After a very exciting foodie month in May, it set the bar kind of high for June. But June came with its own surprises, and some really good ones!
I started the month with an amazing partnership with an online specialty store called MyValue365 that has a portal via which you can now order not just regular groceries but also ethnic groceries. No more waiting in line or renting a car to get your supplies!
This Chicago-based online store has carved a niche marketplace and specializes in Indian groceries, which I definitely appreciate.
Anything from small essential appliances, cooking supplies, meat, produce to snacks can be ordered for same day delivery, if ordered before 3pm. The website is so user-friendly to browse that it makes you want to “window shop” even online. The delivery was seamless with regular text updates.
I received my own box of essentials and I ordered a little bit of everything just to test it out. All the produce was fresh and everything arrived intact. I got myself a box of mangoes to keep up with my favorite mango season in Mumbai, where the fruit is abundant this time of the year. It instantly put my nostalgia to rest. I also ordered some Indian street snacks, which I often crave but usually have to wait until I can find the time to make a trip to Devon Ave.
This is going to be a life-changer for me and many Indians in the Chicagoland area, and also other ethnicities who have specific needs with groceries etc. Such a cool concept; I only wonder why no one thought about it all these years!
I better start budgeting for random deliveries I’m going to make in excitement.
Camp Dawson launched this month and I attended their very fun launch event. The event, which was held on their patio, featured a live band by the very talented Keithan Banks, camp fare such as grilled cheese and hot dogs, and fun camp-inspired cocktails such as green, red and blue bug juices. There were other cocktails floating around too. Their frozen Watermelo Challenge couldn’t have been a better way to cool off on that hot day.
It was such a wonderful time and at some point, we even ordered their S’mores Pie, which was deliciously decadent.
I loved the casual atmosphere as the crowd kept trickling in without being too packed. The staff at The Dawson is always so attentive and in my opinion, The Dawson has one of the best patios in town.
The event went on from 4-7pm, and will run the same time, every Sunday this summer. I think I just found my new Sunday Funday spot. Hope you’ll be there!
Kurah is no unfamiliar territory for me. I live in the South Loop and have been coming to this restaurant for years, yet I feel like a recent visit there to do a menu tasting opened up a whole new horizon of Middle Eastern goodness for me.
The restaurant serves elevated Mediterranean cuisine aligned with elevated service. My guest and I had the nicest, most knowledgeable server, and I think you’d agree, that it really helps make a dining experience more enjoyable.
The menu is extensive for both food and cocktails. The Pomegranate Mojito was phenomenal, as was the Tequila Sunrise that followed shortly after. Two drinks for me on a weeknight is a testament to some amazing craft cocktails.
The food offerings span across vegetarian, meat, and pescetarian fare. There is something for everyone here, regardless of your dietary preferences.
There is nothing more satisfying than a basket of house-made, warm pita bread, fresh out of the oven served with a trio of dips, also known as the Kurah Sampler. The hummus, fava bean dip and the garlic smash were on point. Creamy, flavorful, and authentic in every way, with pretty presentations too.
I won’t lie; I’m not a big fan of salads. They never seem to appeal to me. Yet Kurah’s Fattoush Salad is one of my favorite dishes in life. Such a delectable medley of diced romaine, Persian cucumbers, radish slices, tomatoes, onions, fresh mint, and sumach vinaigrette, The crispy pita disbursed within was in the right proportion too, and served to add a delicate crunch.
For dinner, we ordered the Seafood Platter and Grilled Kabob Platter (with a choice of two). My guest ordered the falafel and the lamb kabobs and I can’t say I wasn’t tempted with the latter. I loved how tender and juicy the falafel was but the coating was crispy and intact.
The Seafood Platter was a dream come true. It had everything from mussels, calamari, and shrimp all fresh and sautéed in butter, garlic, cilantro and red onions. Such a flavorful paste and all the meat was so well-coated. The marinade had also gotten into the mussel shells, which made it more tantalizing. The dish definitely had a punch to it, but I gladly slurped and burped my way through it.
We cooled our palettes off with their amazing Chocolate Walnut Baklava which took a while but so worth the wait. I love baklava, but this delicious dessert took it to a whole new level, with many marks for creativity! Thin, flaky, filo dough came layered with dark chocolate and crushed walnuts, served with dollops of whipped cream and a honey reduction on the side. Although the baklava was moist to begin with, the sweet sauce poured over made it all the more resistible and every bite soaking sweet.
