Thursday, January 30, 2014

Pearl Tavern

Location: 180 N Upper Wacker
Cost: Probably around $40 per person

A while back, I brought my buddy Bill to a restaurant opening of sorts. They served rather unimpressive drinks and very small bites before the night came to an abrupt end. We quickly found a nearby bar and ordered some burgers. That being said, I aimed to make it up to Bill and asked him to join me once I got the invite to check out this new oyster bar in The Loop... Pearl Tavern.

The party was already rolling by the time Bill and I got there. They had everyone stationed in the sharp looking bar area with waiters passing out oysters and signature cocktails. Behind the cocktail area they've got this row of seated dining that overlooks the river. As it stands, I think they're still working on a patio of sorts, but they've got plenty of time before it's warm enough for any of that. The staff was young and energetic with plenty of guys in vests with interesting facial hair mixing up unique creations behind the bar. The feel was classy but not too upscale. From the raw bar, to the share plates, and finally the larger items, everything falls right around $12 a plate. You'll have to get a few things for your table, but the price probably won't add up to all that much.

The Food
Between the drinks and raw bar items coming our way during the cocktail hour, I didn't really have a free hand to take too many pics. That aside, the oysters were fresh and had their own distinct flavors. Otherwise my favorite raw item was the tuna poke.

From there we had a five course tasting of their large items. We started out with the Crab Churro, which was much like a slightly different shaped and different textured version of a crab rangoon. After that they brought out some Peel n' Eat Shrimp. With the heads on, they made for a bit of a mess, but like most good seafood they were worth the effort. The third course was a Grilled Octopus that met the right mark not being too chewy or too charred. Next up was the Gnocchi in a pistachoi emulsion sauce. It was substantially more filling than some of the other seafood dishes and made way for the final course, the Swordfish Au Poivre. It was very peppery with a great exterior char and internal flakiness.

 The Crab Churro

 The Peel n' Eat Shrimp

 The Grilled Octopus

 The Gnocchi

 The Swordfish

Pearl Tavern has many great things to offer, in addition to its fantastic name. Far and away the best part of the meal was the raw bar cocktail hour. That being said, the Shrimp and the Swordfish were also darn tasty dishes. If you find yourself in the loop in search of some seafood, you've got a solid option.
Pearl Tavern on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 27, 2014

Kanela Breakfast Club

Location: 3231 N Clark
Cost:  About $18 per person

The other weekend Jenny and her coworkers got together for brunch, and I thought it sounded like a perfect opportunity to embarrass her with corny jokes and making people wait to eat their food until I took a picture of it (for the record the photos are only of my and her food). Anyways, it was freezing cold, but the trek up to Lakeview wasn't all that bad when they decided to try out Kanela Breakfast Club.

Kanela is on Clark street a bit north of Belmont. The storefront window was fogged over when we rolled in, and luckily they sat us in the well insulated back area of the dining room. It was pretty crowded, and I'd imagine the wait would have been a pain. Fortunately, we had a reservation. The cost is on par with the rest of the Chicago brunch scene with most dishes floating right around $10.

The Food
With our decent sized group, we tried quite a bit of the menu, but I'll focus on mine and Jenny's food. She got the Kanela Roll and some sides while I went with the Lorraine Scramble. Her cinnamon roll of sorts was slathered in sauce and definitely softer than the Ann Sather version around the corner (although not nearly as big). My scramble had some peppered bacon, potatoes, over easy eggs, onions, and gruyere cheese in a skillet. It was very heavy on the bacon and cheese. The potatoes were a bit softer than I would've liked though, and one of my eggs was overdone.

The Kanela Roll

 The Lorraine Skillet

 The Buttermilk Pancakes

Kanela Breakfast Club is a solid brunch spot in a city of variable options. They have a well rounded drink menu and plenty of good meal options for the sweet and savory fan alike. My skillet had a few common pitfalls, but the bacon more than made up for it. I'm giving them 3 out of 5 Pearls.

Kanela's Breakfast Club on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 24, 2014

Kan Zaman

Location: 617 N Wells
Cost: About $25 per person

One of the Chicago food scene's best qualities is the wide variety of BYOB options. Unfortunately, those places are limited (for the most part) to restaurants outside of the downtown and near north areas. Jenny, Arif, KVG, and Josh were in for dinner, but none of us wanted to go all that far. Luckily, we found a rare spot in Kan Zaman to fit our criteria.

Kan Zaman is on the western edge of River North. The food is Mediterranean, and the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. The place was pretty empty which surprised us all since it was such a pain to make a reservation. The patrons that came in after us were all in larger parties. It was BYOB like I mentioned above, and there was a $3/person corkage fee. The food was pretty cheap at about $15 or less per entree, and the portions were large. Our service was fine although the food took some time to come out.

