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 weekend brunch 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 vegan 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.

Cicchetti

Location:671 N St. Clair
Cost: Probably around $30-$40 per person

Speaking of Italian restaurants in Streeterville, there’s one that just moved into the vacant spot on the first floor of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. My senior resident, Sonam, and I were going to get lunch when our coworkers Joel and Geoff honed in on the action. What was meant to be a quick Chick-fil-a run was sideswiped into a more formal affair (although we didn’t bother to change out of scrubs). That’s how we ended up trying Cicchetti.

Logistics
Cicchetti is right on St. Claire to the side of the NMH entrance. It has this nice internal connection so we don’t even have to walk outside to get there. The interior design is really cool with these high rafters and plenty of wood. It’s pretty popular right now, and you’ll probably need a reservation for dinner. Lunch was no problem to walk in to. The cost is a bit up there for lunch. They’ve got a few sandwiches at $13 but otherwise the substantial dishes are between $15 and $30. Our waitress was very attentive and was able to get us back to work in a timely fashion.

The Food
Everyone was pretty hungry and we got a few appetizers to start with. Nonna’s Meatballs had this chunky sauce with bits of pancetta strewn throughout, making for a complex starter. The roasted mushroom pizza was also spot on. There was plenty of caramelized onion, and the crust was perfectly chewy with a snap to the first bite. The Anjou Pear Salad was well balanced and has had me hooked on pears for a while since.

The Meatballs

The Roasted Mushroom Pizza
For the “main course” we split the Braised Short Rib Ravioli and the Braised Pork Shoulder and Provolone Panino. The ravioli were delicate with these hearty shavings of parmesan over the top. The panini was my favorite item. The fried egg on top was perfectly runny and the giardiniera added a ton of flavor. The bread soaked up the oil from the pork and giardiniera along with the egg yolk to make for a fantastic bite.

The Braised Pork Shoulder Pannini 

The Braised Short Rib Ravioli
Overall
I’m well versed in hotel lobby restaurants, but hospital lobby restaurants are a whole other ballgame. I barely scraped the surface of this menu, and despite being open for lunch, this seems like a restaurant built for dinner. I’ve also heard the cocktails are fantastic. The panini and the meatballs were my favorite items. I’m giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls and hope to get back for dinner before skipping town.

Cicchetti on Urbanspoon

Tre Soldi

Location:212 E Ohio
Cost: Probably around $35 per person

If you’re a resident or medical student at Northwestern, you’ve probably noticed a decrease in the amount of free lunches entailing big slices of greasy rectangular pizza. That’s because Pompei closed. I’m sure there are a few mourning the loss, but the other day my senior resident, Danielle, recommended I try out the new place that moved into the empty space, Tre Soldi. My Aunt and Uncle were in town on a business trip, so Jenny, my parents, and I met up with them to check it out.

Logistics
Just a few steps up off the curb, Tre Soldi did a decent job of turning what was once an Italian cafeteria into a moderately classy joint. They’ve got a room full of flat tops, and we sat right in the middle. We had a reservation but could’ve gotten by without one. Parking in the area is a pain so I suggest you take public transit if you can. The cost is reasonable with pasta dishes in the $15 range and protein based entrees sitting in the low $20’s. The wine list has plenty of reasonably priced and moderate quality options. My uncle and the waiter became good friends, and our service was spectacular.
The Food
We got the ball rolling with a selection of their meats and cheeses, lamb meatballs, and stuffed zucchini blossoms. The accouterments pulled the meats and cheeses together nicely. The meatballs had plenty of acid but were a bit oily. I’ve never been one for zucchini blossoms but as far as they come these seemed good.

The Zucchini Blossoms

The Cheese Platter
For the main course we got a bunch of things but what stood out was the Salmon and the Cacio E Pepe. The fish was very mildly overdone but came across a chickpea puree that gave a nice textural balance to the dish. The pasta had a good chew with plenty of creamy, unctuous cheese.

