Saturday, May 31, 2008

Chicago Eats - Extra Sweets

As we perambulated around Lincoln Park (walking to El stops and locating Charlie Trotter's) we discovered a couple of sweet shops. One was Ethel's Chocolate Lounge. Ethel's has stores (or lounges) all around Chicago and Las Vegas. We stumbled upon ours directly across from Charlie Trotter's on N. Armitage. As soon as we walked in a heavenly waft of chocolate greeted us and then we were invited to try a piece of chocolate for free - any single piece they had! I had the dark chocolate macadamia nut. We ended up buying a 4 piece box (not cheap, but oh so good) featuring dark chocolate earl grey tea truffles and mocha truffles which we enjoyed late one evening in our hotel room admiring the incredible view.

The second place was Swirlz which boasted cupcakes of all sorts located on W. Belden near the DePaul University campus. We selected the Vanilla on Chocolate to share and then walked up to Oz Park to feed our faces.

Kitchen Renovation Saga Part 10

We now have fantastic drawer pulls for our cabinets!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chicago Eats - Blue Duo

While Charlie Trotter’s epitomized the zenith of our dining experiences in Chicago, we did enjoy many other places at a lower cost. Two of them we discovered at the Toast of the Town wine tasting: bluprint and Blue Water Grill.

bluprint was located in the Merchandise Mart and was not very busy. We liked the sleek contemporary lines. The restaurant also offered a glass encased area for catered receptions. We began our dinner with a Pama pomegranate and sparkling wine cocktail which was served in a stemless champagne flute. We then mulled over the wine list and the menu. For the wine we ordered a 2003 Tangley Oaks Merlot Napa Valley Lot #7. Very yummy, although our waiter seemed to be a bit green in presenting it. I ordered the wine, but he tried to show it to my husband to approve. So, the restaurant may need to work on its service.

For starters I ordered Kona Kampachi – Hawaiian yellowtail with yuzu, cucumber, tarragon, and strawberry. While in Chicago I developed an affinity for Hawaiian yellowtail and bluprint delivered it with style and inventiveness. In Chicago I was also introduced to yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit which added a slight pucker to the dish. My husband ordered the soup of the day – something pureed, but he can’t remember what it was and I did not write it down. He ate it in any case. For the main course he selected the Smoked Heritage Pork Chop with Anson Mills grits, English peas, and paprika. I ordered Wagyu Sirloin with duck fat potatoes, bacon, baby arugula, and sweet onions. Both were tasty and beautifully presented.

Desserts for us can be hit or miss, but whenever we dine at a decent place, we try to glimpse at the sweets menu in case something strikes us as a “must try.” We saw several “must try” items at bluprint. I ended up ordering Lemon and Blackberry stack with yuzu curd, phyllo, licorice caramel, and tarragon bubbles. The bubbles actually tasted like tarragon – effervescent and herby – simply incredible. I was also really intrigued by the licorice caramel.
My spouse tried the Blueberries and Cream – Cheesecake, blueberries, and lavender meringue. This dessert was even more inventive than mine and just as delicious. The mini-cheesecake had a blueberry white chocolate ball sitting on top of it. My husband cracked the ball with his spoon and out oozed the blueberry sauce.

We greatly appreciated the delicious food as well as the inventiveness. Each course enabled us to explore varying aspects of food and tastes. I hope the place garners more buzz and clientele.

For our last night in Chicago we treated ourselves to Blue Water Grill. This establishment featured a sushi station as well as a well-stocked raw bar. Even though the restaurant has blue in the name, the interior is all black and glass and has an incredible number of security cameras.
We ordered two glasses of Gustav Lorentz Pinot Blanc from Alsace (the restaurant gave us a choice of a 5 or 9 ounce pour) and then decided on a bottle of 2003 Neyers Merlot – Neyers Ranch Conn Valley Napa to consume with the meal.

