Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Tavola

Location: 2148 W Chicago Avenue
Cost: Around $50 per person

Back in March, Lisa and Noam came to Chicago to celebrate Lisa's birthday. Although it was a few weeks early, timing was tough to fit in a celebration around her busy residency schedule and passover. I used to think that I got shorted by having a summer birthday when kids missed my parties because they were away at summer camp. I realize though that there's not much worse than having to eat matzah based birthday cake or have people buy you potato vodka shots. Ricky has the same issue, but anything to help cut down on the drinks am I right? Anyways, Lisa chose to have the family go out to dinner at one of her favorite Italian restaurants, A Tavola.

A Tavola is a converted house on Chicago Avenue. If you're not looking for it, you'll drive right past since there's no major street sign. There's plenty of parking nearby. There are two dining areas, a small gathering of tables on the first floor and a party room of sorts upstairs. We had this cozy table perfectly off to the side but within shouting distance of the bar.

Our waiter treated us like we were eating in his living room (which we practically were). The drinks were strong, the food came out quickly, and he played well to the intimate setting of the restaurant by letting us take our time and relax. The cost is a what you'd expect of a fine Italian restaurant with starters in the $12 range and entrees around $25. The portions were plenty.

The Food
We got things started with we got a plate of Italian Cured Meats, the special salad with mixed greens, apples, and parmesan, and the homemade pasta appetizer. The pasta was extremely thin and delicate. The sauce was peppery and balanced the richness of the egg yolk pasta nicely.

The Italian Cured Meats

 The Salad

 The Homemade Pasta

We ran the table for the main courses although the selections are somewhat limited. The short rib was tender and juicy, served over a bed of risotto with just the right texture. The gnocchi (the most popular dish) was light with a decent chewiness and a brown butter and sage sauce. The beef tenderloin was cooked properly to order with basic flavors and a nice sear. The whitefish was flaky, buttery, and simple.

The Gnocchi

 The Short Rib

 The Whitefish

The Beef Tenderloin

For dessert we had the chocolate cake and the lemon tart. They were both heavy hitters on the back end of the meal. My family has never objected to an all chocolate dessert, and the tart had a sweet crust to balance out the tangy lemon filling.

The Chocolate Cake

 The Lemon Tart

The takeaway at A Tavola is simplicity and intimacy. The setting is great for a date or quiet get together. The food is straight forward and flavorful. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

A Tavola on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 26, 2013

Top 10 Hot Dogs in Chicago

So I've started posting for this website called Menuism. It's going to be a way for me to get the word out on some of my favorite places. Check out the post I did this month. Below is a somewhat more JEC version for those native Chicagoans out there. Hope you like it.

I had some trouble with the inspiration for this months Top 10 list. In all fairness, I haven't eaten out in like 2 weeks between passover and a busy surgical rotation. Then, when I came home to see the Cubs take care of business in their first game of the season, I thought it would good timing to go over my favorite hot dogs. I would like to preface this post by saying that I haven't written about everywhere on this list. I've been eating hot dogs for as long as my dad could sneak me food behind my mom's back, and I can remember which of these are my favorites. It's also worthwhile to mention that there are a ton of hot dogs in this city and only so many arteries to go around. Finally, Ron, before you voice your inevitable disagreement with this list, please take a deep breath.

10. Wiener Take All
- You might have your favorite neighborhood spot growing up, and this one is mine. Ask for Drew and you'll get the V.I.P. treatment (that everyone else in Buffalo Grove gets for knowing Drew). Bring your little league jersey and try to score some free stuff.

9. Mustard's Last Stand
- Before watching a college football team in a high school stadium, gorge yourself on one of these bad boys (but only if you don't want Buff Joe's).

8. Jim's Original
- Stronger with the Polish than the dog, but I'm going to count all encased meats with this list.

7. Portillos

6. The Wieners Circle

5. Chicago's Dog House

4. Franks N' Dawgs

The Brunch Dog

3. Phil's Last Stand
- Just try and get Phil to stand up!

2. Hot Doug's

The Boar Sausage

1. Superdawg

Least Favorite (just to rub some salt in the wound): Odges

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Grid

Location: 351 W Hubbard
Cost: Probably around $25 per person

Noam's still in town for business, and he's really had the opportunity to rake in some free food with me. This time we were invited to check out the menu at The Grid. So, last Friday night we braved the sleet and the cold to the border of River North to give this new spot a try.