The Cacio E Pepe

The Salmon

The Halibut
For dessert we had some Gelato and the Fruit Crostata. Both were a refreshing end to the meal on what turned out to be a rather warm summer’s night.

The Fruit Crostata

The Gelato
Overall
In case you haven’t caught onto the hints, Tre Soldi is definitely an upgrade from Pompei. It’s a good, reasonable option for Streeterville, which definitely could use more quality, casual go to’s. I’m giving them 3.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf

Location:218 W Kinzie
Cost: About $70 per person

Many of you may not know this, but I am not long for this city (more to come on the future of JEC). One of the reasons I’ve had less frequency of posting is because I’ve been going back to my favorite places that I’ve already written about. There are still some places on a bucket list of sorts though. My friend Ashley and I were in the mood for a good steak. She was finishing up a rotation of overnight shifts, and I was closing out my second month on the Transplant service, making a celebratory meal even more appropriate. So we ended up checking out Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf.

Logistics
Bavette’s is off Kinzie just West of the Merchandise Mart. If you weren’t looking for it, you’d walk right by. It’s got a very dark and classy vibe with plenty of hard wood inside. They’ve got a lengthy bar where I enjoyed an old fashioned while waiting for Ashley to get off work. Getting a reservation is key and can be a bit tough during popular time slots. They also don’t take parties larger than 6. Our service was spot on, although I don’t know if our waiter picked up on Ashley’s “limited” tastes when making recommendations. As with many steakhouses, the price depends on what you’re going for, but they’ve got plenty of entrees around $30.

The Food
We got the meal started with the Smoked Whitefish Ceasar Salad and the Peppered Duck and Goat Cheese Terrine. Both dishes were great. The salad was heavy on the fish and had the right amount of thick, savory dressing. The terrine had a smooth texture that went well with the toast points when topped with the apricot preserves on the side. The goat cheese added more texture than flavor and was a bit lost in the dish to me though.

The Peppered Duck and Goat Cheese Terrine

The Smoked Whitefish Ceasar Salad
From there Ashley got the Filet, and I got the Classic Ribeye. My steak had a simple salt rub. There was a sear on the top and a solid medium rare center. Like many of their steaks it came with a side of creamy bearnaise. For our sides we got the Elote Style Corn and the Buttery Mashed Potatoes. The corn had a spicy and creamy kick while the potatoes had plenty of garlic and this chicken gravy that put them just over the edge.

The Ribeye

The Filet

The Elote Corn

The Mashed Potatoes
Overall
Bavette’s just has that right steakhouse feel down. There’s a classy yet trendy environment, a variety of price points, and a bunch of little twists on steakhouse standards. The only dish I would replace in my experience was the Terrine. I’m giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls and wish I had the time to go back before skipping town.

Bavette's Bar and Boeuf on Urbanspoon

Dinner Lab

Location: TBD
Cost: Annual membership for $175, individual events from $50-$95
I got to check out a pretty interesting concept the other day when Dinner Lab invited me out. The way it works is that you sign up for an annual membership and then they have occasional dining events that you can join. Events happen every few weeks and are at an undisclosed location until the day prior. The setup is very communal and inviting, and the meals always have a cool theme.  

  A few weeks ago, Jenny and I went to check out their collaboration dinner with Brooklyn Brewery. The Food Our menu was broken down into five courses:
1) Citrus Marinated Cobia

2) Smoked Melon Soup
Clearly I was too eager for this one and forgot to take a pic.
3) Egg in a Jar

4) Grilled Lamb Chops

5) Dark Berry Shortcake

Overall The whole idea is a lot of fun. There’s this big communal vibe and we made friends with some interesting folks. The food was intriguing, tasty, and went well with the diverse beer pairings. I suggest you check it out for yourself at one of their upcoming events.

The Doughnut Vault

Location:401 N Franklin
Cost: About $2-$3 per doughnut

When it comes to trends with food I feel like Chicago is behind some other major cities. For that matter, when these trends come to Chicago, I’m probably a good deal behind everyone else. I’m pretty happy that people are cooling off on the whole cupcake thing. I was happy to see some pie shops spring up, but I was hoping for more. Food trucks are cool and all, but they’d be better if the city would let them be (but that argument’s been had over and over again).

