Monday, April 30, 2012

El Souk

Location: 808 N State Street
Cost: About $8 per person

During my neurology clerkship, we had these teaching days each Friday. For the first time in a while, we were given a dedicated lunch break. While a bunch of us were tossing around ideas, one of my fellow students, Romie, asked me if I'd ever had "the big plate of food" (as if this were some regular thing I should obviously know about). What he was referring to was the lunch special at El Souk, and that's where we decided to go.

El Souk is a pretty simple store front restaurant. They have an order at the counter operation and a handful of tables up front. It was incredibly efficient, and our group of probably 6 students was able to get in and out in 40 minutes easy.

The staff was very friendly and even made us some extra food. They didn't mind that one of our party brought in her own food. The cost was really cheap too. The lunch special, which had way more food than one should reasonably eat for lunch, was $8. Sides, soups, and sandwiches were all pretty cheap as well. It's worth noting though that I didn't end up paying for my meal. I guess some guy had forgotten that it was Good Friday before ordering his meat filled dish. Upon realizing this, he gave it away to me. I made sure to share the wealth.

The Food
A few of us went straight for the lunch special which included Chicken Shawarma, Lamb Shawarma, Jerusalem Salad, Hummus, Falafel, Rice, and Pita. That basically runs the gamut on key menu items. Some of my other friends ordered falafel sandwiches or platters. The best overall thing was the chicken shawarma. It had plenty of juicy dark meat and a nice dry rubbed flavoring. The lamb was a little dry but had some nicely crisped chunks mixed in. The hummus was a little thin and runny but had a strong tahini presence and a gentle dusting of paprika. The falafels were crispy and not too dry on the inside. They were oddly shaped like those Monet haystacks, but the flavor was there nonetheless.

The Lunch Platter

The Falafel Sandwich

 The Falafel Platter

They met all of my expectations at El Souk. I came in looking for a big plate of food, and that's what I got. The chicken was superior by far to the other dishes, but the falafel are nothing to scoff at either. It was really inexpensive and quick too. When comparing cheap Mediterranean food though, I'll have to give the flavor nod to Sultan's Market. I'm giving El Souk 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

El Souk on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 27, 2012

Goose Island

Location: 1800 N Clybourn
Cost: About $18 per person

My history with Goose Island goes way back. I remember going on the brewery tour 4 years ago with a whole bunch of my college buddies, and I would've never imagined living right across the street. Since then, I've gone on the tour a good 5 times and spent countless nights trying some new selections on tap before calling it quits. Oddly enough, I'd never really gone for the food. I mean, I tried a bunch of their wings at Wingfest last year, so I knew things in the kitchen were good, but I just hadn't gotten around to ordering in house. The other weekend it was Ricky's birthday, and he decided to have our group of 20+ friends get a long table over at the brewpub. Then, the next day, I came back for lunch and drinks with my dad, Bobby, Noam, Josh, and Matt after getting our tuxes fitted for the upcoming wedding.

It's hard not to like the setup at Goose Island in Lincoln Park. They've got a bunch of seating options between the quieter front dining room, the basement of sorts, and the variety of tables surrounding the bar. The bar area is my preference, but it's sometimes a bit crowded and tough to get a seat at. There has been an occasional time where I've had to wait maybe 15 minutes, but it's a rare occurrence. If you're really worried about it, they take reservations. Also, if you drive, they have plenty of parking.

The servers are great. Since the beer menu is changing all the time, they really have to be on their A game. I've even had a bunch of visits from Chef Travis when the place slows down a bit. The cost is what I'd expect to pay with most entrees in the $12 range. The portions are large too. Still, I usually fill up and spend more money on beer.

Note: Goose Island was sold to Anheuser Busch InBev a little while ago. I've been worried ever since that my beloved brewpub would undergo some changes for the worse. Until this last time, nothing had happened. Many of my friends ordered the popular 312 for their beer choice and were brought out cans. The beer has recently been offered in cans, and the brewpub no longer has the draft option. Considering that tons of other Chicago bars have it on draft, this was just completely unacceptable and must be changed. To make matters worse, there was not a consistency to being served the can. Some people got glasses, others didn't. Sometimes the can was poured for us and other times not. It was very disappointing.

