Thursday, December 30, 2010

Phoenix

Last week being Christmas I got to do some of my favorite holiday things. First off as one of the old leaders of Stevenson High School's caroling choir, I got some of the old crew together and we sang at a nursing home and the Streets of Woodfield. Then came the traditional young Jewish Christmas Eve events. This year was a toss up. There was the Matzo Ball, the Matzo Bash, Hubbukah, but my friends and I eventually settled on Rockmitzvah. Finally, Christmas morning arrived, and of course I had nothing to do. Mostly this is because the whole world (well most of it) shuts down. One year Lisa and I ran out of food. After what seemed like an hour of searching we tracked down some rinky dink convenience store and had a breakfast of champions (Chef Boyardee and Lays). Once night came around, the last part of my Christmas experience kicked in... Chinese food. My parents came in to the city and snagged me and my buddy Arif before we all headed to Phoenix in China Town.

Logistics
China Town has that nice strip to walk around, but across Archer Avenue there's one restaurant with an orange awning called Phoenix. Depending on when you go it gets really packed, especially on Christmas day. We were lucky to get a reservation. The big thing there seems to be dim sum, but they don't have it at dinner times on the weekends.

The serving was a big team effort, and I never really figured out who our waiter was. Still, our drinks stayed full and almost all of our food made it without us asking. The portions of the food were nice and large. The prices had a huge range. You can get the typical family plate for $13 or you can go for some more expensive whole fish or duck options running for as much as $38. I think our bill came out around $20 per person.

The Food
We started with a bunch of appetizers including Regular and Veggie Egg Rolls, and Veggie Dumplings. We also got a "small" bowl of Hot and Sour Soup. I use quotation marks because we all got servings, and then I had some to take home.

 
The Veggie Dumplings
The Regular Egg Rolls

 The Veggie Egg Rolls

 The Hot and Sour Soup

For our main dishes we shared the Moo Shu Beef, Walnut Shrimp, Mongolian Chicken, and Combination Fried Rice. The Moo Shu Beef was pretty much as expected with a really rich and tangy sauce in the filling. The Walnut Shrimp had way too much mayonnaise based sauce on it, but the candied walnuts were delicious. The Mongolian Chicken was good in that it wasn't just another Americanized deep fried Chinese dish. The fried rice was a bit dry but was loaded with shrimp, beef, and chicken.

The Walnut Shrimp

The Moo Shu Beef

The Mongolian Chicken

 The Combination Fried Rice

Overall
When I go to China Town I kind of expect a lot out of my meal. At the same time, I'm not always adventurous enough to try some of the super authentic items on the menu. If you're looking for authentic choices, Phoenix definitely has them though. They also have some pretty solid typical Chinese dishes that you may recognize a bit more if you grew up in Chicago. I don't think this would end Schneider's search for the best fried rice or anything, but it's still very good. I'll have to come back sometime and try the dim sum, but for now I'm giving Phoenix 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Phoenix on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

McGee's Tavern and Grill

My generous roommate (Schneider) was in Puerto Rico last week and gave me his Bulls tickets. Specs and I went to the Bulls game where they routed the 76ers, and afterward we tried to meet up with a bunch of our friends. They were all aiming to go to State for some trivia, but even though they got there an hour early they weren't able to get a table. Instead they went across the street to McGee's where we ended up meeting them.

Logistics
McGee's is just what you'd expect out of a Lincoln Park sports bar. By that I mean that there are a ton of TVs, cute waitresses, drunk bros, and they always run some kind of "you won a raffle and get some mediocre drink special" deal.

On Tuesday nights the deal is something like $0.25 wings and $7.50 domestic pitchers. The wings are a regular size too. It's not like you get some kind of mutant baby chicken wing like the ones Ricky set a record eating at Brother's on 10 cent wing night.

The Food
I'd been to McGee's a bunch of times, but I'd never tried the food before this week. I was mostly tempted because of how cheap it was, and because I read some positive reviews on blogs that specialize in greasy stuff (wings, dogs, beef, etc). Specs and I ordered 10 regular buffalo wings and 10 extra spicy buffalo wings.

The Regular Buffalo Wings

 The Extra Spicy Buffalo Wings

I love spicy foods, and I took the waitresses friendly warning as somewhat of a challenge. I've had hotter wings, but these lived up to their name. The regular wings had a pretty nice sauce, but they could've been richer. Not all of my wings were hot (temperature-wise) which was disappointing. At least what they lacked in flavor they made up in presentation. They have other food too. Ricky swore by his order of fish tacos and the professor hated his burger.

