Monday, January 31, 2011

Hub 51

Location: 51 W. Hubbard
Cost: Around $20

After the cooking demo with Chuy at the Kenmore Live Studio a bunch of us wanted to grab a drink. Our first attempt was at the Public House which was unfortunately closed for a private function. Thinking on our feet, we quickly thought of heading just down the block to Hub 51. Now usually I don't go there unless there's some event like Hubbukah or Schneider has a bunch of friends in from out of town, but this was our best option at the time. Plus I'd heard the food was really creative.

We got in there, and it was packed. The bar was standing room only, but when we told them we had a party of 9 we got sat immediately. Right off the bat I thought that was pretty impressive. They've got a ton of seating in general, but we must have just gotten lucky after another big party left.

Our server was excellent and kept checking on us to see if we needed anything more as far as drinks and food went. The food came out really quickly too, which was great because we mostly went for appetizer style dishes and pitchers of beer. The pitchers were in the mid teens, and most of the other dishes we got were around $10-15.

The Food
We started off with the Pulled Chicken Nachos which was a really big portion. It came with a spicy salsa on the side, and the chicken had a nice rub. After that we ordered the Three Green Bites which was a combo platter of Edamame, Padrone Peppers, and Tempura Green Beans. The edamame was pretty generic, and I like the fried green beans better at TGI Fridays. These ones were too heavy on the batter and really had no spectacular flavor. The peppers were really interesting because they were unevenly roasted. The first one I had was well roasted, on the sweeter side, and delicious. The second one was a little raw and intolerably spicy (hiccups and coughing ensued for a good 5 minutes or so).

The Pulled Chicken Nachos

 The Three Green Bites

After that we went for some more substantial dishes. We got the Dry-Rubbed Ribs. They fell off the bone, but could've used more sauce and were a bit stringy. Also, they came with a side of "cracklin" peanuts which I didn't really know what to do with. After that we got the Jerky which was actually a combo of turkey, beef, and pork jerky. It came along with a homemade cheese dip, toast, and olives. The jerky was really tasty and not too tough, plus the cheese dip was really something else. The Erikas shared a bottle of wine and a piece of Carrot Cake. They thought the wine was overpriced, but they loved the cake (especially the frosting on the side).

The Dry Rubbed Ribs

The Jerky

The Carrot Cake

Hub 51 is a bit all over the place with a menu featuring sushi, nachos, enchiladas, and filet mignon. I definitely suggest ordering carefully so that you don't end up eating guac and sushi in the same meal. I had high hopes since it's a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant, but was a little underwhelmed. I know that we didn't get to try much of the menu, but we did go by much of what was recommended by the waitress. Some things were overpriced and lacking in flavor, but the nachos were solid. I think there's promise that some of the other dishes could be really great, and I'm around there enough that I'm sure I'll have a revisited post on some of their other dishes. I'm giving Hub 51 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Hub 51 on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Fifty/50

In med school we've recently begun a class called Healthy Living. One of our assignments was to track everything we ate for a week to learn what patients go through when trying to analyze their own diets. Well all week, despite what you all may think, I was doing awesome. That was of course until the last day when Lisa and I attended a special event for the media to try some of the new dishes at The Fifty/50.

The Fifty/50 is a sports bar near Damen and Division where you can expect some excellent bar food as well as some great brunch and creative drinks. On top of that, you'll always get served by an attractive waitress. They've got solid TV coverage no matter where you sit too. I can't really speak to reservations since they had the basement reserved for us, but I'd bet that during good sporting events it's near impossible to get a table.

Our service was excellent (although we were probably getting special treatment). Still the drinks stayed full, and a waitress was always nearby to help us with anything we needed. Although this was a tasting, I can still give you an idea of what kind of deal you'll get. Burgers come at around $11, plus appetizers and wings under $10. That may seem like most other bar prices, but these portions are insane.

The Food
The first thing brought out to us was the Greek Salad. I expected something generic, but this was heavy on the money ingredients (kalamata olives and pepperoncinis). The dressing wasn't too heavy either like you get with lots of bar salads. Then we got the mozzarella sticks. They make the mozzarella in house, and the breading was just the right consistency. Also, the cheese had a little give to it but not so much that strings of it were making a mess.

