Monday, April 30, 2012


Alinea is a place that, to most food aficionados, needs no introduction.  As of the 2012 Chicago Micheline Guide, it is the ONLY restaurant to garner 3 stars.  As of today, its number 7 on San Pellegrino World's Best Restaurant List, only trumped by places like Noma and Per Se.  It is known for its modern twist on classic flavors, with a heavy emphasis on whimsy and creativity.  One might say its chef/owner, Grant Achatz, is a bit of a "molecular gastronomist."  Reservations can be pretty tight.  I actually called 3 months in advance!  Two or three weeks later, when I tried to increase the party size from 2 to 3 to accomodate Ho Bag, there was no budging.  Fortunately the day before our reservation, I got the phone call, and Ho Bag was set to join us.

For the whopping price tag of $210 per person, you will be served 19 courses.  While some courses are just a single bite and other courses are more whimsy than nutritive substance, I can guarantee you will be so full by the end of it all.  I was head over heels excited to get the chance to eat here.  It seems like you haven't really made it in the foodie world until you've eaten a place like Alinea.

Steelhead Roe carrot, coconut, curry
I've never really been able to see how roe makes anything better.  It's just salty and fishy.  The sweet curry sauce and carrots were a nice contrast.  The meaty coconut flesh was also an interesting textural contrast.

The next series of course was presented as a "tasting of the ocean" and was presented on a piece of driftwood draped in real seaweed, the real ugly kind that floats in the ocean.

Oyster Leaf mignonette
Don't be fooled.  There's no oyster here, just a leaf that was supposed to taste like an oyster coated in a traditional mignonette.  Ehh, I didn't really get much of that here.  I was moving on to the next bite, I mean course, hoping for something better.

King Crab passionfruit, heart of palm, allspice
Now we're talking.  A succulent piece of crab, with some fruity accompaniments.  It was tasty for sure.

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Molly's Cupcakes

Everyone knows I'm a sucker for sweets.  If you didn't know that, you do now.  Lately I've been on an ice cream binge, but I'll only eat the good stuff, the artisanal stuff, hand made, small batches, interesting flavors.  Unfortunately, Chicago didn't have anything like that.  They most popular ice cream shop is some parlor/diner old fashioned type of place.  PASS.  So in the end, I didn't have any plans to hunt down dessert on this trip.  It just so happened that Del Seoul was just up the street from Molly's Cupcakes.  Cupcakes really don't do it for me, but I couldn't pass up the fortuitous coincidence.

Cookies 'n Cream
The consistent theme with all the cupcakes here are that they are SUPER DUPER moist.  I was just in sheer disbelief at how soft, fluffy, and moist they all were.  The flavors were pretty good, not overly sweet.  I avoid eating all the frosting just to bypass the sugar dump, but it really wasn't so overwhelming like it can be at some other bakeries. 

Coconut Cream
I'm not a big fan of coconut things, but this was pretty good.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Del Seoul

Almost all the Chicago restaurants I tried were recommended to me by various friends and family.  Del Seoul was a place I found on Yelp.  It looked pretty delicious and reminiscent of Kogi.  It was a bit far from our hotel but we cabbed it pretty easily.  Seriously, we spent so much in cab fare in the short 5 days we were in Chicago.  Buff Bear and Mega Man joined us once again for a casual lunch at this order-and-take-a-number type of joint.

Seoul Style Street Dumplings
Meh, pretty average.  I have better frozen store bought dumplings at home.

Kimchi Fries kimchi, onions, pork belly, scallions, melted cheddar and jack cheese, sour cream
Buff Bear was a big fan of these. While they were pretty tasty, they were kind of a gut buster.  Surprisingly, the cheese and kimchi went together and wasn't too overwhelming.  I could have skipped them though.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Purple Pig

It's been a long time since I last met up with Ho Bag for some grubbin'.  After all these years, she's still one of the funnest people to hang out with.  Now that she's become quite the foodie, we can really bond.  As sad as it is to say, you simply cannot be my friend if you do not like to eat.  It's just that plain and simple.  Fortunately, there isn't a line of people trying to be friends with me, so I ain't breakin' any hearts here with my "foodie only" friend policy.