Overall
The first mark against McGee's is that it's an Ohio State bar. The wings are very cheap as is the beer. Still, it's not really all that good and the spicy wings do a mean job of adding heartburn to a hangover. Let's just say I wouldn't suggest giving away any memorabilia or autographs for these wings. I'm giving McGee's 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


McGee's Tavern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sable Kitchen and Bar

A while back, my friend / PR rep / old 4th roommate Rachel held an event for her work at the Palomar Hotel. As a thank you for they're valued clientele, the hotel invited them (and me as a guest) to their restaurant Sable. I'd heard quite a bit about the place (mostly about their drinks), and I was really excited to check it out first hand.

Logistics
Sable's right off the corner of Grand and State. Right when you walk in you're smack dab in a trendy bar (even if they do have a tacky video of a fake fire on the wall). After getting through the bar they have a restaurant in back. We went for lunch and had the back room reserved, so I don't know what it takes to get in. I'd suggest a reservation with any decent sized party, but you can probably walk in with a two top.

The service was excellent, and everyone was very knowledgeable about the food. The big deal was that they have a mixologist. Everyone at the lunch had to go back to work after lunch, but I'm just on break from school. Basically, I was the only one drinking, but I couldn't pass up a chance at these famous cocktails.

The event was covered, but in general the pricing can be all over the place. You could easily come in for drinks and get a few small plates around $5 each. At the same time, you could go for a nice seafood or meat dish in the $20 range. Or like in our case a lunch would probably run you somewhere in the teens without drinks. Portion sizes were excellent, and the drinks even came with a small extra carafe on the side.

The Food
We started with a bunch of appetizers for the table including Deviled Eggs, Bacon Wrapped Dates, a Roasted Pepper and Sausage Flat Bread, and a Garden Salad. I really love deviled eggs, and these were pretty standard besides a bunch of extra truffle shaved on top. The dates had some goat cheese on the inside which was a nice spin. The flat bread was really tasty and had a nice crunch to it. Although lots of people didn't really like the salad, I was a big fan. It was very lightly dressed (too light for most), but it was a great palate cleanser before the entrees. Also, for my drink I ordered The Birthright (Old Heaven Hill Bourbon with Garam Masala Syrup). It tasted like bourbon with a slight Indian spice to it. Normally I'd go for something pretty straight, but this was a nice diversion from my usual drink.

The Birthright

The Deviled Egg

The Bacon Wrapped Date

 The Pepper and Sausage Flat Bread
 The Garden Salad

For our entrees Rachel got the Mushroom and Wild Rice Burger, and I got the Steak Sandwich. The Steak was cooked properly and had a nice bun, but it was smothered in a cheese sauce that was very unnecessary. I still really enjoyed it except that one end had some tendon in it that made the sandwich really difficult to bite in to. The Fries that it came with were alright, but I would've liked something more out of a bar style restaurant. Rachel's vegetarian burger was awesome. It's tough to come across something that's not just a mash of black beans and soy in a veggie burger. The rice gave it a really interesting texture, and the caramelized onions and goat cheese added a ton of flavor. This was one of the best veggie burgers I've had in a long time.

The Wild Mushroom and Rice Burger

The Steak Sandwich

Overall
Sable has a really trendy feel to it that would usually keep me away a bit, but I really enjoyed my lunch. The drinks are very cool and take an interesting look at standard things you might like. Some items were much stronger than others on the menu, but if you're looking for a great veggie burger then this is your place. I'm giving Sable 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Sable Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lou Mitchell's

My parents had some stuff to do in the city last Sunday and decided to take Lisa, Noam, and me out for brunch. Lisa suggested we all go to Lou Mitchell's, so off to the Loop we went. For those of you that don't know, Lou Mitchell's is the Chicago standard breakfast joint. The way my dad put it was that there's nothing I could say to change the opinion on Lou Mitchell's because it's just been that good for that long. Still, I wanted to write about it for those of you that by some chance have not heard as of yet.

Logistics
The crowd gets huge at Lou Mitchell's so it's best to go at a slightly off time or to be willing to wait. Right now it's frigidly cold out, but they were nice enough to put some heat lamps up for the line that formed outside. Luckily we didn't have to wait too long. They don't take reservations, but they are famous for keeping the line happy. While you wait the hostess hands out doughnut holes and milk duds.

