Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Southern

Location: 1840 W North
Cost: About $30 per person

My birthday was at the beginning of the month, and some plans were in order. The big celebration barbecue was scheduled for the day after my birthday which left a gaping hole in my schedule for dinner the night of. I'd had my eye on the family style fried chicken dinner at the Southern, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Along with a good crew of close friends, I was ready to dive right in.

The Southern more or less looks like one of the many bars that lines the strip on North avenue as you approach Six Corners from the east. They've got a spacious patio and a variety of seating options indoors. The nine of us squeezed into one of the larger booths available. We had a reservation which was pretty essential. The place was packed on a Friday night, and the wait seemed to really pile up for some unfortunate last minute diners.

Our waiter was friendly and quick with our drink orders. In order to get the family style meal, we had to call a few days in advance. It worked out to about $20 per person before tax and tip. Plus, it was really an excessive amount of food.

The Food
In addition to what was included in our meal, we got some Mac n' Cheese since they're known for it. The sauce was thick and creamy with a good proportion of bread crumbs. To wash it down, the majority of us ordered the Maple Bacon Manhattan. The bacon infused Jim Beam and the sweet maple syrup were well blended. Plus they had a crispy piece of bacon in each glass for stirring/eating.

The Maple Bacon Manhattan

 The Mac n' Cheese

As far as the family style meal, it included Biscuits, Gravy, Collard Greens, Cheesy Grits, Mashed Potatoes, and of course, Fried Chicken. The biscuits were giant, light, and very buttery. They also came with special butter and honey to top them off. The gravy was thick and salty. It pretty much went well with everything. I've never been a big fan of greens, and I thought these were the weakest part of the meal. They were overly spicy and a bit soggy. The grits and the potatoes were both fantastic. The potatoes were chunky with bits of the skin strewn throughout. Finally, the fried chicken was really something else. It reminded me of a slightly better version of the chicken at Joe's. The breading was thick, dark, and well seasoned with a kick. The meat was juicy and consistently properly cooked. I think they cooked a good three chickens for the nine of us.

The Biscuits

The Mashed Potatoes

The Collard Greens

The Cheesy Grits

 The Fried Chicken

The family style fried chicken dinner at The Southern was a wonderful experience. Grab a group of close friends and get over there soon. If you like fried chicken, you'll love what they're serving up here. The sides are almost just as impressive. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

The Southern on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 25, 2012

25 Degrees

Location: 736 N Clark
Cost: About $20 per person

The third year of medical school makes it much more difficult to see your friends from class. You're all spread amongst different rotations, and you hardly get to see each other. My friend Jhop and I ran into each other at a BBQ the other weekend and realized it'd been quite a while. We made plans to get dinner soon thereafter. So Jhop, her husband Jason, and I went to get a burger at 25 Degrees.

25 Degrees is right next to one of my favorite River North bars, Clark Street Ale House.They have some outdoor seating and an indoor area with a big bar at the center. I didn't want to sit on a tall stool, so we moved to an outdoor spot. They were able to seat us right away, but I could imagine a decent battle for good seating on a busy happy hour day.

Our waitress wasn't much help with the menu, but she was pretty attentive. Our food didn't take long to come out. The price was slightly up there. Most burgers were around $12 and didn't come with fries. I hate it when you have to order them separately. What a rip. I also thought about getting a milk shake, but for $6 I took a pass. They have a nice collection of alcoholic shakes too, but those were upwards of $10. The portions were enough to make you uncomfortably full.

The Food
Our order was straightforward. We got the #1, the #3, and the #4. The #1 was mine and had caramelized onion, some fancily named bleu cheese, bacon, arugula, and thousand island dressing. Jess went with the #3 which had jack cheese, green chiles, chipotle, and avocados. Jason had the #4 which was a tuna steak with fried onions and a spicy aioli. The buns were simple and mushy. They were not the necessary platform for these burgers and we all had gigantic messes on our hands. The toppings were universally creative, making each burger totally unique. The meat was extra juicy, but both Jess's and mine were overcooked. We also got an order of Onion Rings and Sweet Potato Fries. The rings were mildly spiced and didn't come apart with one bit (a common downfall). The sweet potato fries were on the soggy side. Jess and Jason also got a Root Beer Float with Jim Beam. It was tasty, but they said they wouldn't order it again. I'd like to try the butterscotch alcoholic shake if I go back.

