Posts Tagged ‘frisee’

Even since it was featured on CheckPlease a while back I have wanted to check out Blue 13. I don’t know why, but it really appealed to me for some reason. When I saw that Chef Curren was doing a Restaurant Week menu I took that as an opportunity to finally get off my ass and take my wife out for some rockin viddles. Turned out to be a damn good idea.

Located in the River North area, Blue 13 is on a very residential strip just off the hwy. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it allows for a neighborhood feel without any pretension. It’s bad because there’s nowhere to park! I hate paying for valet. I am Jewish (culturally, not religiously) after all. After finding a place to park a couple of blocks away Yuki and I were ready to get out of the cold and fill ourselves full of tastiness.

When we got there a couple of tables lingered a little longer than expected and our reservation was about 15 minutes late. No worries, 15 minutes is acceptable. So, we headed to the bar and I had a beer while we bitched to each other about how frustrating both of our jobs are. Basically, a nightly routine. When we got to our table we already knew what we wanted so we ordered up dinner, ate some good bread with great olive oil, and awaited the feast.

Yuki started off with the Duck Confit Tortellini. Served in a caper and cilantro butter sauce it was absolutely delicious. The only thing wrong with it is that the pasta was just a little too al dente, and not by much. Maybe another 45 seconds or so in salted water and it would have been perfect. On the other hand, this was the first time I’ve ever had capers with cilantro. I hope it’s not the last because it was a really weird pairing that actually works quite well.

I got the Beet Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette. I did tell you the other day that if there’s a beet salad on a menu I’ll probably get it. It didn’t hurt that their restaurant week menu only had two options (they did have a $44 pre fixe option with more choices, but that’s a little pricy for my blood). I will say this, Chef Curran’s beet salad is one of the most creative ones I’ve ever eaten. Nice sweet golden beets, frisee, endive, candied hazelnuts (quite possibly my favorite of all nuts, excluding my own of course), and, get this, marshmallows made with beets and balsamic vinegar. It was the marshmallows that set this salad over the top.

Yuki got the Arctic Char entrée. A beautiful piece of fish with a nice crispy skin and juicy flesh (is there anything better than juicy flesh?). It was served on a grain salad that consisted mainly of quinoa and pearl barley as well as a big smear of pureed butternut squash. All of the flavors worked in harmony and completed a very satisfying dish.

I got the Guinness Braised Veal Cheeks. These were some of the most tender cheeks I’ve tossed into my organs, like a really soft brisket. Served on buttered noodles with sautéed brussel sprouts and a smear of creme fraiche. It was garnished with a baby carrot and some baby cilantro. I’m beginning to realize that Chef Curran likes to use cilantro. Honestly, I got no beef with that! In fact, I got veal. The only problem with this dish is that I found that it could have used one more pinch of salt to really bring out the beery goodness of the guinness. Otherwise this was a success.

With two dessert options we decided to get one of each, and that really wasn’t a hard decision to make. Yuki had the Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Gelato. A classic that he didn’t really fiddle much with. It was very straightforward but executed nicely.

I got the Chocolate Peanut Butter Waffle. Waffle with candied peanuts, peanut butter sauce, chocolate sauce, and a scoop of vanilla gelato. As I started eating it I was greeted with a very nice surprise, very nice indeed. In the chocolate sauce were little pieces of BACON!!! It’s desserts like this that make me glad I don’t keep Kosher. Bacon truly does make everything better.

Service throughout the night was spot on. The servers were casual, yet professional. Food was brought out in good time and plates were cleared promptly. The atmosphere was also very casual. Exposed brick walls with heavy rock’n’roll on the speakers, but not too loud that it hindered conversation.

Way back when I worked at a restaurant called The Outpost I always thought that it should have been something more like this. Honestly, if I ever did open up a restaurant it would be along the lines of Blue 13, except I’d play more classic rock and throw some Fela in the mix. Otherwise I wouldn’t change a thing.


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Restaurant Week started here in Chicago this past Friday. Unlike last year where Yuki and I ended up going to 6 or 7 different places we’ve decided to only do 2 this year. We started off Saturday night at a place that’s been high on our list of places to try for a while but never got around to hitting up…BOKA. Located in a very sheik area of Lincoln Park we were a little concerned it’d be a little too pretentious for our tastes. What happened though, is that our tastes were pleasantly surprised.

