December ended on a strong note, just like I had hope that it would.
The month began with me attending the grand opening of the highly anticipated Yugen in the West Loop. And the new venture is led by an all-women, headed by Chef Mari Katsumura.
Formerly Grace, the restaurant’s décor is modern contemporary with Zen elements and some remnants of the previous restaurant, especially the open kitchen. Something about watching the chefs work to put out artistic food, is very pleasing to me. A living green wall adorns part of the restaurant, as a testimony to the ambiance.
Yugen will serve modern day Japanese cuisine with French influences and two tasting menus. If you’re not in the mood for a full tasting, Kaisho is their 15-seat cocktail lounge that will offer an a la carte menu.
At the event I attended, guests were generously treated to wine and cocktails and a wide array of dishes from a truffle garnished Takoyaki, seaweed salad to house made sweet potato chips. The oysters were just phenomenal. Every bite of every dish left me in awe.
My prediction is, Yugen will truly elevate Chicago’s food scene and position itself high on our food map.
Sushi and a skyline? I’m sold! Rebar has both, and is a contemporary lounge located in the Trump Hotel downtown, which I got to visit for the first time this month.
And this very modern and chic lounge serves a progressive Asian-inspired menu with a side of a mesmerizing view of the city.
The menu is succinct yet has everything to satisfy your sushi cravings. Some impressive cocktails in addition to beer, wine and champagne offerings. I’m a warm-drink fan so I instantly opted for the Hibernation, with Avion, cinnamon, guava, orange, and sugar cane. Once sip in and I had my Uber app ready to go.
The Reveev was the other favorite from their awe-inspiring cocktail menu. It was made with Veev Acai liqueur, blackberries and sparkling wine. For you non- drinkers, the Berry Responsible is refreshing with fresh strawberry, lime juice and ginger beer. A Berry Irresponsible version is also available if you change your mind. They’ve thought of everything!
Whenever I can, I order the edamame. Here served fresh and steaming hot, with a little Togerashi sprinkle on top. The chili truly is magical.
The Vegetable and Shrimp Tempura platter was finger-licking good. Lightly fried seasonal vegetables and juicy shrimp, made for a fantastic appetizer. Easy to lose count of these but beware, it can be filling!
My absolutely favorite bite of the night was the Bluefin Tuna sashimi. Toro Maguro is one of the most sought after cuts in the world now so also the gold standard for sushi bars. This buttery, underbelly of tuna was irresistible. And while it looked bland, it possessed a strong flavor. The Hamachi was top notch too.
We went straight for their Special Maki next. I strongly recommend the Rebar Roll with shrimp tempura, avocado, bbq eel, and tobiko. And you know how I knew this was a phenomenal roll? Because I don’t usually like eel, but couldn’t stop eating the roll. Of course it also helps that I love shrimp tempura so much.
The River Walk Roll with King Crab, mango, cucumber and avocado came seasoned with wasabi aioli. It was one of the prettiest too. The mango gave it that tang and added to its deliciousness.
We actually ended with one of their traditional maki rolls, the Spicy Salmon and Avocado. And it did not disappoint.
Everything from the service, warm atmosphere, to the food was extraordinary at Rebar. Not bad for a Tuesday night I’d say!
Sometimes the stars just align and you have a beautiful, sunny winter day when you get to enjoy an enchanting French-inspired Afternoon Tea tasting at Vanilla Patisserie, and all is well.
Owned and operated by Chef Sophie Evanoff, Vanille is dedicated to serving authentic pastries, handmade chocolate, macaroons and cakes in an elegant French-themed setting.
While Vanille Patisserie’s reputation precedes itself, I didn’t know that they also do an exquisite high tea.
My friend Gabbie and I went on a Sunday afternoon this month, since it is only offered between Thursday and Sunday at Noon, 2pm and 4pm. A 48-hour notice is required for all reservations, since their dessert café is intimate with limited seating, and each tasting takes about 90 minutes.
And since they are kind enough to accommodate dietary restrictions in their afternoon tasting menu, we were able to get our all our savory treats without meat. Bonus points for that always!
When we arrived, a beautiful table had been set and reserved for us. Various tea test tubes had been placed with a cute tea timer so we could choose our teas from their selection. All teas are by Benjamin’s Tea and the French Lavender and Guava Green were just outstanding.
The menu is three courses which comes in a tower of sweet and savory bites, finger sandwiches and mini desserts. The petit croissant with Gruyere cheese and shallot aioli was unique and too tasty to stop eating it. A traditional scone was also served with amazing preserves such as lemon curd, and English double cream. The Vanille’s signature Petit Amber Bar was insanely delicious.
We sat there as we ate and sipped our tea, taking our time and truly savoring every bite and moment, just like the French do. You know what they say…when in a French café.
Let me share a pescetarian secret with you. There is a small, boutique shop in Bucktown that sells sustainable seafood with a full selection of anything your fish-loving heart could desire.
