Thursday, June 27, 2013

Din Tai Fung

Location: 700 Bellevue Way NE, Bellevue Washington (Seattle Area)
Cost: Probably around $30 per person

The month and a half off between medical school and residency has come and gone, but I wanted to share about a meal I had during that time when I was out in Seattle. More or less, I took the trip to help babysit / chauffeur my little cousins around while their parents were away on business. When they got back though, we had a few days to spend together. After a little fiasco involving a kidney stone, things settled down, and we were able to go hit up one of my cousin Jeff's favorite spots, Din Tai Fung.

This place was packed. We were told that the 5 of us would have a 2.5 hour wait. Coincidentally, there was a 2 hour showing of Star Trek at the movie theater next door which helped us fill the void. Just as the movie was ending we got the text that the table was ready. Our service was efficient and knowledgeable.

The Food
So the big thing at this place is the soup dumplings. They have this big room of what looks like underpaid laborers in some gigantic assembly line making these dumplings.

The Work Room

We started with some Pickled Cucumbers and the Spareribs. The cucumbers were one of the best dishes of the night. They were refreshing and tangy. The short ribs made you work and left you messy. They had a sweet and sour sauce that held strong against the well seasoned meat.

The Cucumbers

The Spareribs

From there we had the Braised Beef Soup and the Sauteed String Beans. The beans were crispy, but not like the deep fried crap from TGI Fridays. The soup had a strong clove scent and the beef fell apart nicely. The homemade noodles in the soup were really the standout tough.

The Braised Beef Soup

The Sauteed String Beans

For soup dumplings we got the Pork, the Shrimp, and the Veggie. In case you're unfamiliar with soup dumplings, they're basically your typical potsticker but with broth inside as well. As you might guess, the veggie were bland and more or less a waste of an excellent wonton wrapper. The Shrimp was the best thing all night with the Pork a close second.

The Pork Soup Dumplings

 The Shrimp Soup Dumplings

 The Veggie Soup Dumplings

Soup dumplings are fantastic. I'd never had them before, but I'd seen them a lot on TV. I wish I knew some better spots in Chicago to find them, and if you have any ideas please let me know. If you're in Seattle or LA (they have a location there as well), you should give Din Tai Fung a shot. I'm pretty sure everyone loves this place except for my cousin Nathan (but he'd eat Chiptole every meal if he could, so what does he know anyway?)

Din Tai Fung 鼎泰豐 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Location: 2031 N Clybourn
Cost: About $15 per person

For those of you that don't know, Smashburger is making its way into the city, and the newest spot in Lincoln Park has just opened up. One of the initiatives they're undergoing is this collaborative beer and burger menu with Goose Island. They were generous enough to extend an invite my way, and I brought along Ketterer and Rebecca. We were in for a long night of burgers and beer.

Smashburger is somewhat lonesome in a strip mall up on Clybourn. If I hadn't just moved, I'm sure we'd walk there all the time. There's plenty of parking in the lot. This is an order at the counter take a number kind of establishment. As we were there for a special event, the judgements on the extra friendly service and expediency are heavily biased. Normally, a burger will run you between $5 and $7. Throw in $2 side of fries and a $4 shake or $3.50 beer and you get plenty for your money.

The Food
I'll take you through the burger and beer pairings in the order we had them. First was the Classic Smash and 312. The burger comes on an egg bun with american cheese, "smash" sauce, and the other regular accoutrements.

The Classic Smash

Next was the Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger, paired with Matilda. This was Rebecca's favorite of the night. The truffle comes through strong and the mushrooms mix up the texture nicely.

The Truffle Mushroom Swiss Burger

This next one was my favorite, the BBQ Bacon and Cheddar Burger (also paired with Matilda). Topped with some sweet baby rays and onion crisps, it's no wonder I was such a fan.

The BBQ Bacon Cheddar Burger

The Windy City Burger was after that, topped with Merkts, onions, and spicy mustard on a pretzel bun. This bad boy came with the Honkers Ale.

The Windy City Burger

I wasn't so eager about this next one, but it was one of the best... The Spicy Baja Black Bean Burger. The black beans were more or less smashed into a refried patty form with a real kick. If you're a vegetarian, you won't be disappointed. This goes well with the IPA.