The Greek Salad

 The Mozzarella Sticks

Then came the hamburger course where they brought out two new burgers that will soon be on the menu. The first was the Surf and Turf burger. It was a medium rare patty topped with a crab cake, creole mustard, and pepper jack cheese served with a side of sweet potato fries. After we wolfed down that guy they brought out the O Face burger, a patty topped with pulled pork, merkts cheese, and a mac n cheese waffle. You might be wondering what a mac n cheese waffle is. Basically they make mac n cheese, blend it to a paste, and put it in a waffle iron. Surprisingly all of the ingredients stayed together on the bun relatively well. I think they took this shot at gluttony a bit too far though, and I don't think the waffle tasted much like anything. It was served with some waffle fries that were just slightly too salty.

The Surf and Turf Burger

 The O Face Burger

As if that wasn't enough food, they brought out a heaping portion of their lasagna. It was topped with a spicy sausage and loaded with ricotta cheese. I would've liked it if the lasagna noodles were more substantial. With the slightly overcooked noodles and heavy amounts of ricotta, it got a little bit mushy. Then they brought out some buffalo wings. Thankfully they only brought out a small taste because I was about to explode at this point. Some people say that these are the best in the city, and honestly I was too full to thoroughly judge anything. The sauce was unique with a tangy kick that made the wings worth some praise.

The Lasagna

 The Buffalo Wings

Almost every sports bar you go to has unhealthy food, but at The Fifty/50 clearly the motto is go big or go home. Everything was loaded with flavor and had a unique spin to it. I think they may have gone too far with the burger toppings, but that may just be because I ended up putting down about 2600 calories in total. The big news from the event was that they'll soon be opening a Quad Cities style pizza joint in the Ukranian Village called Roots Handmade Pizza. I'll be sure to get there when it opens. I don't think it'd be fair to give a Pearl rating since it was a special event, but I can easily say that they're hitting on all cylinders of bar food.

I'd also like to extend a special thanks to my friend and fellow blogger Kate Bernot for informing me about the event and to my Media Strategist Rachel Cohen for setting it up on my end.

Fifty/50 on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Monday, January 24, 2011

Mandarin Kitchen

After posting on my hot pot experience at Lao Sze Schuan, some of my friends in class wanted to take me to one of their favorite spots in China Town. We'd been planning this food outing for quite some time, but because of random constraints, me getting sick, and the busy med school schedule, we didn't get around to it until a week ago. Finally, Alex, Ran, some of Ran's undergrad friends, and I got to have an all you can eat extravaganza at Mandarin Kitchen (no website, 2143 South Archer Avenue).

When most people hear "all you can eat Chinese food," I assume they think of monstrous buffets where the food has been left out for days and layers of butter have been continually spread over the top to keep a fresh looking "glean" to the food. This is totally not the case at Mandarin Kitchen. It's right next door to Phoenix and basically has 15 or so round tables meant for parties to share hot pots. Just to give you a basic refresher course, a hot pot is like Chinese fondue but with an oily soup broth served over a burner.

They give you a gigantic menu where you can check off every ingredient you might like to cook in the soup from lamb meat to cilantro to beef tongue. You can also get a bunch of dim sum style dishes. Then in a show of masterful physical strength, the waitresses will carry all 20 plates of food or so to you in one trip. The service is pretty good, although I think they won't bring everything you order if it looks like you're not going to finish the food you already have (probably a good call). Also it's a huge help if you have someone that speaks Chinese (like 3 of my dining companions).

The deal is solid at $16.99 for everything. It's pretty funny though that the sign that has the price clearly has a 5 that was painted over to look like a 6 (so I guess you better get in there before the 6 gets changed to a 7). You can't really leave without getting your money's worth.

The Food
First of all, we got the hot pot split in two with one side spicy and the other side normal. The spicy soup was way spicier than the one at Lao Sze Schuan, and I actually found it a bit overwhelming at times (depending on how much soup a certain ingredient soaked up). It's not really worthwhile for me to talk about every ingredient, but I really loved the homemade noodles, fish balls, lamb, cilantro, sprouts, and winter melon. As far as the dim sum went, they had a delicious fried bread dish, but I didn't really care for the Chive pancake which was far too heavy on the chives for me (Alex and Ran really loved this dish though, maybe it's an acquired taste). I was also really excited that they had Soup Dumplings which are basically made by flash freezing soup into balls and then steaming those balls in dumpling wrappers. Then you bite off the top and drink the soup. These one's were just alright, but maybe that's because I was a bit overwhelmed by soup since that was the main course.

