June started in full seafood mode, with Chowdah Fest; an event represented by some of the best culinary talent in the city.
Held at the world famous Columbia Yacht Club along Lake Michigan, the festival was back for its ninth year and saw line-up of nine most esteemed chefs, from Dirk Fucik of Drik’s Fish, Chef Morgan Barr of Fahlstrom’s Fish Market, to Guy Meikle of Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar, to name a few.
Amongst the judges this year was one of my favorite people, Phil Vettel, Chicago Tribune Chief Food Critic.
So, as you can tell, this was no ordinary affair.
The best summer seafood chowder festival (IMO), and a great way to commence summer. So who made the best chowder? I let the judges decide that while they faced the difficult task of choosing from all types of delicious chowder.
Nothing was off limits in terms of creativity, case in point a Black Chowder presented by Chef Leonard Hollander of Arbor. This one was black in color as the name suggests, made with shellfish broth, fennel creme fraiche and pickled sunchokes. It was divine.
From the more traditional chowders, I really enjoyed the one by Food Haul Chef Jason Paskewitz. It was creamy enough with ocean notes and the right amount of sodium. One of my favorite seafood restaurants in the city, Portsmith, was also present there serving up a classic New England Clam Chowder in a bread bowl. I loved the celery leaf and black pepper in this for seasoning. But in the end, it was all about partaking in the seafood and soaking in the experience, along with all kinds of wine and spirits being served, including a watermelon beer with a very interesting taste. Vina Robles Vineyards and Winery did save the day for me after a long and hectic work one.
There were over 200 people in attendance and all proceeds went directly to the Sea Scouts sailing program. Once the judges and the guests had put in their votes, the winners were announced. But really, if you’re on a boat on a Monday on a beautiful summer evening eating some of the best seafood in the city, you’re a winner. Life doesn’t get better than that!
Chowder Fest really is one of my favorite multi-chef throwdowns of the year! So if you missed it this year, mark your calendar for next year, it will be their decade anniversary!
This month, I also got a preview of the new menu at Café Brauer at
This month, I also got a preview of the new menu at Café Brauer at Lincoln Park Zoo, while getting a private tour of the zoo. Visiting this 35-acre zoo never gets old. And it’s among the oldest zoos in the country that’s free to the public. While it certainly wasn’t my first visit here, it felt like it with everything I learned about the exhibits and the almost 200 species housed here. For example, I also did not know that its one of the largest zoo conservation programs in the country.
Within it, Café Brauer can almost be considered the official landmark of the zoo. Built in Prairie school architecture style, it is also one of the most popular restaurants in the city. And now they have a patio which thanks to the gorgeous weather we were able to enjoy.
At this event, guests got to try featured bites and drinks as they mingled in their restaurant’s very elegant space. Colorful daiquiris and margaritas were flowing, as delicious humus and salsa platters were passed around.
We got to visit the Ape House and that was definitely the highlight of the visit. Apparently the apes have their own bachelor pad. Who knew?!
We ended with a wonderful outdoor picnic hosted by Tiger Lily Events, from cupcakes to warm cobblers, there was no dearth of fun picnic treats.
My heart and belly were full and I wondered why I don’t spend more time at the zoo with all the beautiful nature and animals and now that I know they also have great food, I will!
How on earth have I missed out on a Bonefish Grill all this time?! And there are 190 of them in the country! This place is a seafood armada! You can smell the ocean the minute you walk in and it feels like pure pescetarian paradise.
I was invited in by Managing Partner Nick Kapellas for a tasting this month, and lucky for me, it was also a Friday. I also got to bring along my foodie friend and colleague with me for the dining adventure, and we had the most amazing time.
To give you an example of just how perfect this place is for a seafood lover, every server is an angler, who can not only answer questions about fish, where it’s sourced and how it’s prepared, but can also guide you through your selections and wine pairings. A place even for fish novices!
After my guest and I chatted with Chef Stacey Carroll who specially came out to greet us, we sat down to drink and eat. The menu offers very unique cocktails and before we could utter the word, three drinks just showed up. Three cocktails for two people, sounds like my kinda night!