The Onion Rings and Sweet Potato Fries

The Jim Beam Root Beer Float

The #1

The #4

 The #3

25 Degrees has creativity on its side. I don't know if all of the fancy cheeses and topping shine through as well as they should, and I definitely don't think they're worth the increased cost. The cooking was slightly flawed and the buns were a real problem. I realize that makes it sound pretty bad, but the burgers were still juicy and well thought out from a flavor profile. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.

25 Degrees on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 18, 2012

El Barco Mariscos

Location: 1035 N Ashland
Cost: About $25 per person

Things were pretty hectic with my schedule around my birthday this year. I had a call shift the day before and the day after which made things pretty hard to make plans. We wanted to have a family celebration, so we scheduled something for the week before. The initial plans were to get some sushi at Arami once my parents got out of the Sox game. I was hoping that they'd be done early enough for us to get in without a reservation. Unfortunately the game went into extras and we were S.O.L. We were all on our way to that part of town anyways, so I called a quick audible which led us over to El Barco Mariscos.

El Barco takes up the northeast corner of Cortez and Ashland. You can't miss the ridiculous sign they've got of what looks like Mister Sparkle as a fish. It's a very lively place that was packed when we walked up. They've got plenty of outdoor seating and some pretty large tables inside. It's a difficult place to navigate because of all the commotion. Still, we were given a table for three on the patio without any wait. It kind of reminds me of a Mexican version of Bob Chinn's.

The waitress was very friendly and helpful. It was hard to decipher the menu since much of it is in Spanish, and in general, it's just not very intuitive what to order. The service was efficient as our food and drinks came out at a nice rate. The cost was solid. A whole snapper which easily served the three of us was $30. Margaritas and beers were cheap as well.

The Food
We pretty much copied the order from the table next to us since everything they had looked so good. For drinks we split a pitcher of traditional lime Margaritas except for my dad who went frilly with it and got the blackberry margarita. In general they were a little weak.

 Our Margaritas

They take a different spin on chips and salsa

For an appetizer we split an order of the Shrimp Ceviche. The portion was large as were the chunks of shrimp. It was topped with an avocado, and I thought the acidity of the dish was well balanced.

 The Shrimp Ceviche

For the main course we split a Whole Fried Red Snapper and a Skirt Steak and Shrimp Combo Platter. The fish came out with the head and everything. They crisped up the skin and scored the sides so that it was really easy to take off chunks without getting any bones. The fish was tender and flaky although we needed to squeeze quite a few limes on their for added flavor. It came over a huge bed of rice, beans, and grilled veggies that were all seasoned very well. As for the skirt steak and shrimp, we were also pretty impressed. The meat was medium rare just like we ordered. It had a nice kick without overpowering anyone. The portion was pretty large for what I recall ended up costing around $17. I could've done without the shrimp which were a little tough for my liking (and just overkill after the appetizer).

 The Skirt Steak and Shrimp

 The Whole Fried Red Snapper

As a nice little touch at the end, they gave me a double shot of tequila for my birthday.

Note: I'd like to throw in a link to my friend Krista's post on El Barco. She really hated it, and I trust her opinions. I've looked over many online reviews, and they seem to be hit or miss. I'll stick with my good experience and plan on going back until they do me wrong. I encourage you to do the same.

From the second we sat down, we were pretty smitten by El Barco. The fish could've used a bit more flavor, and the drinks could've definitely been stronger. Still, I was very pleased that the food met the expectations that were set for me by the unique atmosphere. As a big fan of whole fish, I think I'll be coming back soon. It's a great option for groups. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.

El Barco on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 15, 2012

Papa D's Grill


Location: 2273 N Lincoln
Cost: About $12 per person

I went to undergrad at the University of Illinois, and in Champaign there are many greasy late night eateries. One of my clear favorites was Geovanti's. They have amazing chicken fingers and honey mustard dipping sauce. I will always hold dear memories of Geovanti's except for the time when my friend Alison completely ruined my favorite pair of jeans by rudely reaching across everyone for a french fry and subsequently dropping ketchup on them.

Well, one day my roommate Jeremy came home with a big fat grin on his face because he'd discovered that the owners of Geo's had opened a place in Lincoln Park called Papa D's Grill (notice the similarity in web design). Supposedly they had the exact same chicken fingers and dipping sauces. Soon thereafter, I had the chance to buy a groupon, and the two of us went to hit it up.