Anyways, after many meals with Dumpling Man, I decided to break apart for the evening.  Not because I got sick of his ugly mug but because he chose to eat at some chain sushi/roll place with his buddies that I knew would totally NOT be good.  The exact words that came to mind were "generic and average."  So it was just me on a hot date with Ho Bag.  How could the night get any better??

Purple Pig, like Publican, had a huge menu including cured meats, cheeses, smears, antipasti, larger entrees.  I wished dearly that there were more people in our party to try more food because EVERYTHING looked amazing.  The upside of being a small party was that it was probably easier to get seated.  This damn place does NOT take reservations, a true tragedy because the wait can easily be an hour.  Lucky for us it was maybe 40 minutes?  It went by quite fast because we were just sipping some wine and catching up on the good ole days.

If there is just ONE thing I could change about Dumpling Man, it's that he loved charcuterie as much as I did.  I never get to eat this stuff because it's just too much to enjoy alone.  Anyways, lucky for me Ho Bag loves this stuff.  We almost went so far as to order the charcuterie platter/sampler but our better judgement kicked in and we had just 2 selections from the cured meats section.

Lingua Agrodolce (right)
For the life of me, I cannot remember what the other cured meat was.  The bartender recommended the lingua, or tongue, but I preferred our other selection, whatever that may be.  The tongue was very tender, but had a slight organ meat aftertaste.  I believe it was also cured with vinegar or sugar? because it had a subtle tart sweetness.  Overall, both were delicious.

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Monday, April 23, 2012


With 5 restaurants, including 1 at O'Hare International Airport and the Macy's flagship store off the Magnificent Mile, in addition to the title of "Top Chef Master," Rick Bayless is a Chicago based chef with quite the empire on his hands.  Who knew a guy from the Midwest could master Mexican cuisine and elevate it to the next level.  Granted, I didn't get to try that "next level," which I imagine is what Topolobampo represents given the $$$$ price rating on Yelp.  Xoco actually represents the other end of the dining spectrum, being a casual joint focused on tortas and caldos, or sandwiches and soups/stews.  It made the perfect lunch spot!

La Prive and Dumpling Man were able to step away from their educational endeavors to meet me at Xoco for lunch.  Lucky for us the line was only up to the door instead of out the door.  We probably waited a good 15-20 minutes before getting to order and get a table.

Chips, Guacamole, Salsa tomatillo and 3 chile salsa
Nothing too special here, but you can't have a Mexican lunch without this.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Publican

So after our disappointing dinner at Blackbird, we tried to scale it down a notch and take on some more casual fare at Publican.  I only just found out now that they are restaurants from the same chef, Paul Kahan.  I was surprised to find this out since the food could not have been more different.  Blackbird was modern, innovative, and frankly disappointing.  Publican was comforting, unpretentious, new American food that knocked our (Dumpling Man, Buff Bear, Mega Man aka Bruin Bear, and I) socks off.  The place is pretty spacious and loud so it may not have been the best place to catch up with old friends, but the food was impeccable.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Burrata  shaved parmesan, red onions, lemon shallot vinaigrette
Wow, who knew you could shave brussels sprouts into a salad??  This is definitely one recipe I shall be trying very soon.  Lucky me for finding it online!  It was really a tart, creamy dressing that was nicely smoothed out by the delicious burrata.

Hamachi Crudo
A good refreshing little niblet.  I loved the fresh sweet peas accompanying the hamachi.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Knowing this trip to Chicago would have a heavy focus on eating, I wanted to make sure we didn't feel overwhelmed and weighed down by food.  I didn't want eating to turn into a burden.  So I tried hard to find "lighter" more casual fare for our lunches.  Crisp offered a variety of rice bowls, burritos, sandwiches, and DAMN DELICIOUS wings.  We really should have skipped the rest and stuck to the wings, but I'm not usually one who can eat just a bunch of wings, that is until I had the ones at Crisp!

Seoul Sassy Chicken Wings
I don't know what sort of mutant chickens Crisp gets their wings from, but these guys were huge!  I guess I was expecting something along the size of buffalo wings.  These had the perfect balance of sugar and soy sauce with kicked up flavors from garlic, onions, and whatever other aromatics used.  They were crispy and just a little spicy.  My mouth is watering just remembering them.