While the Tropic Heat Martini with pineapples and the Hawaiian Orchid Martini were both out of this world, the Smoked Old Fashioned took my breath away. I’m by no means a fan of old fashioneds, but this one comes with Bordeaux cherry smoked with oak over a colossal ice cube and done tableside. All I’ll say is, it went down fast!
Dinner started with a bang, literally with an order of their classic and most popular appetizer, the Bang Bang Shrimp. Portions are sizeable so the platter came heaped with crispy shrimp tossed in their signature spicy and creamy sauce. I’m not joking when I say that I could not put my fork down.
The Ahi Tuna Sashimi followed the shrimp well. To be honest, I was amazed to find premium sushi grade tuna at a chain restaurant. I love when my notions are challenged! The sesame-seared fish was served medium rare with wasabi, pickled ginger and a drizzle of spicy mayo.
With a heavy seafood focus, I also did not expect to find anything vegetarian on the menu, so when Chef sent out their Superfood Salad, I was a little surprised. Surprised first and blown away after. A large portion of fresh romaine and kale with farro grains, feta, avocado, pickled onions and sweet potato bites tossed in their house vinaigrette. Then finished with a citrus aioli. Wish I could eat this for lunch everyday!
The Pecan-Parmesan Crusted Rainbow Trout is one of Nick’s personal favorites, so I had to try! Fresh water fish covered in a delicious, crunchy coating presented savory and nutty flavors, rested in a fresh basil and lemon butter sauce. Tough to describe just how delicious this was.
Yet, my favorite dish had to be their Imperial Atlantic Wolffish on special. Wolffish is similar to monkfish in texture, and is a fish that feeds mainly on lobster. So, it tastes like lobster and and also came stuffed with lobster. It was also stuffed with shrimp, scallops, crabmeat and gruyere. Everything from the flaky fish to the savory stuffing made it super delectable and difficult to resist. Get this when you’re there please!
Finally, it was time for carbs, because no meal is complete without the carbs! Two words: Thermidor Gnocchi , a pasta dish with wet lobster chunks and tender shrimp sautéed with golden brown pillowy pasta, mushrooms, peas, fresh tomatoes mixed in with a lobster-sherry cream sauce. A rich dish of which you’ll definitely take leftovers home!
I know you want to ask about dessert! There was a very decadent Key Lime Pie and a warm Jen’s Jamaican Coconut Pie with Myer’s rum sauce and creamy coconut custard. I would even go back just for their pies!
Bonefish Grill is theplace to ring in the weekend. Did I mention that it was packed at 5:00pm? Apparently, that’s the norm. Service is attentive and detail-oriented. Food is outstanding, and prices are right. You have no excuse but to go here for your next dinner date!
If you haven’t been to Italy yet and want a taste of it, head over to Eataly now. Further, if you want a taste of the Italian seaside, visit Bar Sabbia there. The cutest summer-inspired café presenting coastal eats and a cocktail lounge by Aperol, where you can have your pick from their build-your-own menu spritz drinks and also help yourself to their craft beer selection.
The cherry on the cake is that it is also seafood-focused. Summer and seafood and you have one happy camper, me!
Although I went in on a Monday, I quickly forgot that it was the start of the week with the buzz around. The menu at Bar Sabbia is comprised of everything from fritto, spiedini, to pasta. We quickly planted ourselves at a table so we could hurry up and order their Aperol spritz flight, which came with a traditional, limoncello and lampone spritz each. Remind me to drink more of these in the summer!
The Melanzane nicely accompanied the spritz. Crispy eggplant chips coated with chili honey and mint gave off sweet and savory flavors. Non-carb fried foods are welcome anytime. As addictive as you can imagine.
The Gamberetti Con Patate was a beautiful dish with gulf shrimp, fingerling potatoes and charred tomato vinaigrette. All ingredients tasted fresh and I enjoyed the flavors in this dish.
It has been a while since I’ve had good Burrata. At the café, it comes a soft cream ball of mozzarella, served caprese style with Nichola Farm heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil. I relished the Sicilian sea salt for brine and every single bite!
