Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sarkis' Cafe

Location: 2632 Gross Point Road, Evanston
Cost: About $8 per person

So it's been about two years since I started Jeff Eats Chicago, and I thought I should do something a little special to celebrate. When I think back to some of the funniest moments I've ever had at a restaurant, I always come back to my first night with the fraternity back in college. I'd just met both of my current roommates and whole bunch of other members. After a long night out we went to get some late night grub at Sarkis (which had a brief two year appearance in Champaign at the time). Somehow two of our friends had gotten into a debate about how much someone would need to pay them to eat hash browns out of their belly button. Now for those of you thank know Ricky, he's not shy. When they came to the total of $3, he proclaimed, "screw that, I'll do it for free." Plus, he used ketchup. Then, on our way out there was a party singing happy birthday to a girl, and at the end of the song Ricky went over and laid a big ketchupy smooch on her cheek. Some of you may find this story off-putting, but I will always cherish the hilarious memory.

 Ricky

I decided to get the crew together that had been there that night to go to the original Sarkis in Evanston. So in total we had Weiss, JR, Ricky, Wallace, Ockrim, Ludwig, the Professor, Scotty, and Rachel (to be fair, Scotty and Rachel were not in the original story, but really wanted to come along).

Logistics
Sarkis is not meant for groups by any means. The front room has counter seating and a few booths cramped in. There's a room in the back with a few more tables for groups of 4 or 5. Somehow we smashed our party of 10 into the back corner (they were out of chairs though and Wallace sat in a high chair). They have a bunch of outdoor seating which was still covered in snow, but when it gets warm out practically doubles the seating capacity. If you grew up on the north shore, it's impossible to go to Sarkis without recognizing someone. The rest of the crowd is made up of local high school students and families.

The service is what it is. There's not really a host, but the owner saw our large group and tried to put something together. The waiter asked us whether or not we needed menus and we quickly said no. The menu is straightforward and so many of us had been there so many times. The point that the waiter felt comfortable asking this shows how many of their diners are regulars. Our food came out quickly although not all at the same time. When it came time to pay the bill, the owner simply asks you what you had on your way out. It's CASH ONLY, and this system works pretty smoothly. Sarkis is really cheap. You get some overwhelmingly large plate of food for about $8.

The Food
There are only so many things to get at Sarkis. Supposedly the omelets are fantastic, but I wouldn't know. I always end up ordering a Loretta (either bacon, turkey, or sausage aka "the disaster"). A Loretta is an open faced sandwich on french bread with your choice of meat, mayo, onion, green pepper, tomato, and what I'm pretty sure is white american cheese. It's greasy, delicious, nostalgic, and filling. Throw some hot sauce on there, and you've got yourself an unrivaled breakfast sandwich. A few people ordered the Special Grilled Cheese to change up the pace. It was special because it had a fried egg and bacon in addition to the cheese. It was simple and buttery. The only side anyone ordered was the hash browns. They come thinly cut, and you can order them with cheese and veggies (highly recommended). It's important to ask for them well done. They get a real nice crisp going.

The Bacon Loretta and Cheesy Hash Browns

The Special Grilled Cheese

 The Disaster

Overall
I think Ricky put it best on our way out by saying, "Sarkis is the mecca of breakfast." If you go there expecting some elegant, farm to table meal you'll be sadly disappointed. If you want a greasy, delicious platter of breakfast goodness then you'll have come to the right place. Also, nothing handles a hangover better than a Loretta. I have no idea how the off shoot restaurant in Lincoln Park is, but I'll check it out soon. For the original, I'm giving a Pearl Necklace, 5 out of 5.


Thanks to all of my friends that came to celebrate two years with me, and thanks to all of my readers for sticking with me thus far even with my endless typos. Much love.

Sarkis Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sinha

Location: 2018 W Adams
Cost: $30 per person

There's not too much back story to this meal. Really it boils down to me buying a groupon and running out of time. I'd heard of Sinha from a bunch of different people because of how interesting of a place it is. When the groupon came up for half off I bought it. I totally forgot I had it and then realized it was going to expire soon. Luckily for me, they added additional seating times for people with my unique predicament. I coaxed my friend Maddie into joining me on this little trip too.