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Monday, April 16, 2012


Chicago turned out to be one of the best gastrotourism trips I've ever had.  Granted it was actually supposed to be an educational trip because of the conference Dumpling Man was attending, I made it my mission to make sure we ate only the very best for our sorta of mini vacation.  I did my research and with the help of many recommendations from foodie friends, I was able to plan out a really great line up for eateries.  I'll have to admit that every place we ate at thoroughly satisfied our hunger for the delicious, creative, and inspiring, EXCEPT Blackbird.

Why oh why did you have to disappoint me so?  Blackbird came so highly recommended by Triple F and many others.  It was also one of the more expensive meals of the trip, and it completely fell flat.  Interestingly, it happened to be Restaurant Week in Chicago, and Blackbird was offering up a special 5 course pre fixe for the night.  Could that be the reason it was so disappointing?  We didn't know about this until after we went ahead with the chef's tasting menu of 10 courses, which came at a hefty price tag

Smoke Sable Fish salsify custard, marcona almonds
A smooth custard paired with some pretty smoky fishy fish.  The theme of the night was not understanding how a lot of the components played together.  The almonds?  Not a clue.

Confit Baby Octopus fennel, chestnut, lime, chili
The waiter really made a big deal about the octopus, so of course we were intrigued.  It definitely didn't have the expected snappy texture, which I guess was the whole point.  It was tender without being mushy, but I think I prefer my octopus the normal way.  It had a nice bit of saltiness to it, but again I didn't see how the other components highlighted anything.

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Friday, April 13, 2012


Would you ever go to a restaurant that describes itself as "inauthentic"?  Well, we did and it was surprisingly delicious and true to its description, "inauthentic."  Smallwares is helmed by Johanna Ware, formerly of Momofuku Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar.  Having never been to Momofuku anything and only read about the food and tried recipes from the cookbook, I was eager to actually get closer to tasting the Momofuku influence.  The menu is divided into appetizers, small plates, and larger plates.  I'm actually beginning to like this new trend restaurants are taking towards small plate offerings meant for sharing.  It really gives you the chance to try more things in one sitting.

Fanny Bay Oysters fish sauce, cilantro, lime
These were some big oysters and the addition of fish sauce, slightly tempered with sugar and lime, really brought the Southeast Asian, if not Vietnamese flavors.  I could have eaten 6 of these, too bad 1 order = 1 oyster!

Scallop Sashimi den miso, shallot, puffed rice
My experience with raw scallop has been pretty hit or miss.  Sometimes it's a bit too slimy and other times it has a fresh fleshy sweetness.  This was definitely a hit.  The preparation reminded me of nasu dengaku, or miso glazed eggplant often times served at izakaya joints.  It was an ingenious creation.  I could have had the whole dish to myself.

The next dishes are good for sharing.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Drago Centro

I dunno who started the tradition of the "First Paycheck Dinner" in my family.  Somehow it went from, "Oh, gee whiz a nice dinner on your tab?  How nice!" to "Dude, where's my 'first pay check dinner'? I'm waiting...I'm waiting!!"  I can't even remember what dinners I was treated to by Smooth Obturator and Triple F.  I remember Triple T treated us to brunch at the St. Regis in Monarch Beach.  Anyways, my time has come and our family has expanded to include Dumpling Man and his parents.  It seems like we've done many of the nice restaurants in LA, Providence, Osteria Mozza, Bazaar, etc, so it was sort of a struggle to find a real gem of a restaurant that was gonna be worth the money and really impressive.  I settled on Drago Centro, but my Smooth Obturator didn't have many great things to say about it.

L'insalata Di Barbabietole All'agrodolce baby beets, warm goat cheese, pine nuts, chile vinaigrette
I've only had 1 really bad beet dish, otherwise they're always pretty tasty.  This was no exception.  Sweet beets, tart dressing, spicy bitter greens.  It's always nice when nuts are added for texture and some sort of cheese for creamy richness.

La Burrata burrata, endive, basil pesto, crostini
Good, but I've had better burrata.  Somehow this didn't achieve that luscious milky creaminess I've experienced in the past.  It tasted too much like a wet lump of soft cheese.

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