Paris Club

Location:  59 W. Hubbard

Last Saturday night I was graciously granted the opportunity to attend a practice party for Lettuce Entertain You’s newest restaurant to be, Paris Club. You probably remember the previous LEYE restaurant in this location (right next to Hub 51), Brasserie Joe. This was my first experience of this sort with LEYE, but basically it was a run through for the restaurant before they actually open (on February 9th). It reminded me of when Chipotle opened on Green St. in Champaign and they had a day where you could get free burritos so they could practice and train the staff, but you know… with class. I already had dinner plans with my friend Sammi, so I just called off our previous reservations and we headed into the heart of River North.

Logistics
Paris Club has two large rooms, one with a bar style, and the other with a dining room appeal. They also have an upstairs lounge with a retractable roof of sorts for when this garbage weather passes by. They take reservations, and by the looks of the place, location, and flavor of the food, I suggest you make one. We were sat in one of the raised tables in the bar area.

Our service was fantastic, and we needed it. By that I mean that there was a bunch on the menu we had questions about, and our waitress answered anything we could throw at her. The menu is mostly small plate, and the food kind of comes at you as soon as it’s ready.

One great thing about Paris Club is that you can basically spend as much money as you want to. The small plates were generously portioned, and they have all different types of options. Some of the dishes that you could easily share over a few drinks run from $5-8. They also have steak dishes in the upper $20 range, but what was impressive to me was that most of their main fish selections were in the $15 range which is way more than reasonable.

The Food
The first item we ordered was the Duck Roulade. The plate came with bread, spicy mustard, and miniature pickles to make yourself little bites out of. The Roulade was delicious with almost a duck salami appeal. The next dish was the Toast with Drippings. I was really hesitant about this one, thinking it’d be some gravy poured over french bread, but it ended up being one of our favorites. It was the same soft on the inside, crispy on the outside french bread that came with the roulade, but this had a crock pot of jus and almost pulled short rib inside. It was savory, and the bread soaked up the jus nicely. The last small plate we ordered was the French Onion Fondue. This was basically a cheese heavy french onion soup with the bread on the side for dipping. They’d already won me over on the bread, but this fondue was fantastic. The cheese was at perfect state between solid and melted so as not to string too much when dishing it out.

The Duck Roulade

The Drippings and Toast

The French Onion Fondue
The first of our larger dishes that came out was the Beef Short Rib Bourguignon. It was served with pearl onions, carrots, green beans, and was covered in a reduced red wine sauce. It fell apart the second you touched it, and the horseradish sauce on the side was a nice compliment. Then we got the Black Bass Armandine. It was a little on the salty side for me, but I’m sure they’ll get that kink fixed before opening. The fish was perfectly cooked and was served over a scrumptious bed of brussels sprouts. After that we got the Duck Leg Confit. As someone who loves duck, I was very impressed. The skin was crispy, and the inside was moist. Finally we got the Steak Frittes. The steak was prepared nicely with a red center and a crisp sear on the exterior. The fries were good, but the real highlight was the green oily dipping sauce that they came with. The only flaw with this dish was that it was served last, and we were already pretty full when it came.

The Beef Short Rib Bourguignon

The Black Bass Armandine

The Duck Leg Confit

The Steak Frittes
Overall
Paris Club has a wide variety of options. For the tentative they’ve got steak and mac n cheese. For the adventurous they’ve got a variety of pates, pigs feet, and escargot. If you want a larger dining experience you’re covered, and if you want a drink and some small plates you’ll be all set too. Again, I don’t think it’d be fair for me to give a Pearl rating on this one (being a complimentary event and all), but I was very impressed and will definitely be back soon.

Smoque

I think it’s interesting to look at what things may have influenced my writing or even my thinking about restaurants. During my post on Smoke Daddy, I happened to be taking a course called Medical Decision Making (MDM). For those of you not at the Feinberg School of Medicine, one of the things we learn in MDM is how to use statistics to judge a new treatment or medication. In order to judge the new method you have to compare it to the “gold standard” test (the test that has been tried and true for the medical profession for some time). Well, while writing my post on Smoke Daddy I found myself looking for a gold standard to compare it to. When you’re looking for a gold standard of BBQ in Chicago, the clear choice is Smoque (pronounced like “smoke”). So last Tuesday for a birthday present, my buddy Marc Kovarsky took me to get some top of the line BBQ.

