While the weather was still cold in April, the food scene was definitely heating up in Chicago. The month started with a tasting of the newly launched Dosa-Frankie Brunch at Vermilion. Vermilion is a fun restaurant located in River North offering an amalgamation of both Latin and Indian cuisines, both of which are very dear to my heart.
For those of you not familiar with Indian street and snack food, Dosa is a rice crepe and Frankie is a paratha roll fried in egg. Both are usually served streetside with yummy fillings, traditionally either meat or potato.
Both are also comfort foods for me so you can understand my excitement when I received the invitation. At Vermilion, this new brunch menu gives both dishes a modern twist with creative fillings such as the portabella masala, duck vindaloo and achari paneer to name a few. We however commenced with the classic potato Dosa, which I especially loved because the crepe batter was housemade (just like it should be). The chutney offerings went beyond the usual tamarind and coriander ones. To give you an idea, we had the tomato chimichurri, chili mint, coconut cilantro and tandoori sour cream.
Needless to say, the Tamarind Shrimp rocked the tasting for me. Small, tender pieces of shrimp marinated in a tantalizing tamarind sauce folded into the crispy crepe, was such a delight!
Each Dosa or Frankie was also served with a serving of a deliciously flavorful Sāmbhar (lentil stew) and Kachumbar (Indian salad). All of my favorite childhood memories came rushing back with just the first bite.
The Migas Frittata was such a cool take on this egg dish. Baked spinach eggs with pico de gallo and coriander kadai sweet potatoes. Another ode to fusion and creativity! One of my favorite things about this restaurant is that it is as committed to showcasing the cross influences of both cuisines in its drinks as its food.
Their cocktails menu is elaborate and I wish we had had more time to explore, because the few that I tried were mind-blowing!!! The classic lassi of course is never disappointing, but the Pani Puri Margarita with tequila, tamarind chili and mint fusion is what did it for me. It was tangy and refreshing and can me made as a mocktail too. Their 3-C Sangria fusion is must try also, and this one’s so pretty that I felt like there was a garden floating in my drink all along. For a minute, I was afraid to disturb the ensemble.
Oh you bet we had dessert and a lot of it too. The Shahi Tukra (possibly my new favorite Indian dessert going forward (period)); a rich nut cake, doused in a warm Rabri was TASTY. It reminded me of the inside of a Gulab Jamun, which is another classic dessert I swear by.
The Vermilion Hedonism is one I’ll warn you about, only because it is dangerously good. It’s a dark chocolate cake with a chili-masala orange and a berry cardamom sorbet, which will tease and tickle your senses like no other dessert has ever done before.
Restaurants like Vermilion truly understand what it means to honor the historical and geographical influences of two cuisines by doing justice to both. And being Indian, it did everything to also satisfy my comfort food cravings.
Head on over to try this new brunch and let me know what you think!
I’m really enjoying this driving to the burbs on a Friday night for a tasting thing. So far every visit to a suburban menu tasting has been well worth it! This week was no different when I got to visit Topaz Café located in a beautiful, outdoor shopping center in Burr Ridge, and….lots of parking! You know that for us city dwellers that is the way to our hearts! And I had the company of a good friend who I was allowed to bring as my guest so the night was looking good all around.
Unfortunately, I had just come out of a bout of sickness so drinks were out of question for the evening. I dived right into the food however which is never a problem for this foodie.
On my mind was their Mushroom Risotto and the Grilled Octopus so we started with that. I had also been eyeing the scallops on the menu, and Chef Julian Ross AKA genius, happily ‘pesceteranized’ the risotto for me, by eliminating the pancetta and placing a pan seared diver scallop on top. For a minute, I just breathed the steam from the truffle oil drizzled in the Arborio rice, as I slowly began to eat spoonfuls of this creamy piece of heaven. Guys, the picture doesn’t do it justice.!
