Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Tomato tartare, wagyu beef tongue, mackerel & more, Momotaro

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Gyutan, Momotaro

Gyutan with imperial wagyu beef tongue, karashi, and smoked peppercorn

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: The timing for this post seemed appropriate, as Chicago magazine announced this week that Momotaro is this year’s Best New Restaurant. Based on my first meal there, I tend to agree. Not only was the three-floor Japanese-styled interior completely stunning, but every dish was beautiful in its composition and purity of flavor. Grilled over hot coals, the skewered wagyu beef tongue was undoubtedly the first preparation of tongue that I’d ever truly enjoyed. The tender, peppery meat was just fatty enough, brightened by dabs of hot mustard and a squeeze of the liberally seasoned yuzu wedge. I’d already heard great things about the momotaro (Japanese sweet tomato) tartare, and was indeed blown away by how texturally interesting and umami-rich it was, especially as a fully vegetarian dish. Even on a dauntingly extensive menu, this tartare cemented its place as a must-order on all future visits.

Momotaro tartare, Momotaro

Momotaro tartare with Japanese sweet tomato, Maui onion, and shiso

Aji yakusugi, Momotaro

Aji yakusugi with smoked jack mackerel and 1,000 year old cypress

Momataro flies its fish in from Tokyo, so we couldn’t leave without trying some nigiri. The jack mackerel was dramatically presented, the bowl uncovered to reveal smoking pieces of what the menu claimed was 1,000-year-old cypress bark – really, how often does your meal involve an ingredient that’s a thousand years old? The fish itself was lovely, its smoky flavor gentle and woodsy. The beautifully simplicity extended through to dessert, where tiny green peaches and cooling peach sorbet were buried in a bed of almond crumble. Maybe I just love peach, but there was something about that dessert that kept me raving about it long after the last bite.

Waka momo dessert, Momotaro

Waka momo dessert with green peach, almond crumble, and momo sorbet

The details: Momotaro, 820 W. Lake St., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Staff meal of greens, bread, butter & soft boiled egg, Cellar Door Provisions

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Buttered bread, Cellar Door Provisions

Buttered bread ready to dip into the soft boiled egg

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: With a limited menu of seasonal breakfast and lunch specials and a small selection of artful pastries that routinely sells out before noon, Cellar Door Provisions is tightly focused in its craft. Since I knew I wanted to try the much-lauded bread, I went with the Staff Meal, a no-frills breakfast of greens, bread, butter, and soft boiled egg. This was no ordinary bread and butter, however. The bread itself had a dark crust and airy crumb – the best of both textural worlds – and the egg-sized, salt-flecked quenelle of butter was plenty to smear into every nook of both thick slices. Dipping the bread into the yolk of the soft boiled egg was even more satisfying, and peppery bites of lightly dressed greens helped break up the richness. The whole meal had an understated elegance that was so refreshing.

Staff meal, Cellar Door Provisions

Staff meal of greens, bread, butter, and soft boiled egg

The details: Cellar Door Provisions, 3025 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Ripples on an Evaporated Lake and Pool Rules cocktails, Lost Lake

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Ripples on an Evaporated Lake and Pool Rules, Lost Lake

Ripples on an Evaporated Lake, with aged Panama rum, aged Trinidad rum, coffee, coconut, and amaro; and Pool Rules, with bourbon whiskey, aged guyana, rum, lemon, curaçao, cinnamon, allspice, vanilla, and angostura bitters

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I’ve been to Lost Lake at least five times since it opened in mid-January – officially enough to deem it my new favorite bar in Chicago. As fortunate as I am to live within walking distance, there’s just so much to love about this tropical oasis. Immediately upon stepping inside, you’re effortlessly transported to a warmer, happier place. The interior features leafy wallpaper, thatched bamboo, and stone walls, all of which strike an impressive balance between kitschy and fashionable. The retro island soundtrack hits the same sweet spot. And Paul McGee, who left Three Dots and Dash for this new venture, makes tiki drinks that are just so, so good.

It was difficult to pick two favorites from a menu that has so many creative options, but these two repeatedly stood out. Ripples on an Evaporated Lake fused four things I love to drink: coffee, rum, coconut, and amaro. In each sip, the coffee and rum hit my palate first, the flavors quickly progressing from sweet to bitter on the finish. The mint and coffee beans were a nice touch as garnishes. Meanwhile, Pool Rules, in its adorable fish-shaped glass, was more bourbon-forward. The rum and bourbon both fell into balance with citrus, bitters, vanilla, allspice, and cinnamon for a complex yet easy-drinking cocktail.

