Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab (Lunch)

Location: 60 E. Grand Ave.
Cost: Variable depending on what kind of lunch you're looking to have (stone crabs and steak can get kind of pricey). If you're going for sandwiches and salads though you'll probably run around $20 per person.

My sister Lisa is just about done with her fourth year of medical school, and she recently had her match day. For those of you who don't know, match day is where you get placed into a program for residency. It's an excellent cause for celebration, and Lisa's school had a big brunch party where the class got to open up their match letters together. Afterward my family kept the party going by grabbing lunch at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab (not to be mistaken for the corny crab shack that has those goofy commercials).

I'd like to preface this post by saying that my family has been to Joe's a ton of times. I think it says it all that we've chosen to go here for so many of our major celebratory occasions. It's easy to say that Joe's is one of the best seafood and steakhouse spots in Chicago. That being said, I'd never been to lunch before which is what this post will solely cover. I'm sure I'll be back at Joe's for dinner very soon, and I'll write a post accordingly.

Logistics
Joe's is broken down into two main areas with a bar room up front separated from the large dining room behind. They also have an upstairs private seating area for parties and such. For dinner you'll need to make reservations way in advance (weeks), but for lunch you can probably just walk in. When we got there it was crowded but not without a few open tables.

The service at Joe's is fantastic and possibly too good. Our waiter knew everything there was to know about each dish. Not only did he know what was in everything, but it all came with a thorough explanation. At one point we got a run down of broccolini (which we all knew about, but our server was on such a roll we didn't want to stop him).

Like I said before the cost is pretty variable. You can get an order of crab in the $50 area if you'd like. They also have a few steak choices around $25. The lunch menu seems to focus on some sandwiches, salads, and fish choices that run from $12 to $18. Finally, if you're in the mood for pie (like we were) then that'll cost around $6 a slice.

The Food
We started things off with the Seafood Chopped Salad and an order of the Manhattan Clam Chowder. The salad had large chunks of shrimp, crab, and lobster. The dressing was subtle and really let the seafood stand out. My dad really loved the clam chowder. It had large chunks of clams and the red broth had a nice consistency without being too thick.

The Seafood Chopped Salad

 The Manhattan Clam Chowder

For our main dishes my mom got the Hamburger, my sister got the Scallops, and I got the Beef Tenderloin sandwich. The burger was pretty classically done and cooked to the proper specifications. The Scallops had a nice buttery, crispy exterior and a soft inside. The tenderloin wasn't really what I expected because it came on two mini sandwiches, but I didn't feel short changed on meat. The horseradish dipping sauce gave things a real nice kick too. Also, I got the onion strings subbed in for french fries, and I'd highly recommend the move. For the table we got an order of the Mushroom Mac n' Cheese. It was on the richer and creamier side with shells. The best part was that there were some burnt cheese pieces on the edges that had a real nice flavor and texture.

The Beef Tenderloin Sandwich

The Hamburger

 The Scallops

 The Mushroom Mac n Cheese

Now you can't go to Joe's without ordering some pie for dessert. We got a slice of Key Lime and Banana Cream. Both of these pies set the gold standard for me. The key lime had a natural color (not green), strong lime flavor and a beautiful graham cracker crust. The banana cream had large chunks of bananas and a scrumptious custard filling. Steve Dolinksy recently said that Fish Bar has better key lime pie, and if so then it must be freaking awesome because Joe's has it down pat.

The Key Lime Pie

 The Banana Cream Pie

Overall
Joe's is probably a pearl necklace or close to it for dinner, but this review is only referring to their lunch (which is also very good). It's surprisingly reasonably priced and accessible (especially relative to dinner). If you want a quick sandwich or salad and a slice of pie I don't think you'll find a better option in the area. I'm giving Joe's (lunch) 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pizzeria Via Stato

Location: 620 N. State St.
Cost: Normally around $10 per person

So it recently came up in a bunch of articles in the Chicago Reader that maybe it's not ethical to take free food as a reviewer. Specifically it was pointed out that during the Paris Club pre-party none of the attendees blogged about the infamous smell that has been coming from the floor boards because we were too wooed by the free food (I guess no one ever looked at the other point of view which was that maybe it didn't smell two nights before opening. I think if it was as pungent as it is now that I [and the many other people there] would've noticed it even a little bit. I doubt they would've opened knowing that the smell was a problem beforehand. It probably occurred after they got up and running). Anyways, it still made me think a bit about what to do when the food I eat is free. First off, I'm clearly not rolling in it in any way (med school loans and such), and secondly there's no profit coming in off of Jeff Eats Chicago. So, I don't really see the huge problem in taking free food. However, I do think it's wrong of me to rate food when it's free which is why I'll continue to abstain from Pearl ratings in such a case. Some fellow bloggers chose not to comment on their opinions of the food and rather purely advertise what they ate in some way. I see the merit in that, but I think my opinions can still come into play without being swayed to thoroughly. The reason I'm getting into this is because I was recently contacted to try out the new lunch special at Pizzeria Via Stato.

