Monday, December 30, 2013

Tanta

Location: 118 W Grand
Cost: About $30-$40 per person

Note: This guest post is written by Marc Kovarsky. If you haven't seen this before, Marc contributes on about a once a month basis with a post. I'll be going to Tanta shortly and will let you know my opinions then too.

I’ve heard lots of buzz surrounding Tanta, which is why I was so excited to try it out. This Peruvian restaurant has only been open for three months and is located in a quieter part of River North. As you approach the entrance and walk through the door, you immediately notice the hip and funky atmosphere that makes the dining experience unique.

At first glance, the menu seems intimidating with all the different sections and dishes that you probably can’t pronounce. Luckily, my sister had been once before and had some recommendations. Our waiter seemed extremely knowledgeable on the menu and was able to answer all our questions. We started with the Cebiche Tasting and Pulpo (Octopus Skewer). Although the skewer comes in a portion for three, they were able to add another serving without making us order two dishes. Later, we ordered the Pan con Chicharron (Pork Belly sliders), Chaufa Aeropuerto (Pork Fried Rice), Pollo A La Brasa (Amish Roasted Chicken), and Lomo Saltado (Beef Stir-Fry).

The two best things were the Octopus and Pork Fried Rice. The grilled piece of Octopus was placed on top of something similar to mashed potatoes. It was extremely flavorful and a great start to the meal. The cebiche trio was good but small. The best of the three was the Nikei (Ahi Tuna and Avocado). The Mixto was a nice combination of seafood, but the Clasico was a little bland.

The Octopus

 The Cebiches

 The Pork Fried Rice

The Pork Fried Rice was served in a large bowl with a thick egg layer on top. The food runner mixed the dish tableside. It was hearty and had huge chunks of pork, shrimp and egg along with other vegetables. The Amish chicken was a nice choice because of everything included with the dish. There was rice, beans, salad, potatoes, and dipping sauces. The chicken was moist and plentiful (we only ordered half). The beef stir-fry included large chunks of meat in a delicious sauce that is meant to be poured over the white rice that comes with the stir-fry. The pork belly sliders were awesome. We didn’t originally order them, but after seeing them on another table, we decided to add them on. Both the bread and meat were delicious and the portion size was perfect.

The Beef Stir-Fry

 The Chicken

 The Sliders

For dessert, we went with the Alfajor (Short Bread Cookie) and Mazamorrita (Fruit Pie). Both were tasty, but the general consensus was the Pie was the winner.

The Shortbread

 The Fruit Pie

Overall, we were extremely pleased. When we first sat down our waiter explained that Peruvian food is influenced by all cuisines- Japanese, African, Italian, German… the list goes on and all the flavors worked so well together. If you’re looking for an adventurous dining experience filled with robust flavors, check out Tanta.
Tanta on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 23, 2013

Kingsbury Street Cafe

Location: 1523 N Kingsbury
Cost: About $15 per person

The other week my friends Julie and Jeff wanted to grab some brunch. Jeff was walking out of one of his favorite spots, VIP's, when he saw that a new brunch restaurant opened up right next door, Kingsbury Street Cafe. So, like good Chicagoans, we bundled up a bit earlier on Saturday morning than we would've liked to grab some food. Also, Jenny was there.

Logistics
Kingsbury Street Cafe is a little bit South of North Avenue, right across from the Whole Foods. They have a pleasant looking front patio, but it was covered in snow the day we went. Interestingly, they take reservations for brunch (relatively unheard of elsewhere). We didn't have the foresight to make one though and ended up with a good 40 minute wait. My buddy Ricky says that if you don't have to wait at least an hour then you're probably not at the right place (but he's a schmuck). Once seated, our service was efficient and friendly. The cost is what you'd expect with most brunch dishes running around $11.

The Food
I should mention that they do quite a bit with their coffee service. I went with the Vietnamese drip coffee that came with sweetened condensed milk. It wasn't bad, but I'm relatively caffeine sensitive and was way too amped up after. For the main dishes, Jenny got a Parfait and a Chocolate Chip Muffin, Jeff and Julie both got the Kingsbury Cafe Breakfast, and I got the Salmon Hash with Poached Eggs. The standard breakfast was well performed with fluffy eggs, well seasoned potatoes, crispy bacon, roasted tomatoes, and a homemade cheddar scone. The scone was flaky with a warm center. The chocolate chip muffin was probably the best item on the table. It was light with plenty of melted chips throughout. The parfait was standard with fresh berries. My hash had plenty of salmon and leeks, and the egg was appropriately poached. The base of tater tots got a bit too soggy, but otherwise it was a great dish.

