Restaurants

Tony Mantuano's River Roast

July 29 2014 - 1:00 PM

Housed inside the former space of Fulton’s on the River, Tony Mantuano’s newest endeavor, River Roast, serves contemporary American tavern fare. River Roast seats over 100 guests on the main floor, has two bars, and has a stunning veranda overlooking the LaSalle and Clark Street bridges.

As if that was not enough, River Roast boasts private event spaces on the top and bottom floor that can house over 1,000 guests. Lunchtime guests can enjoy fresh cuts of lusciously roasted chicken and beef at the carving stand. It seems that all roads lead to River Roast, as it is accessible by bus, train, and even water. River Roast guests can enjoy scenic river views by hopping on the Water Taxi adjacent to the veranda.

Chef John Hogan, former executive chef of Keefer’s, has ensured that the quality of the food matches the stunning views of the restaurant. The superiorly roasted meats showcase his grilling expertise, but his classical culinary training truly comes through in stand-outs like Head to Hock Pork Cakes and Hogan’s Peas.

Chris Jecha, the beverage director, pairs these dishes with 16 superb draught lines that spotlight local breweries.  From the dry and floral Devoir Saison by Penrose to the extremely rare Not Special K by Jolly Pumpkin, the range of styles and flavors will cater to any patron. Take a look at around River Roast in the pictures below and be sure to check out Tony Mantuano’s newest hit.

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Tasting of Smoked Beers, Part II

July 24 2014 - 1:00 PM

Last week we reviewed smoked hefeweizens by Schlenkerla and Gigantic. Part two will be about the Smoked Helles Lagers. Helles lagers are different to pilsners in that they are a malt-accentuated beer that is not overly sweet, but rather focuses on malt flavor with underlying hop bitterness in a supporting role.

Lake Effect/Finch’s “Meeting of the Minds” (Chicago, IL) 
Though I am not a fan of Finch’s, Lake Effect has been offering some solid beers especially of the sour variety. These two northwest side breweries teamed up with another staple in that corner of the city, Hagen’s Fish Market, to create this beer.

The biggest of the four beers here at 6.5% this beer is unusual for a helles which is usually around 4.5-5.5%. It also does not have the honey-like dough quality that is the foundation for a helles. An amber-orange color, which is a darker hue as well, sets up the drinker for a beer that has aromas of bread, heavy smoke, and earthy hops.

The overall taste has a caramel feel to it, with a good amount of smoke and a faint toffee quality at the end. This is a beer that I believe these two breweries either did not want to do a low ABV or did not feel comfortable doing a smoked beer at a low ABV. In the end, the vastness of the beer unbalances it and it has morphed into something that is not a Helles.

 

Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier
A unique beer unto itself! A beer that uses no smoked malts, but has a residual smoky character. Though it is not classified as a smoked beer, this beer has the markings of one, and I wished I knew how the Heller Brauerei did it. Helles is brewed with fine Bavarian aroma hops from the area around the city of Nürnberg. I believe the trick with the residual smoke character comes from the brewery making this beer in the same copper kettles as their famous Rauchbier while also using the same yeast as they do for that beer.

At 4.3% ABV this is a prime example of a Helles and how to make a full-on flavored session beer. A clear, golden beer that has a grainy-sweet aroma coming from the Pils malt. The taste is like warm biscuits with honey on them and then just at the end, in a supporting role, is subtle smoky flavor that wraps around the mild hop bitterness while supporting, and balancing, the malt sweetness.

 

Though both hefeweizens were well made and marvelous, I believe the bigger revelation was the Schlenkerla Helles with the amount of flavor, depth, and subtlety it had. Though the Lake Effect and Finch’s collaboration could not stand up to the other three I do commend them on using woods that one does not often see in smoked beers. With grilling season in full swing there are few beers that pair so well with the grilled food and because of the slight uptick in smoked beers here in Chicago that are available plus the variety of beer styles that are being smoked they pair well with any flavor that is coming off that grill. Be it sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or umami.