For starters my hubby had the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail. These shrimp were indeed jumbo in size. I had the Fresh Maine Lobster Maki Roll with wasabi tobiko and grapefruit guava gelee. Oh, what yummy goodness! Entrees were a grilled Filet Mignon with roasted fingerling potatoes and hericots verts and pancetta for me and grilled Diver Scallops with sautéed spinach and whipped Yukon gold potatoes for my husband. My fingerling potatoes also featured little dabs of black olive paste.

And dinner would not be complete without dessert. I had the Chocolate Caramel Crunch Bar with hazelnut ice cream, caramel sauce, and black sea salt. The dessert arrived shaped like a brick with the caramel sauce filling the brick holes and drizzling out as I cut into the thing. My spouse chose a selection of house made ice creams and sorbets: Cinnamon Banana sorbet, Mexican Chocolate and Cajeta Swirl ice cream and Coffee and Baileys ice cream. Once again, a fantastic end to a delicious evening.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Bit of Nostalgia at Cafe Rustica

After a day of pure work hell, I twisted my husband's arm and demanded that he take me out to eat. And we just had to go to Cafe Rustica. I had heard a boatload of praise for this tiny boite at 414 E. Main St. The place was small indeed and all of the tables, booths and bar seats were taken. So, we stood at the bar for a bit and soaked up the atmosphere. Rustica fit the decor. I liked the oil paintings (I presume by local artists). I also adored the German gewgaws that graced the bar from the banks that had the German girl and boy kissing to the cuckoo clock that still needed to be hung on the wall. After about 7 minutes folks moved from the bar to a booth. The wine list was an ode to Europe and we selected a 2005 Roux Pere and Fils Bourgogne - a light, easy drinking bottle.

The menu featured a smattering of Italian, French, and, yes, German dishes. When both of us espied the Schweineschnitzel we were intrigued. The dish could be served with lemon slices or "a la Holstien." What, pray tell was "a la Holstien?" It was the breaded pork cutlet with a sunny side up egg on top. We were both game. Why it was called what it was called remains a mystery to us, but it is a legitimate designation for schnitzel. The dish took a while to get to our place at the bar, but it gave us some to relax a bit and put the rigors of the day behind us. When we finally received our pork it was accompanied by spatzle that had been pan sauteed, featuring just a bit of crunchy browning, and red cabbage brasied in Bass Ale and brown sugar. My hubby loved the cabbage. He thought the egg should have been a bit more runny. I really enjoyed it all. Mainly because it made me think of my Mom. Not because she ever made anything like this, but because when she and my father were first married they lived in Germany for a couple of years. She always talked about having schnitzel with a fried egg on top. When I was younger, I thought this was the strangest concept. The scant number of German places that I have visited here in Virginia never featured it (or at least I did not inquire about "a al Holstien!"). In any case, I got a great dose of homey nolstagia, good food, good wine, and a good place to visit again.

And the Rose Winner Is...

2007 Bernard Griffin Rose of Sangiovese (Washington State)
2007 Ferraton "Les Lauses" Tavel (France)

I want to thank J. Emerson for a lovely tasting!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rose Tasting May 22 at J. Emerson

On May 22 from 5:30 - 7:30 PM J. Emerson located at Libbie and Grove will host a Rose Wine Challenge. 15 roses will be available for tasting. What a great way to gear up for some lucious summer sipping!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chicago Eats - Charlie Trotter's

The most expensive and, indeed, best dinner we experienced took place at Charlie Trotter’s. The subdued unassuming brick entrance still displayed the most amazing and colorful flowers.

