C-House

I tried my best to stay away Restaurant Week this year (no really, I did)… After several years of busting my butt to get as many reservations as possible to get prix fixe prices, there were just too many mediocre meals to justify any continuance on my part (see my post on Il Mulino for a prime example).

Shockingly enough, my feigned resistance was pointless. My friends wanted to go out for restaurant week, and immediately I was in with suggestions from my infamous list. I ended up making reservations for the four of us at C-House, but, as is standard within our group, we were whittled down to two members. We battled through the snow/rain, though, and entered Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s endeavor.

The restaurant week menu that was placed before us was different than the one on-line, so my friend Jimmy and I were slightly put out, but relieved to actually find the new options better. We each ordered the butternut squash soup, steak, and chocolate tort and split a side of macaroni. The soup had bacon and pine nuts on the bottom of the bowl, which added to its rich and creamy comfort. We ordered the steak medium rare, and it was prepared perfectly, with potatoes and some sort of long-grain rice, both heavy with flavor. The macaroni side also contained sausage which I avoided, but Jimmy loved; the pasta itself with it’s light, but cheesy sauce was delicious. I could’ve eaten only that all night and been just fine.  Lastly, the chocolate tort had hints of cherry in it, which is a pairing I don’t love. I’d rather strawberry or raspberry be the fruit of choice when paired with chocolate, but overall I believe someone who prefers the cherry combination would enjoy it.

While safely within the restaurant’s warm modern glow out of the sleet outside, and consuming well-planned winter dishes, C-House was definitely one of my better restaurant week experiences. 3.5 out of 5 spoons.

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Epic

A few weeks ago, my boss was in town (he is based in Vermont) and we planned to meet up as we are both foodies, and I would also be able to get to know some fellow colleagues within the company. Knowing of my penchant for good restaurants, my boss left the decision for dinner in my hands. I jumped at the chance to try Purple Pig, however the wait was over an hour long. Of course being me, I had a second option right away in Slurping Turtle. Again, over an hour wait. Thankfully, Slurping Turtle is located right next to Epic and Hubbard Inn, so I knew we had to be able to get into one of them. Third times a charm, as Epic had more than enough openings; though not necessarily a good sign, I had wanted to try it anyway.

Finally settled at our table, we ordered drinks, and scanned the menu. My boss and I naturally gravitated towards the lamb shank with mole sauce. I mean, who wouldn’t? Our counterparts wisely opted for the safer options of salmon and steak.

My dish is somewhat hard to describe. It wasn’t terrible by any means, but it definitely tasted interesting. I absolutely love mole on chicken, and was eager to try it on lamb. I don’t know if it was the consistency and flavor of the lamb, but for some reason the lamb and the mole together was off. My boss too, wasn’t too fond of the dish.

I could see someone out there possibly enjoying the different flavor, it just was not personally agreeable to me. Our drinks were strong and flavorful though, and the service was pretty good. The large size and openness of the spot is definitely a great place for a group dinner before a night out (incidentally, Epic does boast a good scene on the weekends in it’s downstairs area.) I have no wish to return to Epic, but I wouldn’t protest it if someone wanted to go. I am ready and willing to give it another chance, as I took a risk with a unique dish concept, and it didn’t pay off. For now, 2 out of 5 spoons.

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RL Restaurant

Two weeks ago today was my birthday, and I was all about the fish. I made reservations at RL restaurant for me and Mama Finch on the evening of my birthday, planning on shopping at Bloomies beforehand for my bday gifts. Now, all I wanted were a a gold watch, and a brown purse that I had already picked out on-line, and had seen at the store the previous weekend. I was blissfully content knowing that all I had to do was a one-stop shop and we could be on our merry way for dins. Little did I know that the store did NOT have the watch and purse I had picked out, cuz some lucky hoes had very wisely snagged them before me. On we went to Macy’s and no luck. Trying Saks next, we realized it was Wednesday and the stores close at 7pm. Lame. So I was not in the best of moods for about ten minutes but then I realized I was being a brat, and I didn’t need my presents immediately and I was lucky to be even getting anything at all. Side note: starting in college, when my friends and I would lament about something stupid like boy drama or school hardship, I would proceed to point out that we were not starving kids in Ethiopia, and our lives are overall, pretty effing awesome. This usually results in a role of their eyes and some thrown objects at me to get me to shut up…  However, their laughs at my attempts at perspective lead me to believe they secretly agree and appreciate my lectures (or so I tell myself.)

