Best Bites, Chicago

Best Bites: Chocolate cinnamon roll & gas station sandwich, City Mouse

Chocolate cinnamon roll, City Mouse

Chocolate cinnamon roll with espresso and marshmallow

City Mouse is the all-day eatery inside the West Loop’s still-new Ace Hotel. It’s helmed by Jason Vincent, currently of Giant and formerly of Nightwood. I’ve missed Nightwood’s brunch since they closed 2 years ago, so I was hoping City Mouse would be somewhat of a reincarnation.

We had to start with this cinnamon roll, which combined all the best dessert flavors (espresso, chocolate, caramel, and marshmallow) into a caramelized morning masterpiece. I would easily go back for that alone.

Gas station sandwich, City Mouse

Gas station sandwich with hashbrown, egg, cheese, grape jelly, and sausage, served with Michigan-grown fruit

I already knew the gas station breakfast sandwich was emerging as an early favorite from the brunch menu, so I had to try it for myself. And sure enough, I was delighted to find that the hashbrowns bore a striking resemblance to the ones served with Nightwood’s legendary bagel sandwich – just in a flatter form. The humble grape jelly did its job in pulling the meat, egg, and cheese together, and even the fruit on the side was an especially pleasant mix of apricots, strawberries, and blueberries. We sat on the sprawling glass-walled patio, whose fire pits will surely make it a hit into the cooler months as well.

Patio, City Mouse

Glass-walled patio, with a view of Google across the street

The details: City Mouse at Ace Hotel Chicago, 311 N. Morgan St., Chicago.

Best Bites, Chicago

Best Bites: Loaded baked potato gnocchi, chicken nuggets & more, Split-Rail

Loaded baked potato gnocchi, Split-Rail

Loaded baked potato gnocchi with bacon, sour cream, Hook’s 5-year cheddar, and crispy potato skins

I had the chance to talk to Chef Zoë Schor a few years about a female chef-focused Restaurant Week menu and have always been impressed by her food, so when she left Ada Street to open her own restaurant, I knew it would be one to watch. Split-Rail finally opened in June, putting a fresh spin on nostalgic foods of her childhood.

The loaded baked potato gnocchi was a no-brainer, and my favorite take on baked potato since Parachute’s bing bread. It hits the bacon, cheese, chive, and sour cream notes, but the texture of the gnocchi itself – crispy edges, soft interior – is what makes the dish.

Linguine and clams, Split-Rail

Linguine and clams with egg yolk linguine, briny clams, charred leek, and uni butter

I’m glad my dining companions pushed for the linguine and clams, because it ended up being my other favorite dish. It was briny, spicy, lemony, and buttery (uni butter, no less!), with plenty of clams swirled into the rich, eggy pasta.

And then there were the chicken nuggets. The breading was audibly crunchy and perfectly salted, with a grainy honey mustard sauce that had a heavy hit of citrus for extra brightness.

Chicken nuggets, Split-Rail

Chicken nuggets with honey-mustard

The Breakers cocktail, Split-Rail

The Breakers cocktail with Gamle Ode Dill aquavit, apricot shrub, black pepper, mace, and basil

My cocktail, The Breakers, was also a pleasant surprise. The apricot and basil put it in standard summer territory, but adding in the dill aquavit and black pepper made it exceedingly savory. It worked, though, especially with the mustard and chicken nuggets at the start of the meal.

The details: Split-Rail, 2500 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago.

Best Bites, Chicago

Best Bites: The Hop Mess waffles & deviled eggs, Rhyme or Reason

The Hop Mess waffles, Rhyme or Reason

The Hop Mess with Revolution Sun Crusher wheat ale-infused waffles, brown sugar-candied bacon, Sun Crusher-infused maple syrup, and fresh berries

While I was sad to see the Wicker Park location of Jerry’s close last year (the endless sandwich menu overwhelmed in a delightful way), I was happy to try out its replacement. Rhyme or Reason is a gastropub that draws inspiration from retro ’70s themes, and its sprawling front patio was especially inviting on a sunny Saturday morning.

I decided to try The Hop Mess, brand new to the menu as a month-long collaboration with Revolution Brewing. Both the waffle batter and the maple syrup were (very) heavily infused with Revolution Brewing’s Sun Crusher, a new seasonal wheat ale that was already a favorite of mine from earlier in the summer. Together with blueberries, candied bacon, and whipped cream, the hoppy malted waffles really worked (especially with a cup of coffee for balance).

Deviled eggs with espresso-bacon jam, Rhyme or Reason

Deviled eggs with espresso-bacon jam

My friend and I also snacked on these deviled eggs before entrees arrived. A sticky smear of espresso-bacon jam on top of each creamy egg set the sweet-and-savory brunch tone. And while the patio was great, I’d easily return in cooler weather to challenge someone to a game of giant Connect Four in the lounge area next to the colorful bar.

Colorful bar, Rhyme or Reason

Colorful bar with hand-shaped light fixtures

The details: Rhyme or Reason, 1938 W. Division St., Chicago.

Best Bites, Chicago

Best Bites: Queso fundido with longaniza, lamb albondiga & more, Mi Tocaya Antojería

Spicy peach-lime frozen margarita, Mi Tocaya

Spicy peach-lime frozen margarita

Chef Diana Davila recently took over a prime spot on Logan Boulevard to cook her family’s soulful Mexican recipes. Mi Tocaya Antojería is the kind of cozy-yet-exciting restaurant that everyone should want in their neighborhood, so I feel very lucky to have it in mine. Each dish blended the familiar and the unexpected, starting with a vibrant peach-lime frozen margarita that was on special the night I visited. It was fruity at first, but the garnish packed some intense heat, a slow build with every citrusy sip.

Guisado de nopalitos, Mi Tocaya

Guisado de nopalitos with fried cheese curds

I’ve eaten nopalitos (cactus) a few times, but hadn’t ever found it noteworthy until this dish. It was tender and meaty, with just enough heat from the chiles, and the fried cheese curds were a creative and decadent touch.

The queso fundido was a great example of a familiar appetizer that’s nearly ubiquitous on standard Mexican menus, but is rarely memorable and often a little too greasy. Mi Tocaya’s version wasn’t greasy at all, in large part because the typical chorizo was replaced by longaniza, a sweet Filipino sausage that I’ve sought out ever since a friend introduced me to it right after college. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but the char on the sausage and gooey cheese, mixed together with poblano peppers and spooned onto tortillas, was definitely something special.

Longaniza, rajas, and queso fundido, Mi Tocaya

Longaniza, rajas, and queso fundido

Lamb albondiga, Mi Tocaya

Lamb albondiga with mint, carrot, and egg

The lamb alboniga (meatball) was another dish that benefited from the influence of a separate ethnic cuisine. This time, it was North African-inspired, with the mint, carrot, and hard-boiled egg that are often seen in a tagine (like this one). It all came together well. And I had to try at least one of the tacos, deciding to go vegetarian after reading rave reviews. As with the cactus, I didn’t miss the meat at all, with textural contrast from the squash, the crema, the swipe of black beans, and even the fried pepper in the middle.

I already can’t wait until my next visit; the lengua (tongue) with peanut butter and frothy nitro horchata are at the top of my list, preferably from a seat on the boulevard-facing patio.

Milpa taco, Mi Tocaya

Milpa taco with charred butternut squash and chile, beans, and corn crema

The details: Mi Tocaya Antojeria, 2800 W. Logan Blvd., Chicago.

Best Bites, Chicago

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.

Chicago, 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.

Chicago, 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.

Chicago, 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.

Chicago, 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.

Chicago, 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.