The Spicy Baja Black Bean Burger

We then delved into some chicken sandwiches, also smashed mind you. This was much like the Classic Smash but with chicken. The patty wasn't dry at all and had a nice crisp without being breaded or fried (like other chips and snacks ;).

The Classic Chicken

Finally, they brought out the Avocado Club Chicken Sandwich. The Applewood Smoked probably took the predominance of flavor on this guy, and it all paired nicely with the Honkers ale.

The Avocado Chicken Club

As if that wasn't enough, we also got to try out some of the common sides and shakes.

The Veggie Frittes

 The Sweet Potato Fries

 The Smash Fries
(with rosemary and garlic)

The Haystack Onions

The Fried Pickles

The Chocolate Shake

I think what needs to be considered is how Smashburger matches up against other similar spots around like Five Guys, Epic Burger, M Burger, etc. They have a lot of menu options with some nice regional twists. As they've now broken into our local market, I suggest you check them out, but as the meal was comped there will be no Pearl rating.

Smashburger on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 17, 2013


Location: 3057 W Logan Blvd.
Cost: About $17 per person

My friend Phil moved out to Logan Square what seems like a year ago, and I'd never been to visit. I mean, we'd hung out a few times, but I had a bunch of time off and thought I'd come by to check out his digs. After the compulsory tour of an apartment decked out in music gear, video games, and an eclectic mix of furniture, we set out for lunch along with his roommate Eric. The goal was to hit up Lula, but they're closed on Tuesdays (which I would've known if their damn website had been working at the time). Instead, we walked around the corner and ended up at Jam.

Note: If you're an old school JEC fan, you might recall that one of my very first posts was on Jam. That was when the restaurant first started out, and when it was located in the Ukrainian Village. Given the myriad of changes, I thought a fresh post was in order.

Both Phil and Eric went to school and lived around the University of Miami Florida for a while. The second we sat on the patio at Jam, they both mentioned how "Miami" the place felt. I think it was the neon green theme. Anyways, they've got this little patio right off the square and a somewhat cramped dining room inside. Our waiter was giving us the hard sell on the preset three course brunch menu, which I thought was a bit foolish. Except for that, the service was exceptional. The cost is average for brunch in the city with most dishes just above $10.

The Food
Phil got the Jamburger, Eric got the Turkey Club, and I got the Quiche. I should mention first that they had this amuse bouche sesame cookie to start with. I'm sure for some this was quite the production, but for me this was just another chance to get crumbs on my pants. I didn't go grabbing food off of everyone's plates, but Eric and Phil wolfed down their sandwiches. The burger did look exceptionally good with a fried egg and this smokey tomato sauce. The quiche was a little too eggy for my liking but the smoked trout packed some solid flavor. With the side of bagel chip panzanella, it was a very refreshing meal.

 The Sesame Cookie

 The Turkey Club

 The Jamburger

The Quiche

I was impressed with Jam when it was in the Ukrainian Village, and the move to Logan hasn't messed with their success. Everything played off of strong, basic flavors, and the portion sizes were reasonable. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Jam on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Q-BBQ and Miko's Italian Ice

Location: 70 S La Grange Rd, La Grange
Cost: About $20 per person

Although it has passed, and you may not have realized it, May was National BBQ Month. To celebrate, Q-BBQ was hosting some media dinners and extended an invite my way. I had the chance to bring with my entourage of BBQ experts. First there was DWeiss, a burnt ends fanatic who introduced me to such places as Honey 1 BBQ. Then there was The Professor, a man known to travel all the way to Cincinnati for BBQ (and maybe a Phish show too). Finally, there was Jeremy, who is so much in favor of pork over beef that he won't even allow his father to eat brisket at home. They have locations in Naperville and La Grange, and given the closer proximity to the city, we went with La Grange.

Q-BBQ has a simple, order at the counter, take a number setup. There was plenty of seating, and they don't take reservations. They've got a decent beer selection, and all of the staff were friendly and helpful. The meal was comped, but normally a sandwich runs around $8, an entree runs around $15, and a full slab of ribs will cost you $24. So, that's pretty on par with most of the city BBQ spots.

The Food
We started off with some Q-Pups (hush puppies). They had a nice spicy aftertaste and a good balance between the creamy center and crispy exterior.

