They call themselves a seafood institution, and rightfully so. I finally made my way to Wheeling to the much talked about Bob Chinns Crabhouse recently, and my final thoughts from the visit there, are that I wish I had been here much sooner. Clearly, I have been missing out.
Bob Chinn’s has been doing seafood since 1982 and was one of the first seafood restaurants to launch in the Midwest. Since then, it has grown into an expansive, 175-seat restaurant and is now the 4thtop grossing independently-owned restaurant in the U.S.
A few other food bloggers and I had been invited in to try their menu recently, and I just haven’t been able to stop raving about my experience there. As an avid pescetarian, the visit was not only eye-opening, but also pure indulgence.
We were personally greeted by Bob Chinn’s grand daughter Karly who gave us an extensive history of the restaurant as well as a preview of the menu we were about to try.
Karly started us with some of their signature drinks, one of them being their Mai Tai, which we chose to enjoy in their special souvenir tiki mugs.
Our specially designed menu started with a plethora of phenomenal appetizers such as their salt and pepper calamari, swordfish ceviche, and crab meat vermicelli, to name a few.
The vermicelli was packed with intense flavor and generously strewn with the sweetest crab. It was the dish I had been dreaming about prior to my visit, and having tried it I can say, it was indeed a dream come true.
The flash-fried whole Mediterranean seabass was impressive. It came with a salsa type medley on the base and the fish itself was flaky fresh. The macadamia crusted Alaskan halibut was tasty also and the textures were crunchy yet soft.
The Garlic Kona Crab however was my pick of the night. Not sure how they manage to infuse the crabmeat with garlic flavors through the shell, but they do. The portions were satisfyingly sufficient also. Their surf and turf option had two succulent South Africa lobster tails which I also couldn’t stop eating. And all this with their basket of freshly baked garlic rolls on the side. That’s a lot of garlic on garlic action, but who’s complaining!?!
Desserts were just as grand. We got a tasting of each, the Bob’s Slice of Paradise (my favorite), key lime pie, luau cake an the mud pie. All desserts are made daily and in-house. It’s nice when restaurants are focused on one thing and manage to do other aspects well too. I would even go here just for their dessert!
Needless to say, I left with a happy belly, my souvenir mug in tow! Bob Chinn’s is every pescetarian’s birthright!
Ten years in the city and how is it that I am only now visiting La Scarola restaurant located in River West (blocks away from my work)?! Better late than never I guess!
The restaurant recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and is owner Armando Vasquez’s pride and joy. He personally attends to patrons every night and has had a slew of celebrity guests as evident from the walls of fame on both sides of the restaurant.
All recipes are also his own and he personally oversees the kitchen when he’s there. Needless to say, he greeted and hosted me and my guest with no restrain.
The 2015 Sanford Pinot Noir was the best choice for the meal; it was a full bodied wine that paired well with fish and pasta alike. A restaurant that serves good wine and a server that can suggest good winem are both great marks of a fine Italian restaurant. Don’ you think?
The food started flowing almost as fast as the wine and suddenly our table was consumed with platters of their Seafood Salad, Shrimp Armani, Grilled Octopus, Grilled Asparagus, and Fried Zucchini. Just when I thought the city couldn’t produce a better octopus dish, this one knocks my pescetarian socks off.
Perfectly charred with crispy edges, tender on the inside and with flavor bursts in every bite. The Zucchini was prepared in such a light batter without letting the moistness of the zucchini to make it soggy. It was mildly seasoned and I had to fight hard to stop eating them.
The Shrimp Armani was my favorite from this section of the menu. Jumbo grilled shrimp sautéed in a spicy, red sauce and set over garlic blended mashed potatoes and garnished with arugula. Strong flavors in this dish and a stew like consistency.
Pastas are all made in-house as you’d expect from a restaurant of this stature. I tried the Pasta Della Casa, Gnocchi, and Ravioli. The gnocchi was little, dense pearls of pasta, fluffy enough to carry the vodka sauce it was cooked in.
The Ravioli came in a spicy Arrabiatta sauce and was mixed in with the freshest basil I’ve ever had. It was so aromatic that I caught myself inhaling before every bite.
Italian desserts are just as romantic as Italian food, and the Tiramisu and the Cannoli were both fantastic here. It truly ended the meal on a very sweet note.
You ought to give La Scarola a try. They are open seven days a week for dinner, and also have a catering menu. Their valet service is pretty stellar too.