Logistics
Smoque is located on Pulaski and Grace right near the Irving Park/Pulaski highway exit of 94 (pretty easy access). It’s not really easy to get to by public transportation, but there’s lots of street parking and a small lot near the restaurant. As far as getting your food, you order at the counter and a host will find you a seat (much like Milk and Honey). You might think that eventually this might be a problem that there just wouldn’t be a seat, but magically the line kind of moves at a similar pace to table availability. I haven’t had a problem getting a table in any of the 6 times I’ve been to Smoque, and this time was no exception.

The line may be a problem though. The worst I’ve ever seen it was about 45 minutes, but if you consider that your food and table come soon after, then it’s not really that bad a wait for such a good meal. Most of the time it’s been about 10 to 15 minutes of waiting in line. Once you place your order it takes less than 10 minutes to get your food. The one time this may be a logistical problem is when it’s winter and the line goes outside a bit at busy time.

Smoque happens to be BYOB. There’s a cheap liquor store down the block too. It’s pretty nice that if you wanted to, you could bring a pretty big group of friends here. Think about it. You could have your own beer, automatically pay separate checks at the counter, and you won’t need a reservation (because you can’t even make one). One thing is you might feel bad sitting at a table for a long time because it will probably be in high demand (although I’ve never had anyone approach me or try to rush me out). Also, you can drink while you’re in line to pass the time if you go when they’re really busy.

One of the greatest things is the price. A platter that includes a meat and 2 sides is usually around $10. If you get a sandwich with cornbread and a side it’s around $8. You get a ton of food no matter what you order, and it really won’t cost you too much at all.

The last logistical point I’d like to make is that very soon you’ll be able to enjoy Smoque at US Cellular Field. So in case the fajitas, calzones, and paella weren’t diverse enough of options, you can now get ribs, chicken, pulled pork, and brisket.

The Food
At Smoque, it’s all about the meat. I’ve tried different things, but now I’ve settled on a regular order. I like to get the Brisket Sandwich (sliced, not chopped) with French Fries and Cornbread instead of Coleslaw (this is the essential move, since the coleslaw is just average and they let you switch it out for free). Marc got the Sliced Brisket Platter with Baked Beans and Mac N Cheese. The Brisket is the best thing at Smoque. They have an interesting dry rub that incorporates Coke as their not so secret ingredient. The meat is ultra tender and not too fatty or chewy. In a sandwich it comes on a big white bread bun that perfectly soaks up all of the juices and sauce. It comes with a side of their Carolina style BBQ sauce in case you need more of that delicious goodness.

Sliced Brisket Sandwich with French Fries and Cornbread
The French Fries are spot on at Smoque. They’re hand cut and have a real nice crispy outside while maintaining a soft inside. You get a large bag of them too, so this may be the side that gives you the most bang for your buck. The coleslaw is vinegar based, which I personally don’t prefer, so I always switch it out for the Cornbread. It’s not as good as the Cornbread at Smoke Daddy, but it’s still pretty good with a moist center and slightly sweet flavor. The baked beans could use a little improvement. They’re special in that they cook them in the smoker with all the meat, but I feel like the sauce could be sweeter and thicker, and the beans could be a little more cooked. The Mac N Cheese isn’t as smooth of a texture as I’m used to and has somewhat of a grainy feel. It’s still very rich, hot, and tasty.

Sliced Brisket Platter with Cornbread, Mac N Cheese, and Baked Beans
In past visits I’ve gotten the Chicken which is fantastic. It comes out juicy and covered in a tasty rub. I’ve heard great things about the ribs as well although I’ve never gotten them. Really though, the Brisket is why it’s worth making the trip to Smoque in my opinion.

The Brisket (Check out that smoke ring!)

Baked Beans
Overall
Smoque, as far as I can tell, is still the gold standard of BBQ in Chicago. They’re putting out some fantastic meats and some pretty sweet sides. The sides may have a slight step up at Smoke Daddy, but the meats are just far and beyond at Smoque (which is the real reason you go for BBQ right?). Logistically this place is great, especially if you don’t have a reservation or want to drink a lot for a low cost (or if you need a place for a bday dinner, thanks Marc). I’m giving Smoque 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Glenn’s Diner

Glenn’s Diner was one of the first DDD restaurants I ever visited in Chicago. That was about three years ago, and since then I’ve been back maybe four or five times. One of those earlier times I brought my parents, and lets just say that no one is better at word of mouth advertising than they are. Glenn’s has quickly become a favorite hot spot in Chicago for practically anyone that has asked my parents for restaurant advice.

