Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Purple Pig

Location: 500 N Michigan Ave.
Cost: About $40 per person with drinks

There's this charitable group I work with called JCorps, and they were putting together a promotional video the other weekend. A filmmaker named Adam came in from L.A. to interview a bunch of the volunteers. Adam was a first time visitor to Chicago and wanted to know if there was anywhere he needed to hit up food wise. I started to fill him in that I knew a place or two when Seth, another volunteer, suggested we go to his favorite spot, the Purple Pig.

Logistics
The Purple Pig is a gastropub of sorts right on the magnificent mile. They've got a bunch of bar seating and multiple raised tables throughout a rather jam packed room. Since it's still warm outside, they have some patio seating that overlooks the river. It's a difficult place to get in to, and they don't take reservations. The key is to settle in for the long haul and grab a bunch of drinks while you wait. You can try to eat at the bar which was our initial plan. They said the wait would be 45 minutes, but the three of us were sat in 5. I guess the point is to expect variability.

Our waiter was very helpful with identifying the key dishes to order, and the food came out in a planned, timely fashion. Most dishes were around $10, and the pricier, larger dishes were near $15. I think 2 to 3 dishes per person was more than enough.

The Food
Seth had been there a bunch of times before which made ordering pretty easy for Adam and myself. We started things off with the Salt Roasted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese, the Charred Cauliflower, and the Roasted Bone Marrow. The beets had an appropriate sweetness topped with a nice crunch from some pistachios. The cheese was extremely lightly whipped. The cauliflower was too salty for my taste, but the charring left a nice crisp to each bite. Adam devoured the bone marrow. It was scrumptious and spread well on the herb covered toast bites accompanying the dish.

The Roasted Bone Marrow

The Salted Beets with Whipped Goat Cheese

 The Charred Cauliflower

Next we moved on to larger dishes including the Octopus with Fingerling Potatoes, the Turkey Confit, and the Chicken Thigh Kebabs. The octopus was the best I've had so far. It had a nicely charred exterior and none of the chewiness I'd come to expect from my previous encounters. The kebabs were really juicy, and the tzatziki added a nice creamy balance to the dish. By the time the turkey leg came out we barely had any room left. The meat fell off the bone and had this visceral savoriness to it.

The Octopus with Fingerling Potatoes

The Chicken Kebabs

 The Turkey Leg Confit

Adam insisted on getting dessert, so we ordered the Nutella, Marshmallow, and Banana Panini. It was dangerously good. By that I mean that I had no intention of eating any more food, but after one bite I couldn't put it down.

 The Nutella, Marshmallow, and Banana Panini

Note: Even a bunch of Jews can enjoy a place called the Purple Pig because the non-pork dishes are so damn good.

Overall
I wish I hadn't eaten lunch that day so I could've had room to try out even more dishes from the Purple Pig. Everything was loaded with flavor, and across the board the proteins were excellently prepared. Some of the dishes were a tiny bit over-seasoned for me. It might be a hassle to get seated sometimes, but it's worth it. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls. 


Also, I'd like to extend an extra thanks to Adam for taking us out and to Seth for the drinks and suggestion.
The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 24, 2011

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

Location: 60 E. Grand Ave.
Cost: About $50 per person

My great uncle Mike made a stop in Chicago on his round the world trip last week. The last time he visited we went to Hot Chocolate. The problem was that they have a bunch of French style items on the dinner menu, especially their cheese selection. Uncle Mike has lived all over the world but spent the longest time in Paris. The last thing he wanted in Chicago was knock off French food. This time we weren't going to do the same. My family had a bunch of Lettuce Entertain You gift cards to burn, and when the options were Mon Ami Gabi and Joe's, the choice was clear.

Logistics
Since I already wrote a post on Joe's for lunch, you can refer to that logistics section. It's basically the same. Great service and ambiance with eccentrically over-knowledgeable waiters. Prices are up there, but for what you get it's a solid deal. They've got fair fish and steak prices with a lot of options.

