Monday, February 24, 2014

Hash House A Go Go

Location: 1212 N State
Cost: About $20 per person

Maybe it was the way I was raised, but I'm pretty anal about being on time to things. As far as brunch goes, I have this growing anxiety that every minute we delay getting to the restaurant is a chance for the wait to double. Jenny doesn't seem to share the same urgency all the time. She often gets mad when I hurry her along, but what makes it worse is when we get there five minutes late only to be the first ones to arrive. Thus was the case a few weekends ago when Schneider, Julie, Jeremy, Ricky, and Rachel met us for brunch at Hash House A Go Go.

Note: my friends are the worst.

Logistics
Hash House A Go Go is just north of Division on State in the heart of the Gold Coast. They have a large main level with bar and table dining alike. They also have a basement where we got sat along with some of the larger groups. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait too long despite the big crowd. Unfortunately, they were understaffed downstairs, and the meal moved along a bit slowly. The mantra of the menu is clearly the bigger the better. You end up paying around $16 per plate but get about twice the food of your average brunch spot.


The Food
Most everyone ordered either the Chicken and Waffles or the Chicken with Bacon Mashed Potatoes, Eggs, and Biscuits. The chicken comes out with this thick, crispy, fried coating and a maple syrup drizzle. I thought it was a bit dry but had a complex flavor profile. My biscuit was too dense. Jenny fought the mold by getting the Banana Pancake. As was the chicken, this portion was gigantic. It was one huge, thick pancake that kept a nice texture with plenty of bananas. I thought the mashed potatoes were an interesting twist on typical breakfast potatoes and were probably the best thing on the plate.

Andy's Sage Fried Chicken Benedict with Maple Reduction

The Banana Pancake

Overall
I feel like I'm going to catch some flack for this, but I wasn't all that impressed with Hash House A Go Go. Everyone was all excited about the monstrous portions and the pumped up fried chicken breakfast dishes, but I thought quality took a big hit for quantity. The flavors were somewhat overwhelming while the textures of the biscuit and the chicken missed the mark. On the other hand, I'd eat those potatoes all day. I'm giving them 2 out of 5 Pearls.


Hash House a Go Go on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 17, 2014

Vapiano

Location: 44 S Wabash
Cost: Probably about $15 per person

It's easy to sell Jenny on Italian restaurants. I mean, what's not to love about chicken and carbohydrates. To top that off, when you have the option to tinker with your dish it's even more up her alley. When Vapiano asked me to come by and check out their new spot in The Loop, it seemed like a good match.

Logistics
Vapiano has an interesting setup. You pick out a table and get a "credit card" so to speak. They have separate stations for appetizers, pizza, pasta, drinks, and desserts. I'd imagine they're jam packed for lunch, but there was practically no wait for dinner. Each "main" dish was in the $10 range. We split a bunch of items, making for what would have been a pretty inexpensive meal.

The Food
To start things off we went with the Bruschetta Trio and the Insalata Mista. My favorite bruschetta was the Pesto and Parmesan. The salad was loaded with tomatoes, zucchini, and mozzarella.

The Bruschetta Trio

 The Insalata Mista

We moved right on to pizza and pasta with the BBQ Chicken Pizza and the Salami E Ricotta Con Rucola. I know it's not the authentic way to go but we both have a soft spot for BBQ chicken pizza. The pasta was made that day, and the salami added a savory crisp to the dish.

The BBQ Chicken Pizza

 The Salami E Ricotta Con Rucola

For dessert we got the Chocolate Mousse. It was a smooth and rich way to round out the meal.

The Chocolate Mousse

Overall
Vapiano puts a nice twist on Italian dining. There's a DIY feel to the whole thing that makes things casual in a creative setting. I really enjoyed the pasta and the salad. Since they invited me out, there won't be a Pearl rating, but I hope you check Vapiano out sometime soon.