Typically, I’ve thought of Glenn’s as a dinner spot with their excellent selection of fish, but when it came time for Mom to pick where to eat Mother’s Day Brunch, she was quick with her choice. I came in with a skeptical attitude. I thought this place was too specialized and that the breakfast food would just be standard diner fare. How wrong I was.

Logistics
For those of you downtown or in streeterville, this may be somewhat of a schlep. It’s in Ravenswood near the brown line Montrose stop on the corner of Damen and Montrose. One thing that’s nice about the location is that if you drive, there’s plenty of nearby parking, and it’s convenient for people coming from the suburbs who don’t want to fight through city traffic. The neighborhood is pretty empty as far as things to do, but a Chicago “landmark” ice cream joint, Margie’s Candies, is right across the street for dessert.

As far as the restaurant itself, there’s very little seating, maybe enough for 25. They have outdoor seating when it’s nice out which probably doubles their capacity. With the small capacity, they do still take reservations, which are practically necessary. They may not have your original requested time, but don’t fret, they probably have space for you 3 minutes after that time. When I called, they didn’t have space at 1:00, but they were able to take us at 1:03 if we were willing to wait (not a joke which I discovered after having a laugh that was not reciprocated by the host).

The general setup is a bunch of tables crammed into a pretty small room. The atmosphere is casual, and the waitresses even put up with bad jokes. This was epitomized by a single conversation we had with the waitress in which my sister and mom explained that their pants were “Jeggings”, and my dad explained that he was having a “MO” (mouth orgasm).

The Dinner Menu
The Food
Up till this visit, I’d only had fish, but since that wasn’t this time around, I don’t want to spend too much time on that (but it still deserves some mention). The dinner menu is written up on a large blackboard on the wall because it’s constantly undergoing alterations. The Crab Cakes are fantastic, but a little small. The Clam Chowder is some of the best I’ve ever had. I’ve had a majority of fish items from the blackboard, and I’d easily say that so far this is my favorite fish place in the city. I know you wouldn’t think that a diner can serve up good fish, but they’re doing it fresh every day (disclaimer: if you show up for a late dinner, many of the fish options may be out). Each fish comes with a big portion of vegetables and boiled potatoes. It can get a little pricey in the $20 range, but if you get there for an early dinner they have a special for $15. They also have all you can eat ribs, shrimp, and crab legs depending on the day of the week.

My Mom and her Big Fat Bloody Mary(notice the shrimp and melon)

The Spanish Coffee
So on to this visit. We started with a round of drinks. I went for the Fresh Squeezed OJ, my parents had Big Fat Bloody Marys, and Noam had the Spanish Coffee. The Bloody Mary was extra spicy like my parents prefer, it had all the proper condiments, and it came with 6 pieces of shrimp. The Spanish Coffee is a coffee drink mixed with Triple Sec, Kahlua, and Bacardi 151. Normally I’m not much of a morning drinker, but when people said they needed help finishing these, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Three Napkin Meatloaf Sandwich

The Duck Trap Smoked Trout Hash and Eggs

The Fresh Spinach and Tomato Eggs Benedict(side of potato pancake)

The Corned Beef Hash and Eggs

The Banana’s Foster Apple Pancake 
For our meals, the table basically shared the Three Napkin Meatloaf Sandwich, the Fresh Spinach and Tomato Eggs Benedict, the Banana’s Foster Apple Pancakes, the Duck Trap Smoked Trout Hash and Eggs, and the Corned Beef and Yukon Gold Hash and Eggs. The Meatloaf was really juicy and came with a homemade cole slaw. The Benedict was pretty standard except that everything was done perfectly. The eggs were poached nicely, and the hollandaise sauce had just the right consistency. The Apple Pancake had a soft texture and was smothered in caramelized bananas (it was like everyone’s dessert). The Trout Hash had a creamy overall texture, and the trout was salty and delicious like a smoked fish should be. Finally, the Corned Beef Hash was another well done standard item. From the regular dishes to the inventive ones, everything was gigantic and made with care. Even though it was a diner, there was none of that “rustic” or overly greasy diner feel to the food.