And there’s no better way to stock up your freezer this winter than with some of the best seafood cultivated from around the world by Wixter Market, just for you. No antibiotics, no preservatives, no hormones. They even provide a sourcing map so you know exactly where you fish came from.
Not only that, the store also sells flash frozen sushi-grade fish and some of the best tinned product in the world.
Additionally, they now sell ‘Winter Bundles’ so you don’t even have to do the thinking when you shop. I actually stopped in to pick up my Wixter Poke Set, a fully loaded bag with all the Poke essentials from sushi rice, whisky barrel aged Shoyu to a pound of Poke cubes.
Not only do I not have to give up poke this winter, but I also may have found the perfect holiday gift for my fellow pescetarian friends! What’s more is it comes with a recipe so you know exactly how to assemble the contents of your package.
Now I cant say I didn’t get a little swayed when I was in the store and may have done some damage. I was truly like a kid in a candy store. After filling two fully loaded bags of seasonings, seafood condiments, frozen fish snacks, containers of clam chowder, and various fillets of frozen fish, I made my way out. Needless to say I was smiling and eager to get home.
My freezer is loaded and I’m ready for the holidays, thanks to Wixter Market!
The newest favorite in Wicker Park is a no fuss-no frill place called Etta, and it’s revolutionizing the Chicago food scene, in my opinion. Their food is outstanding and made only using ingredients from the local community. And most of the food is wood-fired! I had an epic dining experience there recently and will definitely return.
I went in on a Wednesday for a menu tasting. The place was packed and if you know me, you know how excited I get about open kitchens. I thrive on the hustle bustle and it instantly puts me in an adventurous mood.
My adventure started as early as the drinks. The Leather Weather is a must order while here. You will have serious regrets if you don’t. A perfect winter concoction of Absolut vodka, rhum, walnut, tonka bean and pomegranate. Delicious, but, its strong!
Immediately following was their Fire-baked Focaccia which was light and airy and the perfect base to mop up blobs of yummy ricotta-honey & truffle cream it came with.
I name the Diver Scallops as my favorite from the meal, because they were perfectly cooked and rested on top of a creamy parsnip puree and honey crisp apples. The pine nut gave it some earthiness and it was all-around phenomenally executed dish.
Even if you’re not a salad person, the Etta Chopped is not to be missed. It’s basically a disassembled lox bagel minus the carbs. Hearth smoked salmon with oak leaf, green goddess, straciatella and an everything-bagel spice. The avocados were a nice surprise as you got to the bottom.
You know a place with a wood fire oven knows their pizza. The Wild Mushroom Pizza was on my mind. After all it came with melted spring onions, goat cheese, truffle and my favorite salty cheese of cheeses, raclette. The combination of all these ingredients will blow your mind, as will this pie.
I never ever turn down a Cacio e Pepe. And here, this classic held up its reputation.
As did the Squid Ink Mafaldine. The ribbon shaped pasta is usually served with a more delicate sauce and soaked up the ‘seafoody’ notes so well. The Manila clams and king crab were fresh and tender, and the crispy garlic gave it a little robustness. Of course the dramatic color also gave it some extra dimension. I ate this dish to my heart’s content.
With some heavy carb loading towards the end of my meal, I decided to stop and put any remaining appetite to good use. Dessert! You will love the Aya’s Chocolate Sabayon Tart with vanilla bean ice cream. It is unforgettable!
With a belly and heart full I left Etta, vowing to come back soon. And you should visit soon too!
A marvelous restaurant exists in the heart of River North, that is transforming Italian food in Chicago, by blending old world flavors with modern concepts and its called, Sapori Antichi. Owned by Michael and Mary Meranda, whose vision was to create a bistro that gives an instant comfort feeling to its patrons. This month, I myself got to experience the magic and charm of this cozy eatery, and of course Chef Sergio Casanelli’s cooking.
I usually avoid Friday nights for menu tastings, but something about this place and its vibe, made me want to end my week with a meal there. I was also joined by two of my closest friends which helped make the experience even sweeter.
Sapori Antichi is restaurant of hospitality. The manager, server, chefs all welcomed us with the brightest smiles and cheerful demeanor. On the way to our table, we walked by their gelato bar where gelatos are made fresh daily. Note to self for later.
After being poured a glass of the Argentinian Bodega Tamari Malbec, we started perusing the menu. We unanimously opted for the Arancini Frommagio di Capra, which came three Italian rice balls on a platter steaming with goat cheese and carrots, served atop with herb stracchino sauce. Just like they are supposed to be, the arancini were crisp on the outside and tender and flavorful on the inside.
Although I’ve had their Caprese di Barbabietole before, I couldn’t pass it up on my second visit either. It was as delicious as I remembered, with roasted beets, fresh mozzarella, pinenuts, celery, carrots, fennel, raspberries and a spicy Mediterranean vinaigrette. Beets and berries make a great sweet-tangy combination incase you are wondering!