Thanks for your hospitality!
Let me just begin by saying that if you’re a sushi lover and live in the city, you just can’t afford to not pay a visit to Arami, located in West Town. I recently visited there to have dinner with owner Ty Fujimura and taste some of the new items on their menu. And although it wasn’t my first visit, it might as well have been because not only did I get a true understanding of the philosophy upon which this restaurant was created, but it also brought back sushi to its original intent of simplicity and authenticity, for me.
The restaurant celebrates 8 years next fall and is homage to Ty and his brother Troy’s grandparents. Their vision was to bring both their Hawaiian and Japanese roots to the cuisine and they’ve managed to do so successfully. Chef Nelson, who has been with them for a good part of their tenure is unafraid to push the envelope yet keeps it aligned with the restaurant’s mission. Both Ty and Chef are committed to evolving the restaurant by changing at least a dozen items on the menu every three to four months. How refreshing for patrons!
Arami means garden and the restaurant’s ambiance supports that with a green and wooded decor allowing you to get lost in the forest theme. The restaurant itself is tucked away in the back, and the signage is purposely kept obscure. I guess if you’re determined, you’ll find your way to the restaurant.
Ty left no stone unturned in his hospitality and was determined to provide me with the complete Arami experience. After catching up for a few minutes and discussing the history of the restaurant, he started us off with a bottle of the Ichi No Torii, their signature sake which apparently can be served hot or cold and pairs well with everything. It accompanied us through the majority of our meal and did its part in augmenting the flavors perfectly. I’m definitely getting a bottle of this very versatile sake.
One of my favorite amuse bouche, courtesy Chef Nelson was the smoked tofu brandade with ikura, dill, shallot, ohba and sesame, served with olive oil crackers. I cannot do justice in describing the amazing flavors of the creamier tofu (with almost burrata like consistency) and the salty caviar.
The Uni Shooters came almost instantly after. If you know me well, you know I won’t casually shoot uni. But I trusted Ty and with the amazing start we had had already and felt like I needed to. The sea urchin was placed in a sweet and smoky soy with wasabi tobiko, cucumber and ohba. Smooth is the best way to describe it all. And it left me craving for more.
We switched gears to vegetarian fare as Ty made it a point to show me with pride how well Arami caters to its vegetarian clients. Here vegetarians are certainly not an after thought. In fact, I may very well go in just to have a few orders of their Karashi Nanohana (Broccolini). Lightly sautéed with mustard seeds and miso-mustard vinaigrette, and just the most harmonious blend of ingredients in my opinion.
The Tako Sansai was next in line, a new item on their menu and an absolute stunner. Octopus served with angelica shoot, pickled wild mushroom, fennel, gochujank, and kabosu vinaigrette. With every bite, I was in awe at its sheer elegance and taste.
We transitioned to some of silky, creamy Hamachi nigiri next. I scarfed these down. My favorite dish of the night was definitely the Hamachi Truffle, came out on a cold stone with the perfect amount of truffle oil, mushrooms and kaiware (daikon radish sprout).
The stunner of the night was the Tamago Ajitsule (a Shoyu marinated egg) served on a bed of bonito flakes and some greens. Some serious yolk porn and a very tasty egg cooked on the robata. The brine with the charcoal flavor was delicious. I’d go back to snack on this dish in a heartbeat.
For dessert we had the last Melon Bar they had left, and who knew that it goes so well with matcha. Definitely pepped me up for summer. A delightful dessert to add the perfect tinge of sweetness to a scrumptious meal.
This restaurant and the food served here is pure elegance. Every dish has been given thought and no dietary preference left out. And I’ve sharing about my experience almost as much as I enjoyed eating all the food. An unforgettable meal indeed!
How would you like to eat upscale Italian food that still preserves the comfort of a home cooked meal? Part of Chicago’s oldest Italian restaurant, The Italian Village, Vivere is located on the first floor and offers a whimsical and lavish décor.
Our meal started with a heavy pour of the Garruba Spumante (Rose) from their ‘Regional Glass Pours of the Month’ series. Their very cheerful Wine Director introduced a new concept of offering three featured wines from the same grape and the same region in Italy, to bring patrons wines from the under-represented regions of the country. The Librandi Ciro Bianco is now the most favorite vino blanco I have had in my life.
Chef Zozzy Amelotti is unafraid to get imaginative and push the envelope for fine Italian cuisine by presenting dishes such as the Funghi Ripieni and the Polpo Alla Griglia.