The Food
So I'm going to slap together my experiences and first describe all of the appetizers ordered between the two. That weekend I tried out the Malted Sea Salt Wort Bread, the Duck Poutine, the Oysters Rockefeller, the Onion Rings, and the Sriracha Wings. The bread came with this bacon jam and honey butter which were really the stars. The poutine was excellent with crunchy fries, a rich, creamy cheese sauce, savory strips of duck, and some fresh chives. The oysters were served warm with bits of bacon and plenty of parmesan. The onion rings did a nice job of not separating from their breading. They've got this interesting curried ketchup on the side too. The wings are some of my favorites. They've got a non-traditional spicy kick with a horseradish aftertaste.

The Duck Poutine

The Sriracha Chicken Wings

 The Oysters Rockefeller

As far as entrees go, I got to sink my teeth into some of the Duck Reuben, Mac N' Cheese, Lamb Burger, Black Earth Burger, Veggie Burger, and Oyster Po' Boy. The reuben was really accentuated by the cherry sauerkraut on top. The house ground mustard was a nice touch as well. The mac was pretty good with a small pile of arugula on top and some wild mushrooms mixed in. It was very creamy, and I think may have been too rich for the people who ordered it as their main course. The lamb burger and black earth burger were cooked to perfection and had really intriguing flavor profiles. The veggie burger served its purpose for some of our lighter eaters. The po' boy came covered in a creamy remoulade and some crunch pickled onions. There was a good oyster to bread ratio too.

The Lamb Burger

The Black Earth Burger

The Mac N' Cheese

The Veggie Burger
(Sky cam brought to you by Lisa Weitzman) 

The Oyster Po' Boy

 The Duck Reuben

Goose Island is one of my favorite bars and just so happens to be the most accessible to my apartment. The staff really go out of their way to make me feel at home every time I step foot inside. The beers would be enough, but the food stands on it's own as well. I've tried a huge portion of the menu and still have some dishes I'm dying to get a bite of. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.

I'd just like to extend an extra thanks to both Austin and Chef Travis for all of their hospitality over the past few years.
Goose Island Clybourn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Star of Siam

Location: 11 E Illinois
Cost: About $12 per person

I don't know how many of you are familiar with Seamless, but in case you've missed their huge advertising campaign, they're a food delivery website of sorts. They had this launch party the other week for their Chicago branch and new app. Instead of bringing in food, they let everyone play around with the app and order dinner. The prospect of ordering in dinner from practically anywhere was a bit overwhelming. Luckily, I ran into my buddy Jeff Rapp at the event who suggested I order from Star of Siam for some solid Thai delivery.

Like my other delivery posts, it's a bit difficult to do the standard logistics section. I can say that the app I used to order was pretty simple and convenient. The delivery guy was exactly on time. The Styrofoam dishes were a bit "leaky," but they were nicely bagged up to keep from making a mess. There was a $2.50 delivery fee. As far as the restaurant itself goes, I've heard it's got a pretty nice decor and doesn't give off the vibe of  typical Thai delivery spot. The wait is never more than reasonable from my friends' past experiences as well.

The Food
I stuck to my guns with this order by getting some Crab Rangoon, Chicken Pad Thai, and Beef Pad See Eiw (why does every place spell this dish differently?). Crab rangoon can play a tricky game of being too sweet or too savory with the wonton being a whole other ordeal. These were more on the savory side, and the wrapping was a bit chewy. The pad thai was a bit heavy on the sauce, but the chicken was cooked properly. They had large chunks of peanuts and a bit of lemon zest to add some interesting notes. The beef in the pad see eiw was a little overcooked, but the rest of the dish was superb. The large, fried, egg noodles soaked up the brown sauce very nicely.

The Crab Rangoon

The Chicken Pad Thai

 The Beef Pad See Eiw

I was really hoping that this would become my go to Thai delivery spot, but it seems I've got a little more searching to do. The delivery was spot on, and for the most part, so was the food. The point though is that there are so many Thai places in this city that I'm unwilling to settle for imperfections. I'm giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Star of Siam on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hole in the Wall

Location: 254 Skokie Boulevard, Northbrook
Cost: About $30 per person

So it was decided by the powers that be in my family that I don't own enough nice clothes to tide me through my sister's upcoming wedding. Between the rehearsal dinner, brunch, and multiple preparatory get togethers I would need a few "fresh" outfits. So I was assigned to go shopping for a variety of preppy summer based things. I ended up meeting up with my parents in Northbrook afterward. In our typical fashion, we went out to a Sunday dinner at 5:30 PM. Luckily though, because of our particular location and timing, we had the perfect circumstances to get into The Hole in the Wall.

