Sunday, December 30, 2012

South Water Kitchen

Location: 225 N Wabash
Cost: About $18 per person for lunch

Since I've been on vacation for what seems like forever, I thought I would grab lunch with two of my favorite working stiffs, the Professor and Kovar. After some lengthy debate about where to go we decided on LM Bistro. Then we switched to India House for some buffet (and then back to LM). Finally, while I was on my way there, I got a text from Marc that I we had to pick somewhere closer to his office. The Professor suggested we hit up Hannah's Bretzel, mostly to "take in the view," but we finally settled on South Water Kitchen.

Logistics
We rolled into South Water Kitchen and I immediately felt under dressed. In all fairness, as a medical student taking public transportation downtown, I've felt under dressed for the past four years. We got a nice booth next to a bunch of large groups out for a long lunch in the holiday season. Like most places in the loop, I'd imagine things are busy during the business day and not so much otherwise.

The waiter was mentioned that he would be quick since Kovar had to get back to work, but I don't think he was all that efficient. The cost is probably dictated by the part of town. Sandwiches are in the low teens and are plenty portion wise.

The Food
The Professor and Kovar split the Chicken Club Sandwich and the Turkey Burger while I went for the special, the Smoked Salmon BLT. The chicken club was overcooked, and is there really more to say after that? The turkey burger had a cranberry cream cheese that was bright and impressive looking but didn't pack much flavor. The meat itself was really large and dry with a lot of herb presence. The smoked salmon BLT had a very buttery bread and plenty of lox. The bacon was kind of stringy which became a challenge to chew along with the smooth salmon and flaky bread. The highlight of the meal were the french fries. Both the regular type and sweet potato version were crispy and flavorful with a good balance of salt.

The Chicken Club

 The Turkey Burger

 The Smoked Salmon BLT

Overall
My buddies enjoyed their meals, but I wasn't having it. A good sandwich isn't so hard to come by, and these were missing on a few notes. The fries were great but not enough to carry the meal. I'm giving South Water Kitchen 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


South Water Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sunda

Location: 110 W Illinois
Cost: Probably around $60 per person

With my recent travels, I've started to appreciate how other cities handle the winter. In Minneapolis everyone seems practically indifferent to the winter. One of my interviewers said that he still rides his bike in to work every day, just with snow tires instead. In Cleveland, there are so many hills around the city and such poor snow control that people seem to hide in their houses. In New York, the majority of people I know have enough beer around to keep them warm at all times.

Chicago is equally unique. We more or less hibernate for a third of the year (except last year when it was oddly warm). Sometimes it gets so cold out that my roommate Jeremy has to wear two ugly hoodies. Still, all around the city, options start popping up to keep you busy, as long as it involves eating and drinking. It becomes really tempting to find a restaurant to settle into for a long night of dinner and drinks. Sunda is in on this game and invited me to try out their new winter menu options. So my friend Ka and I hit it up the other night.

Logistics
Sunda is right in the heart of River North on Illinois between La Salle and Clark. The restaurant has a ton of seating options between the large bar and lounge up front, the tables and community seating throughout the dining room, and the sushi bar along the other side. There's a real trendy vibe the second you walk in, and I could've counted the people over the age of 40 on one hand. It was probably too cool for me, but that was alright. I think you'll need a reservation on most nights too.

Our service was fantastic, and I noticed that in general, the people around us were being treated the same. Our waiter explained each dish thoroughly, and I noticed the executive chef was taking time to visit with a lot of the diners. The cost can get up there a bit. Our meal would have been around $60 per person, but you could easily spend much more if you felt inclined.

The Food
Our appetizer course included a Hamachi Tartare and the Kale and Seaweed Salad. Ka said these were two of her favorites. The hamachi tasted fresh and had a nice topping of salty roe. The sauce (mostly ponzu and wasabi) was well balanced with the rest of the dish. Ka wished that we would've gotten more wontons to eat with. The salad was really crispy and salty. If you like kale, you'll really like this one.

 The Hamachi Tartare

 The Seaweed and Kale Salad

The next dish, my favorite, was the Kimchi Soup. It came with big chunks of tofu, pork belly, and bok choy. The soup had a rich, heartwarming broth, and the pork was delicate enough to break up with a spoon.

 The Kimchi Soup

After that we dove into the Duck Congee. For those of you that don't know, congee is like a porridge. They did this special little rice dome over the dish and puffed in a smoke that exploded out when we broke in. The porridge was thick and the duck kept things rich.

