Friday, March 30, 2012

Manny's Cafeteria and Delicatessen

Location: 1141 S Jefferson
Cost: About $12 per person

Restaurant Week gives diners a chance to hit up lots of places that they wouldn't otherwise (often because of expense). That being said, I usually don't go anywhere because I either don't make a reservation early enough or don't find a menu that seems appealing. This year, however, I saw that Manny's Deli had an awesome deal that I couldn't resist. My friend Graham had been asking to check out a good Jewish deli for a while, so that's where we headed.

Logistics
Manny's looks way more like a cafeteria than a deli. When you walk in, you step into a line where you pick up a tray and point at what you want. They've got tons of seating, but the place is always packed. You can usually find street parking nearby. If you look around when you're in there, you'll often see some important chicagoans (politicians and the like). The lines get a little bit long at peak hours, but they move fast. One issue is that you can easily get stuck behind someone being indecisive. If you want a sandwich, make sure to jump right past all the chumps getting pasta. If you want salad, make sure to go straight toward the back of the line.

So the restaurant week deal was 2 half sandwiches, 2 potato pancakes, and 2 bowls of soup for $22. It was a solid deal, but on a regular day the prices don't get too out of hand anyways. The portions are gigantic too.

The Food
Our orders were nice, simple, and traditional. We both got started with Matzo Ball Soup. It was a reasonably salty bowl of soup with a gigantic, fluffy ball. I still prefer my mom's, but this was some pretty good stuff.

 The Matzo Ball Soup

For sandwiches Graham got the roast beef on challah, and I got the corned beef on rye. I also ordered some chopped liver on the side. Graham seemed pleased with his sandwich, and I've had it before. It's a soft slice of challah that would make any sandwich shine (but the beef does that for itself anyways). The corned beef is about as good as it gets in Chicago. There's a perfect amount of marbling and it goes unbelievably with one of my favorite chopped livers. It's got little bits of onion mixed in with the schmaltz and liver. There's a sweet and salty crunch to each bite. Now, for the potato pancakes, I don't usually go for them outside of hanukkah, but these are always worth the seasonal mismatch. They've got a crispy exterior and a smooth, shredded filling.

The Roast Beef on Challah

The Chopped Liver

 The Corned Beef on Rye
(I had to eat all of the excess corned beef that was covering the plate to make for a reasonable shot)

Overall
Manny's is a Chicago institution that deserves every bit of street cred it has coming. I'd stick to the corned beef or pastrami. If you're a chopped liver fan then this is a must stop. Although I've already handed out a pearl necklace in the deli category to 11 City, I think that Manny's is the best option in town and thus they will also get 5 out of 5 Pearls.


Manny's Coffee Shop & Deli on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Declan's Irish Pub

Location: 1240 N Wells
Cost: About $12 per person

I've written a few times now about meals that I've ordered on nights where we're competing in trivia at a bar (i.e. State and Cortland's Garage). Well somehow my buddies have become regulars at Declan's Irish Pub on Wednesday nights for trivia. I decided to join in the other week along with Jeremy, Rachel, the Professor, and Bacalar (Jeremy and Rachel are the two best regulars so we stole them to play with us).

Logistics
Declan's is a pretty decent sized bar with good TV coverage and a variety of seating options. If you must drive, there are plenty of street spots nearby. I don't think you'd ever had trouble getting a table. Because of laziness, we sat up near the trivia host so that we wouldn't have to walk too far each time to turn in our answers. I would've preferred one of the reasonably lit parts of the bar, but who am I to shake up the routine.

Our service has been good each time we've gone (and they even flirt with Scotty which is really very nice of them to do). It didn't take too long for our food or drinks to come out. I'm pretty sure my Fish and Chips were just north of $12 which is reasonably on par with may places in Chicago (although not nearly as good a deal as Duke of Perth).

The Food
The waiter and I had a pretty long back and forth about whether or not I should get the burger or the fish and chips which ended in him deciding that he's really always hated the burger. That made my order much easier. So the fish and chips came out with three strips of cod, french fries, and coleslaw. The slaw and fries may as well have come right out of the freezer. The fish were fine. I wish the dish had come with more of them and that the batter had some kind of interesting flavoring. There was a lot of grease sitting in my plate at the end of my meal too. I thought the tarter sauce was the strongest point of the dish by far.