The Hot Pot

The First Smorgasbord of Food

 The Soup Dumplings

The food was delicious and never stopped coming at Mandarin Kitchen. At the same time, although hot pot is a ton of fun, I'm not sure it puts out the highest flavoring in food. Comparing it to Lao Sze Schuan's hot pot, I think Mandarin Kitchen was better. It was cheaper, you got more food, and you could also get side dim sum dishes. At the same time, as an overall restaurant I think Lao Sze Schuan gets the edge for their non hot pot dishes. I'm giving Mandarin Kitchen 3 out of 5 Pearls. I'd also like to extend a special thanks to Alex Sheu for his excellent photography for this post.

I'd also like to throw out one more thanks to everyone who came out to the Kenmore Live Studio last Thursday. It was great having you all out there to show your support.

Mandarin Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Buffalo Joe's

Thursday, January 20th at the Kenmore Live Studio, Free cooking demo with Chef Chuy Valencia and me. Read more here.

Now the post on Buffalo Joe's:

One of my oldest friends, Phil Jacobson, went to school at the University of Miami to study music and never came home. We grew up together and accordingly have some of the same favorite restaurants from our childhood. So when Phil came back in town for New Years and his birthday and was looking to have a get together over lunch it was no surprise we ended up at Buffalo Joe's.

Now I've been to Buff Joe's dozens of times. As soon as we had our licenses, we took a 45 minute drive to Evanston from Buffalo Grove every chance we got. There were wing places near us but not like Buff Joe's. We held countless wing eating competitions there (Jeff Dennhardt current record holder with something close to 50). Before the days of google maps, we never really had directions to get there either, but we always had a list of landmarks to help us find our way to that wingy goodness. Well this time around we had quite the crew including Josh, Missy, Ira, Max, and Kenny. The only thing that would've made it more like high school would've been getting a milk shake at Kafein afterward (Buff Joe's was plenty on its own).

Buff Joe's is an order at the counter operation. For parking you have to find a metered spot nearby which can be tricky at times. Luckily street parking was free on New Years Day. They've got a long counter you can eat at in the front room and a bunch of booths in the back. The whole place can probably seat somewhere between 50 and 75, and if you go before a Northwestern sporting event you'll see it at capacity. When I first went there about 10 years ago they used to have a really distinct stench in the back room (all a price well worth paying for the wings), but they seem to have taken care of that over the past few years. The bathroom's still something to avoid at all costs.

The cost is totally reasonable with a single order of wings for $6.49, an order of cheese fries for $2.69, and a mega gut buster of pop for $1.79. If you've got a big enough group, an event, or you just happen to have a few of those friends that never stop eating, you can get the Single Party Pan for $39.99 (serves 8-10 people).

The Food
There are tons of options on the menu, but really there's only a couple of ways to go about eating at Buff Joe's. Wings and waffle fries are what it's all about (although one time someone I went with [who I wont name out of embarrassment] got a plain hot dog). Everyone got either the mild, spicy, or suicide wings except for me. After enough times I've come to realize that my favorite are the BBQ wings. On top of that everyone had an order of the Cheddar Chips (waffle fries). The wings are a little on the smaller side, but I've never had room in my stomach after leaving Buff Joe's. The sauces are made in house. They're rich, loaded with flavor, and never separate out into oily mess. The wings are fried to the perfect crispy outside too. The fries are great, and the cheese is a thick cheddar like Merkts too.

The Spicy Wings

The Cheddar Chips

The BBQ Wings

I've had a ton of wings but none like Buffalo Joe's. Every time I leave full to the brim and can barely wait to get back. Some say that they've changed the wings for the worse, but as far as I can tell they're as awesome as ever. I'm giving Buff Joe's a Pearl Necklace, 5 out of 5.

Buffalo Joe's on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Nookies Too

Twas a rainy new years eve morning when I was rudely awoken by my most avid brunch loving friend Steven Safron. He was on his way in town and wanted to gather a crew to meet for a meal. Now Saffy is about as entertaining as my friends get, especially when it comes to brunch. For instance, in Champaign he's no longer welcome at Le Peep because of a hilarious altercation he had with the owner when he came in 10 minutes before closing (in the owner's defense Saffy'd been coming in right before closing for years). Either way, I was enticed and headed off to Nookies Too with my roommates.