We were sat at one of their breakfast counters which was a bit odd since we weren't facing each other, but it added to the nostalgia of the place. Our service was great, and it seems like all of the servers have been there since they first opened in 1923 (they haven't lost a step though, and I swear this one lady could carry more plates than the guy at El Toro).

The cost is reasonable for how much food you get and where you're at. You'll probably spend $10-12 a person, and you'll get enough food where you don't have to eat for the rest of the day.

The Food
The first thing we got was their version of a breakfast amuse bouche which was really just an orange slice and  a prune. Then we got a coffee cake to share. The key is asking for it warm. It was delicious and had a lot of nuts and chocolate.

The Coffee Cake

For our main dishes Noam got the Lox Platter, Lisa got the Espaniole Omelette, dad got the Oatmeal, Mom got the Greek Cheese Special Omelette, and I got the Apple and Cheese Omelette. If you haven't figured it out yet, the thing to get here is an Omelette. Universally they were fluffy as could be and were well proportioned as far as ingredients go. The Espaniole had a salsa like onion sauce with some peppers. The flavors were nice, but the veggies were a bit mushy. The oatmeal was very standard, nothing too fancy. The Greek Cheese Omelette is what everyone should get, especially if you like feta cheese. Although it's a standard dish you can get most anywhere, it was just perfectly done. As far as my omelette goes, I'd never been one for Apples and Cheese until Maddie and I competed in the Bucktown Apple Pie Competition and got to try tons of apple pies with cheddar cheese. This Omelette incorporated those flavors really well. A nice amount of cheese filled the center, and it was topped with spiced apples. I don't think I'd had spiced apples since like 7 years ago at a Boston Market, and this was a welcomed return. All of the Omelettes came with toast and Home Fries. The Home Fries were pretty good, but I would ask for them well done next time since the crispier ones were clearly better.

The Sweet Apple Omellete

The Greek Cheese Omelette

The Espaniole

The Lox Platter

 The Oatmeal

The last tradition was the dessert. Everyone gets soft serve ice cream in a small cup before the end of the meal. It's nothing spectacular, but it's a nice touch.

 The Soft Serve Ice Cream

Overall
People always ask me for recommendations that are uniquely Chicago. Well there's nothing unique about great omelettes, but Lou Mitchell's is a Chicago landmark. On one end, it's kind of something you have to do while in Chicago, but on the other end they have really good food so it's not like some touristy chore (like the St. Louis Arch). Trying to focus on it just as a restaurant with excellent food and some interesting gimmicks, I'm going to give Lou Mitchell's 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.



Lou Mitchell's on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nuevo Leon

Chicago Magazine recently came out with an article about their 12 favorite Mexican restaurants in the city. I found it pretty cool  that I've been to a huge chunk of these including Chilam Balam, Frontera Grill, XOCO, and Salpicon. Well one of my biggest fans, Amy Patel, thought we should try another one of her favorites from that list, Nuevo Leon. Along with her friend Jeanutter Butters we headed out to Pilsen last Friday for a celebratory lunch after our final.

Logistics
At first I was looking all over the place for parking, but it ends up that Nuevo Leon has a lot a block over from the restaurant. It was amazing that the second we got out of the car that the air just smelled of delicious Mexican food. They don't take reservations, they're CASH ONLY, and they get packed. We got there just before a huge lunch rush and were very lucky. From large Mexican families to whole construction crews on their lunch break, a large line had formed that almost put people waiting out in the frigid cold.

We got sat at a table with another group because they were trying to be efficient, which I appreciated since it meant less waiting time for us. The service was great, especially considering how busy it was. Maybe the best quality was how inexpensive it was. Gigantically portioned entrees were $6-10 with appetizers at $3.50 and Horchata for $1.

The Food
To begin with, I've got to talk about the chips and salsa. The chips were a decent consistency and came out warm which is always a plus. I wasn't really a big fan of the salsa which tasted a little watered down. What I did like were the pickled jalapenos and carrots that also came with the chips. In addition to the free chips and salsa, everyone gets some kind of small appetizer for free. Sometimes it's soup (which Amy was passionately hoping for), but this time we got a Potato-Filled Flauta with a tomato sauce and chihuahua cheese. It was pretty tasty, but it was my first of many introductions during the meal to a stewed tomato sauce that rubbed me the wrong way. We also all ordered Horchata to drink.

