Best Bites

Best Bites: Focaccia French toast & eggs in purgatory, Coda di Volpe

Focaccia french toast, Coda di Volpe

Focaccia french toast with Nutella whipped cream, candied orange syrup, and buffalo butter

Why it’s a Best Bite: I tend to adore Italian-influenced brunch, so this newcomer to the Southport Corridor seemed worthy of a visit. Coda di Volpe excelled equally in the sweet and savory realms, which is not an easy feat. On the sweet side, the focaccia French toast was dense and decadent in the best way. Each substantial slice of focaccia was topped with buffalo’s milk butter and a scoop of Nutella whipped cream, plus candied orange syrup and hazelnuts on the plate as accompaniments. It was a fantastic (and rich) combination of flavors.

Eggs in purgatory and classic bellini, Coda di Volpe

Eggs in Purgatory with baked eggs, spicy tomato, provola, polenta cake, and fennel sausage; and classic bellini with white peach and prosecco

On the savory side, the eggs in purgatory were sizzling in both spiciness and temperature. I loved every part of this dish, from the polenta to the sausage to the baked eggs bathed in tomato sauce. To quench the heat, I sipped a refreshing bellini of prosecco and white peach.

Our table also shared an order of bomboloni with three dipping sauces. The dough itself was slightly less sweet, so the orange, grape, and chocolate sauces were more necesssary for balance.

Bomboloni, Coda di Volpe

Bomboloni with candied orange syrup, chocolate sauce, and concord grape jam

The details: Coda di Volpe, 3335 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

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Travel Eats

Travel Eats: Macarons, crêpes & more in Paris, France

Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.

Macarons, Pierre Hermé

Arabesque (apricot and pistachio), passion fruit, and coffee macarons, Pierre Hermé

I vacationed in Europe for 10 days at the beginning of the month, and three of those days were spent in Paris at peak springtime bloom. Brilliantly colored flowers seemed to show up everywhere we looked, and I have to believe that made the food taste even better.

One of my Parisian goals was to sample some authentic French macarons, and Pierre Hermé was consistently recommended as the best. From the first bite, I knew these were unlike any I’d eaten previously. The delicate domed exterior gave way to a chewy interior, where rich fillings took on the purest form of passion fruit, coffee, and other flavors. These macarons were so good that we went back to Pierre Hermé twice more – once to a different location in Paris, and once to the London outpost (so that we could tote macaron boxes on our return flight that were only a day old).

Ham and cheese crêpe, Chalet du Grand Palais

Ham and cheese crêpe, Chalet du Grand Palais

Another Parisian mainstay is the crêpe, served street-side in a cone shape for maximum portability. This one was from a kiosk that we came across as we began our stroll down the Champs Elysées. The classic combination of ham and (lots of) cheese was definitely the right way to go – simple savory snack perfection.

For dinner, we took our Airbnb host’s recommendation for a typical French bistro and landed at Bonvivant. Their take on steak frites involved rare ribeye and compound herb butter flanked by salad and thick-cut fries. It was hearty, but still elegant enough to pair with a glass of dry rosé.

Steak frites, Bonvivant

Beef ribeye steak with meat jus, house-made fries, and herb butter (and a glass of rosé), Bonvivant

For breakfast, the croissants from aforementioned Pierre Hermé also somehow managed to outshine the rest of their pastry competition. Isaphan is the patisserie’s best-known flavor combination: rose, raspberry, and lychee, and the croissant version infused those flavors into the filling, glaze, and candied petals on top. It was so uniquely delicious that I was genuinely forlorn about taking the last bite.

Isaphan and chocolate-pistachio croissants, Pierre Hermé

Isaphan (rose, raspberry, and lychee) and chocolate-pistachio croissants, Pierre Hermé

Quiche lorraine, Maison Eric Kayser

Quiche lorraine, Maison Eric Kayser

Another morning, I tried a typical quiche lorraine from another bakery chain, Eric Kayser, and the texture was even creamier than I expected. There was also no shortage of bacon, which made it especially filling.

Coffee is a must in Paris as well, and we’d read about Le Peloton, an especially charming bike-themed café in the Marais neighborhood. The generously sized cortado was worthy of a break from exploration.