 The Fish and Chips

Overall
I didn't have very high expectations for Declan's, and they fell a bit below those. The food is not worth your while, but if you're hungry, it's still edible. My buddies seem to have really nestled themselves into this trivia night though, so I'm pretty sure I'll be back. Hopefully next time, I'll be able to remember the princess's name from Spaceballs. I'm giving them 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Declan's Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Original Vito and Nick's Pizzeria

Location: 8433 South Pulaski Road
Cost: About $15 per person

Between Sono and La Madia I think it's safe to say that I've had some good thin crust pizza as of late. That being said, I clearly haven't had great thin crust pizza lately. Luckily Sal and Amanda called me up to go on a bit of an adventure. We'd heard about a spot on Triple D a long time ago that we thought could really come through with fantastic pizza. We piled into Amanda's civic and took a trip south to hit up Vito and Nick's.

Logistics
There aren't any bells and whistles to Vito and Nick's. The setup reminded me a lot of Charlie Beinlich's with an old fashioned bar and a room packed full of as many tables as possible. We probably had to wait for 20 minutes, but with $2.50 beers we didn't mind hanging out at the bar. They have a few TVs, which was great since the Blackhawks were on. The problem was that these Michigan State fans sitting next to us convinced the manager to put their game on (because I really needed another reason to have Michigan State).

Our server was solid considering she was covering a good 10 tables or so. Our food came out rather sporadically with the pizza beating the appetizers. Either way, everyone gave of this really friendly neighborhood feel (except for the punks in green that were not welcome). The cost is cheap. A pizza for the three of us was $15 and a big basket of fried appetizers was $9. Also, it's CASH ONLY.

The Food
Even though our food didn't come out in this order, I'll lay it out in the way that makes sense. For our appetizer we got the Combo Basket which had fried mushrooms, zucchini, onion rings, and jalapeno poppers. It was a ton of food for a good price. There was nothing too fancy to the preparation, just some salty, well proportioned fried food. We also ordered house salads which were your standard combinations of romaine, croutons, and cherry tomatoes.

The Combo Basket

 The House Salad

For our pizza we decided to go with a large topped with Hot Giardiniera and Sausage. It was one of the best square cut pizzas I've ever had. There was a strong kick from the giardiniera and the sausage was nice and juicy. The crust held up well and the sauce had a tangy sweetness. The cheese had just the right amount of caramelization.

 The Hot Giardiniera and Sausage Pizza

Overall
Vito and Nick's is really something else. It's a pain to get to from the north side, but it's worth every second of the drive. For square cut pizza I've always loved Barnaby's, but this really takes it up a notch. I can't wait to go back and try some of the roast beef pizza or breakfast pizza. I'm giving Vito and Nick's 5 out of 5, the Pearl Necklace.


Vito & Nick's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sono Wood Fired

I just wanted to throw in a little announcement for a good cause before today's post. This Friday, March 23rd, UNICEF is holding an event called Taste of Tap which supports their efforts to provide clean water to children worldwide. Basically, the event has some pretty popular Chicago chefs and seems like a fun way to start your Friday off. It's at 7PM in the Centered Chef Studio. You can get tickets and find more information here.

Location: 1582 N Clybourn
Cost: About $20 per person

Currently I'm on my internal medicine rotation. The policy is that we work six days a week, which means that I don't usually get much free time on the weekends. That being said, I still feel the need to do something fun on Friday and Saturday night. Going out to quicker meals with my friends before they all go grab drinks is kind of my way of staying in touch and not turning into some kind of hermit. So a little while back, I recruited a little crew including the Ericas, Scottie, Sophia, Marissa, and Chris to join me for some pizza at Sono Wood Fired.

Logistics
First of all, this place is great for me because it's right down the road. We put these plans together rather last minute, and I called at 5 PM to see what a wait would be like for our group at 7:30. The hostess actually gave us a reservation, which I thought was really convenient. Then, when we got there, it was crowded, and the hostess said we had no reservation. She then said that whoever took our reso was an "idiot," but it had to be her unless this place has their hostesses change shifts after dinner service starts. Either way, she paid for everyone's drinks at the bar while we waited (EXCEPT FOR ME because I already paid for my drink in cash). The whole restaurant is one room with some parking on the side. It's a bit cramped, but they seem to accommodate large parties well.

Our server was friendly and had plenty of good suggestions. It took an excessively long while for our food to come though. The table next to us came about 20 minutes later and got their pizzas first. The price is fine, and the menu is good for sharing. Most of the pizzas were $15 while apps and salads were around $8. Two people could easily share a salad and a pizza.

The Food
To get the ball rolling we ordered some of the Grilled Calamari, the Heirloom Beet Salad, and most of the Bruschetta options. The calamari were oily, a bit chewy, and had a floral herb sprinkling. The beet salad was heavy on the namesake ingredient which was well balanced by a peppery bed of arugula. The bruschetta were creative, and the fig was far and beyond my favorite one.

