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Posts Tagged ‘sage’

The other night Yuki and I used up another Groupon that was about to expire. We were intrigued by the $30 savings from an all-you-can-eat Brazillian steakhouse, yet one that’s different from the Brazzaz’s and Fogo’s of the world. This Groupon was for Al Primo Canto. At the time they had two locations, one at 749 N Clark and one at 5414 W Devon. The Clark location would have been a quick busride for us, but for whatever reason they closed that one down before we used the Groupon. Oh well, what can you do? So, we drove up to Edgebrook.

The location looks very generic on the outside. It’s a small little strip of storefronts right on the intersection of Devon and Central. The Metra rolls by about 1/2 block to the west. When we saw the facade we weren’t real excited about going inside. Once inside though, it was a different story. I wish I had a good pic of the interior, but it was the complete opposite of the exterior. It was very warm with lots of wood and really was a comfortable atmosphere. They do need a little better exhause system though as we both smelled like smoke when we left. The grills are in the back, but somehow the smoke fills the entire place. It’s not too bad, but will absorb into your clothes and hair, especially if you have a thick Jew-fro like me (and I’m just talking about my tuchas!).

The main difference between Al Primo Canto and other Brazzilian steakhouses is that there are no gouchos walking around with huge skewers of meat and there is no mile long salad bar. You can either order a la carte, or all-you-can-eat. We opted for the all-you-can-eat option in order to try out the various cuts of meat.

The meal started off with cheese pop-overs, flat bread, and eggplant caponatto. The eggplant was great, it tasted very similar to baba ghanoush.

Then they brought out three pasta dishes, all with fetucini. One had a mushroom sauce, one tomato sauce, and one garlic and herb. The pasta was all very simple, but tasted pretty good. The noodles were nicely al dente.

Next came the meats and starches. Fried potatoes with a blue cheese sauce, fried polenta with parmesan cheese, a plate with lamb and beef both grilled on large skewers typical of Brazillian steakhouses on top of sauteed green beans and pearl onions, and a couple pieces of grilled chicken.

They also brought out a mixed green salad.

The beef and lamb were a little dry due to overcooking on the grill, but not so much that it ruined the dinner. The flavors and quality of the meat were pretty damn good. I will say that the chicken was outstanding! Crisp skin and juicy meat they covered it in fresh sage. I liked that a lot.

I washed everything down with a couple of caparinhas. Not too sweet, but could have used a little more cachaca.

We split a flan for dessert. It was served with a raspberry couli, powdered sugar, and a blackberry garnish. It was ok, a little dense for our tastes. Don’t quote me on this but it didn’t taste homemade. It wasn’t terrible though.

As for the service I will say that the server and bussers were extremely attentive and on the ball…for the most part. We had actually commented a few times to each other at how good the service was until we asked for a box to take our leftovers home. That’s where the wrench was thrown. Appearantly they do not allow you to take home leftovers from the all-you-can-eat menu. I told them how ridiculous it was that they were going to throw away all of that perfectly good food that we were paying for. The server brought the manager over who, again, wouldn’t allow a box to be brought over. He said he’d have to speak with the owner and I told him to let me speak to the owner. So, the owner came over and explained the reasoning behind this. I guess people used to take advantage and would order more dishes just to take home. While I can understand that we were never even aware that we could order more meats or pasta. We were under the assumption that what was brought out was the meal, plain and simple. A little back and forth and finally he agreed to let us take our food home since the server never explained how they operate. I would have won even if the server did just because I’m an argumentative bastard who doesn’t give up. Plus, how can you throw away all of that food? This world is on the brink of a major food crisis. People in Japan right now would love a full meal to eat, not to mention all of the 3rd world countries or even a lot of people in America (Yuki even brought up Japan’s crisis).

In the end though, the owner did do right by us. We didn’t order any refills of any food so he didn’t feel cheated. Because of that we got our lunch the next day.

Overall, I would say that Al Primo Canto is a very average restaurant. The food is good, the service for the most part is good, but nothing is special. If we lived in Edgebrook we’d probably go there every once in a while. It is not worth a drive though. There are way too many places much closer to us that serve better food at similar or even lower prices. So, while we’ll probably never be back, I can’t say that the place isn’t worth a stop, it’s just not worth going out of your way for.

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So, today is Yuki’s birthday. Since she has a conference call with Japan tonight I took her for a nice dinner last night. We found out a while ago that Top Chef Master Marcus Samuelson quietly opened up a place here in Chicago, without much fair. Being fans of what we saw him cook as well as knowing his reputation we went there, C-House, located in the Affinia Hotel.

A real casual place with natural colors, the interior is just what we wanted. It was very comfortable, tables were well spaced, and music was not too loud (they even played some Afrobeat throughout the night, a huge plus in my book). Service was also casual for a fine dining restaurant. It was friendly and professional, but not the slightest bit of pretension. Food was brought at a nice pace as well.

Of course, bread service started off the meal once we ordered. Home-baked cheese bread with butter topped with sea salt. Hard to beat fresh-baked cheese bread.

Yuki started with the Scallops. Two near-perfectly cooked scallops with crab-apple butter, golden raisins, smoked almonds, shaved celery, and pear matchsticks. A nice blend of sweetness and bitterness to start the taste buds off right.

I ordered the Sweetbreads, one of my new favorite cuts of carcass. It was breaded and fried then served with a brown butter, pear matchsticks, and sautéed sweet potatoes and apples. Again, the sweetness on the plate got me ready for more grub.

Yuki’s entrée was the Fish Stew. Arctic char, prawns, leeks, and root vegetables stewed in a Goose Island Matilda and sassy cow cream broth. The beer gave a nice bitterness to the sweet seafood while the parsley garnish brightened it up.

I got the Hanger Steak. I nice bloody rare piece of meat with sautéed kale, carmelized pearl onions, lobster mushrooms and raclette cheese. I have to tell you, that cheese is some funky stuff! My plate smelled like a barnyard, but once I got that first bite in my mouth it turned out to be one delicious barnyard indeed. Bitter kale, sweet onions, earthy mushrooms, and funky cheese…a very well-balanced plate.

We split the Sage Flan for dessert. This was a winner! I’ve never had a savory flan before. The flan itself was perfectly rich, yet light. It was served with baked apples, a smear of cranberry sauce, and a maple-pear sorbet that tasted like cider. The flavors matched perfectly. This was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.

Since it was Yuki’s birthday they brought out a little vanilla cupcake with a raspberry and candle for her. We liked that better than the typical “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate on the dessert plate that most restaurants do. This was a nice little touch.

Overall, the food was great. This was our kind of fine dining. Nothing complex and pretentious at all. Just a casual atmosphere with top quality ingredients cooked to perfection and flavors in harmony. Everything was also very seasonal taking advantage of produce at its peak. Prices are also very respectable considering the location, the celebrity chef, and the quality. I would highly recommend C-House.

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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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