Logistics
Sinha is a Brazilian restaurant in a woman's home. It's right near the United Center in a stand alone three story building. They've got a parking lot which was convenient. Typically they have seating times at 2PM and 4PM on Sundays. While you wait for the dining room to be set up, you can enjoy a drink on the second floor which is basically the owner's living room. When dinner is ready you get ushered down to the first floor which includes the kitchen (where the buffet is served) and a few large communal dining tables. In the summer they have a great back patio that opens up too. It's a very fun atmosphere that forces you to hang out with the other patrons. Plus, since it's BYOB people are very willing to share their drinks.

The service is great. By the service, I mean the owner who explains each dish, carves meat to order, and graciously makes you feel welcome in her home. The setup is an all you can eat buffet with a huge variety of options. The typical cost is $30 per person ($15 with the groupon). It's a pretty solid deal, and this place is fantastic for groups.

The Food
Like most of my buffet meals, I'll describe what I ate in the order of plate it appeared on. So plate one had the following items: sauteed greens, roasted pulled chicken, black beans, pulled pork, beet and pepper salad, plantains, cod, and some kind of roasted egg cup. The pork and beans were explained as the most authentic Brazilian options. The beans were well seasoned and the pork was very tender. I really liked the greens and the salad which were simple and refreshing. Plantains are one of my favorite foods, and these might have been just a bit too soggy. The cod was lightly breaded and very flaky. I could've passed on the chicken, especially because all of the other proteins were such strong dishes.

 Plate #1

Plate two was a little more straightforward. It had more of the beet salad, more plantains, a gluten free biscuit, some of the hand carved steak, and some pork belly. These biscuits were really something else. They tasted a bit cheesy and were light and fluffy. The steak was well seasoned but not too salty like some of these places serve it. The onions and peppers on top were a nice addition. The pork belly was mushy and completely unappetizing.

 Plate #2

For dessert they brought out a piece of cake that was half custard and half berry of some kind with a fruity icing drizzled over the top. It did a great job of getting the pork belly taste out of my mouth, but on top of that it was a nice dessert without being overly sweet.

 Dessert

Overall
I may have ragged on a dish or two, but otherwise I loved Sinha. Some of the vegetable dishes, the pulled pork, and the steak were just fantastic. More importantly though, this place is just a great change of pace. The owner really goes that extra mile to make you feel at home and turn the meal into an experience. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Sinha Elegant Brazilian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 23, 2012

La Madia

Location: 59 W Grand
Cost: About $25 per person

A little after I first started writing, I was invited to write about the River North Octoberfeast. In the midst of running from place to place, shoveling down appetizers and cocktails, I briefly remembered stopping in at La Madia. Well, more recently my friend Amanda wanted to get together to grab some pizza. Ashley and Sal were in on the outing too. My first many suggestions got shut down for a variety of reasons (too dangerous of a neighborhood, recently closed for health code issues, etc). I didn't think those were such big problems, but I was quickly overruled until I remembered La Madia.

Logistics
La Madia has a much trendier feel than you'd expect from a typical pizza joint. They've got a centrally located oven and a variety of seating options. At first they put us at a table right next to the door, but Amanda was able to persuade them to move us to a nicer table. One issue is that they don't have much room for waiting, and the front of the house was really crowded as the night went on. We had a reservation which ended up being essential for a Friday night. Otherwise I think we would've had about an hour wait.

Our server was pretty goofy and kept trying to pitch only the expensive menu items on us. It also took a little too long for our food to come out. In general I thought the menu had some problems. The categories were appetizers, salad, pizza, pasta, and bruschetta (ALMOST EVERYTHING WAS A CARBOHYDRATE). The cost was reasonable. Appetizers were around $8, and pizzas fluctuated around $13. For the four of us, two starters and two pizzas were plenty.

