It was a touching scene to watch thirty of Chicago’s renown celebrity chefs come together to put on Operation Taste 2019, benefitting Operation North Pole, an organization supporting children with life threatening illnesses.
Only this year, it was bigger and even better. Held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, the decorations were exquisite, as you smelled the food aromas all the way to the parking lot.
The smells finally led me to the banquet hall buzzing with people, with food stations were lined up with some of the biggest named Chefs personally serving or conducting demonstrations. There were also drinks, coffee and dessert stations.
Chicago Culinary Kitchen had a giant pig roasting at its table and this pescetarian got a little overwhelmed.
A few tables down however, there was also a giant pan of Paella cooking and it was enough to feed a village. This made me feel right at home.
My second year in attendance, this event has also been a valuable opportunity for me to see some of my favorite Chicagoland chefs as well as meet new ones. And I got to do it with a few of my favorite food blogger friends. Not bad for a Monday!
Highlights and favorites included, Pisolino’s giant gnocchi sprinkled with parmesan and an introduction to Chef James De Marte. It is always a pleasure to run into Chef John Gatsos of Tavern on Rush, who always has the yummiest food out.
I never not stop by an Indian food station when I see one. Mantra from Schiller Park was serving hot samosas with their famous tamarind and mint chutneys, and I went back for seconds and thirds, many times until I lost count.
I was pleasantly surprised to try the food at the Suzette Creperie’s table, who were featuring a delicious escargot dish with bread puffs. All this, as I sipped on red wine, Sangria Senoral and various flavors of Jarritos soda.
The seafood stations are obviously my favorites, but within that, Le Bouchon’s Tuna Tartare was just divine. Chef Oliver Poilevey is not only gifted but also the sweetest, and I’m always happy when I see him.
The highlight of the night was meeting MasterChef Jr. Beni Cwiakala. She was hosting at the Chez Moi stand with Chef Dominque Tougne.
Desserts included a macaroon tower, house made Kit Kat bars by Bistronomic and Lana’s Dazzling Dessert’s Blackberry Cake.
Wait, did I mention that I got to finally meet Chef Michael Lachowicz from George Trois? Yes I did! I’ve always been a fan and definitely had a fan moment that evening.
At the end of the night, guests were given the opportunity to take the center pieces home with them. So I went home with flowers! The night couldn’t have been any better.
An evening wonderfully spent, eating food cooked by the most talented chefs, and with money raised for a cause so worthy. Operation Taste is one classy event and a foodie dream. I hope to see you next year!
Sometimes, all you want is a good neighborhood spot with a comforting environment. That’s when you go to Bobby’s Restaurant in Lincoln Park.
This three-month old restaurant founded by owners and brothers Bobby and Augie Arifi who base their restaurant on the motto of providing quality-consistent food, at all times. After having successfully run Bobby’s in Deerfield for seven years, they decided to open one in the city. How lucky are we Chicagoans?! It’s also great that Augie is the head Chef of the restaurant, and often seen serving up dishes to guests. Family restaurants are seriously the best!
My friend (and co-worker) Wes and I went on a Wednesday evening for dinner, and were graciously greeted by the Arifi brothers and staff. We were both in dire need of a cocktail after a busy day at work, and Bobby’s craft cocktail menu is just what the doctor ordered. Every cocktail here is made from fresh ingredients.
I eventually settled for the Ultimate Margarita which had the coolest presentation. Our server brought out a very good looking drink made with Spanish orange liqueur, agave and an Avion Reposado tequila floater. Wes on the other hand, with his more sophisticated cocktail palette, went for the Rob Roy and couldn’t stop raving about it.
Seafood is abundant on their menu, especially the appetizers. So abundant that we didn’t even have to venture into the entrees. When has that ever happened?
At Bobby’s you have to get the Shrimp Bobby which comes three large Mexican Blue Diamond shrimp, egg wash, lemon butter, paprika and grilled vegetables. This dish will make your heart happy.
The Salmon Pastrami was different, both in taste and presentation. It came with herbed cream cheese and the salmon was rolled pretty, then placed on the cutest potato pancakes. I need to replicate this at home because I already miss it.
The Sweet and Spicy Calamari were next. Fried East Coast squid combined with balsamic vinaigrette for sweetness and hot giardinera for the spice. A lot of flavor explosion for one dish.