The Duck Congee

Our last two items were the Crab Puffs and the Wagyu Beef Roti. The puffs were claws with remnants of crab meat, surrounded by a shrimp mousse and then deep fried. I liked the crab, but the mousse had an odd texture. The roti had a flaky, buttery flat bread and plenty of tender beef slices. With the crispy slaw on top, it became a pretty rustic and tasty sandwich (although, I'm sure my friend Supreet would've gone into some diatribe about the meaning of the word roti).

The Crab Puffs

 The Wagyu Beef Roti

Overall
Despite being surrounded by many other options, Sunda has been making plenty of noise in the Chicago food scene for some time now. Their new winter options are well suited for the season. My favorites were the kimchi soup and the wagyu beef roti, but I suggest you make that call for yourself.

Sunda on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 24, 2012

2 Sparrows

Location: 553 W Diversey
Cost: About $15 per person for brunch

A few weeks back my buddy Mike came in town for an interview. Jeremy and I joined him for brunch at Longman & Eagle as you might recall. Well Mike came back in town for another interview and was hoping to make up for what he considered to be a disappointing breakfast. On top of that, I told him he could borrow my car for his interview and he wanted to buy me a meal in exchange. For those of you that don't know, my car is no prize. It gets me from point A to B, and its best quality is probably that no one would ever be tempted to break into it. Mike was just happy that I'd gotten the muffler fixed since he'd seen it in Cleveland cause he didn't want his interviewers to think he was pulling up in a Harley.

There were a bunch of good places at the top of my list that just so happened to be closed on Mondays. We finally settled on 2 Sparrows.

Logistics
2 Sparrows is a an American restaurant just down the block from where the new Kuma's will soon be replacing The Counter. They've got this big focus on local ingredients and such. When Mike and I walked in, we realized we were the only men in the whole place. It was easy to find parking nearby. I would assume that a weekend brunch would come with a wait, but we got in right away.

Our waitress was quick, kept the waters full, and was able to answer questions on the food well. The cost was what you'd expect with sandwiches and brunch entrees just north of $10.

The Food
We were well into the afternoon and decided to go for sandwiches instead of the brunch items. Mike got the Salmon BLT and I got the Chicken Sandwich. The salmon was soft and a bit bland. I don't know if it stood up to Mike's fish standards. The bacon was flavorful but became a challenge to eat on top of the delicate salmon. The chicken was cooked perfectly without any dryness. It was topped with some melted brie cheese that had some unpleasant oily separation. There were also some thinly chopped apples that didn't have much flavor. I got the bacon added which was a necessary plus since the only thing adding much flavor otherwise was the grainy mustard. I also had the tater tots on the side. I'd never had any like these before. Instead of the crispy exterior and soft interior, these were more like little balls of hash browns. They were way too oily, and I was not a fan.

The Salmon BLT

 The Chicken Sandwich

Overall
Both of our sandwiches had some significant flaws. There's plenty of menu yet to be tried at 2 Sparrows, but with the many solid brunch and sandwich options around, I'm not sure that I'll rush back. I'm giving them 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.


2Sparrows Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 21, 2012

Carson's

Location: 200 Waukegan Road, Deerfield
Cost: About $35 per person

Can you believe I'd never been to Carson's before? Having grown up rather close to such an institution of Chicago ribs, my parents couldn't believe this either. I guess my mom forgot how she always nixed any restaurant that was known for the pork products they served. It reminds me of how she never let me have any fried chicken when I was growing up. If you'd asked me a few years back what I'd thought of Brown's or Harold's, I would've been in a similar boat. Anyways, last Sunday after the Bears game my family joined the Klasses, the Waitzes, and the Gerchikovs at Carson's to celebrate Dave and Suzie's birthdays.

Logistics
Carson's is split into two large rooms. We sat at a long table in the room with the bar. The walls are decked out in pictures of major Chicago sports figures. We didn't need a reservation, but it didn't hurt either. If you do have to wait though, they've got some great chopped liver to tide you over.

Our waitress handled the big group well. The food came out in a timely fashion as did the drink order. There was this issue with the chicken though. There must've been some problem in the kitchen because we were told that chicken would've taken at least an hour and a half. The cost is on par with lots of other BBQ spots. A full slab runs around $25 as do most of the combos.

The Food
Even though we didn't have to wait, my dad made sure to make up some snacks out of the complimentary chopped liver. It was extra smooth and went well over the bits of rye bread with a few raw onions sprinkled on top. Not that it held up to how my grandma used to make it, but it was solid. The cheese spread on the other hand should be avoided at all costs.

