Monday, November 10, 2014

I'm Outta Here!


Hey, this isn't really goodbye.

It's more like farewell from blogspot. It had gotten to a point where I found this space a bit constraining for what I really wanted to do, plus I couldn't connect directly with you.

Also: I've been incredibly busy with many other projects, including for Chicago Travel for, Priceless Chicago for MasterCard and The Pursuit of Good Food for Lexus/WXRT-FM.

I have continued to post as 312 Dining Diva, and you can find me on the official 312 Dining Diva Facebook page (Sign up to see what's going on!), where I am regularly covering local and national stories as well as the usual dining and drinking trends.

So, I hope to see you soon!


Monday, April 21, 2014

Brendan Sodikoff Drops 'Italian Bar' Concept From Cocello, Opens April 22 With 40 Percent Off

Photos courtesy of Hogsalt Hospitality

"It's feeling really good!" exclaims Brendan Sodikoff about his latest project, an Italian-focused eatery named Cocello, which 312DD exclusively told you about in March.

What's different is that the concept is no longer an "Italian steak bar." "We ran out of room on the menu and dropped the steak focus," explains Sodikoff. "I fell in love with the lighter feel and emphasis on classic regional Italian food, Negronis, great coffee and Italian wines."


A sneak peek of the opening menu revealed that the restaurant will feature four plays on the traditional Italian aperitif: classic (gin, campari, sweet vermouth), white (gin, cocchi, dry vermouth), rye (rye, campari, sweet vermouth) and cognac (cognac, sweet vermouth, chartreuse).

The food menu features a number of hand-made pasta, seafood and vegetable-focused dishes. We're especially looking forward to the whole-roasted turbot as well as porchetta of stuffed pork belly, rosemary and roast garlic. There will be limited availability on both items.

Cocello soft opens on April 22 and through Thursday it will offer 40 percent off food. It officially opens to the public Friday, April 25.

Here are the first-ever images of the interior, food and drinks:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Nouveau Tavern Makes Racial Claims Against Chicago Police Dept.; Says They Were 'Shut Down' Because Owners Are Black

Nouveau Tavern's intimate interior (Photo: Nouveau Tavern)

The New Orleans-inspired Nouveau Tavern opened in River North only six months ago, yet it was abruptly shuttered last Friday by the Chicago Police Department, according to Eater Chicago:

"Sources say that current Nouveau ownership is ineligible for a liquor license because of a felony conviction and the establishment was operating under previous ownership's expired licensing. Police responded to a complaint last week which lead to an investigation and the subsequent closure."

NT consultant Teddy Gilmore—who admits to a tax evasion felony conviction from the late 1990s—tells 312DD that the restaurant's partners do not have felony records. He adds that Nouveau, which re-opened Monday, is being unfairly targeted because the neighbors and police do not want an influx of African Americans frequenting the neighborhood.

Additionally, partner Marsette Magnum released a full statement regarding the situation exclusively to 312DD:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

'Bar Rescue' Star Jon Taffer Gets Shut Down By Three Dots and a Dash's Paul McGee

Jon Taffer (left) and Paul McGee

I get frequent pitches from the publicists behind Jon Taffer—the acerbic host of Spike TV's "Bar Rescue"—who push him as "an internationally recognized, award-winning hospitality expert, highly respected management guru, author of the ultimate guide to running a bar/restaurant/nightclub entitled 'Raise The Bar,' and a esteemed tastemaker and go-to source for the newest trends in the food, beverage & nightlife industries."

With those credentials, you'd think he'd know which spots to target for his show—which claims to "give failing nightlife establishments one last chance at success."

Apparently not in Chicago.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Only One Chicago Chef Makes The Cut For Food & Wine's Annual 'Best New Chef' List

Dave Beran photo via James Beard Foundation

It's that time of year again, and Food & Wine announced Tuesday its annual list of what it considers "the culinary superstars of the future."

On that list is Dave Beran, the hot shot chef who first worked under Grant Achatz at Alinea before he went on to take over the reigns as chef de cuisine at Achatz's ground-breaking Next restaurant when it opened in 2011.

