July was just the 'funnest' food expedition. I had so much fun eating and writing my way through the month....
There’s an upscale sports bar located in the heart of River North called Theory, which I’ve been frequenting for years now, but only for drinks. A recent meeting with owner Joel Sorinsky transpired into an invite to go in for a menu tasting, and I’ll admit that I was pleasantly intrigued. I had never really associated food with Theory, as most people probably do at a glance, judging it as a place only to party. Wrong. Theory might just be one of the best spots for a casual bite downtown and offers one of the most eclectic menus I’ve seen. There I proclaimed it.
Versatility is a word that comes to mind when describing Theory. The space can pretty much cater to whatever mood you’re in; a first date, a crazy night out, an after work event, a business meeting or a casual meet up.
Joel was sweet enough to let me bring some friends with me and treated us to a dinner we won’t forget any time soon.
I always knew that their drinks menu was extensive, but again, I only explored the well-drinks section on prior visits. This time, I actually paid attention to their cocktail list and was very impressed at the sheer creativity and collection of cocktails offered.
I went in big and ordered their Spicy Strawberry Margarita, which was served in a giant goblet and could probably serve 4-6 people. It was delicious and could instantly cool you down on any hot day, while offering a little kick from the jalapenos mixed in.
The Totchos were just gooey morsels of goodness smothered in melted cheese (homemade queso), pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream. I loved how crispy the tater tos wee despite being loaded with all the condiments. I tried not to fill up on these, but they were too irresistible.
The Brussel Sprouts offered some respite, being on the lighter side and we asked for it without the bacon. The cranberries were such a good touch giving the kale some sweetness, and also adding crunch.
An array of seafood dishes started to arrive shortly after. First to come were the shrimp nachos. A yummy mixture of pico de gallo and crispy shrimp loaded on top of warm tortilla chips. These bites were delicious!
We were also treated to three types of seafood tacos, the grilled cod, the Guinness-battered cod, and the crispy shrimp. These were phenomenal. I loved the doubled folded warm flour tortillas, and the fact that the fillings were generous and not too spicy.
Speaking of spicy however, the Buffalo Shrimp had some kick to it. Jumbo shrimp breaded and battered in a zesty buffalo sauce coating, with the biggest flavor bursts in each bite.
Desserts were both stunners. There was a giant chocolate chip cookie baked in a cast iron skillet and topped with creamy vanilla ice cream and then the Nutella Poppers. The poppers were fried dough with powdered sugar and warm Nutella oozing out in each bite. They came with a tangy-sweet raspberry dipping sauce. Fruit and chocolate combination never tasted better!
Theory was absolutely a blast. I forgot that it was a Monday night and my visit there put a smile on my face for the rest of the week. A special mention to our server Georgia who did everything to make our experience extraordinary. And an outdoor deck from where you can eat as you take in the hustle-bustle of busy Hubbard street.
Thank you Theory! Now I can’t wait to try your brunch!
There are very few places that can get me to drive to the burbs in Friday evening rush-hour traffic, and Prairie Grass Cafe is one of them.
I had the most outstanding dinner visit there recently. And now I ask, where has this restaurant been all my life?!
This restaurant is so chic and makes you feel instantly comfortable upon walking in. Dad always makes the best date and I was so glad he could join me. As soon as we sat down, I saw at our table a placard about their Shedd Aqurium collboaration which they’re part of, in a effort to reduce plastic pollution and only using biodegradable straws. It’s the #SheddtheStraw campaign. I was instantly impressed because an environmentally friendly restaurant is a restaurant after my own heart.
In addition, all food there is made from locally sourced ingredients and only sustainably-sourced seafood. My impression of Prairie Grass Café was elevating by the minute.
I started with a chilled glass of their Raspberry Mojito and stared perusing the menu. I love menus that are clearly divided by the type of meat. Something that feeds my OCD well I guess.
I spotted the Baked Feta Cheese and knew I had to try it. A block of feta cheese arrived, placed in an oven safe dish and smothered in an amazing medley of tomatoes (from MightyVine) and spicy banana peppers, was too good to be true. The mild zing from the peppers combined beautifully with the brine of the feta. Our server Jose knew that this called for some freshly baked bread on the side, and brought it out for us. The rest is history.
The Crispy Rolls of Shrimp came in a “spring roll style” and were my favorite from the evening. These adorable, golden-brown rolls came stuffed with an amazing mixture of veggies, with succulent pieces of shrimp intermixed within. They also came with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce that mitigated the crunch subtly, and made for yummy bites altogether.
I can never pass up on Shrimp Cocktail, because nothing showcases the quality of fish better than this classic. Two beautiful looking, plump shrimp came with a delicious homemade horseradish sauce, and then disappeared quickly.