The Chopped Liver
(as prepared by Stu Pearl)

I wanted to order the BBQ Chicken and Ribs combo, but instead I was forced into the full slab. My dad ordered the ribs and pork chop combination while my mom got a bunch of sides and pulled the "nibble off everyone else's plate" move. I can't really judge a pork chop, but my dad says they're great. The ribs are saucy, and you have to work to get the meat off the bones (a plus in my book). There's no smokiness to the meat, and it's not necessarily the most tender. The tangy sauce lingers quite a bit after each bite.

The Baby Back Ribs

 The Ribs and Pork Chop Combo

As far as the sides go, I got to try the coleslaw, the au gratin potatoes, the twice baked potato, and the cornbread. The slaw comes out in a bowl of soup. In fact, it comes in enough dressing to be called soup. The au gratin potatoes were average, and I would definitely lean toward the twice baked. The cornbread was a bit dense, but there was a subtle sweetness to it.

The Coleslaw

 The Cornbread

 The Au Gratin Potatoes

 The Twice Baked Potato

We wrapped up the meal with some sundaes to celebrate the birthday couple.

The Birthday Boy and Girl with their Sundaes

Overall
With Chicago style ribs there's only so much you can expect, but I think you get all of that from Carson's. It was a shame I didn't get to try the chicken, but it was nice to dive into these ribs that I've heard so much about for years. The sauce gets the nod while the texture and depth of the meat is lacking. I thought it was a little better than the last plate of Chicago ribs I had at Twin Anchors. I'm giving Carson's 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Carson's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Indianapolis

On yet another interview road trip, I had the chance to stop in Indianapolis for the night and hang out with my friend Erika. The Professor even decided to come down and join us for some fun. I rolled into town right around dinner time. We had this grand plan to go to this burger place on Mass Ave. and had some time to kill before Erika's friends could meet up. So the three of us decided to get some snacks and drinks over at Black Market first.

Black Market
Location: 922 Massachusetts Avenue
Cost: About $40 per person
They had a solid beer list, including one of my favorites, the Founder's Breakfast Stout. I would've been happy with just drinks, but we decided to order the Beef Tongue and the Daily Pickles appetizers. The tongue came with a whipped cottage cheese and roasted beets. It was weird and delicious. The cottage cheese had this thick, smooth quality too. The pickles were intense. Each veggie had a strong vinegary bite, but the star of the plate was the hand ground peanut butter.

The Daily Pickles

 The Beef Tongue

After polishing those off, we left to meet the rest of our crew for burgers. We were told the wait for the six of us would be three hours. Although this was possible, I'm convinced that we just asked an overwhelmed hostess for a table at the wrong time. Either way, we changed plans and hit up Forty Five Degrees for some sushi.

Forty Five Degrees
Location: 765 Massachusetts Avenue
Cost: About $20 per person
There's not much to Forty Five Degrees. It's a sushi bar with lots of flare and crappy sushi. We got a wide variety of specialty maki with indiscernible sauces. Many of the rolls fell apart immediately. Mostly though, the rice to fish ratio was poor.

Our "Sushi" Platter

Ball & Biscuit
Location: 331 Massachusetts Avenue
Cost: About $10 per person
We didn't really eat much food, but to that point, there's not much to order at the Ball & Biscuit. We ended up there later in the night, and I wouldn't even bother writing about it if it weren't such a mess. By the waitresses recommendation, we ordered the Artichoke Dip. It was sloppy and runny and lacking most every semblance of an artichoke. At least the toast points were stale though.

The Artichoke Dip

That was it for our tour de Mass Ave. The next morning the Bears game was on, but of course being out of market meant that Erika didn't have the game at her place. We had to go to a bar. Having a long drive back to Chicago following the game, I was in no mood to drink for hours while watching TV in a bar. That being said, I was in an awful situation and was doomed to be hounded by my waitress for not ordering enough and blocking up her table. Anyways, this all went down at Kilroy's.

Kilroy's
Location: 201 S Meridian St.
Cost: About $15 per person
For some reason, this gigantic bar was empty when we rolled in at 1:15 for the game (eastern time zone and all). I guess even though the Colts are doing pretty well this year, the fans are so used to failure that they don't watch the first half of any of their games. The place got packed by the fourth when the Colts eventually beat the Lions. The Bears weren't so fortunate. Food wise we got some of the Stuffed Bread Sticks to start. These were just like Bosco Sticks but with pepperoni too. They were delicious and cheap, which turned out to be the theme of the meal. For $6 we got what seemed like a lifetime supply of Onion Rings too. To be "healthier," Erika and I split a wedge salad after all of that. It too was tasty and gigantic. The bill was practically nothing, and I felt like I'd be full for days. That's kind of what I expected out of Indianapolis. Start your diet tomorrow... visit Indy today!

