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Posts Tagged ‘italian’

If you go back to December 24, 2010, you’ll see that I posted about the burgers at the Paramount Room. After we ate those burgers Yuki was talking about them with some of her co-workers the next day. One of them was raving to her about the burgers at Jury’s. Jury’s burgers this…Jury’s burgers that…etc. Well, the very next day Jury’s appeard on Groupon. Jury’s burgers have been rated in the top 5 best of Chicago by numerous publications many times over the years it’s been in business. We were smart enough to connect the dots which lead us to last night, trying Jury’s burgers for ourselves.

It’s atmosphere is that of a classic old Chicago Italian joint. Very comfortable with old tin ceilings and a nice long bar. There aren’t a lot of tables, maybe seating for 60, so it’s more intimate. They were playing good jazz softly in the background, just loud enough that you heard it, but not too loud that you couldn’t hear anything else. Service was fast and professional.

When we sat down they brought us a bread basket with breadsticks (plain and rye) and two types of bread (plain and multi-grain). Lots of butter as well as olive oil and parmesan to dip the bread into. Good bread. They also have a nice beer list with Bells Amber ale on tap for $3 a pint! Very nice deal.

Yuki got a cup of the soup de jour, sausage and pasta. I didn’t taste it, but she said it was good. A little salty, but overall pretty good.

We both got the classic burger. A nice big 1/2 pound patty of juicy beef. It came with lettuce, tomato, onion and a pickle on the side. We each had our onion grilled and both got cheddar cheese on our burgers. I got a big pile of fresh cut french fries while Yuki got the sauteed vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, carrots, and green beans).

I have to say, I was slightly dissapointed. Not that the burger wasn’t good. It was a very good burger. It just wasn’t a mind-altering religious experience putting that thing into my mouth and chewing. The meat was extremely fresh and juicy, but lacked a little seasoning. With all of the hype I was ready for a piece of cow that would have me up at night craving a bump of it’s bovine lovin’. I didn’t get that at all. It is clearly not a top 5 burger by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, I do wish Jury’s was in my neighborhood because that burger was lightyears beyond your regular bar burger. I would have no problem eating that thing again, no problem at all. I just wouldn’t go way out of my way to get it.

The overall Jury’s experience was a good one, and it is a great place to have in your backyard. It is also very family-friendly. But that’s all it is, a great place to have in your backyard that you can take your family to for a really good burger.

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Besides being a great Japanese housewife, I also have a little Italian bosom to me. I’m very worldly for being a midwestern Jewish man. The other night I made a classic Southern Italian Chicken and Pepper Stew along with a Tuscan-style soup. Instead of a Tuscan Bean Soup that uses cannelloni beans I used chickpeas, simply because I had a can in my cupboard.

The soup couldn’t be simpler. I used 1 bunch of kale chopped, 1 onion sliced, 3 garlic cloves diced, 1 quart of chicken stock, and 1 can of chickpeas drained and rinsed.

I put everything except for the chickpeas in a pot along with a couple of bay leaves. I brought it up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 45 minutes so that the kale would get nice and tender. I didn’t add the chickpeas until a few minutes before dinner time. Since they were canned the didn’t need to be cooked, just heated. I seasoned with salt and pepper just before serving.

For the chicken I used about 1/4 cup of parsley chopped, 1/2 onion sliced, 3 cloves of garlic diced, 2 plum tomatoes skinned and diced, 1 dry pint of sweet peppers seeded and sliced, 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks skinned with the bone in, and 1/2 cup of white wine.

In my pan I heated up about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sautéed the onion for about 6 minutes. I took the onion out, added another 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and added the chicken. I browned the chicken all over for a few minutes and then put the onion back in. I poured in the wine and let it reduce by half for about 5 minutes or so. Then I added the peppers and tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper, stirred it up really well, covered the pan, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I stirred it occasionally throughout the 30 minutes. Just before serving I mixed in the parsley. Another simple, yet delicious dish.

I got some nice crusty bread to serve with everything. I did make some white rice for Yuki since she needs rice in her guts. I stuck with the bread though so I could sop up all of the juices and dip into my soup.