When we arrived, everyone thanked us for being there from the host, to the numerous wait staff, to Charlie Trotter himself (yes, he was there and he stopped by our table to say hello!). We booked a 6 PM reservation via Open Table and they remembered that we were celebrating our anniversary (and even made sure that our menus were placed in an envelope to carry back to our hotel). A small bar welcomed us since we arrived slightly early. The host presented us with the 2 inch thick wine menu to peruse. There was an extraordinary amount to drool over. We ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and focused our attention on the wine list under $75, which turned out to be quite a few. We were seated in the first dining room. A presentation table/wait staff station filled the middle of the room with dining tables surrounding it. There were no more than 10 tables. Very quiet atmosphere with tasteful décor that did not overshadow the food. The restaurant offered a Vegetable and Grand Tasting menu. And in reviewing the set menu our waitress wanted to reassure us that if we had any allergies, questions, or just any concerns about the menus items, the chefs would be more than willing to accommodate us. She said this with no pretension whatsoever, putting us totally at ease. One of the course featured lamb and they happily substituted Angus tenderloin.

We ordered a 2004 Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf-du-Papes for the evening (which was less expensive on Trotter’s menu than another eatery downtown). The staff decanted and poured the wine as we needed it for the entire evening. The menu itself was peppered with a few inventive features – sea water jelly with an oyster, a sumptuous slightly soft egg yolk that had been slow cooked for six hours with buttermilk basted chicken poulardes, and thyme foam with the stewed rhubarb dessert. And the service was impeccable – probably the best service I’ve had in the US and, indeed, service that would rival Parisian restaurants.

Of course the food was exquisite and inventive. I ate oysters and cod, which I never eat, and I wanted more. The desserts were divine. The last chef who could feed me absolutely anything was Chef Schadler at the Williamsburg Inn.

Here is what we enjoyed:

Village Bay Oyster with Sea Water and Cucumber

Four Story Hills Farm Poularde with Sesame, Thumbelina Carrot and Elephant Garlic

Steam Line Caught Maine Cod with Mussels, English Peas and Pork Cheek

Roasted Squab Breast with Hazelnut, Pearl Onion Marmalade and Cocoa Nib

Crawford Farm Lamb Loin with Tortellini, Dried Plum and Salt Baked Rutabaga (I had the Angus Beef with Blood Sausage Sauce)

Nigorizake Sorbet with Asian Pear and Jasmine Rice

Stewed Rhubarb with White Chocolate Yogurt and Coriander Shortbread

Venezuelan Chocolate Custard with Kaffir Lime, Grilled Cactus and Agavero Jelly

Indonesian Chocolate with Pine Nut and Pandan Broth


Trio of Assorted Candy including a petite Caramel-filled Chocolate Cup

What a delicious evening!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


For a week and a half Chicago was our kind of town. We stayed at the stately Belden-Stratford located in Lincoln Park across the street from the zoo. Go on line and check out the lobby area. Very posh. The place stands 15 stories and has one bedroom apartments to rent out per night. They put us on the 15th floor with a grand view of downtown and the lake.

If you go, make sure you take your walking shoes. While we made good use of the trains, we still walked our fannies off. We mainly kept to the Lincoln Park and Loop areas and could have gazed at the different architectural facets for another week and a half.

Besides the restaurants (which will be tackled in subsequent posts) we had a grand time just “doing” the town. Here are the highlights in no particular order:

Millennium, Grant, and Bicentennial Parks – This seemed like one big park to us. We loved the tulip and pansy flower beds. And then, of course, the Pritzker Theater designed by Frank Gehry and don’t forget the serpentine bridge over the highway. The sculptures included a mirrored bean (Cloud Gate), brightly painted metal, rusted construction vehicle parts, glass brick rectangular fountains (with spitting videos!), car part flowers, and a mob of giant metal headless figures. All against a backdrop of dizzyingly tall buildings. And where most of the art is relatively new, the old standby remains Buckingham Fountain with its incredible water jets.