Frankie Knuckles Passes Away at 59


The legendary deejay/music producer/house music innovator Frankie Knuckles has passed away in his Chicago home, according to a number of media outlets.

Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot writes in an obit Tuesday:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Travelle Hosts Internationally Renowned Mixologist; Best Chicago Steakhouses For Cocktails

London-based bartender Alex Kratena (Photo courtesy of Wagstaff Worldwide)

He's best known for his beautiful drinks, and Chicago imbibers will get their first opportunity to meet the award-winning mixologist Alex Kratena when he conducts a two-day residence at the Langham Hotel's Travelle.

Kratena holds down the fort at Artesian Bar at The Langham in London, and March 27-28, we will get to find out why his accolades include “The World’s Best Cocktail Menu” at Tales of the Cocktail (2011), “World’s Best Hotel Bar” and “International Bartender of the Year” at Tales of the Cocktail (2012), and “The World’s Best Bar,” an award sponsored by Drinks International Magazine (2012).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Brendan Sodikoff Replaces Dillman's With 'Italian Steak Bar' Concept Named Cocello

Expect more delicate cuts like Bavette's filet mignon when Cocello opens in April. (Photo: Bavette's Bar & Boeuf )

Whatever you do, do not call Cocello a steakhouse concept. The latest dining-and-drinking project by Brendan Sodikoff and his group Hogsalt Hospitality, Cocello is described by the red-hot restaurateur as an "Italian steak bar."

On April 14, Cocello takes over the venue currently housing Dillman's, which specializes in classic Jewish deli fare. Sodikoff tells 312DD exclusively that he will close Dillman's on April 6 and reopen it as Dillman's Pastrami Shop in a next door space this summer.

But where did the name and concept for Cocello (pronounced "co-chell-o") come from?!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Esquire Writer Pisses Off Chicago's Pastry Chefs In 'Pointless' Essay

A simple, yet sophisticated raspberry cake from Cafe des Architectes' pastry chef Leigh Omilinsky (Photo: Leigh Omilinsky)

Oh, boy. Controversial Esquire editor-at-large Josh Ozersky is at it again. This time his target is pastries—and the people behind them.

His latest essay is so venomous that it makes me wonder if he hates puppies and babies and ponies, too. Especially this gem: "Why would any restaurant have a second kitchen—with a second kitchen staff—in order to present abstract art at the end of meals? What need is there, really, for anything more complex than a scoop of sherbet?"

Metro Owner Joe Shanahan Battles Cancer


The Chicago Tribune reports that legendary music club owner Joe Shanahan is battling tongue cancer.

He shared the news with staffers at his venues such as Metro, Gingerman Tavern and Double Door on Tuesday, reassuring them it would be business as usual.

You Can Now Re-Create GT Fish & Oyster's Famed Mussels At Home


I've always gushed over GT Fish & Oyster's garlic-and-tomatoes infused mussels, so you can only imagine my glee when I learned I'd finally be able to re-create the dish at home.

GT chef/partner Giuseppe Tentori announced Tuesday that he contributed to the newly released cookbook, Lodge Cast Iron Nation: Great American Cooking from Coast to Coast. The book showcases a number of easy-to-make recipes using cast-iron skillets, pots and Dutch ovens.

Tentori says about his contribution: "I love this recipe because it is the way we used to eat mussels in Italy."

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Here's The Complete List For The 2014 James Beard Foundation Award Nominees

Grace owner/chef Curtis Duffy was nominated for JBF's "Best Chef Great Lakes." (Photo: Michael Muser)

Tuesday at Publican was a big day for Chicago's culinary community as a number of folks were recognized for their work in 2013 with nominations for the annual James Beard Foundation Awards.

The biggest honor is the induction of Paul Kahan (One Off Hospitality) in 2013 Who's Who of Food & Beverage In America (Alinea's Grant Achatz was inducted in 2012).

Highlighted Chicago nominations include:

Monday, March 17, 2014

One Chef's Hilarious Take On 'Chicago Chef Week'


Here's the funniest quote to date from a chef regarding Chicago Chef Week:

"Just walked in the door from work....god damn what a Sunday. One would think if something was called 'chefs week' it would also be known as vacation."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

GrubHub Wants Restaurants To 'Pay Up' For Better Placement


Popular online takeout service GrubHub (which acquired takeout biz Seamless in 2013) filed to go public in February, which means a bunch of changes are on the way to make the company more profitable to investors.

