March started full force with an unforgettable visit to Skokie’s first ever modern, Latin restaurant, Libertad. A restaurant that truly understands what it means to blend traditional ingredients with modern approaches to offer its guests an all-encompassing culinary experience.
The vibe is cozy and quirky, and the crowd flocks from the North Shore and the city alike, every night, rain or shine.
The cocktail menu itself was super impressive, with a plethora of specialty cocktails created by renowned Mixologists Ziyad Asrar and Robert Haynes, and also offers a Sommelier crafted wine list. I was finally able to decide on the Peruvian Sunrise as my drink of choice. The drink had La Botija Pisco Quebranta, strawberry, arbol, chile and lemon. The drink had sweet and sour refreshing tastes, and is the perfect pick-me-up, no matter the time of the day.
Before my cocktail even arrived, I already had in front of me their Pinto Bean soup amuse with enough spice from the chili de arpol to tickle my throat and jumpstart my palate.
The menu is concise and easy to choose from, with three distinct sections, Vegetarian, Fish and Meat. I started out with an order of their Poblano and Calabaza from the veggie section, and both dishes knocked my socks off.
The beer-battered cornmeal with Chevre and habanero jack cheese, chick peas and pickled mushrooms needs no more explanation, other than you have to get it when you go here.
The Calabaza was roasted acorn squash with wild mushroom risotto and truffle oil. The next time your kids don’t eat their veggies, bring them to Libertad. The dishes are so gorgeously plated that it could make a vegetarian out of anyone.
Now that I had warmed up, the fish dishes started to arrive. First on the list was the Tuna, which was served pan-seared with wild mushrooms, marble potatoes, pickled serranos and balsamic beurre blanc. This dish blew my mind! The tuna was tender as a medium rare steak, and all the smoky flavors of the meat unified wonderfully with the rest of the ingredients.
The Pulpo (Spanish Octopus), which is my gold standard for Latin American restaurants and was just so pretty, I couldn’t take my eyes off it for sometime! The octopus was chewy in the right amount and roasted in a garlic-garbanzo puree with grape tomatoes, capers, spiced garbanzos, lemon zest and chili oil. What a stellar dish!
My favorite dish however, was one not on the menu (perks of being a food blogger I guess). Chef Gill who doesn’t stick to the script (and I love that) sent out Seared Scallops in a butternut squash with brussels sprouts and a Port glaze. Every scallop I ate was sweet and fresh, every bite exuded the same flavors, and I was entirely awed by the consistency of this dish.
Having said that, the Branzino is a must-try on the menu. It’s a whole fish that is topped with a delicious gremolata (fennel-parsley-lemon), arugula, potatoes, cucumber and drizzled heavily with a caper-serrano vinaigrette. You simply can’t leave here without trying this.
As full as I was, I was eyeing the desserts and Chef put my quandary to rest by sending out their Bread Pudding (also not on the menu) and the Flan. Both were unequivocally decadent and a special mention to their house made Dulce de Leche sauce, which was dangerously addictive. I felt no shame as I licked every drop off my fork and fingers.
On the side I ordered a drink from another amazing Hot Drink selection, the Hot Chocolate; Mexican spiced-drinking chocolate, rice milk, Rhum Jm Vo, cinnamon and orange peel. You can imagine how well that went with the desserts on hand.
Dinner was utterly satisfying, service was impeccable, and the food is delicious. I loved how the menu is fair in paying homage to all Latin American countries. The portions are good sized and flavors are memorable. Prices are not bad too. What more can you want from a dining experience?!
Seriously, pay a visit to Libertad!
It’s been back to my roots lately and I’m happy to report that I’ve been eating some delicious Indian food. This includes a contribution from a little gem located in Schiller Park, named, Mantra. I was invited in to try their menu recently and haven’t been able to stop talking about it since. I also got to bring a guest, which is always a perk.
Mantra is the sister restaurant of Indian Garden Restaurant located in downtown Chicago, and the latter is also my favorite Indian restaurant in the city. So while the excitement was high, so were my expectations.
At the onset let me say, that Mantra fulfilled all of those expectations and to the fullest. The ambiance is charming and welcoming. The servers and staff smiling cheek to cheek, and the aromas so good that it almost created an impatience to dive into the food and take a bite of whatever it is that I smelled.