Their salad list looked extensive and the Rainbow Chopped looked different from the usual. I am by no means a salad lover, but I sure can point out a good salad when I see it or taste it. This, was the King of Salads. Romaine red cabbage with apple, pear, mango and strawberry (basically all my favorite fruits), toasted almonds, gorgonzola cheese, and red wine vinaigrette. Would you believe me if I told you that I ate all my greens and then some?
Portions are big here and definitely shareable. We got full fast and ventured straight into dessert territory. Chef decided to surprise us with the homemade Key Lime Pie and the Flourless Chocolate Cake with a berry brulee. My advice: Go for the seafood and stay for the dessert!!!
Hospitality is par excellence at Bobby’s. Not just from the owners who are personally involved in overseeing the operations, but also from the staff. Our server was one of the nicest I’ve had. Food is obviously exceptional, and every dish consistently good. A philosophy well met!
Give Bobby’s go and then tell me how I made your day!
As a food blogger I get to do many cool things, but one in particular this month, was being invited to Logan Square Theatre for the screening of Chef and Filmmaker Tyler Florence ‘s documentary, Uncrushable, with Chef present there. And I got to attend with my good friend and lifestyle blogger, Tavi Johnson of Chi At A Glance.
The film covers the story of 2017 California wildfires that left many parts of the state in shambles, but also highlights how first responders and the food community came together to offer aid and relief.
Chef Florence was instrumental in raising millions of dollars through the Grateful Table, a fundraising dinner he hosted in collaboration with other celebrity chefs for over 500 people in Napa.
The documentary is heartwarming to say the least. Before we saw the film, guests were greeted at an intimate reception hosted by Coopers Hawk Winery with bites and sips, at the Logan Theatre.
Chef also did a Q & A to offer more insight about the film and his vision. The entire experience was moving, and as a food blogger, I felt proud knowing that food can have such a large impact on unifying people, especially in times of calamity. It was awe-inspiring and remarkable to hear from Chef first-hand.
At the end of the night, we also received personally signed copies of Chef’s cookbook Tyler Florence Fresh, which I will be putting to good use, soon.
I only hope that I continue to be able to attend such meaningful events, and in my own way, help to shed light on people that do pure good in this world. Kudos Chef Florence!
I went big this week with a visit to Illinois’s largest wholesale restaurant, Boston Fish Market. These three words should now be synonymous with seafood.
I stopped in to their newest location in Wheeling, which is comprised of a wholesale, retail and restaurant space and serving everything from fresh, fried to grilled seafood.
When I walked in, i saw chef and owner Louis Psyhiogos personally overseeing the operations which is always a pleasant sight. Louis’s own history is rich in seafood, as he comes from a fishing family in Greece. From there, he migrated to the U.S. where he worked as a chef in many acclaimed Greek restaurants, before building on his passion an expertise and conceptualizing Boston Fish Market.
The restaurant is clearly a product of Louis’s larger-than-life vision. The options are endless at this eatery with seafood flown in from all over the world. The Atlantic, Pacific, southern waters, are all well represented in the store and on the plate.
A variety of delicious soups adorn the menu, with a Boston Clam Chowder that is made from real clams. That, with their Lobster Bisque and a side of their warm garlic bread made for a good start to my tasting. Both soups had a thick base and were creamy and flavorful. And every bite was hearty and left you wanting more.
The Grilled Calamari and the Grilled Octopus from their appetizer section came highly recommended. At first, I was a little surprised to see two very plain looking dishes arrive at the table. The portions were huge but there was no garnish or seasoning. Then magic happened as I bit into a piece of octopus. It quickly jogged my memory that good fish infact does not require added flavoring. Both meats were tender and charred perfectly on the edges. The ocean notes and brine were enough to tantalize your palette. I was blown away!
I always like to see what vegetarian options places offer, and it augments my respect for a restaurant when I see that they accommodate vegetarians. So when I learned that this seafood haven is also known for its salads, I had to order their most popular Greek Salad. A towering salad showed up with tomatoes, onions, blocks of fresh feta, anchovies, beets, hearts of palm, boiled eggs, artichokes and olives. Not only was this salad veggie packed, but it was also satisfyingly colorful. The King of all Greek Salads resides here!
