December, It’s A Wrap!
December didn't disappoint and while there were too many holiday events to recap, here are some of the highlights!
The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group is back, with a new innovative concept called Steadfast. The restaurant is located in the heart of Chicago’s Financial District, on the first floor of The Kimpton Gray Hotel. A lot of Chicago loop eateries I feel are focused on catering to business lunches and happy hours, so its refreshing to see a restaurant in the loop that aims to appeal to those who are passionate about exploring gourmet food and culinary talent in the city.
With the talented Chef Ender Oktayuren heading the scene, an in-house Pastry Chef, a Mixologist and a Sommelier, Steadfast promises to be a top contender in Chicago’s food scene.
I was fortunate to be invited in for a tasting recently, and catch the restaurant in its finest weeknight vibe, which was all entirely pleasing. The interiors itself showcase such architectural charm and graceful ambiance, that it makes you want to stay and relax long after your meal.
Before I talk about my favorite eats from the tasting, I want to mention my cocktails of choice, The Curtain Call with tangueray, lilet rose, wild rose and a shimmering cube of rose ice, and The Passion Fruit Dream, with rum, cacacha and passion fruit which instantly satellited me to a beach somewhere. These were both a cool, refreshing start to our dinner.
The Artisan Bread Basket was the most beautifully presented bread platter I have seen in my life. A nice arrangement of the Za’atar Sourdough, Cheddar Pretzel, Pumpkin Seed Bun, and an Everything Franchese (were our choices), served with their pickled, violet cauliflower and three delectable butters and oils . The Honey Oaxacan was delicately sweet with hints of nectar and something very therapeutic about it. I smeared away on the breads until I realized that I had to save room for the rest.
The Pimiento Cheese, a patron favorite, came with another delicious Sourdough Pretzel and was chunky, yet spreadable with nice hints of pimiento and cayenne. A lovely appetizer snack!
Another crowd favorite I heard, was the Lobster Bisque and my favorite pick from the night, also. The soup was poured tableside over a bowl of cucumber, chilies, lemon, and lobster meat, was a bowlful of comfort. It had intense flavors but allowed the freshness of the lobster to come through. I can see how this dish has earned its popularity
The Roasted Beet Salad kept its end of the bargain and gave the meal a nice, light touch with assorted golden and red beets, sunflower seeds, whipped goat cheese and citrus vinaigrette. Loved the simplicity of this dish, but moreover blown away by Chef’s precision in presentation. I took so many pictures of this dish, because it was so pretty to even look at.
Our Main Courses included the Sea Scallops, and the highly awaited and buzzed Halibut with risotto, parsley and escargot. The Halibut was as satisfying as I had imagined it to be. The Scallops were presented in a variation I’ve never had before so definitely wins points for uniqueness. The scallops, perfectly seared, came on a tasty duxuelles with preserved lemon and sauce vierge, was loaded generously with golden fried mushrooms. You have to like mushroom, to like this dish, but who doesn’t like mushrooms?!
Desserts were a whole different ball game, and probably deserve a blog of its own. Each dessert was based around a specific fruit, so we chose the grape and the pomegranate one. The Persimmon is the dessert I would pick for you to try at Steadfast. I wouldn’t do justice describing this with words, so you’ll have to try it for yourself. But know that it has cinnamon, pomegranate and caramelized white chocolate that together will knock your socks off.
My meal at Steadfast can be described in one word as, Dreamy! Chef Ender, who’s background boasts many kitchens including Sixteen (The Trump Tower), where he earned a Michelin star, is committed to using as many natural flavors and ingredients as he can, to present the most fancy dishes which still retain comforting elements within them.
I absolutely can’t wait to return to try their Spring menu! Give it a try!
Hubbard Inn knows how to launch a new menu and then throw a party to showcase it, that guests will never forget. At a recent media event, I got to try some really fun food and drinks there, including items from their new winter menu.
As some of you may know, that this River North neighborhood’s premier restaurant/lounge offers quintessential mid-century cocktails and small plates in an intimate, antique setting with an unconventional décor. That is exactly the lure for patrons, including myself. There is something so cosy yet charming about their space. Guests were treated to featured cocktails for the night, such as the widely popular; Colorado Sunrise which had a tantalizing red chile infused vodka that I can still taste in my mouth!
The event also saw a raw seafood bar with a server arranging platters of seafood for guests and was so popular that there was a line out the door.
Incase you were wondering, there absolutely was a Dessert Station also, where Chef was making first hand fresh Apple Turnovers as he fried them and then glazed them with a finger-licking maple butter. There was also a gooey Chocolate Cake which I ate a whole piece of Bye, bye calories!
An event and space that just didn’t make you feel like leaving. Guests stayed well after the event was over and had a gala time!