 

Photo Credits: Beer Syndicate, Wine & Cheese Place

Libations

Second Annual Midwest Brewers Brawl, July 27, 2014

July 19 2014 - 7:11 PM

Well, isn’t this quite the neat experience.  The Northwest Indiana Leaders Young Professional Network is hosting its second annual Brewers Brawl at the Pavilion in Washington Park in Michigan City, Indiana, on Sunday, July 27, 2014, beginning at 2:00 p.m.   Beautiful Lake Michigan will provide the backdrop for this beer-centric soiree which will feature regional beers from  northwest Indiana.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a brawl if there wasn’t  a little competition, and the main event will be a beer-judging contest among the regional brewers.  Judges will determine which brewer makes the best beer across several different categories, including the best stout, the best IPA, etc.  To spice things up even further (or, to really get things brewing – sorry), yours truly will be one of the judges for these sure-to-be delectable and intriguing beers.  I hope they provide  judges with Olympics-styled numbered placards.  I’ve always wanted to hold up a “9.5”, or some number, at a contest, and this might be my only opportunity, given that Sochi never reached out to me about judging.

Music and food will also be featured at the Brawl. Tickets for both VIP and general admission are still available, and you can obtain them at the link provided above.  I hope to see you there.  Who says that judging is no fun?

– M. Sheppard

Restaurants

bopNgrill: Korean burgers and fries

July 17 2014 - 9:00 AM

Located steps off of Loyola’s campus, bopNgrill shot to fame after being featured on Food Network’s Diner’s, Drive-ins, and Dives a few years ago.  Since the episode aired, bopNgrill has attracted a loyal following and received numerous awards and recognition from various Chicago media outlets.

Considering I was venturing to the restaurant from the Loop, the trek up north to Loyola was a bit tedious. After I got over my impatience with the  CTA, I walked into the restaurant starving and ready to eat.  I quickly decided to order the Loco Moco burger, simply because I am partial to the combination of fried eggs and hamburgers.

Their burgers are all cooked to medium, and my choice was served with a rib gravy, caramelized onions, bacon, sharp cheddar and an extra-runny egg. It was extremely messy and absolutely delicious. I inhaled the burger and set my eyes on the rest of my order: the Kimchi fries.

Spicy pickled cabbage, or kimchi, is the national dish of Korea and a popular ingredient at bopNgrill. In general, I’m not the biggest fan of french fries. These Kimchi fries, however, were game changers. They were served fresh out of the fryer and were perfectly crisp. The fries were served with caramelized kimchi, cheese sauce, bacon, scallions, and sesame seeds, and were devoured by my friend and I. I would definitely recommend these.

My friend ordered the Bavarian burger, which came on a pretzel bun and had sharp cheddar, caramelized onions, bacon, and dusseldorf mustard. She said that it was pretty good but would definitely order the Loco Moco burger next time.

Bavarian BurgerbopNgrill also has traditional Korean plates such as Bulkogi and Bi Bim Bop, and creative dishes such as Tofu & Kimchi, Spam & Eggs, and Chicken Katsu. Next time I make the trek up north, I plan to try the Umami burger, which was ranked as one of the top Umami burgers in the country by Men’s Journal. It comes with a truffled mushroom duxelle, sun-dried tomato confit, togarashi mayo, bacon, and smoked gouda.

bopNgrill is certainly worthy of the awards and recognition, and I look forward to returning soon.

bopNgrill
http://bngrill.com
6604 N. Sheridan Rd.
Chicago, IL 60626
(773) 654-3224

Restaurants

Kabobi - Persian and Mediterranean Grill

July 15 2014 - 1:00 PM

I’m a big fan of Perisan food and am always looking for new places to enjoy some kabobs, dill rice, and more. This time I ventured to Kabobi Persian and Mediterranean Grill in Albany Park. This new casual restaurant with its open-window seating and order-up-front format offers a nice change compared to the traditional sit-down restaurant.

The menu has many of our favorites including Baba Ghannouj, Persian Salad, and a variety of Kabobs. Our table ordered the Chicken Breast Kabob, Jujeh Kabob (bone-in chicken), and the Kabob Sultani (one Barb and one Koubideh). These were all amazing dishes… however the two that were beyond words were the Salmon Kabob and the Shish Tawook.

This Foodie has enjoyed lots of salmon at different restaurants but the Salmon Kabob was especially appetizing. Grilled to perfection it was served with dill rice and grilled tomatoes.   The Shish Tawook was a new dish that I have never experienced. Similar to the other kabobs this was grilled chicken.  What put it above the other two options was that it featured dark meat chicken thigh – a very tasty part of the chicken! It was by far the most popular dish on the table. Dark-meat chicken is something that everyone wanted to try.