So lets talk doughnuts. All these places have sprung up to make the tray that your coworker brings in from Dunkin look like a bunch of sugary crap. One of the more popular spots is The Doughnut Vault. They’re open five days a week from 8AM (9:30AM on Saturdays) until they sell out, which is not long after. The issue is that I’m always at work long before they open. Luckily, one day in clinic a whole bunch of patients cancelled in a row, thus giving us (Kyle, my diligent medical student, and myself) enough time to hustle over a check this hot spot out.

Logistics
The Doughnut Vault is on the Western border of River North. The whole place amounts to a tiny doorway, an old register, and a little serving counter. A line forms outside a few minutes before opening and can really build thereafter. You can buy a doughnut or two for yourself, but it seems like the majority of the business is done by the box. Each doughnut is around $3 or less, and they’re on the larger side. You can also get coffee, but the menu doesn’t go much further than that.

Of note, it’s cash only.

The Food
The menu has a few standards, but the glazed flavors seem to rotate on a weekly basis. We tried the Buttermilk Old Fashioned, the Vanilla Glazed, and the Mocha Glazed. The old fashioned had a nice density to each bite with a flaky, sugary exterior. It went perfectly with my cup of coffee that morning. The glazed doughnuts were huge. They were really fluffy on the inside, and the flavors weren’t overpowering. I gave my nod to the mocha, but both were excellent options.

The Buttermilk Old Fashioned

The Mocha Glazed

The Vanilla Glazed
Overall
The Doughnut Vault has ruined most other doughnuts for me. No longer will I be able to enjoy my Spunky Dunkers when I head back home. I doubt I’ll be able to get back for some time because I don’t have the luxury of coming into work after 8AM, but for all you fortunate souls out there, I suggest you check it out. I’m giving them 5 out of 5 Pearls.

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.

Logistics
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.

Overall
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.

Sticky Rice

Location: 4018 N Western Ave
Cost: About $13 per person

My friend Moonie and I decided to grab dinner the other week. She’s interning for some big time law firm this summer, which means that she gets lots of fancy meals for business purposes. We figured it’d be cool to try and get something cheap and ethnic. I think she likes to take advantage of my having a car for this purpose too. We ended up picking Sticky Rice for some Thai.

Logistics
Sticky Rice is right on the corner of Irving Park and Western. They’ve got a very basic setup with a lengthy counter on one side with a bunch of tables crammed together throughout the rest of the room, leaving just enough space for the waitresses to dart in between. You probably don’t need a reservation. They’ve got plenty of free street parking nearby too.

I hated our waitress. When we asked what to order, she suggested the Pad Thai and the Pad See Ew. I didn’t appreciate the gringo treatment one bit, and we totally disregarded her recommendations. The food came out quickly enough. The prices were standard with entrees just sub $10, and the portions were plenty.

The Food
We got the ball rolling with some Pork Skewers. They had a nice sear. There was plenty of flavor in each bite, and it was a great, simple way to start off.

The Pork Skewers
For the main course we split an order of Yen Ta Fo (seafood noodle soup) and Duck and Lychee Curry. The Yen Ta Fo said it came with seafood balls but there was a bunch of shrimp, tofu, squid, and tripe in there too. The broth was piping hot and had this subtle sweetness. The noodles were wide and hearty. The curry was complex and rich with large chunks of duck. They even had some crisped up bits of duck skin floating around as an added bonus. We tossed in a side of sticky rice which was way stickier than I’d anticipated. Once we were able to separate it out, it made for a real interesting addition.

The Yen Ta Fo

The Duck and Lychee Curry

The Sticky Rice
Overall
I went to Sticky Rice to find some non-standard Thai food, and that’s what I got. They have a very extensive menu that I can’t wait to get back and try more of. Both the soup broth and the curry really hit the spot. I’m giving them 4 out of 5 Pearls.

