July, It's A Wrap!

Kitty O’Sheas

I’ll be honest that I didn’t ever expect to be invited to an Irish bar and restaurant for a tasting, or expect to have gourmet food while there. Both happened recently at Kitty O’Sheas when I went in to try their new summer menu.

Launched in 1986 and housed in the Hilton Hotel, the team actually originates from Ireland. In addition to preserving the Irish charm, the restaurant is also dedicated to creating a menu with modern twists to traditional Irish cuisine, one that could cater to all.

At the onset, we received a private tour by Chef Luisito himself, of their beautiful rooftop garden where they grow herbs they then use in their food.  Some of the flowers from the garden also made their way into our drinks, as garnish.  Speaking of drinks, the Frose Rose was just out of this world.  A tasty and thirst quenching blend of Dubliner Irish Whiskey, randy, fresh lemon and housemade grenadine!

We were all seated at private tables on the patio, reserved for our dinner that evening, and a Chef’s station which had been set up in a corner to feature all the amazing food we would get to try.

Our first course was a beautiful set-up of these see through circular jars of Smoked Salmon Tartar, a hanging line of Bourbon Candied Bacon, and tiny mason jars filled with House-Made Ricotta and Goat Cheese with a balsamic-filled syringe placed cutely inside it. 

From the very beginning, I was floored by the uniqueness and creativity of each dish. 

The Asparagus Salad was marvelous and also came in a mason jar filled with spinach, frisee, Dunbarton blue cheese, heirloom purple potatoes, pickled egg and champagne vinaigrette.  I could eat many jars of that salad for days!

I absolutely loved the presentation of the Loaded Baked Potato soup which was served in mini crockpot type bowls and with Wisconsin Cheese generously disbursed in it.  Just how I like it!

I loved that Chef created a vegetarian version of their award winning Mac and Cheese, which was nicely executed with cornbread and Tabasco onions. The salted caramel atop was also fun.

My pescetarian palette was well catered for with a couple other fish dishes, including an Artic Char burger and a mini version of their Fish n Chips. The latter was served along with a capsule of vinegar that I could drizzle over my fish as I pleased.

In between the food, the server brought us fun beverage pairings such as the Gallway Spritz with Jameson Irish Whiskey, white wine, fresh sour and orange bitters. What a smooth drink!

The dessert station was insanely decadent. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for that one!

I’m still full as I write this and still wishing I was on their patio sipping and eating my way through that menu. I heard buzz about their new brunch menu, and if its anything like dinner, I can’t wait!

Cochon Volant

This was my second menu tasting at Cochon Volant, which should tell you that this restaurant has already earned my stamp of approval.  Plus, it’s French; and if you know me well, you know that I am a sucker for good French food, anytime, anywhere.!

Cochon Volant is one of those restaurants, which in my opinion, adds luster to the Chicago loop food scene.  A classic French brassiere with a lively vibe, even on a Tuesday night.

As usual, I attended with a guest and we sat on their beautiful patio to take advantage of the gorgeous day it was.  Chef Matt Ayala offered to send out his seafood favorites from the menu along with other fare.  I’m glad that the Escargot Magifique Du Jour was first in line.  Certainly my favorite escargot dish in the city, it comes sopping in snail butter, blue cheese, and with croutons that are the right amount of soggy from soaking in the briny goodness.  The plating on this dish was gorgeous too!

The Roasted Crab Legs were different, and my favorite part was that the meat was served ready to eat, without having to do any work.  The lazy pescetarian in me truly appreciated that! There was also some mild spice seasoning on the crab which gave it a flavorful kick, just enough to tickle your senses.

The Burrata and Toast came on a platter with generous portions of spring pea salad, fine herbs and maldon placed atop the toast.  The creaminess of the cheese cooled our pallets as we ate a side of their Charred Broccoli with spicy Dijon,  also delicious nevertheless.

The Whitefish was another beautifully presented dish and nicely executed with some freshly prepared olive tapenade and fennel salad.  Just a refreshing fish dish altogether, blending in delectable Mediterranean flavors.

Let me not forget to mention the consistent order of Negronis we had on the side, which are done so well here.  Nothing sweeter than that sweet vermouth, I say!

Seriously, if you’re looking for a mid-week pep, head over to Cochon Volant for a warm, French meal and some fun cocktails.  It will quickly become your loop favorite!

El Nuevo Mexicano

You know how sometimes you want your staple Tex-Mex food but also gourmet Mexican fare? Well El Nuevo Mexicano is a restaurant that offers both, and in a beautiful, colorful setting and a fun vibe. I’ve known owner Maria Rodriguez for a few years now, and have always loved their food, but a recent tasting only helped solidify my love for this restaurant.  For the tasting, I also got to bring along a few other food bloggers with me, which is always a fun experience.       

The Agave Margarita was in order, and strongly suggested by our very cheerful server. And I also got to try their delicious Virgin Pina Colada, ordered by one of the other bloggers at the table, also super delicious. 