If you’re not into Kabobs they do have other options including a Vegetarian Platter that has some of the familiar favorites including hummus, dolmeh and falafel. They also serve Ghormeh Sabzi which is a stew-over-rice dished filled with spinach, herbs, beef, and kidney beans. I haven’t tried either of these but perhaps it will give us a reason to go back to Kabobi… like we need one!

Kabobi Grill

4748 N Kedzie Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
(773) 583-1400
kabobigrill.com

KabobiSalmonKabobiBeef KabobiShishTawookKabobiSalad

Libations

Chicago Craft Beer Week Beer Under Glass Event

July 14 2014 - 1:07 AM

Never underestimate the power of beer.  It never stops amazing me the lengths to which beer lovers will travel, and the obstacles they will hurdle, in pursuit of great brews.  Through rain, through dark of night – through mud.  These elements hardly dampened the fervor among the legion of beer advocates who attended Beer Under Glass 2014, the signature and the kickoff event for Chicago Craft Beer Week, which was held at the Garfield Conservatory.  It was one of those Chicago mid-May early evenings which you’d swear was actually in late October.  Temperatures struggled to remain in the high forties.  A morning rain had soaked the grassy areas, and the humongous beer tent populated with dozens of craft-beers stations had been out of the day’s direct sunlight and, resultingly, resembled a muddy field at Lollapalooza.  Event goers slogged around in the muck with plastic grocery bags draped around their shoes.

Yet these potential downers were barely minor annoyances to the huge crowd gathered for the beer festivities.  Long lines wrapped around the outdoor tents near small operations such as Hamburger Mary’s and Church Street, near recent arrivals on the scene such as Une Anee and Destihl, and near staples such as Pipeworks.  It was quite cool that many of the brewers fermented event-exclusive beers.  Bourbonnais’ own Brickstone, for example, prepared a session IPA for the event called One Night Blonde, that was lean and resiny like a Port Brewing (hearts!) beer.  Your scribe was hardly the Boy Scout, was unprepared for the mud, and darn-near ruined a pair of expensive dress shoes in the beer tent’s thick muck in pursuit of the Three Floyds station.  As if I’d pass up Three Floyds over some mud on a pair of $200 shoes.   Please.  But if you dared traverse the mud pit, you were able to try a delicious 6% “FFF” pale ale made especially for BUG. I swear that the Floyds crew could brew an elite pale ale in a comatose sleep.  But what was surely the star among the event-only releases was a surprising release from Pipeworks, the Poivrie Vert, a cucumber and celery saison.  Its unfiltered status marked by cloudiness, the Vert smelled like salad in a glass and tasted like a garden, rife with soothing vegetable flavors.  It was an incredible treat and the night’s unexpected highlight.  Of course, Pipeworks also offered up their massive and delicious hop-bomb IPA’s, which were the basis for the usual swollen crowd around their tent.

Thanks to BUG I met the brewer at Evanston’s Temperance and was able to try a few of their offerings, namely the Might Meets Right, a 9% coffee stout, and Three Way, an American IPA.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t circle back for the later tapping of their English-style IPA.   I was curious about how it compared with FFF’s Blackheart, which is one of the few Americanized English IPA’s brewed around here.  Personal-favorite DryHop poured a beer I had not previously tried, a Russian imperial stout called Death which was brewed in conjunction with Kuma’s.  This wasn’t overly soupy as some Russian imperials are, and it pleasantly coated my palate on the chilly night. Downstate brewer Desthil’s line was ridiculously long, but I was able to try their four beers, which included a couple of sours, a Belgian and an APA, none of which disappointed.

I love talking shop with brewers and reps about the industry, and an event highlight was getting to talk with Gavin from Deschutes about their growing Chicago footprint.  Deschutes is an elite brewer from Bend, Oregon, whose presence here is bolstered by favorable distributorship rights.  Over a glass of Deschutes’ Mirror Mirror limited-release barleywine, Gavin shared his thoughts about Deschutes’ emphasis on quality and his ideas on growing the brand amid Chicago’s crowded field.

As for the food options at BUG, one of the winners was Pastoral with their cheese shavings which you could simply grab in bunches and devour.  Gotta B Crepes had a long line but it was hard to obtain a representative sampling from their small crepe bits which they were preparing on the griddle.  Porkchop’s pulled pork had a supple texture, but barbecue doesn’t play well at an event at which attendees are walking around with a glass in one hand.   I’d be curious – which I guess is the point – about the restaurant’s higher-level offerings, namely their ribs and brisket.  Dinky Donuts’ line was 45-people deep and I didn’t bother joining the fray.  Actually, the food highlight for me was Cheesies’ food truck, parked outside the event.  Yeah, I know that the grilled cheese is their core competency, but I discovered that their beef chili is phenomenal.