Logistics
Pizzeria Via Stato is basically a bar and pizza lounge in the entryway to Osteria Via Stato. There is a long bar counter as well as a few four tops and booths that you can sit at. When we got there it wasn't necessarily crowded, but it was comfortable for a lunch crowd. You probably won't need a reservation, and they're efficient enough to get you back to work in a reasonable amount of time (which was important for the Professor and Kovar who joined me).

The special is pretty straight forward and a sweet deal. For $10 you get the soup of the day, a sandwich, and dessert. You can also get a pizza instead of the sandwich for a $4 add on. It's a pretty solid cost considering that a personal pizza is usually near $14 on its own.

The Food
The soup of the day was Chicken which at first my buddies and I were pretty bummed about. I feel like chicken soup is pretty standard, and I never really want to get it anywhere. When it came out it was piping hot and loaded with large chunks of chicken. The broth also seemed homemade with a bit of schmaltz on the top and a hefty serving of veggies. I think the soup may have been our favorite thing. Also, the bread they put out is pretty delicious. It had a nice crust and a fluffy inside. Plus it came with olive oil, balsamic, and olives to eat with it (a nice little step up from the normal bread and butter you might get elsewhere). Then our mains came out. The Professor got the Proscuitto Americano Pizza, I had the Roasted Mushroom Pizza, and Kovar got the Chicken Pesto Sandwich. In general the pizzas are cracker thin and cut into squares. It may have been a bit thin for my taste, but the Professor was a big fan. I liked his toppings a bit better than mine. The proscuitto had a sweet taste to it, and the parmesan came in large shavings. Mine was heavy on the shrooms and goat cheese which I was a big fan of, but I'm not sure it went as well with the thin crust as the proscuitto and parm. Kovar really enjoyed his sandwich. It came with a giardinera that wasn't overpowering but gave the sandwich a textural crunch. Finally, our dessert came out which was a chocolate tart. It was super rich, and my problem was that I ate it way too quickly. It weighed me down a bit (especially for the salsa class I had right after lunch), but I think it was scrumptious.

The Olive Plate

 The Bread 
(I know not a big deal normally, but it was good stuff)

 The Chicken Soup

The Chicken Pesto Sandwich

The Roasted Mushroom Pizza

The Proscuitto Americano Pizza

The Chocolate Tart

Overall
If you need a quick sit down lunch in River North then it's definitely worth your time to check out Pizzeria via Stato. It's a lot more food than you'll get at other places in the area for the money. If you're into super thin crispy pizza then this is your place as well. I hope you guys make time to give this one a try.

Pizzeria Via Stato on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Grahamwich

Location: 615 N State
Cost: $13 per person

For part of our medical education, Northwestern has decided it's important to get out of the lecture hall and do something out of the norm with our time (they call it "seminar"). My seminar was called The Discerning Eye. We went to the Art Institute once a week and discussed art work to work on our skills of perception (that will one day come in handy when we're doctors). One drawback to this course was that you had to shell out $40 for an Art Institute membership (because tuition wasn't enough already I guess). So one day in lecture I'm complaining about this fee (yeah I know it's not that much, but I like to complain sometimes) when my friend LT offers to lend me her membership card. Some of you may think this was pure generosity, but I bet she just wanted me to be quiet so she could focus on lecture (in addition to her generosity). In order to reciprocate I first stopped talking and second took her out to lunch. We decided to hit up Grahamwich. On our way out the door we picked up added one more to our crew as well (my friend Kim).

Logistics
It's a pretty straightforward operation at Grahamwich. You order at the counter, and when your food's ready they call out your name. The seating is a bit limited with one long communal table and one set of counter seating. We got lucky that a group of people was hopping up just as we came in. Still, while we were eating there were people waiting to sit down.

My friend Jeff at I Like to Eat made an interesting comment that I'd like to reiterate. All of the sandwiches are $10 and they're CASH ONLY, but they charge you tax. The point of making a sandwich an even amount of money in a cash only establishment is for efficiency and convenience, but instead they charge tax and shake up the whole thing.