 The Chocolate Chip Muffin

The Cheddar Scone

 The Kingsbury Cafe Breakfast

 The Parfait

The Salmon Hash

Overall
Kingsbury Street Cafe served up one of the best brunches I've had in a while. The baked goods were exceptional while the rest of the menu was creative and well executed. I wish we'd made a reservation and plan to go back soon. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.


Kingsbury Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Doc B's Fresh Kitchen

Location: 100 E Walton
Cost: About $20-$40 per person depending on what you get

My buddy LT was in town during one of her precious vacation weeks from her general surgery residency in Madison. I happened to be on an easier rotation at the time and had the rare chance to meet her for lunch. She was relatively indifferent, but the last time we went out to eat was at Grahamwich. So there was a lot of room for improvement. We decided to go check out this newer spot in the Gold Coast, Doc B's.

Logistics
Doc B's has an interesting setup. You order at the counter and have the option to sit down, take out, or sit at their bar area. We chose to take one of the dining room tables and got pretty good attention from the wait staff throughout the meal. The cost is a bit up there for lunch but is totally variable based on what you're in the mood for. To give you an idea, sandwiches, salads, and burgers are all around $15 while entrees are in the low $20 range. We didn't have to wait at all despite a decent sized crowd. If you've got a 1 hour lunch break, you'll be fine.

The Food
LT ordered the Grilled Chicken Salad, and I went with the Crispy Chicken Doc B Sandwich. Her salad came with big strips of chicken and tortilla along with plenty of cilantro and edamame over a bed of field greens. The dressing was light and flavorful. My sandwich was solid. The chicken was a little greasy, but the sesame seed bun soaked it all up nicely. The onion and coleslaw rounded everything out well.

The Grilled Chicken Salad

The Crispy Chicken Doc B

Overall
Doc B's has a lively atmosphere and creative menu that could easily entertain a bunch of lunch regulars for some time. It's easy logistically, and the food was well prepared. There's so much on the menu to try that I'll be sure to head back soon. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Doc B'S Fresh Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sumi Robata Bar

Location: 702 N Wells
Cost: About $40 per person

A while back, Josh and I went over to Yuzu to try out their sushi and robata options. If you'll recall, I thought it was delicious, but they brought us way too much food. Josh has always been a bottomless pit when it comes to sushi, but even he couldn't put down that whole meal. Accordingly, we took about a three month break from Japanese food. When we got together for dinner the other week though, we decided it was time to pick up our favorite genre again by checking out Sumi Robata Bar.

Logistics
Sumi Robata Bar is a small place on the Western edge of River North. They restaurant has a simple, trendy look with a sushi bar along the right wall and plenty of hard wood decor. I think they had a patio that looked pretty cool, but we were so cold walking there that we didn't take time to admire the outside much. We had a reservation, which we might have been able to get by without. The cost is reasonable for the part of town and style of food with most robata items falling in the $3-$7 range.

The Food
As I eluded to earlier, it was freezing out when we went. So, we started things off with some hot appetizers. We tried the Pan Fried Gyoza, the Yakitori Don (rice bowl with chicken and poached egg), and the Ochazuke (sea bream over rice in tea broth). The gyoza had a nice crisp that was only applied to one side making for a nice textural contrast to the rest of the chewy wrapping. The Yakitori Don was probably my favorite dish of the night between the juiciness of the chicken and the perfectly prepared egg. I'm not sure my palate was used to the tea broth in the Ochazuke, but it was warm so I wolfed it down anyways.