We settled our food comas with some strong Arabic mint tea and I felt like I was having my own rendition of an Arabian night. Speaking of which, Kurah will host Arabian Nights on the first Friday of every month from 6-9pm, and everyone is welcome! There will be belly dancers and lots of other fun acts, so better to get a reservation prior.
Kurah also does a Happy Hour from 4pm to 6pm daily and hosts brunch on the weekends from 9am-3pm. And if $16 unlimited mimosas won’t get you in, I don’t know what will.
Plus, they’re on every delivery service imaginable, Doordash, Postmates and Uber Eats.
The best way to get your Mediterranean fill!
This month I was able to get a full flavor of a Mag Mile favorite at a menu tasting, at a restaurant called The Purple Pig. And, it could very well be one of my top three dining experiences in the city. Have you been there? If you have, you know how vibrant their setting is that holds up to the very pulsating energy of its neighborhood. Tourists and locals alike, flock to this city favorite with an average wait of three hours even on a weeknight.
Fourth generation restaurateur, chef, and owner, Jimmy Bannos Jr. was mentored under his dad and acclaimed chef, Jimmy Bannos Sr. (owner of Heaven On Seven). Culinary genius runs in their blood, as Chef Jimmy and his Sous Chef, Kevin Stack whip up amazing pan-Mediterranean fare with the most stunning plating my eyes have seen.
Chef Bannos’s own background being Greek and Italian, both flavors are showcased in the food, without abandon. The restaurant does everything from beer, wine, swine, seafood and desserts, served timely in small-plates style.
I took another blogger friend with me to enjoy the adventure without truly knowing what was in store for us. As we sat down, we were greeted by Sommelier Alan Beasey who has worked at some of the top Chicago restaurants including NoMi. His knowledge and hospitality fit every requirement of a charismatic Beverage Director eager to find the perfect bottle to pair with every step of your meal.
We had a strong start with the Dom Perignon 2006 as Chef Kevin started sending out the first batch of summer-inspired vegetarian fare on their menu. Did I mention that they have an entire section dedicated to vegetarian dishes, each unique in taste, flavor and appearance?
You know it’s going to be an amazing experience when the first dish feels like your favorite already, but the Whipped Feta truly was out of this world. Served with date crackers to bring sweetness to the tart feta, and garnished with saffron pickled leeks, this dish was too resistible not to finish. So much for a tasting.
I somehow managed as I was distracted with the next gorgeous dish that was brought out, the Oranges + Olives salad, with Valencia oranges, green olives, an olive vinaigrette and Fresno chilies. Another medley presenting sweet and tangy flavor while emitting a mild coolness to the palette. I could’ve eaten this forever.
The Salt Roasted Pineapple wins in presentation because it looked like a painting. I mean it literally had brush strokes of a red pepper aioli on either side. The ramp mojo verde was superb.
The Asparagus Risotto transitioned us into the heavier stuff, although it is the airiest pasta dish I have had. Perfectly cooked rice with ricotta salata, lemon zest, and chili flakes, and a lot of that Grand Pecorino I like.
The Ramp Agnolotti was pasta dough with a spring pea and cordycep mushrooms folded in and a creamy goat cheese. Again, it was so tender that I forgot it had any carbs. Wish all carbs I ate came with this kind of amnesia.
I really enjoyed the Tempura Cucumbers, which is their take on Fried Pickles. Since I am not a fan of pickles, this couldn’t have been more perfect for me. I was baffled at how well they kept the juicy cucumbers from leaking and making the dish soggy. I kept looking for it, but nope, they were crispy as ever from start to finish. The dill yogurt was finger-licking tasty.
We were only now beginning our foray into the seafood. I must admit that until this visit, I always thought the restaurant was pork- heavy, and that’s why you can’t just go off a name. The seafood that came out could’ve have fooled me that this was a seafood restaurant, because it was all so extravagant.
The Octopus A La Plancha with green beans and fingerling potatoes was such an enjoyable dish. The Razor Clams presented interesting textures of tender and chewy, and meshed well with the salsa verde.
The Calamari would be my pick however, with the Fregola, radishes, cucumbers and pistachios. I don’t think I’ve ever had squid with such delicate vegetables and flavors. This dish definitely goes down in the history of calamari as one of my favorites!