In addition to the $10 sandwiches (some of which are too small) the other things are a bit overpriced. Snacks like chips and popcorn are $5, but at least the portions are over sized (more than enough for the 3 of us to share).

The Food
LT and Kim both ordered the Jibarito Tacos while I got the Pastrami Reuben. The tacos were made of pork shoulder with plantain chips, mango, habanero salsa, and queso fresco. They were in double wrapped corn tortillas and came as a trio. They were surprisingly under filled and luke warm. On top of that, the flavors just weren't strong enough to overcome the taste of two corn tortillas. At $10 for three small tacos it was a pretty disappointing dish. I had high hopes for my Reuben, but there were some major problems. The gruyere fondue smothered everything, and combined with the 1000 island the sandwich turned into a soaking mess. The pastrami tasted fine as did the sauerkraut, but it was hard to get any of that flavor out of the sandwich. The saving grace to the meal was the bag of chips. I'm typically a sucker for sour cream and onion chips, and these were some of the best I'd had in a while (although not exactly sour cream and onion).

The Jibarito Taco

The Pastrami Reuben

 The Grahamchips

Overall
For the most part Grahamwich was a bit too pricey and a bit too lacking in flavor. I thought it was pretty strange that while one meal was pretty skimpy the other one was so overly sauced. Even though I think the food truck to be has a fantastic name (The Grahambulance), if things are anything like at the store I won't be waiting in any street corner line. I'm giving Grahamwich 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Grahamwich on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 21, 2011

DMK Burger Bar

Location: 2954 N. Sheffield Ave.
Cost: $15 per person

I don't know how many of you guys watch Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, but I used to be a huge fan. During the first few seasons there were a decent amount of spots that Guy Fieri hit up in the Chicago land area, and I made it a point to try as many of them as I could. Over the past season or so I've kind of stopped watching, mostly because he basically goes anywhere whether or not it's a diner, drive-in, or dive. On top of that, there's been a huge drought with respect to Illinois locations. Well, finally Guy made his return, and word on the street was that he made a bee-line for DMK Burger Bar.

I'd been getting suggestions to try this place out from a ton of my readers, and for some reason I just never got around to making a visit. I knew that if I didn't go before the episode aired that I'd have an even harder time getting in. So, last Saturday I rounded up DWeiss, Specs, Schneider, and the Professor and headed a few blocks north on Sheffield to DMK.

Logistics
DMK is a pretty open spaced bar. There's a long counter on one side and a series of tables surrounding the other walls. We went on St. Patty's day (or at least the day that Chicago chooses to celebrate on), so I'm not sure if our experience will correlate well to other days. The wait was maybe 10 minutes for the 5 of us. We got there at 5 PM so that Schneider and I could make the Bulls game after, and if we'd shown up 10 minutes later our wait could have been a half our or more. I don't think they take reservations, and the point I'm trying to get across is that you may have a variable to long experience with regards to waiting. At least they've got a good amount of standing room where you can grab something from their good tap selection.

When our server introduced herself, we kind of did a double take and realized that we'd been on a trip to Israel together like 6 years ago. Although I'm clearly biased by our friendship of sorts, I thought that the service was excellent. Our food came out quickly, and we got some great recommendations.

The cost is a little up there I guess, but it's become more of the norm for these fancier burger spots. All of the burgers are $8. They're a little on the smaller side, but they're all grass fed beef. The beers were around $5 which is on par with most places I think. The large orders of fries for the table $4 which I thought was pretty cheap considering what you might pay for a crappy basket of fries at other bars in the city.

The Food
While we were waiting they brought us a complimentary basket of Fried Pickles and Okra. At first I thought we were getting some special treatment from our waitress (which may have been the case), but from talking to other friends who have been to DMK, it seems that they like to toss out free things here and there to anyone. I'm not a big fan of Okra, but the Fried Pickles were delicious (and of course they led to a lengthy Snooki conversation). For our burgers the Professor got the #1 (bacon, cheddar, BBQ, red onion), DWeiss and Specs got the #2 (onion strings, blue cheese, chipotle ketchup), Schneider had the #4 (jack cheese, green chiles, fried egg, bacon), and I got the #6 (brie, portabella, dijon, scallions). These burgers were all made on the flat top which is a DWeiss favorite. Everyone thought the meat was tasty but maybe a bit dry (possibly from being grass fed), and I was hoping for a char mark texture here and there from the flat top which didn't really come through. Ingredients blended together well though, and everyone seemed blissfully happy (and quiet from full mouths). We got three orders of fries for the table: the Salt and Pepper, the Sweet Potato, and the Parmesan with Truffle Cream. My favorite were the regular Salt and Pepper fries. They had good substance and crisp, weren't overly salted, and came with a zingy chipotle ketchup. The Sweet Potato fries seemed pretty natural without any added sugar which was pretty well received by all. We all (especially Schneider) loved the Parmesan Truffle fries. They weren't overly dressed, but the flavors came through strongly.

