Monday, September 30, 2013

Sullivan's Steakhouse

Location: 415 N Dearborn
Cost: Normally around $60-$75 per person

People are always asking me about my favorite Steakhouses. Chicago has a huge selection of options, but steak has never really been my forte. I really enjoy steak, but I usually reserve outings for a special occasion. To that point, when people plan a nice meal they want to make sure they're getting a good experience and reasonably have a lot of questions about a place beforehand. All that aside, when Sullivan's invited me to come try out their new menu items, I jumped at the opportunity. My buddy Brett has been on his Trauma rotation. I had just finished that one, and thus was in a very empathetic position. So the other night we traded in our scrubs for some generally nicer attire and hit up Sullivan's.

In a similar pattern to some of the other nice steakhouses in town, Sullivan's has a very classy feel. There's hard wood decor and dim lighting throughout the dining room. We sat at a booth along the far wall with a good view of the whole place. They recently opened up the bar area to the main dining room, which came in handy when the live music started. I guess they have a little jazz going most nights, and the pianist was a nice touch. It matches nicely with the elegant and warm vibe provided by the staff.

The cost is right around the other steakhouses in River North. Most apps were in the low teens, and most steaks were in the $40 ballpark. Of note, they have a special running for the month of October called the Sure Thing Menu. It's basically a $39 pre-fixe menu with some proceeds going towards breast cancer research.

The Food
The first of our many courses included the Seafood Sampler (oysters, lobster claws, shrimp cocktail, and jumbo lump crab) and Crispy Shanghai Calamari. The seafood was all delicious and fresh. It was a huge selection of options. The calamari really stood out. The fried squid had a sweet and spicy chili pepper glaze making it different from any other dish I'd had before.

The Crispy Shanghai Calamari

From there we split a Wedge and a Mozzarella and Tomato Salad. The wedge had a very rich blue cheese dressing in a classic presentation. The mozzarella and tomato salad was a creative take on the traditional caprese with multiple heirloom tomatoes and a light oil dressing.

The Mozzarella and Tomato Salad

The Wedge Salad

For the main course we had the Filet Trio, the "Cowboy" Bone In Ribeye, the Mac n' Cheese, and the Creamed Spinach. The trio included blue cheese, peppercorn, and bearnaise toppings. My favorite of the three was the peppercorn. The spicy kick melded well with the rich and tender filet. The Cowboy Ribeye was a perfect medium rare with a generous seasoning rub. The fat content was well distributed to make for one rich and flavorful cut of meat. The mac was creamy with a solid caramelization to the top of the cheese.

The Cowboy Ribeye

 The Mac N' Cheese

 The Creamed Spinach

The Filet Trio

Since we had so much room left, they generously brought out the Coconut Cream Pie and the Bananas Foster Bread Pudding for dessert. The pie had a delicate crust and a thick center with tons of shaved coconut across the top. My dad would've loved it. The bread pudding was soft in the middle with plenty of vanilla ice cream and glazed bananas.

 The Coconut Cream Pie

The Bananas Foster Bread Pudding

There's a great feel to Sullivan's. It's got the fancy digs of a Chicago steakhouse with a somewhat more relaxed vibe. They've got traditional options along with some twists that keep things pretty interesting. I'd strongly recommend the calamari, the cowboy ribeye, and the bananas foster bread pudding. Go check it out yourself, and don't forget about the $39 Sure Thing pre-fixe menu next month.

Sullivan's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

New collaboration with

So this site reached out to me as well as some of my friends in the Chicago food blogging realm asking us to put together some of our favorite lists. The themes had wide ranges, but I chose what I thought was in my sweet spot. The site is My first take is that the graphics are pretty cool, and the interactive interface is very user friendly. That aside, you should check it out for yourself and let me know what you think.

The first collections I cranked out for them were my lists of top recs for special occasions and my favorite breakfast restaurants. Enjoy!

Here's a little preview:
Special Occasions

The Short Rib at A Tavola

The Mediterranean Sea Bass at Piccolo Sogno 


The Smoked Trout Hash and Eggs from Glenn's Diner

 The Eggs Benedict at Owen and Engine

 The Sour Cream Coffee Cake at Southport Grocery

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Top 10 Seafood Spots

Anyone from Chicago can see that the closest body of water is not where you'd want to go fishing. My sister and brother in law went kayaking down the Chicago River last year and probably saw more dead fish than live ones. All that aside, there are some spots in Chicago that take large measures to serve up solid seafood options year round. Here are my ten favorites. You can also check out this list on Menuism and The Huffington Post.

10) Devon Seafood

It might look like any other River North bar at first glance, but the basement is where it's at. It's dark, cozy, and the variety of fish they serve is impressive. Plus, they've got one of the best pre-dinner rolls around.

The Salmon

9) Half Shell

This little dive bar on Diversey has one of the better patios around. You can get crab legs, oysters, and pretty much anything else you might fancy a seafood dive bar making for you. They do a great job of grilling fish too.

8) Big and Littles 

On the western border of River North, this dive has some awesome fried whitefish tacos. If you can look past the burgers and foie gras french fries, you'll find some killer Po' Boys too. I'd suggest the shrimp or soft shell crab.

The Shrimp Po' Boy

7) Ay Ay Picante 

This Peruvian hot spot is somewhat out of the way but worth the venture. It's cheap and BYOB. Once you're settled in, go for the salmon, the fried calamari, or one of the fried filets.

The Salmon and Mushroom Special

6)  Fish Bar

This Lincoln Park joint has a cool central bar setup, kind of like an old diner. The Po' Boy and the Lobster Roll are the way to go. Make sure not to pass on the basket of crispy lemon, onion, and jalapeno.

The Oyster Po' Boy

5) Piccolo Sogno

For Italian style fish, Piccolo Sogno is where you want to go.  They usually have a whole fish option that's off the menu (that you HAVE to ask for), and the halibut is a solid second option. They do this great calamari in a bag too.

The Mediterranean Sea Bass

4) New England Seafood Company 

It's another BYOB option with a casual setup. If you want to take something home to cook from the large seafood counter, that's fine, but I suggest you stick around for the clam chowder and the lobster roll.

The Lobster Roll

3) GT Fish and Oyster

 The menu is much more small plate oriented than the other places on my list. You can't really go wrong with your choices, and the interior design to the place is pretty interesting. I happen to be partial to the clam bake for dinner and the tuna BLT for lunch.

The Tuna BLT

2) Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab

My family's been going to Joe's for most special occasions in the city for years. They're well known for their stone crab, but that's never been my choice. The seafood salad is a good way to start, and there's usually a great sea bass, halibut, or tuna for a main dish. They've got one of the best key lime pies in the city to finish things off too.

The Turbot

1) Glenn's Diner

Whether its one of the many blackboard options for dinner or the seafood hash for brunch, Glenn's has my favorite fish menu in town. They have this really thick clam chowder that is unrivaled in the city and a scallop dish that I have trouble looking past to try new menu items.

The Smoked Trout Hash and Eggs

Special Mention: The Shanty 

This would have been toward the top of the list, but it's just too far out of the city. The Shanty is in Wadsworth, which I assume you've never heard of. If you're on the way to or from Milwaukee, it's a worthwhile detour with their excellent seafood filets.

The Orange Salmon

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Lobby at The Peninsula

Location: 108 E Superior
Cost: Normally around $85 per person for a tasting menu

A few months into starting JEC, I started receiving offers for "promotional" posts. The first one I did was a disaster. I went to this restaurant I'd never heard of for lunch in the middle of the week. Everyone was in a suit, and I rolled in with my book bag, wearing jeans, flip flops, and a t-shirt. The food was good though.

Fast forward to last week. The Lobby at the Peninsula Hotel invited me to check out one of the installations in their Chef Series. Basically, once a month, a guest chef comes in to help make a rather creative and swanky five-course meal. This month Chef de Cuisine, Lee Wolen, got a hand from Ryan Poli (Tavernita and Little Market). I knew a little better this time and wore a shirt and a tie. Most people were still in suits, but I stood out a little less this time.

Despite living right around the corner, I never realized all of the dining options the Peninsula had to offer. The Lobby was set up with a bunch of communal tables. There was a duet playing classical versions of pop songs overhead. The whole vibe was very relaxed and elegant. The service was all perfectly timed. The cost is about $85. If you're worried that there's a bunch of little bites and you'll leave hungry, that's not the case at all here.

The Food
I didn't mention this above, but the theme of the night was Mediterranean. The first course was a Hamachi Crudo with avocado, cucumber, and jalapeno. It was an excellent, light way to get things started. The jalapenos didn't overpower the dish, and the fish had a smooth bite to it.

The Hamachi Crudo

Next up was a course of Grilled Spanish Octopus with celery, chorizo, and grapefruit. It wasn't chewy in the least, and the flavors came together nicely. There was one piece in my dish with a little char to it that really hit the spot.

The Grilled Spanish Octopus

After that we had a Slow poached Loup de Mere with potato and fennel. This was one of the tables favorites. The fish was extremely delicate and had this oiliness that pulled everything together nicely.

The Loup de Mere

The fourth course was Roasted Colorado Lamb Loin with chickpeas and eggplant. This was my favorite dish of the night. The lamb was a solid medium rare, and the chickpeas gave this wonderful Mediterranean feel to the whole dish.

The Roasted Lamb Loin

We finished things off with a Roasted Almond Panna Cotta with plum and thyme. The panna cotta was so smooth, and the roasted plums contrasted with the almond flavor to give this perfect sweet and savory combo.

The Almond Panna Cotta

This whole Chef Series at the Lobby is a pretty sweet gig. They've got one more left for the season on October 28th with Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, Bart Toma, and Terzo Piano). It's almost sold out, but I think you'd enjoy getting one of the remaining spots. As far as my experience, I thought each course built off of the next very well and am excited to head back soon.

The Lobby at the Peninsula Hotel on Urbanspoon

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Osteria Via Stato

Location: 620 N State
Cost: About $30 per person

When I was growing up, my mom was on time for EVERYTHING. In turn, I've developed somewhat of a neuroticism about being on time to things. On the other hand, a bunch of my friends are late to everything. I'm pretty sure my buddy Ricky comes late to dinner by a good half hour on a regular basis. General disregard for punctuality really grinds my gears, and I'm usually the guy to bust someone's chops for being late.

That being said, the tables turned on me the other night. I was supposed to get dinner with Schneider, Julie, and Jenny. I went to take a cat nap and slept right through dinner. Schneider, in a callous but reasonable approach, went on to eat at Chicago Q. On one hand, I clearly upset him, but on the other hand, I didn't have to listen to him brag about things like his prowess at first base, his ability to run long distances, or how happy he is with his naturally tan complexion during the meal. Jenny on the other hand, assumed that I'd died or something and frantically came over to kick down my apartment door. Once she'd realized I was okay, her concern turned to annoyance. In order to remedy the situation we needed a quick dinner answer nearby. That's how we ended up at Osteria Via Stato.

Note: For any involved parties reading this post, I'm still very sorry about ruining our plans.

Osteria Via Stato is right next to the Embassy Suites in River North. The front patio is split in two with Pizzeria Via Stato. If you make it past the host stand out front, they've got a bar style setup and a dining room indoors. We chose to hang on the patio. Our waitress was very attentive. The portions were appropriately sized, and the cost was reasonable given the part of town and quality of the restaurant. Most pasta dishes and entrees were in the mid to high teens.

The Food
Our order was pretty straightforward. Jenny went with the Parmesan Crusted Chicken, and I got the Gnocchi. The chicken came in lightly breaded, flattened breasts. There was this tangy white wine sauce to the dish that made things a little soggy, but the chicken was moist nonetheless. The roasted tomatoes on the side added a needed zing as well. My gnocchi was just alright though. The texture of the dumpling itself was just off. Some pieces were a little chewy and others came apart too easily. The simple marinara sauce was just fine, but I couldn't get past the feel of the pasta in my mouth.

The Parmesan Crusted Chicken

The Gnocchi

There is always value to a restaurant with a peaceful patio on State Street. The people watching is worth the meal alone. That aside, the dishes were up and down for our meal. The chicken was pretty good, but I just wasn't having the gnocchi. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Osteria Via Stato on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Yuzu Sushi & Robata Grill

Location: 1715 W Chicago Ave.
Cost: About $30 per person normally

The other week I got an invite to check out this sushi restaurant, Yuzu, a bit out West on Chicago Avenue. My rotation schedule had been pretty busy for some time, and I was lucky they still remembered the invite by the time I was finally able to stop in. The meal promised to be pretty large, so I brought along my buddy Josh, who has been known to put down a ton of sushi in his day.

Yuzu is on a pretty empty spot of the street out in the Ukranian Village, but it carries enough bustle and excitement on its own. We had a reservation (which was necessary on a Friday night) and walked right past the crowd on the patio and into the cozy sushi bar. The background music was all pretty solid 90's hip hop. The service was friendly and efficient (probably too efficient).

The meal was comped based on the invite, but the prices in general are very reasonable for sushi. Most simple rolls are around $5 while the large specialty ones are closer to $10. The robata options are all in the $2 price range. They brought out enough food to our table for a party of 6 at least, and the bill would have probably come out to $25-$30 per person, which I think is pretty reasonable for sushi.

The Food
The meal started off with the Tuna Poke. The dish had this crown of avocado and a chili pepper sauce that really complemented the tuna well. From there, they brought out the Avocado Mango Salad and the Grilled Whole Squid. The salad was huge and had this ponzu dressing that balanced fantastically with the mango. The squid had hints of ginger and jalapeno that set the dish apart from prior grilled quid dishes I've had.

Next came an onslaught of what seemed like the entire robata menu. The chicken satay and the beef short rib were my favorites.

After that came a collection of rolls that we couldn't even imagine finishing (for stomach capacity purposes, not because of the taste). This included the Chicago Spring, Black Sea, Fire, Sin Nombre, Pot River, South Beach, Monster Spider, and Sorry I am Drunk. If you'll recall, I have often criticized restaurants for muddling fish into these collections that make no sense and are doused in sauce. I though uniformly, the flavors melded well together and that most of the sauces were reasonably portioned on the side. The Pot River (tuna, salmon, cilantro, jalapeno, and a lot of other things) and the Chicago Spring (shrimp, avocado, cream cheese, and other stuff) were my stand out favorites. I usually hate rolls with cream cheese, but this one must have hit me at just the right time.

For dessert (not like we could eat anything else at this point), they brought out a small portion of the Strawberry and the Chocolate Mochi. The exterior dough was soft and the ice cream inside was rich and creamy.

When I rolled down the empty stretch of Chicago Avenue I didn't have the highest expectations, but Yuzu packed in a lively crowd with some solid sushi and robata options. Since the meal was comped, there will not be a Pearl rating, but I thought the meal was excellent. For sushi it was very reasonably priced as well. Hit it up sooner rather than later.

Yuzu Sushi and Robata Grill on Urbanspoon