Chef Sarah Stegner came out shortly after to greet us after she sent out two delicious salads for us to try. I was so excited to meet her and to learn that she is a founding member of Green City Market, which now represents 50 certified farmers! With her humility, you would never know she is a two-time James Beard Foundation award winner. She, along with her colleague Chef George Bumbaris opened Prairie Café in 2004. Fourteen years of Prairie Grass Café is another testament to her culinary achievements!
Both salads that came out were like paintings. The Beet Salad had citrus-marinated beets, goat cheese, and yummy oranges sprinkled with perfectly roasted hazelnuts that gave it a pleasant crunch. All produce was brought in from Three Sister Garden at Green City Market.
For my main, I ordered the Panko Crusted Wild Alaskan Halibut on special that evening. What a gorgeous looking piece of fish lightly fried and dusted with breadcrumbs and placed in a robustly flavorful beans and swiss chard medley, and roasted beets. A sumptuous and intensely satisfying pescetarian dish, I’ll have to say.
Desserts arrived before we could even utterthe word, and that’s just how I like it. Chef Sarah sent out her favorites, the Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee and the Sticky Toffee Date Cake. The latter was a super moist cake lathered in a sweet toffee sauce and a giant dollop of ice cream. Every bite left me in disbelief of the sheer awesomeness of it.
Whether you a pescetarian, vegetarian, or meat-atarian, Prairie Grass Cafe has you covered, and will manage to knock your socks off. They don’t believe in the ordinary, and you can tell that every dish has been constructed with careful thought and thoughtful delivery. And, their commitment to the environment automatically puts them high on my list. Make the trek to Northbook (if you’re in the city) and don’t miss out on what this restaurant has to offer.
This month I got to visit City Epicurean Event’s Cake Camp, an annual summer camp where kids get to attend for a whole week of baking and cake decorating. Owner Naomi Levine recently reached out to me about visiting the camp one afternoon, and joining in on the fun. She mentioned that I would be the first ever adult to attend her camp, and I was thrilled. I’m a big kid at heart after all. I have to say that this is by far one of the most endearing experiences I’ve had as a food blogger.
I walked in to a cute space of about fifteen very excited kids eager to bake me some cookies. There was also a little kid’s table that had a setting for me with the word blogger written on it so I followed instructions and sat there.
Apparently I wasn’t just there to document, so I got down with my apron and hair net to start cutting out some cookies. I did well while simultaneously fighting the urge to eat the yummy dough in front of me
The theme was “royal” that day, so kids made sugar cookies with “royal icing” and then some finger sandwiches that followed after during lunch to replicate an afternoon tea. Kids ages 4 to 12 were all present learning how to knead dough, make molds and frost cookies. It was so heart warming to watch their enthusiasm and see them bonding over the art of baking. They even got to take a trip to the park and be outdoors at some point.
I was amazed that how creatively Naomi puts their decades of baking experience to such a good use, giving kids an enriching experience while teaching them some valuable kitchen skills. At the end of each day, kids even take a swag bag home.
I had so much fun, laughed a lot, and got enough sugar in me to run home (but I didn’t).
Parents, this is the place your want your little helper to go to this summer! I’ve experienced it first hand and now I wish I was nine again!
There’s a rule I have, and that is to never turn down an invitation from a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant. So a trip to Northbrook Court Mall to visit Di Pescara for a menu tasting was, a no brainer. Plus I got to dine with my foodie friend who helped set this up.
This bustling Italian seafood restaurant is definitely a North Shore favorite, as evident by the sheer crowd at lunch hour on a weekday. I must say, that Northbook folk have good taste.
Lucky for us, Chef had prepared a special tasting menu so all we had to do was sit back and have our forks ready in hand.
As we cooled down with their housemade Blueberry Lemonade and a Cucumber Smash each, Executive Chef, Carlos Ocampo came out to say hello, and with him brought with him a plate of their popular Tuna Tartare.
The tartare was so delicious that I very likely will dream about it for nights to come. Fresh cubes of sushi-grade tuna were delicately placed on a bed of avocado slices and some fresh wasabi on the side, and came served with taro root chips and a drizzle of soy-ginger vinaigrette. This got snapped up in no time.
The namesake Crispy Shrimp di Pescara were such tasty little bites of popcorn shrimp baked to perfect crispiness and paired with amazing flavor from the spicy remoulade on the side. Apparently, the restaurant makes every kind of remoulade imaginable, in-house. Now I’m just waiting for them to package it for sale, because I’ll be the first in line!
With such a great start, things could only get better, and they did, because the Barbequed Ginger Atlantic Salmon and the Parmesan-Crusted Norweigan Haddock were both wonderful. There’s something about that fish and ginger combination that you just can’t help but love. The salmon was so tender with a light charr to it, and this tasty piece of fish came with blistered sesame green beans on the side. I could eat these forever. I always appreciate when vegetables are cooked evenly and marinated with the same amount of care that the meat is. Kudos.