The Food
After some lengthy deliberation we picked the Oven Roasted Artichokes and the Apple Bruschetta to get started. The artichokes had a creative and acidic mustard sauce for dipping. The artichokes themselves were swimming in garlic, which we all thought was great. I didn't really like the bruschetta nearly as much. It was all apple without enough gorgonzola or walnuts to balance it out.

The Roasted Artichokes

 The Apple Bruschetta

For our pizzas we went with the Shave Artichoke and the Triple Pepperoni. The artichoke had plenty of garlic and wasn't too oily which is often an issue with white pizzas. The pepperoni was on the greasier side and had a nice spiciness to the meat. For that matter, it was entirely blanketed with pepperoni. The crust had a mild sweetness to it without any significant burnt points. It was a little dry at the edges.

The Shaved Artichoke Pizza

 The Triple Pepperoni Pizza

We ordered the Wisconsin Electric Butter Cookies for dessert. I guess this is actually the recipe from a box that the chef's mom used to make. They were coated in powdered sugar and went well with the sugared lemon rinds on the plate. I think after everything we had, this might have been the universally favorite item.

 The Wisconsin Electric Butter Cookies

Overall
I don't usually go for trendy when I think of pizza. We ended up getting pretty standard toppings, but they also have some solid options with different peppers or candied grapes that I've tried in the past. Almost everything was well executed, and I got over the carbo load pretty quickly. I'm giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

La Madia on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 20, 2012

Uru Swati

Location: 2629 W Devon Avenue
Cost: About $15 per person

When I first started med school I was assigned a "big sibling" to help me get acclimated. Just to clarify, everyone gets a big sibling (it's not like I was some lost cause or anything like that). Well, with the year being rather busy, it'd been quite a while since my sibling Dipal and I had hung out. I ran into her the other day, and we made plans to go hit up some Indian place on Devon. She had a restaurant.com gift card to Uru Swati which made our decision pretty easy.

Logistics
Uru Swati is a quiet vegetarian spot on Devon. The wide open dining room was pretty empty when we came in. There might have been one or two other parties throughout our meal. It was a simple operation with one waiter and one other host/busboy. We obviously got sat right away, and I doubt that waiting's ever a big issue.

Our service was efficient and friendly. The waiter even did that traditional Indian head nod thing when he was taking our order. The cost was very cheap with most appetizers under $5 and most entrees under $10. Plus with the restaurant.com gift card we ended up getting $35 worth of food for $10. You can usually find some promo code for the website to make it an even better deal.

The Food
For drinks we both ordered Mango Lassies. They were thick, sweet and delicious. For our appetizers we got Samosas and Pani Puri. The samosas had a nice spicy potato filling with a crispy exterior. I'd never had pani puri before, and I'm not sure what I thought of the flavored water. The chickpea filling was a little bland, and I don't think I'd revert back to this appetizer.

The Samosas

The Mango Lassies

 The Pani Puri

For our next course we shared Masala Dosa, Dal Makhani, and Garlic Naan. The naan was excessively garlicy. It was a bit burnt at points too. The dosa was a little under filled and cold, but the flavors were all in order. The dal makhani wasn't really anything to write home about either. Some of the lentils were a bit crunchy and underdone, but the gravy was really the underperformer.

The Garlic Naan

The Dal Makhani 

The Masala Dosa

For dessert we shared a Mango Melba. This was basically a mango sundae with some interesting flavors thrown in. I liked the ice cream, but the rose flavored syrup was a bit off putting.

 The Mango Melba

Overall
Devon Avenue is covered in wonderful Indian restaurant, but Uru Swati is not what I'd hoped for after making the short drive north. It was very inexpensive, but there weren't any dishes that really stood out at all. I'm giving them 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Uru Swati on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 17, 2012

Olive Mediterranean Grill

Location: 1001 W North Ave.
Cost: About $10 per person

My roommates are huge bums. I consider myself broken by med school in that I can't sleep past 8 AM as a result of all of my early shifts. Ricky and Jeremy on the other hand often roll out of bed at 1 PM or so. Typically on the weekends, when they finally get their acts together, we like to take the short walk over to NYC Bagel Deli. A few weekends back a new place opened up next door. We decided to change up the pace a little bit and try out Olive Mediterranean Grill.

