picture, the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich is smothered in a little too much cheese, and the a good buffalo flavor didn't really come through. The burgers weren't anything to write home about, and the cooking was a major problem. It wasn't necessarily that the center was cooked less than the rest but rather that the left side was cooked more than the right. I'm not sure how they made this happen, but I had a well done burger on one side and a medium rare on the other. If I had only eaten the medium rare side first I wouldn't have had such a poor taste in my mouth by the time I got to it, and I would've at least enjoyed half of the burger. The Tater Tots were a nice change of pace to fries, but they were really greasy. I was aching for a while after this meal.

Overall
I would say I was disappointed with the service, but I've grown to expect this from State. I'd never had the food before, so this was a fresh way to upset me. The major issue is that the trivia is lots of fun (despite how difficult and innacurrate the answers often are). So basically, I'm gonna keep going back and just put up with it. Still, the point I'm trying to make is not to come here eager for a tasty or even properly cooked burger. I'm giving State 1 out of 5 Pearls.


State Restaurant & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fireplace Inn

Last week it was the Professor's birthday, and a celebratory meal was in order. Important factors in our location decision were that we needed to be able to watch the Blackhawks game, get some cheap drinks, and have room for about 12 people. A bunch of places were tossed around, and we finally decided on Benchmark (the trendy new bar in Old Town with a retractable roof). When we got there it was way too crowded to get a table for our group of 12 (let alone a group of 2), so we headed next door to Fireplace Inn.

Logistics
Fireplace Inn is a pretty large bar and restaurant on Wells in the heart of Old Town. They have two main rooms with a bar in each of them and tons of TVs. They even had a large projection screen we got them to throw the Hawks game on (until the damned UFC fight started). It seemed ironic to me that they changed away from the game while on both sides of the TV they had framed pictures of player hoisting the Stanley Cup. We got tossed down at a long table which was perfect for our group.

Our server was great. She put up with somewhat obnoxious combinations on our check (multiple credit cards and cash), she brought out our food in a timely manner, and there weren't really any order screw ups (impressive with a large group in a busy bar). The real issue came up with the hostess. Around 9:30 we were wrapping up our meal and decided to stay for the rest of the game and have a few beers. Some incompetent parents brought in their whole family for dinner at 9:30 in a bar WITH MULTIPLE BABIES! I guess the hostess had no table for them that was large enough except ours. She then came up to us and had the audacity to ask if we would be leaving soon so that she could use the table (just as our next round of beers came). So not only did we have a rude hostess, but we also had a bunch of crying children and desperate/ignorant parents giving us menacing glares while we finished our drinks and paid.

The cost was pretty reasonable to a little pricey depending on what you got. There were a variety of sandwiches for around $10, and the entrees ranged from $15-$22 (you can get pricier steak options too). The portions were plenty big, but if you look at a place like Smoque, you'll clearly see that there are BBQ options out there that are cheaper and larger.

The Food
The first things that came out were soups and salads that came with entree orders and we got an order of Onion Rings. The rings were pretty good, but I usually like a more uniform fried layer. These kind of fell apart after one bite. I had a house salad which was pretty standard, and I tried some of Erika's French Onion Soup. The soup was extra cheesy which was appreciated, but besides that was pretty standard as well.

The Onion Rings

The House Salad

 The French Onion Soup

For the main courses we got the Pulled Pork Sandwich, Brisket Sandwich, the BBQ Chicken Salad, the Original Boneless Rib Sandwich (a.k.a. Ribwich / McRib), the Miniature Brisket Sandwiches, and a variety of combinations of the BBQ Chicken and Baby Back Ribs. Ockrim and I were both very excited about our sandwiches which the waitress said were the two best on the menu (Brisket and Pulled Pork). Both were exceedingly dry, and the brisket was teetering dangerously on the line of jerky. The saving grace however was the sweet house made BBQ sauce which added a lot of flavor to both our dishes. The Professor loved the ribs, going as far as saying he might like them better than Carson's. The Ribwich was said to be pretty tasty and benefited from being nicely soaked in the sauce. The chicken seemed to go over well with the table, but it didn't seem to blow anyone away.

The BBQ Chicken and Ribs Combo

The BBQ Chicken Salad

The Mini Brisket Sandwiches

The Original Boneless Rib Sandwich

The Baby Back Ribs

The Brisket Sandwich

 The Pulled Pork Sandwich

For dessert they brought out a complimentary piece of Cheesecake for the birthday boy. He seemed happy albeit embarrassed when we sang to him. The Cheesecake was alright.

 The Professor and his Cheesecake 
(if that's not happiness, then I don't know what is)

Overall
Atmosphere wise the Fireplace Inn is pretty cool. They've got lots of TVs, beer, and good options for group seating. The service was great until that hostess rushed us out. I would say the food was slightly sub par. I thought my sandwich was really bad, but the other dishes seemed to be alright (and the birthday boy was happy with his ribs). Also, the sauce is really tasty. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.


Takeaway Message: DON'T GET THE BRISKET SANDWICH... DRINK THE SAUCE

The Fireplace Inn on Urbanspoon