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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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Wow! Holidays always seem to disappoint to the nth degree. Valentine’s Day is no exception. I typically don’t care whatsoever about any national holidays as to me they are nothing but capitalist commercial rag. However, my wife and I do like to dine out on Valentine’s since many restaurants whip up sexy dishes special for the occasion. This year we decided to check out Piccolo Sogno, 464 N Halstead.

 

I’ve never been to Coco Pazzo, but Yuki has. She and everyone else I talk to about it have given it nothing but rave reviews. Since Chef Priolo was the executive chef there we were sure that his Piccolo Sogno would deliver the goods. Man, were we wrong!

 

I was going to post my review last night after dinner, but I wanted to wait and see how everything digested. So far so good, no uncomfortable trips in the foreseeable future either. Waiting until today also let me replay last night’s experience in my head over and over again, slowly simmering over low heat.

 

We had a 7pm reservation and were promptly seated. They walked us past this tiny little bar area, through a dining room with sort of a grayish-blue color (kind of a hip dining room), past antipasto items lined up in front of the kitchen out in the open (no sneeze-guard or anything keeping it away from the public, as well as no refrigeration) and into a backroom that was nothing like the rest of the restaurant. The room we were in was small and cramped. They had way too many 2-top tables in that place. Maybe it was to get more Valentine’s couples in, I’m not sure, but they definitely killed any romance whatsoever by having everyone sit on top of each other. Conversation was awkward since it was like we were seated at a table with strangers on all sides instead of at our own table. The space between tables was so small my petite wife had trouble slipping through the crack to get to her seat. I’m glad I’m not married to Aretha Franklin, no way would she make it through! The wallpaper in that room was terrible as well and didn’t match the rest of the restaurant at all. It has this horrible yellowish-beige color with different fruits on it. I thought I was in an old woman’s dining room in a Wisconsin farmhouse, not a hip new Italian place in Chicago. The one good thing I did notice was that all of us men in the room were gentlemen and let our women sit with their backs against the wall. Chivalry is not dead!

 

Our server showed up after about 5 minutes and wanted to take our orders immediately. I got the feeling that we weren’t really wanted there. I told him that we’d order our drinks once we figured out what we were going to order to eat and he said he’d come back in a couple of minutes. Well, that turned out to be about 15-20 minutes. So, here Yuki and I are, sitting with no drinks, no food, and very little conversation due to how uncomfortably close we were to other patrons on both sides. It was definitely not an ideal situation. We couldn’t even flag the waiter down the few times he came into the room since he paid zero attention to us. Also, I noticed toward the end of our meal when a new couple sat next to us they were given some sort of amuse bouche. We weren’t. The table on the other side of us was told about the fish of the day and other specials. Why weren’t we?

 

Once the waiter decided to make a little time for us we ordered a really nice bottle of Sangiovese, easily the best part of our meal. We ordered two salads, the Insalata Mista and the Insalata Barbabietole. The Mista was basically a mixed green salad with a few cherry tomatoes, fennel grissini (bread sticks), and vinaigrette. I really expected more from it. I could have bought some bread sticks and made my own vinaigrette to toss on some greens for much less than the $7 this salad cost. The Barbabietole (beet salad) was also sub par. You put a beet salad on the menu and I’m going to order it. I absolutely love beets! I’m not sure if it’s the sweetness, texture, or the fact that the next day everything that comes out of you is red (actually, I know this last reason is why), but I will always order it. I guess sometimes I shouldn’t, as in this case. The beats were fine, the shaved fennel on top was great, but the ricotta cheese had no place on the dish. Chef Priolo tried to be different by not using a salty goat cheese with beets. You know what Chef? There’s a reason everyone else uses a salty goat cheese and not bland ricotta. There was no balance in the overall flavor of the salad. No textural difference either. The addition of toasted pine nuts would have also made this salad fantastic. The dish stopped short.

