Las Islas Marias

March 22 2006 - 3:44 PM

There’s a really neat Mexican seafood place on Grand and Cicero that I’ve been meaning to try. A big delay came when I found out that they opened a new location, basically in my neighborhood. After trying that spot I was having a hard time justifying giving a second chance to their Grand location which is supposedly a great place. But I’m glad I did.

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Pizzeria Uno vs. "Uno Chicago Grill"

March 21 2006 - 12:03 PM

First there was Uno. Now it’s "Uno Chicago Grill." When I was a kid I remember loving dinners at Uno. The walk down to the eating area, the scratched up tables… the pizza. Then I left town and reminisced for many years. Imagine my surprise one day, in Madison Wisconsin, seeing on the corner an Uno’s. I dragged my then girlfriend inside. Oops. The long and the short is that it wasn’t Pizzeria Uno. It was an Edwardo’s or a Gino’s or a Giordano’s or a _____. It was not an Uno. It’s part of the reason I won’t recommend any place other than Unos or Dues on Wabash and Ohio…  Looking at their website… www.unos.com I cringe at the language:

"The new Uno Chicago Grill menu, introduced in fall 2005, offers hip and
intense new tastes that are built on Uno’s history of artisanal fare."

What? The place made freakin Pizza. It wasn’t an Italian gourmet restaurant. There were no wood burning ovens, no artisianal ingredients. Mozzarella. Tomatoes… a handcrafted bread we all call "crust."

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Avec

March 20 2006 - 9:13 AM

Right next to Blackbird, the big brother (or sugar daddy) of Avec, is a simple rectangular restaurant that seems to want to stress form over function. The 1-room has a row of tables running the length of one half of the restaurant and a bar/counter and kitchen along the other. It looks like something out of Dwell magazine. The irony is that the food is fairly complicated with a traditional grounding. While the food fattens your ass, the stool will flatten it.

And the food is good. The menu is an assortment of small plates, that
aren’t too small, and large plates that we didn’t try. When you get
knee-deep into the menu you might also have the desire for variety.
Dishes like the crispy duck confit with blood oranges in a blood orange
vinaigrette and crispy short ribs with red peppers, cilantro, red onion
and harissa aioli were ones that, as I left, I wish I tried.

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James Beard 2006 Nominees

March 17 2006 - 9:00 AM

Congrats to the Chicago nominees for the 2006 James Beard awards. Check out the James Beard Foundation website for general info. It’s like the Oscars for the food industry except the industry actually cares.

OUTSTANDING RESTAURANT:
Everest & Spiaggia
That’s 2 restaurants in Chicago!

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Alinea

RISING STAR CHEF OF THE YEAR
Graham Elliot Bowles, Avenues

OUTSTANDING SERVICE
Tru

BEST CHEF MIDWEST
Carie Nahabedian, Naha & Shawn McClain, Spring

BOOK AWARD: FOOD OF THE AMERICAS
Mexican Everyday, Rick and Deann Groen Bayless

TELEVISION SHOW, NATIONAL
The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter

RADIO SHOW

The Hidden Kitchens Project, WBEZ Chicago Davia Nelson, Nikki Silva, Jay Allison

Sai Cafe

March 17 2006 - 8:50 AM

Some time ago a friend from Japan was in town to visit.  He was here for several days and one evening my husband suggested the one thing I was dreading – taking him out for sushi.  To me it seemed like the equivalent of visiting Tokyo and going out for burgers.  You know it just isn’t going to be as good as it is at home so why not stick to the things you can’t get at home.  Anyway, my Japanese friend was really into the idea so we took him to a place we enjoyed… Sai Cafe.

Unfortunately, as I suspected, it didn’t go well.  He insisted that it
was a Chinese restaurant.  The sushi chefs where Chinese, the owner was
Chinese, the name was Chinese, certain things were spelled wrong on the
menu and the Saki was from California.  No matter what the food tasted
like my friend was not going to like it – he had made up his mind.
Subsequently, we decided to attempt a sushi dinner two more times, once
at Torajiro in Lakeview and once at Sushi Samba.  Both visits were very
much enjoyed.  I had heard from several people that many of the sushi
restaurants in Chicago are owned by Chinese chefs that were trained in
Japan, like Torajiro, which was news to me.