The Potato Flauta

 The Chips, Salsa, and Pickled Carrots

The Horchata

We had to get Amy's favorite appetizer which was the Nachos Dias. Basically it was a platter of cheese quesadillas covered in the tomato sauce, sour cream, and guacamole. It was a great appetizer considering that all I wanted was something to thoroughly clog my arteries, but again the tomato sauce threw me off a bit. It was a little runny and acidic. Still the guac was tasty and the pretty large sized plate of food was $3.50.

 The Nachos Dias

For our entrees Amy got the Bistec A La Mexicana (a stewed skirt steak dish), Jeanutter Butters got the Combination Platter (1 beef taco, 1 tostada, 1 tamale, and 1 enchilada), and I got the Chicken with Mole Sauce. The Bistec tasted very much like my mom's beef stew but with some Mexican spices. The combination platter more than anything else was just a ton of food for $6. My Chicken was really well prepared and the mole was rich and complex. Also, I know this is something simple, but they had fantastic rice and beans. They were warm, had interesting texture, and in general just seemed like they weren't from a can.

The Chicken in Mole

The Combination Platter

 The Bistec a la Mexicana

Overall
A friend once told me that Nuevo Leon is the gringo place in Pilsen, but that was not the case when I went. There were tons of Pilsen natives that clearly frequent this place all of the time. The food for the most part was pretty well prepared stuff at really low prices. I really didn't like the stewed tomato sauce that was on a lot of the dishes, but when I got past that everything else was spot on. I'm giving Nuevo Leon 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Nuevo Leon on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Big and Little's

Sometimes there's a restaurant that seemingly everyone tells me to go to. I was on a plane ride a few months ago and the gentleman sitting next to me mentioned a place in River North with Foie Gras French Fries. Then metromix ran a special on this place in an article on the best places to take two people for under twenty bucks. Finally, a few days ago my friend Jess came into class telling me we had to go to Big and Little's this weekend. So I grabbed my greasy food lover friends (Specs and Dweiss) and met up with Jess, her husband Jason, and our friend Hanz last Saturday for dinner.

Logistics
Big and Little's is a pretty simple order at the counter operation near the corner of Orleans and Oak. There are about 10 counter seats where you can eat, but it seems like a lot of people take their food to go. We didn't have to wait at all, but the bad weather might have kept less enthusiastic eaters at home and out of our way.

The food was cranked out pretty quickly, and the guys at the counter were helpful in our food selection. One point of note is that you'll smell like fried food when you leave, so pull out your junky clothes when you go there. Also, this place is CASH ONLY.

The price is one of the best things. Burgers are around $5, truffle fries are $3.50, fish tacos are $3, po boys are $6, and the fish sandwich is $6. Dweiss and Specs would have appreciated a soda fountain instead of getting cans and bottles (drinks were around $1). They also have Merkts cheese to add to fries for $1.

The Food
We had a decent sized group, and in turn ordered a nice amount of options from the menu. A few guys got the Fried Egg Burger. Jess ordered the Shrimp Po Boy, I got the Fish Sandwich, and a few of us got the Fish Taco (both Mahi and Tilapia). Jason and I also split an order of the Foie Gras French Fries while Specs and Dweiss split the Truffle French Fries. Everyone seemed to really love the Fried Egg Burger, although it really made quite a mess. Weiss was worried he'd never get the smell of egg yolk out of his hands, and Spector said it was more difficult than eating a prime rib sandwich in the club house at Soldier Field. Hanz liked the Mahi Taco saying it was a lot of fish for the money but wished there was more of a crunch. Jess really liked her Po Boy, and it was overflowing with Shrimp. My fish sandwich had the perfect amount of deep fry to it and melted in my mouth with each bite. The fries were thin cut and well seasoned. I liked the truffle fries, but I think the Foie Gras may have just been unnecessary. First off, it was $12. Second of all the fries were so delicious to begin with that I don't think the Foie added much.

The Shrimp Po Boy

The Fish Sandwich

The Fried Egg Burger

The Truffle Fries

The Mahi Fish Taco

 The Foie Gras French Fries

Overall
Big and Little's is kind of a paradox in that they have a greasy fast food kind of feel, but they still do things like putting foie gras or truffle on fries. For the amount of food you get it's really cheap. The flavors are really strong all around. If I had some advice it'd be to go for the simpler items like the burger, taco, and fries (without foie). I'm giving Big and Little's 4 out of 5 Pearls.


BIG & little's on Urbanspoon