Nice to see restaurants committed to creating a solid virgin drink menu for those who don’t or can’t drink.

The guacamole was ever bit tantalizing in taste, and the beautifully plated Ceviche was one of the tastiest things I’ve had in awhile.  In addition to a medley of fresh seafood marinated in fresh juices, it came topped with a delicate spring salad.  The Spinach Empanada in tomatillo salsa was one of my favorite appetizers too, but filling indeed.

The Coconut Crusted Shrimp was my favorite dish of the night! I suggest if you don’t have time for an island vacation, this juicy shrimp enrobed in the sweet coconut will instantly transport you to the tropics.

The Pan Grilled Tacos were presented as a healthier version of tacos I’ve had, and they were simple yet  flavorful with a generous cilantro garnish, which I loved.

And because Tres Leches is my favorite dessert in life, I ordered two right away. One of the best decisions I’ve made! The Homemade Flan with strawberry and mango puree wasn’t too shabby either.

This tasting was a realization for me of how good food can set the tone for the day and it’s the entire experience that counts. Everyone at the restaurant was so eager to ensure we had a good time and provided the best service possible.

El Nuevo Mexicano is a little piece ofMexico right here in our city!

Gino’s East

You never have to sell pizza to me, especially Chicago style pizza. So an invite to try Gino’s new Happy Hour menu was a no brainer. Especially given its 50-year history of offering one of the best deep-dish experiences in the city.  While world -famous for the pizza, Gino’s also dabs in some fun bites and drinks and really pushes the envelope for being a pizza-centric place.

The food was waiting for us when we walked in and a plethora of dishes were lined up, such as the beautiful Hummus Platter, Mini Deep Dish Nachos and a Mozzarella Deep Dish pie.

The highlight for me was the Specialty Artichoke Parmesan pizza, which had a creamy base and lots of fresh herbs. Definitely a summer pizza if you’re looking to indulge in some carb loving but still want to hit the beach. For lighter fare, the zucchini pasta was phenomenal, with a nice gourmet touch to it.

In addition, we got to try the Deep Dish Brownie, which was gooey goodness of chocolate.  It won’t matter how filling your pizza is, because this dessert is irresistibly delicious and you WILL want to try it!

I was pleasantly surprised to see so many new offerings besides the usual deep dish on Gino’s East new menu. You’ll be pleased!


Let me save you a trip to New Orleans! Go to Fifolet and experience the Cajun/Creole magic right here in our city!

I got to go a second time and try their new menu and some old favorites and had an absolutely blast. Chef Kevin Crouse keeps getting better, more creative and is entirely unafraid to push the envelope.  He’s also one of the nicest chefs I’ve met and I always enjoy being able to chat with him when I visit.

So what’s new on the menu since my last tasting?  For starters, the Voodoo Punch with Tito’s vodka, crème de violette, lime, grenadine and orange pineapple tonic was uber tasty and got my palette going.

Small plates of the Blackened Shrimp Salad and Spring Green Salad came out. Both were light, refreshing, and fresh. The candied sunflower seeds with the citrus mint vinaigrette and shrimp, was like a mini vacation in my mouth. 

I was happy to see the Honey-Custard Cornbread still solid on the menu. And that cayenne streusel is just such a nice flavor punch. This was also my dessert.

For being a non-tomato lover, I certainly had no qualms devouring the Fried Green Tomatoes in front of me. This dish is so nicely executed with a tangy remoulade and house-made giardinera.

My vegan friends, you’ll love the Garden Jambalaya on the menu, which comes with Cajun rice, seared mushrooms, okra, corn, and micro celery. It’s scrumptious and it’s sumptuous!

The dish that I’m still dreaming about is the Green Fairy Mussels, which is also one of their more gourmet offerings on the menu.  Gorgeously plated, the steamed mussels come doused in an absinthe broth with fresh herbs and a grilled baguette. The wild boar bacon was obviously left out for me, but made no difference to the dish, which was nice.

The Shrimp and Grits not originally part of this tasting, was kindly prepared for me by Chef who always makes me feel special. If there’s one dish I’d ask you to try here, it would be this one.  Chef’s take on this low-country favorite is spot-on! The creamiest stone-ground grits with shallots, garlic, cherry tomatoes and micro celery stewed together in a rich shellfish broth eludes all those briny flavors you’d be looking for from this dish.

There isn’t a dish I didn’t like here or wasn’t in awe of.   The food here is pure talent and manages to stay true to its Cajun history, while giving it its own unique touch.

Go visit soon!

Hard Rock Cafe

Let’s face it; chain restaurants usually get a bad rap for not serving gourmet food that’s responsibly sourced. Which is why, I am particularly excited to share with you a Chicago Test Kitchen endeavor I was recently part of, where I got to taste-test the new menu at Hard Rock Café, and offer my feedback as part of the deal.

Guests were treated to a lavish evening, starting with a Happy Hour, where featured appetizers and drinks were passed around. Guests also got to meet and mingle with ChefMickler and other staff and learn a little more about the behind the scenes life at Hard Rock. 

The Cauliflower Wings were a highlight for me, and as someone who misses chicken wings immensely, these did the trick!  This was a healthier, vegetarian version of the dish with absolutely no compromise to taste. The buffalo sauce was delightful!

The Chicagoan was a fun drink to try.  Inspired by Al Capone, the drink dates back to prohibition but with a Hard Rock twist using Templeton Rye Whiskey, Grand Marnier and a dash of bitters topped with prosecco.

We were then ushered to a seated dinner with name cards and place settings and all. I felt like I was at a wedding, except one where I can actually give my feedback on the food. 

The first course was a delicious Caesar Salad with homemade dressing and garlic croutons. The Local Offerings portion of the tasting featured a fish dish, so guess who was happy?! 

I said this out loud and with conviction, at the table, that the Grilled Walleye was one of the best seafood dishes I’ve had!!! What impressed me most was the simplicity of the dish.  The fish as fresh as can be and supplied by Fortune Fish, was grilled with a herb garlic butter and served alongside rosemary roasted red potatoes and seasonable vegetables, in this case, asparagus.

The rest of the menu was meat-heavy but not for me! Because the nice people at Hard Rock Cafe including Chef Darryl, whipped up some amazing pescetarian dishes for me to try.  Sometimes, it’s nice to be the only pescetarian in the house!

The Fresh Atlantic Salmon was heavenly.  Honestly, I’ve been a little tired of salmon lately, so the only way I was going to indulge in more salmon this week was if it was going to be something unique.  That standard was met! I’ve never had fire-grilled salmon with a BBQ hickory smoke sauce drizzle and would’ve never thought to put those two together but it was amazing. Thank God I didn’t give up on salmon, because this dish rocked!

The Cauliflower Burger also specifically prepared for me, was huge! And also unique and tasty.  The patty made of cauliflower, pecans, panko breadcrumbs and goat cheese had such great texture and should be mandatory at all vegetarian restaurants I say!

For dessert, we got to try the Stairway to Heaven, and this was yellow sponge cake, fresh pineapple, sliced strawberries, Ghiradelli caramel sauce, Ben & Jerry’s vanilla ice cream, fresh bananas, chocolate syrup and homemade whipped cream.  It was finished with chocolate dipped strawberry shavings! You know when it takes me a whole paragraph to describe dessert that it has to be good! Even with so many ingredients, everything came together seamlessly.  Sugar heaven indeed!

Afterwards, we went around the room and got to give our feedback on the food.  Everyone had the nicest things to say. What can you complain about with a meal like this, that’s been so carefully designed to keep patrons happy?!

I didn’t last the karaoke portion of the event and went home to attend to my food coma!

I am still so impressed with everything I ate on their new menu.  Of course, I don’t have to comment on the restaurant vibe, which is always so lively and welcoming. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, as one would after such a great meal!

Chicago Food Stories

My friend Karen who writes for Chicago Food Stories recently hosted a dim sum dinner at Phoenix restaurant in Chinatown to mark the launch of her charity. It also happened to be her birthday and we got to have cake specially made by Sherrie Tan, pastry chef at Sweet Mandy B’s. The event was sponsored by Affy Tapples that makes Washington Granny Smiths in many specialty flavors.  We got to take home, the almond, chocolate caramel or jelly bean flavor, and that was a lot of fun.

The restaurant usually only serves Dim Sum for lunch, so a special exception was made for us. Guests enjoyed a plethora of delicious egg custard, rice cakes, shumai and more. The thing about dim sum is that its always fresh, and you can’t just wing it, but the trick it to make it flavorful within its simplicity and the restaurant nails it.

Sunday nights in River North just got more fun! Beacon Tavern hosts a new summer community dinner series - The Beacon Blue Crab Boil, where guests can purchase tickets and experience an authentic crab boil in an outdoor setting, and meet and eat with fellow seafoodies in the city.

Conceptualized by Executive Chef Bob Broskey who was inspired by the East Coast tradition of communal crab boils, decided to bring the series to us here in Chicago.

I attended along with a guest, and when we arrived the table was already set up for our multi-course dinner comprising of Maryland Blue Crab, sausage, peel and eat shrimp, potato, corn on the cob, and Utz Crab Chips.  As piles of food were dumped onto our table, Chef gave us a mini demo of crab-cracking, which was very helpful. We immediately dove in, happily ready to get our hands dirty. 

I just about ate my body weight in the flaky-soft Cheddar Bay Biscuits served on the side. The meal was accompanied by a choice of Revolution Gagelicious beer or house wine, and for dessert we had the delectable house-made chocolate dipped Orange Sherbert Beacon Bars. What a perfect pick for a sweet seafood ending!

Tickets are $85/person and with unlimited servings of all that seafood goodness,  I can assure you you'll get plenty of bang for your buck! Pescetarians, get ready to share in this experience this summer!