The Food
We started off with some Hummus, the Baba Ghannouj, and a plate of Dolma. The baba was my favorite of the appetizers, but I was hoping for a larger portion. The Dolma came warm, which tasted just fine but was a little unexpected. Everyone got the choice of soup or salad and went with the Lentil Soup since it was so cold outside. It was thick and warm without too much salt.

The Baba Ghannouj

 The Hummus

 The Dolma

The Lentil Soup

For the main course Jenny got the Shish Tawook, KVG got the Chicken Shawarma, Arif got the Beef Shawarma, Josh got the Kafta Kabob, and I got the Beef Shish Kabob. I think I came away with the best dish. The chunks of filet were a well seared medium rare. Each plate came with a hefty portion of grilled veggies and rice. The Shish Tawook was moist while the chicken shawarma was on the drier side. The beef shawarma and the kafta kabob were well seasoned but were both on the drier side as well.

The Shish Tawook

 The Beef Kabob

 The Kefta Kabob

I'd heard that Kan Zaman had a lively atmosphere, but on this particular Friday night, it was dead. I appreciate the BYOB but not the corkage fee. The food was good for groups and relatively inexpensive, but multiple dishes missed on either preparation or seasoning. I'm giving Kan Zaman 2 out of 5 Pearls.

Kan Zaman on Urbanspoon

Expedition Brazil, Fogo de Chao [Sponsored Post]

I don't usually do much promotions, but I wanted to share something about this competition that Fogo de Chao has going on from now until February 16th. The general premise is to choose from 1 of 4 adventure options being sponsored and explain why you should be the one to go. They've got a cultural tour, a city based trip, a beach themed vacation, and a gaucho style experience. If you're fortunate enough, they might pick you. Check out more info here.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Location: 3506 N Clark
Cost: About $15 per person

The other night I was over at Jenny's, and it was way too cold to head out for dinner. Unfortunately, her fridge was even emptier than mine. We decided to order in, and after a heated debate, I was able to convince her to sway from Thai and get some Chinese. We gave a few places a call and ended up ordering from Chen's.

I can't speak to the restaurant itself since we ordered in, but the delivery was very poorly serviced. They projected a 45 minute delivery time, and we ended up with a good hour and a half wait. When the food got there it was luke warm. The cost was reasonable with most entrees just north of $10 and a minimal delivery fee.

The Food
We ordered a bit more than need be, including the Spring Rolls, the Chicken Lo Mein, the Vegetable Fried Rice, and the Sesame Chicken. The spring rolls were too flaky and fell apart with one bite. The Lo Mein noodles were thick and chewy, but the dish itself was sitting in a pool of oil. The fried rice had plenty of egg and veggies but that too was on the greasier side, even for Chinese takeout. The Sesame Chicken was the biggest sufferer from the cooling results of a long delivery time. What I assume was once crispy became all too soggy chicken chunks. The sauce was sweet and rich though.

The Spring Rolls

 The Chicken Lo Mein

The Vegetable Fried Rice

The Sesame Chicken

Chen's was disappointing. Dishes were either too oily, too cold, or too mushy. I'm sure it'd be a little better if we went in for the meal, but even for delivery this was sub par. I'm giving them 1.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Note: Jenny disagrees with my opinions on this post... and she's always right.
Chens Chinese & Sushi on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 13, 2014

Park Tavern

Location: 5433 Park Place, Rosemont
Cost: About $25 per person

My friend Amanda and I had been trying to meet up for some time. Between her job and her obsession with holding our friend's new twin babies, she was really hard to pin down to some plans. We finally settled on meeting in Rosemont (it was in between the city and Arlington Heights where she lives) at the Park Tavern.

For the city dwellers out there, the whole MB park complex is pretty accessible by blue line and shuttle, but Amanda grabbed me at the station with her fiance Sal. Parking was a real pain and is very poorly organized. On top of all that, there was this big open skate ice rink drawing a ton of people and making getting to the restaurant itself quite the obstacle. We had a reservation which was surprisingly necessary (but that's probably just the elitist Chicagoan in me). Our waiter gave us plenty of space to hang out and take time with the meal. The cost was very reasonable with most sandwiches and entrees in the mid to low teens. They had a decent beer list too.

The Food
We could see from the tables nearby that the portion sizes were pretty large and decided to forego any appetizers. For the main course Amanda got the Angus Burger with some bacon and avocado, Sal got the Brisket Burger, and I got the House Smoked PBR Can Chicken. They were pretty happy with the burgers, and the fries were solid. My chicken was disappointing. There was this very strange, almost processed flavor to the smokiness. The texture was a little rubbery. The sides, on the other hand, were great. The brussel sprouts were left in large pieces with a good char. The jalapeno mac n' cheese had a good crisp from the burnt cheese on top with plenty of creaminess underneath.

The House Smoked PBR Can Chicken 

 The Jalapeno Mac n' Cheese

 The Brussel Sprouts

The Angus Burger with Avocado and Bacon

The Park Tavern turned into another trip to Rosemont where the company outweighed the quality of the food (I don't mean my friends are fat or anything, just that the food was average). My chicken, which was touted on the menu as a special item, was just not up to snuff. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.