The original plan was to put our party down for 6 (us 3 roomies, Saffy, and the Erikas), but then people started coming out of the wood work. Ricky failed to tell us that our buddy Scott was coming along. Then Saffy told me his friend Omair was coming. So I'm sure the hostess hated us when we kept adding to our party. Finally, our friend Lee woke up and said he was on his way, but at this point I was too ashamed to tell the hostess (when he finally showed up we just squeezed him in).

I've been here one time before and feel that I have to tell a little story. So it was Noam and I, and Noam knew just what he wanted (without looking at the menu). Here's the basic dialogue.

Noam: I'll have an espresso, a half a grapefruit, and a croissant.
Waitress: I'm sorry, but we don't have croissants.
Noam: Well then I'll take a scone or something.
Waitress: Well we don't have pastries.
Noam: Fine, then I'll just take an espresso and the half grapefruit.
Waitress: The problem is the only fruit we have is like the side of fruit you get that's all chopped up and mixed.
Noam: Well what does that include?
Waitress: Umm maybe some melon, cantaloupe, and strawberries.
Noam: I'll pass then and just go for the espresso.
Waitress: Is a regular coffee alright?

Nookies Too is relatively medium sized for a storefront breakfast joint, but it seems that everyone and their mom from DePaul likes to go there for brunch. Our wait time was a little over 45 minutes. Thankfully they gave us pagers so that we could wait outside, which was great since it was abnormally warm out. They also don't like to sit you until your whole party is there, and leave it to the Erikas to show up after Safron. I suggest going with less people at an off hour if you've just got to eat here.

They sat us at a pretty good sized table right near the kitchen window, which most people don't like, but I like seeing all of the food come out. Our waitress was very nice and patient with some of the unbelievably altered orders of my companions. The food did take a pretty long time though, and when it came out it seemed clear that some of our dishes had been sitting around waiting for the others (congealed cheese, cold potatoes, that sort of thing).

The cost is pretty reasonable with most main dishes running around $8. What's nice is that they've got some cheaper options too, like my Huevos Rancheros for $5.50.

The Food
It was a pretty regular breakfast order for our crew. We started off with coffee which was pretty average, especially when half of it ended up on Saffy's jeans. This was a devastating development however since these were the only pants he'd brought for the weekend (my entertainment was thusly fulfilled). Most people got omelettes (a lot went for the chicken sausage as a key ingredient), the professor got a breakfast croissant sandwich, Erika got some kind of skillet, I think Omair got the Hash and Eggs, and I got the Huevos Rancheros. I got to try a bunch of the omelettes which I think were just alright. They were very inconsistent as to how done they were. Still, the chicken sausage was pretty good, and they did have a nice amount of veggies. The Huevos Rancheros was a little sub par but mostly by design and not execution. The beans, rice, and salsa were all very plain in flavor. The eggs were poached nicely though, and it was pretty cheap. Scott made a point of asking for his hash browns well done to which the waitress responded that they all come out well done. It was disappointing when every dish (besides one) came out with undercooked potatoes.

The Breakfast Croissant Sandwich
The Hash and Eggs

The Spinach and Chicken Sausage Omelette

The Farmer's Eggs Skillet

The Huevos Rancheros

 The Denver Omelette (with Chicken Sausage instead of Ham)

 The Wheat Toast
(Modeled by Lee Hillman)

There's nothing at Nookies Too that you can't get at any other breakfast restaurant in the city, but if you decide to go there you can wait around a while for a table and your food. If the food were solid all around, I'd say this was a good standard breakfast place, but really it was just alright (plus they don't have espressos, pastries, or grapefruit). One really nice thing was how they accommodated our group. We all got separate checks without any hassle, we were able to add to our party, and we had a nice large table. I've heard that some of the lunch options are pretty solid, and if I ever get the call to go back that's what I'm going for. I'm giving Nookies Too 2 out of 5 Pearls.