Dessert was no small party either. We had the Pink Guava with a Fromage Blanc Mousse and caramelized honeybee pollen, and their Rhubarb Sorbet with Strawberry Curd and a semi-crunchy coconut-oat crumble. Fancy presentations and decadence without the guilt. Both were paired with a lovely dry white port by Niepoort.
Need I say more about how utterly phenomenal my dinner at The Purple Pig was. I’m not sure I can get over this meal for a long time and I obviously mean that in the most positive way.
Any restaurant I dine at after this has big shoes to fill!
Okay, why didn’t anybody tell me about this Bridgeport gem called Franco’s Ristorante that’s been around for almost three decades?! Because when I recently visited the restaurant for a menu tasting I was completely blown me away!! And now I have regrets. Regrets about not having visited the restaurant sooner, that is.
Right as I walked in, I knew this was going to be an authentic experience. And they were sweet enough to let me bring both my parents as my guests, which made it even more endearing. I’ve had my fair share of delicious Italian food lately, so the bar had been set high. Owner Frank Ruffolo was personally there to greet us and talk with pride about this family restaurant that’s been around since 1989.
We started well with a beer, wine, and bellini each. I like restaurants with versatility in both drinks and food. The menu is brief, but I’ve learned now in my foodie life that it can only mean that the Chef knows what he is doing. Chef Juan Carlos has been with the restaurant for almost 25 years; another testament to the excellence of this restaurant.
The Grilled Calamari was the perfect choice indeed. The meat was fresh and had a chargrill taste to it, which always appeals to me. The balsamic drizzle was nicely done too.
The Whipped Ricotta Tuffo was one of my favorites. One bite in, we all had the biggest smile on our faces, as we smeared mini crostinis with heaps of creamy, whipped ricotta intertwined with orange marmalade and honey. These always make for refreshing appetizers.
With the menu not being overwhelming, it was nice to delve straight to the pastas and eat what they do best.
The Shrimp fra Diavolo, which literally means “shrimp brother devil” because of the spice factor, was zesty with a strong kick to it. Succulent shrimp were sautéed in an invigorating marinara sauce with served over tender linguini. The aromas were unbeatable.
I must’ve been on a spice kick, because I also asked to try the Spicy Penne Pesto with capers in a delectable cream sauce. I didn’t even bother finding out what was in it, because it just didn’t ‘matter after the first forkful I put in my mouth. I just knew I had to finish.
My spice-loving Indian parents were in heaven with all this spicy pasta I was ordering, and it made my heart happy to watch them savor both dishes.
We ordered the Halibut Piccata on special that night, which came with mixed veggies. It was such a treat, and the halibut was so tender that I could peel flakes of the meat if I wanted to.
With such an authentic meal, true to Italian flavors and cooking, we had to end with their Homemade Tiramisu, which was a big portion of genuine decadence. Key word – homemade!
What a fulfilling experience! If you set out to get Italian food, you get just that at Franco’s Ristorante. And with sufficient modern touches to the food too. The prices are very reasonable, especially for the portion sizes you get, and I can see why it was named 2016’s “Best Place For A Cheap Date” by Chicago Reader.
I can’t wait to go back to try more! Grazie Mille Franco’s!
I always say it’s a good week when I discover a new seafood gem, and one particular week this month, brought me to an amazing discovery in Skokie, called EJ’s Place.
It’s a cozy steakhouse with a cabin like décor serving Italian fare for over twenty-one years. This restaurant is a true family legacy, as EJ himself oversees the restaurant everyday. His daughter Gabbie who we dined with, has been working at the restaurant since she was eleven years old, and also assists her dad with the restaurant operations. I guess hospitality runs in their blood.
Most servers have been there since the opening, and some younger ones are the children of older servers who have now retired. EJ’s is truly a family oriented restaurant. And speaking of family, I got to bring my dad with me on my visit, which is always so nice.
We sat down with Gabbie to have dinner and started our EJ’s adventure. I let Gabbie do the ordering; it’s nice to defer the decision-making sometimes and just sit back and enjoy the tasting.
We began with the Shrimp De Jonghe, an absolute seafood favorite for me. Also a specialty of Chicago, is done beautifully here. Peeled shrimp blanketed in some paprika, jalapeno, toasted breadcrumbs and garlic. This delicious classic was everything like I anticipated it to be.
Next we had our side salads as an appetizer, first because the portions are large ,and second because they make their salad dressings in-house. Gabbie showed us how it’s done by mixing both the Thousand Island and Blue Cheese dressings and how not to be afraid to drizzle generously on your salad medley. We followed her lead and then proceeded to take giant bites of fresh greens wet from the creamy condiments. Very delicious.