I loved that the octopus came with grilled watermelon and a balsamic glaze which brought a lightness to the dish. The Ripinei was a roasted Portobello filled with truffle Tomini cheese and roasted peppers, and was simply delightful.
Even the Crabcakes offered a unique twist came sitting on a bed of red cabbage puree and drizzled with chive vinaigrette. These little fish cakes were moist and the mixture blended in with sweet drop peppers giving it intense flavor.
The pasta at Italian Village has never disappointed and Vivere held up those standards well. Risotto is and always has been my favorite pasta and I am glad I got to try their Risotto con Granchio e Gamberi (with Jumbo Lump Crab and Prawns) in a green pesto sauce and a lightly salted, cream herbed Tomini cheese.
For our seafood entrée, the Halibut was an amazing pick, thanks to Chef Zozzy who had planned out our entire dinner for us. The caponata sauce was such a treat and the olives and capers gave the fish a nice tart. Of course the orange-carrot puree was the star of the show for me in this dish.
With such an amazing meal, you can only imagine what dessert brought to the table. The Torta di Formaggio was a dolce de leche pie with a dark chocolate graham cracker crust and basically heaven on a plate. It couldn’t get dreamier.
Vivere was the last restaurant at Old Italian Village that remained for me to visit and now I’m wondering what took me so long to try its magnificence. I’ll be back!
The awesome people behind Nonnina and Piccolo Sogno have now brought us River West’s next new hot spot, Maillard Tavern. A cute and chic eatery located on the corner of Milwaukee and Grand Avenue, offering burgers, beers, and boozy shakes.
I got to pay a visit there recently so I can bring you the scoop. The menu is outstanding, concise, but outstanding. Their burgers are known to be fantastic but this non-meat eating pescetarian didn’t’ feel left out one bit, because the Impossible Burger makes up for it all.
A giant grass-fed 6-ounce vegetable patty with mushrooms, chipotle and melted Swiss cheese was all that I could’ve asked for that afternoon. The cilantro on the burger added such cool flavors too.
A restaurant that can accommodate you above and beyond is what Mailard Tavern is. They also did the cheesy fries for me without the duck fat and I saw myself relishing them just as much as the person next door with the regular fries. A restaurant that can accommodate all dietary preferences and make the food without any comprise, always wins in my eyes.
I think I also found my new favorite Clam Chowder in the city at this restaurant. And I may have literally licked a bowl or two clean. A smooth and cream-based soup with clams, potatoes, and leeks mixed in. I especially liked that the consistency of the broth, which wasn’t too thick like the canned version of this soup often is. It had a wonderful, home-cooked touch to it.
I loved that Vanilla Milkshake was an option along side their boozy cocktails. Especially for someone like me, who wants the best of both (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) beverages, sometimes.
This was no ordinary milkshake; such authentic vanilla bean flavors with a thick and indulgent texture, and the rich and creamy Crème Anglaise on top. A great addition to the meal!
Despite all this indulgence, the Warm Cookie Skillet was ordered. It was a trio of their Chocolate Chip, White Chocolate Macadamia, and S’mores cookies baked in a cast iron pan and served piping hot. A dessert that won’t make you care how full you are!
My experience at Maillard Tavern was simply delightful. It’s a place where you can let you hair down and enjoy a nice and comforting lunch without any fuss or frill.
This place should be your next choice for dining out!
If you’re going to have lobster delivered to your doorstep, it better be from the national lobster experts. Since 1987, Lobstergram has been bringing lobster lovers all over, fresh lobster and other seafood options.
As part of their Indulgence Campaign, I was recently a recipient of their Individual Indulgence Gram, which was a delectable box of fresh-frozen Maine Lobster Tail. New England Clam Chowder, Unsalted Butter, and Chocolate Lava Cake. With it, also came all the tools I needed to enjoy this delicious pescetarian meal.
The delivery was on time, the meat succulent, and the fresh and the flavors absolutely brilliant.
If you missed my lobster cooking experience on Instagram Stories, I decided to make a version of Lobster Tandoori using an array of exotic Indian spices, yogurt and garlic paste. I marinated the lobster with this mixture for a day before broiling in the oven for about 45 minutes. Out came a stunning and vibrant piece of red lobster, which I devoured in a matter of minutes. I heavily garnished it with cilantro too!
There’s so much you can do with a fresh or frozen seafood and Lobstergram certainly helped spark the inner chef in me! Thanks Lobstergram!