What can I say about the beautiful looking Grilled Octopus dish, which was also my favorite dish from the menu? The Mediterranean aioli and crispy fingerlings with frisee worked together to create perfect taste, texture and appearance. This dish is alone worth driving to Burr Ridge for.
It had been a full day of seafood tastings, so some greens were in order. The Roasted Beets here came in a creamy goat cheese (almost sauce) with candied pecans scattered amidst. Oh and tossed in a delectable ginger dressing that was unique and different for me, especially in combination with beets. But I loved it!
The special for the night was the Halbut, which Chef himself recommended when he came out to greet us. Hazlenut romesco sauce, lemon asparagus with marble potatoes and mint for garnish, made it pretty, and pretty tasty too. The fish was some of the freshest I have had in awhile and managed to stay tough and tender all the same. How do chefs achieve that, I wonder!
The Lake Superior Whitefish was also beautifully executed. I really liked the Sardinian couscous and roasted mushrooms, but most importantly the lemon Beurre Blanc sauce, which in the words of my friend, “I wish I had a straw to drink this sauce with.” Of course the French win!
Dessert was just as memorable as the seafood. The highlight of the Chocolate Lava Cake was a sweet n salty caramel gelato and for the Olive Oil Cake it was the lemon sauce with rosemary crunch. You can’t blame me for not forgoing dessert when you hear that, can you? Both desserts will leave you craving more I can guarantee that.
Topaz Café is a classy, upscale joint with a really cool vibe. Did I mention that they have an extensive patio that’s packed in the summer, and sometimes graced with a Spanish guitarist to add to beautiful summer evenings. The bar area is set aside from the dining area, which I always like when restaurants do. Service is impeccable as exemplified by our awesome server who was vigilant throughout our meal. There really is no reason not to try this place out for yourself. You’ll thank me later!
Restaurant openings are always so much fun. I attended one for Gemini in Lincoln Park recently, and boy was it a happening party. Originally the Gemini Bistro, Owner Ryan O’Donnell has certainly given the restaurant a sophisticated makeover. A beautiful large, horeshoe bar spans across the middle of the restaurant with booths and high ceilings. But even with the modern touches, this eatery still stays true to what the bistro originally intended, classic food and cocktails. Some really fun hor d’ouevres were passed around to showcase some of the menu, and my favorite, which I will be absolutely returning for was the ricotta toast. Some good looking cocktails on the new menu too. The space was packed and people just looked so happy to have Gemini back! I can’t wait to go back for dinner.
I’ve always said that pescetarians are vegetarians in the absence of fish. And secretly I have always been enamored by the vegan diet. I couldn’t do it because I love cheese and fish too much, but I do enjoy changing it up once in awhile.
I was definitely excited to try the menu at this fairly new spot located in Uptown, and even had the chance to sit down with co-owner Andy Kalish, who owns the spot along with his wife Gina. One of my favorite things about being a food blogger is the opportunity to meet with owners/chefs and get a more in-depth understanding of the restaurant’s philosophy and intent. Andy explained that the restaurant wasn’t conceptualized around some grandiose idea, but rather with an idea of easing on the planet a little, while serving more options for vegans in the city.
The menu has everything from burgers, sandwiches, salad bowls to Mexican plates. I really liked the Uptown Greek Bowl I tried first was a classic Greek salad topped with a house-made almond dressing. So tasty! The Garden Pot with marinated lentils, chickpeas, tomatoes, green beans and cucumbers on leafy greens was so fresh that I felt like I had picked the produce myself.
For heartier eats, I relished the K-Burger (a guest favorite I hear) with meatless beef patty, all the fixings and a delectable horseradish dressing that coated it. From their Clucker Crisp section of the menu, the Brushfire Heat Buffalo Style was phenomenal. And it came with a side of crunchy fries and veggie sticks too!
My absolute favorite was… no surprise to you, the Mayan ‘Fish’ Tacos. These came with a mango habanero slaw, cilantro lime rice and frijoles rancheros. Yum, yum yum. Is all I can say. The fish meat was so real it was unreal, crunchy with real fish texture. You could have fooled me with this dish at a seafood restaurant.