Anywho, back to the fish.  Feeling much better, Mama Finch and I marched back to RL restaurant and ended up having quite a pleasant evening. We had a little bit of a wait, as we were quite early, but the accommodating waiter up front gave us complimentary vino for my b-day. As we waited, I had ample time to observe. Of course, the restaurant looks exactly how you would think it is. Dark wood, with brown leather chairs and scads of books in the front room make it seem like I’m in the library of the Union League Club (which I spent much of my childhood in by the way and loved it.) Once seated, the dining room is much smaller than expected, and the ubiquitous black and white photos of yesteryear adorn the walls. The waiters are attentive to the max, especially as it was my birthday. Apparently there are a great deal of regulars (more of the senior set, which may reflect the atmosphere and it’s location) at RL as well, as we appeared to be surrounded by hosts, waiters, and servers greeting customers as old family friends.

I had the lobster bisque (smoky and creamy), oysters (west coast, nuff said), and seafood papardelle (one word: sauce) and all were quite delicious.  As we left, our charming waiter gave us hugs, and wished me a final “Happy birthday.” I can certainly see why this place brings in scads of regulars. I may be alone on this, but I’m inclined to go back again and again just to feel VIP (even if that puts me with an older crowd), and where the staff and I are on a first name basis. You know a place is sweet when you think about that stuff.  4 out of 5 spoons.

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Lan’s

As I always say, there’s nothing like a hidden gem of a BYOB establishment. My friend Andi, who has an expert knowledge of these, recommended Lan’s in Old Town to celebrate our friend Kristina’s birthday. According to Andi the Expert, the place had solid food, rowdy karaoke late night, and low pricing. Of course, we were sold.

I was the first one to arrive, and was surprised (though not unpleasantly) that it was a very small place… Kind of sized like a rather large living room. I was instantly eager to partake in dining in the cozy and intimate setting. There were no other patrons yet, so I settled myself in our table for eight, located smack dab in the middle of the restaurant, and facing their TV and karaoke stage. My friends soon arrived, but soon it was clear we were in for a non-Karaoke night as everyone kept their BYOBs to minimum.

But we were all able to sample some crab rangoon, various dumplings, shrimp, beef, and pork dishes family style. If there is such a thing as “Comfort Chinese Food” I would say Lan’s cuisine is it. Everything I sampled radiated warmth, with uncomplicated flavors. It was typical Chinese food, but I didn’t feel heavy or full to the point of sickness at all. That is hard to do with this type of fare.

I am anxious to go back to Lan’s on a Friday or Saturday night, or any time my cohorts are in a more festive mood. I would love to sample the Kara0ke scene, as well as go back for more of their cuisine (did I mention this place is ridiculously well priced? when we got our bill, I was floored.) For what it is, I highly recommend at 3.5 out of 5 spoons.

 

 

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Mercadito Brunch

This past weekend, I unintentionally had a Saturday Funday with my girlfriends which inevitability began with brunch at Mercadito. We had heard that it was supposed kind if insane with a DJ, but when we walked in, it was as calm and pretty empty as the other times I had eaten brunch there. But of course, we all ordered mimosas and/or margaritas with one deviant insisting on tequila shots (we all gracefully declined with a “hell no”) and so we had quite a good time sans DJ anyway.

Mercadito Brunch is a lot like Mercadito dins. You can order the same tacos, and start with the same trio of Guacamole. I would say there was about 11 of us, and we all ordered the same two dishes: either the shrimp tacos, or the egg tacos. They come in groups of four, so those of us who wanted slight variety traded one or two shrimp tacos for the egg, and vice-versa. I’ve raved all about the shrimp tacos in my Mercadito dinner post, so I’ll just comment on their egg tacos. With black beans, eggs, salsa, avocado, queso, and pico de gallo they are stacked with deliciousness. Honestly, nothing at Mercadito can be horrible.

I sampled their Mango Mimosa which was a little too pulpy for my liking, but all around sweet and flavorful. But their best drink by far for brunch is their Mango Margarita; it’s sweet and salty, with just the right amount of heat. Excellent, food, drink, and friends proved to be the start of a truly stellar day. 4 out of 5 spoons.