Overall, the crowd was well-mannered and people generally stayed within their groups.  But you could start talking beer with anyone, and most attendees seemed quite knowledgeable about the local beer market.  Maybe the best part of the event was, well, actually taking a beer under the glass, for a moment of repose, and walking around with it inside the actual conservatory amidst the intimidatingly large tropical vegetation.  It was a beautiful place to enjoy the warm buzz from great beer.

Libations

Maine Beer Company Lunch

July 13 2014 - 11:20 PM

Recently at Millennium Park I saw a rock show by legendary punk-pop rocker Bob Mould which made me think about the concept of excellence.  Despite his age of 53, Bob, wielding a sea-green Stratocaster, tore into his first song on the evening-sunlit stage and powered through the remaining, blistering guitar-filled songs, one by one, until set’s end.  This was clearly an artist still at the top of his form.  Similarly, but within the brewing world, Maine Beer Company has also proven to be a top performer.  Although, unlike Bob, the five-year-old brewery is new to its respective game, Maine Beer has entered the Chicago stage like seasoned professionals.

So far, the portion of Maine’s lineup that I have tried has tasted very accomplished.  Maine’s beers tend not to be overly bold or aggressive but stress subtlety and restraint.  Their beers tend to have an elegant taste and feel.  Take for example the highly coveted Maine Beer Lunch.   I was fortunate to obtain a bottle of this from a Chicago friend who happened to be traveling to Maine for a college reunion at Bradley in ME.  For his sake, I won’t provide the anniversary date being commemorated, but it wasn’t number ten.  That didn’t deter my friend from making the short and easy commute from Bradley to Maine Beer’s home in Freeport to score me a bottle of Lunch and also a King Titus porter which I had already sampled at Local Option.

With Lunch, brothers and co-founders David and Daniel Kleban have created a slightly-more-elegant take on a West Coast IPA.  The beer’s carbonation is tight, its hop profile is potent but not overwhelming, and its mouthfeel is stern but light.  Lunch sharply attacks the palate but not with broad strokes.  It’s powerful but elegant.  In other words, it drinks more like a BMW of IPA’s than it does a Porsche.  Its mouthfeel is akin to champagne and in fact it might be the true champagne of beers!   I can see why it’s so highly sought after.  Unlike its West Coast inspirations such as Pliny the Elder and Stone Ruination – plus, the endless IPA’s served at the constellation of breweries surrounding San Diego – Lunch is far more delicate and nuanced. This 7%-ABV combination of Warrior, Amarillo, Centennial and Simcoe hops stresses IPA citrus flavors more than it does resiny pine flavors.  It’s marked by a beautiful, hazy, almost-straw color that entices summer-afternoon drinking.  This is truly a winner, but I could see myself not being in the mood for it if I was looking for something bolder with more in-your-face hops.  But I wouldn’t ever dare turn down a free Lunch.

Lunch is very hard to find in Chicago and quickly stocks out here, although Local Option often seems to tap it frequently.  If you can’t find Lunch, which you probably cannot on most days, Maine makes a similar IPA called Another One which might prove easier to find until people figure out that its a fairly close facsimile.  It’s kind of like listening to Bob Mould’s solo records if one is in the mood for Sugar.  It’s not quite an equal but still superb.

Right now, Lunch receives a 97 at Beer Advocate. I really want to try Maine’s double IPA, naturally called Dinner, which receives a 100 rating.

Libations

A Tasting of Smoked Beers

July 10 2014 - 4:06 PM

Little by little the German specialty of smoking beers is becoming increasingly popular to brewers here in the States as they more often than not are bottling these beers for a wider consumption. The most famous of smoked beers are rauchbiers (the pronounciation of the “ch” is of a “k” sound) from the city of Bamberg, in the Franconian region of Barvaria in Germany. Beechwood-smoked malt is used to make a Marzen-style (Oktoberfest) amber lager.

While Germans use Beechwood to smoke their malts, American brewers are more experimental with their selection of wood. This, coupled with the fact that the intensity of the smoke character in the beer can vary widely, will affect the balance of the beer. We will pit two American challengers to two beers brewed by the classic Schlenkerla brewery.