A horoscope method to choose your cereal
One final note on the food is that they have a large selection of breakfast cereal. One of the walls is devoted entirely to shelving the cereal boxes, and you can even get combinations of your favorites. I would never get this or recommend such a thing since the other food is a can’t miss, but maybe if you have a picky eater in your midst, you can use this as a ploy to get them to come here.

Overall
For fish, there’s no other place I’d rather go. At first, I wasn’t so sure what the breakfast would be like, but I was blown away. Everything had the same creative spin that the dinner provides if not more. If you don’t like creative, they still do the standards just as well if not better than most other brunch places in the city. It’s interesting to compare Glenn’s to a place like Southport Grocery, the restaurant I’d previously held as my favorite brunch locale. Glenn’s may not be as creative, but they offer additional choices to the creative ones, and the meals are much bigger. Also, if you hadn’t noticed, it’s practically impossible to find a brunch place that takes reservations (huge point for Glenn’s). With the abundance of “MOs” going around the table, I feel compelled to give Glenn’s Diner 4.5 out of 5 Pearls.

Gene and Jude’s Red Hot Stand

This past weekend, my friend Amanda was back in town from her job in California, and a bunch of us were going out for her birthday. Since her boyfriend is from the western suburbs, we hit up one of his favorite spots, Hala Kahiki. So we’re out in the River Grove area on Grand and Des Plaines River Road at this knock off Hawaiian bar for most of the night (actually it was a pretty good place for cheap, tasty, and strong drinks) when I bring up that I saw this hot dog stand a block over. Before I knew it, my local hosts were raving about the greatest hot dogs in the world which just so happened to be served up in their backyard at Gene and Jude’s Red Hot Stand (sorry, there’s no website).

Logistics
Gene and Jude’s is a free standing hot dog stand in the middle of a pretty large parking lot. For all practical purposes I’d say that Gene and Jude’s is in the middle of nowhere (unless your from the western suburbs, and in that case… no offense). There aren’t any tables, so you can either eat in your car or somewhere along the counter. There’s one large counter where you order at one end and pick up your food at the other. Behind this counter seems to be a variety of employees ranging from teenage to some pretty old guys who I guess have been working there since the beginning.

It’s important to note that this place is super cheap. A dog and fries was $2.10. Supposedly it used to be $1.60, and the town was in an uproar with the price hike. Also, even though it’s cheap, you don’t get shorted on the food in the least.

Finally, you need to know how to behave while you’re there. I’d say there are two keys to fitting in: 1) be a White Sox fan (or keep quiet about baseball) and 2) don’t even say the word KETCHUP. To the first point, I don’t think they’d do anything to you if you said you love the cubs, but some of those grumpy old men in baseball caps didn’t seem to friendly in the first place. As for the ketchup thing, they will ask you to leave if you order ketchup on your dog. Not only that, but they make quite a show out of the whole ordeal with the cooks chastising you for some time. If you really must have it, there’s a McDonald’s down the road that will sell you just ketchup packets. In my opinion, getting ketchup on a dog should be seen with as much social disdain as things like not covering your mouth when you cough, not giving up your seat to an elderly passenger on the train, or not taking your hipster crap off the seat next to you, and it’s about time that some restaurant took it upon themselves to impose this.

The Food
The menu at Gene and Jude’s is pretty basic. They’ve got dogs, fries, and tamales. Upon further inquiry, I found out that the tamales are microwaveable, so I wouldn’t get those. I went to the standard order of a dog with everything and fries. In a matter of seconds I had my order.

The dog was clearly vienna beef and was on the smaller side. There wasn’t really too much of a crisp snap when biting through the casing, which I find an essential aspect to a dog. The toppings were perfect. There was a sweet neon green relish as well as peppers, onions, tomatoes, and seasoning salt. The untoasted poppy seed bun was in typical Chicago dog style. Really it was a pretty standard dog.

 To get to the dog, you had to dig past the real reason people keep coming back to Gene and Jude’s, the French Fries. They come all wrapped up along with the dog, and there’s a hefty portion. They were universally crispy, without one overly soggy example. I can’t really describe how or why, but when I took a bite, I was immediately reminded of Walker Brother’s hash browns. The same oily and crispy flavor seemed to have been magically compacted into these fries.