The Food
As always, we started things off with a Seafood Salad with shrimp, lobster, and alaskan king crab. It was lightly dressed and heavy on the seafood. It's consistently been one of my favorite salads in the city.

The Seafood Salad

From there we all went with seafood choices for our entrees as well. My mom got the Seared Tuna Sandwich, my dad got the Ahi Tuna with Tempura Green Beans, Uncle Mike got the Turbot, and I got the Sea Bass. My dad claimed it was the best seared piece of tuna that he's ever had. Uncle Mike was really impressed with his fish too (and he can be a tough critic). My Sea Bass was flaky and substantial. It had a somewhat charred on teriyaki glaze that added a ton to the dish.

The Sea Bass

The Ahi Tuna Sandwich

The Ahi Tuna with Tempura Green Beans

The Turbot

For sides the table went for Cottage Fries, Creamed Spinach, and this special Summer Corn Dish. These were all delicious, and they came along with plenty for the four of us. We also had some Banana Cream Pie for dessert, but I couldn't get a shot (again, please refer to my old post).

The Cottage Fries

The Summer Sweet Corn

 The Creamed Spinach
Overall
I'd already told you that Joe's has a great lunch service, and the dinner is even better. It's some of the best seafood in the city, and although we didn't get any steaks, in my past visits those have been spectacular as well. I'm giving Joe's (for dinner) 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


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

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pompei

Location: 1531 W Taylor and 212 E Ohio
Cost: About $8 per person

Certain restaurants that may not be great enough on their own to draw in substantial business often have to benefit from their location. It has become clear to me that restaurants near hospitals are no exception to this rule. For instance, Nesh, this Mediterranean place near Children's Memorial Hospital, may be moving to Streeterville when the hospital relocates there because this is such a huge chunk of their business. Well if you do any work at NMH and/or Stroger, you're probably no stranger to Pompei. One day after a busy morning clinic, the generous Dr. Marasigan took a few of us there to lunch while we went over lecture material.

Note: I've had Pompei in Streeterville a bunch of times too and can safely say that the places are similar. Please consider this post a compilation of my opinions even though the food this time is specific to the Taylor St. location.

Logistics
Pompei looks like a cafeteria. They have a ton of seating and a super long counter where you an point at food that strikes your fancy while you walk by. It's really efficient for lunch even when the lines are long. They also deliver with pretty good service. There's not really much else to comment on the dine-in service since you're not waited on.

The cost is what I'd expect to pay for lunch with a variety of options between $5-10. For instance, the pizza strudel costs $5, while the specialty pasta of the day is usually around $9. Either way you get a whole lot of food (definitely enough to ruin your afternoon with a food coma).

The Food
Dr. Marasigan ordered the Heart Healthy Pizza Strudel, Marc got the BBQ Chicken Pizza Strudel, Nitasha had the Chicken Wrap, and I got the Chicken Roll on Fettuccine. I can't really speak to the other dishes because there wasn't too much sharing, but I can tell you Dr. Marasigan was happy because she proceeded to get three more of her lunch to go for later meals. I got a bite of the bbq chicken strudel which was just alright. The dough was nice and crispy outside while soft inside. The chicken was a little bland and dry for me though. My chicken roll was gigantic, breaded, and filled with cheese. The chicken itself was again too dry, and the amount of cheese was a little much for me. The tomato sauce it came with was the real issue. It tasted almost exactly like spaghetti-o's sauce, which I think is delicious normally but really didn't go with this dish.

The Heart Healthy Pizza

The BBQ Chicken Pizza Strudel

The Chicken Wrap

 The Chicken Roll with Fettuccine

Overall
Pompei serves a nice purpose in providing large meals in a quick way at a low cost. It's nothing you can't get elsewhere, but when you're hungry and it's close by, it's not too bad a choice. If you're in Streeterville, I'd suggest Volare instead, and if you're in Little Italy then there are a lot of options. If you've only got an hour for lunch though, this might be your place. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.