Now that the veggies had been accounted for in our diet, we felt free to carb-load and we started strong with an order of Ciccio (flatbread). The Tre Fromaggi was fantastic and I especially loved the smoked scamorza ricotta and balsamic glaze. It was the perfect size for an inbetween antipasti and a secondi.
The Buccatini alla Pescatore was filled with ‘oceany’ flavors, thanks to generously strewn mussels, calms, calamari, shrimp, and cod in a cherry tomato sauce. This dish is quite the seafood lover’s treat.
From the entrees, the Branzino al Guazeetto was nicely marinated in citrus and served with a caponata of garlic, carrots, onions and tomato in a white wine broth. The fish was roasted to perfection as is required when cooking the delicate branzino.
The pan-fried salmon was a simple dish but very satisfying. The carrot puree was definitely a highpoint for me along with the fried polenta in this dish. The fish in both dishes were utterly fresh and therefore impressive.
My favorite dish was the Polpo in Giardino, which came 11oz of marinated Spanish octopus, slightly chargrilled and served with fresh vegetables. The whole dish was given a balsamic reduction and the charcoal flavors of the octopus with the sweetness of the dressing were simply mind-blowing.
It is always astounding to me, how I can never pass up dessert. I’m secretly proud of it actually. Fortunately, dessert was brought out before we could even utter the word. Our server placed a platter of three different favors of gelatos, pistachio, amaretto and pecan and with that, three shots of housemade limoncello. Everything about this was remarkable.
If you know me well, you also know that I don’t like ice cream. But I ate the gelato, happily and may have even wanted more. Great sign!
We were three happy campers at the end of our meal, afraid to stand up from being so full. We managed, and left in our food daze, ready to go home dream about the Italian feast we had just had.
This place is a must visit!
I love ethnic food and I love when food is done creatively. So naturally I had the most amazing dining experience at Barrio recently, led by Chef Katsuji Tanabe (Top Chef Alum) who’s committed to serving creative, Mexican fare and cocktails at this new River North favorite.
Barrio is fairly new and has already made its mark in the Chicago food scene for its elite space, stellar service, exceptional brunch, and always keeping its food interesting. But they also care about using local ingredients and meat which is sustainably sourced. And I for one, am a lover of that. Plus I will always advocate for a restaurant that is sensitive to its gluten-free guests.
The cocktail list is overwhelming, from the perspective that you want to try them all. Each one sounds and tastes better than the previous one. And some of my picks and now favorites are, The Flaming Moe with Union mezcal, mango, sage, lime and blackberry. The actually light it fire, tableside. Then you have to wait for the fire to subside before you can sip one of the sexiest drinks in front of you. So it’s also a little bit of a tease.
The ‘Classico’ Margarita was just a nicely done drink meeting all margarita expectations, while the Spiced Apple Cider screams fall like no other concoction. It comes with a cinnamon rim and pear liqueur, in case you had any doubts.
Happily, I advanced to the food, and didn’t budge twice before ordering the Pineapple & Hibiscus Guacamole and the Ceviche Trio. The pickled jalapeno and sunflower seeds were such a treat with the mashed avocado, while the Blue Shrimp, Red Snapper and Ahi Tuna ceviche were all tangy and zingy where you could taste the freshness of the fish. I especially like the salted cashews in the tuna ceviche.
The Grilled Lobster Quesadillas were strongly recommended by both our server and the manager. Generously dispersed pieces of sweet lobster with Manchengo cheese and blistered shishito peppers were nothing like I’ve had before. I definitely went to town on these.
The Charred King Crab Leg only took it all up a notch with a delectable serrano aioli. The crab meat was ready to be picked out and I much prefer that when I’m salivating at a beautiful dish and don’t have the patience to scoop from the shell.
I slowed down with a lighter Octopus Taco, and it was wondrous with sea salt potato crisps placed with the octopus, roasted jalapenos, and garlic crema. The whole thing disappeared in my mouth before I plotted my next order.
I wanted to end strong and I had come in resolving to try their Skuna Bay Salmon entrée. A robust yet gorgeous piece of tender salmon was placed on top of charred root vegetables and quinoa. The fish was glazed with a sweet n spicy guava-serrano glaze. You bet I brought leftovers home.
And while I’m describing all the deliciousness, let me not forget to mention the side of Esquites Style Corn we ordered with Cotija cheese and chili piquin. Creamiest corn I have had, and that is a great thing.
By now you know, that despite all this food, I did not say no to dessert. Not when there’s a Chocolate Mole cake on the menu. You haven’t eaten a lava cake until you’ve tried this cake with a bittersweet chocolate sauce oozing out of the middle and a scoop of cinnamon toast crunch ice cream in a brandy snap on the side. At least now you can sympathize with me when I say, that I just couldn’t resist it.
Dinner at Barrio was more than a treat. It was an experience and a dining memory I will never forget. And, I got to share it with a friend which is always an added plus.
Whether it’s for brunch, lunch, or dinner, Barrio needs to be your next spot! No questions asked.