First, the hefeweizens:

Gigantic Brewing “Firebird” (Portland, OR)
Refreshing and complex. Light smoke from German malt kilned over beechwood fires melds perfectly with aromas of clove and banana from German wheat beer yeast. In the classic style since Gigantic uses beechwood to smoke their malts, but higher in alcohol (6.1%) than a normal hefeweizen. Besides that, Gigantic makes a beautifully balanced beer. Firebird has that golden-yellow haziness to it and the smoked malts do not overpower the subtle flavors one finds in a hefeweizen which in turn adds another layer to the beer with a bit a bourbon vanilla or caramel glazed that hits the back of your tongue.

 

Aecht Schlenkerla Weizen
At 5.2% ABV, this beer is more in the traditional wheelhouse of a hefeweizen, but that is to be expected with such a classic brewery. Like other Bavarian wheat beers, the Weizen is brewed with a mixture of both barley malt and wheat malt. The portion of barley malt is hereby a classic Schlenkerla smoke malt, while the wheat malt remains un-smoked.

Served unfiltered with its natural haziness, Schlenkerla Weizen reaches its full aroma through bottle fermentation with fine top fermenting yeast. I find that not smoking the wheat malt an interesting factor as I wonder if Gigantic did the same. This must mean that probably only 20-30% of the malt in this beer is smoked then. The bottle fermentation adds to the zesty, lightly spicy quality of the beer and gives the drinker everything they wanted in a sessionable beer, like a hefeweizen, but with an added twist.

 

Part two of this installment will have Helles Lagers from Schlenkerla and a Lake Effect/Finch’s collaboration.

 

Photo credits: Beer Street Journal; Wine & Cheese Place

Restaurants

Xoco – Mexican Street Food

July 02 2014 - 11:17 AM

I had family in town this past weekend and decided that it was the perfect time to try out Rick Bayless’ Mexican Street Food restaurant called Xoco. Located on Clark Street in River North (a Wicker Park location is opening this summer!) I had read that the restaurant typically has lines out the door on a daily basis, and I also knew there was a possibility that it was merely over-hyped, as mentioned here, but I decided to go in with an open mind, patience, and an appetite.

I was not disappointed. I am thrilled to say that Xoco far exceeded my expectations.

Xoco is known for their tortas (a Mexican sandwich), and I decided to get their seasonal special: the Mexico City Torta. The sandwich had braised wild greens, flank stank, homemade chorizo, and cheese. It was served with a salsa on the side and was one of the greatest Mexican dishes I’ve had in a long time.

My family was equally impressed with the menu, choosing to order the Milanesea and Ahogada Torta. We also ordered the guacamole with sundried tomatoes and onions, along with a freshly made churro and a small cup of chocolate for dipping. The guacamole was delicious but perhaps a tad overpriced and the churro was, like mentioned before, a bit overrated. The chocolate sauce, though? I drank it out of the cup. Amazing.

Xoco also has a breakfast menu, served until 11:00 am daily. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, make sure to go on a Saturday morning for the Chilaquiles: a breakfast dish consisting of tortilla chips, guajillo chile sauce, caramelized onion, and a baked egg. I’ve heard this sells out almost immediately after opening, so be prepared.

All in all, Xoco was great. Go and order a torta, or try out the Chilaquiles on a Saturday morning sometime. You will not regret it.

 

Churro with a shot of chocolate

Churro with a shot of chocolate

Milanesa

Milanesa

Mexico City Torta

Mexico City Torta

Ahogada Torta

Ahogada Torta

Guacamole with Sundried Tomatoes and Onion

Guacamole with Sundried Tomatoes and Onion

Home Cooking

Easy July 4th App: Goat Cheese Toasts

July 02 2014 - 9:00 AM

Whenever I have friends over, I always find myself scrambling to put together the perfect appetizer. It’s often an after thought, but a great app is the precursor to a memorable meal. You want something in between chips and dip (a bit overdone) and the tedious recipe that will leave you slaving away in the kitchen while your guests enjoy the party.

These roasted tomato and goat cheese toasts are the perfect make ahead app that you can prepare earlier in the day and put together right before serving. The sweetness of the seasonal tomatoes will really stand out once you roast them, and it’ll give you a chance to turn on the grill to prep for your main course. The goat cheese holds everything together, and the greens help add some color and lighten up the dish.

Don’t believe me? Try it out for yourself – get the recipe here >>