The Fried Pickles and Okra

The #6

The Salt and Pepper Fries

The #1

 The #4

The #2

 The Parmesan Truffle Fries

The Sweet Potato Fries

As we were wrapping things up, in very similar fashion to Burger Bar, we were offered free milk shakes. They brought us some miniature Espresso Shakes and Peanut Butter Shakes to try out. I really enjoyed these shakes. They were on the thicker side without being malty or too difficult to drink through a straw.

 The Peanut Butter Shake

His milk shake brings all the boys to the yard (credit: Lisa Pearl)

 The Espresso Shake

Overall
I'm a little confused about DMK. I really liked it, but I think this was much more due to the shakes and fries rather than the burgers. That's not to say the burgers weren't solid, it's just that I really loved the fries and shakes. I'm giving DMK Burger Bar 4 out of 5 Pearls.


DMK Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sushi Para II

Location: 2256 N Clark St.
Cost: $20 per person

Since my buddy Josh and I are seemingly always busy studying these days, it had been a really long while since our last meal together. You might remember from early on in the JEC days when I explained what sushi enthusiasts the Finkle family members were in my post on Ichiban. Well not only were we craving sushi this time around, but we were excessively hungry. All you can eat seemed to be the way to go, and the nearest place I knew of was Sushi Para II.

Side Note: I'm not sure if it's Sushi Para II or Sushi Para Too because the website and the storefront have a clear discrepancy.

Logistics
So there are a bunch of Sushi Para spots throughout the Chicago land area. There's the original in Palatine, Sushi Para M in Wicker Park, Sushi Para II in Lincoln Park, Sushi Para D in Lakeview, and then another one (confused on the name) in the loop. Either way, it should be noted that there are significant differences among the different locales. I'd already been to the one in Palatine (which I love), so I was very excited to try the one out in Lincoln Park.

We went on a Friday night at 7:30. They only take reservations for parties of 6 or more, so we were in a bad situation. I figured we'd check to see what the wait was, and if it was reasonable we'd stick around. The host said it would be 45 minutes, and thinking that wasn't so bad, we decided to stick it out. After a little more than an hour of waiting, I checked with him and he basically gave me a look like "what do you want me to do, people just aren't getting up." Eventually we were sat after 2 HOURS OF WAITING. I'm not saying that we came at the right time, and I feel that part of the blame is on us. Still, if he had been anywhere near the ballpark of right timing, we never would have waited around. At least with the absurd wait, we were really starving for some sushi (and our anger turned eating our money's worth into a vindictive challenge).

The place is BYOB, so at least you can have something to drink while you wait for a table. The service was pretty quick, but I think that's because we got sat relatively close to closing time. The deal is that you can order as many times as you want for $19. This can go on forever, unless they sit you right before closing time when you can really only place so many orders before the chefs go home. I still think we had about as much as we could eat though. Also, there's a penalty for leaving food on your plate in order to curtail the overzealous diner (I would never know what this cost is since I would rather walk out with a mouthful of rice than pay some shameful fee while some waitress insinuated that I couldn't man up to a few more rolls).

The Food
With our first order we started with some Gyoza and Vegetable tempura. We also got some sashimi (Salmon, Tuna, White Tuna, Yellow Tail, Eel, and Snapper) and then some maki (Volcano roll, Rainbow Roll, Pop Up Roll, and Chicago Roll) as well as a couple of Spicy Tuna Hand Rolls. The Gyoza were alright, but the wrapper was kind of mushy. The veggie tempura was well done (and hot), but I was so hungry when it came out that I burned my mouth pretty badly. The sashimi was sub par. It came out a bit warmer and mushier than we would've liked. With the rolls, they all tasted pretty good with a healthy balance of fish over rice (which is usually a huge problem at all you can eat sushi restaurants, but not here). The problem was that they all had a relatively similar taste even with variable ingredients. I think that happens a lot when places forgo the use of seaweed wrapping (rice is much more filling, which is kind of the point for these guys). The highlight of this first order was the spicy tuna hand roll. First of all, a lot of these types of places won't give you hand rolls with the special deal, but they do which we really appreciated. The roll was evenly spread in that the fish wasn't all at the top while the rice was at the bottom. Also, it was well wrapped so that I was able to take a bite without the ingredients falling out the back end.