Papa D's is a simple storefront smack in the middle of the Depaul bar scene on Lincoln. There's no air conditioning and all of the tables are wobbly. We were the only people in there eating. It smelled kind of funky most of the time we were there until they started cooking up some obscene amount of bacon for the evening "rush." Then it smelled awesome.

The burn out looking guy behind the counter took care of us pretty quickly, but it's not like he had anyone else to serve. The cost isn't bad, but somehow you just feel ripped off. I hate that the prices in store were not the same as online. It's just some scam to coax people to come in and then up charge them. What makes things even worse is that they clearly have higher prices taped on over the menu on the wall. What it comes to is that an order of chicken fingers, fries, and a drink will run you around $12 (add a few bucks on if you want 5 fingers instead of 3).

The Food
The main goal was to order some Chicken Tenders and French Fries with Honey Mustard Sauce for dipping. That being said, we had extra space to work with from our groupon, so we also split a House Salad and a Burger. The salad was crummy on all accounts. The lettuce seemed wet and the veggies were bland (like Subway bland). The burger was right out of the freezer and the bun was stale as could be. Still, those dishes aren't why you go to Papa D's. The chicken tenders did not hold up to my wonderful memories from undergrad. The batch was inconsistent with some of them being too dry and some of them coming out not fully cooked (taking a bite of an undercooked chicken tender is really unsettling). The fries were soggy. The dipping sauce was still perfect. It's like some creamier version of the best honey mustard you've ever had.

The Chicken Fingers and Fries

The Burger

 The House Salad

Eating at Papa D's was a pretty awful experience, and I felt equally awful for quite some time thereafter. If only I could just find out where they get that damned honey mustard sauce from. Since everything goes in the deep fryer, I'd imagine that my undercooked tender was just bad luck. Still, I'll never go back, and I can easily say that you won't enjoy your meal here. I'm giving them 1 out of 5 Pearls.

Note: For the record, I believe Jeremy disagrees with my opinions on our meal. His grease laden stomach loves the 3 piece tender meal.
Papa D's Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Miso Asian Kitchen

Location: 4449 N Broadway
Cost: About $10 per person

A few weeks ago, the Professor had some surgery. Although he was well on his way to recovery, he was still feeling a bit tired and out of it. Ricky and I figured we'd bring him some dinner in one of our rare acts of genuine friendship. After some deliberation we settled on Thai. We were scanning seamless for delivery options, and when we came across Miso Asian, we just couldn't resist.

Note: The restaurant's website is completely worthless

From a delivery standpoint these guys missed the mark. The food showed up on time. There was only a $2.50 delivery fee. They even threw in a few free sodas with our order. Unfortunately, they didn't wrap the food tightly and a good chunk of it ended up at the bottom of the bag. Not only were we missing out on some food, but it was a pain to deal with the mess.

The prices were very standard. Most apps were in the $5 range while entrees were around $6. The portions were plenty for how much they cost, but with the spill, there was clear depreciation of value.

The Food
Our order was pretty typical. We went with the Crab Rangoon to start with. This was by far my favorite part of the meal. I consider myself a stickler about crab rangoon. These weren't overly fried and had a wonderfully light crisp. They were overflowing with filling that wasn't too sweet. From there, things went downhill.

Our entrees included the Mongolian Beef, the Garlic Chicken, and the Shanhai Chow Fun Chicken. The beef was overcooked and chewy. The garlic chicken was a little tough as well. Mostly though, the dish had nondescript flavor and a general saltiness that was unpleasant. Now, I happen to love most any chow fun dish, but these noodles were soggy and slimy. It's also pretty unsettling to look at the finished plates and see a gigantic grease pool in each one.

The Shanhai Chow Fun Chicken

The Mongolian Beef

 The Garlic Chicken

From the second we opened the delivery bag (with the exception of the crab rangoon), Miso Asian was a huge disappointment. Cardinal rules were broken left and right. Dishes weren't packaged properly, and the food that remained was too salty, too oily, and too improperly cooked. I'm giving them 1 out of 5 Pearls.

Miso Asian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 8, 2012

Wells on Wells

Location: 1617 N Wells
Cost: About $12 per person

My old roommate Steve was in town on vacation the other week and called me as him and Rachel were on their way back from North Avenue Beach. They asked if I wanted to meet them somewhere in Old Town for a beer and some lunch. The plan was to meet at the corner of North and Wells so that we could pick some cool place nearby, however, by the time I got there they were already at Wells on Wells.

