August was another adventure. So many fun tastings; September has big shoes to fill!
The Portage Park food scene just got elevated in my eyes, with a visit this month with a guest, to a cool and rustic Italian gastropub, called Legno, which literally means ‘wood,’ in Italian.
The ambiance itself presents a warm, wooded scene reflecting its name perfectly. The restaurant, which is a Cirrincione family dream, aims to offer Old Word Italian cuisine with lots of modern twists.
Cocktails always make a good first impression and it’s like the Pineapple Smoke was created just for me. Two of my favorites; pineapple and Mezcal with its smoky flavors which ignited my appetite even more getting me ready for a wonderful meal that was to follow.
The unveiling of bread from the breadbasket is always a favorite ceremony for me during an Italian meal that is ofcourseafter I toast my wine with a “Salute!” The Caprese was a good choice with thick slices of plum tomatoes placed under fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, and a smooth balsamic reduction.
The Herbed polenta Fries had caught my attention and I thought I could justify at least one fried item for dinner. It was such a nicely done appetizer, with medium thick sticks of stone ground polenta fried to a golden brown and served with a spicy red pepper aioli on the side. It is almost dangerous to make snacks this tasty and because it’s unfair how quickly you can lose count.
We had to keep the wood theme going and order one of their Wood Fried Napolitano pizzas. The Tartufo was highly endorsed by our server and I must admit it was a great choice. The Portobello mushrooms, Fontina cheese and fresh mozzarella were a brilliant combination, and that black truffle pate added a nice dimension to the pie. This, no doubt was my favorite from the night.
My meat-eating friend ordered the traditional Spaghetti and Veal Meatballs and gave it a big thumbs up. And I know he meant it because he took leftovers home! It did look delicious, so I’m glad that the seafood came next or I would’ve been tempted to try a bite.
The Shrimp Risotto on special was ‘shrimpy’ and creamy. The herbed risotto was cooked to perfection, as were the jumbo grilled shrimp generously scattered in. The risotto was cooked with leaks and more fried leaks were added on top along with some sundried tomatoes. High marks for execution.
Dessert did not disappoint either. The Decadent Chocolate Cake was simple yet delicious with layers of creamy chocolate in an already moist cake, served with a large dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Such a classic!
I truly enjoyed my experience at Legno; in addition the service was attentive and I loved that the restaurant wasn’t loud. Everything about the vibe there is inviting and makes you want to stay as long as you can. Give this a go!
Big Bowl has always been one of my favorite go-to spots for Chinese food in the city. Just like the name, everything at this restaurant is big, from the flavors to the portions. There is something really magnanimous about this restaurant and you feel utterly satisfied when you leave.
I recently got to visit their Linconshire location for a menu tasting, thanks to my friend Dana and while I drove far to get there, I can say that it was well worth it.
Another Lettuce Entertain You product, this is the longest, existing Big Bowl restaurant in Illinois. Headed by Chef Doc Ayala, with forty years of culinary experience and has been with the restaurant from the beginning. The restaurant was abuzz and had it not been for the scorching heat that day, we would’ve lunched on their gorgeous patio. Another reason to go back I guess!
While I may not have been able to be outdoors, I did start with a pitcher of their Watermelon Sangria, which was basically summer in a glass.
Having cooled down, I was ready to dive into the food and before I could even utter the word, the Thai Herb Fresh Calamari was brought out. Crisp and golden fried squid coated in sweet potato flour and lightly fried, almost had a tempura-like texture to it. It came with a dipping sauce that was too yummy for words. My first impression was how non-greasy this dish was and my last impression was how glad I was to be a pescetarian.
Crab Rangoons are the gold standard for Asian food (namely American Chinese) in my opinion. So I may just have found the best version in town. Holy wontons! They were fried to golden perfection and filled with the perfect amount of cream cheese and crab. I could’ve eaten them all in one sitting but I spared my tummy knowing how much more there was to try.
By now, I had switched to their non-alcoholic homemade lemonade and immediately following that, the ginger ale. Both ensured I wouldn’t dehydrate in anyway and were phenomenal.