The Bruschetta we ordered came four slices of freshly-baked pizza alla pala dough, smeared with chickpea pesto and evoo, then topped with thin, large slices of pecorino romano and mint sprigs.
The Raviolo Con Pesto Di Noci was housemade spinach and ricotta-filled pasta with walnut pesto and parmesan cheese. Too glad I was starting to get full, because I got to bring leftovers home!
Favorite dish of the night for me was unarguably the Pesce Spada, swordfish skewers grilled with tomatoes and almond pesto. I enjoyed the tougher fish texture for a change and this barbecued dish with all the Italian flavors.
While we didn’t get dessert, dinner left a sweet memory for us. Our server Enoch was so wonderful and everyone from staff to patrons seemed happy. I want to dine in positive environments like this more often.
Bar Sabbia should be your summer hangout; they have a spritz Happy Hour every Monday and Tuesday from 5 to 7pm, and Wine Wednesdays after 5pm where a wine expert from their beverage team chooses a special wine to feature.
Don’t be surprised if you find me at Bar Sabbia after work every night!
Another family-owned gem successfully discovered this month. Tarantino’s in Lincoln Park is my new favorite Italian restaurant in the city, and for many reasons. Firstly, I love restaurants with exposed brick, ha! In all seriousness, both the food and ambiance here are uber-comforting while service is unbeatable.
My friend and I went one evening this month to experience the contemporary yet traditionally inspired Italian cuisine they offer, and we learned that several of the recipes are owner John Tarantino’s! I also did not realize that the restaurant has been around since 1995!! Where have I been?!
A featured wine and cocktail list exists, and I just want to warn you that you’ll want to try them all. For drinks, I recommend the Smashing Peach with vodka and peach schnapps or the Bourbon Thyme. Hey, if you can get me to drink bourbon and leave me wanting more, you’ve won! This one had maple syrup in it which, in my opinion cut the earthiness of the whiskey very nicely.
Start with the Sauteed Shrimp for an appetizer, that is if it’s still on their seasonal menu when you go. A light dish with jumbo succulent shrimp, white beans and pepperoncini, was also very tasty.
The Fried Calamari tasted different and paired well with the roasted tomatoes and olive relish.
The Hearts of Palm salad is popular there for good reason. Simple in looks, but such a delightful combination of boston lettuce, avocado and cherry tomamtoes. I could eat this all day long.
To be honest, I tried the pizza because I wanted to order something from every section of the menu. In the process, I discovered a pie with the best crust I’ve ever had. Truly. The Grilled Summer Vegetable pizza we ordered has goat cheese and truffle oil and was so unbelievably enjoyable.
I never miss a good seafood pasta! Their Black Linguini comes with shrimp, mussels, Kalamata olives and a spicy marinara sauce. I love a spicy red sauce anyway; infact Arrabiatta is my favorite kind. This dish was incredibly delicious with all the ocean flavors mixed in with the tender pasta. A hearty dish and you bet leftovers came home with me.
For our main, we shared the Soft Shell Crabs on special. Two pan-fried crabs with crispy exterior but juicy meat were served with sautéed spinach and lemon caper sauce. Sheer culinary brilliance!
For sides, I also want to mention their Crispy Brussels Sprouts which were the airiest I’ve had, and they came with a spicy honey on the side. The Polenta Fries are something you just can’t miss at Tarantinos. Deliciously baked then fried with the creamiest polenta in a crunchy coating . I need more polenta in my life, period.
You haven’t had a Molten Chocolate Cake this good. Their version of this very popular dessert is too good to be true. The cake literally had a liquid center that oozed out every time you put a knife through it. One of the more ‘ooey-gooey’ ones I’ve had.
All I’ll say is that Tarantino’s knows how to make loyal patrons out of its guests. I’m a new fan for life!
Brazil was one of my favorite trips in life, so when I heard that there is a quaint café in Oak Park solely dedicated to Brazilian cuisine with food from various regions of the country, I was so excited.