The details: Lost Lake, 3154 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Smoked fish sandwich, Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Smoked fish sandwich, Fahlstrom's Fresh Fish Market

Smoked fish sandwich with duck trap smoked trout spread, three types of thin-sliced smoked fish, thin-sliced capicola ham, capers, cider-vinegar dressing on a toasted french roll

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Because the menu at Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market in Lakeview is nearly endless, I only concentrated on the Sea Sandwiches section during my first visit. I was intrigued by the idea of so many kinds of smoked fish on the same sandwich – four, including the smoked trout spread – and my server confirmed that it was a favorite. I was awed by how well everything in the sandwich worked together, the smoky fish mingling with capicola, sweet cider-vinegar dressing, capers, and lettuce on toasty french bread. The flavor profile even reminded me a little of the bacon-trout-slaw combination on my favorite bagel sandwich. It was the kind of sandwich you wish every deli would offer, all the way down to the house potato pancake and dill pickle on the side.

The details: Fahlstrom’s Fresh Fish Market, 1258 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Three delicious days in Seattle

Travel Eats documents my food adventures outside of Chicago.

Salmon omakase, Shiro's Sushi

Nigiri of salmon three ways during omakase at the Shiro’s Sushi counter

As someone who adores all forms of seafood but has always lived in a land-locked state, I’ve long wanted to check out Seattle’s dining scene. I visited last week and packed three sunny (!!!) days with oysters, coffee, and everything else I’d heard were Seattle specialties. Before I proceed any further, I am happy to report that I ate the best sushi of my life on this trip. My local dining companion put Shiro’s Sushi at the top of our must-eat list; Shiro was a “disciple” of Jiro, as in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and had built something of an institution. We arrived before it opened and stood in line. Two hours and 40 minutes later, we were finally seated at the counter and settled in for omakase, or “chef’s choice.” On it went: red snapper, three cuts of salmon, four cuts of tuna, geoduck (my first time eating it!), king crab leg, octopus, eel that I can only describe as ethereal…and more. The fish was impossibly fresh and masterfully prepared, and the whole experience felt personal and special.

Grilled sardines, the Walrus and the Carpenter

Grilled sardines from the Walrus and the Carpenter

Hama Hama and Blue Pool oysters, the Walrus and the Carpenter

Hama Hama and Blue Pool oysters from the Walrus and the Carpenter

Our other spectacular meal also required a nearly two-hour wait, but as with Shiro’s, it was undoubtedly worth it. The Walrus and the Carpenter is run by Renee Erickson, whose cookbook I received as a Christmas gift from my roommate in anticipation of our trip. Her elegant, contemporary dishes were the ideal way to celebrate the fruits of the sea that are so plentiful in that area. The oysters I tried were exceptional, as were all the other small plates, but the standout sea creatures for me were the grilled sardines. The sardines’ texture was completely incredible, and I couldn’t get over how well the walnut-parsley-shallot topping married with the fish.

Another memorable stop was at Toulouse Petit, a New Orleans-inspired Cajun restaurant that claims to have the “best happy hour menu in the nation.” Both the barbecued shrimp New Orleans and the crawfish beignets with hot pepper jelly were delicious, and just the kind of food to pair with Big Easy-style cocktails. And of course, I couldn’t leave Seattle without a visit to Pike Place Market, whose size and spectacle was even more overwhelming than I expected. After tastes at a few of the fish vendors, I settled on a sizable strip of smoked salmon that was conveniently threaded onto a stick. I savored it as long as possible.

Crawfish beignets and barbecued New Orleans shrimp,  Toulouse Petit

Crawfish beignets and barbecued New Orleans shrimp from Toulouse Petit’s happy hour

Smoked salmon stick, City Fish Co. at Pike Place Market

Smoked salmon on a stick from City Fish Co. at Pike Place Market

Brunch gets its own section, because both the morning meals I had were noteworthy in entirely different ways. I absolutely loved the format at Joule: not only was there a standard menu of creative, Korean-influenced dishes, but the meal also included unlimited trips to an upscale buffet at the front of the restaurant whose theme rotated on a monthly basis – February was Cajun, in honor of Mardi Gras. My favorite bite at Joule was also the most indulgent: a sesame waffle with chicken fried steak (everyone else should take note of this excellent variation on chicken and waffles) and smoked maple syrup. In contrast, the best parts of brunch at Tallulah’s were on the lighter side. My bowl of red quinoa, smoked salmon, avocado, pickled vegetables, greens, and a soft-poached egg was the kind of fresh, energizing breakfast I could eat every day, and the blood orange marmalade on nutty Macrina wheat toast was also lovely in its simplicity.