The summer rolls were not only easy bites, but also pretty to look at. We got to try their featured Ahi Tuna & Avocado ones as well as the shrimp ones that hadn’t made the menu. Hey I’ll taste test any day of the week! Both rolls were made in rice paper wrappers and packed with lots of cooling vegetables like cucumbers, avocados, and edamame. The peanut sauce, like all other sauces here was the perfect blend of sweet and savory too.
Speaking of vegetables, did you know that Big Bowl does a mean poke that is packed with Ahi tuna, avocado, seaweed, pickled ginger, scallions, jalapenos and white rice? The crispy shallots were such an interesting touch for both crunch and taste. I loved how both the sweet soy and Sriracha mayo were mixed in together to give it spicy and creamy texture throughout.
I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Big Bowl offers Thai food. I’m not ‘actually’ surprised given the versatility of this restaurant, but more so just happy that they do. The classic Shrimp Pad Thai is a must here. A favorite take-out dish for me, I’ll say after eating this dish that I wish Lincolnshire was closer. A noodle dish with fresh flavors of lemon, Thai basil, cilantro, egg, sprouts and peanuts, this Pad Thai is more citrusy than I’m used to. But, I loved the change. Plus it wasn’t fishy tasting so props to Chef for whatever fish sauce he uses in this noodle dish.
This brings me to one of my favorites from the meal, the Bangkok Shrimp and Scallops, which came in a tangy lemon sauce. Everything from its presentation to the execution was on point. The healthier, cauliflower fried rice on the side was amazing also. It shaved off some guilt after all the food I had been eating, and allowed me to truly indulge.
The two-hour tasting did not dissuade me from ordering dessert. I got to try their very decadent Chocolate Lava Cake and the seasonally featured Green Tea Matcha Cheesecake. Both rocked. The latter had fresh vanilla bean in it, which will always win my heart.
Big Bowl is a synonym for freshness and comfort. The portions are generous and all dishes are made to order, You can do their Build Your Own Stir Fry option anytime and switch any of the meat in any of the dishes without a problem. Love when restaurants accommodate dietary preferences like that. Basically you can make it your own because here, they care to make sure their customers are happy and receive the dining experience that they are seeking.
All I can say is that if you haven’t already, I hope you get to enjoy a meal at Big Bowl soon!
I’ve been thoroughly enjoying all my recent visits to Steakhouses (for seafood of course,) and also feel like I’ve been on a suburban kick lately. Perry’s Steakhouse fits both, so I couldn’t possibly deny a visit to do a menu tasting at Chicago’s first the Perry’s Steakhouse located in Oakbrook. This Texas chain restaurant came from small beginnings, first as a meat market, and has now grown to one of the leading establishments in fine dining, with over 15 locations in the U.S. And, we’re definitely lucky to have one in Illinois!
Dad makes a great guest and now also a photography director, so he tagged long for the adventure. What I loved from the start at this restaurant was the planning on behalf of the Perry’s Steakhouse team, as they even sent out a menu prior to my visit to highlight what I would be tasting. Sometimes it’s just nice to have the menu already planned out and enjoy the ride.
It was a gorgeous day, although a hot one, but I didn’t want to pass up on the opportunity to enjoy their beautiful patio so we dined the first half of our meal there, until it got too unbearable from the heat and we had to move inside to air conditioning. Their exquisite dining roolm provided that and subtle warmth that makes you instantly relaxed.
We were started off with fresh bread from the oven and a whipped butter that I could have drank if that was an option. Good bread always kickstarts a meal well.
Two trays came out with mini flights of featured appetizers and paired cocktails for both me and my dad. The sight was so pretty and symmetric, I couldn’t stop staring and photographing. In front of us was their Ahi Tuna Tartare, Crab Cakes, and a small portion of their Pan Seared Bass (which is usually an entrée). With it, came (in order), the Mai Tai with Cruzan light rum, Peachy Glen with a 10-year old Glenmorangie scotch & stonefruit puree, and Lemon Bubbles with Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac & a delicious Caravella Limoncello.
I’m not even sure where to begin. I can say however that the drinks had been so carefully picked out so as to augment the true taste of each appetizer dish we were trying. Every sip of the Mai Tai with tang from the hibiscus rim gave the tuna and cilantro oil in it a great flavor boost. The Crabcakes, which were pure crab also combined amazingly well with the Peach nectar. Who would’ve thought that peach and crabmeat are such a good team! The Chandon Brut in the Lemon Bubbles were so soothing to the flavors of the Sea Bass sitting a mildly spicy red pepper coulis. I’m admittedly glad the portions were mini or there would’ve been no room for dinner.