Ten years in the South Loop and I’m only now making my way into Chicago’s oldest franchise pizza chain at their South Loop location. Better late than never, they say. But a recent visit there made me wonder how I hadn’t stumbled upon their amazing thin crust pizza all these years.
I went in with a fellow food blogger for a pizza feast recently and had the most enjoyable time. The space is expansive and very inviting, and they even have a patio, which is always a plus.
The wine and beer options are sufficient and some fun handcrafted cocktails on the menu, such as the Millenium Margarita, which I may have had a few of. A warm day and Millagro Tequila just go together.
We decided to go in for the combination platter to get a nice sampling of their Italian staples. We chose the Fried Ravioli, Jalapeno Poppers and Fried Mushrooms and also ordered a side of their Bosco Sticks, which were these delicious breadsticks stuffed with mozzarella cheese served plain, or in our case with garlic seasoning.
Off to a good start, we felt that it was only appropriate to balance out the fried foods with one of their signature salads. The Citrus Salad was a tender mix of field greens, sweet mandarin oranges, dried cranberries and candied pecans. We generously drizzled it with their smooth and tangy raspberry vinaigrette.
Then there was pizza! And we had to try one of each, the thin crust and the deep dish. We customized the thin crust pizza with olives, mushrooms, onions, and fresh garlic. Their crust is definitely one of the best around, and the sauce perfectly zesty.
The Deep Dish pizza promises a crispy, buttery crust, and a blend of chewy cheeses liberally covered in a tangy-sweet tomato sauce. My favorite part was the caramelized cheese on the edges of the crust. Such a treat!
After contemplating our full bellies for just a few seconds, we caved in and ordered their Deep Dish Cookie, which is a sugar lovers dream. A half-pound chocolate chip cookie, baked to perfection and topped with a mound of vanilla ice-cream and whipped cream was what was in store for us.
It always amazes me how good dessert has the ability to make you forget how full you are!
Aurelios is impressive all around. They do it all and they take pride in their food. It definitely doesn’t come across as a chain restaurant and the restaurant itself has such a great vibe. I’m adding this to my list of South Loop favorites!
Sometimes you have to drive a distance to get homestyle Italian fare, but luckily not all the way to Italy. There is a quaint, café-style restaurant in Dunning, called BarTucci, that may just be your best restaurant find for this year.
Owner Gino invited me for a menu tasting recently and this time, I got to bring my dad as my guest, which made it extra special.
Before we began our food adventure, Gino sat with us to give us a little history about the restaurant and how it came about. Gino’s goal is to serve up home-cooked style Italian food made with the freshest of ingredients and lots of love. In his words, “ I want people to feel like they have stepped into a piazza.” He also mentioned that all the herbs are used from the garden in the back that has over hundred plants. Gino personally visits Italy a few times a year to research recipes for his restaurant. Now that’s passion!
Gino’s own background is everything culinary. Growing up, he assisted his family for years at Pasta Fresh, a pasta shop they’ve owned next door for over thirty years. Chef Raul Fransisco boasts twenty years working in the kitchens in Rome and blends influences from both northern and southern Italian cuisine.
It was hard to choose from all the amazing appetizers they have, but their vegetarian version of meatballs sounded too good to pass. The Polpettine di Melanzane was ground eggplant with onions, mint, parmigiano, ricotta and fried basil on a thick layer of tomato sauce. It was one of the most delicious dishes I have had. The meatballs were heart and the tomato sauce aromatic.
The Polpo e Calamari all Griglia was amazing also. Personally, I loved how it had both calamari and octopus and I didn’t have to choose between the two. I guess that’s how it’s served in Italy. Why am I still here?!
Both meats were grilled to perfection and lightly seasoned with lemon and EVOO.
Their version of Ricotta with Honey was marvelous. The ricotta was so smooth and luscious and I appreciated that the honey did not overpower it. The almonds and walnuts were generously sprinkled within while the crostini was toasted well. I smeared away until I realized that there was more to come.
Next, Gino brought out three distinct and popular pastas for us to try. The Gnocchi Sorrentina (which as you know by now) is one of my outright favorites in Italian food, was handmade pillowy soft gnocchi with homemade fresh mozzarella and both had a grandma’s cooking touch to it.