The Q-Pups

After that, we had a little bit of everything. The Brisket was smokey but a little bit dry. Luckily they had plenty of sauces at the table, our favorite being the Memphis Sweet Sauce. The Sausage Links were very rich with a nice snap. The Chicken Wings had a heavy seasoning rub. The Burnt Ends were alright in the DWeiss book and came with an interesting Spicy Aioli dipping sauce. Jeremy was very pleased with his Pulled Pork. I went with the Ribs. You had to work to get them off the bone, and they were very saucy (both valuable qualities in my book).

 The Brisket

 The Sausage Links

 The Chicken Wings

 The Burnt Ends

 The Pulled Pork

The Ribs

For sides we got to try the Baked Beans, the Fries, the Cornbread, the Mac n' Cheese, and the Coleslaw. My favorites were the beans and the slaw.

The Mac n' Cheese

 The Baked Beans

 The Coleslaw

The Cornbread

Q-BBQ holds its own with some strong meats and sides. With exception to the drive out west, it is logistically as easy as it gets. You can stroll in and stuff your gullet full of a variety of saucy dishes with relatively no effort. I suggest you check it out for yourself.

Q BBQ on Urbanspoon  

Miko's Italian Ice
Location: 2234 N Sacramento
Cost: About $3 per person

After the meal at Q, I dropped off DWeiss at his place in Logan Square. It was a warm night out, and we decided to stop off for some Italian ice. Danny's favorite spot is right around the corner from his apartment, Miko's. It was cheap, quick, refreshing, and delicious. We tried a bunch of flavors including the chocolate, banana chocolate chip, mango, lemon, and strawberry. I was a big fan to say the least.

The Chocolate Italian Ice
Miko's Italian Ice on Urbanspoon
Miko's Italian Ice on Foodio54

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Portage

Location: 3938 N Central
Cost: About $35 per person

Some people go to the gym to exercise while some go to socialize. Let's call my dad's trips to the Buffalo Grove Fitness center something in the middle. Accordingly, one of the regular attendees of his Saturday morning boot camp class was the star in this Lady Gaga rock show. It was at this theater out in Portage Park where I have little knowledge of anything. The two of us, along with Josh and Scott, went to try out The Portage nearby beforehand.

The Portage is this little, unassuming building right around the corner of Irving Park and Central. They've got a parking lot to the side. There's not really all that much seating, but the bar is easy access. We didn't have any trouble making a reservation, and I'd suggest you do the same. Our waiter was weird, but I couldn't really place why. It didn't deter too much from the meal or anything. Most appetizers were around $10, and most entrees were in the $20 ballpark. The portions could've been larger, but then again, I should probably eat less food in general.

The Food
For starters we went with the Fried Calamari. It was extra flaky, and they even fried up the lemons which made for some very interesting bites. My dad also went with the mushroom soup, which was extra creamy.

The Mushroom Soup

The Fried Calamari

For the main course my dad got the Fried Amish Chicken, Josh got the Short Rib Burger, Scott had the Salmon Special, and I had the Trout. The chicken was moist with a firm, crispy skin. It came over a bed of mashed potatoes with bacon gravy. Josh thought the burger was pretty good. My trout was small like I mentioned before. It came with a few clams, a few bites of sausage, and a spicy broth. The clams were too chewy, the sausage was a bit dry, but the fish was spot on. Scott's Salmon came over a bed of risotto with pesto. It was light, but I don't know if it went all that well with the soft risotto. We also got a side of Mac n' Cheese with bacon and stewed tomatoes. It was probably a little too creamy, but the bacon gave things a nice ring.

The Mac n' Cheese

 The Amish Fried Chicken

 The Short Rib Burger

 The Salmon Special

The Lake Superior Red Trout

The waiter more or less demanded we get the Flourless Chocolate Cake for dessert. It was extra rich. I usually save my cravings for flourless chocolate cake for passover, but this was a welcome interlude.

The Flourless Chocolate Cake

The Portage served our purpose from a location standpoint. The food was mostly well prepared with some interesting twists. I felt like we were a little cramped and the quirky waiter was somewhat off putting, but otherwise things were enjoyable. I'm giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

The Portage on Urbanspoon
The Portage on Foodio54