Chicken fried steak and waffles,  Joule

Chicken fried steak and waffles from brunch at Joule

Macrina toast with blood orange marmalade from brunch at Tallulah's

Macrina toast with blood orange marmalade from brunch at Tallulah’s

Red quinoa bowl, Tallulah's

Red quinoa and smoked salmon bowl from brunch at Tallulah’s

I was just as impressed by Seattle’s beverages, caffeinated and alcoholic alike. The one I was most eager to try was the Dark & Stormy at Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and once I found out you could add vanilla soft serve to make it a float, I was basically in ginger-laced heaven. At local brewery Fremont Brewing, I was more than content with my Dark Star imperial oatmeal stout (and the fact that it was warm enough to drink it outside). Barnacle, adjacent to the Walrus and the Carpenter, was where we spent most of our time waiting for our table, and I loved that a seat at the sleek copper bar also earned you a bowl of Lay’s Classic potato chips to snack on. I’ve been on a black walnut kick lately, so Barnacle’s nocino old fashioned with calvados, walnut liqueur, and nocino amaro was just the kind of strong, silky cocktail I wanted. At Joule, my Sweet Freedom brunch cocktail held a citrusy mix of lime, blood orange and elderflower liqueurs, and makoli – the same fermented Korean rice wine I enjoyed so much at Parachute last fall. I also drank my fair share of coffee and espresso, and it was all top-notch.

Dark & stormy float from Rachel's Ginger Beer

Dark & stormy float from Rachel’s Ginger Beer

Dark Star imperial oatmeal stout, Fremont Brewing

Dark Star imperial oatmeal stout from Fremont Brewing

Nocino old fashioned, Barnacle

Nocino old fashioned from Barnacle

Sweet Freedom cocktail, Joule

Sweet Freedom cocktail from brunch at Joule

Sumatra pourover coffee, Victrola Coffee

Sumatra pourover from Victrola Coffee

Rose, Starbucks

Couldn’t resist the novelty of a glass of wine at ubiquitous Starbucks

Soy latte with "velvet foam" from Uptown Espresso

Soy latte with “velvet foam” from Uptown Espresso

And below are even more miscellaneous best bites from what was surely one of my most delicious trips ever.

Fudge brownie chunk and earl gray ice cream, Molly Moon's

Fudge brownie chunk ice cream with vanilla bean caramel and earl gray ice cream with lemon curd from Molly Moon’s

Spam slider and Pass-O Guava Nectar Hawaiian Sun drink from Marination Station

Spam slider and Pass-O Guava Nectar Hawaiian Sun drink from Marination Station

Beecher's herbed cheese curds

Herbed cheese curds from Beecher’s at Pike Place Market

Cinnamon sugar donuts, Daily Dozen

Cinnamon sugar donuts from Daily Dozen at Pike Place Market

The details: Shiro’s Sushi, 2401 2nd Ave.; The Walrus and the Carpenter and Barnacle, both 4743 Ballard Ave. NW; Toulouse Petit, 601 Queen Anne Ave. N; City Fish Co. at Pike Place Market, 1535 Pike Pl.; Joule, 3506 Stone Way N; Tallulah’s, 550 19th Ave. E; Rachel’s Ginger Beer at Pike Place Market, 1530 Post Alley; Fremont Brewing, 1050 N 34th St.; Victrola Coffee, 310 E. Pike; Uptown Espresso, 525 Queen Anne Ave. N; Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream, 917 E. Pine St.; Marination Station, 1412 Harvard Ave.; Beecher’s Handmade Cheese at Pike Place Market, 1600 Pike Pl.; Daily Dozen Doughnuts at Pike Place Market, 93 Pike St. (all Seattle).

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at TWO

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

TWO

Honey ricotta cheesecake, TWO

Honey ricotta cheesecake with macerated blueberries and chantilly cream

Best Bite: I’ve wanted to try the seasonal American cuisine at TWO during Restaurant Week for years now, so it made a beyond pleasant ending to this year’s dining festivities. A seemingly unassuming cheesecake dessert was the meal’s biggest surprise. The graham cracker crust, honeyed filling, and juicy blueberries brought back vivid memories of the cheesecake bars of my childhood – but just more refined and even more delicious. I also appreciated the complexity of the crouton garnish on the cauliflower bisque, a platform for bacon, mushrooms, and ricotta to stay afloat in the silky soup.

Roasted cauliflower bisque, TWO

Roasted cauliflower bisque with homemade bacon, cured mushrooms, and ricotta crouton

Other notes: The diamond-marked pork chop came in two thick, generous slices, and pairing it with roasted potatoes and mustard-pepper sauce felt thoroughly Midwestern (in a good way, of course). We also enjoyed a bottle of wine with our meal, an 2010 Italian white blend from Luna del Feldi that was specially discounted as part of the Restaurant Week menu. There was something about the natural-hued interior that made the room feel warm and familiar.