I know that Restaurant Week menus don’t fully show off all of a chef’s skills, but it does do a good job of giving an idea of what a particular chef is all about. I really dig what Chef Tentori is all about. You gotta love an Italian who effortlessly blends Asian flavors with French techniques. I used my phone’s camera again, and of course, in dark lighting it does a terrible job. Just let your imagination go wild with my descriptions. You can also check out the menu they have posted on the Restaurant Week website, just know that those menus aren’t completely accurate.

Yuki started off with the Maine Diver Scallop. A big juicy scallop with a perfectly cooked crust served with some sort of bean puree (tasted like it could have either been edamame or fava, don’t remember exactly what the server said) and forbidden black rice. The flavors matched perfectly and the scallop was easily one of the best scallops we’ve eaten in Chicago.

I started with the Beet Salad. Sweet, juicy golden beets with candied walnuts and frisee served on a blood orange sauce. It’s hard to get too creative with beet salads anymore since every restaurant in America serves one and this was not the most creative one I’ve ever eaten. It was, however, one of the best. Chef Tentori kept it simple and let the sweetness of the beets take center stage. The crunch of the candied walnuts was the perfect match while the slight bitterness of the blood orange sauce countered nicely.

Yuki’s entrée was the Seared Angus Tenderloin. While Angus lost it’s luster as a brand the moment fast food chains started using head and hoof scrapings to make up the required 40% beef in their patties, this was the real deal. Tender, juicy, full of beefy goodness. It was served with braised red cabbage, croquettes of wild mushrooms and some kind of cheese (the cheese gave a real nice barnyardy aroma and flavor the remind you that cows come from farms and not manufacturing plants), and a parsnip puree. Absolutely delicious.

I got the Braised Pork Belly. I’m very predictable, I usually get the beet salad and pork belly when I see them on menus. I’m glad I did at BOKA. While most places will sear the pork belly before serving to give that crunch on the skin Chef Tentori didn’t. Instead he kept the whole thing soft and fork-tender. The texture was almost like a slow-braised brisket. I loved it! He served it with two huge deep-fried oysters, spicy bok choy, little green tea soba noodle cakes, and some sort of white vegetable puree (I think it was cauliflower). The flavors and textures worked really well together making this one of my favorite pork belly dishes (light years beyond that crap Naha served me last August).

They ony offered one dessert with the Restaurant Week pre fixe, and that’s fine because it was a damn good one. They called it Ginger Kulfi and served it with toasted marshmallow, ground espresso chips, chocolate fudge, and a tangerine segment. I think they got it backwards. The chocolate fudge was the star for me. Everything else on that plate supported its richness and added depth to its flavor. The kulfi was outstanding though…smooth, gingery, and creamy but not overpowering. It was one of the more well-balanced desserts I’ve had at an upscale Chicago restaurant.

Throughout the evening service was spot on as well. We were promptly seated in the covered courtyard (I think they use it for al fresco dining in warm weather). Our server was quick, knowledgable, and had a good sense of humor. The courses were well spaced and we didn’t have a lot of down time between them.

My only real gripe with BOKA is their IPod shuffle. It went from Dave Brubeck and some great jazz to the same horrible soundtrack that most restaurants play. You know, that light techno that makes you feel like you’re trying on blue jeans at Banana Republic. Fortunately, it went back to jazz after a few techno songs. They really just need to stick with the jazz. But, when that’s my only gripe with a place it’s probably a pretty good place.

All in all, I would definitely recommend BOKA. They were able to present us with an extremely professional and upscale environment with absolutely delicious food while keeping all pretensions out of the picture. A rare feat I must say.

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Last night we finally got to try Ruxbin Kitchen. It was our third attempt, and I guess it’s true what they say, the third time’s the charm. You see, Ruxbin Kitchen is a new restaurant just down the street from us that opened up this past summer. They don’t take reservations and word must have gotten out quick about how good it is because the first two times Yuki and I went there the wait was 1.5 hours. Yesterday we planned on going early, at 6pm, to ensure a table. We got our table, and while I don’t think there was a wait after we got there, the restaurant was full, for good reason.

