Dining and food culture in Chicago

Passion’s Fruits: Local Holiday Gifts for Food Lovers

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CH Distillery Artist BottleBy Amber Gibson

Food lovers will enjoy these delicious treats, all made locally by passionate culinary artisans.

CH Distillery and West Loop Salumi join forces to offer a holiday booze box ($85 and up) with your choice of a locally distilled CH Spirit, customized stainless steel CH flask and West Loop Salumi’s finnochionna salami. Beverage director Krissy Schutte recommends CH’s peppercorn vodka as her preferred pairing. “The Tellicherry peppercorns that we use pair beautifully with the Berkshire pork and fennel pollen,” she says. After the one-hundred-percent Heritage Berkshire pork salami is cured and seasoned with fresh fennel pollen, it’s slowly fermented and dried for at least a month. CH is also offering 210 limited-edition bottles of CH Center 100 Vodka ($150), a premium version of their signature spirit. Each bottle is decorated by one of ten local Chicago artists and a portion of the proceeds goes toward Un86’d, a local charity for restaurant professionals in need. chdistillery.com, 564 West Randolph, (312)707-8780. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Heat: Chicago’s Food & Drink Fifty 2014

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Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza/BraveLux

This year’s selection of Chicago’s dining and drinking leadership focuses on the artists behind the beautiful and delicious compositions on our plates and in our glasses. A few on our list may be celebrities, at least in the food community, but that’s not why they got into this business, with its long hours, burnt fingers and demanding customers. Whether it’s food or drink, fine dining or pizza, salumi or chocolate, these chefs, mixologists and artisans toil behind the scenes so that we can enjoy some of the finest and most innovative food and drink in the country. It’s thanks to this impressive group—and the hundreds right behind them on our ever-growing short list—that Chicago is considered a national culinary treasure. It’s unquestionable that we lost one of our giants this past year with the passing of Charlie Trotter, but his legacy is carried forward in the artistry of the many who served under him. And they, in turn, are inspiring the next generation to learn classic cooking techniques, respect the work of legends past and dare to innovate. Oui, Chef. (Amber Gibson)

Big Heat was written by Brendan Buck, Stefan Castellanos, Amber Gibson, Veronica Hinke, Ben Kramer,  Marla Seidell and Sara Tenenbaum

All photos taken on location at the Arts Club of Chicago by Joe Mazza of BraveLux.

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Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2013: Dining

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Top 5 Restaurant Openings
Grace
Honey Butter Fried Chicken
Brindille
Juno
Tanta
—Amber Gibson

Top 5 Places We Will Miss
Baume & Brix
Great Lake Pizza
Moderno
Socca
West Town Tavern
—Amber Gibson

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The Big Heat: Chicago’s Food & Drink Fifty 2013

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Illustration by Pam Wishbow

Illustration by Pam Wishbow

Many things come to mind when contemplating Chicago’s culinary and cocktail culture: farm-to-table, molecular gastronomy, why Charlie Trotter hung it up, and so on. But what struck us when working on this year’s Big Heat list, which, as is our tradition, is more focused this year on the behind-the-scenes business of food and drink than its artistry on the plate and in the glass, is the power of collaboration. Perhaps inspired by Rich Melman’s pioneering partnership model of organizing the restaurant business, this town’s now full of groups launching one great new place after another. Keeping track of who’s opening what-where-when has become a sport in and of itself. And beyond those formal business partnerships is the spirit of community that pervades the entire thing, with chefs and sommeliers and mixologists and butchers all teaming up on a regular basis, not always to make money, but always to make great flavors. And our palates swoon appreciatively. (Brian Hieggelke)

Big Heat was written by Amber Gibson, Brian Hieggelke, Matt Kirouac, Sara Tenenbaum and Walter Burns
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Top 5 of Everything 2011: Resto

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Top 5 New Vegetarian/Vegan Restaurants 
Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur
Urban Vegan
Native Foods
Soul Vegetarian Express
Protein Bar
—John Wawrzaszek