The Hole in the Wall is right down the road from Charlie Beinlich's, and it's another institution of the northern suburbs. This place is rightfully named for its size. They have seating for maybe 30 people in a space that couldn't fit one more. There's a dry erase board menu on the wall which makes for some major neck craning depending on your seat. If you don't go at an off hour you could be looking at a daunting wait time. While we were eating, I loved watching people peek in at the off chance that they might have an open table and having a really excited look on their face when they got seated. The whole place has a very homey feel with pictures of celebrities and the owner lining the walls.

The service is solid and knowledgeable. The only issue is that the bus boy's ass hits you a good ten times throughout the meal. The cost is on par with most Italian restaurants. The entrees range anywhere from $15 to $30 and the portions are gigantic.

The Food
The family split a Hole in the Wall Salad to get things going. This beautiful monster had plenty of salami, peperoni, provolone, olives, cucumbers, roasted red peppers, artichokes, and a variety of other things. It had a tangy italian dressing and rivals any house salad around.

 The Hole in the Wall Salad

For the entrees my mom got the Lamb Chops, my dad got the Shells with Lamb Meatballs and Sausage, and I got the Chicken Vesuvio. I don't do well with small portions of rich food like the lamb chops because of the delayed fullness feeling that always gets me in trouble. With my mom ordering it, I got to have a taste though. They were savory as could be with a nice exterior crisp and a perfectly pink center. My dad's pasta may have been the strongest dish on the table. The sauce had this incredible sweetness on top of a mild acidity, but the real star of the dish was the lamb meat ball. It was even better than Jeff Schneider's turkey meatballs. The vesuvio was oily and coated in herbs, just like it should be. The skin separated just off the edge of the chicken so that you could enjoy the crispiness without losing any moistness from the meat. I think Rose Angelis has a slightly better version, but this one was solid on all accounts.

The Chicken Vesuvio

The Shells with Lamb Meatballs and Sausage

 The Lamb Chops

I don't always tell you to pack up your stuff and leave the city limits, but Hole in the Wall is definitely worth the trip. It's hard to find a flaw in any of their dishes, and if you can find a table, you're in for a fantastic meal. I think I'd give the edge to Rose Angelis, but I'm giving Hole in the Wall a Pearl Necklace as well. 5 out of 5.

Francesco's Hole In The Wall on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bravo and Andy's Custard

Location: 1701 Maple Avenue, Evanston
Cost: About $20 per person

On my last switch weekend between rotations, I made plans to hang out with Ricky, Josh, and Lonnie. They wanted to go see The Hunger Games. Lonnie had some gift card that was only redeemable at the Old Orchard movie theater, so we took a brief trip up north. Afterwards we drove into Evanston to get some Italian food at Bravo.

I didn't realized that there were multiple Bravo locations throughout the country (2 in Illinois), but this place looks exactly like Olive Garden. There are plenty of columns and fake vines to put up an old style italian appearance. I think they get pretty busy, but we only waited 10 minutes or so on the weekend. There's plenty of street parking, but you should remember to bring your quarters since Evanston has the old style meters.

Our waitress was quick with everything except for our bread. She kept saying they were baking more, but since we were right near the kitchen we could see tons of it coming out without making it to our table. Also, I'm pretty sure she thought Ricky and I were double dating with Josh and Lonnie by some of her goofier looks. The entrees all run in the mid teens, and the portions are large.

The Food
We split the house and caesar salads to start things off. The house has some crispy bacon and pasta that makes me think of the one at Portillo's, only it's not as good. The Caesar is pretty standard with a thick, creamy dressing.