It’s a small space, only about a 40 person capacity maybe. It’s real kitschy inside. Comfortable seats, wood tables and fixtures, cookbooks displayed on the walls, and pages from cookbooks plastered all over the ceiling.

Service was good. Not the fastest, not the slowest, but a nice pace. Our server was knowledgable of the menu and didn’t push us in any direction. It is BYOB, so be prepared. They do offer the proper glasses and openers. They also brought out popcorn sprinkled with ground nori to nosh on while perusing the menu. That replaced bread service.

We started off with the Crispy Eggplant. It’s sliced, quartered eggplant coating in bread crumbs and deep-fried. Served with roasted beets, sticks of cucumber, frisee, and honey-cardamom yogurt. There’s also some pepper sprinkled around one edge of the plate for you own pleasure. I have to say, as much as I love the classic beet salad with mixed greens, walnuts, and fried goat cheese that everyone serves, this was a really nice change of pace. Even though it’s called Crispy Eggplant, for me, the beets were the dominant flavor. Very nice salad to start with.

Next, we shared the K-Town Empanadas. Two empanadas stuffed with masa, kimchee, Oaxaca cheese, and covered with a chimichurri creme fraiche. Who on earth would put cheese and kimchee together? Chef Ed Kim, that’s who. What a stroke of genius! The kimchee took center stage while the cheese added a subtle sweetness and the masa some texture. definitely a winner.

We split two entrees. One was a perfectly cooked piece of trout with nice crispy skin and moist flesh. It was served on top of a bulgur wheat tabbouleh with black sesame seeds and dates, asparagus spears on top, and basil pesto drizzled around the plate. I’m not usually impressed by trout, but this dish was fantastic. The sweet dates, bitter asparagus, earthy bulgur wheat and sesame seeds, and herby basil all worked really well together.

The other entrée we got was their play on chicken and waffles. There was roasted breast with crispy skin along one side of the plate. That came with a citrus sauce of some kind. Then was a cumin cheddar waffle with dark meat carnitas and apple walnut compote. The waffle was sliced in half with the carnitas sandwiched in between and the compote on top. The rest of the plate was a slaw with arugula. The waffle was outstanding. The most creative take on chicken and waffles I’ve ever eaten and another home run by Chef Kim. My only gripe with the plate was that the breast was a little over salted, not so much that it was bad though. That’s something that most chefs do and I’ll never understand. I like salt, but chefs almost always put a little too much on chicken. Oh well, the entire dish was great.

We didn’t have any room in our guts for dessert so I can’t comment on them. Next time we go back we’ll keep it to one appetizer so that we have room for dessert. And believe me, we’ll definitely go back! Not sure it’s worth a 1.5 hour wait (I don’t think any restaurant is worth that) but it’s definitely worth waiting for a while if you get there and it’s full. I love having a joint like this so close to my place. A great place to take out-of-town friends who want something hip that’s off the beaten path.

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Last night Yuki and I walked to Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar for dinner. She was in the mood for some nice wine, I wasn’t in the mood to cook, and neither of us have been there before. With the weather not too humid last night a nice 30 minute walk to and from dinner sounded about right.

We got there about 8 and the place was packed! They have a couple of community tables outside that were full as well as a handful of tables inside that were full. Fortunately there were a couple of open seats at the bar so our walk was not in vain.

The place has a nice vibe to it. It’s dark, intimate, lively, and has a mature feel to it. It was loud, but the walls were brick with a thin layer of drywall, nothing to dampen the sound. They did play good tunes throughout the night though (Earth Wind & Fire is always welcome on my ear cilia).

Service was friendly and attentive. When we walked in we were immediately greeted by a server even though there isn’t a host stand. She directed us towards the bar where the bar tender did a good job of handling his patrons while getting drinks ready for service. My only gripe with the service is that they didn’t give us a glass of water. That should be the first thing given when a customer sits down. Other than that no complaints at all.