Nookies Too on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Boiler Room

A few nights ago I got a call from DWeiss. Usually he rings early on Saturday mornings to try and coax me into a meal at The Vienna Beef Factory or Franks N' Dawgs, but this time he suggested I trek out to Logan Square to join him and Raffe for drinks. The night started off at The Whistler with some cocktails that were awfully similar to those at Sable. After that we headed over to another one of their favorite bars for some drinks and pizza, The Boiler Room.

The first thing that jumps out at you is the interesting decor. There seems to be an intermingling theme between a boiler room and the 'el.' When you open the bathroom door, you're greeted with a voice telling you "next stop Logan Square." They also run old movies, and we were lucky enough to watch Edward Scissor Hands and True Lies while having some drinks and pizza.

It's CASH ONLY, and this definitely plays into your favor. The ATM charges you $2.75, but if you show your bar the receipt they give you a free shot of Jameson (normally priced at $3). The big deal to get is the PB&J (pizza, beer, and jameson) for $7.50. If you just want a slice of pizza they mostly run around $4.

The Food
We basically all went for the PB&J getting a PBR and a shot of Jameson. Raffe and I chose The Purist slice of pizza while DWeiss got the Boiler Room slice. These were all thin slices. The Purist had basil, mozzarella, and balsamic vinegar. There were a few too many spots on the slice that had nothing on them besides sauce. So basically more ingredient coverage would be nice. The Boiler Room slice had PBR meatballs and giardinera. It looked awesome and DWeiss seemed very happy.

The Purist Slice

 The Boiler Room Slice

As a bar The Boiler Room was great. If you love Jameson then this is your place. The pizza was just so so. I would've liked less corn meal on the crust and more ingredients on top. Still, the place is pretty awesome to hang out in, and the deal is good enough where I'd probably down a whole pie on my own if I were to spend a night there. I'm giving the Boiler Room 2 out of 5 Pearls.

The Boiler Room on Urbanspoon

Chicago Restaurants

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bertucci's Corner

My Cousin Ben lives in Milwaukee but was in town last week for business. He used to live in Chicago and knows the area really well. While in town his company put him up at the new JW Marriott. The interesting thing is that the hotel has one of the newest, most popular Italian restaurants, The Florentine, and yet Ben wanted to travel all the way to China Town for his favorite Italian place. So we headed south and sifted past all of the Chinese restaurants and souvenir shops until we stumbled upon Bertucci's Corner.

Bertucci's Corner has a very charming and authentic feel to it. It seems to be a neighborhood hang out with some loyal customers hanging out at the bar (you know, the type that's still griping about the smoking ban). We were sat right away, but by the time we left a small crowd had assembled. This place would be perfect to go to before a White Sox game, but I have a feeling that you may have to fight a crowd at that time (and should thus make a reservation).

The service was all handled by one nice lady who referred to us as "use guys." The cost was completely reasonable, and the portions were gigantic. Most main dishes were around $12 with appetizers close to $7. A while ago this place was on Time Out Chicago in the "save this restaurant" category. It's not a good sign for the success of the restaurant, but they seemed to be doing alright for a weekday dinner.

The Food
We started with an order of Calamari for the table. It was lightly breaded and mostly just a nice standard calamari. Then each of our meals came with a house salad. Also a pretty standard salad, but there were a few more veggies that you usually get.

 The Calamari

The House Salad

For our entrees Ben got the Pork Chop Vesuvio, his friend Rob got the Spaghetti and Meatballs, and I got the Eggplant Rolatini. Ben really liked his dish which seemed to be a very large portion done just right. Rob called his dish classic. The Eggplant Rolatini was basically an Eggplant Parmesan rolled up, filled with ricotta cheese, and covered with marinara sauce. It was crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and loaded with flavor. It also came with a side of pasta. I think a key to everything was how good the sauce was. It had a very acidic quality to it and was the perfect consistency, not to runny or thick.

The Eggplant Rolatini

The Side of Pasta

The Pork Chop Vesuvio

 The Spaghetti with Meat Balls

Bertucci's Corner lives up to most every expectation you might have of a neighborhood Italian restaurant. The food is huge, reasonably priced, and warms your bones. The checkered floor and the mural on the wall makes it look the part too. If they really do need saving then I suggest you get yourselves down to China Town for some baller Italian food. I'm giving Bertucci's Corner 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Bertucci's Corner on Urbanspoon