I was craving a salad and was pleasantly surprised to see poke on the menu,. Seing my excitement, Chef kindly sent out their Tuna and Salmon Poke Bowl with sticky rice, avocado, crunchy Asian slaw and soy-ginger sesame vinaigrette. With those ingredients, nothing could go wrong, yet this was one of the most colorful poke bowls I’ve seen to date. Each element in this dish was fresh and held its own flavor. Not to mention how immensely fresh and healthy it felt to eat it. It definitely gives the city poke a run for its money.
Yes, there was dessert, as there always is when I’m involved. My sweet tooth couldn’t have asked for a better dish than their house-made Key Lime Pie. The pie filling was neither too eggy nor too tangy, and the crust was a good balance of thick and buttery. Making it , the perfect Key Lime Pie.
Food at Di Pescara is above par and when seafood is brought in from reputable companies, everyday, you know you can expect some stellar dishes.
I will no doubt go back for more, especially now that I hear they’re hosting a Lobster Fest and flying in 160 fresh lobsters daily straight from Sako, Maine. Chef will feature some lobster specials every day from the lobster that comes in. I don’t plan on missing it. You shouldn’t either.
Regardless, you can’t miss out on Di Pescara. LEYE has done it again!
Literally translated from the Italian word for “social,” this restaurant lives up in every way to its name. This month, I got to pay a visit to a neighborhood favorite that is everything fun and friendly. And I got to have a guest accompany me, which is always nice.
The décor is chic, with a shiny wall of wine adorning one side of the dining area. A spacious outdoor patio spans across the circumference, and altogether creates the best summer vibe possible.
I’ve always known their wine list is extensive, but tried their Sangria Rojo for the first time. A pleasing punch with all the citrus flavors that I just couldn’t stop sipping.
Sociale offers a wide range of Mediterranean-inspired small plates which I always think provides the perfect opportunity to try more at a restaurant. The house-made Feta Burrata came out first. Two of my favorite cheeses blended into one dish! The saltiness from the feta combined so well with the creamy tastes of the burrata, and also had an amazingly soft texture to it.
The Sumac Crusted Scallops were simplly a stunner. A beautiful presentation of two medium-sized scallops crusted with pistachio butter. The pistachios lent a nice crunch to the tender scallops; such a wonderful starter dish.
With so many vegetarian options, we were almost alternating between pescetarian and vegetarian fare, just how I prefer. My vegetarian friends, take note!
The Roasted Root Vegetables blew me away. Celeriac puree with carrot migas and semi-sweet red beet vinaigrette. I was also impressed at how well Chef had incorporated these winter vegetables into a refreshing, summer dish and had been able to tame the bitterness of the root vegetables with some amazing flavors.
It was time for another pescatarian dish and then the Tamarind Mussels came out bringing with them every flavor of sweet, and spicy. I cannot guarantee that the grilled Ciabbatta on the side wasn’t dunked into the broth several times before being devoured.
So this brings me to my favorite dish from the dinner, the Moqueca Baiana, a Brazilian Seafood Stew with a tomato bell pepper braise and all the fruits of the sea. Basically I’m a sucker for seafood stew of any kind, but this rich fish stew was truly one of the most delicious things I have eaten. It actually reminded me of a mild, Indian curry. Came loaded with mussels (more mussels yay), fish, scallops and head-on shrimp. And this may be a bold statement from me, but I think it gives me my favorite bouillabaisse a run for its money.
After those tantalizing flavors, dessert seemed apt. The only dilemma was picking from all the wonderful options on the menu. We somehow decided on the Chocolate Panna Cotta and the Budin de Pan. The former barely lasted for a photo before it was wolfed down and every bit of that mango puree with ginger crumble on the side also wiped clean.
The Bread Pudding was a sizeable portion with Aneja caramel, candied pecans and a large scoop of vanilla ice-cream. I may have taken leftovers home, and not even mildly ashamed to say that I had it for breakfast the next day.
I seriously feel proud that the South Loop presents restaurants like Sociale. I can only imagine how delicious their brunch is and thrilled about their Happy Hour special every day from 4pm to 6pm. You can’t beat $5 glass of that sparking Sangria, now can you?!
Thank you Sociale for making me a proud Slooper!
SABBIA at Eataly
I am yet to make a trip to Italy (I know!), but now thanks to Eataly, I won’t be feeling deprived anymore because everything Italian is right here in our city.
This beautiful, Italian marketplace featuring a variety of restaurants and a cooking school, recently launched a pop-up summer restaurant called Sabbia, which literally means ‘sand’ in Italian.
The restaurant offers beachy vibes complete with cabanas (which can be reserved prior), and focuses on Italian coastal foods. With summer in full swing, you can just imagine my excitement at an invite to check it out, and bring with me a guest.