According to a Chicago bar/restaurant owner, one of those changes includes "demanding money from restaurants to get better placement (on the website)."

That sounds a little Yelp-ish to me. I use GrubHub on the regular, and when I'm feeling especially lazy, I type in "burgers," "pizza," etc. to conduct a search to see what restaurants come up. Once all the results appear, you can organize choices by "the best (or highly rated)," "cheapest" or "closest." If you look closely, the restaurants are NOT listed in alphabetical order, so those paying for placement will always be prominently displayed.

Here is the note my contact received:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Fried Chicken Pairing You'll Never Forget . . .

Cocktail and fried chicken pairing (Photo: Coppervine)

Lincoln Park's latest sensation flirts with your palate with perfect pairings.

We dig the Modern Man’s Manhattan teamed with a Maine lobster BLT or Port Wipeout IPA complemented by double-fried chicken with Sriracha mayo. Find out what else pleased our palates right here.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

City To Crack Down On St. Patrick's Day Festivities

The line outside of Celtic Crossings during a past St. Patrick's Day party. (Photo: Celtic Crossings)

A few Chicago bar owners tell 312DD that the city's aiming to tame the rowdy St. Patrick's Day crowds by issuing some exorbitant fines for those infamous "all-you-can-drink" packages.

"It started with New Year's Eve and all the '$100 open bar' ads," says one tavern owner, who asked to remain anonymous. "No on-site enforcement; the city just mailed you court hearing dates and fines of $3,500. Then they decreased them to $3,000."

He adds that the city liquor commission "reinterpreted" the happy hour law to suit their needs. "If an advertisement does not state how many drinks are included, they assume it's unlimited and are ticketing them."

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Nico Osteria Named One of GQ's '25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2014'

Nico's cocktail lounge (Photo: One Off Hospitality)

What an achievement in two months!

GQ just released Alan Richman's annual best new restaurant guide and One Off Hospitality's Nico Osteria was the only Chicago eatery to make the cut.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Brendan Sodikoff Takes Over Waldorf Astoria Dining, Plus More Red-Hot Dining & Drinking News

Photo via the Chicago Tribune

The man just doesn't stop.

Now the tireless restaurateur behind such cult favorites as Au Cheval, Bavette's and the newly opened Green Street Meats is taking over the dining program at the Waldorf Astoria, according to Eater Chicago:

"(Brendan) Sodikoff will reconcept Balsan, but details on what it will become are currently unavailable. His company will also handle Bernard's Bar, in-room dining and special events, putting his design stamp on the hotel as a whole."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'm Gushing & Crushing Over These Fabulous Things In February And You Should Too

(Photo: Protein Bar)

I'm pretty serious about this, and it makes up for all this horrible weather we've been experiencing lately.

If you can hold off until Feb. 15, you'll get a chance to witness one of the most spectacular Chicago restaurant openings I've heard about in a long time. It's not as though the new Lincoln Park location for Protein Bar is even all that fancy, it's what owner Matt Matros is doing for the public that's got me all geeked.

On opening day, the store will first host a sunrise yoga class at 6am, then the doors officially open at 11am when the first 100 customers will receive $500 gift cards (Yes, that is $50,000 in gift cards).

One public relations veteran exclaimed about this promotion: "I have done a lot of openings and anniversary PR, including the Potbelly's 20th anniversary free giveaways, but this is one of the best I have heard of in a long time. It's good idea for new and repeat diners; and good for the hood."

Something tells me that folks will be lining up overnight for this opportunity, so don't forget to set your alarm clocks!

Monday, February 3, 2014

'Balls' Was Secret Password To Get Into 'Chicago Fire' Party Where Lady Gaga Was Guest


And once word got out, the party wasn't so exclusive anymore, according to my Ultimate Insider.