Toast of the Town – A huge wine tasting event at the Field Museum put on by Wine Enthusiast. We were able to toast Sue, the dinosaur and encountered quite a few tasty beverages. Some of the memorable wines included:

Terlato Family Vineyards 2004 Syrah Dry Creek Valley
De Tierra 2005 Silacci Vineyard Pinot Noir Monterey
Leasingham 2004 Bin 61 Shiraz Clare Valley
Hogue 2005 Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley
Chateau Trimoulet 2003 St. Emilion
Artezin 2006 Zinfandel Mendocino County
Castello Romitorio 2004 Romito del Romitorio Sant’Antimo
Santuary 2004 Usibelli Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
Marques de Murrieta 2000 Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial Rioja
Chateau St. Jean 2003 Cinq Cepages Sonoma County
Kenwood 2003 Artist Series Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County
Masi 2004 Costasera Amarone della Valpolicella Classico
St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur France

We also were impressed by two restaurants at the event – Blueprint serving Kona Kampachi in Crispy Wonton Cup with Yuzu and Tarragon and Blue Water Grill serving Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Caramel Sauce and Smoked Black Sea Salt (more about these in subsequent posts).

Navy Pier – It’s a far piece to walk to the Navy Pier from the subway stop. We managed to take the free trolley back. We just had to ride the huge Ferris wheel. On this cloudy day, the place was not as busy and we were able to get a seat by ourselves. The wheel offered a grand view of downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan. It was too early in the day for the beer garden to be open, but we did visit the free stained glass museum and then gawked at all of the touristy shops.

Lincoln Park Zoo – One of our favorite places and it was free! Since we were staying across the street we managed to stroll through to check out what the lions, tigers, and leopards were doing on several days. 4 PM seemed to be the pacing hour, while earlier in the afternoon was sleepy time.

Blue Man Group – Yes, an incredible show and the first time we had seen the performance. Since Chicago is a permanent location, check to see if you can get same day half price tickets at a Hot Tix outlet. That’s what we did and even though we were seated in the back of the middle section, the Briar Street Theater was fairly intimate and the seats were more like stadium seat than regular theater seats. I was able to see everything and at half the cost.

Cooking Class at The Chopping Block – Located in the Merchandise Mart. We attended the Roman food class and made veal stuffed manicotti, bruschetta, and a ricotta and pine nut pie. The class was small and included a couple from Singapore.

Frank Lloyd Wright House in Oak Park – We had to take the green line almost to the end to get to the charming Oak Park area. The route to Frank’s house took us by lovely Victorian structure (which Frank apparently loathed) as well as a number of houses that he designed. Make sure you go here when it is not too busy (we only had to contend with school groups). The flow of the tour can be awkward and I can’t imagine how they would accommodate mobs of folks. The dining room and the barrel shaped children’s room were my favorites.

Chicago Architecture Foundation River Boat Tour – It was spitting rain and cold as we sat on the roofless top of the boat (we had to be able to see everything), but still well worth it. We became acquainted with the four architectural phases or genres for Chicago buildings – beaux arts, art deco, modern (a la Mies van de Rohe), and post-modern. We had a fine view of the Sears Tower and we marveled at the Boeing building where part of it is cantilevered.

Museum of Contemporary Art – We went here on a Tuesday which was free admission day. And thank goodness. 2/3’s of the exhibit area was closed off for installations and most of the other art did not appeal to us, although “The Other Vietnam Wall” intrigued us. We actually preferred the River East Art Center which was featuring contemporary South American artists.

Pops for Champagne – A champagne bar with a jazz club in the basement. The place features over 100 different champagnes and sparkling wines. We were amazed that more people were just at the bar rather than enjoying the jazz trio downstairs. All the better for us. And we had an incredible champagne while we listed to the group.

Art Institute – A fantastic museum that features a little of everything plus some major works. The big draw this time was the special exhibits – Watercolors of Winslow Homer and Paintings of Edward Hopper including the iconic Nighthawks. The Hopper exhibit was my favorite with his sparseness and clean lines.

Notebaert Nature Museum – This place, which is free on Thursdays, was jammed with kids and most of the exhibits were kid-focused. But they had a wonderful Butterfly Haven with myriad-colored winged beauties.

If you needed more evidence that Chicago is a great place, check out the slide show: