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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Chicago, 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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Chicago, 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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