Mulata Kitchen is so much more than just a Brazilian-focused café, however. It is an eatery born out of love and a desire to bring the world together. Owner and Chef Cristiane Perriera grew up in Sao Paolo with the dream of one day living in the U.S and bringing her cooking to Americans. She has been successful ad I’m so happy for her.
The café which opened earlier this year, is swamped with people and neighborhood residents. I’m so glad that my dear friend Gerardo introduced me to Cristiane and her dream restaurant. Gerardo also happens to have painted the café and has given it such a vibrant look.
I’m not joking when I say that their Pao De Quiejo (Cheese Bread) is better than ones I’ve had in Brazil. The empanadas come with unique fillings, such as hearts of palm or guava and cheese.
So many choices of customized blends of coffee that I had to break my rule and indulge in a few cups at dinner. No regrets on caffeinating before bedtime because the mochas were well worth it.
Didn’t see a single person who didn’t leave with a smile on his/her face. What a testament to a globally-inspired restaurant trying to bring people together with food.
Desserts were unique too and every bite made me realize just how talented and dedicated Cristiane is. Not to mention, entrepreneurial. She makes and bottles her own hot sauce which will be available fir retail soon!
The ambiance is too charming for words, not to mention clean!!! I’ll drive to Oak Park any day just to get a taste of Brazil!
They call themselves the next generation Milk Bar and I couldn’t think of a better way for the concept to make a comeback, than the new Jojo’s Milk Bar in River North. Had the pleasure of visiting recently with my very fun friend Kristina, and we had the absolute best Sunday Funday we could’ve asked for!
After a grand tour from the manager, who explained the vision behind we were seated in their second floor bar and playroom. How perfect for us!
We didn’t waste time before indulging in their over-the-top boozy milkshakes with The Gold Digger and Girl Scout each. The first came with caramel, a snickerdoodle rice krispie, dark chocolate pretzel and Pendleton whiskey. If mint chocolate is your thing, you’ll love the Girl Scout one with brownie, thin mint cookies, Andes mint chocolate, graham cracker chocolate, marshmallows and Fernet. I’m probably missing a few other items because it just kept going. I don’t think either of us put our shakes down for even a second.
From their loaded deli sandwiches and burgers, I was able to enjoy the Grilled Cheese, which was excellent. Five cheeses, crispy shallots and tomato grilled in the fluffiest and ‘butteriest’ challah bread. Couldn’t get to it fast enough.
Already on a sugar high, we further indulged in the Milk and Cookie Flight. Four freshly baked cookies with four house-made flavored milks served in the most adorable presentation. The sugar cookie and the lavender milk were my favorites. Taking this classic goodness to a whole new level!
You’ll be proud to know that we did switch it up with The Kitchen Sink, a green medley of romaine, artichokes, hearts of palm, feta cheese, roasted red pepper, radish and charred scallion vinaigrette. Also proud of the restaurant for having a salad section on the menu for healthier options!
Now that we had appeased the guilt a little, we ordered the Jojo’s Fries, sans bacon. A platter of waffle fries presented with melted three-cheese blend, sour cream and chives.
You’re probably wondering when we were going to stop eating. Trust me, we were stuffed, but there was too much good stuff on the menu to pass up. You’ll see for yourself!
The Orange Cream Mimosa was another fun cocktail to try as was the Spinach Artichoke Dip. I liked the choices of savory items on the menu because they paired perfectly with all the sugary deliciousness.
JoJo’s Milk Bar has all the right elements to have fun with some adulting, and a great reminder that it’s the simple things in life that are usually the best! Indeed the tasting was a comforting trip through childhood memories!
For those of you who know me well, you know that Eddie V’s is my home away from home. In addition to Chef Jose Gonzalez being one of my favorite chefs in the city, I also adore the restaurant’s ambiance, and love their food. So its win-win for me all around, and I never turn down an invite to try a new seasonal menu here.
And no matter how much or how often I write about Eddie V’s, it’s just not enough! I had the pleasure of trying their new summer menu this month, and the whole experience was just dreamy. Some people’s talents really know no bounds and Chef Gonzalez is one of them. Every visit here is better than the next!