I’ve always loved the energy at Eataly, but the vibrancy that evening was unbeatable. I could tell that people were loving the concept and the place was packed. We sat down in the midst of it all, facing the kitchen, which is always fun because you get to see your food being cooked and the chefs in action.
The Ital-Icious was such an amazing start for a cold beverage, thanks to the recommendation of our wonderful server Dominique. That concoction of CH gin, prosecco, mint, and orange definitely helped kickstart my appetite.
I wanted to start light, and the Burrata was calling my name. A soft, creamy and dreamy ball of cheese came out with a stretchy Stracciatella interior. We got a choice of tomato and picked the marinated Mighty Vine that gave the cheese a mild acidic flavor and sweetness. Heaven on a plate, really.
I hadn’t eaten Suppli in awhile, so these Roman-tyle rice balls had to be ordered. These rice croquettes came mixed in with a delicious 18-month Parmigiano Reggiano and stringy mozzarella cheese, which made my day. I somehow managed to restrain myself from eating all of them and save room for the other dishes.
While I loved both these vegetarian appetizers, it was time to get my seafood. The Polpo is one of their best selling dishes and Dominique said I couldn’t leave without trying it, so I did, and then spent my evening in disbelief at its perfection. Charred Spanish octopus with summer beans, cherry tomatoes, and almonds with such robust flavors. The octopus was evenly cooked, not too chewy or tender. This one, I couldn’t stop myself from; wiped the plate clean.
Sabbia is also known for its Bruschettas and I’m so glad I ordered the Tonno with house olive oil-poached yellowfin tuna and castelvetrano olives. Such a refreshing dish!
Wait, there’s more! I switched it up with some vegetarian pasta again before my main entrée. The Pansotti Alla Genovese with walnut pesto was so wonderful. The pesto had an earthy taste to it and along with the ricotta and spinach made for one spectacular dish. Leftovers of course came home with me!
The favorite part of the menu was the Fish Market, where they tell you three featured fish of the day, you pick one, tell them how you want it prepared, and choose your sauce. Then it arrives, just as you ordered. My pick was the Red Snapper, pan-seared with a salsa verde, and some roasted potatoes on the side. The tinted pink, tender fish was such a delight.
Lucky for my stomach, there wasn’t a dessert menu because the first floor is a dessert haven at Eataly. However, after touring the rest of Eataly around a little, while we felt like we had earned dessert again, and made our way to the Chocolate Bombo downstairs which came with hazelnuts and edible gold. This one needs no explanation
I went home and went right to bed because my food coma won. But the dreams were sweet of some of the most wonderful food on the beaches of Italy. And I did wake up craving it all over again.
Sabbia could easily become Chicago’s new summer food destination. And I’ll be the first in line!
The Gold Coast gets yet another restaurant gem added to their list and this one’s Chicago’s newest regional Italian restaurant called Locanda , situated at the Marriott Residence Inn.
Locanda truly gives summer-eating a whole new meaning. With a gorgeous patio, herbs grown on it to be used in the food, as well as a Chef who is dedicated to using seasonal ingredients and dehydrated fruit powders to season his food. It’s the lightest Italian food I’ve had and now Italian food doesn’t need to be ruled out on a hot day anymore.
Lucky for me, I got to recently visit along with some other food bloggers to experience food from the hands of the very talented Antoine Cedicci, of the Pane Caldo fame. Need I elaborate?!
The wine and cocktail list was abundant and almost too tough to pick from. Yet, I managed to somehow choose and then sip on a Lo-Collins and Grapefruit Saint throughout. You put St Germain in anything and I’ll drink it, but if you concoct it creatively I might give you my soul.
All food is served small plates style, with a few larger plate items, which was all just perfect for sharing with the group we had. The Foccacia (which was aged) with the Olive Tapenade was insane, as was the freshly imported creamy Burrata, which came straight from Puglia. The cheese rested in a tomato gazpacho with fresh green almonds and mache. Easily the best burrata I have encountered.
In seafood, the Ravioli with King Crab was phenomenal, as was the saffron-fennel sauce that was poured atop. What impressed me was the subtlety of the saffron spice, which brought out the flavors of the pastss itself.
The Frutti Di Mare was the other winner. It came with some Rustichella black squid ink tonarelli in a light tomato sauce, mixed in with the freshest fruits of the sea. While I’ve had some good squid ink pasta dishes before, a lot are also very fishy in taste, and I prefer to have the ink not interfere with the taste. That was just how it was made here. The dish had a mild ocean-y taste with rich flavors of tomato and salt from the seafood which all weaved into one irresistible dish.
Dessert was nothing short of ordinary. Chef Antoine makes a magical Magic Cake that you’ll have to go try for yourself because I’m not giving it away. The Tiramisu had a fun twist to it too.
Locanda could very well be your new summer spot so pay them a visit before (dare I say it), summer ends.