The Sweet Lassi, which is the non-negotiable drink of choice for me with any Indian meal, was creamy and dreamy!
A vegetarian platter of crispy deep fried okra and fenugreek flavored potato cakes was sent out almost instantly. A trio of really unique sauces also came with it, which was a nice change from the usual mint and tamarind chutneys served at Indian restaurants.
The Kadak Seekh Kebab was especially fun because I never get to eat kebabs since they’re usually meat-based. So their all-vegetarian version made from ground veggies in the clay oven with delicious flavors of cumin and cilantro, was greatly appreciated. And it also made for a nice appetizer before a lavish meal ahead.
In my opinion, Indian seafood cuisine is still evolving and I always wish it could be more innovative. Indians are usually wary to order seafood at Indian restaurants, just for that reason. Both Indian Garden and Mantra manage to nail their seafood fare, so pescetarians, I hope you are taking notes!
From their Tandoor Section, Chef sent out an amazing Seafood Platter with an assorted of their delicious, Fish Tikka, Shrimp Tandoori and Amrithsari Fish. Each, unique in flavor, with marinades that held the seasonings in place. The cumin provided such an earthy taste which also combined nicely with the charcoal flavors of the tandoor. The meat itself was so tender that it almost melted in my mouth with each bite.
As we were finishing up, out came a plethora of vegetarian and seafood curry dishes that suddenly added a splash of color to our table. On the side was served a basket of their freshly baked garlic Naan. Hmmm Yum!
My favorites were the Palak Paneer and the Fish Tikka Masala. The former was such a beautifully executed combination of creamed spinach and cottage cheese cubes emitting wonderful aromas of coriander, cumin and garlic. The Fish Tikka Masala was just a vibrant dish that although creamy it had a certain lightness to it. The fish cubes were delicately marinated yet did their bit to add flavor to the sauce.
The Goan Shrimp Curry was every bit exotic and having grown up on the coast in India and having had with my fair share of Goan cuisine, I savored every bite with complete nostalgia.
I ate big helpings of both curries with the Jeera Rice (Cumin Rice) served along with it , and did so with a huge smile on my face.
Later, they were nice enough to send out a platter of their Kulfi and Gulab Jamun for dessert. Both classics were done nicely here. The fragrant and frozen Kulfi was generously filled with pistachios and gave off hints of rose. It was just the perfect way to cool down after a spicy meal. Their desserts allowed a true indulgence of my sweet tooth temptations.
I feel like I had the most perfect dinner at Mantra. The ambiance pairs traditional with modern, the staff is cheerful and the food consistently fresh and tasty. It is also the closest Indian restaurant to O’Hare Airport; so if you’re transiting through Chicago, and want to appease your cravings for Indian food or just good food, go here. Mantra won’t disappoint.
There’s a new parlor in town! Punch Bowl Social just opened its thirteenth location in Chicago, in the West loop, and I got to take a sneak peek before it opened to the public.
This multi-level establishment is huge and there’s nothing ordinary about its ambiance. A place for social gaming, food and drinks alike, that you can either do separately or together.
Many different hangout areas created with different vibes to suit your mood, and several bars to order your craft cocktails at. Their scratch made kitchen delivers dishes such as Lobster Roll, Lobster Bacon Fries, the Impossible Burger , and Super Food Grain Bowl.
I’m a fan of places that account for their pescetarain and vegetarian patrons. For brunch lovers, they’ve got items such as Ricotta Cheese pancakes and Chicken Waffles. And for drinks you’ve got cocktails such as the Coco Fresca and Lord Stanley’s Cup with Bacardi and Rum Haven Coconut. So refreshing! Until I can get to a beach, this will do!
Punch Bowl Social is for everyone. And they’ve got all your favorite gaming activities covered. I’m so glad they graced us with their presence in Chicago. Yay!
The Fifty/50 in Wicker Park recently had its 10thbirthday celebration and I got to be a part of the celebrations. It was also the first day of March Madness so the mood was festive and exciting all around. We were invited to try their featured anniversary menu and experience some gourmet bar food. The preview dinner preceded their actual birthday party open to public on Saturday, March 16th.