Salads were a good transition after this little feast and before the entrees arrived. We were served with the Kale Salad with Jalapeno Mint Vinaigrette and the Field Green, Pear & Candied Pecan Salad. Again, I was uber impressed with both these picks for greens. Both salads were so varied in taste, the former a spicier, savorier version while the pear salad definitely a sweeter, more refreshing salad. The juiciest mandarin oranges I have tasted also.
We had now moved on to wine; the Perry’s Cabernet from Amici Cellars in Sonoma County. I was amazed after just one sip on how well-balanced and medium bodied this wine was, making me want to immediately book a fight to Napa Valley. The wine also served as a good palate cleanser after the sweeter cocktails and salads.
And then the real fiesta began. Chef started sending out an array of seafood and vegetarian dishes for us to try. I’ll tell you how much I love seeing steakhouses do vegetarian dishes well and with the same level of care they give to the meat. It displays a certain empathy in my opinion to customers and their differing dietary preferences.
The first dish to arrive in the mains was was their Spaghetti Squash Primavera. Here, this low carb version is just as comforting as the classic Italian dish. Plus, its gluten free! A stunning presentation of a little round patty made from the shredded squash with crunchy vegetables packed on the inside (cauliflower, broccoli, you name it) and a thick and aromatic tomato sauce on the bottom. I felt like I was cutting into a cake as I cut open the squash. High marks for presentation!
The Everything Crusted Ahi Tuna was massive, with large steaks of tuna coated in cayenne, salt, pepper, and sesame seeds and it came with an Asian Slaw in the middle, couscous and tomato fondu on the side. The tzatziki was also nice with the meaty fish. This dish just worked.
The Crispy Skin Wild Red Snapper was a surprise addition to our tasting, and I’ll confess now, that I had been secretly eyeing it on the menu the whole time. This was another large fillet with mildly drizzled truffle vinaigrette, and the highlight of this dish for me was the chive whipped potatoes.
A side mention to a not so ordinary side, were the Sriracha Brussel Sprouts. Please be sure to get this with whatever you order when you go there. And that’s an order!
And then there was dessert! We got our own little show, tableside, with the Nutty D. Pecans and other nuts sautéed in butter and brown sugar and flambéed. Then poured over a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. The hot and the cold created a nutty ice cream shell with brittle like consistency and was much too irresistible for words!
I feel so fortunate that I get to explore the suburban food scene with restaurants such as Perry’s Steakhouse, which is based on the philosophy of genuinely great food and service. The décor has a warm glow and could make you feel welcome for any event, be it a business dinner or a romantic date.
I had the most delightful experience dining here so weather permitting; you can expect to see me in Oakbrook more often from now on.
This was my second visit to Portsmith and now I can proclaim with even more confidence that Portsmith is one of my top three favorite seafood restaurants in the city. Simply put, this restaurant is chic seafood offered in a chic setting.
The restaurant located on the first floor of the Dana Hotel is led by Chef Nate Henssler who comes from Homestead on the Roof (another Fifty/50) gem, and also with immense international experience which shows through in the dishes he puts out, such as the Soft Shell Crab in a red panang curry.
The concise food menu and the extensive wine menu are both highlights for me. This time however I traded the wine for a Portsmith Mojito, and with no regrets. I would’ve never thought to attach the word ‘perfection’ to a rum and mint concoction, but its well-deserved here.
Their new Chef Oyster series features an Oyster of the Day (everyday), and on our day it was the Katama Bay Oyster composed with basil vinegar mignonette and olive oil. A nice brine with a soft finish. This oyster was tasty!
Coming back to the Soft Shell Crab I was talking about earlier. This dish is Maryland soft shell crab coated in a rice-krispies type of batter and served with crispy Shishito peppers, lemongrass, and avocado. Light, airy, intensely satisfying with every inch of my palette thanking me. I fell madly in love with that curry too.
I missed out on the Cacio E Pepe the last time, and wasn’t going to repeat my mistake. This classic dish comprising of cheese and pepper, is mesmerizing here, because it’s minimalistic in appearance yet complex in taste. Cooked in an uni butter and garnished with caviar, it’s all too fantastic for words.