The House Salad

 The Caesar Salad

Entree wise, Lonnie got the Pasta Bravo, Ricky got the Beef Gnocchi, Josh got the Bay Scallop and Shrimp Pasta, and I got the Chicken Parmesan. The pasta bravo had a creamy tomato sauce coating rigatoni. It was hot and rich with plenty of mushrooms and large chicken chunks. The beef gnocchi was my favorite dish. The gnocchi were a bit dense, but the short rib was savory enough to carry things. Josh's pasta had a creamy tomato sauce like Lonnie's, but I'd give this one the edge with the seafood being prepared more properly than the chicken. My dish was a bit sub par. The cheese solidified significantly by the time I got it. The chicken was evenly breaded but also overcooked.

The Bay Scallops and Shrimp Pasta

The Pasta Bravo

The Beef Gnocchi

 The Chicken Parmesan

It was a nice night out, and we decided to walk around Evanston and find dessert rather than stay at the restaurant. We ended up at Andy's Frozen Custard. It's a very simple operation with a minimal selection of flavors but a variety of preparations. I went straight up cone while the other guys got Jack Hammers or whatever they call their version of blizzards. I thought everything was well done (not like Ollie's or anything), but Lonnie insisted we go to Red Mango so that she could get some frozen yogurt.

Grand Lux Cafe is to Cheesecake Factory as Bravo is to Olive Garden. The menu's are strikingly similar as is the ambiance. I didn't particularly care for the main courses, but just like Olive Garden, the salad and bread sticks were a strong suit. With all the great places to check out in downtown Evanston, I wouldn't rush back to this one. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.

Bravo Cucina Italiana on Urbanspoon Andy's Frozen Custard on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 14, 2012

GT Fish and Oyster

Location: 531 N Wells
Cost: Lunch was around $18 per person, I think dinner's a whole other ballgame

I mentioned in my Prasino post about how I had a funky schedule a little while back that gave me a bunch of weekdays off. Well, I took advantage of another one of those days off to meet up with an old friend from high school. My friend Moonie just started at Northwestern for law school and although she lives right on campus, we hadn't been able to match up our schedules until now. It was her spring break and she'd had her eye on a few River North lunch spots for quite a while. We decided to hit up GT Fish and Oyster.

GT Fish and Oyster is relatively new and popular (if you didn't know already), and it can be a bit tricky to get a table in advance. They take reservations, but finding one at a time you like may take significant foresight. The setup is interesting (try not to walk into the glass entryway). They've got a cool look with big wooden tables and interesting seating arrangements. We were lucky enough to get a patio table, and despite being on Wells, it was pretty peaceful.

Our server was very helpful and friendly, although she kept pushing the Chef's Week menu on us. I think it's tricky to figure out the portions at a place like this, and she was honest about how much we needed to order. Speaking of Chef's Week, it's basically an extension of restaurant week with some preset $22 menu. The issue I take with these deals is that they include dessert, which I don't always want at lunch. The cost can stack up if you get a large meal, but for lunch you can easily grab a sandwich or salad in the $12 range. You don't get monstrous portions, but you wont need to go to Al's Beef or Portillo's around the corner to finish off your hunger either.

The Food
Moonie was immediately sold on trying one of the Pork Belly Sliders to start with. Mostly I think she just wanted to get something with kimchi, but this was way more in such a small sandwich. Between the crispy bread, savory pork, and crunchy kimchi there was a textural, flavorful explosion in this two bite wonder. It was a good way to get the ball rolling.

 The Pork Belly Slider

From there Moonie got the Tuna Melt, and I ordered the Tuna BLT. We both took the option to get a half sandwich with soup and salad. The salad had pickled onions and candied walnuts. It wasn't overly dressed, and it didn't overpower anything else on the plate while providing significantly refreshing bites. The soup was a creamy tomato that was very acidic. The tuna melt was pretty standard and clean so to speak. It came on a marble rye. The Tuna BLT had seared tuna, a fried pickle, avocado, big slices of bacon, and obviously the LT. The fried pickle was a fantastic addition, and the seared tuna still stood out well against the strong smokey flavors in the bacon.

The Tuna Melt Combo

 The Tuna BLT

I'd long awaited my trip to GT Fish and Oyster, and this was very different than what I'd expected. By that I mean I didn't think I'd be getting tuna sandwich combo platters. They were very well done. I thought it was on par with the lunch at Joe's. I can't wait to get back there for dinner sometime soon. For now, I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.

GT Fish & Oyster on Urbanspoon