After all that grilled and leafy stuff, my palette had started craving grease. So you can imagine my elation when the basket of fried and breaded Gulf jumbo shrimp, scallops and calamari showed up. Not much to report here, other than it was intensely satiating and disappeared into my tummy quickly.
We weren’t done. Not by any means. Because what came next would knock anyones socks off. I’m talking about their Zucca Di Pesce, which is a giant platter with 6 pounds of seafood; mahi mahi, Manila clams, Pei mussels, calamari, mussels and shrimp stewed in an aromatic tomato broth with lots of herbs. Did I mention there was six pounds of fish in this dish?
After I pinched myself to see if this were true, I started to dig in. I made minimal progress before having to pack the rest to go. Dinner for the next few days? No try the next whole month! Go big or go home, so I did both!
I went home, a very contented pescetarian ready to have sweet dreams of all the wonderful seafood I had just consumed. You can’t go wrong with Boston Fish Market. My only warning is, go hungry!
There’s no better way to celebrate Chicago’s rich culinary history than by visiting the city’s oldest Italian restaurant,Italian Village located downtown. Opened in 1927, this establishment recently celebrated 94 years!
Within it, are three restaurants and one of them is Vivere, AKA my favorite one there. Vivere has one of the warmest ambiance any restaurant could offer. Velvety décor, dim lighting and a comforting vibe, just what I desired that evening.
While I’ve dined here several times before, I was particularly excited for this visit to experience the talent of newly appointed Executive Chef Emily Phillips,who is known to add innovation to classic Italian dishes. With a resume that includes Homestead on the Roof, I knew I was in for a treat.
Warm bread and fresh EVOO always jumpstarts my appetite. And it makes me happy. With a side of tea from their amazing tea selection, I started my dining experience at Vivere.
The Charcoaled Grilled Spanish Octopus was first to grace the table, and what a riveting start! Definitely the most gorgeous presentation on an octopus dish I have seen. As it came on pan-fried purple potatoes sautéed with port wine, micro greens and sautéed butternut squash. All of it sat on creamy garlic purple aioli made with the ink in the potatoes. This dish had all the Mediterranean flavors you could ask for.
The next dish was my favorite dish of the night (in the seafood criteria); the Gnocchi Con Astiche E Spinaci was wonderful. Homemade potato dumplings stuffed with lobster-truffle paste, and presented with spinach in a white wine shallot sauce. Can you see why this was my favorite? The gnocchi was so tender-soft that it melted on my tongue fast.
The other favorite was a vegetarian pasta dish that they serve, the Mezzaluna Di Zucca. A platter of home made half-moon shaped pasta filled with butternut squash, Parmesan Reggiano and butter sauce sat pretty in front of us. The highlight of this dish for me, was the crumbled Amaretti cookie and toasted almonds it had for garnish. Lots of sweet undertones without taking away from the savory flavors; this dish was magic.
The Risotto with Scallops was also remarkable. Made with slow-cooked Carniroli rice, fried garlic and heirloom tomatoes, and with jumbo pan-fried scallops placed carefully on top. It was hearty and very enjoyable.
With a meal like that, you have to go big with dessert. We ordered their Cranberry Walnut Crostada, which came warm with a huge dollop of ice cream, and along with that we ordered their Ginger- Carrot cheesecake. Both desserts were light, yet adequately fulfilling.
Vivere truly creates an unforgettable dining experience for its guests. There isn’t a lot of frill, but you get your money’s worth and you can expect leave with a smile on your face and at least a bag or two of leftovers!
Give this loop gem a try!
‘Bistec’ means steak in Spanish. So what was a pescetarian like me doing there this month? Well, don’t be fooled by the name, because this place has a ton of seafood options and I feel lucky that I got to visit!
Bistec Bar and Grill is opened in December 2018 in the heart of Lincoln Park. Their décor is one of the coolest I’ve seen in town. The restaurant offers the most unique dining experience with the concept being that guests get to grill at the table, themselves. Each table is equipped with a bistec grill in the center, as diners can sit around as they grill and chill.
The menu is easy to follow as you choose your proteins, marinades and sides to go with. Sometimes it’s fun to have decision-making power in your food preparation, and I for one, loved being an architect of my tacos!