Another highlight for me was getting to try redfish for the very first time, which was on special that evening. The Acadian Redfish was cooked with a semi-crispy butter crust, aioli and basil dust. Such fine execution!
The Wild Mushroom Pie is a standard order for me at Portsmith, and non-negotiable. For my fish-averse friends, you need to get this when you go. A savory pie packed with a fresh blend of a variety of oyster, porcini, and shiitake mushrooms and herbs, tucked into a sweet, buttery crust. This can easily also be breakfast or dessert too, at least for me.
A favorite side for me was the Charred Avocado with fermented radishes. That combination of bland and tang added a whole lot of flavor, plus it was the perfect sidekick to seafood.
Somehow I always find room for dessert. I’m skilled like that! The Raspberry Tapioca Custard was unique on all fronts and packed with ‘summerness.’ The Hazelnut Mousse Cake was a nicely done piece of almond cake with hazelnut crunch, hazelnut mousse, chocolate glaze and cocoa nib ice cream. This dessert is pure ingenuity. But, you have to like hazelnuts!
I loved that I finished my meal without feeling overfull or unable to breathe, despite everything I ate. Portsmith is a gold mine for seafood lovers, especially as you discover the sheer creativity of Chef Henssler and what he does with fish. Pescetarians just can’t afford to miss out on Portsmith, and non-pescetarians beware, because you will convert after a visit!
I feel so fortunate for all the experiences I’ve had as a food blogger, and a most recent one being a visit to Windy City Playhouse. Now I like theatre, but must confess that I don’t seek it out much as I probably should.
This theatre, which was opened in 2015 aims to showcase contemporary art along with a space where people can also lounge, drink and eat. Their lobby is exquisite with a full-sized bar spanning across one wall.
The invite to visit the playhouse included a 60s themed cocktail tasting along with a viewing of the hit show, Southern Gothic, in an immersive theatre style.
I visited with a guest and we started our tour with some phenomenal drinks named after some of the characters in the play, which we were about to see. The studio was a house set in1960’s Georgia, and the story revolved around four couples celebrating a birthday together, as deep dark secrets unveil throughout.
The entire experience was so cool as we watched the play unfold by actually being in the middle of it. What amazed me the whole time was how unphased the actors were, even as we followed them around. We were also served drinks throughout the play as if we were guests at the “ birthday party.”
It was a wonderful experience all around. I caught myself thinking about the entire experience for days after. I highly recommend it!
Trump Tower’s newest restaurant Terrace16 opened recently and this girl got to visit! The revamp came as an effort to offer easier access to the restaurant and its beautiful view unrestricted by price.
The new restaurant which replaced Sixteen and Terrace at Trump comes with a fresher look, some amazing seafood and more affordable prices.
Chef Nick Dostal is unapologetically creative with this menu with many plays on phenomena such as Bread & Butter and Grilled Oysters. Seafood is aplenty with remarkable dishes such as the Sweet Pea Garden Toast and Chilled Scallops.
The first, a play on Avocado Toast, which I now prefer it with charred scallion and wasabi. And, herbs grown from their very own garden!
The Chilled Scallop was a favorite. Thin slices of tender scallop served with wax beans, green onion and edamame mousse. You can’t skip this.
The oysters half-shell came six oysters with garlic and rosemary and did a little palette cleansing after all those other flavors. Sometimes its nice to just indulge in fresh, chilled sea rocks at their best.
The Egg Yolk Tagliatelle from their larger portions was marvelous. This Northern Italian fettuccine is the best kind of pasta (in my opinion) to soak up the flavors of whatever broth or sauce it is cooked in. Chef Nick Dostal cooks it with lemon ricotta, chives, and bottarga, then places a yummy egg yolk on top, which you get to poke and let drip into the tender pasta in your plate. The whole ordeal is heavenly!
Then they have the Broiled Black Cod with cippoli onion, summer squash and scallion sauce. Why hasn’t anyone else every thought about scallion sauce before? It’s magical!
And for you scallop lovers, there was more of this pillowy fish. The warm version at the restaurant came with grits, sweet corn, and jamon iberico. This dish is a stunner too!