My source was going for the free cocktails, so it was only until he arrived at Chop Shop on Saturday did he find out that it was also a birthday party for three of the cast members of "Chicago Fire," which airs on NBC.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Potbelly's 'Secret Underground Menu' Revealed

Photo via

Thursday afternoon I somewhat set Twitter abuzz when I inquired about Potbelly's secret underground menu, which includes a bacon cheeseburger, Fireball and something called a Wrecking Ball.

Apparently this is very much a real thing, and while I couldn't find any details on Potbelly's website, one blogger uncovered the secret menu for your enjoyment. While I'm always down for A Wreck, I cannot wait to go back to try everything they're trying to keep secret.

Happy Ordering!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Brendan Sodikoff's Green St. Smoked Meats Opens 'Quietly' On Feb. 4

(Photo: Green St. Smoked Meats)

Head's up. Green St. Smoked Meats, the Texas-themed project from sensational restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff, opens Feb. 4.

If you're having trouble keeping up with all his projects—he's also the guy behind Au Cheval, Bavette's and Doughnut Vault—this is the venue that's all about BBQ.

Monday, January 27, 2014

All These 'No Guns Allowed' Signs Around Town Are Making Me Uncomfortable


When I think of someone walking into a Chicago restaurant or bar brandishing a gun—who is not a cop—all I can picture is John Wayne. In a 10-gallon hat. Strutting in cowboy boots. With a holster on his hip.

I don't want that image in my head, but it's now become a reality since Illinois passed the concealed carry law in 2013. The law went into effect on Jan. 5 and restaurants and bars all over town have been posting the above sign in their windows.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Juno Suffers Early Morning Fire & Is Out Of Commission For Now

Juno photo via ABC-7 Chicago.

The Lincoln Park apartment complex housing the popular Juno Sushi Restaurant on the first level suffered an early-morning fire, according to ABC-7 Chicago.

According to the report, the extra-alarm fire broke out early Friday morning and heavy smoke appeared on all three floors of the building. Thank goodness no injuries were reported, but residents are displaced for now. Just two weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune named Juno partner Jason Chan Restaurateur of the Year.

UPDATE: Here's an official Juno statement, which was posted on Facebook Friday evening:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

JAM's Jeffrey Mauro, Moto's Homaro Cantu Join Forces to Open Berrista Coffee

Raspberry jelly doughnut from Berrista Coffee (Photo: Berrista Coffee)

Here's some pretty exciting news hot off the press.

JAM executive chef Jeffrey Mauro is partnering with Homaro Cantu (iNG, Moto) for that revolutionary new bakery, Berrista Coffee. That's the sweets shop featuring the "miracle berry" that's replacing sugar in most of the pastries.

Really, Chili's?! Restaurant's 'Robot' Hilariously Annoys Man By Text


OK, so this is actually pretty damn funny.

A dude posted a Craigslist ad in an effort to sell a $50 gift card from Chili's Bar & Grill. He listed his phone number so that potential buyers could call or text him. Chili's allegedly took him up on his offer and this is what happened next.

How much you wanna bet he doesn't do this again?!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

So A Vegetarian Walks Into A Butcher Shop . . .

(Photo: 312 Dining Diva)

The Butcher & Larder chef/owner Rob Levitt muses in a Facebook status on what's apparently an annual custom . . .

This happened the same day Publican Quality Meats posted a smackdown response to PETA's anti-meat billboard located across the street from the shop.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

'BabyGate' Happened At Alinea Saturday & Twitterverse Explodes In Response

The Grant Achatz tweet that set the Internet ablaze Saturday night (Photo: 312 Dining Diva)

After what happened this weekend it looks like I need to drag out this article again regarding small children and social graces in restaurants.

When I originally wrote it in 2013, I had restaurants like Blackbird, Naha and Perennial Virant in mind. No freaking way did I ever think someone would think to take a child—let alone an infant—to the likes of the three star Michelin rated Alinea (Check out this list of the best child-friendly restaurants in Chicago).

As soon as Alinea chef/partner Grant Achatz posted that already-infamous tweet around 7pm Saturday, the Internet exploded in response. I was pretty shocked with how many people were in defense of the parents—who allegedly had a last-minute babysitter cancellation.