It’s so cool how vegan restaurants can do that. I sampled some desserts to finish off a very nice meal. The vegan chocolate chip cookie and the lemon bar were decadently satisfying. And since its vegan, portions don’t matter right?
This place is just so cool; casual vibe with a nice green energy flowing throughout. Excited to have Kal’ish added to the Chicago food scene! Go check it out!
Does Chicago need more coffee shops? Probably not! But it does need more coffee shops that offer options other than the usual sandwiches and scones? Yes, indeed!
When Cupitol invited me in for a tasting, I was first trying to make the connection to pastries and seafood. Another reminder of why not to judge a book by its cover, because Cupitol is WAY more than your average coffee shop.
Let’s take the ambiance for example, which is a suitable mix of a bakery, coffee shop, lounge and bar, all in one. I visited the newly opened Streeterville location for a tasting and for a Tuesday night, this all-day eatery was buzzing with a good mix of demographics, from families, students, to even young executives stopping by after a workday.
Owner Sellia George whom I chatted with, is hands on and shuttles between their original Evanston location and the city one. Given her Greek background and having lived there, the food certainly has some European and Mediterranean influences, including an emphasis on fresh quality of foods. And the menu is just as wide-ranging as the atmosphere.
Starting healthy is always a good precursor to indulgence for me, so I tried a few of their Detox and the Kiwi Cleanse cold pressed juices first, which were tasty and nutrient dense. Since I had now gotten my detox over with, I was eyeing their extensive café selection next.
The Freddo was sent out as a must-try and an enriched version of an iced latte with espresso and creamy foamed milk.
From their shared plates I opted for the Grilled BBQ Prawn (my favorite from the night), which was made to order and served on a bed of very tasty guacamole. The prawns were grilled in a dry rub of paprika, garlic, chili, sugar and olive oil, that I could’ve eaten by itself.
The gluten free Gravalax Salad was another favorite of mine. It was simple yet the honey soy vinaigrette added some complex flavors to the frisee. You’ll agree that the salmon has to do most of the talking here for it to not be a mediocre salad. The salmon cured in-house was just perfect.
For a vegetarian plate, I got the Sweet Potato Bowl, which was superbly aromatic from the vegan coconut curry it was cooked in.
The Fish & Chips were out of this world. They had me at ‘sustainable’ cod but that homemade tartar sauce I tell you, was phenomenal. The hand-cut fries were fresh and crispy too and stayed that way even as our food got cold. Great sign!
We went back to the bakery to choose some desserts and I chose the Salted Caramel Rice Pudding Verrine, the mini Nutella and Key Lime Tarts and the Irish Creamcheese Cake. The latter was unique and so airy, not your usual cheesecake consistency, and certainly not too sweet.
Needless to say, I happily took leftovers home. I’ll be the first the admit that I didn’t expect this kind of gourmet food from a casual coffee eatery, so I was pleasantly surprised in addition to being pleasantly full.
Take my advice and on the next nice day go check this place out. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and fun brunch cocktails too. Oh and all the bread are baked in-house also. If you like carbs like me, then this is the way to do it!
Thanks Cupitol for such a fantastic dining experience!
One of my favorite Sunday Fundays this month was a tasting at a casual Japanese eatery named Shiawase located in Lakeview. A bunch of fellow foodies gathered for a feast of all things sushi. A long table was set with place mats and name cards for each foodie and then it all began. It was a particularly beautiful day outside and we sat by a long window so everything just seemed to perfectly align.
The steaming Edamame and miso soup in a well-salted dashi broth lightly ignited our appetites, as the next course was brought of Robata fare was brought out. I headed straight for the mildly sweet and salty Miso Shrimp, of course. Many empty bamboo sticks later, I aimed for the maki rolls, platters of which were set at either ends of the table. The rolls here were elaborate and each one packed with intense flavor.