Cortado, Le Peloton Café

Cortado, Le Peloton Café

Because the spring weather was so pleasant, we picnicked at the Jardins du Luxembourg one afternoon with sandwiches from nearby bakery Gérard Mulot. My sandwich was simply dressed: lettuce, juicy tomato, sliced chicken, and tarragon mayonnaise, which all sunk into the pillowy seeded bread. The sandwich was perfectly balanced on its own, but rounding out my lunch with a pear and a small bottle of rosé certainly didn’t hurt. The macarons at Gérard Mulot had also been highly recommended, so we selected a colorful variety for dessert. My favorite of the bunch was the aromatic pineapple-ginger, whose vivid yellow color blended right into the flowers.

Chicken sandwich, Gérard Mulot

Chicken sandwich (with rosé and a pear), Gérard Mulot

Chocolate, grapefruit-rose, pineapple-ginger, and Amaryllis (raspberry buttercream and jam) macarons, Gérard Mulot

Amaryllis (raspberry buttercream and jam), pineapple-ginger, chocolate, and rose macarons, Gérard Mulot

On our last night in Paris, we timed our evening so that we could see the sparkling Eiffel Tower lights at nighttime. A lacey, piping hot crêpe stuffed with Nutella and bananas made the view that much more magical.

Nutella-banana crêpe, Le Kiosque des Fontaines

Nutella-banana crêpe, Le Kiosque des Fontaines

The details: Pierre Hermé at Publicis Drugstore, 133 Avenue des Champs Elysées, and at 72 Rue Bonaparte; Chalet du Grand Palais, 9 Avenue des Champs Elysées; Bonvivant, 7 Rue des Écoles; Maison Eric Kayser, 13 Boulevard Diderot; Le Peloton Café, 17 Rue du Pont Louis Philippe; Gérard Mulot, 76 Rue de Seine; Le Kiosque des Fontaines, Place de Varsovie; all Paris, France.

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Delicious Events

Delicious Event: Joy the Baker Over Easy demo & book signing

Mini ham and bourbon-peach jam biscuits from Joy the Baker Over Easy cookbook

Mini ham and bourbon-peach jam biscuits from Joy the Baker Over Easy cookbook

Joy Wilson started Joy the Baker in 2008, one of the very first food blogs I started reading regularly, so it was surreal to finally meet Joy in person. Her blog has been a go-to resource for any manner of baked goods (especially cookies) and savory dishes (her summery peach tomato mozzarella crostini were captured in my very early Instagram days). Her pancake recipes also never disappoint, including the peanut-butter-bacon-banana pancakes that showed up on this blog a few years back.

The event was held at Read It & Eat in Lincoln Park, a culinary bookstore that also holds cooking classes and author demos like this one. Joy was in the middle of a tour to promote her third cookbook, Over Easy, which celebrates all things brunch.

Joy the Baker cooking demo

Joy assembling the biscuit sandwiches during the demo

During the demo, Joy showed us mixing methods for butter and buttermilk that would ensure maximum biscuit fluffiness. For the jam, she jazzed up canned peach preserves by adding lemon juice, lemon zest, honey, and bourbon (as you do). Two jam-slathered biscuit halves and a slice of country ham combined for a lovely two-bite sandwich.

Throughout the event, Joy was just as friendly, sharp, and playful as her writing had suggested all these years. When she signed my book, we chatted like we’d known each other a while; she just had a way of making everyone feel at ease (a shared love of good food will often do that). I can’t wait to start trying some of these brunch recipes – first stop: French toast breakfast burritos.

Over Easy cookbook signed by Joy

My cookbook, signed by Joy, plus a donut Joy the Baker patch

The details: Joy the Baker at Read It & Eat, 2142 N. Halsted St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Dinner at Celeste

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Shake & Fries, Celeste

Shake & Fries with french fry panna cotta, nutella mousse, and fry crumbles

Best Bite: I’d only been to Celeste for drinks in their rooftop garden, but hadn’t yet tried the food. The “Shake & Fries” dessert was probably the most intriguing and bizarre item on any of my destinations’ menus this year, described as a French fry panna cotta with Nutella mousse and fry crumbles. But, surprise! The sweet and salty worked very well, just like dipping fries into a chocolate Frosty. The parfait was a little precarious to eat at first, given the mountain of fry pieces on top, but it was worth it once you were able to dig down for a bite of all three components together.