Top 5 Cookbooks Featuring Recipes from Chicagoans 
 “Willie’s Wildcat Cookbook” by Northwestern University alumni (Northwestern University)
“Homemade Memories” by Home Instead Senior Care and friends (Home Instead Senior Care)
“The Chicago Homegrown Cookbook: Local Food, Local Restaurants, Local Recipes” by Heather Lalley with photos by Brendan Lekan (Voyageur Press)
“beta cocktails” Includes cocktail recipes from Chicago bartenders like Stephen Cole, Paul McGee and Mike Ryan (self-published)
“Girl in the Kitchen: How a Top Chef Cooks, Thinks, Shops, Eats and Drinks” by Stephanie Izard and Heather Shouse (Chronicle)
—Veronica Hinke Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Heat #1: Rick Bayless

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Rick Bayless
King of the Frontera Empire (Topolobampo, Frontera Grill, Xoco, Frontera Foods etc.)
He brought “real” regional Mexican food to the American table. He made gardening look cool again. He’s done as much as anyone to promote local farms and farmers through his foundation and restaurant work. Through Xoco, he’s found a way to serve locally farmed, consciously raised foods to thousands of people a day without making any major compromises. He’s even made it almost fun to fly again with his Tortas Frontera kiosks at O’Hare. But, none of this probably means as much as the fact that the dude won the inaugural Top Chef Masters TV competition, which means millions more know these good deeds and better ways of eating.

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The Big Heat #2: Stephanie Izard

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Stephanie Izard
Chef/Partner, Girl & the Goat
Last time we did this list, the queen of all food media and “Top Chef” 2008 winner was a line cook at Vong’s Thai Kitchen and Spring, neither of which are around anymore. But, Izard, a curly head Energizer Bunny just keeps on ticking. Her Girl & the Goat is the hottest ticket in town and she’s also working on a new diner and a cookbook. Grant Achatz might be on the Time 100 Most Influential People List, but if Izard was walking next to him in a shopping mall, he’d be one lonely dude.

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The Big Heat #3: Grant Achatz

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Photo: Lara Kastner

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Grant Achatz
Chef/Owner, Alinea, Aviary and Next
A member of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List. While Achatz has pushed the emotional boundaries of the dining experience more than anyone, his immediate legacy is training cooks to be better versions of their forebears. He’s the torchbearer of the legacy handed down from Escoffier to the great French Brigades through to Thomas Keller. As a result guys like Curtis Duffy (Avenues), Jeff Pikus (Maude’s) and David Carrier (ex-Kith & Kin) are bringing a new level to every restaurant they touch and improving how we eat. If that weren’t enough, Achatz’s cancer survival and push to be the best at all costs is a comic book-like hero mythology that inspires us all.

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The Big Heat #4: Rich Melman

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Rich Melman
Founder, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
The dude basically invented the salad bar at his inaugural restaurant R.J. Grunts. Forty years and more than forty-plus restaurants later, he was recently named Outstanding Restaurateur of the Year by the James Beard Foundation, his L20 restaurant garnered three Michelin stars, and he continues to open and develop cutting edge concepts that command the attention of Chicago and the world.

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The Big Heat #5: Paul Kahan, Donald Madia, Eduard Seitan, Terry Alexander

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Paul Kahan

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Paul Kahan, Donald Madia, Eduard Seitan, Terry Alexander
Chef/Owners/Managers of most of the edible things that are remotely cool in Chicago
We could separate each of these guys out on their own, but by now they’re the culinary equivalent of Bogie and Bacall, Han Solo and Chewbacca, or as the music-loving Kahan might appreciate, Marr and Morrissey. They make sweet music together. They’re not involved in every single one of these projects together, but collectively they are responsible for Blackbird, Avec, The Publican, Big Star, the Violet Hour and Mia Francesca. If they felt like opening a coffee shop/organ-meat emporium in a fully operating bathhouse, it would literally and figuratively be the hottest spot in town.

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