My guest and I walked into a bustling scene and got settled in with one of their special anniversary drinks, the Naughty Lemonade, served in their commemorate golden cup. For food, we got to sample a variety of amazing dishes such as their Cheese Curds, Cheesy Waffle Fries, Pork Belly with Corn Bread and healthier options such as the Cobb Salad. At the restaurant you can be rest assured of warm food, excellent service, and an incredible bar scene! If you haven’t checked it out yet, then you’re missing out and if you have, then you just cant afford to miss their Anniversary Partay.
I think seafood boil just got redefined for me, and the reason is a visit to another Skokie gem I discovered recently called, The Boiler Shrimp & Crawfish. Holy seafood!
I’m not new to the Cajun seafood scene in Chicago, but I can’t say I’ve had it this good, and it makes me wonder why I haven’t made the trek to Skokie to eat here, all these years. Everything about this place was amazing, an unpretentious ambiance, a simple menu and smiling servers. Their goal is to let diners feel like they can let their hair down and get their hands dirty, and the vibe does just that.
I usually get to bring a guest to these things, but this guest was extra special, since it was my dad who was visiting me from India at the time. Having grown up in a coastal city, I was eager to see what he thought about the seafood-in-a-bag concept. The verdict: It was remarkable!
When we walked into the bustling Friday evening scene, owner Chris Talo personally greeted us and seated us at our table. I definitely felt special seeing how they had to turn patrons away because existing ones were already on a two-hour wait list. Having had dinner here now, I see how this popularity is well deserved.
Chris wanted us to try some of their signature appetizers and started sending them out one by one. First arrived their crispy Cajun Fries. In addition to the crisp on the potatoes, I was amazed at how evenly coated these were with seasoning. The Garlic Noodles were hot and buttered with copious amounts of fresh garlic and I loved how simple yet heavily flavorful these were. Later Chris mentioned that the restaurants buys about 300 pounds of garlic a week. That’s a lot of garlic!
With such a stellar start, I knew that we were in for a treat. The Fried Basket came with an assortment of fried catfish, fried softshell crab, fried shrimp and fried calamari and two delectable dipping sauces. All meat was tender and sizzling hot, crispy enough to coat the protein, yet without the grease. The basket could easily be a meal in itself, but not for me. There was so much more I wanted to explore here and I wasn’t ready to stop just yet.
The Crab Cakes were probably a favorite for both my dad and me. They came topped with fresh arugula and avocado, and sat on a thin layer of this delicious cilantro avocado aioli that would leave you licking your fingers. The pattys were clean and not messy, with sweet flavors from the meat itself. We scarfed these down and in no time.
We were now ready to get the show on the road. At our table arrived a big bag of all seafood goodness drenched in their Trifecta Sauce (which was a combination of their Cajun, lemon pepper and garlic sauces). The bag was then cut as its contents were spilled out onto the table, and I sat staring at beautiful Dungeness crab claw caps, King Crab legs, headless shrimp and clams. The sauce made from scratch was buttery and fully packed with Cajun and garlic flavors. All recipes are Chris’s own and to me had hints of curry, but is always a plus. I also loved that its consistency was thick enough to dip and coat the meat in. Every piece of fish I ate was tasty; even the corn and potatoes in the bag had marinated exceptionally well.
We shucked and slurped our way through everything on the table until our bellies were about to explode. Then we took the warm Corn Fritters and Hush Puppies that had been brought last, and doused them into the sauce to get every bit of it. I wasn’t about to let that heavenly concoction go to waste.
We finally ended with a small bag of their seasoned crawfish until we couldn’t stuff ourselves anymore.
What stayed with me most from this tasting was the sheer freshness and flavors of all the food. Both were on point and the service was flawless. They have lots of specials running throughout the week, $1 oysters on Mondays for example. Its BYOB and there’s also a liquor shop across the street!
You can’t be a Chicagoan and not visit here, and if you’re from out of town, visit The Boiler Shrimp & Crawfish to see how well we do our seafood.
Get your bib on!
You bet I jumped up at an invite to return to Chicago’s seafood staple and try new items on the menu. Afterall, King Crab House is a seafood phenomena in my opinion, and the vision of well-celebrated restaurateur, Cy Sadaka who’s resume boasts over 40 years of experience bringing the best seafood to Chicagoans..
I also just love their ambiance, which is an unassuming space with a cozy nautical theme, and every visit a reminder that there is always a home for true seafood lovers here.
I had a refreshing start with their signature Mai Tai, which here, stays true to its Polynesian version and is simply a delicious rum punch.
With my drink in tow, I ordered some appetizers starting with their Spicy Shrimp, Sizzling Calamari and Crab Stuffed Mushrooms. The mushrooms were my favorite with tender shrooms generously filled with a savory crab and cheese mixture. The Calamari was just the perfect pescetarian treat. It was a spicy medley of onions and peppers sprinkled with a yummy garlic and pepper seasoning mixed in with fresh squid meat. The shrimp was noteworthy too, especially the crispy batter the jumbo crustaceans were covered in. They had a zing to them too.
You can’t visit King Crab House and not order the crab, but after all the indecisiveness, I asked to try their Crab Bowl which came as an assortment of ½ pound each of King Crab legs, Snow Crab legs and Dungeness Crab legs steamed and doused in a lip smacking garlic sauce. This dish was so good that now my only worry is that I’ll want it everyday. In addition, our amazing bartender Jill who also doubles up as a Crab Master, came and sat at our table to give me and my guest a personal crab shucking tutorial. That was fun! After surveying the damage, I would say, we were quick learners.
The Grand Finale definitely was the Mahi Mahi from the fresh catch section of their menu, and it came with an unforgettable Champagne Coconut Cream Sauce. The sauce blend with hints of coconut with this fresh island fish definitely got me ready for my next beach vacation. I’ll be back for this one!
Dessert was a giant platter of their homemade waffle with icecream, whipped cream and fresh strawberries drizzled with chocolate sauce. Simple, fresh and the perfect way to appease the sweet tooth.
The waffle made me think of brunch and I quickly learned that they will now be offering brunch and guess who will be visiting to try?!
King Crab House is a place meant for fish lovers. I felt right at home.
Let’s admit that the word BBQ is often synonymous with meat. I’m usually drooling when I see photos of meat being barbequed because there’s something very tempting about burnt ends and delicious sauces. So you can imagine my excitement when Wrigley BBQ invited me to try their special Lenten Specials menu with amazing seafood fare.
Located in the heart of Chicago’s bustling Wrigleyville neighborhood, this place is all things BBQ, where all the meat is smoked in-house and sauces made with a whole lot of flavors and love.
Owner and Pitmaster, Mitch Liebovich is hands-on and personally greeted my guest (my mom who was visiting at the time) and me, when we arrived. He took the time to sit down with us to give us a brief history of how this culinary vision came about, and shared his own background with food. You know there’s passion involved when you hear that the owner made his first brisket at the age of 3!
Our feast ensued with their current bestseller, the Walleye Sandwich. Mild and tender fish carefully battered and cooked to order, placed on a buttery hoagie bun with lettuce and tartar sauce, was everything my heart-desired right that moment. I’m starting to think that all seafood restaurants should have a walleye dish on their menu. It’s such an enjoyable fish, when cooked right, like it was here.
Mitch personally served us our next item, the Crawfish Po’Boy sandwich. I’ll be the first to confess that until now, I avoided these little mudbugs because I was never able to develop a liking to it. But Mitch assured me that his crawfish was like no other and I trust the guy who’s been cooking since his childhood. Well, he was so right!
I took a giant bite off the open-faced sandwich with country-fried crawfish drizzled with spicy remoulade and was blown away. The creole seasoning in the batter combined marvelously with the spicy-sour condiment, and now… I’m a convert. Thank you Mitch for not letting me miss out on the wonderful potential of crawfish!
Mitch was also sweet enough to have my meat-eating mom try their famous Chicken Platter and also a side of their three-piece Jumbo Whole Wings, which she devoured.
While all portions were hearty, I don’t want to forget that all entrees came with a side, which in itself was filling at times. We tried the Coleslaw, Jalapeno Corn Bread, Mashed Potatoes, Garlic Green Beans, and Onion Rings.
The corn bread was served with a homemade Honey Butter, and was super moist. Just the perfect companion for a good Southern Meal!
For dessert, we indulged in their Fresh Beignets, which came three New Orleans-style doughnuts topped with powdered sugar, and generously showered with a bourbon syrup sauce. What an absolutely lip-smacking sugar treat!