Logistics
OMG was setup with a pretty simple order at the counter fashion. Basically, this place was the Chipotle of Mediterranean food. There were cheesy designs on the wall too. It was somewhat of a grand opening and the place was relatively empty. We didn't have to wait at all.

They were all very friendly, but it's not like we had a server. It also may have been a little grand opening charm. The cost was more than I would've liked to pay. A medium sized bowl of soup was $5 and most of the sandwiches were near $7. The portions weren't necessarily huge either. Compared to a place like Sultan's Market, this was not a good deal at all.

The Food
We got a pretty good feel for the menu. We shared a bunch of items including the Soup with a Twist (basically lentil soup with chicken and rice), the Chicken Kabob Sandwich, the Beef Shawerma Sandwich, and the Falafel. The soup was too fatty for my taste, and there wasn't that much chicken in my bowl. It also had this grainy texture that just hit me the wrong way. The pieces of chicken in the kabob sandwich were moist and flavorful. The pita was dry, and the sandwich didn't really offer much besides the chicken (I'd go for the rice plate if I were you). The beef shawerma was pretty simple and didn't really hold up to the blandness of the rest of the sandwich. The falafel was really weird. It was neon green for starters. Also, it had this super strong exterior crispiness and a an interior that fell apart right away. It was just really unappetizing.

The Soup with a Twist

The Chicken Kabob Sandwich

The Beef Shawerma Sandwich

 The Falafel

Overall
I just don't see the value in this place. None of the items were all that strong, and there are clearly cheaper and better options available. The best dish was probably the chicken kabob, but I don't think it's enough to bring me back. I'm giving them 1 out of 5 Pearls.

Olive Mediterranean Grill on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Maders

Location: 1041 North Old World 3rd Street, Milwaukee
Cost: About $40 per person

My parents and I were up in Milwaukee a few weeks back, and we decided to grab a bite before making the trek home. My dad used to do a bunch of business in Milwaukee when he started out as an accountant. Accordingly, he knows all these different places and suggested we try one of the more famous spots in town, Maders.

Logistics
Maders is right down the road from the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee. The entire place is decked out in an old fashioned German style. In between the beer steins there are countless pictures of every celebrity who has ever stepped foot in the place. I mean, I didn't know Milwaukee even drew that kind of crowd (no offense intended, it's just that there's practically a picture of every famous person ever in that place, even the ones that you wouldn't think eat food). The waitresses are all dressed up like the St. Pauli girl too.

Our service was great except for the hostess. We stood at the stand up front for a good five minutes while she was in the bar having a drink. One of my biggest issues with this place was the cost. Appetizers were about $10, and all of the entrees were around $30. With half of the plate covered by spaetzle (which is practically of no cost) it turned out to be a pretty big rip.

The Food
The first thing we ordered was a plate of the Reuben Rolls. These were basically egg rolls filled with a reuben. It was the perfect combination of Chinese and deli (basically a jews dream food [if they don't keep kosher that is]). Then my dad and I split the Liver Dumpling Soup. It was unbelievably salty, but I was digging the dumplings. They were meaty and doughy, but they probably didn't help the overall saltiness of the dish. Oh, they also brought out some homemade pretzel buns with our appetizers that were just fantastic.

The Reuben Rolls

The Liver Dumpling Soup

 The Pretzel Rolls

We ended up splitting two main dishes, the Sauerbraten and the Goulasch. The sauerbraten came out with four thick slices of meat doused in a ginger snap sauce. The sauce was way too sweet and the meat was well done and chewy. The goulash also had an unpleasant sweetness to it from the wine sauce it came in. I thought the spaetzle was rather plain, and it came out somewhat cold.

The Goulash

 The Sauerbraten

For dessert we went for one of my dad's favorites, the Apple Strudel. The dough was light and flaky, and I liked how you were able to cut off a bite without all of the apple filling spilling out. The ice cream was rich as could be, but I'd expect no less out of Milwaukee.