The Chicago Diner

Location: 3411 N Halsted
Cost: $15 per person

I’ve always been fascinated by people’s dietary habits. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m understanding of them, just that I’m intrigued. I have no qualms with vegans or vegetarians, but I typically despise any attempt to make mock food items (i.e. tofurkey).

Quick Interjection: I think this distrust and distaste of fake food comes from my many years of celebrating Passover. It’s always a big challenge to make seemingly every day food out of kosher for passover ingredients. I’ve had k for p brownies, cookies, muffins, cakes, and even bread. I don’t really understand why there’s this need to fill certain food voids. I’d be perfectly happy eating fruit for dessert for 8 days.

For that matter, I don’t see the absolute need for there to be fake meat products when people who want to be vegetarian or vegan can get protein sources elsewhere. Does it really have to look like a sausage patty or a chicken nugget I do have to say though that Morningstar Farms has this down pretty well (the taste is great, but it’s my absurd set of principles that’s the problem). I’m also a little bothered by vegan baking (if you can’t use eggs then I don’t think I want to know what chemical substitute is holding those gooey brownies together). That being said there are two creative girls in my class that are constantly trying to prove me wrong and have made some really delicious dishes (despite how mysterious the ingredients may be).

After what seemed like weeks of trying, my friend Renee (vegetarian/audiologist) finally got me to head out to one of her favorite spots in the city to change my mind on all this fake meat business. So after a busy day of boards studying we packed up our books and headed north to Lakeview to hit up The Chicago Diner.

Logistics
The diner’s set up with a bunch of booths lining one wall, a small counter bar, and a bunch of tables in between. It’s not too big of a place, and unfortunately they don’t take reservations (it’s cool though because the website clearly states “sorry dude”). We went on a Wednesday at 6:30 and got in no problem. I think a few people were waiting when we left.

The waiter was really helpful in our decisions which was really important since I was pretty unfamiliar with all of the choices. They’ve got a great feel for the nutritional value and source of their food too which is a plus. Almost all of his recommendations were spot on (except for the kale).

The price is alright considering it’s more expensive to prepare fake meat than real meat. Most of the main items hovered around $11 with beers and shakes in the $5 range and appetizers near $7. The portions are pretty large as well. One thing to beware of is the inevitable indecisiveness that will come about from any vegetarian or vegan person you’re dining with. The way Renee put it was that she’s so used to only having one or two options on a regular restaurant menu that she was overwhelmed with choices (I on the other hand was just whelmed).

The Food
We got the ball rolling with an order of the Nachos. They were covered in a smooth guac, seitan chorizo, cheeze (not a misspelling, it’s vegan cheese), and large jalapeno chunks. I think seitan can hold up a little flavor wise but that texturally it’s not the same as meat. That being said, the chorizo got lost in the other ingredients, but the super fresh veggies came through strongly. With all of the jalapenos it was definitely one of the spicier nacho platters I’ve had lately.

The Nachos
Next Renee got the “Bacon Cheeseburger,” and I got the “Reuben.” Essentially I think seitan can be flavored any which way you want, but the texture comes out much closer to bologna. In my Reuben, that came through a bit, but otherwise the sandwich was fantastic (I’d take it over the one I had at Grahamwich for sure). The sauerkraut and dressing were properly proportioned and carried crisp flavors. Renees burger was solid throughout, and I was mostly impressed by how the “bacon” was able to hold it’s flavor against the other pseudomeat and toppings. Still I think it’d be nice if it looked more like bacon and less like beggin strips. Renee got the sweet potato fries for her side which I thought were pretty standard. Per the server’s suggestion, I went with the flashed greens for my side. I probably shouldn’t have gotten this since I’m not the biggest kale fan, but it may be right up someone else’s alley.

The Bacon Cheeseburger

The Reuben
Finally we went for dessert. They make their own peanut butter in house for a bunch of their dishes, but that’s not really Renee’s cup of tea. Instead we went for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Milk Shake. It was amazing. Then I found out it was made without any dairy products, and I was blown away. I was always under the impression that dairy free ice cream was absolutely horrible (thanks Ken’s Diner), but this shake changed my mind.