I then asked to try the Lake Superior White Fish prepared blackened. The fresh and subtle flavors of fish with the peppery seasoning went so well together, it was hard to put my fork down.
The Grilled Shrimp a la Barbara we had next was created in memory of a long time patron named Barbara who loved her shrimp sautéed in a robust lemon, garlic butter sauce. Hey, I’m okay with all those ingredients, and how cool is it that a restaurant honors its clients like that?!
With portions being massive and meant for family sharing, we obviously didn’t finish everything at the table, but certainly made a dent and also got to bring leftovers home.
And before we could decide on dessert, Chef sent out their homemade Tiramisu and Key Lime Pie. Both made in their kitchen everyday and lived up to their hype. The pie was citrusy with mild sweetness and a sweet buttery crust. I could seriously eat this for breakfast everyday if calories didn’t count.
One word comes to mind when describing the food and experience at EJ’s, Comfort. Every dish has a mom’s cooking touch to it, there is a certain warmth in the service, and the ambiance makes you want to cozy up and savor every bite.
I seriously don’t know how I’ll be able to resist another visit to this place soon. EJ’s, I’m coming back for more!
You guys, I hosted my first event and the city’s FIRST Seafood Carnivale this month, and, it was a HUGE SUCCESS!
A few months ago, I began a conversation with one of the restaurant partners Billy Marovtiz, and then the creative team at Carnivale to put together this event. We got our heads together and along with the help of the very talented Chef Rodolfo Cuadros, brought the event to life.
The idea was to make the Seafood Carnivale an interactive event with a small, educational aspect to it. We were able to do just that, with live demos from Chef on the History of Ceviche and an Oyster Shucking 101. We also had Chef do an amazing Salting of The Fish ceremony and created several giveaways around it. People were actually paying attention!
For me, this was a vision come true. I’ve wanted for so long to have an event in the city where seafoodies like me can gather to celebrate their love for seafood, and also learn about the pescetarian lifestyle, which I’m immensely passionate about. And I feel like I got to do all of that with this event.
Carnivale couldn’t have been more perfect to partner with because their food philosophy really aligns with mine, and they practice in Sustainable Seafood, which is a topic dear to my heart. At Carnivale, food is a celebration every day and every night, so I loved being part of the partnership.
We had originally planned for 50 people, but with the overwhelming response we had to open it up to 70! And guess what, all 70 showed up, giving us a packed house of very eager and excited pescetarians in the house.
I always knew that this city needs more seafood related events, but putting this together made realize just how much people were craving to be at an event like this! It made my fish-loving heart happy.
We had a phenomenal menu for guests, including a specially crafted Under The Sea cocktail and a beautifully decorated room assigned just to us. It was a carnivale in a true sense.
If I may say so myself, I’m so proud of my first very successful seafood event in the city, but to also content to see everyone with big smiles on their faces, partaking in all the activities including a Fish Face Contest we had going.
I know now that this is only the beginning of many more seafood events to come in Chicago, and that the Seafood Carnivale certainly won’t be its last!
Thank you to everyone who came, supported and helped make it a grand event!
Okay, so when I’m not pescetarian, I’m vegetarian and can happily be vegan if necessary. I’ve always loved vegan food, so when Zipkick offered me two free tickets to attend and cover my first ever Vegandale Fest, I jumped at the opportunity.
For the third time in a row, Vegandale Fest came to Chicago and had an extravaganza on the lawns of Grant Park. It was a scorcher that day, yet it didn’t stop Chicago residents from gathering for food, art and music.
Food tents lined the edge of Butter Field and extended all the way around. Chicago’s best vegan restaurants represented and attendees got to try everything from vegan sushi to vegan toothpaste. I was accompanied by a few friends, and we just couldn’t stop dancing to the phenomenal tunes playing at the Main Stage.
My favorites from the day were the fruit drinks that Tropic Love was serving up. The best way to cool down on a hot, hot day, and something about drinking straight from the fruit, made it feel all the more raw and vegan
For someone who doesn’t really care for ice cream, Nana Crème’s Vegan Klondike Bars were quite a hit. And Sweet Sushi Factory had vegan sushi that blew my mind.
If you missed it this year, keep an eye out for next year, because Vegandale is an experience to be cherished.