The Stuffed Bread Sticks

 The Onion Rings

The Wedge Salad
Note: this is half of the order

Black Market on Urbanspoon Forty Five Degrees on Urbanspoon
Ball & Biscuit on Urbanspoon
Kilroy's Bar N' Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fat Sandwich Company

Location: 2273 N Lincoln
Cost: About $10 per person

When I first had a Fat Sandwich, it was in Champaign, IL. This brand new sandwich shop from Oklahoma had come to my town to kill the population slowly with fried food and gluttony. Between the Illini football team going there on an episode of The Journey, and my buddy Danny bringing home a burger doughnut at least once a week, I quickly fell in love with this place.

When I'd heard that they were opening up a spot in Chicago, I was more than excited. When I found out it was replacing that travesty of a restaurant, Papa D's, it got even better. The worst corner on the north side (Lincoln and Belden, as evidenced by America's Dog and Barleycorn) was about to get a little better. Just when things couldn't get any better, Groupon came out with a deal for a bunch of sandwiches and a side. Jeremy and I hit it up the other day for lunch.

Logistics
The setup is simple. They've got a few table tops, a small counter, and a flat screen TV. Fortunately for me, they were playing the rerun of the Bulls game where they blew a 27 point lead to the Bucks. Even better was the crowd of high school aged morons cheering when the Bulls hit a three when it was clearly the game from the night prior. They have a big Illini flag which makes sense since they have a location in Champaign, but there was a Wisconsin flag that had seemingly no explanation.

It took surprisingly long to get our food considering that everything is deep fried. The cost is reasonable with sandwiches going for $8.50 and sides around $4.

The Food
All of the sandwiches come on an Amoroso Roll and are topped with a bunch of the soggiest, most awful french fries around. Jeremy got the Fat Bull (double cheeseburger) and I got the Fat Demon (buffalo chicken bites, mozzarella sticks, and jalapeno poppers). After we picked off the majority of the fries we got down to the rest of the sandwich. Both of them were horrible. The dryness of the overcooked double cheeseburger compounded poorly with the moderately stale bread. The buffalo chicken bites on my sandwich were unbelievably tough to chew. The mozzarella sticks were not melted in the slightest.

The Fat Demon

The Fat Bull

We also got a side with our deal. So we split an order of the Mini Corn Dogs. They had one uniform texture and a disturbing sense that the meat had more corn based product in it than the casing.

The Mini Corn Dogs

Overall
By no means do I hold Fat Sandwich Company to a high standard. It is a place that serves deep fried sandwiches, mostly in the late night setting. Still, this was inexcusably bad and disappointingly much worse than the Champaign location. I'm giving them 0.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Fat Sandwich Company on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tokyo 21 Asian Pub

Location: 1400 N Wells
Cost: About $20 per person

This post was written by a guest writer, my good friend Marc. You might remember Marc from such posts as Au Cheval and Eatt (now closed). Enjoy.


As a former resident of Wells Street in Old Town, I’m always looking for an excuse to head back. When Tokyo 21 appeared on Groupon a few weeks ago, I knew it was a must buy. The restaurant was formerly Kamehachi, but that moved down the street. Tokyo 21 is owned by the same people, but offers a different kind of fare.

It's best described as an Asian Pub. They have a generous variety of small plates representing Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine. Since we went on a Sunday Night, their Special was $.50 wings. The great thing about the special is there is no limit or specific requirement to a wing order. So we decided on a few small plates and a bunch of wings to split.

Dishes are served as they’re ready (similar to any Tapas restaurant). The wings were definitely the way to go. They're hearty with a crisp outside soaked in a sweet and sour glaze. The wings are made to order and were the perfect temperature to dig right in.

The Wings


The other dishes we ordered were just as enjoyable. The most memorable was the Japanese Nachos, best split between 2-3 people. These are fried wonton chips containing fresh crab mix, spicy tuna, and avocado separately stacked across the plate. 

 The Japanese Nachos
 
The Bacon Wrapped Rangoon was the waitress’s recommendation. It was good, but not my favorite. The Pad See Ew (not pictured) is also a great dish. The order is large and easily shared.  

 The Bacon Wrapped Rangoon

The end of the meal left me full, and I was already planning my next trip back. As an Asian food enthusiast, I found the food successfully adventurous. What impressed me most was the service. Although the place was fully seated for most of the meal, there was only one waitress/server/bartender/hostess (all the same person) doing it all. The stylish decor is both intimate and comfortable. The unique tastes and value friendly menu/specials will keep you coming back for more.
 

Tokyo 21 on Urbanspoon