The new Sparkling Sounds menu serves a phenomenal Lobster Trio that comes with a Lobster & Potato Croquette, Lobster Thermador, and Lobster Tempura on a stick. The tempura comes drizzled with a lavender honey and surprisingly, it they go well together. That’s a whole lot of South African cold water lobster for one to enjoy. The Trio comes with a choice of champagne and all this is for only $25! No wonder, that it is now the most popular appetizer on their menu.
The Fuji Apple Salad, although not new on their menu for a first for me. How did I miss this on prior visits?! A refreshing medley of golden beets, dried cherries, candied walnuts, blue cheese and apple-cider vinaigrette. You get why I relished this so much?
Both the Ahi Tuna (partially seared) and the Norwegian Salmon were impressive seafood treats. The freshness of both fish will forever remain in my memory. The salmon was buttery good and olives and tuna is a new favorite combination for me. I love that Chef always incorporates varied vegetables in every dish, giving it a hearty look and taste.
All along the warm bread and butter kept getting refilled and I didn’t stop them. Leftover bread always goes home with me, its tradition you know.
While I’m loyal to Eddie V’s Bananas Foster Cake, which also happens to be one of my favorite non-chocolate desserts ever, the new Peach Cobbler didn’t lag too far behind either. A hearty deep-dish skillet with the warmest golden brown top and bottom crust with sweet, cooked peaches placed in-between. The best end to any summertime meal!
Eddie V’s is a good reminder that one can expect creativity and consistency from restaurants that have been around for a long time and that makes them a poster child for both.
Now, my only question is, when is the fall menu coming out?!
Chef Michael Lasowicz is back with a bang! He not only re-opened George Trois but also returned with two other restaurants Silenceiux (more casual) and Aboyer (most casual). Each restaurant offers French cuisine with global influences, in an elegant and charming setting, each with a different level of experience. In Chef’s words, “No menu is better than the other, it’s just different.”
He invited me in with a guest to try the new menu at Aboyer, which in French means Barker. That’someone who barks orders at a restaurant. The intent was to create a lively vibe where there was hustle-bustle, no tablecloths and a casual atmosphere. He has managed to do that at Aboyer, while still preserving a high level of sophistication. It’s amazing.
Aboyer’s wine list features wines from around the globe and after a sampling a few, we settled in on the Bourgogne Vincent Dancer pinot noir from Burgundy. It was love at first glass ,and it accompanied the rest of the meal.
Wine like that calls for a Cheese Board. The restaurant features one with toasted baguettes, sliced Asian pear, confit figs and marcona quenelle. There was a tres leches cheese among others amazing selections on that platter which made quite the impression.
I highly recommend the Octopus Carpaccio with avocado and serrano peppers over thinly sliced octopus and a refreshing drizzle of olive oil. Every bite had a irresistible aroma from the marinated octopus.
The Escargot Agnolotti (a first for my guest) was a notable dish for me. An Italian dish with a French flair is what I’d call it. Mini snails cooked with goat ricotta, black garlic in a beurre monte. You must not miss this.
I have been on the hunt for tasty trout and my search may have ended. Brought head-on, the fish came with a red miso glacage and pickled daikon radish. I quite enjoyed the cauliflower beignets served alongside. With an order of the pomme puree on the side, it was very filling dish too.
Gotto have the whipped potatoes at a French restaurant!
I was very satisfied with our dessert choices too. Their most popular Olive Oil Cake, lived up to expectations. It came with a coffee-banana panna cotta and spiced chocolate glacage. So tasty.
The Soupe Anglaise “Chinois” was something else, with a genoise sponge cake bathing in a sake syrup, and kiwi brulee and matcha powder on top. Trust me, all of those things belong well together.
The chocoholic in me was also eyeing the Grand Mariner Chocolate Truffles on the menu and our sweet server got us a couple to try. These bitter-sweet bites sealed the meal perfectly.