 The Gyoza

The Ochazuke

The Yakitori Don

From there we got a variety of items from the robata grill including the Shishito Peppers, the Mushrooms, the Octopus, the Lamb Chop, the Skirt Steak, the Chicken Thigh, and the Beef Tsukune Slider. The peppers had a nice grill that mellowed out their natural spiciness. The mushrooms were a little gooey considering they were right off the grill. The octopus was just the right chewiness. The skirt steak came out perfectly with an even exterior char and pink center. The chicken thigh was one of my favorites to this course, but that's probably secondary to my baseline fondness of chicken thighs. The slider was interesting in that the bun was too soft and the meat was a bit dry. The lamb chop was well prepared as well, and I didn't leave a scrap of meat on that bone (my dad would've been proud).
 







For dessert we got the Donatsu (doughnuts with green tea mousse). I felt the same way about the mousse that I feel about green tea ice cream where it seems like they should've just gone with vanilla, but again, I don't think that's a fair judgement to pass and the texture was smooth. The doughnut had this warm chocolate filling that hit the spot, but the cake was a bit too dry.


Overall
Sumi Robata Bar was warm and cozy on a night we needed it to be. I'd say that I really liked half of the dishes and was rather indifferent to the rest. My favorites were the Yakitori Don, the Chicken Thigh, and the Skirt Steak. I'm giving them 3 out of 5 Pearls.

Sumi Robata Bar on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Original Ferrara Bakery

Location: 2210 W Taylor
Cost: About $10 per person

During med school, I had a bunch of rotations over in the West side medical district at either the VA or Cook County. Interestingly enough, as a resident, I'm pretty much isolated to home base. You've all heard my complaints over the years of the Streeterville food selection, although NMH is making some strides with its pseudo food court on the second floor. Either way, I was on a transplant surgery rotation, and when the opportunity arose to take a "field trip" to those aforementioned hospitals, I was more than eager. I'd been to Conte di Savoia enough times, so this time, a bunch of us tried the other sandwich shop down the road, Ferrara Bakery.

Logistics
There's not much setup to worry about at Ferrara's. They've got a long, winding bakery counter and a bunch of tables strewn throughout a medium sized room. On a busy weekday, you might run into a lunch wait, but we were in and out without any such problems. They've got the order at the counter and put a number on your table thing going on. The cost is very reasonable with some large sandwiches running around $6 a piece.


The Food
There were a good amount of sandwich, salad, and pastry options, but the vast majority of my colleagues and I went with the meatball sub. As you can tell by my picture, it was messy, saucy, and delicious. The meatballs themselves were not dry in the least, and the bread was nice and soft. It was easily worth the day and a half of heartburn that followed. The only other item to note was the cannoli that Jorge ordered.

The Cannoli

 The Meatball Sub

Overall
Ferrara Bakery has a long history in Chicago. The sandwiches are well prepared, and it is logistically very simple. Having only tried one sandwich of the rather extensive menu, I feel somewhat limited in my abilities to judge. That being said, I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls and would say that Ferrara is relatively equivalent to Conte down the block.


Original Ferrara Bakery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Davis Street Fish Market

Location: 501 Davis St., Evanston
Cost: Normally around $35 per person

A few weeks back my family was planning to meet up for dinner in the near north suburbs with my aunt and uncle. I took the purple line all the way up to Evanston to meet my dad a bit early and catch some of the Bears game. He had some coupon to Pete Miller's, hence the Evanston trip, but they were closed when we showed up. Suddenly, we found ourselves stranded in downtown Evanston without a good place to watch the game. Leave it to the undergrad Northwestern campus to have a paucity of good places to watch a sporting event. After wandering around a bit, we stumbled into the Davis Street Fish Market.

Logistics
We'd been here a bunch of times before, but I'd never realized the bar seating and TV's. They've got a lot of seating variety, but we took a bar table and were basically the only patrons. On a good going out night, the wait can really build, so you should make sure to get a reservation. The price is very reasonable for fresh seafood with most entrees in the low $20 range.

The Food
I've had a whole bunch of this menu in the past. Some of my favorites have been the Fried Oysters, the Skate, and the Pike. This time we were just grabbing some snacks for the game. We went with the Smoked Trout Guacamole and a pound of the Peel-N-Eat Shrimp. The shrimp is always great, and my dad and I could've probably just eaten this all day. The guac was solid too with a great balance between the lime's acidity and the smokiness of the trout.