The Grilled Calamari

The Heirloom Beet Salad

 Many of the Bruschettas

Otherwise, we ordered a few pizzas (and Sophia got Pappardelle because she's just a rebel). The pasta had a meaty ragout, and the noodles were wide, flat, and tender without being soggy. For our pizzas we tried out the Verdure, the Spinaci, and the Anitra. First of all, the crusts had an occasional char and hearty chewiness. The verdure was covered with eggplant and zucchini, but they may have made the crust a bit soggy in the center. The anitra had plenty of rich manchego, but the duck sausage and sundried tomatoes were sparse. The Spinaci just shouted garilc at you. Besides the fact that I smelled like garlic the rest of the night, I was a big fan.

The Anitra

The Verdure

The Spinaci

 The Pappardelle

Overall
Practically being in my backyard makes Sono a very convenient option for me. Having recently reviewed La Madia, I can't help but directly compare the two since the menus are almost identical. I think La Madia has the edge with pizza while Sono takes the appetizer category (with pizza being clearly more important). I'm giving Sono 3 Pearls.

Sono Wood Fired on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 18, 2012

RPM Italian

Location: 52 W Illinois
Cost: About $50 per person

I've explained many a time about my early bird family dinners on Sunday nights. Most recently we went to Buona Terra because my parents saw it on TV. I'd previously stated that the places we go are mostly based on what some local show had featured, but there's one caveat to that. We often go to places where my parents have gift cards, and being from the north side of Chicago, that's code for Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. So, last Sunday night, we decided to put some gift cards to use at the newest LEYE option in Chicago, RPM Italian.

Logistics
RPM is right in the middle of River North. Accordingly, it has a rather impressively designed interior. They have valet parking, but my mom was able to find a street spot after looking for a little while. We tried to make reservations for 5PM and were told they only had 5:30 availability, which speaks a lot to the crowd. This place was flooded with north shore Jewish families as you might expect any recently opened Lettuce Entertain You spot to be. We even ran into some neighbors of ours celebrating their daughter's birthday. Anyways, you should try and make a reservation, but if you can't, there's a lot of bar seating that seems ideal for walk-ins.

I've heard that things get a little loud and trendy later at night, but we were there early enough to enjoy a pretty quiet experience. Our server was really something else. She noticed that our table had a little wobble to it and was quickly down to her hands and knees trying to fix it. We had a lot of questions for her regarding the menu, and she handled them all very well.

The cost is a little bit up there for Italian food. They have a large section of small plates that ranges from $7-$13. The pasta dishes are in the $10-$17 ballpark. They also have some classic entrees floating in the mid 20's. We ended up getting the whole fish option which is listed at $29 per person and served for two. I don't know why they can't just list it as $58 (but I can guess it's to trick people into ordering it).

The Food
To get the evening started, we ordered some small plates including the Caesar Wedge Salad, the Gnocchi al Forno, and a plate of Cheese and Salumi. The salad was loaded with anchovies which my dad and I loved. The gnocchi was made with semolina flour, and was much lighter than a traditional potato dumpling. It had plenty of roasted and melted cheese over the top leaving a flavor profile of a saganaki dish. The cheese and salumi plate was an excellent starter for us as well. The meats were fatty and spicy while the cheeses packed an unctuous kick. The jams and bread that came on the side fit with everything very smoothly.

The Cheese and Salumi Plate

The Caesar Wedge

 The Gnocchi al Forno

For our main course, we split the Whole Grilled Branzino and a plate of the Duck Agnolotti. The Agnolotti was a plate of little stuffed dumplings. The figs gave a sweetness to the dish, but I thought it was a bit bland overall. The fish was enough to serve four people. It was flaky and had a tasty, crispy skin. It wasn't spiced much beforehand, but the lemon wedges and capers took care of that for us. They didn't do the best job of taking out the bones, but clearly I survived. If you go for white fish and can look past the price tag, I'd suggest you try this dish out.

The Duck Agnolotti

The Branzino

 The side of Asparagus

When dessert came around we ordered the Rice Pudding Gelato and the Cannoli. The manager overheard our order and tossed on the Tartufo for free since he thought we should try out the house favorite. So this tartufo was a ball of chocolate ice cream, coated with hazelnuts and chocolate. It was exactly like one of those Nestle Crunch Ice Cream bars, but in an elegant presentation. Our favorite was the rice pudding gelato (definitely better than the tartufo) which actually came out with some rice pudding on top. It was light and refreshing. The cannoli were baked and not fried (like other chips and snacks). I don't usually like cannoli but I think these are worth a try. They have some orange rind and a really flaky shell.

The Tartufo

The Rice Pudding Gelato

 The Cannoli

Overall
I'm the first to say that I'm a bit of a Lettuce Entertain You homer. I was raised going to a ton of their restaurants, and maybe I'm a bit biased in their favor. That being said, I think RPM gave off a strong feel of one of their restaurants. The service was impeccable, and most of the food was great. I want to go back and try the eggplant parmesan and get some more of the gnocchi. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.