Pork kalbi loin chop, TWO

Berkshire pork kalbi loin chop with roasted Yukon gold potatoes and black pepper mustard sauce

The details: TWO, 1132 W. Grand Ave., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at Tanta

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Tanta Dinner

Cebiche clasico, Tanta

Cebiche clasico with mahi mahi, red onions, cilantro, habenero, and natural leche de tigre

Best Bite: Between this meal and my previous visit, I’ve really fallen in love with Tanta’s take on Peruvian cuisine. An eclectic set of culinary influences – Japanese, Spanish, Chinese, French – make for an irresistible mix of flavors and ingredients. The classic mahi mahi cebiche was bright and balanced with additional unique texture from the hominy. The alfajor dessert also might have been the best I ate during Restaurant Week this year. I couldn’t get enough of the dulce de leche and hot chocolate sauce together.

Alfajor, Tanta

Alfajor with shortbread cookies, lucuma dulce de leche, hot chocolate sauce, and vanilla bean ice cream

Other notes: Many of Tanta’s cocktails involve pisco, the national spirit of Peru, and they are not to be missed. This pisco punch exploded with cinnamon and lime, and I was immediately transported to warmer climates. The basket of plantain chips was also a great bread basket substitute.

Pisco punch and plantain chips, Tanta

Pisco punch with porton mosto verde pisco, zucca,
lime, cinnamon, and cusquena beer, plus a basket of plantain chips

The details: Tanta, 118 W. Grand Ave., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at Fig & Olive

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Fig & Olive Dinner

Octopus a la gallega, Fig & Olive

Octopus a la gallega with thinly sliced braised octopus, marinated bell pepper, heirloom potato, black olive, basil, arugula, and pimenton lemon dressing

Best Bite: I couldn’t pick a favorite between my first and second courses, both seafood-focused. The first was a gorgeous mosaic of thinly sliced octopus and other colorful, zingy accompaniments. The second was a paella del mar that was absolutely packed with oceanic ingredients nestled into creamy saffron rice.

Paella del mar, Fig & Olive

Paella del mar with black tiger shrimp, sea scallop, calamari, mussels, saffron rice, chicken, green pea, red bell pepper, artichoke, saffron aioli, pimenton, and oregano

Other notes: Pot de crème is a classic dessert from Fig & Olive – I first had it when I visited the New York location, and it still captures chocolate and vanilla at their finest. The interior was quintessential Gold Coast chic, and our upper-level table overlooked the stately live olive trees sprouting from behind the bar.

Chocolate pot de crème, Fig & Olive

Chocolate pot de crème with crunchy praline financiers and vanilla cream

The details: Fig & Olive, 104 E. Oak St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at Big Jones

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

Big Jones Dinner

Alligator and andouille sauce piquant, Big Jones

Alligator and andouille sauce piquant with Louisiana gator tail and house-made andouille simmered in a piquant red sauce, served with popcorn rice

Best Bite: I went into this Louisiana Mardi Gras–themed menu knowing I wanted to order the gator tail as my main course, and it exceeded my expectations. Tender pieces of alligator and andouille sausage swam in a fiery red sauce, right at that heat level where you’re acutely aware of the intensity of the spices, but aren’t slowed down or overwhelmed by them.

Skillet cheddar cornbread, Big Jones

Skillet cheddar cornbread with Hook’s cheddar, jalapeños, and scallions

Other notes: The second-course skillets of golden cornbread were a hit with the whole group, irresistibly augmented by cheddar, scallions, jalapeños, and plenty of butter. It was fun to have a classic Mardi Gras king cake as dessert, too – colored sugar and all. Our party of seven was seated at a table right in the window, which made it feel like an extra-special feast.

The details: Big Jones, 5347 N. Clark St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2015: Dinner at The Bedford

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2015, held January 30–February 12. Check out recaps from 2014 and 2013, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage.

The Bedford Dinner

Burrata & squash, The Bedford

Burrata & squash with apple butter, pumpkin seed granola, and basil

Best Bite: If there’s burrata on a menu, there’s a very good chance I’ll order it, but the way The Bedford paired the ultra-creamy cheese with squash was especially unique. A swipe of apple butter and crumbles of pumpkin seed granola made it almost like a sweet-leaning breakfast dish, and crispy basil added balance. I actually doubled up on squash with my main course, and am glad I did, because the nutty, cheesy, brown butter-soaked agnolotti was the height of comfort.

Roasted squash agnolotti, The Bedford

Roasted squash agnolotti with brown butter, cipollini onions, pecorino, and pistachio

Other notes: The other pasta option was also exceptional. A more toothsome noodle matched the hearty ragu, which smartly combined fennel and mint with the lamb. And the atmosphere is certainly worth noting: the restaurant is a converted bank vault, so it was fun to take in all the dramatic details.

Lamb ragu, The Bedford

Lamb ragu with paccheri pasta, fennel pollen, pecorino, and torn mint

The details: The Bedford, 1612 W. Division St., Chicago.

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