Pompei Bakery on Urbanspoon Pompei Little Italy on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Davanti Enoteca

Location: 1359 W Taylor and 30 E Hubbard
Cost: Around $30 per person (without drinks)

A good friend of mine from college, let's call him PD, is currently starring as Frank-n-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show. I'd never been to one of these shows before, and boy was I out of place. For those of you that don't know, it's this big cult following where the audience members yell back at the actors during certain parts of the show. People dress up as the characters too, which can get kind of dicey. Luckily for Josh, Lonnie, Vadim, and myself, things are kind of toned down for the 2PM show. My review of the performance can be summed up to amazement (mostly at PD's agility in high heels). After the show, Vadim went to hang with his grandma while Josh, Lonnie, and I went to dinner at one of their favorite spots, Davanti Enoteca.

Logistics
All I'd read previously about Davanti was that it was awful to get in to. They don't take reservations, and when they first opened, it was common for people to wait at the bar for hours before a table opened up. We got in there around 6:15 on a Saturday with three people and got sat right away. Not only that, but we got a spot on their sweet rooftop.

Our waitress was patient and explained many of the dishes to us. The small plates came out in a comfortable progression that never made us feel overloaded at one point or another. The cost is totally reasonable. It's tough to comment on a price per dish basis, but for all of us to leave filled to the brim, it was under $30 a piece.

The Food
The first thing we got was the Burrata with cherry tomatoes and pesto. The cheese was creamier than I expected and could've used a little more substance. The combination of the cool cheese and the warm tomatoes was wonderful. Then we got the Truffle Egg Toast with Fontina and Asparagus. The egg yolks were runny, and the brioche style toast soaked up the bread nicely. We sopped up every last bit of this dish. For the last of our appetizer style dishes we had the Chicken Liver Pate. I'm a huge fan of most foods that can lead to gout, and this was no exception. The pate was creamy and blended well with sweet onion shavings.

The Burrata

The Truffle Egg Toast

The Chicken Pate

Our entree style small plates included the Rainbow Trout, the Pizza D.O.C., and the Risotto Carbonara. The pizza was plain, but the crust was light and flaky. The Risotto was creamy and had a proper substance, barely holding its shape on a plate. It was mixed with an egg yolk and had large chunks of pancetta. The Trout was the true highlight dish. The fish came out whole. It was drizzled with an avocado dressing and topped with roasted plums. The skin was crisped nicely and added even more textural complexity to the dish.

The Rainbow Trout

The Risotto Carbonara

The Pizza D.O.C.

For our dessert we got Tracy's Sottobosco which was a mason jar filled with cheese cake, blueberries, and graham crackers. It was a little too sweet for me, and the berries had an odd texture to me, almost as if they were frozen previously and not properly defrosted. None of this stopped me from inhaling the dish though as the flavors were pretty much all there.

Tracy's Sottobosco

Overall
Strong flavors rang true throughout our meal at Davanti Enoteca. My favorite items were the pate, the trout, and the truffle egg toast. The rooftop was a fantastic setting as well (you better hurry if you want to try it out before the weather goes sour). I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Update 12/8/13:
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to try out the River North location. The menu was the same although the atmosphere was a little different. The feel was slightly darker and trendier that the Little Italy counterpart. The food was excellent as was our service. They have this interesting setup with Glazed and Infused next door, but it's not like we had any room to take advantage of that. Make sure to check it out if you're nearby.