Overall
First off, if you live in the city, this is an awfully far way to go for a dog and fries. If you happen to find yourself in the River Grove area, then why not stop by. Even if you don’t like it, all you’ll lose is two dollars. I do however think that you will like it. The hot dog won’t blow you away, but the fries just might. Also, if you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll get a show when some rube asks for ketchup on his dog. If you’re wondering how it compares to The Wieners Circle, I’d say that the dogs are not as large or as good at Gene and Jude’s, but the fries are much better. Also, both have an interesting atmosphere, but Gene and Jude’s is definitely more appropriate. Overall I’d call them equivalent based on different counts at 3 out of 5 Pearls.

The RAM

Let me tell you about that bar. You know which one I’m talking about. That bar where everything’s great. The food tastes good, there are tons of TVs, and they have good drink specials. The only problem is that you can’t go there without running into half of your graduating high school class.

So this past Saturday, The Kekambas, our newly formed summer softball team had its first practice and worked up quite a hunger. Since we were in Buffalo Grove at the time someone mentioned grabbing a beer and a burger while watching the Bulls get stomped by the Cavs. After some coercing by my teammates, I eventually gave in and went to The RAM (www.theram.com). Now in all fairness, this isn’t the big Stevenson High School bar. That title goes to The Cubby Bear North, but I was still worried I’d run into a multitude of people who’s names I’d inevitably forgotten. I thought I was in for a lunch full of awkwardly staring across the bar at other people, both of us knowing we should go say hi, and yet neither one of us getting up (you know the situation). I was pleasantly surprised when we got there to find a practically empty bar. This meant that all I’d have to deal with was the variety of delicious bar food and multitude of TVs.

Logistics
The RAM is split in two by its open air kitchen. On one side of the building is a tame restaurant seating area with lots of booths, limited TVs, and a quiet ambiance. On the other side there’s a bar setup with a bunch of raised tables surrounded by a ring of booths. There’s a huge, wall-sized projection TV in the center and another 20 or so smaller TVs on the rest of the walls. The bar has comically high shelves, which are even more comically stocked with bacardi at the top. They have these monstrous ladders for the bartenders to get up there, which seems like an awfully long way to go for some cheap rum.

Anyways, we got sat at an extra long center table, which was great since we had a party of 10 or so. Also, since we were practically the only people there, we were served really quickly. I’ve been there on busy nights too, and the service is usually pretty good.

I think it should be noted that they brew their own beer. Even though they have some large tanks on display, I don’t think they brew anything at that location, but I’ll forgive the fake showmanship.

Big Horn Beer Sampler
The Food
Everyone started off with a beer or two from the home brewed selection. I’ve had plenty of time to try out The Ram’s beers, and think that by far the best is the Hefeweizen. It’s a thick, wheat beer with some fruity background flavors, and it really hit the spot after a “tough” day of practice. They’ve got a bunch more beers, and if you’d like you can get a sampler of all of them for something like $6. They also offer growlers for those who just have to have Big Horn beer at home, but I’ve never thought beer kept well in those things.

Amber Ale Marinated Chicken Sandwich and Onion Rings
The menu has a large selection of burgers including an Elvis burger with peanut butter, but I chose to go with a chicken sandwich. Specifically, I got the Amber Ale Marinated Chicken Sandwich. The breast was covered in a thick bbq sauce and topped with cole slaw, roasted tomatoes, onion strings, and chipotle mayo. Usually a sandwich with so many different flavors runs the risk of blending together into an indistinguishable mush, but these flavors all held their own. The slaw was crisp and cool, and I’ve never disliked onion strings on a sandwich. The sandwich was humongous and tasty, but I wish I could’ve tasted the beer a little more in the sauce. The sandwich was $11 and for $0.49 I substituted onion rings for fries. These onion rings are pretty darn good. They’re cut very thickly with a thick and crisp breading. Nothing special as far as seasoning on them, just good, standard, thick onion rings.

Interior View (Check out those layers!!!)
Overall
Since it was our first practice, it was fitting to hit up The RAM for our first beer league get together. The food is tasty, the beer is unique, the TVs are plentiful, and I escaped without any awkward high school reunion. As far as Lincolnshire bars go, I still think I prefer a place like Champps for food and a game, but you can’t go wrong with The RAM. One strike against it is that it’s somewhat of a miniature chain. Also, I feel like the food must’ve been pretty unhealthy because my food coma that afternoon was rather prolonged. I’m giving it 3 out of 5 Pearls.