Friday, November 30, 2012

Tango Sur

Location: 3763 N Southport
Cost: About $30 per person

With all this traveling I've been doing lately, it's been nice to get a few meals in around Chicago for a change. To make things even better, my old friend Brett was in town doing, of all things, an away rotation at Northwestern. In an odd turn of events, he was renting a room from another buddy, Rob. The three of us and Josh decided to grab some food the other night to catch up. I figured we could try out somewhere near Rob's place in Lakeview which is how we ended up at Tango Sur.

Logistics
This was actually my third attempt at going to Tango Sur. They don't take reservations unless you have a party larger than 6 (I think), so each other time I'd gone in, my wait times were 2 hours or more. This was a Tuesday night, and we walked right in. Notably, there's plenty of street parking but a lot going on over there making spaces difficult on busier nights. Also, the other times I'd gone were on the weekends, and the restaurant was hopping. This time it was like the four of us walked in on date night for everyone else. So by the light of a few candles, we cracked into our six pack (it's BYOB) and got ready to pig out.

The waiter was fine and kept our waters full (which was really important with how salty the meal was). The price point is the big takeaway. You can get a huge steak for around $20. They're the first to admit that the cheaper steaks have a bit of gristle to get through, but even the higher end cuts aren't that pricey.

The Food
The first thing we got to go along with our Newcastle was some Provoleta, an Argentine grilled provolone cheese dish with some peppers. It was pretty similar to what you might expect out of saganaki at a greek restaurant. After we polished that off, they brought out the salads that came with our dinners (nothing too special).

The Provoleta

 The Side Salad

From there the meal was just meat and potatoes. Between the four of us we tried out the Churrasco (12 oz Sirloin), the Entrana (Skirt Steak), and the Bife de Chorizo (Boneless Strip Steak). Each came with some potatoes doused in herbs and oil and a healthy side of chimichurri. As we were told ahead of time, the steaks were a bit on the fattier side. I would've been able to navigate this better if there had been more lighting in the restaurant. Still, the extra salt on the steak helped balance out the higher fat content nicely (I mean that in a flavor sense. I'm sure both factors worked symbiotically on my arteries). I ordered mine medium rare and it was closer to rare (which is what I often prefer but am skeptical to order). The steak was delicious and really well seasoned. Despite the large portions, I don't think anyone had any leftovers.

The Bife de Chorizo

 The Entrana

Side Note: If your college roommate comes back from studying abroad in Argentina, don't throw away the green things they leave in the fridge. They're chimichurri, not mold... Sorry Obeler.

Overall
Tango Sur is a meat lovers paradise. If you can find a good time to avoid the excessive lines then you're in for a treat. The BYOB touch is great too. They seemingly accommodate large groups very well, so I suggest you bring some friends. I'd also make sure to order the meat cooked one notch above what you normally like. I'm giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Tango Sur on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Roka Akor

Location: 456 N Clark
Cost: Variable, Probably around $50-$100 per person

For some reason, a common question I've been getting lately has been what my favorite sushi spot is. It's pretty clear that many of my readers are frustrated with the similarity amongst restaurants in the city. Now the first thing I ask is what kind of sushi they're ordering. It's totally pointless for someone to look for a unique sushi restaurant so that they can order some "spicy tina" and california rolls. For the few people that get past round 1 of questioning, I then ask what they'd like to see. I'm not really a big fan of the crazy sauces or anything like that. Really, all of these conversations boil down to finding somewhere with high quality fish, subtle ways of altering a normal presentation, simple flavors, and few great non-sushi dishes. For those reasons, I've often suggested Macku.

The other day I was contacted to come try out the chef's menu or Omakase at Roka Akor. I hadn't heard much about them except that they had a robata grill, an extensive sake menu, and a swanky interior. One friend of mine told me that the menu could get pretty adventurous. Accordingly, I brought my friend Josh who I thought could thoroughly appreciate all of these things.