I work two blocks from the Merchandise Mart and always wish I spent more time in their beautiful space. A few weeks ago, I got to do just that, when I got invited to attend a Meet and Greet with food legend Ina Pinkney in the new Viking Range/La Cornue showroom at the mart. It was a gathering of an intimate group of guests who mingled and watched Ina do a live demo of a Pasta Frittata that she made for us in one of the new Viking ovens in the showroom.
The showroom had been cutely decorated and guests even got to take home a whisk with a ribbon tied on it, as a parting gift. During the demo (which we watched while sipping on our mimosas), in true Ina style, she shared stories of her personal and culinary life interwoven with her personal struggles that led to her success today.
The frittata itself was phenomenal with unique touches of cream cheese I’d never had in a dish like that before. Right there, I understood why Ina is who she is today.
The oven was state of the art, and we got to test it out with our frittata which cooked in it. A talking oven that can save your profile? Sign me up!
Everything about this event was warm, festive, and simple. The event was also streamed live on Facebook by host Margaret McSweeney of Kitchen Chat, where she took questions from the social media audience as well as audience in the studio that Ina graciously answered.
I spent an intimate evening at former Masterchef Contestant Sheetal Bhagat’s place recently along with other Chicago foodies and friends and it was the most wonderful time. The reason we were there, was to taste Sheetal’s first line of premium tequila blanco, all infused with natural spices. A mixologist was personally creating hand-crafted cocktails such as the Jaliscan Honey and te Pure Pearadise the using the liquor.
Guests were also treated to heavy appetizers, cheese and charcuterie, that helped us truly savor the tastes of the tequila. Every bite and every sip left a desired earthiness with a smooth finish. Currently, only available in two flavors, Cumin and Cinnamon, you can get your bottle at a Binny’s or Whole Foods nearby. Seriously, you’ll have some of the most artful holiday cocktails!
The most anticipated event of the winter for this seafoodie, The Feast of the Seven Fishes, finally arrived. I was invited in by Acanto this year to taste their special menu and made it in just in time on the seventh day of this weeklong celebration. Bonus, I got to bring my seafood-loving colleague with me to join in the experience.
The vibe is the coolest at this restaurant with a window spanning bustling Michigan avenue, and an intimate décor and a wall-to-wall wine cellar on one side of the restaurant.
Executive Chef, Chris Gawronski had created a special menu entirely for this Italian American tradition, and the special that night was the Zuppa Di Sette Pesci (Seafood Stew). How perfect for me I thought, especially since Bouillabaisse is my favorite dish in the world. Right up my alley!
Before we delved into the stew, there were a few other items I had wanted to try. Afterall, I’ve always known that Acanto accommodates its pescetarians guests well!
So after indulging in a glass of the delicious Hard to Forget, with buffalo trace, averna amaro and smoke (put together tableside), I ordered the Salt Cod Croquettes. In addition to that lip -smacking saffron aioli it came with, the croquets were so creamy on the inside and all-around tasty, that I’m not sure why its not a more widely offered bar snack in Chicago.
The flavors of the cod with the earthy aioli simply melted in my mouth. A tasty start indeed!
The Salt Roasted Beets salad was really well-done as the flavor of the beets was enhanced by the citrus and Finnochhino cheese also in it. I’d say a nice dish to add some lightness to your meal.
For the primi, we had two housemade pasta dishes, both extremely pleasing. The Spaghetti which our server urged us to get, came with Maine lobster, Calabrian chili and fennel. The sauce had just the perfect kick to augment flavors of the tender lobster pieces that were mixed into it.
The all-vegetarian Cappelletti was the coolest take on a Cacio e Pepe, and came served in a rich, buttery sauce in Robiola (Italian soft ripened cheese) and lemon. I loved this dish so much, I purposely left some to bring home. You know that’s sacrifice.
Then arrived the grand Seafood Stew, which was the whole reason we were there.
A giant, piping-hot bowl came out comprising of swordfish (flown directly from Massachusetts) , mussels, clams, octopus, and shrimp swimming in an aromatic shellfish broth with capers, roasted fennel and Fresno chilies. Honestly, for me, a soup like this tells me how authentic an Italian restaurant is. And just from a tiny taste of the broth, I knew that Chef had nailed this classic. A beautifully executed dish, with all my favorite fruits of the sea, in the form of a delicious stew. I had many portions of the soup, enough to say no to dessert. For me, that’s saying something.
I also forgot to mention that our very cool server, also brought us the most perfect glass of the Roero Arneis Matteo Corregia red wine, which paired very well with the soup. A reminder of how important the drink accompaniment is for such dishes.
With our hearts happy and our bellies stuffed, we concluded our remarkable dinner, and already couldn’t wait for next year.
There really is no better place than Acanto, to experience this feast, because I can assure you that it will be an unforgettable one!