RPM Italian on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ashkenaz

If you're in the Gold Coast today, you should check out Ashkenaz. It's a solid deli, but you can read more at my review for Blackboard Eats here. They're running a fantastic deal that gets you way too much food for about $8. Also, here are some of the extra pics I had.

The Pastrami

The Pastrami (again)

The Turkey

The Macaroni Salad

The Corned Beef with Chopped Liver

Cinnamon Rugalech

Raspberry Rugalech
Ashkenaz Deli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Lillie's Q

Location: 1856 W North Avenue
Cost: About $20 per person

Generally, I love running into friends unexpectedly at restaurants (although when they shout out, "how many pearls" it draws some funny looks). One exception is when you go to a restaurant that involves eating with your hands. The reason I bring this up is because I went to Lillie's Q a few weekends ago with my buddies Arif and KVG. We ran into my old neighbors, the Donenbergs, and when we went over to say hi, there was a mad scramble to find a napkin or wet nap so that we could shake hands. After a few awkward moments we decided that giving the knucks was the appropriate thing to do. I'm not a general proponent of knucks (aka fist pounds or whatever you'd like to call them), but it seemed called for here.

Side note: One of my fraternity brothers once lost a job offer by giving the knucks to his interviewer. They should be used cautiously. BBQ seems like one of those times.

Sorry for the tangent there. Let's get back to Lillie's Q.

Logistics
Lillie's Q is right in the heart of hipster country (although the neighborhood seems to be transforming to the next phase of gentrification). We got there at 7:30 on a Friday night and were told the wait would be 45 minutes. They have a nice bar with plenty of interesting things on tap which was perfect for us while we waited. After 45 minutes had passed, I realized that parties of 4 were getting sat down that came in after us. They had two tables that only fit three people, and it was clear that they were trying to optimize their seating and get us into one of those. The problem was that both of those tables were filled with squatters. At the 1 hour mark I asked the hostess what was going on, and she accused me of being inpatient and said that it had only been a half hour (then she sat two more parties of 4 that came in after us). At 1.5 hours I made a real stink about it and told her that I was on to her game and that there was no way those chatty cathys were getting up soon. She gave me a whole bunch of attitude and put us at a table for two with another chair on the side. She is the worst, and to be fair, the rest of the post may be more judgmental than necessary (but as the gateway to the restaurant, it's her fault).

Our server on the other hand was fantastic. She was friendly and not black of heart at all. Our food came out in a reasonable amount of time. The cost was good and matched the portions well, especially compared to the last BBQ place I hit up (Chicago Q). A slab of ribs runs $19, appetizers are around $5, other BBQ entrees like the brisket were near $10, and sides float around $4.

The Food
I'd heard a bunch about the Fried Pickles, so that's what we got started with. They were the perfect thickness to the point where you could bite through them but not feel overwhelmed by the breading. The ranch like dipping sauce brought it all together nicely. We also got an order of Hush Puppies that KVG and Arif were not very fond of. They were a bit too dry, but the sweet potato dressing on the side saved the dish for me.

The Hush Puppies

 The Fried Pickles

For our entrees we got the Tri Tip, the Pulled Pork, the Hot Link, and the Baby Back Ribs. The pork had a nice mix of soft and crispy pieces, and it wasn't too greasy. The hot link had a nice snap to its casing, but there wasn't any unique flavor that jumped out at me. The ribs were a bit tough to get off the bone, but the meat was tender and the sauce was sweet. The tri tip came out luke warm, but the marbling was extensive. There was a prominent smoke ring as well. To go along with these meats we got orders of Fries, Baked Beans, and Coleslaw. The fries were crispy and heavily salted. The beans were sweet and not too grainy. The ones at Smoque with the chunks of brisket are still my favorite. The coleslaw was creamy and clean, but I think the cilantro version at Smoke Daddy takes the cake in this category.

The Tri Tip

The Pulled Pork

The Baby Back Ribs

The Hot Link

The French Fries

The Coleslaw

 The Baked Beans

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the sauce lineup. They have 5 options including the Smoky, Hot Smoky, Ivory, Carolina Gold, and Carolina. The hot smoky was my favorite and reminded me of the spicier option from Twin Anchors. The Carolina Gold was also fantastic for the mustard lovers out there.

 The Sauces

Overall
The highlights of our night were the fried pickles, the tri tip, and the pulled pork. We weren't crazy about any of the sides, the hot link, or the ribs. I don't think Lillie's Q is one of the strongest players in the Chicago BBQ scene, but it's got some quality items. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Lillie's Q on Urbanspoon