Wells on Wells is a bit North of North in Old Town. They've got some outdoor seating in front as well as some options in the backyard. The bar itself is simple with some tall tables and a few TVs. At night they get packed, but for lunch there wasn't much of a crowd.

Our waitress was quick and friendly although she didn't have many other people to keep her busy. They had some kind of special running at the time where any salads and wraps were $6.99. Besides the deal, you can get most anything on the menu for around $10. The portions are reasonable where you don't feel cheated, but you don't get a ton either.

The Food
The menu isn't all that extensive. Because of the deal, both Rachel and I ordered the Wells Salad while Steve got the Sliders. The salad looked pretty sparse when it came out. It had chicken, bleu cheese, cranberries, carrots, mandarin oranges, sunflower seeds, tomatoes and peppers. The veggies were all different sizes and it was challenging to eat. It just really didn't flow well together. The sliders were ordered medium well but came out charred. I believe the proper term may have been hockey puck. Either way, when something is too well done for Steve Bacalar, you know there's an issue.

The Sliders

 The Wells Salad

Wells on Wells is a fine place to grab a drink in Old Town, but I would not recommend eating there. We only tried two main dishes, but they were heavily recommended by the waitress. I can't tell if I should stop eating at these kinds of places or if I should still expect a few of them to have good food. I'm giving them 1 out of 5 Pearls.

Wells on Wells on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Angelina Ristorante

Location: 3561 N Broadway
Cost: About $25 per person

In typical Memorial day weekend fashion, my dad signed us up for Bike the Drive. Since we start riding at the crack of dawn, he always likes to spend the night beforehand at my place in the city so that we can just ride over to the start first thing in the morning. A bunch of guys from our neighborhood partake in the ride as well, and the Nissenbergs follow similar suit to us by coming down one night early. Since we were all downtown anyways, we figured we should meet up for dinner. For convenience, we needed to find a place relatively close to Barry and Broadway, and Italian was the requested genre. I remember a while back, the Ericas suggested I try out a favorite spot of theirs, and it fit what we needed. That's how we ended up at Angelina Ristorante.

We were able to lock down a reservation with one days notice, and it proved to be essential. They built up a pretty good line, and it felt good to waltz right past it. There's plenty of street parking nearby. The restaurant is setup to feel like some rustic Italian home. Some of the pictures were crooked, and old wine bottles lined the walls. It still kept plenty of its boys town charm with Neil Diamond tunes in the background. We got sat in a table that was pretty cramped, but then I remembered that our other options nearby (like Mia Francesca) were much worse in regards to space.

Our server was very nice and attentive although not that knowledgeable of the wine list. Our food came out rather quickly, and the bus boys were very efficient. They even took away Andy's extra side of garlic on multiple occasions. It was a bit of a mess when the food came out since they didn't know where any of the dishes went, and the table was already crowded. The prices matched well with the portions. Most of the pasta dishes were around $16 while most of the protein based entrees were around $20.

The Food
We got the ball rolling with a few salads for the table to share. We split the Caesar, the Insalata di Barbabietole, and the specialty Peach Salad. With plenty of beets and hearts of palm, the Insalata di Barbabietole was my clear favorite. The caesar was rather plain and lifeless. The peach salad had a nice apricot dressing, but it overpowered everything else.

The Caesar Salad

The Barbabietole

 The Special Peach Salad

For the main course my mom got the Veal Marsala, my dad got the Fettucini Bolognese, Andy got the Linguine Mare, Sandy got the Fusili con Pollo, Heather got the Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli, Corey got the Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi, and I got the Pollo Angelina. I wasn't impressed with the cheese based gnocchi and thought it was way too mushy. The bolognese had a rich and meaty sauce that tied things together nicely. I thought the veal was a bit dry and that the sauce could've had a richer taste. The chicken was great with a crispy skin and moistness to each bite. It came with a side of sausage that was a bit dry but had a spicy kick. Instead of sticking around for dessert we walked over to Windy City Sweets for some ice cream.

The Ricotta Cheese Gnocchi

The Fusili con Pollo

The Veal Marsala

The Fettucini Bolognese

The Linguini Mare

The Pollo Angelina

 The Beet and Goat Cheese Ravioli

I found the menu to be hit or miss at Angelina Ristorante. Still, the hits were strong enough to outweigh the weaker dishes. If I'd stuck to the barbabietole and the chicken, it would've been perfect. I'm giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Angelina Ristorante on Urbanspoon