Best Bites, Chicago

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

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

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

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

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 with honey-mustard

Chicken nuggets with honey-mustard

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

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.

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Chicago, 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 Dinner

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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Best Bites, Chicago

2014 Best Bite #24: Skate wing, Mexique

For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.

Skate wing, Mexique

Achiote-and-tequila pan-seared skate wing with cauliflower, plantains, pickled grapes, spinach, and tomato-habanero beurre blanc

Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: I first dined at Mexique the weekend of my culinary school graduation, and it was such a memorable meal that I can’t believe it took four years to make it back. On both occasions, skate wing was the standout dish for me. In this year’s version, the seared skate had an incredibly velvety texture, punctuated by pickled grapes, plantains, and watermelon radish. And while a plate full of sauce would usually seem like overkill, the added heat and creaminess here was just right.

The details: Mexique, 1529 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago.

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Chicago, Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week 2013: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, Sunda, and Frontier

This is part of a series of posts about Chicago Restaurant Week, held February 1–10, 2013.

Lunch at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Endive salad with blue cheese and almonds, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Endive and blue cheese salad with almonds and membrillo, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Best Bite: The generously portioned endive salad was a unique start to our lively meal. Amid the tang of blue cheese and vinaigrette, I especially appreciated the membrillo (sweet quince paste) and marcona almonds. Colorful, too – especially with my pomegranate mimosa as a backdrop. See full menu.

Other notes: Definitely the best value of the week, with soup, bread, cold tapas, warm tapas, and dessert for the $22 lunch price – it was the first time I took home leftovers! Speaking of the soup, it was creamy, comforting mushroom, with a manchego toast that made it feel almost like a Spanish version of french onion soup. Also enjoyed my petite caramelized banana dessert, with lots of crushed pistachios. Cheerful, bustling atmosphere as always.

Mushroom soup with manchego toast, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Mushroom soup with manchego toast, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

The details: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba, 2024 N Halsted St., Chicago.

Dinner at Sunda

Miso-bronzed black cod with red curry and glazed eggplant, Sunda

Miso-bronzed black cod with red curry and glazed eggplant, Sunda

Best Bite: So many fun courses at Sunda, but I couldn’t get enough of this miso-bronzed black cod. Don’t let its plain appearance fool you: the buttery fish was ultra-flavorful from the miso and red curry, and the glazed eggplant underneath was a revelation for this eggplant skeptic. It also served as a nice contrast to pork belly sticks in the previous course, and left enough room for me to enjoy my chocolate mousse for dessert. See full menu.

Other notes: Besides the great food, our group of 8 also thoroughly relished Sunda’s exotic cocktails. Of all the varieties, the Grass Tiger (below) was the clear winner for me. I adored the heat of jalapeño-infused gin with cool ginger beer, mint, lemongrass, and more citrus. You can even check out the restaurant’s Vine video of a bartender mixing this delicious drink.

Grass Tiger cocktail, Sunda

Grass Tiger cocktail with jalapeño-infused gin and ginger beer, Sunda

The details: Sunda, 110 W Illinois St., Chicago.

Dinner at Frontier

Wild boar chop with sweet potato puree, Frontier

Wild boar chop with sweet potato puree, Frontier

Best Bite: When I saw all the game meat featured on Frontier’s gastropub-y menu, I knew I’d go straight for the wild boar chop. I loved the flavors of the meat and sauce, and with the sweet potato puree, toasted marshmallow, and crispy kale, it was basically a hunter’s Thanksgiving. See full menu.

Other notes: Duck tacos and antelope meatballs with gnocchi were both tasty starters, and Frontier pulled off its s’more dessert with just the right level of char and melty chocolate. Great beers and cozy fireplace too.

S'more, Frontier

S’more, Frontier

The details: Frontier, 1072 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #11: Mozzarella sticks, Roots Handmade Pizza

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Mozzarella sticks

Mozzarella sticks

Why it’s a Best Bite: These earn the distinction of being the first memorable cheese sticks I’ve ever had. It’s largely due to the mozzarella, which is hand-stretched in-house (as seen in this video), plus expertly seasoned breadcrumbs. Dunking these into marinara was a fantastic way to begin a meal outside on Roots’ patio with a few of my closest girlfriends.

The details: Roots Handmade Pizza, 1924 W Chicago Ave., Chicago.

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