They have a nice wine and beer list as well as other alcoholic beverages. We ended up getting a bottle of Spanish Garnacha from the Navarro region. Great bottle, great value.

I apologize for the quality of the pictures, my phone doesn’t do too well in dimly lit restaurants. We started with the regular mixed green salad. Nothing fancy it had mixed greens with ribbons of zucchini and carrot in a light vinaigrette. They put a little too much vinaigrette on, but it was well-balanced.

Yuki got the Pork Belly Bahn Mi. The pork belly was a little dry, but overall it tasted pretty good. It was a little small though and could have used one or two more elements. All it had was some toasted bread, a few slices of pork belly, a bunch of frisee, and a thickened soy glaze.

This may be the worst picture I’ve ever taken, but I got the Greek Linguista Sausage. This was very disappointing. They basically took a sausage that could have come from Whole Foods, grilled it, and put it on top of some wilted escarole with mustard and red grapes. I was expecting a Greek style sausage that resembles more of a hand-made oblong meatball made of lamb instead of an Italian-style cased sausage that just had Greek seasonings. Plus, it was spicy. I’ve never had a Greek sausage that was spicy before. On top of that there was no starch on my plate. I almost ordered some french fries just to fill the gap in my belly. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good quality sausage, but it was definitely something you buy at the grocery and throw on the grill yourself, not something you get at a wine bar. I didn’t think the grapes really belonged on the plate either.

That was all we ordered as we have had enough of the food. It seems like they have a lot of potential to whip up some really tasty and creative dishes to match their impressive wine and beer list, but for whatever reason they didn’t quite do it. For my money, this is a great place to sit down and have a drink, but not a place you want to go to for dinner.

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Alright, Restaurant Week restaurant number 2…Cafe Spiaggia. I’ve long thought that Italian food in Chicago was sub par with only a couple of good restaurants around. Most Italian joints here serve big heavy sauces and overcooked pasta. Even some of the higher end ones I’ve been to were extremely disappointing. I’ve always wanted to hit up Spiaggia, but it’s a little out of my normal budget. By a little I mean a lot. When special occasions come along I’ve always opted to go to other places instead. However, the $22 pre fix lunch deal at Cafe Spiaggia this week is too good to pass up. I know it’s not quite the haute that the main room of Spiaggia is, but it did give me a very good idea of what it’s all about. Good things, all good things.

We started with two salads. This one is the PERA; Baby arugula with toasted pear chips, Alto Adige I.G.P speck (a ham from northern Italy), goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. The pears were a little under-ripe, but otherwise everything was light, clean, and fresh.

This salad is the ITALIANA; Escarole, treviso, and frisee with Parmigiano Reggiano and Chianti vinaigrette. The vinaigrette was outstanding! Otherwise, it was a very simple salad that was not overdone, exactly what a salad should be.

We ordered one each of the two entrée’s that are offered on the Restaurant Week Menu. First is the CAPPELLACCI; Hand crafted butternut squash filled pasta with amaretti, Parmigiano Reggiano, brown butter, and sage. You see this dish on a lot of Italian menus and in a lot of cookbooks, so it’s nothing creative or off the wall. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone execute the dish to this level. The pasta was perfectly al dente, there was just the right amount squash seasonings (I think cinnamon), and the brown butter wasn’t greasy at all.

The other entrée offered is BATTUTA; Pounded chicken breast with sautéed Swiss chard, fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions, and Pecorino Siciliano. Again, nothing off the wall. Just simple, fresh, top quality ingredients prepared perfectly to allow each other to compliment one another.

For dessert you’re given three choices out of the Gelati and Sorbeti menu. Yuki ordered the passion fruit, vanilla, and pineapple-basil.

I ordered the red raspberry, grapefruit and stracciatella (vanilla with chocolate shavings). They were all great, but out of the six I think the pineapple-basil was the best. It wasn’t too sweet and had just the right amount of herby basil in it. The grapefruit was also great as it tasted just like eating a slice of grapefruit.