The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Milk Shake
Overall
Well they turned a skeptic into a believer. For vegetarians and vegans this place is a must eat. For everyone else, this place is no joke. You may not get real meat or dairy products, but the fantastic preparation carries their food. As someone who’d never had seitan before, I’m glad this is where I got to try it. I’m giving the Chicago Diner 4 out of 5 Pearls.

Cafe Ba Ba Reeba

Location: 2024 N. Halsted
Cost: Around $25 per person

For most of this year our exams have been on Mondays. This means that you get a few extra days over the weekend to prepare, but at the same time it means that you seldom have a breath of fresh air before the next unit begins. Luckily at the end of our cardiovascular and respiratory unit we had a Friday exam. This meant some free time over the weekend, and my parents decided to come down to the city to take Lisa and I out to dinner. Everyone in my family is a pretty big fan of Lettuce Entertain You, and it seems that my parents always have gift cards to their restaurants. We decided to go right down the street from my apartment to Cafe Ba Ba Reeba.

Logistics
Cafe Ba Ba Reeba is a pretty large restaurant with a variety of seating options. They’ve got a few party rooms, some larger tables, a bunch of bar seating, and in the summer a really great patio. We usually go to the early bird dinner on Sunday nights, but on any other night I’d suggest making a reservation. If the patio is open when you go, I suggest you request that seating.

Our server was very helpful, which is pretty important at any tapas restaurant. The menu is seemingly gigantic, and I definitely would have felt overwhelmed if it wasn’t for his suggestions. Basically things are broken down by protein type. Items range anywhere from single bite tapas for $1.50 to large meat skewers for $18.50. The average item is around $7, and the paella is $12.

The Food
We started with the Spanish Cheese Platter, Goat Cheese in Marinara, and Spinach and Manchego Stuffed Mushrooms. The cheese platter was a nice start to the meal and came with some fruit spread and nuts. The Goat Cheese in Marinara was a tasty balance between the acidic tomatoes and the creamy cheese. The stuffed mushrooms dish was my favorite of the starters. These went fast and was probably because of the delicious manchego filling.

The Spanish Cheese Plate

The Goat Cheese and Marinara

The Manchego and Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms
The next group of plates included the Lamb Stuffed Grape Leaves, the Garlic Shrimp, the Patatas Bravas, the Seared Salmon, and the Skewered Beef Tenderloin. The Patatas Bravas may have been a bit heavy on the spicy mayo, but once I pushed that aside it was as solid as I’d expect from any good tapas restaurant. I didn’t try the shrimp, but my family members seemed more than happy. The salmon was done perfectly, served over heirloom potatoes, and topped with a spicy chimichurri. The Beef Tenderloin was a family favorite. It came with bruschetta, grilled vegetables, and potatoes. The meat had a nice exterior sear and was pleasantly medium rare on the inside. The grilled tomatoes and zucchini were a nice touch as well.

The Garlic Shrimp

The Lamb Stuffed Grape Leaves

The Patatas Bravas

The Seared Salmon

The Skewered Beef Tenderloin
For dessert we got the Caramelized Banana with Vanilla Ice Cream, the Mango Sorbet, and the Brown Butter Cake with Blueberries and Gelato. These were all fantastic, and each was only $3. I usually hate sorbet that comes out with a freezer burn style texture, but this was perfect. The banana had an exterior crunch from the caramel that went amazingly with the inside of the banana and the ice cream. The cake was lighter than I expected, and although the blueberries were probably frozen, they weren’t mushy.

The Caramelized Banana with Ice Cream

The Mango Sorbet

 The Brown Butter Cake
Overall
I don’t think I’d call this the most authentic tapas experience, but I don’t always expect that with Lettuce Entertain You. What I do expect from them is a slightly American and creative spin on an already interesting cuisine, and that’s what they deliver at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. I’m giving them 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.