Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat #47: David Friedman

Burgers, Lincoln Park, South Loop, The Big Heat, West Loop No Comments »

47
David Friedman
Owner, Epic Burger
With never-frozen beef, cage-free fried-egg toppings and fresh-cut fries, Friedman is on a quest to feed the world a more “mindful burger.” That’s cool, but it also actually tastes pretty good too, good enough to spawn a third location in the West Loop this summer with plans for nine more.

See details on the The Big Heat

Sweet Luxury: Canady Le Chocolatier crafts artisan bon-bons

Pastry, South Loop, West Loop No Comments »

Photo: Kristine Sherred

A worldly collection of tapestries, ceramics and paintings glow in warm yellow light, while classical melodies glide through the bright display case brimming with chocolates that look almost too delicate to devour. Even traditional milk, dark and white bites dress up under intricate gold leaves or white snowflakes imprinted on the glossy bon-bons.

At Canady Le Chocolatier, one can satiate a desire for chocolate and pumpkin simultaneously with a Pumpkin Pie Truffle, or settle another craving with more than seventy sweet, even spicy, confections.

Holiday suggestions include Amerena Ganache, Creme de Tiramisu and truffles with pistachio, mint, cheesecake or red pepper. Praline and coconut mingle in chocolate ganache; hazelnut blends with caramel butter cream in a Dolce de Leche; toffee bits sweeten the slight kick of a red pepper ganache. Mix and match a personalized assortment—one or two, one pound or two pounds.

“It’s totally up to the customer,” says owner and chocolatier Michael Canady, whose demeanor matches the serenity of his store. “I get the opportunity to experiment once in a while [with flavors], and I like that. It’s always nice to come up with new recipes.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Polish-Italian Alliance: Flo & Santos makes its case for European harmony

Pizza, Polish, South Loop No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

Save a long tradition of ethnic jokes at their expense, the Italians and the Poles don’t have much in common. With his good work promoting interreligious harmony, validating Darwin and bringing down Communism (although Ronald Reagan might claim that all for himself) Pope John Paul II was probably the brightest spot in their shared history.

Then again, gays, Dr. Jack Kevorkian and women didn’t quite fare as well under JPII. And, with the recent fallout over Pope Benedict’s handling of child-molesting priests, really a legacy of the John Paul II administration since he appointed Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict, to handle such cases, Italian-Polish collaboration has generally been a mixed bag. Trying to change all that: Flo & Santos, a new South Loop one-stop shop for pizza and pierogi.

The name of the place sounds like an episode from the defunct sitcom “Alice” whereby Flo goes on a bad date with a dishwasher from Mel’s Diner and at the end of the night tells him to “Kiss My Grits!” Unfortunately the origins of the name are much less exciting and are a nod to owner Bill Bolton’s (no relation to that no-talent ass-clown Michael) best-childhood-friend’s parents. One imagines dinner in that household (Maxwell Street Polishes and Italian combo beef!) would pretty much rule. The execution of that memory in the South Loop however does not. Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s essential restaurants of 2010

African, Albany Park, American, Andersonville, Argentinian, Auburn Gresham, Avondale, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Beverly, Bistro, Brazilian, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Burbank, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Caribbean, Chatham, Chinatown, Chinese, Cicero, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Czech, Deli, East Garfield Park, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Ethiopian, Evanston, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, German, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hermosa, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Indian, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Japanese, Kenwood, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Lithuanian, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near North, Near South Side, Nepalese, New American, Oak Park, Pakistani, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Puerto Rican, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Roscoe Village, Sandwiches, Seafood, Soul Food, South Loop, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park No Comments »

Resto 100 is, as always, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

As last year, when we first dropped Charlie Trotter’s, we’ve continued to cull the old guard of the high-end, both as a reflection of the economic times and as a call to action for such spots to up their game. This year, TRU, MK and Boka didn’t escape the chopping block. While we don’t deny their importance in creating the food scene we have today, there are many other places we’d rather send folks—for example, Sepia, Bonsoiree or Cibo Matto (where, ironically, chef Todd Stein is a vet of MK).

Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand are two of the most successful cooks this city has, but neither spends a significant amount of time at TRU. This is not so much an observation as it’s a cry for the fact that we really miss Rick’s cooking. We appreciate his cookbooks and that he tried to open a nationwide restaurant chain, but with that not working out, why not return to his roots? It should also be noted that Chef de Cuisine Tim Graham was doing some incredibly innovative work, but was recently transferred to Brasserie Jo.

Boka, which we loved for its Charlie Trotteresque complexity, has frankly been a little inconsistent in its execution on recent visits, and frankly maybe too Trotteresque. We love the direction Perennial has gone, look forward to Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat, and think maybe they outshine the original jewel in Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz’s mini-empire.

That’s not to say you have to be cutting-edge innovative or perfect to make the list. For if you do something old-school or classic and you continue to do it well and you didn’t make your bones by being a game-changer, we honor that as well. This year, we added some overlooked classics including Marie’s Pizza, Ginza and, much to our own surprise, Hyde Park’s Calypso Café. Maybe the biggest surprise was Café des Architectes, which used to be as old-school as it gets. Martial Noguier and his pastry chef Suzanne Imaz are probably two of this city’s most underrated cooks, putting out slighty twisted old-school French gourmet plates flawlessly.

Likewise, the trend of informal, casual rustic dining doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and we dig that. To celebrate that movement we’ve added The Bristol, Paramount Room, Brown Trout, Kith and Kin and others.

The beauty of any list, though, is that you may not agree. So drop us a line and let us know.