The dish that left me stunned however was the Linguine Nere all’ Aragosta (Squid Ink Pasta) with a fresh lobster tail, shallots and tomato cream sauce. I loved that although also tomato-based, the flavors of this sauce were so different from the eggplant dish. The notes of brandy in the dish also added an extra dimension in essence. The dish had a striking appearance especially with the shimmering pasta noodles. The lobster was tender and subtly sweet also.
The Risotto BarTucci was simply impressive. Honestly, I’ve never had fruit in my risotto before, so I was slightly wary at first. But the shrimp, Gorgonzola and pear was such a refreshing combination that it took away the heaviness of the Arborio rice instantly. The rice itself was cooked to utter perfection.
By now, I’ve stopped fighting my urge to try dessert after a full meal of pastas and breads. I think Gino could sense my sweet tooth too, because he sent out all the desserts on the menu. Particularly fun were the two Tiramisus they serve there, the Ma’s Tiramisu and the Papa’s Tiramisu. The maternal version was served in a jar and the paternal version was more conventional. Both were outstanding.
The Nutella Gelato was such a creamy treat with actual flavors of Nutella and more milk then cream, like a gelato should be. My dad’s verdict was that this was better than any gelato than he has had in Italy. Enough said!
We were also lucky to have their Cannoli (on special that night) and they came two tender shells filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. The touch of red wine and espresso was unique . And speaking of espresso, we did have a cup each to help stay awake with the ensuing food coma.
BarTucci is THE place for any Italian food lover. It’s BYOB, so you know that they’re focused on food! The space is cozy and homey, with a nicely decorated room you can rent for events or parties.
And every last Sunday of the month, Gino brings in a nonna (Italian grandmother) to come in and cook a pre-fixe four-course meal for guests. Tickets are $40 a person. Get your tickets for the next -Sunday With Nonna- soon!
If you say you’re a foodie, then you have to visit BarTucci! It will be a dining experience you will never forget.
Summer feels in full swing now that I have dined at the very fun and lively Parlay on the first floor of the multi-level sports bar, Joy District.
Located in the heart of River North on Hubbard Street, and headed by Chef Jason Hedin, Parlay promises to be one of the cities most exciting establishments. With ample space, multiple booths, and abundant LED TV screens all around, the scene is always enjoyable.
The drink offerings are plentiful and beer lovers have their pick of craft beers from local breweries. The cocktails are well designed; the Summer Lovers is one of their best. Cruzan, raspberry-basil syrup, lime, and ginger beer all together making one refreshingly tasty drink.
The appetizers were all impressive. I’ve never had Blackened Shrimp Cocktail; what a fun take on this classic. The shrimp was high quality, plump and juicy, and dipped well in the spiced banana-ketchup cocktail sauce on the side. You’d have to try this for yourself to taste the magic.
You don’t have to sell me on Avocado Toast and Crab Avocado Toast can only be the icing for me. Thick toasted sourdough bread with large heaps of fresh crab and a delicious mustard-aioli. This dish screams summer like no other.
The Chickpea Bites from their Hot Starters section was another addictive dish. The baked cubes with chickpea filling were perfectly seasoned and came with a harissa aioli that paired beautifully together. But don’t let these mini bites fool you, they’re pretty filling.
Their pizzas came highly recommended and I naturally veered towards their Avocado Pizza. The crust was pretty thin and it came laded with fajita-style vegetables and jalapenos. But the sunny-side egg on top was so neat. I mean, there’s egg porn and pizza porn, all at once. I couldn’t stop staring at it and also eating it.
But I had to save room for their Lobster Roll sliders. I loved that these lush rolls were miniature in size, making it not overwhelming and still enjoyable. The buns were thick and buttery and the lobster salad filling had celery, apple, and just the right proportion of Old Bay aioli. Very excited to find out that Lobster Rolls can make good appetizers too.
Just when I thought of skipping dessert, the Ice Cream Submarine Sandwich was recommended by our server. There was no way I was leaving Parlay without trying it! Yet, I wasn’t adequately prepared for what was about to transpire.
A giant éclair stuffed with six artisanal ice creams, huge dollops of whipped cream, cherries, nuts brownies, chocolate espresso beans, bananas and strawberries came WITH sparklers! I felt like it was my birthday, especially when the table next to ours started singing me Happy Birthday. This dessert is a showstopper, and probably a little too big for two people, but who cares, its all the good stuff.
Parlay is fun and tasty, the service is good, and the vibe so energetic. Get a group of friends to go out and dine here, afterwards, and you can go upstairs to their dance floor and work off your calories.