Vapiano on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 10, 2014

Standard Market Grill

Location: 444 W Fullerton
Cost: About $25 per person

Arif, KVG, Jenny, and I were planning dinner the other week. Everyone was thinking somewhat casual, so I threw out some options to the group. We ended up choosing Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company. It was freezing cold out that night, and a huge pizza pot pie seemed right up my alley. Unfortunately, when we got there the wait was 2+ hours. Without a clear plan, we aimlessly wandered up Clark St. When we got to Fullerton, we saw that this relatively new place had replaced what had previously been Zapatista.... Standard Market Grill.

Logistics
They've got this whole mixed order at the counter but you still get a waiter setup. The restaurant is split into a bar area that is relatively lively and a somewhat duller dining area. We took the quieter option off to the side. As far as costs and portions go, things were pretty fair. Most entrees were in the mid teens. One issue we ran into was that all four of our dishes came out at separate times.

The Food
To start things off we went with the Chips and Guacamole which was a bit limey for my taste, but the warm chips scored them points.

The Chips and Guac

For the main course Jenny got the Grilled Salmon, Arif went with the Cali Burger, KVG got the Mustard Honey Chicken Sandwich, and I ordered the Iowa White Chicken. The salmon was a little under cooked and came with a decent portion of couscous and bok choy that were a bit bland. My chicken was appropriately prepared with some wilted spinach that kept the underseasoned theme going strong. The mashed potatoes were the star of the plate. Arif and KVG thought their sandwiches were just OK, and I didn't go reaching across the table for a bite or anything.

The Cali Burger

 The Honey Mustard Chicken Sandwich

 The Grilled Scottish Salmon

 The Iowa White

For dessert, we went with Jenny's favorite, a Skillet Cookie with Ice Cream. The cookie was too well done and had more crunch than chew to it. Still, it's hard not to wolf one of those down.

The Cookie Skillet

Overall
Standard Market Grill was a very average American dining experience. None of the dishes stood out all that much, but for the most part things were well prepared and appropriately priced per portion. It reminded me a bit of Doc B's except with less excitement and subtler flavors. I'm giving them 2.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Standard Market Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Gilt Bar

Location: 230 W Kinzie
Cost: About $40 per person

A little while ago I went to this holiday party at Gene and Georgetti's. Afterwards we tried to get some drinks down the road at Gilt Bar. Everyone was stuffed from the meal, but I was still able to take in some of the dishes floating by. In a sour turn of events they couldn't seat us, and we went over to Moe's Cantina. A few weeks later, my friends Brett, Vadim, and Josh wanted to meet up for dinner. When Brett told me he'd preemptively made a reservation at Gilt Bar, I was pumped.

Logistics
Gilt Bar is in the far southwest corner pocket of River North. It's got a dark, trendy interior. There's a cramped bar area up front with plenty of seating throughout the rest of the restaurant. We had a reservation which was pretty necessary even though we went mid week. Our waiter was helpful and appropriately hands off, letting us catch up and enjoy our drinks for a while prior to bringing out the food. The menu is more or less broken down into small plates, pastas, and entrees. The pastas were definitely entree sized though and ran around $14. The entrees were in the $20 ballpark.

The Food
First off we went for the Roasted Garlic on Toast. The toast was exceptionally soft and warm while the roasted, oily garlic made for the perfect, bad breath inducing spread.


From there we split a whole bunch of entrees including the Truffle Pasta, the Pork Meatballs, the Pork Belly, and the Fettuccine with Beef Ragu. The pasta was extra rich with plenty of pecorino cheese. The meatball was very tender with an acidic sauce. The pork belly came in a  large portion with pickled onions and a bed of lentils. The fettuccine was my favorite. The pasta stuck together a bit with just the right chew. The ragu was savory and stuck to the bones. We got a side of roasted cauliflower and a side of fries. The cauliflower was too mushy and salty, but the fries were spot on with a nice crisp and this great garlic aioli sauce.

The Pork Belly

The Fettuccine

The Pork Meatballs

The Truffle Pasta

 The French Fries

 The Cauliflower

Overall
We were all pretty impressed with Gilt Bar. The drink service was spot on, and the atmosphere was comfortable and trendy. Most every dish was well thought out and balanced. The pastas and the pork dishes left us stuffed, but I'll be back soon to check out the rest of the menu. I'm giving Gilt Bar 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Gilt Bar on Urbanspoon