 

Our entrees were even worse than the salads. Yuki ordered the Anatra Arrosto (slow roasted duck with fennel sausage and farro polenta) while I ordered the special entrée, Abbraccio di Quaglia (house-cured pancetta wrapped quail stuffed with black truffles and mushrooms over a pillow of soft polenta). Chef Priolo did get the skin nice and crispy on the duck, probably the best part of the entire line-up of food that we ordered. It was really crisp and tasty. The meat however was overcooked and a little dry. The flavor was good, but once duck is overcooked, no matter how great the flavor is, all is lost.

 

I’m putting the review of my quail in its own paragraph because there were many many many things wrong with this dish. Read my description of the dish in the paragraph above. That’s exactly how the dish is described on the website and that’s how it was written on the menu. That’s not what was served. I did get quail, let me make that clear, but wrapped in house-cured pancetta? Where’s the pancetta? How come I didn’t get the pancetta? Why no pancetta? It also said “stuffed with black truffles and mushrooms”. The quail wasn’t stuffed with anything let alone black truffles and mushrooms. There were mushrooms in the balsamic sauce drizzled around the quail, but nothing inside the quail. I couldn’t taste truffles to save my life either. How can you mention something like black truffles and then not use them? Without a single trace of pancetta or black truffles on my plate, what did I pay $26 for? Why not sucker punch me in the gut while you’re at it? Well, they did. On top of missing two of the main ingredients my quail was way overcooked and dry. I love quail to be a little rare in the middle so it’s nice and tender, but this was cooked like a piece of microwaved chicken.  Maybe because there was no pig fat wrapped around this lean little bird to keep it moist. Maybe Chef Priolo just isn’t a very good chef. I don’t care who was back there cooking that thing, it is Priolo’s (I’m going to stop using the term Chef for him as he doesn’t deserve that title.) responsibility to make sure everything’s cooked properly. Since nothing was, I’m convinced he’s a fraud.

 

I wanted to complain to the waiter about this, but he didn’t come by to see how things were for at least 20 minutes after we were served. I also didn’t want to bother our fellow diners who were on top of us and ruin their meals with our complaints. I did call once we got home and told Ciro Longobardo (Priolo’s biz partner in the deal) about that quail dish. All he could do was say that he was sorry. I guess I didn’t expect him to do anything since we were already at home, but I still wanted him to know that there was a major disconnect from what was advertised to what was served.

 

Anyway, on to dessert. We were given two strawberries covered in white chocolate with dark chocolate drizzles and two half-glasses of Santero Fragolino, a sparkling rose to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Wow, what cheapskates! You can get Fragolino retail for about $10 a bottle, meaning that they probably paid $7 a bottle from a distributor. Come on guys, it’s Valentine’s Day and your restaurant is full of couples wanting a romantic dinner, show a little class and serve us something good! Yuki made the comment that the sparkling tasted like Fanta. You know what? She was absolutely right. It was the worst sparkling rose I’ve ever passed through my liver and I drink my fair share of sparkling rose as it’s a perfect partner for grilled meat (Without my grill I’m nothing!). I do have to say that the strawberries were fantastico! I don’t know where they got them, but to find nice big sweet strawberries in February? Not enough to save the meal, but very delicious.

 

We ordered the Valentine’s dessert to accompany the strawberries. It was a chocolate cup filled with three mousses, white chocolate, chocolate, and pistachio. The pistachio was outstanding, the chocolate was good, but the white chocolate I could have done without. The chocolate cup was made that afternoon and was not refrigerated properly. It should have been nice and hard, but it was almost melting and we had trouble breaking it apart to eat. Overall it was a good dessert, not a great one, and definitely not a special Valentine’s-worthy one.

 

On our way out the door, while putting on our jackets, one of the hostesses very awkwardly handed me a rose. I guess it was for Yuki. We definitely appreciate fresh flowers, but it was given to me in such a weird fashion it felt really odd.

 

I have to say that I do not understand the hype surrounding this place. I know it has one of the best outdoor seating gardens in the city, but the two restaurants I know of that occupied that space previously couldn’t hack it even with that space. If not for Priolo’s undeserved reputation this place would be doomed as the food was not buona da mangiare, while the service and atmosphere were both severely lacking. I mean really, it’s not like there aren’t other options for Italian food in Chicago! I, for one, will never go back to Piccolo Sogno.

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