A beautiful and well-worth drive outside the city to Winnetka, that I’ll make any day to enjoy food this good.
Merci and Au Beintot Aboyer!
Twice in one month at Eataly, so lucky me! My fashion blogger friend, Lizzy and I attended a Pizzata at their La Pizza & La Pasta restaurant recently. The new event series features one notable Chicagoan who hosts an event with traditional Neapolitan-style pizza. The idea is to replicate traditional Italian gatherings to celebrate one another with food.
You could’ve had me at just pizza, but knowing that celebrity hair stylist Anthony Cristiano was hosting it, sweetened the deal!
When we arrived, we were seated at the pescetarian food blogger table which was perfect for us. And we were started off with wine almost instantly. Perfecto!
Cristiano shared his nonna’s recipe of Capricciosa with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di buffalo, olives, artichokes, and basil. The prosciutto was left out for us.
With it, we also tried their Spaghetti al Pomodoro and Clam Pasta and both were cooked to perfection. Beautiful colors and flavors in both. I couldn’t stop inhaling the aromas.
We all know that Eataly has the best Arancini in town. These deep-fried stuffed rice balls were gooey and cheesy and seriously are the epitome of Italian street food.
The Pizatta series is hosted on select Mondays this summer and I tell you what, if I can start every week like this, it would be amazing!
I think the universe is trying to tell me to eat more Italian food with all the opportunities I’ve had this month to do that. And that’s a message I’m very happy to comply with.
To further my love for Italian cuisine, I attended the Italian American Chamber of Commerce ‘s Vino & Veneto, a masterclass and tasting with RPM’s Chef Matt Skolarus and Sommelier Bobby Joe Rinaldo. Attendees enjoyed an intimate dinner as Chef shared his love for cooking with all authentic Italian ingredients.
We learned about how to decipher between the right Italian ingredients from parmigiana cheese, balsamic vinegar, all the way to wine. We also learned about the differences between the various quality ratings; DOP vs IGP. Following the presentation, Chef Skolarus prepared a Risotta Amarone using the Amarone we had just learned about and I was uber-excited to see a pasta being cooked with red wine. I’ve always said that red wine can do wonders for cooking moreso than white wine. But I am a vino rosso fan for life. I also loved how Chef’s demo and careful teaching changed my perceptions about cooking risotto on my own. Hey, I might actually give this a try at home!
After the demo, we mingled and enjoyed a live jazz performance by musician Anna Lee, continued drinking wine and savored the risotto. It was the perfect summer night and I’m many steps closer to making that trip to Italy I keep talking about!
After a pasta-filled few weeks, it was refreshing to switch it up with sushi. And not just any sushi, really, really good sushi. When my foodblogger friend approached me about visiting her family’s new sushi restaurant in Lakeview, I jumped at the opportunity and together with my sushi-loving friend, Michael, we ventured there one weekday evening this month.
You’ll think its cute the minute you step in. Not a very large space with only a few tables for dine in, but the crowd trickles in throughout. As I sat by a window, I could see undecided folks staring at this place with intrigue. There is something so quaint and authentic about this space.
Lots of uniqueness in the menu, from a tantalizing Jalapeno Bomb to Crunchy Tuna. Those two I’ll let you try and decide for yourself, but suffice to say, you’ll be blown away.
The edamame was steaming fresh and I swear I could eat those salty soy beans forever!
Favorite rolls for me were the Red Bull and the Martini. Both came with fish on top for garnish. Thats a lot of fish on fish action! Nice sized rolls, not too large, and dressed in the right proportion.
For veggie lovers this Vegetarian Bowl will leave a a great taste in your mouth. Fresh veggies with light soy and sesame. Simple, hearty and satisfying. Its always a pleasure to see restaurants cater to vegetarians..
But I had to end on a fishy note; the Tuna Sashimi was fresh, sushi grade and melted in my mouth before it disappeared into my tummy. I knew I should’ve ordered the 8pc platter!
Nori and Wasabi is not a place you visit once and forget about. Rather a neighborhood or city favorite that you just can’t get enough of! What a great start for this sushi eatery!