I literally signed in awe at the gorgeous Sashimi Matsu Platter they brought out next. Colorful aside, imagine twenty pieces of fresh, tender salmon tuna, ika, ebi,tako and ame-ebi all laid us for us to feast on. Now that’s how you do sashimi!
Finally, we were introduced to the Awase Bowl, the featured dish of the tasting. Everyone was able to order their bowl with a preferred choice of meat (shrimp, chicken, salmon, tofu), prepared in teriyaki, poke-style, katsu or robata-grilled, served along with a side of choice. I opted for the Salmon Teriyaki with Shrimp Shumai as my appetizer and made sure to cover all my seafood base. What a delicious and filling bowl of fish freshness.
Shiawase is a restaurant that really knows how to keep it fresh and tasty, and they do that with every dish. The restaurant is BYOB and will deliver to your doorstep if you want.
Wish all Sunday Fundays could be so guilt-free!
What if I told you there is a place in the city, right on the Chicago River where you could drink, eat, bowl and bocce? Well that place is called Pinstripes where I recently had the honor of visiting for a tour and tasting, and the opportunity to lunch with both their Marketing Manager and Event Sales Coordinator.
The idea of the tasting was to showcase the seafood on the menu but also the passion on which this restaurant was built. With seven locations around the country and four right here in our state, each venue has been uniquely designed with a private event space and a wood fire patio. The Chicago location, which I visited, is expansive and offers some of the best views I have seen in the city.
We skipped the handcrafted cocktails and decided to be responsible during our lunch hour, but were unrestrained with our food. We went straight for their signature Cauliflower Pasta with in-house Orecchiette, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, herbs and nice, big slivers of Parmesan. Every bite had a Spring flavor punch and Iwas grinning cheek to cheek. This was only the beginning.
The Signature Chop Salad, which we ordered with grilled shrimp, was another delicious item. It came with tomato, Gorgonzola, dates, corn, fettuccini and a huge dollop of burrata. I waited a long time before I dove into it mainly because of how pretty it looked. And the white balsamic dressing was pretty magical too. This salad, in my opinion, would’ve been fine even without any protein especially with all the other fresh n hearty ingredients that it’s comprised of.
The Shrimp & Spinach Flatbread definitely paved the way to my heart. The house-made dough based crust was cooked perfectly in their wood-burning pizza oven and topped with some zesty shrimp and was all too good to be true. I specifically asked to take any leftover slices home.
From the sandwiches, I loved the Open-faced Grilled Salmon served on a baguette with tomato bruschetta, and a side of a cool and refreshingly tangy cucumber-dill yogurt. Oh my!
Finally, the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, which was from the appetizers section. We definitely jumped around the menu out of order, and I felt slightly bad a$$. There was definitely nothing crabby about this fresh patty of pure crabmeat, which came topped with a nice sweet addition of grilled pineapple and avocado salsa.
And speaking of doing it backwards, we ordered a cup of their Minestrone last. But the best Minestrone soup I’ve ever laid my hands on, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t usually like minestrone soup. Loaded with fresh veggies and northern beans and with a few parmesan rinds thrown in for saltiness. For me it was dessert, and nothing ever replaces dessert for me. Just imagine.
Who would’ve thought a bowling alley could put out such a gourmet spread. Head Chef Cesar Guttirez has certainly given this menu his all. Indeed a well-designed, well-balanced menu catering to all, pescetarians included.
I also love that Pinstripes offers so many specials throughout the week. The Friday 50-50 has me very intrigued; you can get any wine bottles under $50 for 50% off and there is also a special, discounted Happy Hour menu daily.
And if you don’t make it out to their Streeterville location anytime soon, you can catch them this summer at Taste of River North, May Fest or Old Town Art Fair. So much to do here, and so little time! Whether you’re a family, on a date or meeting for business, Pinstripes will provide the right setting for you.
Head on over!