Service at Cafe Spiaggia was fluid and attentive. That’s pretty much to be expected of such a high quality restaurant. The interior was also nice and laid back. It had the feel of an outdoor cafe in Italy with views of Lake Michigan. One of these days we’ll dine in the formal restaurant to get the full on experience. I will tell you this though, there is no doubt that Chef Mantuano is one of the few chefs in Chicago who truly understand what Italian food is all about. No need for heavy red sauces or huge plates of gut-busting, overcooked pasta. Keep it simple, light, and fresh while letting the ingredients themselves do the talking. I can’t wait for the full-on experience!

Side note, there is a bit of irony for me to finally dine at Cafe Spiaggia. About 5 years ago when I was looking to get back into the restaurant biz I interviewed to become the manager of the cafe. I was called in for a total of 3 interviews and turned out to be the runner-up in their search. I lost out to a long-time server of theirs. I wonder what life would have been like had she not gone after the position……hmmmmm?

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Yesterday was my 33rd birthday. My wife and I use birthdays as excuses to enjoy finer dining than a typical eve. Last night she took me to Sepia, a place that we’ve wanted to go to for quite a while now. While I would have liked to try Kendal Duque’s cooking, new Executive Chef Andrew Zimmerman is definately his equal in the kitchen.

Sepia Interior

The interior definately has that old-world feel with lots of dark brick, leather tables, buffed mirrors, and large chandeliers. But it isn’t stuffy at all. The place was quite comfortable and not too loud like most exposed brick restaurants. But it was the food that stole the show, not the interior.

We started off with some Gruet Blanc de Noir. I personally think that New Mexico turns out some of our countries best bubbly. For apps, Yuki ordered the scallops. Two big, meaty scallops cooked to absolute perfection! A nice sear on top and bottom while nicely opaque in the middle. We both feel that they’re the best scallops we’ve ever eaten in this city. They were served with a sunchoke puree, marcona almonds, and some serrano ham on top with frisee.

I ordered the sweetbreads. I’ve never really been a fan of sweetbreads, but I’ve only eaten them once before. However, if I’m going to consider myself a foodie then I need to order the proper food. Damn glad I did! Damn glad! Those glands had a texture that was like a cross between scallops and foie gras. It almost had a scallop-like sweetness as well, but also the butteriness of foie gras. Chef served them with this orange-fennel sauce. It was thick, creamy, and you could really taste the bitterness of the orange. Perfect match with the sweet sweetbreads. (I get the sweet part, but it really is more like foie than a bread). Some frisee on top as well.


For entrees, Yuki ordered the Pork Porterhouse served on some grits with a bourbon sauce and cherries. Again, perfectly cooked, nice and medium rare on the tenderloin side and medium on the strip side. The accompaniments also complimented nicely. Fortunately for me it was too big for her stomach, so I get to eat the rest of it today for lunch! We paired it with a glass of Dolcetto D’Alba.

I ordered the Duck. A perfectly cooked breast; the skin nice and crispy, the meat nice medium rare and juicy. It was served atop a medly of chantrelle mushrooms, green onions, marcona almonds (Zimmerman must love these almonds, but for good reason), and these little spongy black things that we couldn’t quite figure out what they were. Yuki thought they were little pieces of liver or something, I thought they were some sort of mushroom stem. It was killing us not knowing what they were so I asked the manager….duck gizzards. (Yuki was closer, she wins) That was the first time I’ve ever eaten duck gizzards and I gotta tell you, I love them! They added a deeper flavor to the dish that the mushrooms alone probably couldn’t provide. Delicious! I drank a glass of Portugese wine, and interesting red blend from the Douro Valley. Nice recommendation from our server.

The desserts were awesome too! We had the Ricotta Pound Cake with carmelized peaches, buttermilk ice cream, and pecans as well as the Blueberry Cobbler with sweet corn ice cream, lemon-thyme cookies. Of course, on my plate was the obligatory “Happy Birthday Dan” written in chocolate with some artistic design. Always a nice touch. The food runner also said he’d sing to me for an extra fee. I’m cheap (even though dinner was Yuki’s treat), so we declined.

All in all, I have to say that Sepia is one of the better dinner’s I’ve had a quite a while. It is easily in the upper-echelon of Chicago restaurants. Because of it I can’t wait for my next opportunity to munch on some sweetbreads!

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