Davanti Enoteca on Urbanspoon
Davanti Enoteca - River North on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Burt's Place

Location: 8541 Ferris Ave., Morton Grove
Cost: About $10 per person

If you've read some of my past pizza reviews, you probably know how much I love Pequod's. So you can imagine how excited I was when I heard that there was this place in Morton Grove that the man behind Pequod's had opened up (not that this is a new occurrence or anything, but let's just say I've had this excitement for a very long time). It was supposedly the holy grail of pizza, and I had to have it. Now I can't seem to find a way of getting through a conversation with anyone these days without mentioning food. When my sister's friend Jodi was in town a few weeks back, conversation turned that way, and it came up that her and her father were frequent customers to this wonderful pizza haven. Well she came back to Chicago last weekend, and we made the schlep out to Morton grove to hit up Burt's Place.


Logistics
Burt's Place is a little shack with seating for maybe 30 customers at a time. The place is decked out with knick knacks that make you feel like the walls might give in under their own weight at any moment. You absolutely have to call ahead if you want to eat there. I called a day in advance and had to place my order over the phone. I was told my pizza would be ready at 7 whether or not I was there. Multiple patrons got turned away at the door with Burt telling them the oven wouldn't have space for another 2 hours. The place is run by Burt and his wife. They're really kind and love providing people with a fantastic pizza experience, but I wouldn't want to break any of their "rules." One group pretended they'd ordered ahead to try and get some food, and Burt was not pleased when he figured things out. Also, another table was loudly comparing their pizza to Lou Malnati's when Burt's wife overhead and told them that they were discussing an inappropriate topic (in a slightly harsher manner). The key is to call early with your order, show up on time, and keep your mouth relatively shut about other pizza places.

The service is super efficient because they keep their oven on a tight schedule. In general everyone is pretty friendly and always offering to grab you another slice or a drink refill. The cost was pretty cheap. A large pizza and salad, which could easily have served 5 or 6 people, was $25.

The Food
Although we wanted to save as much room as possible for the pizza, we decided to get a salad to share. It had thinly sliced cheese across a large bed of lettuce sprinkled with olives and topped with a few strips of red peppers. Everything was very fresh and simple.

 The House Salad

We got a pizza with sausage and a mix of their bell peppers (which Jodi says is their specialty). I guess you'd call it deep dish, but it's not nearly as deep as what you're used to. They use the cast iron pans and cheese in the dough to make a nice caramelized crust. The cheese and the sauce were perfectly balanced. The cheese was also a bit burnt at points which added an intriguing and delicious twist. The sausage was juicy and well seasoned while the peppers were cooked but maintained a snap to their each bite. One issue was that the ingredient coverage could have been better. I'm not saying they need the entire layer of sausage like Lou's, but there were a bunch of slices with only one real chunk of sausage. The peppers were served in large slices, just like the salad, and this made the pizza a bit more difficult to eat.

The Sausage and Mixed Bell Pepper Pizza

 Check out that crust!

Overall
I don't want these nit picky things to detract from how excellent this pizza was. Even if some of the gray hairs from Burt's seemingly endless beard ended up in the pie, I'd still think it was some of the best around (not that this would ever happen with all the care they put into each pizza). From the atmosphere to the crust, this place is about as unique as it gets. If you live downtown and don't have a car, you should steal one and go to Burt's Place (BUT CALL AHEAD!). I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Note: The pizza surprisingly doesn't reheat that well, and it doesn't taste that good as cold leftovers either. Mostly the crust dries out a bit too much. That doesn't mean it's not amazing while it's hot. The key point here is to stuff your face to the max in the restaurant.

Burt's Place on Urbanspoon

Monday, September 12, 2011

Norton's

Location: 1905 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park
Cost: $18 per person

A summer isn't really a summer if you don't catch a concert at Ravinia. I'm not a huge fan of Guster or anything, but the tickets were cheap. Plus they still play the same music from like ten years ago which makes knowing the songs pretty easy. The real selling factor of this concert was that some of my favorite "recurring characters" were going. I played third wheel legend (Mr. Show reference anyone?) to the Ericas, and then we met a whole crew of U of I people including after hours co-chairs, Saffy and Sfranks. Ricky was at the show too, but because of his unreasonable fear of getting his boat shoes wet in the rain, he sat in the pavilion.