 The Smoked Trout Guacamole

 The Peel-N-Eat Shrimp

Overall
Davis Street Fish Market is an excellent place for fresh seafood if you happen to be in Evanston. I usually go with the shrimp or the oysters, but they've got a great variety on the menu. If you happen to be in need of a place to get good food while watching the game, it's not half bad either. I'm giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.


Davis Street Fishmarket on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Winter is Coming: Chicago's Top 10 Places to Get Fat and Stay Warm

Chicago is an interesting place. Everyone complains about the weather, but it's not so much the weather as the people. I mean, if you go to Minneapolis, people go out and enjoy the snow and the cold. If you hit up Madison, you're likely to be overrun by some obnoxious cross country skiers. That being said, the winter for most Chicagoans means hibernation. The only time most of my friends leave their apartments with the exception of work is to eat out. Then, from some combination of wanting to be warm and not wanting to bring their monster coats to the bar, everyone just heads home after dinner. So, here's my list of places to hit up for the winter. Most of them have some kind of warm food, warm environment, or they'll just make you so full that you'd never want to do anything other than go home and sleep after anyways.

Note: I've lived on the North side since I've been in Chicago. In the winter, by no means do I want to travel far. That being said, this list is mostly on the North side. Feel free to comment on your South side favorites.

10. RJ Grunts

In addition to the expansive salad bar and hearty selection of American favorites, RJ Grunts offers up a wintertime deal with their Temperature Soup. Simply put, the cost of a bowl of soup is equivalent to the temperature. The colder it is, the less you'll spend.  I don't think they pay you if it's negative or anything, but I'm sure it's worth the frigid debate.


9. Pho's Hot and Spicy

This tiny little Thai restaurant packs more spice than most can handle. It's BYOB, and they have an excellent selection of authentic soups. The duck curry is one of my favorites, but you've got to start the meal with you Nong Thong Chicken Wings.

 
8. Athenian Room

One of my winter favorites is the Chicken Kalamata at the Athenian Room. The restaurant is very cozy with a family run feel. It's warm enough to fog up the windows a bit and is easily one of the top neighborhood spots for the Lincoln Park natives.

 
7. Big Jones

This Southern menu is just the thing to brave the Chicago winter with. The gumbo and the grits should keep anyone full and happy. The free beignets are a nice perk too. The family style fried chicken dinner is the way to go if you've got a crew and an empty belly.

 
6. Slurping Turtle

In the theme of creative soups, Slurping Turtle easily makes this list as well. It's on the border because you can't get away wearing a pair of sweatpants to this rather trendy River North spot, but the low prices and creative menu make up for it. Split a bowl of ramen and finish it off with a cream puff and some sea salt ice cream.

 
5. Pequods

Winter means hockey season, and Pequods is one of the best places to watch a Blackhawks game in Chicago. The burnt crust and large slices make it hard to get up from your seat even if you wanted to brave the weather. My favorite topping of theirs is the ground beef. They've got a decent selection of local craft brews as well.

 
4. Lao Sze Chuan

If you haven't gotten a Hot Pot before then now is the time. For those of you that don't know about hot pot, it's basically the Chinese version of fondue. If it's your first time, avoid the tripe. That being said, save room for noodles and the remnants of the soup. Between the spice and the boiling broth you'll either warm your bones or burn the roof of your mouth. Either way it's a win.

 
3. Urban Belly

With a crazy variety of noodle soups, Urban Belly is sure to keep your belly warm and toasty. The Korean and Puerto Rican  fusion options are intriguing and spicy. My favorite is the Kimchi Stew, and you should go for the Phat Rice too. They recently moved to the West Loop, which makes it more easily accessible for those of you without cars too.

 
2. Owen and Engine

This is probably my favorite winter brunch spot. They've got a great lounge setup upstairs with a fireplace. The coffee service is well done, and there's no shortage of pastry options. Plus, there's not usually a big line, so you don't feel bad for hanging out at your table all day.

 
1. Old Oak Tap

With plenty of good beers and a fireplace, Old Oak Tap makes it easy to cozy up in a chair for the long haul. I'm a big fan of their burgers and creative bar menu too. The fat boy pie and the pot pie will warm your belly like no other. It'll be easy to pack on a few pounds for the depths of winter.