The Grid is in the basement of its sister restaurant Baume and Brix. It's got a dark, trendy feel with a collection of gorgeous waitresses. When I told my buddy Marc we'd gone there, his response was, "The place with the fire pits?" What he meant was that one side of the bar was setup as couches surrounding these little indoor chimneys while the other half was filled with raised communal tables. We could've gotten away without a reservation, but if we'd gone any later that might have been different. The cost is very reasonable with the priciest entree on the menu coming in at $18 and the majority closer to $12.

The Food
Our first bites included the Tuna Poke Jar, the Warm Crab Jar, and the Arancini. The jars are actually these miniature mason jars filled with a spread and a bunch of crackers of sort on the side. The tuna poke was fresh and heavy on the ginger, the way I like it. The crab was in the creamy dip ballpark. The Arancini were these little deep fried, cheesy risotto balls on top of an eggplant marinara. This was my favorite appetizer.

The Tuna Poke Jar

 The Arancini

 The Warm Crab Jar

From there we split the Foie Dog and the Big Kahuna Burger. The dog came on a french bun of sorts with creamy goat cheese, truffle mayo, caramelized onions, and candied apricots. The burger was actually a combo pork and bacon patty that came on a really soft bun and was topped with some pineapple-jalapeno chutney.

The Big Kahuna Burger

 The Foie Dog

For dessert they brought out a plate of their Milk and Cookies. Not like we could do any damage to the 6 jumbo cookies they'd brought out after all of the food we'd had, but they were sugary, chocolatey, and warm with a gooey center.

The Chocolate Chip Cookies

The menu at The Grid was creative, fun, and inexpensive. They've got a good cocktail selection to go along with the food too. For Noam and I, it was the perfect spot before a night out in River North. I suggest you give it a go yourself.

The Grid on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Ay Ay Picante

Location: 4569 N Elston
Cost: About $25 per person

It was a Sunday night and another edition of Pearl Family Dinner at 5PM was about to take place. As usual, my dad was trying to use some of his many Lettuce Entertain You gift cards but was also willing to go anywhere that meant a more convenient drive than going all the way east to Mon Ami Gabi. I mentioned this Peruvian place not too far off the highway. There was some hemming and hawing, but when I pointed out it was BYOB that tilted the scales. That's how we ended up at Ay Ay Picante.

Ay Ay Picante is this little neighborhood place with a very homey vibe. The seating is limited to a few large tables, but there was enough room to pack in an eclectic mix of local families, young couples, and a few buddies out for dinner. You can make reservations, but I think you'll get away without one most of the time. There's plenty of street parking nearby too.

The service was perfect. By that I mean that they were quick and spoke just too little English to laugh at my dad's corny jokes. Like I mentioned before, it's BYOB. The cost of the food is low and the portions are huge. This is the place where you can get a large steak for $20 or a whole fish for $15.

The Food
We got the ball rolling with some Empanadas and some Shrimp Stuffed Avocados. The empanada was crispy, not too heavy, and filled with piping hot and spicy pulled meat. The avocado dish was on the blander side but came with plenty of large, garlic heavy shrimp on the side to make up for it.

 The Shrimp Stuffed Avocados

 The Empanadas

For our entrees we got the Shrimp Fried Rice, the Salmon Special, and the Steak Special. The fried rice was excellent with tons of shrimp and a tangy spice mix. The salmon was coated in this thick brown sauce that overshadowed the fish a bit too much, but otherwise the dish was spot on. The steak was gigantic, cooked the appropriate medium rare, and dressed with just a little salt and pepper. It wasn't too fatty either.

 The Salmon Special

 The Steak Special

 The Shrimp Fried Rice

The waiter was rather insistent that we try the Flan and one of the Alfajor (peruvian cookie). The flan had enough chocolate to make anyone in my family happy. The Alfajor had an interesting, somewhat sticky texture with plenty of sweetness.

The Flan

 The Alfajor

Ay Ay Picante gets my nod over The Taste Peru, which I was also a big fan of. It has this great neighborhood feel, huge portions, cheap prices, and strong ethnic flavors. It's exactly what I hoped it would be. There were small flaws in a few dishes, but otherwise I waddled out of there a happy man. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Ay Ay Picante Peruvian Seafood & Steak on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Devon Seafood

Location: 39 E Chicago
Cost: About $40 per person

For those of you keeping track of Jeff Eats Chicago time, we're now entering the middle of March. The posting every 3 days gets backed up sometimes with weekends where I go a little crazy and then some promotional posts, but we're back on track. I already told you about my Bub City outing on match day, but one meal wasn't going to do the trick. By late evening, a lull in the partying had been reached and stomachs were growling. KVG, Arif, Anthony, and Shanika wanted to get a bite before making a push for our night out. Someone tossed out the idea of seafood and we ended up at Devon.