Dessert was exciting. Two gorgeously plated dishes of Klug Farm Seasonal Tart with berry ice cream and a souffle-like Carrot Cake version with sage cream and whiskey caramel were brought out. No wonder Chef has been able to retain their Michelin two-star rating. That stuff is addictive.
Folks, it’s time to go check out this new space, with a beautiful indoor bar and a sweet patio that can easily sit 200 people while they soak in some of the best views the city has to offer. Don’ t waste another minute; head on over to Terrace16.
I’m not one to sit home in the summer. I’m always out and about trying to soak in the sun. Yet, I don’t visit beach bars enough and a recent visit to Castaways made me wonder if there could really be any better way to enjoy summer than to drink and dine at the beach.
North Avenue beach has Castaways Bar and Grill, where the first level is an ice cream café with casual walk-up stands, and their gorgeous rooftop, which has a full service restaurant. So, I happily accepted an invite to soak in some of the last rays of the summer sun at this popular Lincoln Park eatery.
The weather was perfect when we went and the beach was lined with volleyball nets and players. The drink options were everything the summer lover in you could ask for. I caught myself doublefisting fairly quickly with a Mai Tai and an Ultimate Margarita in my hands. Both were concocted perfectly.
The seafood options (much to my surprise) were plenty. I was in the mood for some beer battered Fish N Chips, which are served here on a bed of their spicy fries and tartar sauce. Along with that I ordered their Shrimp Louise Salad. I guess I needed to alleviate the guilt from the fried fish but without having to give up on seafood. The salad looked so pretty, I gave it its own photo-shoot before I couldn’t resist anymore.
The service was on-point. Our server was so attentive, again something I wouldn’t expect from a busy beachside restaurant serving thirsty and hungry volleyball players all evening long.
I also loved the layout of the rooftop, which has plenty of seatings without tables being crammed in together. Each table gets its fair share of the stunning beach view. I watched the sunset as the beautiful hues retracted into my drink and caught myself secretly praying that summer would never end.
Do yourself a favor and stop in at Castaways before summer actually leaves us. Because, it will.
I think I just found my Sunday Funday hangout, at Kit Kat Lounge located in the heart of Lakeview. Ok, so this was a very different tasting experience from others I’ve had. My photos will do the explaining, but I may have had one of the best brunch experiences ever.
When I was invited in to try the menu at Kit Kat Lounge, I didn’t know anything about it. Trust me, that’s how you want it to be before you visit here.
I walked into to a very lively ambiance, which was just bustling with energy. The place was packed partly because their gorgeous patio was unoccupied due to the extreme heat we were having that day. That only created more hustle bustle making me forget for a minute that it was Sunday, not Friday.
We instantly ordered a glass of OJ and Bellini each. The first was to hydrate in preparation for the bottomless cocktails we were about to partake in.
Two small plates of the cutest beignets with fresh cream were brought out as amuse bouche, and those were pillow soft buns of deliciousness.
We ordered their Make-Your-Own-Omelet where you get to pick your protein, veggies and choice of cheese. With it, we also got the Crab Cakes Benedict sans the bacon crumbles. The omelet was fluffy-fresh and did its job, but in my estimation, the crab cakes took the cake. Kit Kat offers an outside-the-box version without the English muffins, but with two large crab patties topped with poached eggs, and smothered in a lemony béarnaise. All I’ll say is that I had to work hard to stop eating them to save room for the rest.
Because a dish like Rice Krispies French Toast calls for an an appetite, but one whiff of this dish and you’re hungry again. The soft texture of the soaked toast played well with the crunchiness of the Rice Krispies, along with the milky tres leches sauce and marinated berries. What a sweet treat!
The Mediterranean Bowl toned down the decadence of the French toast but was absolutely delicious. Quinoa with pine nuts, feta cheese, tomatoes and two fried eggs on top (original dish comes with sunny side up) made for a light and refreshing summer brunch item.
The bellinis kept on coming and we were starting to get full, but not yet full from Madam X’s diva performances we had been getting to see throughout our meal. I can’t tell you how many pomme frites I consumed as I grooved to the tunes Madam X was dancing along too. Such a great performer and she really got the crowd going.
Like everyone else, I left Kit Kat Lounge all charged up, ready to take on the week, but also in denial that it was actually the week-end. Kit Kat is one of the most fun places in Chicago to dine at, so if you’re looking for some buzz head on over.