Here are the Top 21 twitter responses of the night:

Friday, January 10, 2014

Grace: My First Great Dining Experience of 2014

Fourth course: duck with sunflower, cranberry and marjoram (Photo: William Boulware)

On the same day Grace's Curtis Duffy was named Chef of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, I had a reservation.

That just set the bar even higher for my first great dining experience of 2014. Honey, I was not disappointed.

I'm good friends with the staff, so I've had the pleasure of hanging out in Grace's front room lounge for drinks as well as attending a summer BBQ where all the chefs grilled their favorite meats. This occasion, however, was my first time officially dining at the restaurant.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hyde Park Yusho Delayed Until Summer; Owner Matthias Merges Not Backing Down Despite Dispute

Interior of Matthias Merges' A10 restaurant, which opened in Hyde Park in 2013. (Photo: A10)

The thing about living on the South Side is that many residents tend to be stuck in their ways. And stubborn. And don't like change. That's why I moved as soon as I could to the rapidly changing Near West Side more than 10 years ago.

So it's pretty admirable that Matthias Merges (Billy Sunday, Yusho) pushed forward with A10, a restaurant and cocktail lounge that's quite revolutionary in this part of town. In fact, he's done pretty well with a full house almost every night of the week.

Merges was set to open a second Yusho location in Hyde Park in February, however, there have been some roadblocks, according to DNA Info:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Now Is The Time To Book Reservations For 'Chicago Restaurant Week'

Beatrix's casual, yet modern setting in River North (Photo: Beatrix)

Get out of deep-freeze mode for a few minutes to think about where you’re going to dine during Chicago Restaurant Week. What’s super cool is that it’s been extended an extra week, so you’ll get more chances to check out even more restaurants.

Book ‘em now—especially those red-hot newcomers like Beatrix, Cicchetti, CH Distillery and Tanta. Peruse the list, which also includes details on the second-annual First Bites Bash, hosted by award-winning chef Paul Kahan.

Chicago Restaurant Week goes down Jan. 24-Feb. 6.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Hunker Down In One Of Chicago's Top 50 'Fireplace-Equipped Drinking Spots'

Cozy up to Drumbar's elegant fireplace. (Photo: Drumbar)

Not that I'm lazy or anything, but since Thrillist Chicago already did the legwork, I'm gonna give them props.

They've smartly compiled 50 Fireplace-Equipped Drinking Spots in the city. And for once, the list truly spans Chicago, from the upscale environs of Streeterville's Drumbar to the low-key digs of Patrick's on the Southwest Side.

'Next Steak' Off To A Rocky Start?!

(Photo: Next Restaurant)

Perhaps it's because Chicago already boasts a gazillion steakhouses—or maybe this foul weather's to blame—but whatever the case, Crain's reports that ticket sales are lagging for Next's steakhouse concept:

"While prime-time spots are gone for the four-month steak theme—reservations between 7 and 8:45 p.m.—there are seatings for earlier and later dining. As of this afternoon, availability for the first official night of Next: Steak on Jan. 8 included a table for two at 9:30 p.m. and tables for four at 5:30, 5:45, 6, 6:15, 6:30, 9, 9:15, 9:30 and 9:45 p.m. Those cost $160 per person, including tax and tip but not beverages."

Monday, January 6, 2014

312DD's Top 5 Most Anticipated Openings For 2014

Lee Wolen, during his days at The Lobby (Photo: Peninsula Chicago)

Out with the old and in with the new restaurants for 2014.

And it's already looking like quite the year as a host of notable restaurants are set to debut . . .

Berrista Coffee. Homaro Canto
's been talking about those "miracle berries" for a few years now, so I'm thrilled that I'll get them on the regular when his revolutionary bakery opens in Old Irving Park in the spring. Berrista is not only a great concept with its sugar-free and gluten-free goodies, but those with diabetes and other health-related issues will finally be able to gorge with abandon.

Tip Generously; Your Delivery Person Will Appreciate it During 'ChiBeria'


The continuing miserable weather means that the majority of folks will be ordering takeout for the next few days.

And it's one of those times when tipping a dollar or two just won't cut it with the delivery person. What do you recommend tipping when the delivery person has to go through hell to get that food to you?!