Eggplant involtini, Celeste

Eggplant involtini with eggplant, ricotta, goat, & pecorino cheese, seasonal veggies, tomato sauce, and crostini

Other notes: My other favorite dish was the eggplant involtini, mostly because of the garlicky marinara and the three kinds of cheese inside the rolled eggplant slices.The bulgogi lamb chops were also a nice starter, with lots of glazed veggies on the side.

Bulgogi lamb chops, Celeste

Bulgogi lamb chops with honey glazed romanesco and baby carrots

The details: Celeste, 111 W. Hubbard St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Dinner at ZED451

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Butterscotch bread pudding, ZED451

Butterscotch bread pudding with housemade marshmallow

Best Bite: This was my first time back at ZED451 since Restaurant Week 2014. The all-you-can-eat strategy for salads and meats still made it Restaurant Week’s best value, but interestingly, dessert is what stole the show for me on this latest visit. A housemade marshmallow disc was bruléed on top of the butterscotch bread pudding in the most exceptional way, fully melted inside but still holding its crisp exterior.

Harvest table, ZED451

Salads, cheeses, charcuterie, and more from the harvest table

Other notes: Just as before, the harvest table was overwhelming. I especially enjoyed the veggie salads, from beets to carrots to brussels sprouts, and also the array of cheeses with fig and apricot accompaniments. All three meats served tableside – sirloin steak, glazed salmon, and Moroccan-spiced chicken – were even better than I remembered. My next visit may have to be during brunch, which is also unlimited and around the same Restaurant Week price point.

Char-grilled sirloin, ZED451

Char-grilled sirloin, served tableside with Moroccan chicken and Szechuan-glazed salmon

The details: ZED451, 739 N. Clark St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Dinner at Gene & Georgetti

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Broiled filet mignon, Gene & Georgetti

Broiled filet mignon with sautéed spinach

Best Bite: Gene & Georgetti proudly boasts the title of Chicago’s oldest steakhouse. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t seem to have changed very much from when it opened in 1941. Not surprisingly, the steak was the star of the meal. The filet had the right amount of well-seasoned crust, and the garlicky spinach on the side kept with the no-frills theme.

Crab cake, Gene & Georgetti

Housemade crab cake with remoulade

Other notes: The crab cake was classically prepared, with zesty remoulade and old-school garnishes. And as our group wrapped up the meal with tiramisu and coffee, you could almost hear the decades of Chicago business conversations echoing off the dark wood paneling.

Tiramisu and coffee, Gene & Georgetti

Tiramisu and coffee

The details: Gene & Georgetti, 500 N. Franklin St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Brunch at Appellation

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Duck confit and vegetable hash, Appellation

Duck confit and vegetable hash with cheddar grits and poached egg

Best Bite: Appellation is the full-service restaurant attached to Pastoral’s relatively new Andersonville location, and was among those offering brunch this year. I’m usually more of a savory brunch person, so the duck confit hash with delicata squash, carrots, and poached eggs was just what I wanted. The cheesy grits at the bottom of the bowl were also a welcome switch from the typical potato base. However, the dish that left the very best impression on me was actually the pancakes. I’m not sure whether it was the dense texture of the cakes or the orange butter on top, but they were excellent.

Buttermilk pancakes, Appellation

Buttermilk pancakes with orange butter and warm maple syrup

Other notes: The baked eggs in squash cream were another creative take on a classic savory dish, especially because you could load up each slice of baguette with a pile of prosciutto, arugula, and the creamy eggs. I was so full at the end of the meal that I didn’t even browse the cheese and artisanal food selection for which Pastoral is most known – that will have to merit its own separate visit.