Our first order

 The Veggie Tempura

 The Gyoza

 The Spicy Tuna Hand Rolls

The waitress then informed us that they were going to close, and we should put in any last order right away. We got the Spider Roll, the Palatine Roll, and the Peppered Tuna appetizer. The peppered tuna was pretty well seasoned and came out as somewhat of a salad. The Spider roll had a really nice crunch to it, and even though I could barely fit another bite in my mouth, I was glad we ordered it.

The Peppered Tuna Appetizer

 The Spider and Palatine Rolls

Overall
Considering how much I love Sushi Para in Palatine, I was a little let down with how things went at Sushi Para II. Maybe the fish quality was waning by the end of the night, but if they'd sat us when they said they would then we wouldn't have gotten the bottom of the barrel. I'd say that the sushi was average, the deal was good, and the service was poor. I'm giving Sushi Para II 2 out of 5 Pearls.


Sushi Para II on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba

Location: 2024 N. Halsted
Cost: Around $25 per person

For most of this year our exams have been on Mondays. This means that you get a few extra days over the weekend to prepare, but at the same time it means that you seldom have a breath of fresh air before the next unit begins. Luckily at the end of our cardiovascular and respiratory unit we had a Friday exam. This meant some free time over the weekend, and my parents decided to come down to the city to take Lisa and I out to dinner. Everyone in my family is a pretty big fan of Lettuce Entertain You, and it seems that my parents always have gift cards to their restaurants. We decided to go right down the street from my apartment to Cafe Ba Ba Reeba.

Logistics
Cafe Ba Ba Reeba is a pretty large restaurant with a variety of seating options. They've got a few party rooms, some larger tables, a bunch of bar seating, and in the summer a really great patio. We usually go to the early bird dinner on Sunday nights, but on any other night I'd suggest making a reservation. If the patio is open when you go, I suggest you request that seating.

Our server was very helpful, which is pretty important at any tapas restaurant. The menu is seemingly gigantic, and I definitely would have felt overwhelmed if it wasn't for his suggestions. Basically things are broken down by protein type. Items range anywhere from single bite tapas for $1.50 to large meat skewers for $18.50. The average item is around $7, and the paella is $12.

The Food
We started with the Spanish Cheese Platter, Goat Cheese in Marinara, and Spinach and Manchego Stuffed Mushrooms. The cheese platter was a nice start to the meal and came with some fruit spread and nuts. The Goat Cheese in Marinara was a tasty balance between the acidic tomatoes and the creamy cheese. The stuffed mushrooms dish was my favorite of the starters. These went fast and was probably because of the delicious manchego filling.

 The Spanish Cheese Plate

The Goat Cheese and Marinara

The Manchego and Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

The next group of plates included the Lamb Stuffed Grape Leaves, the Garlic Shrimp, the Patatas Bravas, the Seared Salmon, and the Skewered Beef Tenderloin. The Patatas Bravas may have been a bit heavy on the spicy mayo, but once I pushed that aside it was as solid as I'd expect from any good tapas restaurant. I didn't try the shrimp, but my family members seemed more than happy. The salmon was done perfectly, served over heirloom potatoes, and topped with a spicy chimichurri. The Beef Tenderloin was a family favorite. It came with bruschetta, grilled vegetables, and potatoes. The meat had a nice exterior sear and was pleasantly medium rare on the inside. The grilled tomatoes and zucchini were a nice touch as well.

 The Garlic Shrimp

The Lamb Stuffed Grape Leaves

The Patatas Bravas

The Seared Salmon

The Skewered Beef Tenderloin

For dessert we got the Caramelized Banana with Vanilla Ice Cream, the Mango Sorbet, and the Brown Butter Cake with Blueberries and Gelato. These were all fantastic, and each was only $3. I usually hate sorbet that comes out with a freezer burn style texture, but this was perfect. The banana had an exterior crunch from the caramel that went amazingly with the inside of the banana and the ice cream. The cake was lighter than I expected, and although the blueberries were probably frozen, they weren't mushy.

 The Caramelized Banana with Ice Cream

The Mango Sorbet

 The Brown Butter Cake

Overall
I don't think I'd call this the most authentic tapas experience, but I don't always expect that with Lettuce Entertain You. What I do expect from them is a slightly American and creative spin on an already interesting cuisine, and that's what they deliver at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba on Urbanspoon