 The Apple Strudel

Overall
Our appetizers and dessert were on the ball at Maders, but I can't get past how overpriced and unappetizing our main dishes were. What we really had was some overly sweet, over cooked meat in two different varieties with a lifetime supply of lukewarm spaetzle. Maybe they're living on a long reputation, and I doubt I'll be able to knock them down any pegs. I'm giving them 1.5 Pearls.


Mader's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Slurping Turtle

Location: 116 W Hubbard St.
Cost: About $25 per person

I had a bit of a cold a few weeks ago and was starting to feel better, but I was convinced I needed some good soup to put me in the clear. I'd heard that there was this great new ramen noodle place in River North that I had to try, and I thought it would be perfect for this situation. I grabbed my friend Sophia, and we went to try out Slurping Turtle.

Logistics
Slurping Turtle has a pretty funky design. They've got a huge communal table in the center of the dining room surrounded by some prop up tables and a bar in the front of the restaurant. In the back there are a smattering of booths and a tiny second floor with a few more tables overlooking the rest of the house. We went at 7:00 on a Saturday and had to wait about half an hour. There was limited waiting room at the bar, but we managed to elbow our way in and enjoy one of their rarer Japanese beers on tap. We ended up getting sat in the middle of the large communal table.

Our service was prompt, and our waitress took plenty of time to explain the dishes. The cost is pretty cheap for both the area and the food you get. Appetizers were all around $7, side dishes were $5, all of the main noodle entrees were near $13, and all of the desserts were around $3.50. ONE NOODLE ENTREE IS PLENTY FOR TWO PEOPLE. We had way more than enough for the two of us. Plus, these noodle dishes don't make for good leftovers and are often textural nightmares on reheating. All these fools around us were sitting at the end of their meals with these huge cauldrons of soup that they hardly dented.

The Food
We got the ball rolling with some appetizers including the Homemade Tofu, the Eggplant Salad, and the Jumbo Gyoza. The tofu was extra silky, almost to the point that it became difficult to pick up with chopsticks (and for the record, I'm no slouch with a pair of chopsticks). The eggplant salad had plenty of kick and was well balanced with the somewhat blander pieces of eggplant. I thought it was the one item that was too small for its price. The gyoza had a tasty pork center and a wrapping that may have been a bit too gooey. The pickles across the top were a nice touch. I wish we'd ordered the Sashimi dish which is a chef selection and looked awesome in front of our dining neighbors.

The Jumbo Gyoza

The Eggplant Salad

 The Homemade Tofu

For the main course we had the Tan Tan Men which had whole wheat noodles, ground pork, and house made sausage in a spicy broth. There was a ton of meat throughout the soup. The broth had a strong kick, but nothing we couldn't handle. There was this wonderful aroma coming off the whole dish that cleared up any remaining sinus congestion I'd had left. The noodles were substantial but not at all dry or bland like you might think of with some other whole wheat noodles.

 The Tan Tan Men

We got two desserts, the Vanilla Cream Puff and the Sea Salt Ice Cream. Not that the soup wasn't fantastic, but this was my favorite part of the meal. The cream puff was gigantic. It had this crispy exterior closely followed by some rather fluffy dough and a rich creamy center. The sea salt ice cream was something I'd never tried before. The actual granules of salt around our scoops exterior gave an amazing textural and flavorful balance to the dish with a really strong salty and sweet presence.

The Sea Salt Ice Cream and the Vanilla Cream Puff

 An Interior View of the Cream Puff

Overall
I thought all of the dishes after the appetizer round were really strong. I feel the need to compare Slurping Turtle and Urban Belly since the concept is somewhat similar. I thought my ramen was better at Slurping Turtle and that all of my side dishes and appetizers were better at Urban Belly. That being said, they're both fantastic restaurants where you can get a diverse, flavor packed meal for a really low cost. I'm giving Slurping Turtle 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Slurping Turtle on Urbanspoon