Park Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 10, 2014

La Grande Vie

Location: 215 E Chestnut
Cost: Normally about $30 per person

It had been a while since Josh, Lonnie, and I had gotten together. Fortunately, a newer restaurant a few blocks north of the hospital asked me to come by with some friends. That's how we ended up at La Grande Vie. Despite the cold weather and snow pile up, my friends made the trek from the West Loop to join in for a whole bunch of creative small plates.

LGV is on Chestnut a bit east of the Hancock. There are a wide variety of seating options, and we pulled up in "lounge" area next to the bar. Our server, Cheikh, was very welcoming and knowledgeable about the menu. It's broken down into a variety of medium sized "small" plates, mostly in the $10-$15 range. We got enough to get a good feel of the menu, but a dish or two would probably be enough per person.

The Food
We put a lot of faith in our waiter who got us started with the Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Parsnips, the Chorizo Mac n' Cheese, and the Meatball Flatbread. The brussel sprouts had this great crisp and subtle sweetness. The mac n' cheese normally comes with pork belly, but they improvised with some smokey chorizo. The flatbread had these great juicy meatballs over a crispy base.

The Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Parsnips

 The Chorizo Mac n' Cheese

The Meatball Flatbread

Our next course included the Slider Burger Trio, the Chicken Meatballs, and the Spicy Tail-On Shrimp. The sliders had one with beef and cheddar, one with lamb and goat cheese, and one with veal and blue cheese. The chicken meatball was crispy and served over a celery root puree with fresno chiles. The shrimp was one of my favorite dishes. It came over quinoa with avocados and peas.

 The Slider Trio

 The Spicy Tail-On Shrimp

The Chicken Meatball

In case we were still hungry, they brought out Poached Mahi Mahi, Seared Strip Loin, and a Cherry Walnut Salad. The mahi mahi was buttery and flaky. The strip loin came with these great cheddar potato cakes. Finally, for dessert, we got this light and rich flourless chocolate cake.

 The Butter Poached Mahi Mahi

 The Cast Iron Seared Strip Loin

 The Walnut and Cherry Salad

The Flourless Chocolate Cake

La Grande Vie is hidden away in a quiet corner of the Gold Coast. It's within a stone's throw of the hospital and has a creative menu. Since they treated us, there will be no Pearl rating, but I suggest you check it out sometime soon.

La Grande Vie on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Stella Barra

Location: 1954 N Halsted
Cost: About $20 per person

In another edition of early bird Sunday night dinner with the Pearls, I bring you my write up on a new Lettuce Entertain You spot, Stella Barra. My dad wanted pizza and something easy. Since we'd recently gone to Pequod's, I suggested we mix things up. Jenny came with us too.

Stella Barra is in this new building that used to be Tilly's just south of Armitage on Halsted. It's part of a two restaurant building with a shared entrance. The feel is very family friendly with plenty of kids tossing dough at the counter for entertainment. It wasn't too loud, and there was a nice dim to the lights making you feel somewhat in your own world. There's plenty of street parking, which brings me to my first issue of the night. I parked in a well marked pay for parking spot just north of the valet zone. The valet came over and asked for my keys, and I refused since I was in the legal pay for parking zone. He then cursed at me and blamed me for causing trouble by ruining the valet zone. I thought this interaction was ridiculous for so many reasons, and thankfully the manager of the restaurant assured me that they wouldn't key my car. Once inside, the wait staff was great. We had a reservation too, which I suggest you make, at least while there's some hype.

The Food
We got the ball rolling with the house bread as well as the Burrata. The bread had this great textural contrast from crust to inside. The burrata was extra creamy and oily. It came with some delicious grapes, but I couldn't grip them because they were so oily. We also got the Heirloom Spinach and Purple Kale salad which was lightly dressed with an interesting spin from some dates and pecorino.

The Burrata

 The Heirloom Spinach and Purple Kale Salad

Then we split the Butternut Squash Pizza, the Margherita Pizza, and the Turkey Meatballs. The meatballs came in a thick sauce that stuck to the bones (your bones, there were no bones in the meatballs). I think these would have made Schneider proud, and I didn't even have to do the dishes. The pizza crusts were chewy with a nice variable crisp at burnt points. The sauce on the margherita was too sweet for me. The butternut squash had a complex group of flavors but there was this musty smell that I couldn't get past.

The Meatball

 The Butternut Squash Pizza

The Margherita Pizza

For dessert we ordered this caramel panna cotta concoction of sorts. It was creamy and all, but the sweetness was overwhelming.

Our meal at Stella Barra got off to a great start with the appetizer course and peaked right there. With a ton of places in Chicago making great thin crust / brick oven pizza, I wasn't all that blown away here. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.

Stella Barra Pizzeria on Urbanspoon