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Tank Noodle / Tank Restaurant

March 16 2006 - 12:01 PM

Tank Noodle is held in wide regard. I’ve been past it many, many times so last weekend, since we were in the neighborhood, we went for lunch.

It’s a pretty big place that was bustling, even at 2:30. We ended up sitting at a large round table with another group of 3 ladies. Most of the clientele is Asian and the menu, while extensive, is largely focused on soup. Pho is the big thing on Argyle. It’s apparently becoming something of a fast food item in California. I enjoy it from time to time but also given the likely hood of finding a chunk of tripe or many chunks of beef fat I’m not completely nuts for it. But they have many many varieties at Tank of Pho or other soups. I got a big bowl of Chao, a rice congee soup and we ordered a chicken and noodle dish that was NOT soup.

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Taqueria Uptown - Tacos al Pastor

March 13 2006 - 12:49 PM

Tacos al Pastor is something some people crave. Like good french onion soup or the perfect pastrami sandwich… the perfect burger even. It’s the type of thing that takes kitchen space and a rotisserie, not to mention a big hunk of pork.

On a weekend walk about where we found ourselves on Ridge and Broadway we looked at El Norte but it seemed really empty and there, across the street, was "Taqueria Uptown" a more non-descript name I could not invent. It’s a bar counter and a few tables and sits on the North East corner of the Broadway/Bryn Mawr/Ridge corner.

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Green Zebra

March 12 2006 - 6:46 PM

KimIt’s tough to get a table at Green Zebra. I was able to swing a day-of reservation but at 5:30. I happened to have my camera that day and, lucky me, I was able to get into the kitchen and snap some pix.

Zebra serves mostly vegetarian dishes. Some meat exceptions and plenty of dairy/egg dishes are also on the menu. The plates are small and broken up into three sections:  light, semi-light and main course-ish though all are small plates. They’re priced roughly between $9 and $15 and the menu changes often. The restaurant is stark, seating about 40 (guessing). The tables aren’t too close together and the service is attentive, well informed, and helpful.

It’s the type of place that serves dishes so specific and unusual it’s very hard to describe them with any success and impossible to figure out every component or ingredient. I was surprised that the flavors and ingredients were so unusual and that most of the dishes were quite challenging.

Chef de cuisine – Christine Kim is pictured.

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Hamantash/Hamantaschen

March 12 2006 - 5:59 PM

Hamant_1This also could be called "never butter the pan when making cookies."

Hamantash or Hamantashen are Purim cookies. Purim is this week. It’s scary when there’s a hamantash.com but there is…

There is a great recipe for hamantashen that serves as a starting point from which I unfortunately deviated. As the potentially groundbreaking triangular cookie is baking I have some confidence that they might turn out and I’m not yet embarrassed by the result to not mention them. (NOTE: having tasted them – I am ashamed) The additions and switches include incorporating 1/2 wholewheat flour into the mix, using brown sugar and succanat instead of white sugar… adding more vanilla and a sprinkle of cinnamon and then getting some frou-frou black currant preserves and apricot marmalade to fill them with in addition to the traditional poppy-seed and berries.

I really do wonder if Solo sells more poppy-seed filling this week. It’s like Superbowl Sunday for poppy-seed filling.

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X/O Chicago

March 10 2006 - 11:16 AM

After a really neat small theatre production called Baker & Huff performed in a bar (8pm at the Town Hall Pub 3340 N. Halsted running through April 8th- $10 well spent – Box Office 773-345-0726). We headed north on Halsted to X/O (3441 N. Halsted) hoping for a good bite. I’ll admit 11:30pm rolls around and Taco Bell gets more and more appealing.

X/O has an abbreviated menu after 11pm. In the interest of keeping it simple we ordered two dishes and following up beers at the pub, we were sticking with water. The place is pretty trendy and the crowd was dressed for Saturday night in Boys Town.

We were seated right away and our waiter was very helpful making suggestions. We ordered the braised oxtail and the scallops. They arrived and were pretty and very tasty.

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