Each dish had its own individuality here and was made fresh. The portions were sumptuous and the taste scrumptious. Thanks to places like Wrigley BBQ that don’t overlook the potential of seafood, when it comes to barbeque cuisine. Comfort food served with TLC is what Wrigley BBQ is about.
This visit will stay with me for a while!
I know I said I don’t like frozen desserts, but a visit to Snow Dragon Shavery may have changed that for me.
Thanks to a generous invite from owner Roshan, I got to visit this fun dessert spot at their Lakeview location. I’ll be honest, when Roshan first invited me in, I didn’t really expect more than some flavored shaved ice. But little did I know of all the wonderful offerings this place has! The options were endless and every bit unforgettable.
I went in one evening with both my parents to see what the fuss was all about. After all I had been hearing about this place for months now.
We began our adventure with a colorful platter of every imaginable flavor of macarons. made specially by a French baker and brought in. We quickly transitioned into a dreamy macaron sandwich and I was simply amazed at how creatively this iconic French pastry had been converted into another delightful dessert. Every bite was delightful.
Soon after, Roshan brought out a cutely decorated coconut from which we drank sweet coconut water. With it also came a tool to extract the coconut meat and that was so fun!
The Cloud 9 was an absolute stunner, frozen yogurt served on a bed of blue cotton candy giving the impression of a cloud floating on its own, had the most tasty flavors and textures.
Roshan recently added some Asian treats to his selection, which includes a delicious Pistachio Kulfi (Indian icecream) Popsicle and was basically heaven in every bite with hints of rose water. We concluded with a tall cup of Avocado Coconut Bubble Tea. This creamy drink came with tender pearls of Boba (tapioca) and mochi that created just the perfect harmony, although a filing end to our tasting.
Who would’ve thought this pescetarian would be reviewing a frozen yogurt shop, but that’s why I love what I do. I am so glad I didn’t miss out on the pure magic of Snow Dragon Shavery. I’m liking the sound of, The Chicago Desertatarian.
With winter lingering and no Spring in sight, the invitation to dine in at Mahalo couldn’t have been at a more perfect time. Because a visit to Mahalo is like a visit to Hawaii, and every dish here can instantly transport you to a beach somewhere.
I had the most amazing meal there recently, and still smiling as I write this blog. Firstly, the vibe and ambiance itself is so airy and refreshing that it makes you want to never leave.
The cocktail menu has been so well thought of, with sufficient options to choose from. My drink of choice was the Island Sangria, which came highly recommended by our server, a smooth medley of Primmaterra, Pinot Grigio, Giffard strawberry, demerara and fresh juices. Jealous yet?
For appetizers, the Coconut Shrimp and Fried Calamari sounded perfect. The shrimp was so amazing that just one bite in, I knew I had to have more. Crunchiest, juicy shrimp served with a lip-smacking mango sweet chili sauce. The Fried Calamari was just the perfect pleaser for my seafood itch. Tender pieces of squid nicely fried in a crisp batter and garnished with cilantro.
The Hawaiian Vegetarian Ramen was a pleasant surprise. This portion was massive and leftovers itself lasted me a few days. But that’s not a complaint, because I could eat bowls of those noodles with vegetable dumplings, edamame, mushrooms and bean sprouts, forever. Guys, try this!
Another island favorite for me that so well-done here, are the Fish Tacos. Tender, juicy fish served with Japanese pickle and a ginger-cilantro sauce. So, so flavorful and the luau rice it sat on was the most pleasant addition.
Mahalo also has a section dedicated to Poke; makes sense that it would offer this classic Hawaiian raw fish salad. Their version with salmon was absolutely scrumptious. Rich salmon with soy-bean, cucumber, red pepper, scallion, sesame, with creamy avocado. The textures of the yuzu crunch mixed in did wonders and the citrus wasabi aioli added a robust flavor to the dish. Not to be missed!
The dessert offerings were also impressive here, and I seldom deviate from chocolate, especially when there’s a classic chocolate cake on the menu. The coconut glaze with macadamia nuts was the clincher for me. And the fact that it came with a paper umbrella!
Loved that Mahalo has both Hawaiian classics and fusion fare. Everything tasted fresh and had lightness to it, leaving you satisfied without any guilt. I’ll go back to Mahalo in a heartbeat!