Ok, now that I'm done making jokes at my friends' expense, I'll get to the food. Like I said before, there was some light rain, and the Ericas didn't want to picnic (even though they've been known to do other things in the rain... like tandem biking). So I suggested we hit up Casa de Isaac, but I'd forgotten that they're closed on shabbat. Eric suggested another location down the road which ended up being another Casa de Isaac location and was also closed. We finally ended up in downtown Highland Park at Norton's.

 The Ericas
Logistics
Norton's has one large room with a bar running through it and a bunch of curbside seating. It's very fitting with a lot of these other downtown HP spots with some outdoor seating mostly to promote the stop and chat with passers by. We didn't have any wait, but I'd imagine if it were a nice night out that there would've been a much larger crowd. One thing to note is that we were in a minority, and by that I mean we're younger than 75. The blue hair brigade was out in full force.

The service was fine, but the food took a while. Cost wise I thought it was a little overpriced. They had some entrees that I would've been interested in, but $18 for fried chicken seemed like a rough deal. The sandwiches, salads, and burgers all floated around $12.

The Food
Erika got the Buffalo Chicken Pizza, the Professor had the Bleu Burger, and I got the Santa Fe BBQ Chicken Salad. I didn't really care much for the Pizza. The crust was simple and cracker like. The sauce was more of a generic hot sauce than a creamy buffalo style. The Bleu Burger was prepared nicely with an abundance of cheese and onions without falling apart with each bite. The bleu cheese was strong but not overpowering. My salad was very generic. I'd say that the equivalent salad at Grand Lux was better. The bakery fresh roll was good, but the dressing was a little bland. A little avocado and something spicier would've gone a long way.

The Santa Fe BBQ Chicken Salad

The Buffalo Chicken Pizza

 The Bleu Burger
Overall
I didn't think Norton's was anything more than an average American family restaurant. In typical Highland Park style, it was a bit over-hyped and overpriced. They usually have a band playing which would've livened things up a bit. I wouldn't suggest making the trek from the city, and if you need food before Ravinia there are better spots nearby. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.


Norton's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Amato's Pizzeria

Location: 953 W. Willow
Cost: About $8 per person

I don't know how many of you have tried the pre-made pizza dough from Trader Joe's, but I can't seem to make it work out. Mostly every time I try it out, it gets all mushy in the center and falls apart. I'm sure this is mostly my doing. Either way, my buddy Zfranks is often subjected to my attempts at homemade pizza. We had plans to watch the next Bears preseason game, and when I suggested making a pizza, Zfranks was quick to suggest ordering in. Since there wasn't much time left before kickoff, I ran around the corner to pick up some Amato's.

Logistics
Amato's is a pretty straightforward small pizzeria on the corner near my apartment. It's got a tiny bit of counter seating and a few tables. I think a lot of their business comes from their pizza by the slice service. The lines never get too long, and the workers are all pretty friendly and accommodating. The service is rather fast too.

The cost is a little above average with most thin crust pizzas coming out around $20. That's what we got this time, but they have a lot of other stuff on the menu that's worthwhile. The Calzones are a great deal at around $7. They're big and tasty (but alas we went for pizza).

The Food
Our order was really simple. We got a thin crust with mushroom and onion. It comes in squares. The crust has a decent crunch to it, but it's pretty dry. The sauce doesn't have much more than a tomato paste feel to it. I think a good barometer of the crust and sauce comes from eating the corner slices that are lacking most other toppings and cheese. They weren't that great. The other parts to the pizza were well balanced between cheese and toppings. There was just enough cheese to provide a little stringiness without having a thick, congealed sense.

 The Thin Crust Pizza with Mushroom and Onion

Overall
In retrospect, I think I would've preferred another attempt at making my own pizza to bringing in Amato's. The service was friendly and quick, but the pizza had little to offer. I'd go again to get a calzone, but I don't think I'll be having the thin crust again. I'm giving them 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Amato's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon