Monday, August 26, 2013

Riccardo Trattoria

Location: 2119 N Clark
Cost: About $35 per person

I've often referenced my old running path in past posts. To give you a better idea though, I would start at North and Clybourn, run up Clybourn to Webster, head East to Clark, go South to North, and finally make my way west to Clybourn. The square was somewhere in the 3-4 mile range and had a ton of good restaurants to pass by. It was great catching whiffs from Sweet Mandy B's, and it was always a pain making it through the busier parts of Old Town. That aside, when I would turn down Clark there was always a line building up outside of Riccardo Trattoria that drew my attention. Then my friends Mariel and Reed told me it was their favorite restaurant. So the other night, Jenny and I decided to check it out.

Logistics
If it weren't for all of the customers, you could easily pass Riccardo Trattoria without noticing. They've got this little blue awning next to another one of my favorite spots in Lincoln Park, Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinders. It's practically impossible to park around there, so I suggest you find alternate means of transportation. They take reservations, and I suggest you make one, even on a weeknight. The two of us were the youngest people in the restaurant by a good twenty years with exception of the staff. The cost is slightly more than the average Italian spot with pastas around $20 and other entrees a little more than that, but it's worth it. It's also safe to say that you won't leave hungry.

The Food
I wasn't going to make a point of this, but since it's Jenny's favorite part of the meal, I'll let you know that the bread was very good. They bring out a basket with your standard white Italian loaf and a bunch of focaccia sticks.

The Bread Basket

She got the Minestrone Soup to start with, and I ordered the Panzanella. I don't think we were expecting the Genovese variant of minestrone with the heavy herb and bean presence, but I loved it. In retrospect, the panzanella was a dumb order. They give everyone a little piece of bruschetta as an amuse bouche of sorts, and the salad was mostly just a bunch of chopped up bruschetta with avocado. It's not that it wasn't tasty, but I wish I'd mixed it up a bit more.

 The Minestrone Genovese

The Panzanella

For the main course Jenny went with the Sea Bass, and I got a half order of the Gnocchi and a half order of the Orecchiette with Boar Sauage. The sea bass was lightly breaded and cooked properly. It was flaky with this natural oiliness. The orecchiette was rather al dente, but the boar sausage crumbles mixed nicely with the pecorino cheese to make for a great dish. The gnocchi was my favorite item of the night. The texture was spot on, and the little bits of prosciutto in the dish added a strong punch.

The Sea Bass

 The Gnocchi

The Orrechiette

Overall
Riccardo Trattoria held up to its reputation. The atmosphere is cozy, and both the seafood and pasta dishes were strong. It was definitely one of the better Gnocchi plates that I've had in a while. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Riccardo Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 22, 2013

New England Seafood Company

Location: 3341 N Lincoln
Cost: About $25 per person

My buddy Phil Jacobson's band was playing the other night at the Elbo Room. Per usual, there was a strong hometown presence, and the Buffalo Grove fan club decided to get some food before the show. The Waitzes, Ockrims, Jacobsons, Waits, Finkles, and my family all met up at New England Seafood Company.

Logistics
Things are very casual at New England Seafood. They've got a fish counter and all if you want to cook at home, or you can order at the counter off the menu and sit at one of the few tables strewn throughout the room. There's not a ton of seating, and our group somewhat took over the restaurant. The food came out pretty quickly. They're BYOB, and the seafood is very reasonably priced with most entrees falling in the $15-$20 range.


The Food
I asked the guy at the counter what his favorite items were and ordered those... the Clam Chowder and the Lobster Roll. The chowder was standard with some very large chunks of clam. I thought it could've been a little thicker though. The roll was great. The buttery lobster was overflowing the brioche bun. It was sweet, texturally on point, and substantial. The homemade chips on the side were solid too.

The Clam Chowder

The Lobster Roll

Here are some shots of the other dishes people ordered. I got to taste the Salmon which had this sweet mustard glaze that was fantastic.
 