Baked eggs, Appellation

Baked eggs in squash cream with proscuitto San Daniele, agro dolce onions, arugula, and baguette

The details: Appellation, 5212 N. Clark St., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Dinner at de Quay

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Chicken sate skewer, de Quay

Chicken sate skewer with beef and vegetable nasi goreng, peanut sauce, and traditional condiments

Sauteed shrimp, de Quay

Sautéed shrimp with shittake mushroom-fennel-roasted garlic dumplings, babi pangang beurre blanc, green beans, and pickled hot peppers

Best Bite: De Quay’s combination of Dutch and Indonesian cuisines has intrigued me ever since they opened, so Restaurant Week felt like the right time to try it out. Both entrée options had a lot going on – the marinated, lightly charred chicken skewers came with spicy rice, mild pickles, and two sauces; the pan-seared shrimp were joined by mushroom dumplings, green bean-pickled pepper salad, and a rich panang beurre blanc. They both showcased a broad range of influences, but still came together well.

Brabant roll, de Quay

Brabant roll with pork farce and smoked rookworst with pistachios rolled in puff pastry, with groningen mustard veloute and dried fruit compote

Other notes: The brabant roll was the first-course winner, a decadent appetizer that brought together flaky pastry, smoky pork, dried fruit, and mustard sauce. And while I was jolted at first by the neon green buttercream atop the cocoa cake, it worked nicely with the curried pineapple. We also had the warm housemade stroopwafel with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream on the side, and while humble in appearance, we agreed it was far superior to any stroopwafel we’d ever had.

Nederlands cocoa cake, de Quay

Nederlands cocoa cake with pandan buttercream and curried pineapple compote

The details: de Quay, 2470 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Dinner at Table, Donkey & Stick

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Glazed duck breast, Table, Donkey & Stick

Glazed duck breast with butternut squash, buttered cabbage, Louisiana popcorn rice, and maple & fenugreek glaze

Best Bite: Table, Donkey & Stick specializes in alpine cuisine, which seems especially appropriate for winter. The main course was a beautifully cooked duck breast in a bowl full of comforting accompaniments: buttered cabbage, squash, and nutty rice. And how pretty is that ring of sticky-sweet glaze?

Lentils and latkes, Table, Donkey & Stick

French green lentils with smoked mushroom and roasted kale; Yukon Gold potato latkes with roasted garlic aioli

Other notes: The green lentils were on point in both seasoning and texture, with major umami from the smoked mushrooms, and the decision to present the latkes as wedges to be dunked in aioli was a seriously genius one. I also swooned over the silky duck liver mousse with chili powder and sweet preserves, spread onto piping-hot baguette for the ultimate appetizer bite. I was very impressed by the whole experience, including attentive service throughout the meal. I’m a little ashamed that it took me so long to visit a restaurant of this caliber in my own neighborhood, but I’ll just chalk it up as another Restaurant Week success story.

Duck liver mousse and gouda, Table, Donkey & Stick

Duck liver mousse with preserves, chili powder, and oregano; Boerenkaas gouda with honey, walnuts, and sourdough rye baguette

The details: Table, Donkey & Stick, 2728 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago.

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Restaurant Week

Chicago Restaurant Week 2017: Dinner at Avec

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week 2017, held January 27–February 9. View all of this year’s meal recaps, or browse all Restaurant Week coverage from 2013-17.

Chorizo-stuffed medjool dates, Avec

Chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce

Best Bite: It’s hard to outdo the chorizo-stuffed medjool dates: they’re not only Avec’s most popular menu item, but are also among the most iconic dishes in all of Chicago. The sweet-spicy-smoky combination of dates, bacon, chorizo, and tomato sauce is just as unstoppable now as when I wrote about it in this blog’s very first week.

Brussels sprout panzanella, Avec

Brussels sprout panzanella with pickled raisins, calabrian chiles, and aged sheep’s milk cheese

Other notes: The Restaurant Week menu only had one option per course, but because it was a “greatest hits” approach, we weren’t complaining. The second course was an outstandingly balanced salad of shredded brussels sprouts, chiles, salty cheese, and raisins; the third a full pan of paella with head-on shrimp, chicken thigh, and tangerine aioli. Avec’s desserts tend to harness simplicity for maximum impact – these nutter butter squares, for example – and this evening’s creamy chocolate mousse with espresso crumble was no exception.

Chocolate cremeaux, Avec

Chocolate cremeaux with espresso cookie crumble and chicory creme fraiche

The details: Avec, 615 W. Randolph St., Chicago.

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