Tag Archives: New American Food

LOkal

Frankly, I wasn’t expecting too much when my friend Sibbing told me that she was having her birthday dinner at LOkal, a spot in Wicker Park that I was interested to try, but wasn’t on my rather large list of must-go restaurants. I have to preface this entry by saying that boy was I wrong not to have it included on said list.

The place is a modern little spot in Wicker Park with questionable art, but a cool vibe nonetheless. Our waitress was extremely helpful and pleasant, especially as our group was too lazy to pick what we wanted and asked the chef to throw at us whatever he wanted (not very customary, but they obliged us very well.)

Our first course was an arugula salad with chopped beats, corn, and a kind of balsamic dressing, and I kid you not when I say it is the best salad I’ve had in a long time. It takes a lot to make a salad that amazes me, and everyone at the table licked their plates clean. Next was by far the best course: a perfectly seared scallop on top of cheesy risotto with asparagus. Again, I licked my plate clean in about 2 minutes, as the flavors were outstanding. If you go to LOkal, you MUST get this dish.

Scallop and Risotto

Beef tenderloin was our main course, and the sauce was so good that I even ate the mushrooms that came with it. And I hate slimy mushrooms usually. Yuck. It is a fine testament to a restaurant when I eat the mushrooms because the dish is so good. Finally, we had a chocolate ganache with strawberries and the lightest whip cream I’ve ever had. Again, all food on plate gone.

Friends, you HAVE to go to LOkal. Amazing food, at extremely reasonable prices, and right in the heart of one of Chicago’s best neighborhoods. I am shocked and appalled this place has not gotten more press and attention, because it certainly more than deserves it. Go with the fam, with the significant other, or a group. You will not be disappointed.

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Balsan

Recently returning from Italy a few weeks ago, I’ve started to miss all the marble that composes of the most amazing art and architecture I have ever seen in my life. I am well aware that Chicago’s architecture is nothing to sneeze at, but as a lover of all things historic, I relished the old-world architecture that you never see in America. You can therefore imagine my delight as my cab pulled up to the Elysian Hotel this past weekend. Composed almost all of of that light-grey marble that surrounded me in Italy, with clean lines, and black accents, I was enraptured.

Elysian Hotel

I was there to try Balsan, one of the restaurants located in the recently-opened Elysian. Upon walking into the relatively small, immaculate lobby, I was told the restaurants were on the third floor. Balsan is the less expensive of the two at the hotel (Ria being the other), and offers New American fare.

Interior of Balsan

Now there is a perception out there that one cannot have outstanding seafood in the Midwest. I mean, I get it. It’s flown in, not fresh from right outside, and who knows what’s happened to it en route to the final destination? I must admit, I pretty much agree with this, except at Balsan I had some pretty damn good oysters. I would definitely say they rivaled those of either U.S. coast. Not too salty, and topped with a great cucumber relish, I could’ve eaten these things all night.

But such is the nature of dinner, we moved on to try the halibut and the gnocchi. Brought out to the table wrapped in paper, the waiter cut it open to reveal it perfectly cooked in a sort of tomato broth. The cheesiness of the gnocchi was amazing as well.

We were celebrating a birthday, so the waiter very graciously brought out a chocolate mousse type dessert with coffee-flavored ice-cream. As my dining companion was not a chocolate lover, I gladly ate most of it.

Though all the review websites I went to stated Balsan as $$$$, it was definitely not that expensive at all (relatively), and I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t rave about it, but it was a solid, nice dinner in a great setting. I’d recommend to go for a special occasion, and make absolutely sure to try the oysters.

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(K)new

This past weekend, some chicks and I ventured to (K)new (not sure what they’re getting at with the double entendre here) for Jamie’s birthday. I had been before; it’s a great BYOB spot that used to be called Think, and has been revamped by the same founders. The only problem with the place is its location, on the 2500 block of West Fullerton. Sure, parking isn’t a problem but if you’re planning on hailing a cab after the meal, I’d call one far before the end of your meal.

(K)new is small, but you don’t feel compact, and with warm colors the place is inviting, good for dates, as well as group dinners. Even with a table of 8 girls, we had plenty of room to breathe, which is generally not the case with most BYOBs.

Of course, being typical girls, we split everything…  Playing a game of puff puff give, we passed around firstly, the piquillo peppers that came with lump crabmeat, goat cheese, truffle oil, and a saffron and butter emulsion. Next came a pastry with tomato, buffalo, mozzarella, pancetta, prosciutto, and truffle oil, and I honestly have to say, God bless truffles. I notice (K)new uses them in a fair amount of their dishes, and while you could tell them to stop relying on truffles to make good dishes, I am not complaining. Keep the truffles coming, if you please.

My favorite dish of the night was the Cavatappi pasta, with lobster, shrimp, tomato, mascarpone cheese, and seasoned with mint, basil, garlic, and olive oil. I am sucker for mascarpone cheese, and this dish kind of put me in mind if what a reinvention of a macaroni and cheese would taste like. Definitely get this one if you go.

Finally we had the Fish of the Day, which turned out to be Halibut, and flavored very well with lots ‘o’ butter. Like truffle sauces, you can never have too much butter.

As we were on a deadline, (we had a surprise trolley picking us up for the b-day girl filled with all her favorite people), we unfortunately skipped dessert. However, I would definitely go back to Knew and give their desserts, and their other dishes I have not yet had, a try. I suggest you do the same. Heck, let’s go together.

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Eve

After my Il Mulino flop, I was reluctant to try my second restaurant week endeavor, Eve. Hidden on the quiet part of Rush Street, it took us a drive-by or two to locate it, but find it we did. Upon entrance, the hostess did not seem to be in a good mood, as her conversation consisted of short questions, and monosyllabic responses. However, we were sat in a cozy little table for two. With dim lights and intimate tables, it seemed a very romantic spot, but the crowd was made up of mostly groups of girls and families, which I found surprising, but then again, I can’t talk as I was there with my Mom.

For the first course, I had the Maine Lobster Bisque with green papaya, pineapple, and vanilla emulsion. To be frank, it was the weirdest lobster bisque I’ve ever had. I am used to a lobster bisque with more zest. Now this had flavor, but it was off. I’m blaming the vanilla emulsion. Instead, I would have liked to taste more citrus, as well as some onions or chives. My Mom had the dukkah crusted laughing bird shrimp, with Belgian endive, and an aioli sauce. This was a lot better, with much more flavor.

For entrees, we both got the green curry short ribs with baby bok choy, sunchokes, and pickled daikon. It was extremely tender, and the sauce had a little bite to it, which I always appreciate.

Eve saved the best for last. My Mom and I both can’t resist any form of chocolate, so we both also got the chocolate peanut butter Pot de Crème with peanut brittle. This thing was like heaven in a jar… chocolate peanut butter mousse topped with cream. What isn’t there to like?

Though my last course was a phenomenal end, I’m really quite ambivalent about this place. Overall, it’s good, but not great. A B+, but just out of A range. I concluded that this is because I could have gotten the same experience at Eve in many other restaurants in Chicago. There’s nothing that sets it apart. I wouldn’t be opposed to going back on a non-restaurant week evening, but there are many other places I’d rather go. Eve needs to step it up on the wow factor. If it does, I’d be happy to give it another go.

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