 The Scallops

The Salmon

Overall
What's not to like about The New England Seafood Company? It's BYOB, quick, and they've got reasonably priced, well prepared seafood. You can't go wrong with the roll and the chowder. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


New England Seafood Company Fish Market on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 19, 2013

Campagnola

Cost: About $50 per person
My cousin Nathan was at Northwestern for what he likes to call "Nerd Camp." Really, he took a bunch of summer high school courses that sounded pretty cool. Well anyways, my aunt and uncle were in town visiting with him, so my parents and I met up with all of them in Evanston to grab some dinner. My uncle Harry can be particular about his restaurant choices, so the simple fact that we went to Campagnola should be a compliment to the restaurant. I had a long drive from the western suburbs ahead of me and of course ended up late to dinner. Accordingly, I know very little about what everyone else thought of their food.
Logistics
Campagnola is on a pretty calm stretch of Chicago Avenue in Evanston. The restaurant was packed and bustling when I got there. There was plenty of street parking nearby, but you should remember to bring quarters. We had this large table right near the bathrooms, but whatever. The apps are all in the $10 range while you can expect to drop somewhere around $20 on an entree.

The Food
I started off with the Roasted Beet Salad. It was heavy on the pistachios, and the goat cheese was smooth.

The Roasted Beet Salad

For my entree I went with the Roasted Duck with Peaches. The exterior fat was perfectly caramelized, and the peaches balanced the richness of the dish well. It was definitely one of the better duck breasts I've had in a long time.

 The Roasted Duck with Peaches

The table split a bunch of desserts including the Panna Cotta  and some kind of dish that resembled bread pudding that I can't remember the proper name of. That being said, it was warm and gooey with a cool scoop of gelato on top; really a great way to finish off the meal.

The Walnut Cake (I think)

The Panna Cotta

Overall
I was very impressed with Campagnola. I can be very picky about duck, but I thought they did a great job. I'd say it's worth the trip to Evanston from the city. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Campagnola on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Atlas Brewing Company

Location: 2747 N Lincoln
Cost: About $20 per person
In the middle of July, I was having trouble scraping together free time. My rotation put me out in the western suburbs, and the commute on I-290 was adding a ton of time to my work day. So I finally got out early enough one Friday to join my friends for dinner. Jenny, Scottie, Jeremy, Max, and I were looking for some good beers and bar food. I wanted to go to Hopleaf but was overruled given the distance. We ended up checking out this new spot in Lincoln Park, Atlas Brewing Company.
Logistics
The look of Atlas Brewing Company was very much like what I expected when I heard the name. By that I mean there was a long bar on one side of the dining room, a bunch of booths opposite that, and a window looking into a brew room with a bunch of cylindrical vats (you know, the standard brewpub look). We opted for the outdoor seating since the traffic on Lincoln Avenue wasn't all that bad. We each had beers except Jenny (who got a cosmo [totally judging]), and the drinks ran around $6 each. We split a bunch of dishes all in the low teens. Portion wise, there was plenty to be had. Our waitress put up with our indecisiveness and was apologetic when she forgot some of our food.

The Food
First a little commentary about the beer... Between Jeremy, Max, Scottie, and myself we pretty much ran the list on the beer. Overall they weren't that impressive, but the It's A Trap and the Andromeda Stout were solid. For food we split the Duck Poutine and the Sausage Mussels. 
The Sausage Mussels

 The Duck Poutine
The poutine was greasy and delicious. The cheese curds were plentiful, the duck flavor stood out, and the french fries held their texture despite plenty of gravy. The mussles were less impressive. The sausage and tomato broth made things interesting, but I found the flavors muddled.

Overall
Looking at the big picture, we were able to get an outdoor table at a new bar with pretty good food for a party of 5 at the last minute on a Friday night. I think there are many better brewpubs around, but they're pretty new and have time to grow on me. For now I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.
Atlas Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 12, 2013

Shaws

Location: 1900 E Higgins Rd, Schaumburg
Cost: About $50 per person

Being from the Northern suburbs of Chicago I don't usually trek out to the west, but the other day I was invited with a few friends to check out Shaws in Schaumburg. They've got this special running called the Grand Crab Buffet. It's exactly what the name says, so Jeremy, the Professor, and I hopped in the car and hit up the Streets of Woodfield.

I could do what I always do and describe the food right away, but I'll let the pictures do most of the talking first this time.

The Lobster Bisque

 The Seafood Deviled Egg

 The Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail

 The Spicy Tuna Roll

 The Cold Crab Claws

 Oysters

 More Oysters

 The Lobster Claw

 The Fried Shrimp

 The Crab Cakes

 The Alaskan King Crab Legs

 One of my many plates of crab

The Dessert Buffet

The best things on the plate were probably the peel and eat shrimp, the lobster claws, and the king crab legs, but I was pleased with most everything. You can dive right in to the buffet for $56 per person. Hit it up when you get the chance.
Shaw's Crab House and Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 9, 2013

Mei's Corner

Location: 101 E Delaware
Cost: About $20 per person

My friend Brett moved here for residency, and he just won't shut up about his new apartment. The pictures of his views on facebook are basically the next worst thing to the when pregnant women take progressively larger pictures of their bellies. That being said, his place is pretty great. Being old friends, he invited Josh and I up to check it out, jam on some ukelele, and grab some dinner. We walked around a bit and ended up down the block at a hotel Chinese restaurant, Mei's Corner.

Logistics
There's not much to Mei's Corner. It's in the Whitehall Hotel in the Gold Coast. They've got a little patio, a small bar, and a line of seating along the back wall. The night we went, they also had a broken central air conditioner, and the replacement external unit was really damn loud. The wait staff was kind but a little slow. The cost was reasonable with entrees around $10, but the portions were notably small.

The Food
We started off with the Crab Rangoon. It had an extra creamy filling with a light but crispy wrapping. From there we split the Honey Walnut Shrimp, the Sweet and Sour Chicken, the Shrimp Fried Rice, and the Beef with Pea Pods and Bamboo Shoots. Our favorite dish was the honey walnut shrimp. The nuts were candied and toasted well, but the dish wasn't overly sweet. The fried rice was a little mushy and a bit plain. The sweet and sour chicken was fried appropriately and sauced heavily. We only ordered the beef dish when we realized how small the other plates were. It was a little chewy for our tastes but otherwise not bad.

The Crab Rangoon

The Shrimp Fried Rice

The Sweet and Sour Chicken

 The Honey Walnut Shrimp

The Beef with Pea Pods and Bamboo Shoots

Overall
I had a heavy negative bias going into the meal given the hotel restaurant setup but was pleasantly surprised with some of the dishes. The portions were small but the prices weren't too high. The neighborhood has much more interesting and tasty options, but for it's purpose Mei's corner served us well. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Mei's Corner on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Top 8 BBQ Spots

When people think BBQ, they don't usually think Chicago. The whole "Chicago Style" is a questionable mix of techniques often involving a combo of dry rub and sauce and usually some slow roasting or even boiling of the ribs. Plenty of places just choose to incorporate a mix of other popular styles. Either way, I've had a lot of BBQ that doesn't cut it, but I hope that my July list of my Best BBQ Spots in Chicago will save you some time.

8) Hecky's
In a city full of saucy BBQ why not give some cred to the spot that ships their famous sauce nationwide. The pulled pork and ribs are the way to go, but really it's all about having a vessel for the sauce.

Despite my complaints about eating in the pristine setting and paying a bit too much for BBQ, the food is pretty darn good. Hands down, they've got the best table snacks in their pickles and BBQ chips. The competition winning ribs and brisket are my suggestions here.

The Ribs

6) Fat Willy's
With a mean pulled pork sandwich and hot links you'll be pretty happy when you roll into Fat Willy's. They've got a good patio too despite not making my last post on Best Outdoor Dining in Chicago. The baby backs will keep you coming back, and the portions are huge. If you're around on a Sunday, you could check out the Chicken and Waffles too.

Despite an awful experience with their hostess during my last visit, I still tip my hat to Lillie's Q. The Tri Tip, sausage links, ribs, and pulled pork make me thankful they were able to survive a fire and reopen.
 
The Pulled Pork

4) Honky Tonk
Beef ribs are hard to come by as are cuts of smoked brisket at the quality of Honky Tonk BBQ. Come for the food, but stay for the rather frequent live music and cocktails. They've got these combination platters worth trying, but you should bring your stretch pants.

It's all about the sausage links at Uncle John's. Go for the rib tip and links combo, but the links really take the edge. For about $10 you can enough food for 5 meals. One catch is that you can't eat at the restaurant. One perk is that you get to experience sliding your cash through a slot in a bullet proof window.
 
The Sausage Link

While Uncle John's is all about the links, it's all about the rib tips at Honey 1. You should get the rib tip and sausage link combo, but the tips are the real star. Nice crispy edges and juicy centers make for a meal that will put you down for the count. The tangy, sweet sauce looks just as good on your shirt as it tastes.
 
The Tips and Links Combo

This is not a surprising pick for the top of the list. An early pick by Diners Drive Ins and Dives has had this north side spot packed for years. Being BYOB and low cost, it's no wonder why people love Smoque so much, and that doesn't even get at the food. The brisket is my favorite option on their menu, and the coca cola addition to the sauce on the ribs puts a nice twist on things.

The Brisket