—Michael Nagrant, Resto 100 editor Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s Essential Restaurants 2009

African, Albany Park, Andersonville, Auburn Gresham, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Bistro, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Chinatown, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Deli, East Garfield Park, Events, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near South Side, New American, Organics, Pakistani, Palestinian, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Seafood, Senegalese, Soul Food, South Loop, South Shore, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, Wicker Park 4 Comments »
In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

Resto 100 is, as it has been in years past, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

In these particular hard economic times, we find ourselves dining out a lot more at the BYOBs, mom-and pop-spots and small ethnic joints than we do at the high end.  That being said, while we didn’t set out to consciously create a list to address our lighter wallets, it sure turned out that way.  More than ever, this list is a cross section of the wealth of culturally diverse and reasonably priced restaurants Chicago is lucky to have. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Eat These Words

Events, South Loop No Comments »

The Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago is hosting its 10th Annual Edible Books Show & Tea event on Wednesday, an event hosted at various venues across the globe in which artists, chefs and book lovers whip up recipes and create books that are made to be eaten. “It’s a fundraiser for the Center for Book and Paper Arts equipment fund,” says Steve Woodall, Director of the Book & Paper Center at Columbia. “This is something that’s been going on since 1999 and it was kind of the brainchild of Judith Hoffberg, who was the founder, and she died a couple months ago. And so part of this year’s event is a tribute to Judith and part is connected to Ray Bradbury.” This year’s Big Read sponsored by the Chicago Public Library is “Fahrenheit 451″-themed, and the Edible Book event will do its best to honor that. “It’s an open invitation for anyone who wants to make one!” Woodall continues. “If you bring an edible book with you, you get into the event free. It’s a really fun, kind of informal and interesting event. The winner last year was an edible book called ‘The Velveeta Rabbit’ that was a rabbit carved out of Velveeta. Somebody [else] made a tablet out of marzipan and a scroll out of pie dough, so it’s just kind of a fun, somewhat surreal event.” The event starts at 6pm at the Columbia College Library.

Spicy Smackdown: Turning up the heat in the South Loop

Indian, Nepalese, South Loop No Comments »
Chutney Joe's

Chutney Joe's

By Michael Nagrant

With all the truth-seeking, moneyed, mid-life-crisis-experiencing entrepreneurs “climbing” Mt. Everest, it’s surprising there hasn’t been a nationwide boom in Nepalese cuisine. After all, in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the counter-culture got tired of smoking peyote and mainlining Mexican mezcal, they returned to the States bearing larded beans, chimichangas and burritos as big as your head. But, while young reformed hippies needed to build a life and make some money, flush hedge-fund managers don’t quite need sidelines beyond month-long sojourns to the Turks and Caicos or weekend benders at Maybach dealerships. And so our nation suffers a culinary debt.

And as the nation goes, so does Chicago, or at least the South Loop. Despite the confluence of affluence gathering in newly sprung high-rise condos off of South Michigan Avenue, or the density of cultured denizens living in former printing warehouses off Dearborn, the South Loop has been one of Chicago’s stalwart ethnic-food deserts. But, in the last month, with the addition of the Indian and Nepalese-skewing Chicago Curry House and the McDonald’s-meets-the-Maharaja, fast-food-slinging Indian diner, Chutney Joes, it’s now ground zero for all things sambar and spice. Read the rest of this entry »

The Breakfast Issue Guide

Andersonville, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Hyde Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Little Italy, Loop, Lower West Side, Pilsen, River West, Roscoe Village, South Loop, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park No Comments »

Bongo Room (South Loop)
1152 South Wabash, (312)291-0100
Breakfast is the redheaded stepchild of cuisine. No short-order Homaro Cantu or Grant Achatz has popped up to redefine breakfast. Bongo Room is one of the only restaurants re-inventing morning nosh. The cilantro-jalapeno tortilla filled with guacamole and fluffy eggs and topped with ancho chili cream is as fat as Popeye’s forearm. Haute Eggs Benedicts are replete with duck eggs, lump crab cakes and steak. The real stars though are the Butterfinger-like pancakes dripping with toffee butter, or the chocolate-tower French toast laced with mascarpone and covered with banana-flavored crème anglaise.

Bongo Room (Wicker Park)

1470 North Milwaukee, (773)489-0690
See Sidebar.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brunch Bingo: Hanging with the hosts at Wicker Park’s Bongo Room

Breakfast/Brunch, South Loop, Wicker Park No Comments »

It’s a few minutes past 11am on a Saturday morning and the wait for a party of three at the Bongo Room is forty-five minutes. “Oh, that’s fine, we’ll come back in half an hour,” announces the party’s spokesman. Like the rest of the Bongo Room’s customers-in-waiting, she seems neither surprised nor bothered by the wait, which could easily last longer than the brunch itself. In fact, due to a light drizzle outside, this is actually a slow morning for Wicker Park’s hippest breakfast-focused eatery.
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Back to the Blackstone: Opening Night at Mercat a la Planxa

South Loop, Spanish No Comments »
Rabbit

Rabbit Agnoloti

By Michael Nagrant

I was not a precocious genius, like, say, a 2-year-old Tiger Woods ripping a tee shot on “The Mike Douglas Show.” There was no crème brulee epiphany at the foot of my grandmother. It took me twenty-eight years of school and aimless work to discover food writing.

Though my mother was a fine scratch cook, I ate quite a bit of Hamburger Helper, SpaghettiO’s and Campbell’s Soup. My only culinary experience was making pizza alongside a crew of shaggy-haired, though engaging, stoners in high school. Luxury dining meant the Admiral’s Feast at Red Lobster.

I really owe my interest in food to the Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue. In 1997, while most of our college friends headed for the drunken shenanigans of Florida or Cancun, my girlfriend and I headed to Chicago for spring break. Having scored bargain-basement hotel rates, a frigid destination in the middle of February sounded good. Read the rest of this entry »