Logistics
Like I was suggesting above, Roka Akor has a dark, trendy vibe that befits its location on the corner of Clark and Illinois. They were pretty full on the Tuesday night that we went in on, so I'd suggest you make a reservation. Also, parking is a pain over there, so you should take a cab or the red line. There's a lounge in the front of the house. The main dining area as well as the sushi bar seating gives a great view of the open kitchen and robata grill. Another nice touch is the complimentary coat check.

I usually mention something here about the wait staff being helpful or nice, but this was something else. On top of the menu advice and thoughtful coursing of our meal, the plate management was immaculate. If you're looking to try the Omakase menu, I think that will typically run around $100 per plate, but you can also go for a variety of sushi or grilled options and spend about half that price.

One quick tip worth noting is that they get their shipments of exotic fish on most Wednesday afternoons. If you go in around 2 or 3 PM you're likely to see the chefs prepping some pretty interesting stuff. Play your cards right, and you can probably get something right off the initial breakdown.

The Food
After a lengthy tutorial, Josh and I went with the Dry Mountain Sky Sake. It had a light sweetness and was easy to drink. Along with our sake, we got the ball rolling with some Butterfish Tataki, Tuna Tataki, and Shishito Peppers off the robata. The butterfish had a nice fat content and while the tuna packed a crisper, leaner bite. The peppers were manageable with regards to heat and had just the right amount of salt with the bonito flakes. By the way, if you haven't seen bonito flakes before... they move. Your dish isn't alive, it's just the side effect of the thin flakes and the heat of the dish.

 The Butterfish Tataki

 The Tuna Tataki

 The Shishito Peppers

The next course came out on a boat of ice. We had a variety of sashimi and nigiri including Suzuki (striped bass), Sea Bream, a Trio of Tunas with varying fat content, Oysters, Escolar, and Botan Ebi (sweet red shrimp). This platter was the biggest highlight of the meal with the shrimp playing the starring role. I'd never had anything like this before. The texture and sweetness of the raw shrimp is something you'll have to try for yourself. They get about 20 of them fresh in each day. Then they fry up the head and thorax to make for an adventurous twist. It was amazing how the fat content of each tuna changed the texture in the trio. The Escolar had a hint of sesame flavor and went great with the freshly ground wasabi.

The Sushi Course

 The Escolar Nigiri

 The Japanese Oysters

 The Botan Ebi and Seaweed Salad

 The Trio of Tuna

 The Head and Thorax of the Botan Ebi

 The Suzuki and The Sea Bream

Our next item was the Red Miso Soup. I'd never had anything like this before either. The broth was earthy with almost a beef broth feel to it. Then, instead of tofu, there were nice big chunks of lobster mixed in. If that wasn't enough, the shaved ginger really gave things a zing.

The Red Miso Soup

The course after that came mostly off of the robata grill. We started with the Black Cod which they marinade for three days. It ends up with this beautiful glaze and flaky texture. They say it's their most popular item, and I can see why. If you feel like some cooked fish, you can't go wrong here. Then they brought out a wet aged New York Strip Steak. It was cooked on the rarer side of medium rare, just how we like it. On the side was a truffle aioli and a stack of Japanese mushrooms. It was impressive how well they performed on the steak with such a strong suit in seafood. With the steak they brought out some brussel sprouts and what they referred to as Japanese mushroom risotto. The sprouts were crispy while the risotto was creamy with a strong savory quality.

The Black Cod

 Sweet Potatoes

 The New York Strip Steak

 The Brussel Sprouts

The Japanese Risotto

 The Serving Dish for the Risotto

In case we weren't full enough, they brought out another ice boat to serve the dessert course. We had Mixed Berry Sorbet,  Jasmine Tea Sorbet, a Green Tea Custard with Caramelized Bananas, Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream and Roasted Nuts, and a wide range of fruits (dates, figs, Japanese pears, melons, and berries). My favorite was the green tea custard, and I was really impressed that they were able to give us such fresh fruit in the middle of November.

The Dessert Platter

 The Mixed Berry Sorbet

 The Green Tea Custard with Caramelized Bananas

 The Chocolate Cake with Coffee Ice Cream

 The Jasmine Tea Ice Cream

Overall
I've been eating at sushi places with my friend Josh for a really long time and this was by far one of our most impressive experiences. Roka Akor has a wide array of fish prepared and served properly in a way that shakes things up from the traditional maki order (although I'm sure you could get that too). The cooked items were spot on too. As the meal was on the house, there will be no Pearl rating, but I can easily say this was one of the better meals I've had since starting Jeff Eats Chicago. Give it a go yourself.

Roka Akor on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mon Ami Gabi

Location: 2300 N Lincoln Park Avenue West
Cost: About $35-$45 per person

One of my typical running paths takes me across Fullerton and down the lake shore path. As many of you Lincoln Park natives know, there's been a ton of construction over there for at least the past few months. Thus, my path diverts me down Lincoln Park Avenue and right past the Belden Stratford Hotel.

Now I swear that I could probably figure out what part of my run I'm on based on the smell. When I leave my place it smells like Uncle Julio's. When I make one of my first turns, the baked good smell of Sweet Mandy B's is pretty prominent. Then when I make my way down Lincoln Park I can usually catch a waft of seafood, steak, and french fries from Mon Ami Gabi. I went there once 4 years ago for my 21st birthday dinner and was tempted each time I ran by. My dad called the other day and said he had a surplus of Lettuce Entertain You gift cards, so the choice was easy.

Logistics
Like I was saying, the restaurant is right off the lobby of a hotel. They've got this great patio and a busy yet cozy interior. We were sat in the back corner which was much quieter than the rest of the bustling dining room. My dad's kind of a stickler for noise and other annoying things (like people in general) near our table. They get pretty busy on the reg, so I'd suggest you make a reservation. They have a valet service, but if you're lucky you can get one of the few street spots nearby. Otherwise the bus is probably your best option.

Our service was alright, but I'm not sure that our waiter was so knowledgeable about the menu. He kept fumbling over the specials and had to come back and ask questions about our order over again. I guess that's better than bringing out the wrong stuff though. The cost is pretty reasonable for what you get. Most appetizers are around $10, and most entrees are around $20. You can get most steaks for under $30.

The Food
It was a cold night out so we split some soups for starters. The potato and leek was the special. It was extra creamy but could've used some more of the namesake ingredients. It also came out a bit lukewarm. The French Onion was what you might expect. It came in a little crock covered in cheese. The broth was rich and brown with plenty of soaking bread.

The Potato and Leek Soup

 The French Onion Soup

We also went for some Pate. We weren't sure whether or not to get this or the chicken liver mousse, but we opted for the firmer texture. I don't know if my family has found a pate that we don't like, but this was pretty nicely done. There was a subtle grainy quality and of course an overwhelming richness to each bite.

The Housemade Country Pate

For the main course my mom got the Steak Au Poivre, my dad got the Beef Burgundy, and I got the Sea Scallops. The steak was hammered out thinly, doused in gravy, and came with a side of their crispy frites. There was a strong peppery quality to the whole thing which was pretty interesting. The meat had more of a chew to it than I would've liked, but it was still a solid dish. The beef burgundy was nice and rich, but I think my Uncle Harry does a better job. The scallops were prepared properly with a nice sear. The side of brussel sprouts was moderately undercooked though.

The Steak Au Poivre

 The Sea Scallops

 The Beef Burgundy

For dessert we got the Bananas Foster Crepe. There were no complaints here, and we had that plate polished off in a few minutes.

 The Bananas Foster Crepe

Overall
Mon Ami Gabi has a great setup with an easily navigable menu. If you want steak or seafood then you can't really go wrong here. We had a few miscues on some of our dishes, but things were mostly spot on. I'm giving them 3 out of 5 Pearls.


Mon Ami Gabi (Beldon-Stratford) on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Boston

If you haven't figured it out already, I've been doing a lot of traveling lately. My most recent stop was in Boston where I crashed on the couch of my new good friends Kristen, Alan, and Sara Li. I got in late on a Friday night, had an interview Saturday morning, and was off to check out the city for the next few days. I'd like to take this chance to apologize to everyone who gave me a suggestion of where to eat with my short time in Boston. Really, I just went with the flow.

Masa Restaurant
Location: 439 Tremont Street
Cost: About $15 per person
Despite the large lunch I had at the interview, I was able to find some room to join my hosts for brunch at their favorite spot, Masa. As a bunch of med students, I think their primary goal was to get a cheap meal in, but the food was not bad. I got a bloody mary and a two course breakfast for $15. The plantain empanada was my favorite dish, and the huevos rancheros was just average. The bloody mary would've been enough, and like my dad likes to say, it would put some hair on your chest.

 The Bloody Mary

 The Cornbread

 The Plantain Empanada

 The Eggs Benedict

 The Huevos Rancheros

Later that night I got to check out a pretty cool spot for drinks, Top of the Hub. A bunch of my fellow interviewees wanted to grab a drink, and this place was really cool. I'd call it equivalent to the Signature Room in Chicago with the huge views, swanky feel, and jazz tunes.

The next morning, I schlepped out to Newton to meet my cousins for some Peet's Coffee and some Rosenfeld's Bagels. After that I hauled it over to meet my friends at the Freedom Trail for a tour.

Our Tour Guide

Ye Olde Union Oyster House
Location: 41 Union Street
Cost: About $35 per person
I couldn't go through a trip to Boston without some local beer, seafood, and beans (in retrospect, I forgot cream pie). After our tour on the Freedom Trail we ended up at Ye Olde Union Oyster House. I'd been given a ton of suggestions on where to get seafood, but this is where we ended up. I'm sure with its historical status that Union Oyster House is a big ole' tourist trap, but the food was still pretty good. I went for some Cherrystone Oysters, Clam Chowder, and Boston Baked Beans. I also got to try a fried oyster sandwich and washed it all down with some Harpoon.

More Cornbread

 The Mussels

 The Shrimp

 The Cherrystone Oysters

 The Fried Oyster Sandwich

 The Boston Baked Beans 
(pretty much the same as Bush's Baked Beans)

 The Fish Sandwich

The Publick House
Location: 1648 Beacon Street
Cost: About $30 per person
To be honest, I was probably still full from the lunch they served us at the interview the day before, but I somehow found room for another big meal. I met up with my old research buddy Lon and his wife Jessica in Brookline at The Publick House. For those of you in Chicago, this place is pretty similar to The Hopleaf. They've got a huge beer list and some high end bar food. We started with some Mussels and fries which were done just right. After that I got the Crab Cake BLT and Lon got the Seafood Stew. Everything was really exceptional and even the biggest of beer snobs like Lon and I found new options to try.

The Mussels

 The BLT

 The Seafood Stew

 The Crab Cake BLT

Flour Bakery
Location: 1595 Washington Street
Cost: About $5 per person
Since Alan and Kristen were about to start on new rotations they had later starts and were able to see me off with a good breakfast before going to the airport. They had this bakery, Flour, around the corner from their apartment. It was on Throwdown with Bobby Flay for their Sticky Buns.

The Blueberry Muffin

 The Sticky Bun

 The Apple and Walnut Granola

Side bar: Does anyone else hate that show as much as I do? Do you realize that Bobby Flay is promising these people their own Food Network Special and then welching on them? Then these people, who have made their career on one dish, get to battle it out with Bobby Flay. If they lose, it's got to be devastating. Did you see that poor lady who makes Mac N Cheese in a mall cart? Bobby beat her with the fanciest set of cheeses and a bunch of lobster. That's total garbage. Nonetheless, he lost this Sticky Bun battle and maybe the ends justify the means because Flour's business was booming.

On top of these amazing sticky buns, we also split a spectacular blueberry muffin and some oatmeal. It was an excellent way for me to wrap up my time in Boston.
Union Oyster House on Urbanspoon Masa on Urbanspoon The Publick House on Urbanspoon Flour Bakery + Cafe on Urbanspoon