This was actually my second time at Devon. I went once with Carrie a few years back and oddly enough we got the same table. They've got this funky setup with a bar on the top floor and a basement with a more private / romantic feel. If that's what you're looking for, I'd suggest making a reservation. Little did they know that 5 rowdy medical students would get put right in the middle of their quiet dining room.

The service is what you'd expect from a nice steak or seafood restaurant. There are a few unnecessary pass offs between an upstairs an downstairs hostess, but no biggie. The cost is very reasonable for seafood. Most entrees run in the low $20 range while there are plenty of bigger appetizers and salads that you can get in the $15 area if you're not as hungry. The portions are plenty, and besides me, I don't know if anyone finished their whole plate (because of size not taste [and this is the norm as I'm a card carrying member of the clean plate club]).

The Food
The first mention needs to go to the dinner rolls. They're no Bob Chinn's garlic rolls or anything, but these biscuits have a subtle buttery honey goodness that makes them some of the best around. From there we had a rather diverse order. Arif got the Salmon, KVG got the Shrimp Enchiladas, Anthony got the Lobster Cobb Salad, and I got the Lobster Roll. The salmon was nicely prepared with a sweet glaze and mango salad. The enchiladas were definitely on the heavier side but had some huge shrimp that you could pick out when you start to get too full. The salad was a bit heavily dressed for my taste, but the large, cold chunks of lobster were great. My roll was served with an appropriate amount of mayo and butter. The bun was also very buttery and soft. The fries were too mealy though.

The Dinner Biscuit

 The Salmon

 The Shrimp Enchilada

 The Lobster Cobb Salad

 The Mini Lobster Rolls

I've had a surprising amount of people ask me for seafood recommendations in River North lately. I usually point them toward GT Fish and Oyster, but if they've already been there I'm not slow to recommend Devon next. It's no Glenn's Diner, but I'll give them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Devon Seafood Grill on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Graham Elliot Bistro and Apothic Wines

Location: 841 W Randolph
Cost: Complimentary meal, probably about $60 per person

Apothic Wines was hosting a promotional dinner at Graham Elliot Bistro (G.E.B) the other night to help get the word out about their new Rose wine. Their head wine maker, Boyd Morrison, came out into Chicago's miserable spring weather to join in too. They were generous enough to give me a plus one and Noam just so happened to be in town on business.

G.E.B is on Randolph amongst many of Chicago's trendier spots. The vibe fits right in. There are a few bar seats near the front door. The whole restaurant takes on this dark, private feel as you go further back into the dining room. Also, no matter where you sit, you get a decent look into the kitchen, providing some life to the room. Our service was excellent although it's hard to judge when you're with a special party. The courses were well spaced, and everyone's wine glasses were kept full.

The Food and Wine
Our first wine was the Rose. It was a semi-sweet blend that had strong fruity flavors, the most predominant of which was watermelon. I kept thinking how much my mom would love it, and fortunately, they sent me home with a bottle for her. It went great with the appetizer and fish course.

The Apothic Rose

To that point, the first dish was an Onion Bisque. It was very creamy and had almost a cream of broccoli feel. The croutons maintained some crunch despite soaking in the soup for a little while. The dish was rich, but I've never had an issue with that.

The Onion Bisque

My next course was the Whitefish. It went well with both the Rose and the White which was also moderately sweet with strong fruity notes. The fish was bread crusted and served over some potatoes and leeks. The crust provided nice contrast to the flaky fish.
The Whitefish

I chose the Veal for my main course. It came with some crunchy pancetta over the top. The tender and fatty cut went nicely with the much bolder Red blend.

 The Veal

For dessert they served Stuffed Beignets and Banana Splits. The beignets were light and stuffed with a nutella like chocolate sauce. The banana split came in a mason jar of sorts with some candied nuts on the bottom and plenty of fudge.

 The Banana Split

The Beignets

G.E.B. has a befitting seasonal menu with some surprises hiding behind what appear to be rather classic dishes. It was great to be the guest of Apothic Wines. Their three options paired nicely with the whole meal. As the meal was complimentary, there will be no Pearl rating, but it was quite enjoyable.

Graham Elliot Bistro on Urbanspoon