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Tavernita

Ah Chicago in winter. Blizzards always seem to arrive to celebrate my birthday (I can’t blame them). Typically, after much hassle in order to squeeze a reservation at this much-anticipated venue, Chicago weather reared it’s ugly head. Our group of 7 quickly turned into 3, but we braved the cold and snow to  Tavernita.

Even though I had obviously peeped the menu prior to our visit, I still had Spanish Tapas stuck in my head for some reason. This was just me being an idiot. Now, Tavernita is owned by the same individuals as Mercadito, and as that is one of my favorite restaurants, I had high expectations. Read on, dear readers, to see if they were met.

We ordered approximately 5 dishes; three of them were great, two of them were not so great. We started out with oysters which were really not that good at all (they must have been East Coast) so the meal honestly only went up from there. My favorite dish of the night was Greg’s Meatballs, which consisted of wagyu beef, pork, and was topped with a romesco sauce. I could’ve eaten that as my entire meal. I also really enjoyed the steak tartare that was served with creme fraiche and perfectly toasted pieces of bread. Funny enough, I have only really had tuna tartare, but I greatly enjoyed my first experience with the steak version. I was with two of my guy friends, and they both loved the pork belly sliders the best. This was my third favorite, but I’m not surprised that this heavier dish was a male favorite; in particular, I loved the apple jam that it came with. We ordered a flatbread that was pretty okay, but nothing I haven’t had before. I’d say you could skip this part of the menu, as well as the patatas. The patatas tasted DELCIOUS, believe me, but you can get that same dish (perhaps not as flavorful) in any decent breakfast place in  Chicago. With potatoes, chorizo and a fried egg on top, the chorizo had a great, spicy, and smokey flavor, and the sauce that came with it was quite tasty. But I think you could sacrifice that dish for something more unique on the menu. For example, I heard their eggplant was amazing, so next time I will definitely be sampling that.

They have an extensive signature cocktail list, which I definitely recommend. I personally had some red sangria, and my friends ordered The Turista drink which they both enjoyed immensely.

After the meal, my friends and I decided that Tavernita was a solid 8, as compared to Mercadito (which my friend Jimmy says is a solid 10, and I would say it’s more of a 9). I would definitely recommend the place, but be prepared to shout at your companions over the music, and prior to attrending, ask around (or go by this post) as to what dishes to try, and which ones to skip. Had I ordered differently, I might have given Tavernita some more spoons…. As it happens, I am giving it a 3.5 out of 5.

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Cantina Laredo

One evening, as my friends and I were cruising down Illinois st to the most over-priced movie theater in existence, AMC River East 21, we were simultaneously drawn to a pleasant glow of light from a low building to our left. As I was the designated driver, I slowed down a bit, and in said locale, there appeared to be a massive crowd of stylish people, drinks in hand,  in a large, modern, open space. Being pretty social chicks, we were instantly intrigued by this place we had not yet heard of and one of my friends immediately consulted her smart phone as to the delightful possibility of a new social scene. We then learned that it so happened to be the Grand Opening of Cantina Laredo, that very evening. Upon further investigation, it appeared that the restaurant was a chain. And if you go to its website, it appears to be along the same lines as Chili’s and Outback Steakhouse. No, don’t get me wrong, I am Chili’s (I’m sorry, but how would an apostrophe work just then?) biggest fan, but judging by what we saw of the indoors of Cantina Laredo, I thought it was going to be the new Hub 51.

Inside Cantina Laredo

Last night, my friend Priya’s cousin was in town so a group of us decided to check it out. The place is HUGE, with a wide, mysterious staircase that leads who-knows-where. There is a large bar in the middle of the restaurant (think a setup much like N9NE), some private rooms towards the back, and at least one merry fireplace by the kitchen. It’s very beige, with sharp-lined furniture; Latin music plays (which I love of course), and the staff is very friendly and courteous.
My margarita was salty which pleases my taste, but I could see some people not liking that, and our guacamole was made table-side. Isn’t that the best? The guac, and two salsas they had at the table were quite tasty. I ordered the Enchiladas Con Mole, which were not so tast. The mole was topped with sesame seeds which I thought was kind of weird. Though I ate pretty much my whole plate, my favorite part of the main course was Priya’s black beans. I’m glad I went, but the food is not spectacular. The overall scene is well suited for the likes of River North, but for foodies, I’d say you can definitely skip it. 1.5 out of 5 spoons.

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