We ordered salmon and shrimp as our preferred meats to grill and sides of Cotija cheese, avocado, mushrooms and cactus. Yes, I tried cactus and while it was an acquired taste, by the end of the meal, I was a fan.
I also loved that they provide so many amazing condiments and pickled vegetables as accompaniments. Not only is it great for flavor but also visually appealing. Our table looked like a rainbow!
For those who don’t want to be involved, there’s a whole menu of salads, pizza, sandwiches and burgers. In fact, my guest and I ordered their chef made Shrimp Skewers that were phenomenal. The presentation was exciting, as three large skewers appeared before us with juicy shrimp and veggie kabobs. The marinade was different from the Ancho Chile Rub and Chimichurri we had ordered for our bistec experience.
We skipped the Tortilla Pizza but I’m definitely coming back for the Cilantro Lime Shrimp one. We ordered their famous Black Bean Dip for starters and the cumin flavors in the dip made it earthy and wonderful.
The Jicama Slaw Salad was a refreshing one, with red and white cabbage, carrots, cilantro, red onions, trio peppers, roasted pumpkin seeds, all tossed up with their housemade balsamic vinaigrette. Every bite was delightful!
And while we’re on the topic of refreshing, let me not forget to mention that we started our meal with two giant goblets of their Melon and Mango Chili Lime Margaritas. Oh my word! Their cocktail selection is absolutely amazing and it was hard to pick. So many more I need to go back for!
In the middle of dinner, we switched to the non-alcoholic route with a coconut-flavored and strawberry-flavored Horchata each. I loved how light this milk drink was, smooth and easy to consume. You could also tell that these were not artificially flavored, and I loved that!
Dessert was a no-brainer pick. I’ve never had warm Tres Leches cake before but I quite liked it. The flan was utterly delicious and it always amazes me what a simple alchemy of eggs and vanilla can do.
A special mention to our amazing server, who was enthusiastic and even helped us grill at one point. Full marks to service!
At Bistec Bar and Grill it’s not just dinner, it’s an experience. One you won’t forget for a very long time!
Two Lights has a new spring brunch and you must try it! It’s not your ordinary brunch, and that’s for sure. Their motto is ‘Reset’ and ‘Rejuvenate’ as a giant neon sign flashes on one of their walls. But in all seriousness, they’ve truly managed to create a space where you can feel revived.
Recollecting my dinner experience there only a few months ago, I knew what to expect of service. Every server here has a smile on their face as you see the manager personally and frequently checks-in on patrons.
The menu is just the way I like it, not too long and not too concise. The Strawberry Gomme Mimosa should be your commencement cocktail. It’s so refreshing, although my friend Abby preferred their Pimm’s Punch that had a delectable aloe liqueur in it.
We actually started our eats with an absolutely delicious salad from their lunch menu, the Seaside Salad. It came with fresh butter lettuce, fennel and orange-mirin vinaigrette. I couldn’t believe how I was chowing down on it, because well, you know my history with salads.
Immediately following was the Smoked Salmon Avocado Toast. The Best I have had. The salmon meat was luxuriously delicious offering the perfect saltiness to the dish. It came with two soft boiled eggs and micro watercress. Delicious, not to mention all the yolk porn candy I got from this dish!
Their brunch menu offers two types of benedicts and since we just had our salmon fill, we opted for the Maine Lobster Benedict. Another stunning dish with the creamiest béarnaise sauce and smoked paprika flavors. Generous amounts of lobster meat strewn in too.
So after very two satisfying dishes, what could be next? Drum roll for my ‘favoritest’ brunch item on their menu, the Grilled Spanish Octopus and Soft Scramble. I hope they never take this off the menu, because I plan to return again and again to eat this until I get sick of it, which may be never. It came with a root vegetable hash on the side, but I relished the Calabrian chili oil drizzled all over the octopus, giving it some kick.
And how perfect that the Apple Dutch Baby Pancake came next, right in time to cool the spices off my palette. A skillet pancake with candied pecans and whipped cream smelled like buttery heaven. I poured syrup without abandon. Because, why stop now?!
We sat there for a while after digesting our food with the help of many more mimosas. Then, we looked up to see that we had cleared out the place and were the only ones left. Now that’s a sign of a great brunch!